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‘Ice refugee’ HMS Bulwark pays unexpected visit to the home of the German Navy
15 February 2012

Britain’s flagship paid a surprise visit to the German port of Kiel when ice stopped her sailing into Hamburg.

The threat of being stuck on the Elbe thanks to the cold snap dominating Europe led to HMS Bulwark visiting the home of the German Fleet instead as she begins her winter deployment.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Martin Carney, HMS Bulwark, and Olaf Francke

THE nation’s flagship has paid an unexpected visit to the home of the German Navy after winter weather thwarted efforts to visit the country’s greatest port.

Ice on the Elbe meant HMS Bulwark could not sail into Hamburg as planned at the beginning of her winter mini-deployment (much to Hamburgers’ disappointment apparently – the city’s principal newspaper, the Abendblatt, was very keen to see the assault ship).

Indeed, the cold snap (or should that be cold schnaps?) 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 Deutsche Marine.

Bulwark’s surprise visit excited the local media – who promptly dubbed her the Eis-Flüchtling (ice refugee)  and celebrated the appearance of “a behemoth in Tirpitz Harbour”.

We ain’t got time to shiver… Bulwark’s Royal Marines contingent head off on a jog around Tirpitz Harbour.

It was a balmy 0˚C in the snow-covered Baltic port – enough to make the waters passable for the Devonport-based warship… and to encourage her Royal Marines Commandos to go for a run around the city in T-shirts (more sensible members of the ship’s company donned warmer attire for their keep fit sessions).

Bulwark has spent the past few days at the naval base’s Scheermole (named after the WW1 German naval leader) and Kiel folk were very glad she visited.

Britain’s flagship sails past the snow-lined banks of the Kiel Canal.

“Hamburg harbour’s left with nothing,” one Kiel naval buff enthused (we’re sensing a spot of rivalry between the two ports…).

The unscheduled visit to Kiel allowed the ship’s company 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.

Bulwark’s Principal Warfare Officer (Air) Lt Paul Meacher studies the graves at a very serene Kieler Nordfriedhof

In addition to fallen airmen, however, there are numerous Senior Servicemen laid to rest here, not least many of the 127 souls lost when destroyer HMS Esk sank after hitting a mine off the Dutch coast on September 1 1940.

Bulwark’s Commanding Officer laid a wreath at the central monument in the cemetery, which was blanketed in snow, creating a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere for the solemn occasion.

Two of Bulwark’s crew pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by AB Harry Davies and 39-year-old Chief ERA Samuel Ward, both killed when HMS Esk was lost in 1940.

And on a lighter note… Kiel was the first port of call for Bulwark’s unofficial mascot, a teddy bear donated by the people of her affiliated County of Durham when the ship visited last year.

Very imaginatively named ‘Teddy’, the stuffed toy toured the sights of the port – and posed with junior German officers. He’ll be putting in an appearance at various ports and locations as Bulwark continues her flagship duties.

Teddy enjoys a Landgang (run ashore) with the grey outline of HMS Bulwark in the background

Next stop for Teddy (and the ship…) is the Polish port of Gdynia on the western shores of Gdańsk Bay where she’s due to arrive on Friday for a four-day visit (weather and ice permitting – it’s about -3˚C there presently), throwing open her gangway this weekend for two days of tours for the Polish public.

Bulwark’s using her journey around the Baltic to acclimatise to the cold. Next month the flagship leads British input to Cold Response, NATO’s winter war games in the fjords and valleys of northern Norway – where temperatures can drop to -30˚C.

You can see a whole host of images of Bulwark passing through the Kiel Canal here courtesy of German maritime photographer Olaf Francke.