Birmingham URNU and HMS Exploit return from Operation Southern Sun

Birmingham University Royal Naval Unit students have returned from their summer deployment, code named Operation Southern Sun, after visiting the Channel Islands, France and northern Spain.

Birmingham URNU deployed in their P2000 patrol ship HMS Exploit along with their “wingship” HMS Dasher from Bristol URNU. 

Dasher and Exploit worked their way south through the Channel Islands, French Atlantic Coast and onto the Northern Coast of Spain.  44 student midshipmen from Birmingham URNU benefitted from the chance to embark in one of the four two week training periods onboard. 

“Every two weeks the students changed around – the only problem with this was the crew changes would take place foreign. Careful logistics planning was required to ensure the crew changes occurred in ports with good transport links like the ferry ports of Santander and Bilbao to minimise churn.

"Every phase was oversubscribed with the vast majority of our students hoping to get a place on Op Southern Sun, “explained CPO Pam Ayres, Birmingham URNU’s Coxswain.

Each two week phase was planned with sufficient sea time for the students to progress with their taskbooks in navigation, seamanship and leadership but also with some harbour days for the students to explore ports and the local area.  Major ports visited included St Helier, St Malo, Brest, La Rochelle, Gijon, Bilbao and Santander as well as smaller not often visited ports of Braye on Alderney, Getaria on the north Spanish coast and Arcachon near Bordeaux.  

This was the first time for almost 18 months that Exploit had deployed in company with another P2000.

Mid Hannah Bartlett

Along the way Exploit and Dasher met with Express (Wales URNU) and Ranger (Sussex URNU), taking the opportunity to engage in Thursday War style multi threat scenario days at sea to put the embarked students through their places. Plenty of interaction and integration was done by students and Ship’s Companies from each URNU. 

“This was the first time for almost 18 months that Exploit had deployed in company with another P2000.  Previously we had mostly deployed as a single unit in the Baltic last Summer and over Easter 2014 in the Western Isle, so it was great to be able to deploy fully with another Archer Class ship.  

"We took advantage of  this rare in company time by RASing, conducting OOW Mans and staging joint socials at every opportunity,” added Mid Hannah Bartlett, a fourth year student from University of Birmingham.

Along the way Exploit changed Commanding Officer with Lt Simon Shaw leaving after 2 ½ years in command and Lt Daley Snell joining as CO from Daring in sunny Port Haliguen.  Leaving the ship following the traditional clear lower deck, Exploit’s crew and students manned the sides before Lt Shaw was rowed ashore by Mid Alex Harris, a second year student from the University of Birmingham, in the fishing port of Douarnenez , France.

“After 29 months in command, it was time to leave Exploit with many fond memories.  Over the past three years we’ve steamed 17000 miles and visited 130 ports in 14 countries from Fort Augustus in the north to Gijon in the south, Klaipeda in the east and Waterford in the west during our deployments and sea weekends.  

"I wish good luck to Exploit and Birmingham URNU as they transition to the new split URNU format over the next year”, added Lt Simon Shaw.

Leaving Douarnenez, Exploit and their new CO passaged north to Portsmouth via Roscoff and Jersey.  Previously Exploit and Birmingham URNU were commanded by a single lieutenant but from August 14 onwards, two separate lieutenants will command Birmingham URNU and Exploit respectively.

“This was my last deployment with Birmingham URNU as I must leave now following the completion of my degree at University of Birmingham.  Over the past three years I’ve been privileged to visit ports across Europe and in Home Waters with Exploit and I will always remember my time with Birmingham URNU fondly.  

"During this deployment it was fun to work with other URNUs whilst visiting parts of France and Spain away from the tourist areas and practice our coastal navigation, “ said Mid Amy Barnes, a third year student studying theology. 

Birmingham URNU will be recruiting for the new academic term in September from Freshers Fayres at University of Birmingham, Aston, Birmingham City University, Wolverhampton University and Coventry University.  

Students are also taken from Loughborough, Leicester, Leicester De Montford, Warwick, Worcester and Harper Adams.  Birmingham URNU headquarters is located at HMS Forward in Birmingham City Centre.