Most hallowed waters for HMS Grimsby’s latest mine hunt

HMS Grimsby prowled the most hallowed waters in Royal Navy history as she took part in the largest naval exercise NATO has run this decade.

The Faslane-based minehunter searched the waters off Cape Trafalgar in Spain where a deadly harvest of drill mines had been laid as part of Noble Justification.

More than two dozen warships and submarines, as well as helicopters, AV-8B Harrier jump jets, maritime patrol aircraft, B52 bombers and more than 5,000 sailors and marines from 16 nations converged on the southern coast of Spain.

Straddling both the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the two-week exercise was designed to test the abilities of different nations’ forces to work together and to ensure the Spanish Navy will be ready to take the reins as the maritime ‘arm’ of NATO’s Response Force next year.

The area of operations was just five miles from – but 60 metres below – where the Battle of Trafalgar occurred, allowing the crew to toast Admiral Nelson’s great victory just off the Cape of Trafalgar – 209 years to the day after the Royal Navy defeated the combined French and Spanish Fleets,

Lt Henry Adams

One key strand of Noble Justification was the ability to clear a minefield close to sure – which is where HMS Grimsby and other ships in NATO’s Standing Mine Counter-measures Group 2 came in.

Operating under a constant (simulated) threat of bombardment from shore-based artillery and at times within sight of ‘Bothnian’ enemy vessels, Grimsby’s highly-trained minehunting teams first identified suspicious sonar contacts, then sent down her specialist divers to retrieve the drill mines.

Just for good measure, the Sandown-class warship had to thwart attacks from helicopters, fast speedboats and local patrol forces.

When the fighting was over, Grimsby took the opportunity to mark Trafalgar Day closer to the ‘battlefield’ than anyone else in the Royal Navy in 2014.

“The area of operations was just five miles from – but 60 metres below – where the Battle of Trafalgar occurred, allowing the crew to toast Admiral Nelson’s great victory just off the Cape of Trafalgar – 209 years to the day after the Royal Navy defeated the combined French and Spanish Fleets,” said Lt Henry Adams, Grimsby’s navigator.

“Of course, we now train and fight side-by-side with our NATO Allies, so the Task Force Commander, Italian Captain Peigaja, was able to share in a drop of Nelson’s blood (rum) in Grimsby as the sun went down over the historic cape.”

Once alongside in the Spanish port of Rota, just along the coast from Trafalgar, the commanding officers of Spanish minehunter Duero and German minehunter Homburg also joined Grimsby’s officers for a Trafalgar Night dinner.

“Throughout our deployment with the NATO group we have spent plenty of time working hard at sea and learning about each others’ operational techniques,” said Grimsby’s second-in-command Lt Tim ‘Castro’ Castrinoyannakis.

“Almost as important, I am extremely proud that we have been able to spend quality time sharing our culture and history with each other – it adds to the sense of our modern countries working effectively side by side.”

As for the wider impact of Noble Justification, the senior RN officer directing the exercise with his staff, Vice Admiral Peter Hudson, says it reinforced the collective strength of NATO’s navies.

“The exercise clearly demonstrated to the members of the Alliance that NATO is capable, is at high readiness and will safeguard the security of all members,” he added.

“It also reminds potential adversaries that we remain the world’s foremost military alliance, able to deliver what is demanded by our leaders.”