Ledbury gears up for Gulf mission with extensive workout in Scotland

HMS Ledbury's Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Jim Harkin 'shakes hand' with his opposite number on HMS Blyth - a spot of light relief during an extensive period of training for both minehunters.

Britain's oldest operational warship - 36 years' service - is gearing up for a marathon stint in the Gulf of three years or more.

To prove she and her 45-strong ship's company are ready for the 7,300-mile sea journey from Portsmouth to Bahrain, home of the five-strong Gulf mine force (four minehunters, one RFA mother/command ship), Ledbury is enduring several weeks of Operational Sea Training - culminating in a fortnight-long international exercise which begins this weekend.

Big ships are put through their paces off Plymouth. Fishery protection, survey ships and minehunters head for western Scotland for their assessments - described by some as akin to 'pre-season training' for footballs.

Ledbury's crew of 45 dealt with simulated fires, floods, casualties, enemy vessels and even the salvage of a distressed ship. Real aircraft and surface craft were used to simulate threats and practise the ship's reactions.

A highlight was the opportunity to take charge of a live gunnery exercise with three ships blazing away at a remote-controlled target vessel.

It ended rather too soon for the gunners liking as they were having a blast (literally) until they wrecked the attacking craft's aerials and caused other damage - which proves they are spot on with their aim.

I'm immensely proud of my team, who have consistently proved themselves over a sustained period of high tempo Operational Sea Training

Lieutenant Commander Jim Harkin, HMS Ledbury's Commanding Officer

The following fortnight focussed on the ship's primary duty - to find and neutralise enemy mines. The ship's company cleared an allocated area using sonar and her Seafox unmanned underwater vehicles.

Once training mines were found, then the ship's mine clearance divers dealt with the threat using high-explosive underwater charges - or by dispatching the 'live' version of Seafox to remotely detonate a simulated mine.

"I'm immensely proud of my team, who have consistently proved themselves over a sustained period of high tempo Operational Sea Training," said Lt Cdr Harkin.

"This year we are away from our families for eight months, but the ship's contribution to UK defence, economic security and wider geopolitical stability is considerable. My ship's company and their families can be very proud of what they do."

This weekend Ledbury weighs in to Joint Warrior, the twice-yearly air-sea-land war games waged largely in and off western Scotland which draws in not just the core of the UK's Armed Forces, but ships, aircraft and personnel from numerous Allied nations.

For Ledbury, it'll be a chance to prove she can work as part of a task group - be it purely RN or international, exactly as she'll do once based in Bahrain.

The Hunt-class ship is due to sail for the Gulf later this year with her sister Chiddingfold making the journey in the opposite direction ahead of a major refit in Portsmouth.