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Big workout for small ships as Coastal Forces flex muscles off the Devon coast

Big workout for small ships as Coastal Forces flex muscles off the Devon coast
15 July 2021
Some of the Royal Navy’s smallest vessels took centre stage with a mass workout off the coast of Plymouth.

Ten craft from the Coastal Forces Squadron headed into Plymouth Sound and exercise areas for a rare combined exercise – during which they were joined by their WW2 predecessor.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch Medusa is the last of 464 vessels in her class built during the war to provide anti-submarine protection for harbours, but were also used to escort convoys, land agents on enemy-held shores and take part in offensive sweeps. Today the boat is maintained and operated by the Medusa Trust as part of the Coastal Forces Heritage museum.

She sailed alongside the eight P2000 boats and fast patrol boats HMS Sabre and Scimitar for a series of complex Officer of the Watch manoeuvres to exercise the ships and their crews in a large formation.

The P2000s are used both to give students across the UK a flavour of life in the Senior Service via the University Royal Navy Units and to help train the rest of the Fleet, from helping aircrew practise winching drills from a small deck, to carrying out swarm attacks against task group to test the response of gunnery teams.

It was those fast-attack tactics which were tested and developed off the Devon coast. Two P2000s – HMS Archer and HMS Charger – were given the task of sailing from Dartmouth to Plymouth Sound undetected.

Despite being the smallest ships in the Fleet, being able to look across a line of ten Coastal Forces vessels – and a WW2 ancestor – in formation brought home the reality of the ship handling and communications challenges this exercise presented.

Lieutenant Tim Clouter, Commanding Officer of HMS Sabre

The remaining participants used the speed of the Scimitar-class vessels – over 30 knots – to probe and block off any escape, and the mass of the other P2000s to locate attack their two ‘foe’

“Despite being the smallest ships in the Fleet, being able to look across a line of ten Coastal Forces vessels – and a WW2 ancestor – in formation brought home the reality of the ship handling and communications challenges this exercise presented,” said Lieutenant Tim Clouter, Commanding Officer of HMS Sabre and the exercise’s chief planner.

“To have an entire squadron on manoeuvres is an impressive sight – if not a bit of a logistical challenge.”

It’s the second combined exercise of the summer for the squadron; last month some of its Portsmouth-based craft headed out into the Solent and Channel for a workout off Bournemouth with River-class patrol ships.

"Squadex is another key event for the Coastal Forces Squadron allowing us to rehearse our in company skills and complete more tactical development at scale,” said Commander Jamie Wells, the squadron’s Commanding Officer.

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