Navy divers help clear Baltic of WW2 bombs in international exercise

Navy divers spent a month in the Baltic helping their Lithuanian counterparts deal with the latest in home-made bombs – and historic explosives left over from two world wars.

A 17-strong team from Fleet Diving Unit 2 – experts in making sure harbours, jetties and port facilities are safe for shipping to use – took their kit to Klaipeda, including mini robot mine detectors.

The Lithuanians operate two former RN warships as part of their mine warfare forces (ex Hunt-class ships Cottesmore and Dulverton).

The Brits spent the first week of Exercise Open Spirit explaining and demonstrating to the Lithuanian bomb disposal experts some of the latest techniques and equipment used both on land (RN divers worked extensively in Afghanistan to deal with the ever-present threat of improvised explosive devices) and at sea.

Key to the diving unit’s work in harbours is the REMUS 100 – it looks like a mini torpedo, but actually scans the seabed up to depths of 100 metres (hence the name) looking for anything out of place, something dive teams used to do with a finger-tip search. The device scoured more than a square mile of Klaipeda harbour.

And on land, the Lithuanians had a go at wearing the cumbersome, but crucial, bomb disposal suit we use when making ‘the long walk’ to deal with a suspicious device.

Our deployment to Lithuania proved to be very successful. All our training objectives were met and the unit contributed very effectively to Open Spirit.

Lieutenant Rob Tristram, Fleet Diving Unit 2

After a week’s Anglo-Lithuanian combined training, Open Spirit began in earnest when other dive teams and minehunters – participants included the USA, Canada, Poland, Estonia and Germany – arrived for the live, at-sea phase of the exercise.

Although more than 70 years have passed since the end of WW2, the Baltic seabed remains littered with unexploded ordnance from minefields sown by the warring nations to bombs discarded by aircraft (including the RAF’s).

And Klaipeda itself – back then it was the German city of Memel – was the scene of particularly bitter fighting over the winter of 1944-45.

It fell to the FDU2 divers to identify and neutralise any historic ordnance they came across.

They came across more than 20 contacts – two of them turned out to be sea mines; collectively the Open Spirit participants found 15 such devices, one just off the entrance to the port of Klaipeda which is both Lithuania’s main port and home of her Navy.

For the Brits, normally based at Horsea Island in Portsmouth Harbour, the month in the Baltic was a very worthwhile experience, from sharing their knowledge and expertise with like-minded colleagues to proving they could work seamlessly with divers and mine warfare experts from around the globe.

“Our deployment to Lithuania proved to be very successful,” said Lieutenant Rob Tristram. “All our training objectives were met and the unit contributed very effectively to Open Spirit.

“We also formed some close links with the Lithuanian Navy who hosted both the exercise and training effectively and in a most hospitable manner.”