The clouds do their best to obscure the harvest moon which casts its bright light on a docked-down HMS Albion as a large LCU Mk10 landing craft returns to ‘mother’, carrying the naval leaders of tomorrow for their first extended period at sea: six weeks aboard assault ship.
As you read this, the future flagship (she assumes the title next year from Ocean), is beginning a month and a half of intensive amphibious training – her core business – as part of her Operational Sea Training (OST) package, after which she’ll be able to deploy wherever Whitehall determines she is required.
She conducts OST with plaudits ringing in her ears, having been formally handed back to the Royal Navy from the Defence Equipment and Support arm of the MOD, who oversaw Albion’s £90m two-year refit.
The private firms, engineers and ship’s company have been praised for the speed and efficiency with which they brought a sleeping giant back to life (Albion was mothballed for four years following the 2010 defense review) and are now turning her into a potent fighting machine.
In a world where defense projects normally take longer and cost more than anticipated, Albion returned to sea three days earlier than planned back in the summer – and has maintained the pace throughout sea trials, conducted with such aplomb that Commodore Rob Bellfield, the new Commodore of Devonport Flotilla was more than happy to welcome the ship back into the bosom of his ‘family.’
He said the regeneration of the ship over the past three years was an example of how the Navy, industry and MOD could work together successfully.
“With a strong command lead and an extremely enthusiastic and engaging ships company, the ship is immaculate which is indicative of the ship’s company’s collective pride,” he told the 330 sailors and Royal Marines.
Albion has a brief period between the end of sea trials and start of OST – but it’s not a lull.
Take a deep breath.
- Two Dutch landing craft have joined the ship as part of long-standing partnership with the Netherlands’ Korps Mariniers (just 14 months younger than our Royal Marines);
- Albion took part in the regular Thursday War off Plymouth, including some damage control training;
- bomb disposal experts from Plymouth’s Southern Diving Unit scoured the assault ship from keel to main mast as part of a terrorist homemade bomb training exercise;
- five female sailors dined on Victory with counterparts past and present to mark the 100 anniversary of the WRNS forming;
- Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue teams practiced evacuating casualties from the 19,500-tonne vessel;
- helped Falmouth Coastguard save a yachtsman in distress;
- crew joined the affiliated Army (Queen’s Own Yeomanry) on their annual live firing exercise on the Yorkshire Moors;
- visited the affiliated city of Chester to support the Lord Mayor at the Admiral of the Dee ceremony;
- and somehow there was still time and energy for the Great Albion Cake Off, raising £500 for the ship’s Claire House Children’s Charity.
You can breathe again now.