HMS Middleton teams up with Japanese in the Gulf

The crew of British minehunter HMS Middleton were given a rare insight into one of the world’s largest navies when they teamed up with the Japanese in the Gulf.

Tokyo dispatched two ships ­– JDS Uraga and Takashima – to take part in an international mine exercise, plus its senior officer in the field, Rear Admiral Hideki Yuasa.

They linked up with Middleton, one of four Royal Navy minehunters permanently stationed in the region to keep the sea lanes safe and open; in Middleton’s case, she and her 40-strong crew are experts in locating – and destroying – mines and explosives in shallow waters…

…As the Japanese discovered when they joined the Bahrain-based ship and observed the British sailors deal with a dummy mine laid on the bed of the Gulf.

After the ship’s sonar found a suspicious contact, the crew launched one of the Seafox submersibles to identify the object – it feeds live TV images back to the operations room – and (theoretically) destroy it using the explosive charges it carries.

The two Japanese ships and Middleton also took part in combined manoeuvres as all three vessels operated in close proximity, driving in different formations.

It has been very interesting working with the Japanese ships and very interesting discussing the mine warfare doctrine that the Japanese operate

Lieutenant Commander Maryla Ingham

With a Japanese liaison officer on the Royal Navy ship’s bridge, the exercise passed off flawlessly, proving that the units could operate seamlessly together.

“It has been very interesting working with the Japanese ships and very interesting discussing the mine warfare doctrine that the Japanese operate,” said Lieutenant Commander Maryla Ingham, Middleton’s Commanding Officer.

“We made new friends and colleagues among our Japanese counterparts and we look forward to working with them again in the future on MCM Operations.”

The Anglo-Japanese link-up closed with the ships signalling by flags; the Uraga hoisted a series of flags which would be copied by the other two vessels.

In true Royal Navy fashion, this quickly turned into a competition to raise the signal before the JS Takashima, with the lead changing hands several times.

“It was the first time I have had an audience of 12 people watching me work on the signal deck,” said Able Seaman (Seaman Specialist) Carl Seabourne.

“The Japanese obviously take their flag work and flashing light seriously and they put us through our paces during the signalling exercise.

“I am the only trained visual signaller aboard Middleton but by the end of the exercise, we had the captain’s steward, two trainee officers and two engineers working furiously to hoist the correct signals ­ with the Japanese guests helping out too.”