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Iron men – and women – test their mettle as Duke returns to sea for first time this year
6 March 2017

HMS Iron Duke has returned to sea after a winter in her native Portsmouth undergoing extensive maintenance.

The frigate has been flexing her muscles off the South Coast, literally blowing off the cobwebs with 4.5in gun shoots and Wildcat helicopter training.

Pictures: POET(WE) Lee Blease, HMS Iron Duke

WITH a tug leading the way, this is the first time this year that HMS Iron Duke has put to sea – seen from the vantage point of the Spinnaker Tower, 100 metres above Portsmouth Harbour.

Having spent the winter in her home port undergoing a sustained period of maintenance, the Iron Duck is shaking off the cobwebs ahead of an exceedingly hectic spring programme.

The frigate, which spent the first half of 2016 on NATO duties in the Baltic and waters of northern Europe, has the pleasures of Operational Sea Training looming – an exhaustive assessment of men, women and machine to ensure all are ready to perform front-line duties.

Before that, however, the Iron Duck's crew must be capable of performing the ‘billy basics’ of operating at sea: navigation, fire-fighting, rescuing an overboard sailor, coping with flooding, machinery breakdowns and calibrating sensors and weapon systems.

For the latter, that means flashing up all its guns from the 4.5in ‘crowdpleaser’ down to the automated 30mm cannon and the manual Miniguns for self-defence, sending tracer and live rounds into the English Channel in the South Coast Exercise areas.

In the ops room, the ship’s brain – the command system, which meshes all the data and information from the frigate’s sensors (the Artisan 3D radar on top of the main mast alone can track more than 800 potential targets simultaneously) – was tested against simulated threats.

And the flight deck has welcomed a Wildcat of 815 NAS at Yeovilton to begin regenerating aerial operations by day and night.

Beyond regenerating old skills – countering ‘skill fade’ is a constant battle which can only be won by spending time at sea – Iron Duke is fostering new ones, embarking a sizeable number of junior officers and ratings for their first taste of life at sea.

They – and the rest of the ship’s company – have about a month to prepare themselves for the rigours of OST, with the sweeteners of trips to the frigate’s affiliated city of Hull and Hamburg on the other side of the North Sea.

“The ship’s company are buzzing about being back at sea, conducting our usual business and building our operational capability,” said Iron Duke’s Commanding Officer Cdr Steve Banfield.

“This series of trials marks the start of the ship’s emergence from a long maintenance period in Portsmouth. The training is critical to achieve our demanding programme in 2017 – exercise and security operations around the UK throughout the year.”