HMS Argyll Undergoes Rigorous Training to Prepare for the New Year
HMS Argyll is ready to deploy in the new year after coming through two months of rigorous training and instruction off Plymouth. The frigate coped with fires, floods, missile hits and other challenges, including serving as the launchpad for rookie Royal Marines carrying out mock raids on the South Coast.
More than 50 budding Royal Marines Commandos joined HMS Argyll for three days of training as two months of preparing the frigate for deployment in the new year reached its climax.
The frigate was charged with getting the 53 trainees (plus their instructors) from the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone on board, providing them with food, laundry and the like, and putting them ashore on a mission, before safely recovering them – bread and butter stuff for an amphibious assault ship, but virgin territory for Argyll, more used to hunting submarines and pirates than serving as a springboard for commando operations.
What the frigate learned – and her galley team especially – is that rookie Royal Marines are every bit as hungry as their fully-trained counterparts.
“The booties ate us out of house and home but they definitely need it,” said PO(CS) David Allsopp.
“The 53 of them ate more bacon than the rest of the 180 ship’s company onboard and we’re down to our last three days supply of sausages.”
It was therefore fortunate for Argyll that the embarkation of the Lympstone trainees came in the final phase of eight weeks of rigorous exercises off the Devon and Cornish coasts – Operational Sea Training, the ‘pre-season training’ which every Royal Navy vessel must pass before deploying.
OST begins alongside in Devonport with the exacting assessors of the Flag Officer Sea Training organisation descending on the ship en masse.
After a day of stringent checks in which every single member of the ship’s company and every department was tested to the limit, Argyll received a ‘strong satisfactory’ assessment (satisfactory in the FOST world = pass).
The prospect of such a rigorous inspection was, says Argyll’s marine engineer officer Lt Cdr Gary McCormack, “quite daunting.”
“It’s testament to all the members of the department who put in a great deal of work in preparation, and their utterly professional approach which saw us start OST in good shape, establishing a sound baseline from which we could continue with our training.”
The first week of inspections take place in harbour, reaching its climax with the infamous harbour main machinery space fire exercise, a hurdle that many a ship has tripped up over… but not F231.
“The ship’s company were really nervous about the main machinery space fire because the last time we did it, it took us three attempts to pass and the repeats were planned at times when nobody really wanted them – on a Friday afternoon,” LStd John Wicking said.
”This time around though, thanks to the determined efforts of the team, I breathed a sigh of relief when we were told we had passed first time.”
The first sea week was invaluable in providing the ship with the first taste of war fighting with the FOST staff opening their ‘armoury doors’ and letting out some of their array of simulated aircraft, missiles, warships and submarines.
It was clear that a steep learning curve lay ahead particularly when battle damage was overlaid upon the various training serials.
The ship’s company found themselves dealing with ever-more-challenging mock disasters and accidents, anything from a fire or flood to a missile taking out two decks of the frigate and the bulk of her midships section.
“Although you spend many hours in a simulated operations room environment, FOST warfare serials in a real-life warship ops room provide a quantum leap in terms of realism,” said underwater warfare specialist Lt Jeannine Cooley.
“The serials push you to the limit and you have to show your true mettle.”
ET Martin Woods added:
“This has been my first ever taste of OST and it has been a difficult but at the same time an invaluable learning experience.
“I’ve never had to repair damaged cables in the dark with breathing apparatus on and smoke all around me before.”
The bridge team, under the guidance of navigating officer Lt Roger Skelley, performed strongly throughout despite the long hours forced upon them – extremely early mornings and late nights were the norm.
In total the team completed 23 anchorages and 76 boat transfers to embark and disembark the 941 ‘seariders’ – FOST instructors and assessors – who gave Argyll the benefit of their wisdom.
With the marines gone and the eight weeks of training completed, the ship’s company were gathered in the hangar to hear the verdict from the FOST staff.
A cheer which could have been in the namesake Scottish county signalled that they’d passed (the exacting nature of OST means that not every ship does).
“My ship’s company have been fantastic! They responded really well to the training and ensuring that we met all of the challenges head-on and won through,” said Cdr Tim Neild, the frigate’s delighted commanding officer.
“The diversity and complexity of the scenarios and multitude of issues the ship is faced with during sea training is hugely relevant and very realistic and Argyll has completed them with her customary enthusiasm and professional attitude.”
“After such an intensive training programme it is now vital that the ship receives some much needed maintenance and most importantly my ship’s company have the time to take some well-deserved leave and recharge their batteries.
“Argyll will be ready in all respects for a successful deployment in 2013.”
Before the frigate returns to front-line duties in the new year she has to complete a firing of her main Seawolf air defence missile system against a drone target, and there’ll be an intensive period of pre-deployment maintenance.
Naval Today Staff, December 05, 2012; Image: RN