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British Military Divers

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Diving (disambiguation): a common term for human underwater activities including deep water and pool diving, in this context by British military divers on maritime duties, whose vital work was especially hazardous on Operation OVERLORD- D-Day 1944 (RNCDA 2019). British Army divers include Royal Engineers, highly skilled multi-role sappers performing hazardous work on operations and exercises around the world (MoD).

Army dive teams are responsible for tasks including underwater demolition and clearance of obstructions, search and recovery of critical equipment, inspection and classification of bridges and piers, port infrastructure repair and maintenance, and mobility support to land operations. Surprisingly, there was no National Memorial to commemorate the bravery of these remarkable people - until the summer of 2019 (Plymouth Live, June 2019).

Military diving is not confined to the British Army, and tri-Service military diving has a long and distinguished history (MCDOA). And during summer 2019 - 75 years after D-Day - new memorials were dedicated to British military divers; those "often unsung and unseen heroes who undergo some of the most arduous military training there is" (Divernet, 25 June 2019).

220px-Salvage_diver.jpg

Military Clearance Divers

  • Clearance Divers and Counter-IED forces do a range of work, providing domestic bomb and mine disposal, and IED disposal cover, at a variety of locations.
  • Royal Navy Mine Clearance Divers have played important roles, in all major wars and conflicts involving the UK, since the First World War (UK Veterans Foundation online 2019).
  • In 1944, British Navy Clearance Divers dealt with thousands of underwater mines and hazards before D-Day. Without their hard work and bravery, D-Day would have been more dangerous than it already was.
  • Training to become a world class military Diver is notoriously arduous, therefore selection standards are high, requiring high levels of physical and mental fitness (RN Careers).
  • A Fleet Diving Unit is a highly skilled team of divers and mine warfare specialists. Working together, they neutralise underwater threats the world over and play a central role in maritime counter-terror operations, whether they are shore-based or on board a ship.
  • There are military diver associations, for instance the Royal Navy Clearance Divers Association (RNCDA) and the Royal Engineers Sports Diving Association (RESDA).

Lethal Ordnance Under Water

The two World Wars saw the biggest period of maritime mining in history, and an estimated half a million sea mines were laid during World War II alone. With all the unexploded ordnance which ended up in the sea: there are millions of dangerous and lethal underwater objects that shouldn't be there. See the online article at Forces Network dated 01.02.2018.

Ensuring waterways are safe requires regular sweeps; at present, the UK searches for mines using crewed vessels but that is changing.

Mine-Hunting with AI-Guided Submersibles

The Royal Navy is developing AI-guided autonomous submersibles, for hunting underwater mines. Mine-hunting is currently carried out by a fleet of mine-hunter ships using sonar to survey seabeds, looking for anomalies. In the future, AI-enabled submersibles will be much quicker in being able to scan an object, identify the threat, and make decisions about what to do with it.

Outgoing First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, said: “AI is set to play a key role in the future of the service. As modern warfare becomes ever faster, and ever more data-driven, our greatest asset will be the ability to cut through the deluge of information to think and act decisively" (European Defence Review 2019).

Training

  • The DDS possesses diving tenders (boats) based at Whale Island for work in the Harbour and the Solent. Advanced diver training is conducted at Weymouth, Falmouth, Plymouth and the west coast of Scotland.
  • Divers also have skills development opportunities elsewhere: the Joint Service Sub Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC) is the lead centre for diving, primarily training supervisors (BSADS & ESADS) and instructors.
  • Courses are run for all grades of diver, including the entry level Ocean Diver Course and crossovers for those qualified with other diving certification agencies or through professional military training.
  • The RAF runs Sub-Aqua Clubs and training at stations including Brize Norton and Leeming.

Military Divers Making Britain's Seas Safer

  • Deep-water diving is a dangerous occupation, and locating, detecting and making safe unexploded bombs underwater is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Divers often have to rely on their touch and senses.
  • Forces Network ran an article during February 2018, writing: "At the Defence EOD, Munitions and Search Training Regiment a.k.a. DEMS in Oxfordshire, they train all three services for this vital role."
  • At any one time the training school at Bicester hosts up to 250 staff and 300 students. The flexible and integrated school is considered a centre of excellence for training military personnel to deal with the threat posed by IEDs. See more at the Bicester Garrison page.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal

Specialist EOD Diver training is provided by The Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Munitions and Search Training Regiment (DEMS Trg Regt), which moved to a £110 million facility at Bicester during 2013.

During July 2019, A GARDEN of Remembrance, with a memorial stone, was dedicated at St George’s Barracks DEMS (see photos). It was designed by officers to commemorate personnel from all three services who have lost their lives attending to unexploded ordnance (Bicester News).

UK Special Forces Divers

  • Royal Navy Northern and Southern Fleet Diving Groups and Fleet Diving Units 1, 2 and 3 are the clearance diving units and officers (CDOs). Training for CDOs is carried out at DDS Portsmouth.

Notable Military Divers

  • The vital role played on D-Day 1944 by British divers is as well-concealed as the 'frogmen' themselves. Four Royal Navy and six Royal Marine 'LCOCUs', each comprising an officer and 11 men, were deployed from LCAs (Landing Craft (Assault) at H-Hour.
  • On Operation Neptune 1944, British frogmen blasted a hole in the Nazis' Atlantic Wall and were the first ashore on D-Day (MCDOA).
  • Cmdr Lionel 'Buster' Crabb OBE and George Medal (1909-1956), was a Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver. He vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956 in unknown circumstances, presumed dead (BBC, 2015).
  • L/Cpl George Partridge age 27 died on 26 March 2018 at the National Dive Centre in Tidenham, Gloucestershire. He was serving with 26 Engineer Regiment in Wiltshire.

Campaigns to Honour Clearance Divers

  • During June 2019, a campaign was launched to fund a memorial to British military mine-clearance divers, "often unsung and unseen heroes who undergo some of the most arduous military training there is" (Divernet, 25 June 2019).
  • Two former clearance divers (members of the Royal Navy Clearance Divers Association), with the British Army Divers Association, are behind the project to recognise the work of military divers past, present and future. The plan is to erect a ten foot high bronze statue of a diver, wearing an Admiralty Pattern Siebe Gorman Standard dress six-bolt helmet.
  • A new GARDEN of Remembrance and memorial stone have been laid at St George’s Barracks DEMS - in July 2019 - dedicated to military Divers who have lost their lives (Oxford Mail).
  • During September 2019, another monument was announced for the former HMS Vernon - the WW2 RN torpedo and mining school at Portsmouth - "to honour those involved in mine warfare, diving and bomb & mine disposal, past, present and future." The modified design in development consists of a moored mine with two attendant Clearance Divers. For further information, visit the VERNON MONUMENT website (September 2019).

The Vernon Monument at Gunwharf Quays

The unveiling of the Vernon Monument scheduled for 25th March 2020 at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth was cancelled owing to the Coronavirus emergency. However, installation of the monument in Pool B was planned for the end of March 2020, potentially attracting "up to 8 million visitors". It was hoped that a dedication ceremony could take place in better circumstances.

References

Accessed July-September 2019 and March 2020:

"First ashore on D-Day": http://www.mcdoa.org.uk/Operation_Neptune_Frogmen_The_First_Men_Ashore_on_D_Day.htm.

The History of Military and Naval Diving (Rob Hoole).

The Military Diver Memorial 2019.

Buster Crabb: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-34605107.

Campaign to Honour Clearance Divers: https://divernet.com/2019/06/25/statuette-sale-to-honour-clearance-divers/.

https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/vernon-minewarfare-diving-monument.295027/

Defence Explosive and Munitions School (DEMS Trg Regt UK): https://www.royalengineersbombdisposal-eod.org.uk/dems-overview/.

History of RN Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving: http://www.mcdoa.org.uk/MCD_History_Frames.htm.

https://www.armygarrisons.uk/bicester-garrison/garrison/defence-explosive-ordnance-disposal-munitions-and-search-dems-training-regiment-172913/.

https://www.bicesteradvertiser.net/news/17740739.dems-at-st-georges-barracks-bicester-unveil-garden-of-remembrance/.

https://www.envitia.com/2019/06/27/royal-navy-developing-ai-mine-hunting-submersible/.

https://www.forces.net/news/meet-military-divers-making-britains-seas-safer.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/diving-with-the-sappers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/mod-confirms-death-of-lance-corporal-george-partridge.

https://www.jssadc.org.

https://www.rncda.com/d-day-divers/

https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/international-defence-training/contents/diving

https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/bases-and-stations/training-establishments/hms-collingwood/defence-diving-school.

https://www.veteransfoundation.org.uk/news/posts/2019/june/the-uks-brave-clearance-divers-deserve-recognition//

PlymouthLive, June 2019: https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/local-news/royal-navy-heroes-who-most-3014806

Vernon Monument news Sept 2019: https://www.vernon-monument.org.uk and ARRSE post 04.08.2019.