Monthly Archives: May 2011

Media coverage of USS George HW Bush

Well its been a hectic couple of days here in Portsmouth, with 6,000+ US Sailors in town. I’ve collected some of the media coverage for you all, whether you be families stateside or just general ship nerds such as myself!

BBC News – USS George HW Bush anchors off Portsmouth (inc video)

BBC News – USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier crew in Portsmouth

Portsmouth News – It’s party time as 6,000 US sailors descend on the city

Portsmouth News – US invasion of the city begins

War on Terror News

And I’ve found some youtube clips from people who managed to get out on the boat trips. As you can see, it was a rough one!

The guys and girls from the Bush have made a lot of friends in Portsmouth, its been a great PR exercise for the US Navy. There’s been no hint of trouble, and all of the shop and barworkers are amazed at being called ‘sir’ and ‘maam’ all the time! Me and Sarah had a couple of drinks at Tiger Tiger at Gunwharf Quays, and one of the sailors showed us a new cocktail – black vodka, monster and coke – looks foul but tastes pretty good!

Oh, and lets not forget the Spaniards – they’ve been walking around in full uniform, including bobbles on hats and Hornblower style boat cloaks!

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USS George HW Bush in the Solent

Unfortunately due to time and weather I haven’t been able to get out to have a look at the Bush close up, but here are some pics taken from Stokes Bay, about a mile away:

If anybody – partricularly anyone stateside with folks on the Bush – would like any larger hi-res pics, please let me know.

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SPS Almirante don Juan de Bourbon

The Truxtun was followed by the Almirante Juan de Bourbon, an Alvaro de Bazan class frigate of the Spanish navy. Note how she looks like a sleeker, stealthier Burke – both were built on the same Aegis system, but the Bazans are newer.

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USS Truxtun

The USS Truxtun entering Portsmouth earlier this morning. She’s an Arleigh Burke class destroyer of the US Navy here for the weekend after exercise Saxon warrior with the USS George HW Bush carrier group.

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USS Bush arrives in the Solent tomorrow

Stokes Bay, England (Apr. 6, 2005) - The Nimit...

A Nimitz Class Carrier in the Solent (Image via Wikipedia)

After a long wait, the USS George HW Bush arrives in the Solent early tomorrow morning.

At 7am she will begin moving from the Nab Tower area towards Spithead. She will arrive at Charlie Anchorage off Stokes Bay at 0830.

Her escorts meanwhile – the US Destroyer USS Truxtun and the Spanish Frigate SPS Almirante don Juan de Borbon – begin sailing from the Nab to Outer Spit Boy at 0745. They should pass the Round Tower at around 0845 and 0900 respectively. The Truxtun will be mooring at Middle Slip Jetty and will be visible from the Gosport Waterfront, while the Borbon will be on North Corner Jetty – visible from up the Harbour, including on top of Portsdown Hill for those with decent lenses.

Meanwhile HMS Westminster and HMS Dauntless, who have been on exercise with the US and Spanish ships, will be arriving at about 0915 and 1015 respectively.

Later in the day the supply ship RFA Fort Austin will be leaving for a refit on Birkenhead. She will be leaving under tow, and should pass the Round Tower at about 1345.

Wondering where all these places are? Click here.

All in all a very busy day in Pompey, and an excellent time to go on a harbour tour, as we have all three Type 45′s in, a US Arleigh Burke, and a Spanish Alvaro de Bazan.

If anyone stateside is worried about security of the US ships, I’ll quote this from the Queens Harbour Master of Portsmouth:

  1. NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN by the Queen’s Harbour Master Portsmouth that between 27 and 31 May 2011 a nuclear powered military warship will conduct a formal visit to Portsmouth. During this period, the nuclear vessel will be anchored at “C Anchorage” in the Central Solent.
  2. Mariners are advised that the nuclear vessel is deemed to be “a vessel constrained by her draught” as defined under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS Rule 3(f) and 18) and is to be considered a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway (COLREGS Rule 9) at all times when underway within the Dockyard Port of Portsmouth.
  3. Mariners are further advised that LNTM 07/11 (Dormant Exclusion Zone for Underway Warships) will be activated for the entry and departure of the nuclear vessel. In summary all vessels except those involved in the escort are to remain 250 metres clear of the nuclear vessel whilst it is underway. VTS Southampton, acting with QHM’s authority, will direct commercial traffic to keep outside this zone. Warning broadcasts will be made on VHF Channels 11, 12 and 16 as appropriate and the escort vessels will show blue flashing lights.
  4. Whilst at anchor there will be a 250 metre Exclusion Zone in place around the nuclear vessel, which will be enforced by Ministry of Defence Police. Only vessels authorised by QHM will be allowed to enter this zone.
  5. For the duration of the visit, miscellaneous service craft will be berthed alongside the nuclear vessel and mariners passing C Anchorage should amend their passage plans to ensure they avoid the restricted area. Vessels navigating in the vicinity are to maintain a listening watch on VHF and are to be aware of the effects of their wake and are to reduce speed accordingly.

And here’s some coverage in the local press:

The Yank’s are coming!

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Chitral Charlie by N.S. Nash

Since studying the Operation Market Garden from an early age, I have had a keen interest in military incompetence. Arguably, one of the most well-known military disasters was that of Arnhem. Whether Boy Browning was culpable has been debated ever since. On the other hand, modern historians nowadays accept that Arthur Percival could not have done much more than he did to save Singapore from surrender.

Yet perhaps the greatest military disaster to befall the British Empire was that of Kut. During the Great War British and Indian troops advanced in Mesopotamia – modern Iraq – against the Ottoman Turk. In command was Major-General Charles Townshend. Townshend had joined the British Army in the late Victorian period. It is interesting that he chose a military career, as he had a very keen interest in the theatre and performing arts, and liked moving in those circles.

It is probably surprising that Townshend managed to reach the rank of Major-General at all. He spent large periods on leave gallivanting around Europe and North America, and swapped cap-badges for a hobby. But perhaps worst of all, he had a nasty habit of alienating his superiors, and even officers who supported him soon grew tired of his obsessive letter writing. He was constantly hassling commanders for a better posting, or bemoaning his supposed ill-fortune.

So why did the Army not simply cut him off at a lower rank? Firstly, Townshend did serve in the Sudan under Kitchener, and on the North West Frontier in India. He was awarded a total of NINE mentions in despatches. Secondly, patronage still counted for much in the British Armed forces, and ability and potential were not always the final arbiter of a career.

Regulars will by now be fed up of reading my opinion of military biographies – ie, that they are mostly hopelessly inadequate. Yet this attempt by ‘Tank’ Nash is very fair. It bears no baggage, recognises Townshend’s service but also calls his indiscretions and weaknesses very accurately.

Townshend at first advanced into Iraq, pushing the Turk’s onto the back foot. Drunk on victory, he decided to stand at Kut, and await reinforcements. The reinforcements never arrived, and eventually, after a bloody siege, Townshend and his men were captured. Many of them died brutally, yet Townshend spent the rest of the war in luxury in Constantinople. Not only did he show little concern over his men, but when he returned home he could not understand why he came in for such criticism. Incredibly, he felt that he could act as an envoy to the Turks, and could not comprehend that the Army was keen to get shot of him as soon as possible.

Townshend has many similarities with Browning. Both had shown bravery early in the careers, but then spent time away from active soldiering, and hence were rusty when war came. And worst of all, both careers were driven by ambition and patronage rather than ability. And lost battles were the result.

Chitral Charlie is published by Pen and Sword

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HMS Protector

The Royal Navy’s new ice patrol ship HMS Protector entering a blustery Portsmouth today.

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Exercise Saxon Warrior

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN...

The USS Bush underway (Image via Wikipedia)

Exercise Saxon Warrior has kicked off in the South West and Wales, and the news reports have started to come in.

This is from the MOD:

Exercise SW11 is a joint UK / US Navy exercise supported by NATO allies and will provide continuation training to the USS George H W Bush Carrier Group during its visit to UK prior to deployment to support operations in Afghanistan. SW11 is being conducted 19-26 May 2011. The Exercise has been planned by RAF and Naval personnel from the Joint Tactical Exercise planning Staff (JTEPS) based at Northwood HQ, London. They are augmented by additional service personnel to provide an appropriate level of specialist support and to assist with exercise safety.

The JTEPS aim is to provide coordinated training for the USS George H W Bush Carrier Group, all 3 UK Armed Services and the participating forces from allied nations.

The USS George H W Bush is the tenth and final Nimitz Class supercarrier of the United States Navy. Displacing in excess of 100,00 tons and with a top speed of over 30 knots, the USS George Bush carries an Air Wing comprising some 44 FA-18 Strike Fighters (C/E/F Supers), 5 FA-18G Electronic Warfare Fighters, 4-5 E-2 Hawkeyes, and 7 MH-60 helicopters. The Carrier Group is conducting operational work up training while en route to support operations in Afghanistan.

The fast jets (FJ) embarked in the USS George H W Bush Carrier Air Wing together with aircraft from the UK and other NATO Air Forces will be training together across the UK daily. Due to Op ELLAMY commitments UK participation is reduced and includes VC10 AAR and E3D. Allied and visiting air participants include NATO E3A, and Super Etendard FJ and Atlantique II Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from France. It is planned to fly approximately 60-90 combat and support missions per day on day and night sorties throughout the period. Limited night / weekend flying will be undertaken 21-22 May by the USS George H W Bush Carrier Air Wing, which will operate throughout the period in the South Western Approaches and Western English Channel.

SW11 will see participation from 26 separate naval units from UK, US, Spain, Germany and Sweden. The USS George H W Bush Carrier Strike Group comprises the carrier itself and its escorts, including the cruiser USS Gettysburg, and the destroyers USS Truxton and USS Mitscher. The aim for these units is to build upon basic maritime skills and learn to operate in an allied and multinational context.

A variety of UK and Allied Land forces including SF, 1 Division and 3(UK) Division (supported by maritime and air participants) will conduct Core Military Training and Mission Specific Training (MST) for OP HERRICK deployment at both Castlemartin and Pembrey Air Weapons Ranges, Salisbury Plain Training Area and at sites across Wales, capitalising on the training opportunities afforded by this joint activity. This training will fully utilise Defence Training Estate range areas, commercial ranges and private land areas.

More here, and more here, including some photos of jets.

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Busy times in Portsmouth Naval Base

HMS Gloucester (D96) photographed leaving Port...

HMS Gloucester (Image via Wikipedia)

It’s a busy time coming up for naval movements in Portsmouth.

All sources suggest that the American Aircraft Carrier USS George HW Bush WILL be visiting Portsmouth next weekend. She will be accompanied by the Arleigh Burke class Destroyer USS Truxtun and the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan class Frigate Almirante Juan de Borbon. the Spanish Frigate has been in the US with the Bush Strike Group for the past few months taking part in work-up exercises. I’m enquiring with tour boat companies to see if any offer trips out into the Solent to look round the Bush, although I might not be able to make it due to a moving girlfriend that weekend!…. If not I’m sure I’ll get some pics from the shore at Stokes Bay. The shops and bars in Portsmouth will be rubbing their hands waiting for 6,000+ thirsty and hungry yanks!

In other news, on Monday HMS Gloucester makes her final entry into Portsmouth before decomissioning later this year. The Type 42 Batch 3 Destroyer has served with the Royal Navy for over 20 years. My Grandad actually worked on her when she was built, when he was a painter at Vosper Thorneycroft‘s yard in Woolston. We looked round her at Navy Days a few years ago, and I can confirm that he didn’t miss any bits ;)

HMS Quorn left Portsmouth last Sunday for a 2+ years stint in the Gulf. Royal Navy minesweepers spend a few years at a time in the Gulf, saving on time travelling there and back. The crews rotate for 6 months at a time. Quorn is a Hunt Class minesweeper, with a GRP – glass reinforced plastic – hull.

In amongst all of the Royal Navy ships decommisioning, the RFA’s going out of service have been all but forgotten. But the Landing Ship Largs Bay left Portsmouth weeks prior to a refit before making her way to the Australian Navy. RFA Bayleaf has been dumped into 3 Basin pending scrapping, and RAF Fort Austin – a Falklands veteran – looks to be on her way to the scrapyard. A smaller Navy means a smaller RFA.

In other scrapping matters, Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton are in the trot of Fareham Creek awaiting the scrapyard, and Manchester and Gloucester are soon to replace them. The four Type 22 Frigates recently decomissioned will probably make their way to Portsmouth soon too.

And we’re expecting PolarBjorn – the new HMS Protector – to arrive in Portsmouth sometime in the early summer too.

All in all a busy period. I’ll try and get out with my camera as much as I can. And one of the bonuses of having a girlfriend from the West Country is that a few trips to Plymouth might be in order ;)

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HMS Puncher

HMS Puncher seen at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth recently. A P2000 class patrol boat, the class also double up as training vessels for University training Squadrons.

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USS George HW Bush departs… for Portsmouth?

070505-N-6854D-003 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (May 5, 2...

USS Anzio, part of the Bush Strike Group (Image via Wikipedia)

Yesterday the USS George HW Bush departed from Norfolk VA on her maiden deployment.

The Bush strike group is deploying to Europe and the Middle East, tasked with supporting maritime security. One would imagine that this deployment has been made with the conflict in Libya in mind. The Bush’s strike group includes the Ticonderoga class Cruisers USS Gettysburg and USS Anzio, and the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers USS Truxtun and USS USS Mitscher. It’s also a first deployment for the Truxtun, and it’s also the first time that a woman has commanded a Carrier Strike Group – Rear Admiral Nora Tyson.

On her way to the Mediterranean it is thought that the USS Bush will take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior, scheduled to take place between 18 and 26 May. Rumours around the internet suggest that the Bush will be stationed off Anglesey, taking the opportunity for her air wing to bomb targets at Pembrey Ranges. It seems that much of the flying activity will be over the South West and Wales. The exercise may also include GPS jamming, courtesy of the Bush’s Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

Why the interest? Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Bush will be arriving off Portsmouth in the Solent on 27 May, staying for the weekend. Any of her strike group might arrive along with her. Of course this is subject to operational demands, but keep your watching here for more information as soon as I get it.

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Portsmouth Heroes update

Well folks, we’re nearing the finish line!

I’ve ‘finished’ over 96% of the text for Portsmouth‘s Second World War Heroes. 15 out of 18 chapters are finished, as well as the Introduction. The remaining three chapters need a bit of beefing up but then we’re done, and the work begins on proof-reading, proof-reading, and then proof-reading again!

The hard work really is proving to be in sourcing illustrations. With up to 40 illustrations up for grabs, I am in a quandry trying to illustrate the book well, but not breaking the bank in doing it. As I have written before, institutions charge an arm and a leg for reproducing their images – prohibitively high charges make it difficult, especially for those of us working on low print run, specialised books. A number of relatives have been very helpful and supplied me with some useful images, as has John Sadden the Archivist at Portsmouth Grammar School and Debbie Corner at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.

I’m going to be off out taking some pictures myself – war memorials, gravestones and local military sites. I am also going to be trawling sites like flickr looking for public domain or royalties free images I can use.

One more thing that has occured to me is that it might be an idea to get some maps drawn up – and I have absolutely no idea how to go about it, having no experience or talent in graphic design! We’re talking very basic here – black and white, basic info such as coastline, towns and cities, rivers, arrows for troops movements or perhaps plotting the location of a ship at Sea. Anyone got any ideas?

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Obituaries – Claud Choules and Richard Holmes

Military has seen two sad passings in the past few days.

Claude Choules -  The last one of 70m

Image by Tram Painter via Flickr

Claude Choules (1901-2011)

The last known veteran of the First World War died last week. A former Tommy, Claude Choules later emigrated to Australia. Claude Choules was born in 1901, and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman in 1915. He served in the G

rand Fleet, and witnessed the scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919. In 1926 he emigrated to Australia, and then joined the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War. In the event of a Japanese invasion Choules would have been responsible for destroying ports in Western Australia. Later in life Choules became a pacifist, shunning celebrations which he saw as glorifying war.

Professor Richard Holmes CBE TD JP (1946-2011)

Out of all of the modern TV Historians, I have found Richard Holmes to be the most impressive. A former TA Officer who commanded a Battalion and finished up a Brigadier, he was ideally placed to write and present the popular War Walks series. I particularly enjoyed the programmes on Waterloo, Hastings and the Boyne – which led to my family calling me ‘Seamus a caca’, or in english, ‘James the shithead’. Later Holmes went on to write acclaimed Biographies of Wellington and Marlborough, the two men widely regarded as Britain’s best ever Generals. Both books were eminently readable and enjoyable. On BBC TV‘s Great Briton’s programme he championed Oliver Cromwell, not an easy task, and acquited himself rather well. Military History is a lesser field for his passing.

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Thoughts on Bin Laden

So, the biggest influence in global politics and security over the past 15 years is no more. As most commentators have suggested, it doesn’t actually change that much in real terms. OBL has not in any real sense been commanding Al Qaeda for years, merely providing funds and support and franchising its activities out to other organisations. Osama was more of a figurehead, and he can probably  do that better dead than alive.

Serious questions have to be asked about Pakistan. For somebody as dangerous as OBL to be hiding deep in the country, within 1,000 yards of Pakistan’s equivalent of Sandhurst? For two US Helicopters to enter Pakistani air space without being spotted? Let alone that he escaped detection for so long. Commentators have talked about the tightrope that Pakistan has to walk with regard to terror – meaning that although the Government wants to maintain law and order, many in Pakistan seem to have at least a lukewarm attitude to Islamic fundamentalism. It might be difficult to bring peace to the Afghan-Pakistan area all the time there are undercurrents of support there.

But the problems are not just in Pakistan – the world at large has dealt with Bin Laden inadequately ever since he first emerged onto the global scene. I can recall taking part in a model UN event for students in Geneva in 1998  just after Al Qaeda had bombed US Embassies in Kenya and Tanazania; as much as I tried, nobody was overly concerned with the threat, the regulation of the internet and female circumcision were bigger topics. Not to belittle those two issues, but history has borne me right on that one.

Al Qaeda’s message could well be increasingly redundant. Whereas OBL had presented violence as being the only option, the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have shown the Arab and Islamic world that terrorism is not necessarily the only way. It’s probably not as simple a case as Islamic fundamentalism dying away forever; the movement is so amorphous and loose to apply any general trends. But the undermining of its message and the loss of its sprititual leader could be the end of the beginning.

I can’t help but feel that Terrorists – like many criminals – aren’t as much motivated by politics and rhetoric as we might think, and are merely interested creating in a bloodbath. The sheer hypocris of Bin Laden’s hatred for the US was almost comical. As much as he hated the presence of US troops in Saudi before, during and after the Gulf War, those very same US forces prevented the Islamic Holy Land from being over-run by Saddam, who was far from a devout Muslim. And as for Afghanistan and the Soviets, the US did much to defend that Islamic state too. But as an aside, it is also slightly sad to hear prominent US figures talking about terrorisim, when for years they did very little about the IRA. Not only that, in some quarters the IRA and Sinn Feinn were openly supported, while killing British citizens and servicemen. Records released from the National Archives recently suggest that none other than Senator Ted Kennedy blocked the sale of firearms to the RUC.

Ironically, I suspect that OBL’s death may cause the US more problems than it solves. Which bogeyman does the country unite against now? Where does US strategic policy head from here? A strategic vacuum can be an unpredictable and dangerous place to be. Withdrawing from Iraq, planning to withdraw from Afghanistan and with no appetite for an expeditionary foreign policy, we are probably looking at a new phase in American relations with the rest of the world. Hopefully aside from all the pantomime regarding Obama’s birth certificate Americans will realise that electing a President with brain cells is actually quite a good idea. The same critics would gladly elect the Austrian-born ex-Terminator in any case.

One thing I have enjoyed is seeing all the conspiracy theorists dining out on this one. Anything happens and the same old nutters crawl out of the woodwork. Here’s an idea guys, how about he was actually killed? There might be a very good reason they haven’t shown photos, namely that if he was shot in the head half of his face would be missing? And that the body was disposed of so quickly so as to not let it become a shrine? Even if they did release photos the same cranks would probably dispute that it was him, or even if they did hand over a body. And if some of the cassandras out there don’t realise, any photograph of a man shot in the head aren’t going to be pretty – bullets don’t make the nice neat little holes that some people seem to think. Any image of OBL with half of his face missing is bound to inflame tensions in some quarters. I agree with the Administration that the damage from releasing them outweighs any pros.

And while we’re on predictable responses to world events, can we stop talking about Afghanistan being a war for oil? There’s none there!

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Wellington and Montgomery: General swapping?

The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterl...

Mont... sorry, the Duke of Wellington (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Battle of Normandy recently for my forthcoming book. And I have always been a big fan of Wellington.

Which got me thinking – what if Wellington had fought the battle of Waterloo in the style of Monty? And what if Wellington had been in command in the summer of 1944?

Montgomery after Waterloo:

Montgomery: ‘the battle went exactly as I planned. I fully intended to draw the French reserves onto my front, thus allowing the Prussians to arrive unhindered. Hougoumont was not important as long as I pretended to hold it. At all times I was in complete control of the situation. We will no crack-about south of Caen’.

At which point Blucher is mortally offended, and Prussian historians spend hundreds of years belittling his every move. Meanwhile, German film-makers all but obliterate Montgomery and the British from Waterloo, apart from oblique and stereotypical references.

Almost one hundred and 30 years later, at the St Pauls School Conference in May 1944…

Wellington, to the assembled crowd of Allied senior officers, politicians and King George VI: ‘what I intend to do depends on what Rommel intends to do, and as the Desert Fox has not informed me of his plans, then I cannot inform you of mine’

At Southwick House, 5 June 1944…

Eisenhower: ‘so Wellington, what are your plans?’
Wellington: ‘to beat the Germans’

Actually, were Wellington and Montgomery really that different? The only difference to me seems to be that American historians have had no reason to villify Wellington. Even so, during his lifetime Wellington was ridiculed and lambasted for both his adulterous affairs and his politics. Time, however, tends to see petty criticisms fall away and victories stand the test of time.

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