Baltic beckons for minehunter HMS Cattistock

Off on a whistle-stop NATO assignment around the ports and inlets of the eastern Baltic for the next seven weeks is minehunter HMS Cattistock.

The veteran Hunt-class ship departed not her native Portsmouth, but the less-familiar surroundings of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde after completing a demanding month of pre-deployment training.

She’ll make her way eastwards over the next week before linking up with Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 1, the NATO force dedicated to keeping the waters of northern Europe free of mines and historic ordnance.

Half a dozen vessels – Danish, German, Latvian, Norwegian and Belgian – are assigned to the force, currently led by the Danish Navy, which has most recently been dealing with unexploded wartime mines and bombs in the narrows separating Germany and Denmark – where construction on the world’s longest road tunnel begins next year.

We only returned from operations in the Gulf earlier in the year, so preparing has been hard work but the whole team are looking forward to visiting many new places, working with a number of different NATO nations

Lieutenant Commander Claire Thompson, Commanding Officer

And dealing with the debris of past conflicts still peppering the bed of the Baltic will be the principal task of HMS Cattistock, her team of divers and dedicated mine warfare specialists/Seafox remote-controlled submersible operators, but during port visits in the eastern Baltic the divers will share their experience and knowledge of explosive ordnance disposal with bomb disposal experts from other countries.

To prepare for the NATO mission, Cattistock – the second oldest ship in the Royal Navy at 38, but with the latest minehunting systems crammed inside her plastic hull – left Portsmouth for Loch Goil for engineering trials before undergoing a fortnight of intensive training and assessment.

All Royal Navy ships deploying on front-line duties must pass Operational Sea Training – ‘pre-season training’ for warships.

Frigates and larger are assessed off Plymouth; smaller vessels, irrespective of where they are based, head to western Scotland.

There the team from the Flag Officer Sea Training put the 45 souls aboard through their paces; they were expected to save the 750-tonne vessel from fires and flood, fend off fast attack craft and, of course, find, identify and neutralise mines – either using Seafox and its detonation charges, or calling on the divers to safely trigger any devices found by placing small explosive charges and retreating to a safe distance to watch the bomb/mine/torpedo blown apart.

“We only returned from operations in the Gulf earlier in the year, so preparing has been hard work but the whole team are looking forward to visiting many new places, working with a number of different NATO nations and generally taking part in such a rewarding deployment,” said Cattistock’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Claire Thompson.

Cattistock is due back in Portsmouth in late November.