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Clearing the sea of dangers
9:24am Monday 1st December 2008 in On patrol with HMS Ledbury
DURING the past week, HMS Ledbury has been operating in the English Channel off the French port of Dieppe in company with her NATO counterparts. Despite high winds and rough seas, Ledbury has been busy hunting the seas for historic ordnance from the Second World War.
Dieppe, a major French fishing and trade port, was the site of fierce fighting during the Second World War. In particular, the town was the location for a daring Allied Commando raid in August 1942. The Allies finally liberated Dieppe in autumn 1944. However, the seas off the town are still littered by the remnants of war – countless sea and air-dropped mines, bombs and artillery shells from both Axis and Allied forces. All still pose a very lethal risk to local fishermen and other mariners. In the past week Ledbury and the rest of her NATO Standing MCM Group have been tasked to aid French national authorities in clearing the seas of these dangers.
Ledbury stepped up to a full war footing for the task – her Ship’s Company divided into Port and Starboard Defence Watches, working 6 hours on, 6 off, to maintain 24-hour operations. Very quickly the Ship’s powerful sonar picked up several strong contacts, and her submersible vehicles and Clearance Diving Team positively identified them as mines.
French authorities were very willing to give Ledbury permission to destroy two mine contacts – a 500kg sea mine and a 200kg air-dropped bomb. The first was despatched by plastic explosives laid by AB(D) Toby Jones, and the second was destroyed by a 70-kg Mine Disposal Charge dropped from a PAP submersible vehicle that was being conned into position by PO(MW) Mark ‘Ginge’ Wilcockson. Both mines were destroyed in huge underwater explosions.
The Captain, Lt Cdr Chris Nelson said, ‘It was great for Ledbury and her people to carry out the Ship’s ultimate purpose as a mine hunter. We proved that Ledbury is more than capable of mounting round-the-clock mine warfare operations in testing conditions and coming up with the goods. Going all the way and blowing up real mines was the icing on the cake for the Ship’s deployment with the NATO group.’ Ledbury remains on mine warfare tasking for a further couple of weeks before she returns to her base port of Portsmouth for maintenance and Christmas Leave.