HMS Defender joined nearly 100 warships off India’s east coast for four days of naval celebrations at an International Fleet Review.
The spectacular event saw fly pasts, sail pasts, parades, music and performances, and gave Defender a chance to bid farewell to one legendary former RN warship.
Pictures: PO(Phot) Des Wade, HMS Defender
HMS Defender greeted new friends and bade goodbye to a legendary Royal Navy carrier as she enjoyed four magical days at the biggest ‘party’ the Indian Navy has ever staged.
Sailors from the destroyer were applauded and cheered through the streets, treated to Bollywood-style glamour, made friends with fellow mariners from 50 nations and demonstrated their seafaring prowess at the International Fleet Review in the east coast city of Visakhapatnam.
The Indian Navy hosts a Fleet review once during the term of office of the Commonwealth country’s president. The 11th incarnation of the review attracted nearly 100 warships.
After being welcomed by a 21-gun salute from the Indian flagship INS Vikramaditya, Defender anchored amid lines of warships off Visakhapatnam, flanked by American destroyers, Chinese and Japanese frigates, Sri Lankan patrol boats, Indian support ships and the grand old lady of the review, 57-year-old carrier INS Viraat – previously HMS Hermes under the White Ensign, flagship of the Falklands task force back in 1982.
“Most of the ship’s company had not seen so many warships congregate. Defender stood proud and looked very impressive,” said Lt Cdr Sean Trevethan, the destroyer’s weapon engineer officer. “The atmosphere at the review was electric.”
Sailors and Defender’s Royal Marines detachment were ferried ashore to take part in the opening ceremony which was a mix of Bollywood glamour and international acts, while a 30-strong Guard of Honour presented the official salute to President Pranhab Kumar Mukherjee during a parade through the streets by personnel from more than two dozen of the participating nations.
Thousands of inhabitants of ‘Vizag’ – the common abbreviation of the city’s rather tongue-twisting name – lined the entire 3½-kilometre parade route and cheered and clapped as the sailors passed.
“It had a bit of a carnival atmosphere – everyone was really friendly and wanted to take photos of us with them,” said warfare specialist Able Seaman Hannah Ebo. “It felt like being a celebrity.”
The formal review took place on the third day of the event, with President Mukherjee moving up and down the lines of warship in his official yacht while sailors on the warships manned and cheered ship.
In addition, to pomp and ceremony, the Indians laid on an impressive dusk combat demonstration along the Visakhapatnam sea front featuring Harriers and MiG29 Fulcrums launched from the decks of the Indian Navy’s two carriers, underwater explosions, a rocket and cannon attack by a Fulcrum and a fly past and hover by a Sea Harrier – all set against the backdrop of the ships in the review outlined by thousands of white lights.
“It was an amazing show,” said POET(WE) Mark Pollard. “It was really interesting to see the Indian Navy units in action.”
The closing ceremony was just as colourful as the curtain-raiser: lion-headed dancers from Indonesia, acrobatic drummers from Sri Lanka, jazz musicians from the USA and the Corps of Drums from the Indian Navy who would give the Royal Marines’ drummers a very good run for their money.
The commander of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, whose home is Visakhapatnam, said the four-day review had been a celebration of peace and friendship between nations and boded well for the future.
Defender parts company with the former HMS Hermes
“That was illustrated by the fact that Defender’s officers were sitting at a table with officers and sailors from China and Iran, sharing food and drink, applauding performances and, at the end, all trying to sing Auld Lang Syne,” said Lt Cdr Trevethan. “It truly was a meeting of nations.”
Proceedings ended with a steam past as 27 ships – 15 of them Indian, led by the veteran Viraat – sailed in columns, at times only 400 yards apart, a challenging manoeuvre for any sailor, complicated by language difficulties given Bangladeshi, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Burmese, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and British and American vessels were involved.
“It was a test of the skills and co-operation of all those involved and it went off without a hitch, providing a truly impressive spectacle for all those lucky enough to witness it,” said Cdr Steve Higham, Defender’s Commanding Officer.
“It was a great opportunity for Defender to offer her heartfelt thanks to the Indian Navy for their hospitality and generosity throughout the review.”