Visiting the armed forces on a formal visitor occasion is always an exciting time and my visit to Devonport, Europe’s largest Naval installation, was not to disappoint.
A wonderful railway journey through the rolling and green countryside of the West Country is a reminder of the precious nature of our Island state. As I was to later learn some 90% of all imported goods come by sea, 95% of overseas communications now travel by undersea fibre optic cable and we have one of the longest coastlines of any country in Europe with some of the most treacherous waterways in the world.
I was duly met at the security gates by the Commanding Officer of HMS Commander Philip Neville who escorted me with other guests to our host ship for the day HMS Argyll. She is a type 23 Frigate and although 24 years old and the senior ship of the Royal Navy is shortly to go into a years refit. On her return she will be one of the most advanced fighting ships on the seven seas.
We were given an action replay of how a torpedo attack would be repelled from the vantage point of the command centre in the heart of the ship. You will all be pleased to know we managed to avoid being hit but my greatest surprise was the use of a 6d whistle as the alert for certain actions to be taken. I have to say that with a two ton torpedo on my tail and closing fast I am not sure I would have the puff to blow and make any noise at all. That said the whistle was somehow reassuring that human beings were still in control of the process.
The fire crew gave a graphic display of how extreme a fire at sea can be. Further they are not uncommon, the majority being electrical, with HMS Argyll suffering 4 fires last year although all were minor and quickly extinguished thanks to the skill and speed of the fire crews.
On to the fast tender used for all sorts of purposes. Fast and jet powered they can go nearly anywhere. Recently whilst on patrol in the West Indies these amazing small craft managed to stop, board and recover from a smuggling craft illegal drugs with a street value of £200 million. I wonder if that has helped to fund the refit!
Finally onto HMS Courageous a decommissioned nuclear powered submarine berthed just behind HMS Conqueror which sunk the Belgrano in the Argentine conflict. It was a fascinating visit and although a very large craft, the height of two double decker buses, the amount of equipment it carries made it a cramped and claustrophobic place. There could be no privacy and little peace as many bunks and sleeping stations were spaced among the equipment. How would you like a fully armed torpedo as your sleeping partner?
For those who like cooking try the 10 feet by 6 feet galled for size which stores all the equipment and rations for 7o days and it gives you some idea of how the whole place operates. Yet the ratings confirmed that despite cooking for 90 crew three times a day the quality was usually very good although most chefs have their off days.
Back to HMS Argyll and the “Sunset” ceremony performed everyday at 4pm as the ensign at the stern on the Flight deck is lowered. A perfect end to a perfect day and a perfect journey back through our wonderful and well defended island.
My thanks to Commander Neville who advises me that the HMS propeller problems are being “sorted” but in any event it will be back on station next month on domestic duties. That may well give us a chance to visit her and Commander Neville will advise us of that opportunity as soon as convenient.
Graham F. Chase Master