Royal Navy sailors given heroes' welcome to Portsmouth after risking lives to destroy wartime mines

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SAILORS who completed a challenging mission for Nato, destroying deadly historic mines in the Baltic, have returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

Families lined the basin wall at Portsmouth Naval Base to cheer home the 45 men and women of HMS Cattistock.

HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

The ship, which is the second oldest in the Royal Navy’s fleet, had been at sea for 10 weeks.

For a vast majority of that period, she had been assigned to Standing Nato Mine Countermeasures Group 1, a taskforce which is vital in ridding the world of anti-shipping mines laid during both world wars.

Cattistock’s Nato deployment only lasted seven weeks, but the mighty minehunter played a pivotal role as she worked along with allies from Danish, Belgian, German, Latvian, Norwegian and Dutch navies.

In just a two-week spell hunting mines in the Irbe Strait, Cattistock and her crew destroyed six mines laid by Russian and German forces in each world war, bringing the Nato force's tally to 39.

Big cheers as HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Big cheers as HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Lieutenant Commander Claire Thompson, Cattistock’s commanding officer, said: ‘This may be the second oldest ship in the fleet, but we’ve shown again the versatility and value of a minehunter and her crew in working with allies, representing the UK overseas and making life at sea a little safer in the Baltic.’

Sailors operate minehunters in rotation, spending several months on a vessel before a sister crew takes over.

Crew 6 has had a busy year, having returned from the Gulf, taken part in the D-Day 75 commemorations and conducting defence operations in UK waters.

Meanwhile, her sister ships HMS Ledbury and HMS Brocklesby are among the navy’s team to have just completed the globe’s biggest minehunting exercise in the Gulf, IMX 19.

Families lined the basin to welcome HMS Cattistock to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Families lined the basin to welcome HMS Cattistock to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

The exercise came amid the looming threat of Iranian aggressive, which has seen ships being attacked by mines.

Commander Simon Cox, commander of the UK mine countermeasures force in the Middle East, said: ‘Mine warfare has been around for centuries and it remains the single biggest attribution of loss of ships at sea,’ he said.

‘As a threat it is still massively potent. So the best way we can deter that activity is by preventing mines ever going in the water.’

Hugs all around as HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Hugs all around as HMS Cattistock returns to Portsmouth after 10 weeks away at sea. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Leading Hand Martin Hall of HMS Cattistock and his son Freddie Hall finally home after 10 weeks away on a NATO deployment Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

Leading Hand Martin Hall of HMS Cattistock and his son Freddie Hall finally home after 10 weeks away on a NATO deployment Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury