Britain’s Royal Navy flagship paid a surprise visit to the German port of Kiel when ice stopped it sailing into Hamburg.
The threat of being stuck on the River Elbe thanks to the cold snap dominating Europe led to Plymouth-based HMS Bulwark visiting the home of the German Fleet instead as the amphibious assault ship begins its winter deployment.
Ice on the Elbe meant HMS Bulwark could not sail into Hamburg as planned at the beginning of its winter mini-deployment.
Indeed, the cold snap dominating northern Europe meant few of Germany’s ports were open – but Kiel was, so Bulwark passed through the Kiel Canal linking the North Sea with the Baltic and made landfall in the home of the German Navy – Deutsche Marine.
HMS Bulwark’s surprise visit excited the local media – who promptly dubbed her the Eis Fluchtling – ice refugee and celebrated the appearance of ‘a behemoth in Tirpitz Harbour’.
Temperatures of zero degrees C in the snow-covered Baltic port were enough to make the waters passable for the Devonport-based warship and did not deter the ship’s detachment of 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines from going for a training run around the city in t-shirts while other crew members donned warmer attire for keep-fit sessions.
HMS Bulwark has spent the past few days at the naval base’s Scheermole (named after the World War One German naval leader) and Kiel residents were welcoming.
The unscheduled visit to Kiel allowed the crew the chance to pay their respects to their forebears. Kieler Nordfriedhof Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery is the last resting place of 983 British personnel who were killed in WW2.
The dead were mostly on RAF bombing raids – as one of the Third Reich’s principal naval bases, Kiel was subjected to ferocious attacks which levelled much of the city. In addition to fallen airmen there are numerous Royal Naval servicemen laid to rest there including many of the 127 lost when the destroyer HMS Esk sank after hitting a mine off the Dutch coast in 1940.
HMS Bulwark’s commanding officer Captain Alex Burton laid a wreath at the central monument in the cemetery, which was blanketed in snow.
The ship is also due to visit the Polish port of Gdynia on the western shores of Gdańsk Bay and opening her gang way for public tours, weather permitting
HMS Bulwark is using these Baltic visits to acclimatise to the cold before leading the British contribution to Cold Response, NATO’s winter war games in the fjords and valleys of northern Norway – where temperatures can drop to -30˚C.