Navy Divers travel to Garvie Island for range clearance

Fifteen Royal Navy clearance divers from the Clyde-based Northern Diving Group (NDG) recently travelled to the far North of Scotland to tackle unexploded ordnance left over from military exercises.

The military training range at Cape Wrath is an important defence asset, a remote 107-square miles of moorland used to help our armed forces practice vital skills used on the modern battlefield. 

Just off tip of the Cape is An Garbh-eilean – or Garvie Island – a large granite rock roughly the size of a warship.  Each year the RAF uses the rock as a target for live fire training and, occasionally, a small number of bombs fail to detonate. 

Enter the bomb disposal experts of Northern Diving Group.  The team travelled to Durness to conduct clearance operations at the Cape in some of the most challenging and austere conditions the Atlantic can throw at them.  

I’ve only been on the team for a few weeks now and it is really rewarding to come here and practice all that I’ve learned in training

Able Seaman Gittings

This year the team, headed by NDG Chief of Staff Lieutenant Commander Castrinoyannakis and Petty Officer (Diver) Gerry Mulholland, conducted some 98 dives in the waters surrounding Garvie Island.  Battling strong tides and freezing conditions, they successfully destroyed two 1,000lb and one 500lb bombs.

Petty Officer Mulholland described the process involved:

“Under the sea, if a piece of ordnance is located, the diver safely marks the device with a float and returns later with an explosive charge to place on the bomb,” he said.

“The bomb can then be detonated at a later time when all of the divers are out of the water and the team have moved to a safe distance.”

The NDG not only searched the seabed around Garvie Island, but also conducted a range walk on land, locating a large haul of 4.5-inch high explosive Naval Gun shells, along with several mortars and 105mm smoke markers. 

One of those attending the annual event was recently qualified Able Seaman (Diver) Deri Gittings.  The sailor removed the threat of an 81mm mortar that had partially exploded on a small island at Cape Wrath. 

Placing a small explosive charge on the mortar, he then used a remote firing device to blow-up the ordnance from a safe distance. 

Afterwards, Petty Officer Mulholland cast his experienced eye over the ordnance to confirm that it had been safely destroyed and the threat removed.

“I’ve only been on the team for a few weeks now and it is really rewarding to come here and practice all that I’ve learned in training,” said Able Seaman Gittings.

“While my experience on the initial clearance diver course was enjoyable, and of course at times intense, actually working operationally was a whole new level.  To work with such a professional bunch of lads was fantastic.”

The young diver will stay with NDG for a short time before joining a Royal Navy Mine Counter Measures Vessel (MCMV) where he will use his training and newly gained experience as part of a clearance dive team.