The amphibious warship HMS Bulwark returned to her home base of Plymouth last week after two months with the largest Royal Naval deployment of the year in the Mediterranean.
The command and control ship led the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) on Exercise Cougar 12, consisting of the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, Plymouth-based HMS Montrose and HMS Northumberland, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Mounts Bay and the heavy-lift ferry Hartland Point.
HMS Bulwark’s Commanding Officer, Captain Andrew Burns, said:
“It has been an immensely successful deployment. We have proved we have the professionalism and the tools to do the job that we are here to do. We have come a long way in the two months since we sailed from Devonport, and we have honed the skills that make HMS Bulwark a capable and formidable amphibious platform and fleet flagship.
“We now look forward to 2013 and the opportunities that we are presented with to develop and build upon our capabilities even further.”
Sailing fully loaded with 550 sailors, Royal Marines and Commander United Kingdom Task Group staff officers, 62 Land Rovers and armoured vehicles and eight amphibious landing craft, HMS Bulwark departed as a fully loaded amphibious assault platform ready to grasp every opportunity available on the exercise to train and prove her capabilities.
Having trained off the south west coast of England, where the task group took the opportunity to exercise the key elements of amphibious operations, the RFTG sailed for the Mediterranean, taking the opportunity to train with the Danish, French and Spanish navies along the way.
The culmination of all the rehearsing took place in Corsica, testing the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force concept developed under the UK and France Defence Cooperation Treaty.
The British and French navies were successfully able to examine and test the maritime element by demonstrating the task group’s ability to project air power from the sea using the French Carrier Strike Group and the British Amphibious Task Group, with HMS Bulwark at the centre of amphibious operations.
The 13-day exercise in Albania involved Royal Marines from 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group and 45 Commando, a full land and air assault on the Vlore Peninsula, and simulated small boat attacks against the ships in the task group by the Albanian Navy, playing the role of smugglers and insurgents.
Exercise Albanian Lion allowed HMS Bulwark to demonstrate her prowess in amphibious operations, command and control, and surface defence against maritime attack.
The crew of HMS Bulwark also enjoyed port visits to Gibraltar, Toulon, Corfu and Malta for diplomacy duties, memorial services and sporting events. The crew are now taking some well-earned leave.
Naval Today Staff, December 3, 2012; Image: UK MoD