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Double joy as Minehunters return after epic Gulf mission

HMS Ledbury returns home to Portsmouth
11 September 2020
Families braved the Rhu rain to welcome HMS Blyth back to the Clyde – while her partner on a three-year Gulf mission, HMS Ledbury, was welcomed home to Portsmouth.

The two Royal Navy minehunters completed the 6,000-mile journey from Bahrain where they’ve spent more than 1,000 days protect shipping, keeping sea lanes open and working with the UK’s allies and partners in the region.

Although the ships themselves have been away since 2017, the men and women aboard change places every six or seven months, returning to the UK to trade places with their counterparts and crew identical vessels operating in home waters.

Crew 2 from Faslane’s 1st Mine Countermeasures Squadron have been attached to Blyth – which specialises in finding mines in deep waters – for 230 days, 111 of them spent at sea covering some 6,300 nautical miles on mission had the honour of bringing the Sandown-class vessel home.

Covid-19 restrictions, which came into effect in March, meant it was a particularly challenging time for the crew.

The ship and crew were greeted by a small flotilla of boats, including Royal Marine craft from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group and a Clyde-based tug, as well as waving loved ones gathered at the Rhu Narrows.

“Blyth and her ship’s company have done an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances over the last eight months,” said Commander Neil Griffiths, Commanding Officer of MCM1. “They have done this with the usual professionalism and can-do attitude that typify the MCM Community.

“I’m proud of what they have achieved and now they can enjoy some well-deserved leave with their families.”

A proud crew have completed a highly successful eight-month deployment in the Middle East against a backdrop of high regional tensions. This is a hugely commendable effort and testament to our people

Lt Cdr Matt Ellicott

At the same time, 450 miles away in Portsmouth, Ledbury’s 1,000-day odyssey ended in slightly brighter weather.

Like Blyth, her crew – drawn from 2nd Mine Countermeasures Squadron – have been away from home since January.

Their deployment saw the ship spend 116 days at sea, with their anti-mine drone Seafox launched on 57 occasions, and 88 dives carried out by the ship's clearance diving teams – at a time of particularly high regional tensions in the Middle East.

And her crew endured the same limitations on life as Blyth and other RN vessels in Bahrain under the pandemic.

Despite the disruption to daily lives, the operational programme and international logistics, the crew’s morale was kept up by the arrival of more than half a tonne of mail throughout their deployment.

“We’re delighted to return to the familiar sights of Portsmouth harbour and to have brought HMS Ledbury, the oldest seafaring vessel in the Royal Navy, home after another successful deployment over the past three years,” said her Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Matt Ellicott.

“It is a shame that our families aren’t able to greet us within the naval base but it’s always great to see them and so many well-wishers at Round Tower and Southsea beach to welcome us home.

“A proud crew have completed a highly successful eight-month deployment in the Middle East against a backdrop of high regional tensions. This is a hugely commendable effort and testament to our people.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Crew 2 which faced 60knt winds of the South West monsoon and 4-5 metre swells as they started the return journey, a departure which had been delayed by two weeks when their programme was altered due to on-going regional tensions.

Chief Petty Officer Darren Hills is the Weapon Engineer Officer, completing what he thought was his sixth deployment to the Gulf.

The 35-year-old said: “This has been one of the most challenging deployments as we have essentially been in quarantine since March. It has been a mental challenge for everyone onboard and as the head of department it was my job to bring the team together and lift their spirits.

“It was emotional coming back into Portsmouth today, quite a special occasion seeing our families after all this time.” 

AB (Mine Warfare) Harvey Burns, 23 and from Blackpool, who has been operating the sonar and mine disposal systems employed by the Hunt class, as well as aiming duties on the deck-mounted weapons, on his first overseas deployment.

“This was an experience to say the least,” he said. “It was it wasn’t so bad at first, but when the Covid hit in March it became a bit of a struggle. Obviously, we were quarantined quite a lot – we weren’t allowed ashore, we were ship-bound. It was definitely a task.”

The Hunt class carry about 45 officers and ratings in snug conditions, so they were able to help each other through the months of relative isolation. “Being a small ship’s company, it is a lot better because you’re a lot closer to everybody else and just push through it,” Harvey added.

HMS Ledbury will now undergo a period of maintenance by BAE Systems at HMNB Portsmouth, while Crew 2 will move into another Hunt class vessel after taking leave.

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