HMS Ledbury tested in Gulf mine exercise

Two of the UK’s four Bahrain-based minehunters, plus their mother ship, joined two Marine Nationale counterparts and half a dozen US warships and patrol craft for a major Anglo-French-American workout in the Gulf.

The US and UK both maintain a permanent mine warfare force in the Middle East and regularly train side-by-side.

French minehunters are a less frequent sight in this part of the world, so the presence of FS L’Aigle and Sagittaire allowed three of the globe’s leading navies to flex their combined muscles and train together on Artemis Trident 19.

The ‘Fighting Aces’ – 2nd Mine Countermeasures Squadron Crew 1, currently in charge of HMS Ledbury for six months as part of the rotation of sailors in the Gulf –ran out their dive team and remote-controlled mine disposal system Seafox to deal with the dummy mines peppering the sea for the exercise.

There are occasions where getting up close and personal to around 400kg of explosive is necessary.

Able Seaman (Diver) Ryan McMenemy

They started at the easy end – a buoyant mine (big, round, floaty, basically your traditional mine, but without the detonator spike).

They are cheap, easy to produce and lay, lurking just below the surface waiting for unsuspecting shipping traffic to just run into them.

Ledbury’s divers had to options: to send the mine to kingdom come by placing a small detonation charge on it or render the device safe then bring it back on board for analysis, to find out what makes it tick and pass on the information to anyone else who might come across a similar mine.

In this instance, the divers – plunging into pleasant 23°C waters (it’s a mere 10°C in Ledbury’s home base of Portsmouth) – chose recovery.

“Usually these munitions would simply be destroyed at range using our remote mine disposal system – Seafox – but there are occasions where getting up close and personal to around 400kg of explosive is necessary,” explained Able Seaman (Diver) Ryan ‘Mac’ McMenemy.

“We hope to have a full deck by the end of exercise proving our ability to maintain freedom of navigation for trade at sea!”

Ledbury was joined by HMS Shoreham (whose crew specialise in locating mines in deep waters) and RFA Cardigan Bay, which acts as the floating command centre for the four Royal Navy minehunters based in the Gulf (Brocklesby and Blyth complete the quartet) and provides them with fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts and other supplies to sustain long-term operations.

The French vessels, for example, made use of Cardigan Bay to ‘raft up’ – come alongside as they would a jetty – to take on fuel and fresh water.