Daily Archives: 2 December, 2009

Dauntless arrives in Portsmouth

HMS Dauntless, shown here in the Clyde

HMS Dauntless, shown here in the Clyde

HMS Dauntless, the second of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyers, arrived in Portsmouth today.

After a short delivery from the BAe system yard at Scotstoun on Clyde, Dauntless spent last night moored at Spithead, before weighing anchor and steaming into the harbour at 11am today. Sadly there was no flypast or any kind of event made of the occasion, which would have been an ideal time to ‘fly the flag’ for the Navy. The Army or the RAF would probably not have missed such an opportunity to show off a new fighter or a new vehicle.

Dauntless is the second in a batch of six ships. The first, HMS Daring, arrived in Portsmouth earlier this year. The Royal Navy is due to take delivery of the next four ships at the rate of one a year for the next four years. The rest of the class – Defender, Duncan, Dragon and Diamond – are all under construction. They will replace the rapidly ageing fleet of Type 42 Destroyers, which first entered service almost 35 years ago.

As impressive as they look, and as great as it is to finally see some new Destroyers for the Navy, several problems still remain. Six is nowhere near enough, by anyones standards. There will only realistically ever be 2 available at any one time for deployment, maybe 3 at a push. After originally planning for 12, the order was cut first to 10, then to 8, and finally to 6. These cuts are thought to have been in order to secure funding in the long term for the planned new aircraft carriers.

Also, the new Sea Viper missile, although being trumpeted by sources as a very capable missile, has not even been test fired yet. Dauntless is due to test fire it for the first time during her sea trials. Apart from raising the obvious question of why Daring has not been tasked to test it – what else is a lead ship for? – until the missile has been proven the Type 45′s are the worlds most advanced air control ships.

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Filed under event, Navy, News

Afghanistan in the News

Theres has been renewed intensity in the reporting of British forces role in Afghanistan recently.

Only on Monday the Prime Minister announced that 500 more troops would be deployed, taking the total number of British personnel deployed in Afghanistan to over 10,000. This comes in line with the US committing an extra 35,000 troops to the country, in a move not dis-similar to the ‘surge’ in Iraq seveal years ago.

As well as the 500 British troops NATO countries have pledged 5,000 troops, among them Turkey, Slovakia, Georgia and Portugal. There are still, however, some notable large European countries who seem unwilling to let their troops do anything too dangerous.

In announcing the new deployments, Gordon Brown spoke of dealing with the Taliban threat at its source – on the Pakistan-Afghan border. This strikes at the heart of the issue of why we are there. To pull out and leave a vacuum would be naive in the extreme. A lawless Afghanistan would destabilise Pakistan, a nuclear country that already has a multitude of internal problems. Meanwhile, to the west Iran is becoming incresingly belligerent. This is a region that cannot afford any more problems than it already has. And this is before we talk about the amount of heroin on Britain’s streets that floods in from Afghanistan.

Attitudes about the mission in Afghanistan are generally quite wrong. People labour under the misapprehension that we are somehow trying to conquer Afghanistan, which is clearly not true. Or, perhaps, they have fashionable but ludicrous and completely unfounded views that we are helping the US to exploit Afghanistan and that our troops are ‘babykillers’. It does not suit the UK, the US or any other country to be there one day longer than they have to be. Besides, there is nothing in Afghanistan to exploit. The goal is clearly to secure the country, fend off terrorist elements and enable the Afghans to take care of their own country. Reconstruction is the key. Help make Afghanistan peaceful, secure and prosperous, and we eliminate the Taliban’s raison d-etre and our own reason for being there. When countries collapse more often than not dangerous regimes fill the vacuum.

Ill-informed commentators draw comparisons between earlier wars in Afghanistan, but to even try to compare them is a grave mistake. Huw Davies makes an excellent case for this. The modern army is one that is used to working with civilians, fighting terrorists, and keeping the peace. Even in 1841, the British Army was not trying to conquer Afghanistan, merely to secure it as a strong from against Russian threats to India. The same kind of issues have been discussed in a recent Osprey guide, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Comparisons are useful in history, but not when there is no common ground at all. The only similarities between the nineteenth century wars in Afghanistan and today are the terrain, the conditions, and the culture. History gives us some valuable lessons in this respect. Protesters vaguely talk about earlier failures, which were in fact nothing of the sort – merely difficult campaigns that eventually achieved their objectives. Afghanistan is not a war without an end – people frequently said the same things about Northern Ireland and Iraq. Maybe there needs to be better information about what exactly our aims are, and the Afghan Government needs to do its bit too, as well as notable NATO countries who could contribute a lot more.

Whereas the war in Iraq was badly handled (particularly the immediate post-war phase), distracted attention from Afghanistan and had dubious effect on us here in the UK, it would take a naive person indeed to argue that the Taliban coming to power would have no effect on stability in the region or on our safety here in the UK. It is a very unpleasant business and it would be much better if we didnt have to be there at all, but history shows us that sometimes to stand back and do nothing solves nothing.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Army, News, politics

The Portsmouth Dambuster

617 Squadron 'the Dambusters'

617 Squadron 'the Dambusters'

Flight Sergeant Herbert Clarke, from Portsmouth, was 22 when he was serving as an Air Gunner with 617 Squadron of the RAF, the famous Dambusters. Although there is no evidence to suggest how long he had been with the Dambusters for, Clarke had been mentioned in Despatches. An operation that took place on 7 October 1944 would sadly cost him his life.

As advancing French and American forces prepared to cross the Rhine near Mulhouse in Eastern France, it was feared that the Germans would flood the Rhine valley by destroying the Kembs dam, which formed part of the hydro-electric system that also made the Rhine navigable. Led by Wing Cdr ‘Willie’ Tait, 617 squadron took part in a daring pre-emptive daylight raid fielding a total of 13 Tallboy armed Lancasters. 7 bombing from 8000ft to distract the AA fire and 6 from below 1000ft to stand the best chance of a hit. 2 Lancasters were lost but Tait’s bomb fell right next to the dam and 30 minutes later a violent explosion breached the dam, the resulting loss of water leaving boats high and dry as far back as Basle in Switzerland.

Flight Sergeant Clarke was onboard one of the lost Lancasters, serial number LM482. The Tallboy bomb failed to release on their first run in to the target. On the second run they were hit by light flak and crashed 8 kilometres away from the target. Attacking such a heavily defended target, with great skill and during daylight was a magnificent feat. And to go round again after their bomb failed to release was in the best traditions of the RAF, and especially of the Dambusters.

Flight Sergeant Herbert Clarke is buried in Durnbach War Cemtery, Germany.

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Filed under Local History, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, World War Two