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Warship's visit marks wartime anniversary

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: June 11, 2013

  • HMS Somerset seen from the air on its visit to the Isles of Scilly

  • Commander Mike Smith of HMS Somerset which visited Scilly.

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SCILLY'S role at the eastern edge of the Second World War's most protracted military campaign – the Battle of the Atlantic – was formally marked last week.

Royal Navy warship HMS Somerset arrived in the islands on a three-day visit following a £20m refit as part of a 'Defence Diplomacy Weekend' that replicated a visit to a port abroad.

Clyde-built, with a ship's company of 185 (average age around 20) and capable of producing enough power to light up Hugh Town, she is the fourth of the name to serve in the Navy. Her home port is Devonport.

For 42-year-old Dorset-born Commander Mike Smith it was his introduction to islands he described as "fantastic".

The visit, he said, gave the ship "an opportunity for a bit of a break from our extremely intensive six-week training programme we are undergoing with the Sea Training Organisation in Plymouth".

Rick Kershaw, of that training programme, said each day of the week had a different flavour –"damage control, anti-air, basis team training" – culminating on a Thursday "when the whole ship's company will join together and basically fight a war for seven hours".

Commander Smith said that exercise was known as 'The Weekly War South of Plymouth'. The training enables the ship and her crew to be ready for deployment anywhere in the world.

"But the most important aspect of our visit is the islands' commemoration of the Battle of the Atlantic 70th anniversary. We are delighted to support it."

Scilly had played "a very important part" in the Atlantic war, he said and it was "right and proper" they should support a community with such close links with the sea in the commemoration.

In glorious sunshine, the 133-metre warship anchored in St Mary's Roads with curious holidaymakers taken close to the warship by island pleasure boats.

On the Saturday islanders and local schoolchildren were given the opportunity to board the ship and look around her radar, sonar, missile and gunnery systems, while more than 80 guests attended an evening reception at which a 'capability demonstration' took place. A planned soccer match with islanders was cancelled.

The highlight, "set piece event", as Commander Smith called it, was an early evening service marking the Atlantic sea war's 70th anniversary which took place at the 16th-century Elizabethan fort-turned-hotel, Star Castle, with sailors from HMS Somerset forming an honour guard of 12 sailors and a 'ceremonial sunset' with the White Ensign being lowered.

The roll of honour commemorating the 26 islanders who lost their lives in the war was read by former RAF man Edward Smith.

An objective of the visit was to heighten awareness of the Navy's vital role in protecting maritime connection for the country's wellbeing (95 per cent of imports come by sea).

During the war Scilly's geographical position often put it in the forefront of events.

Islander Richard Larn, formerly of the Royal Navy, said: "Ships that had been torpedoed but remained afloat were frequently dragged into St Mary's Roads ... patched up and escorted to mainland ports."

Eight U-boats were sunk within 40 miles of the islands in a two-month period during the war.

St Mary's lifeboat would save sailors' lives and naval patrol boats were island-based.

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