HMS Albion breezes through hurricane test

A hectic 2019 for Britain’s flagship ended with disaster in Plymouth – promptly dealt with by the men and women of HMS Albion.

The year for the assault ship closed with intensive training in and around Albion’s home base, reaching its climax with a two days of helping the ‘victims’ of war and disaster.

For more than two decades the Navy has exploited a series of disused buildings at Bull Point to train ship’s companies – and more recently the emergency services – in not just how to treat casualties or extinguish fires, which should be bread and butter to well-honed sailors and Royal Marines, but to co-ordinate the relief effort so that the right people receiving the right help at the right time… rather than simply tackling the first problem you come to.

In the space of just six hours, the crew restored the electrical supply, rescued/accounted for all ‘residents’, provided medical assistance for more than 50 casualties, provided hot food for all the hurricane’s victims, cleared a runway for aid flights to arrive and saved two-dozen people from a stricken vessel

And Bull Point features a dazzling array of problems to tackle simultaneously: cars aflame or crashed into rivers, downed power and telephone lines, flooded and collapsed buildings, injured, distraught and stunned civilians (played by a mix of local volunteers and students on the public services course at Loughborough College).

Ahead of the fictitious Hurricane Freda sweeping through the site, Albion first faced the task of plucking more than 130 civilians from a danger zone (something her sister Bulwark did for real in Lebanon in 2006).

Each civilian has to be processed – to ensure they are entitled for evacuation – fed and accommodated on board, with any carrying illness/diseases isolated to prevent an outbreak.

Once complete, the ship’s company threw themselves into the disaster relief mission at Bull Point.

In the space of just six hours, the crew restored the electrical supply, rescued/accounted for all ‘residents’, provided medical assistance for more than 50 casualties, provided hot food for all the hurricane’s victims, cleared a runway for aid flights to arrive and saved two-dozen people from a stricken vessel in the Hamoaze.

The two large-scale tests came at the end of Operational Sea Training which every Royal Navy warship must pass before deploying on front-line duties.

Six weeks were set aside for Albion’s assessment – starting with the basics, dealing with any conceivable eventuality from fires and floods on board, through to amphibious assaults on hostile shores and fighting aircraft, ships and submarines.

So well did the assault ship’s men and women perform that Albion passed every test set first time and finishing training with one week to spare – almost unprecedented.

The training came off the back of a busy year for Albion with two major exercises off northwest Scotland in the spring and autumn and a summer spent leading a UK task force to the Baltic.

“Notwithstanding a particularly demanding year – and numerous 5am starts throughout the training period – the ship’s company rose to the challenge and dealt admirably with everything that was thrown at it,” said Commander John Brennan, the ship’s weapon engineer officer.

“It was an exemplary performance and testament to the fantastic team who make up HMS Albion, the Fleet’s flagship.”

After Christmas leave, the 350-plus sailors and Royal Marines will return in the New Year to prepare to lead the Navy’s winter deployment to the Arctic.