By Kim Hardie
As the Royal Navy prepares to help the NHS and other government departments deal with the response to the coronavirus outbreak, HMS Grimsby sent a leftover from the Normandy landings to kingdom come – more than 75 years on.
The Faslane-based minehunter joined NATO allies in the Seine Bay for her second spell of searching for unexploded bombs and mines from World War 2 in a month – eliminating a potential danger to shipping, especially fishing vessels which regularly haul up old ordnance in their nets.
Grimsby is currently assigned to NATO’s Mine Countermeasures Group 1 alongside flagship FGS Donau, BNS Bellis, HNLMS Willemstad, HNoMS Otra.
Earlier this month, Grimsby located 18 pieces of unexploded ordnance – 15 British mines, three British bombs – in the approaches to Oslo as part of a concerted effort by the NATO group.
The locations in which the 38 wartime munitions discovered in total were found meant they could not be blown up, even in controlled explosions, so all the minehunter teams could do was mark their locations and inform the Norwegian authorities.
There were no such issues as the group shifted to the Seine Bay – between the Cherbourg peninsula and Le Havre – where 5,000 Allied warships mustered in June 1944 to liberate France… and the Germans tried to stop them.
The waters were heavily mined and bombed – by both sides – during the six years of conflict between 1939 and 1945 and although thoroughly swept and cleared down the decades, wartime ordnance continues to be found; roughly one in three mines laid in World War 2 remain unaccounted for.
There is at least one fewer sea mine in the Seine Bay thanks to Grimsby’s efforts – one of several munitions located by the NATO force and neutralised and the threat to fishermen removed.
Grimsby’s clearance divers plunged into the chilly waters (just 4°C) and placed a charge on the mine, then fell back a safe distance and detonated it – triggering the explosive in the aged ordnance and throwing up a huge fountain in an otherwise calm sea.
“We are all aware of the coronavirus which is having a major impact back home, so it is great to show everyone that we are continuing to crack on and find mines and keep the sea lanes safe. I live for days like today!” said Grimsby’s Gunnery Officer Lieutenant Ben Hunter.
Lieutenant Commander Tom Gell, Grimsby’s Commanding Officer, said that despite the lockdown on land at present, the crew of the Faslane-based warship and their NATO comrades were continuing their duties as normal.
“Even with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NATO and the Royal Navy continue to carry out their missions and maintain the defence of all NATO nations,” he said.
“The group is a potent minehunting force, at very high readiness to respond to any incident or threat that could emerge – and this is being maintained even in the face of the pandemic.”