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Minehunters fine-tuned for Gulf operations

2 September 2021
Two Royal Navy minehunters and their 90 sailors are being fine-tuned for Gulf security missions on their 6,000-mile journey to their new base in Bahrain.

HMS Bangor and HMS Middleton are sailing together to the Gulf to continue 15 years of continuous deployments of Royal Navy Mine Counter Measures Vessels in the region, where they will work with allies and partners to keep sea lanes open, hone mine warfare skills and generally promote peace and stability.

The pair, which carry on board new cutting-edge kit for their missions, will take over from HMS Brocklesby and HMS Shoreham after their three-year stint on operations. 

After meeting for their voyage outside Falmouth, Bangor and Middleton have since used their long voyage to prepare further, after gruelling Operational Sea Training earlier in the year in Scotland, for their mission ahead. 

The ships have tackled the Atlantic Swell in the Bay of Biscay, sailed into in Lisbon at sunrise for a brief logistics stop where the two crews met in person for the first time and, after sailing round the Cape St Vincent, headed into Gibraltar.

During their journey to The Rock, the sailors – some just out of basic training from HMS Raleigh – carried out gunnery exercises and dealt with fires and equipment failures as part of drills to keep them razor sharp for their operations ahead. 

Bangor and Middleton ramped up their training in the Mediterranean, with further gunnery and firefighting exercises before a stop in Augusta, Sicily, and the onward journey to Souda Bay, Crete, to begin the next phase of their journey through the Suez Canal and into their new area of operations.

There was also an opportunity to cool off in the Mediterranean Sea with ‘hands to bathe’ on one of the hottest days of the year, giving the crews a break from the rigours of training.

Middleton’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Neil Skinner, said: “The vast majority of Crew 7 came together over a year ago as a group of individuals. Going through the rigours of preparing to deploy, and overcoming a host of challenges along the way, has been a turbulent journey. 

“But it is this process that has now gelled us as a very tight-knit team, able to take on any challenge faced. It is a privilege to now see the crew finally making the most of the opportunities and looking forward to being on operations. Every member of the team have stepped up to the mark and I could not be more proud of them.” 

HMS Bangor is home to Crew 8 from the 1st Mine Countermeasures Squadron, while it’s Crew 7 of the 2nd Mine Countermeasures Squadron currently on HMS Middleton. 

These sailors – 90 in total with 45 on each ship – will be deployed using a new ‘crewing model’, which will see them rotated in and out every four months, meaning crews are kept fresh and ready for future operations after intensive Gulf missions.

Leading Engineering Technician (Marine Engineering) Ian ‘Blood’ Reid, of HMS Middleton, said: “The new four months rotation model is a real boost. It makes planning my life so much easier, as I know exactly how long I shall be away and when I shall be home. 

“This is particularly important as I have a young family at home – stepping away from the longer six or nine month deployments and knowing when I can book holidays makes a real difference.” 

Both crews have worked tirelessly to get the ships and themselves ready for operations, including working with new command systems – known as ORCA (Oceanographic Reconnaissance Combat Architecture) – which will help highly-trained Mine Warfare Specialists and Clearance Divers in locating and destroying mines.

The cutting-edge ORCA system has seen new consoles installed in the operations room and bridge and works with the powerful sensors on board to increase the ships’ situational awareness during their operations.

ORCA allows the Mine Warfare Officer in the Ops Room to have increased situational awareness in comparison with the previous NAUTIS system, with a radar picture and navigation charts being integrated into the display.

In addition, a more user-friendly interface allows training to be conducted at a lower level, leading to a skilled junior crew.

PO (Mine Warfare) Peter Holt, said: “Having spent the last few months training with ORCA it is clear that it represents a step change in our capability. With the additional time spent at home and the new command system, Crew 8 will be more focused and capable as part of the mine countermeasures contribution.” 

Sandown-class HMS Bangor and Hunt-class Middleton will take over from HMS Brocklesby and Shoreham, joining HMS Chiddingfold, Penzance, Montrose and RFA Lyme Bay as part of Operation Kipion.

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