Next Generation of British Submarine Commanders Tested to the Limit

Next Generation of British Submarine Commanders Tested to the Limit

HMS Richmond and her sister HMS Westminster have been charging around the fjords of Norway as the submarine commanders of tomorrow were tested to the limit. The two frigates joined some 20 NATO warships and aircraft trying to hunt down two submarines carrying students on the world-famous international Submarine Command Course.

This is what it is like to be in a submarine with a Royal Navy frigate bearing down on you.

In the cross-hairs is HMS Westminster – charging at full pelt at a periscope as the ultimate game of naval cat and mouse is played out off the coast of Norway.

The warship is one of two Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigates – designed and built to hunt down enemy submarines – testing would-be submarine commanders to the limit.

Joined by HMS Richmond and 20 NATO warships and aircraft from Norway, the Netherlands. Denmark and France, they are the foes of two submarines – the Dutch HNLMS Bruinvis and Norway’s HNoMS Utstein – carrying students on the international Submarine Command Course.

The course – known as Perisher because to fail effectively ends an officer’s career in submarines – tests the would-be submarine commanders in every imaginable scenario.

By far the most exhilarating part of the two-week exercise are the ‘eyes only’ runs: the submarine must try to make a successful torpedo attack using only the periscope and mental agility, while every warship in the area tries to charge it down.

It’s something which Royal Navy vessels have done since World War 1 – battleship HMS Dreadnought famously charged down U-boat ace Otto Weddigen in 1915, while a generation later Germany’s greatest submarine commander Joachim Schepke was crushed to death as HMS Vanoc smashed into U100 with the Battle of the Atlantic raging.

Next Generation of British Submarine Commanders Tested to the Limit 2

Decades later and although technology has moved on, many of the tactics – for submarine and submarine hunter – remain in use. And the sight of a warship bearing down on a periscope at full speed remains a fearful one.

“The aim is to remain at periscope depth in the presence of close proximity warships,” says Perisher instructor and former captain of HMS Turbulent, Cdr Ryan Ramsey.

“You need to know where the warships are, determine where they are going to be, and work out whether you can stay at periscope depth or must go deep.

“It tests mental agility, spatial awareness and command presence to deal with warships in close proximity.”

As well as being a supreme test of the budding submarine commanders, the exercise has been as good a workout as the crew of a Type 23 frigate are going to get.

“It was also a great opportunity to test ourselves against the very capable Norwegian submarines, operating in the narrow and confined fjords that they know so well,” said Lt Cdr Adam Riddett, HMS Richmond’s underwater warfare officer.

“Equipped with the latest sonar systems and capable of speeds up to 30 knots, we were able to challenge the Perisher students and test the very limits of their abilities.”

Cdr Ramsey – who’s known as Teacher by his students – says the ‘at sea’ phase of the course tests the would-be commanders to the limit.

 “It’s four weeks at sea ‘at war’ against a variety of ships, submarines, aircraft and troops – they must win – failure is not an option.

“The students develop the skills of command, leadership, strategy and tactics, as they learn to out think the enemy.”

For the first time since 1993, the Royal Navy Perisher students are carrying out their training aboard diesel-electric submarines. This is part of a new joint programme, in this instance allowing submariners from the Royal Navy, Netherlands and Norway to share their experiences – and also ‘play’ with much more opposition than on individual national Perisher courses.

Richmond has now completed her part in the submarine training and is at sea giving the Royal Navy’s navigators of the future an equally-thorough workout as they carry out specialist navigation training.

As for Westminster, she’s due to sail into London from March 13 for a six-day high-profile visit to the capital.

Naval Today Staff, March 11, 2013 Image:Royal Navy