The Royal Navy’s amphibious flagship HMS Bulwark has returned to operational fitness after her maintenance with amphibious training in Cornwall.
The action included the ever first landing onto the ship by the Royal Marines’ new advanced Merlin helicopter and Marines landing via landing craft on south Cornwall beaches. The final landing of a version of the Sea King Mark is also taking place this week on board HMS Bulwark.
As the nation’s on-call amphibious assault ship, HMS Bulwark needs to be ready for operations at all times, and constant training plays a vital role in honing the skills of the experienced personnel and in preparing the newer members of the crew for amphibious operations.
Poised off the south coast of Cornwall in a two-week exercise called South West Sword, the ship has spent the last week working with Royal Marines of 42 Commando of Bickleigh, Devon, practising moving their heavy vehicles into and out of landing craft to and from both the ship’s cavernous internal vehicle deck and the beaches.
Simultaneously, Merlins from 846 Naval Air Squadron, Wildcats from 847 Naval Air Squadron (both based in Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset) and RAF Chinooks from 27 Squadron (based in RAF Odiham, Hampshire) have been practising operating from HMS Bulwark’’s flight deck.
Captain James Parkin, the captain of HMS Bulwark, said: “Intensive amphibious training of this nature is vital to ensure we are ready to respond when the government requires HMS Bulwark to act. The first week of South West Sword has been excellent as the maritime, air and land parts of amphibious capability have come together for the first time this year. It’s especially good to see the ‘Junglie’ helicopters’ of the Commando Helicopter Force at sea, working with HMS Bulwark for the first time.”
The Merlin replaces the venerable Sea King Mark 4s, which retires at the end of this month after 36 years of service at sea and in operational theatres around the world, and who’s very first deck landing at sea was onto the previous HMS Bulwark back in 1980. A newer version of the Sea King still operates. It is planned the final ever landing of a ‘Junglie’ Sea King onto a Royal Navy ship will happen onto the current HMS Bulwark on Friday (18th March).
Midshipman Emily Gunning, from St Austell, Cornwall, said: “This is my first time at sea in HMS Bulwark since I joined from training and I’ve learnt lots about what an amphibious ship does. Next week is even busier and I can’t wait to see the last ever flight of a Sea King Mk 4 onto my new ship.”
HMS Bulwark has completed a period of maintenance alongside in her home port of Plymouth and after Easter will her varied and exciting programme of exercises and operations for the year.
Based in Devonport, HMS Bulwark is one of the Royal Navy’s two amphibious assault command and control ships. She has a crew of 350, a quarter of whom are made up from 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines. The ship is designed to carry up to 225 marines in dedicated accommodation for long periods and another 500 for short periods.
A large floodable dock holds four large landing craft – with another four carried on the ship’s side. The larger craft can carry up to 120 troops or a main battle tank. For the humanitarian mission, they have been loaded with lifejackets, water, food, medical supplies and shelter.
HMS Bulwark is retained at high readiness for contingent operations – whether combat operations, providing humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, HMS Bulwark remains at five-days notice to deploy worldwide.