Air Cadets from Nuneaton and other units within the Warwickshire & Birmingham Wing hung up their wings for a week when they boarded the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Bristol.
Some 80 Royal Air Force Air Cadets and staff from the Warwickshire & Birmingham Wing of the Air Training Corps have just returned from a week's camp at the Royal Naval Base at Whale Island Portsmouth. For the land loving Air Cadets this is a totally different experience than visiting an RAF Station, the main difference being that they were all accommodated on board HMS Bristol, a Type 82 Destroyer (the flagship of the Falklands Task Force), which meant that triple deck bunks and limited space together with numerous ladders, were a real challenge!
The varied, interesting and very tiring camp programme covered numerous visits and activities, that were designed to give the cadets a different view of the Navy, Army and RAF during the action packed week. Cadets and staff alike enjoyed visits to Action Stations with all its simulators, HMS Victory (Flagship of the Royal Navy), the multi million pound HMS Victory experience, as well as a Harbour Boat Tour.
They also attended the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, where they had an air display by numerous types of helicopters including the Apache!, and the Tank Museum at Bovington where several cadets got a close quarters opportunity to view a fire and movement display of armoured vehicles, which for many was one of the highlights of the week. Cadets also visited Southwick Park which is home to the Defence Training School for Service Police and saw the famous ‘Map Room' where the decision to ‘GO' for the D day landings was made in 1944 by five-star General Eisenhower, and also the RAF Police & RMP Museums, as well as the Royal Marines Museum and the Submarine Museum. With a 1200+ yard march to and from the Junior Rates Mess at each meal time, the cadets marching dramatically improved during the week.
However the main highlight of the week for all was the visit to the USS Virginia (SSN-774) a US Navy nuclear powered fast attack submarine (how many RAF cadets have done that?) - where cadets were shown some very interesting parts of the ‘boat' including the torpedoes and tomahawk missiles, and the high tech control room. Interesting exchanges were also held with their US Navy guides who were very frank about their love and honour to be on their submarine. Coupled with a visit to HMS Defender a Type 45 Destroyer (newest ship in the Royal Navy), described as a billion pound warship and a stealth fighter in the form of a ship was appreciated greatly. Officer Commanding the Warwickshire & Birmingham Wing Wg Cdr Stuart Iles also visited the HMS Bristol camp for 3 days and was lucky to visit the US submarine and described his experience as “awesome”, and will be sending the boat a Wing plaque as thanks.
Another 1st for the Warwickshire & Birmingham Wing Cadets was a trip to the National Air Traffic Control Centre at Swannick, where they were able to ‘shadow' the approach controllers for Heathrow Airport . They also received an very informative brief on the RAF's role of co-ordinating military flights in the UK's congested airspace, and the Distress and Diversion cell which is wholly manned 24/7 by RAF staff, effectively the 999 system for all aircraft in UK airspace.
The Wing has been enjoying 2 or 3 camps a year for the past 16 years on HMS Bristol, which is almost 2500 cadets (some have attended more than once !), and indeed some of the staff could take up positions as tour guides for several of the attractions! (and often do for our cadets).
The Camp Commandant Sqn Ldr Bryan Coats said, "This has been an excellent weeks camp with a multitude of interesting and valuable activities for our cadets, I am sure they will all have many exciting experiences to remember. Once again our cadets were praised by many of the places visited as to their behaviour and turnout, but the highest compliment was from the permanent staff on board HMS Bristol, who remarked that it was a pleasure to have our Air Cadets on board”.
“It was certainly the 1st time I have known cadets being allowed on board a nuclear submarine, and I am also delighted to say that the US Navy crew commented very favourably on the conduct and interest from our cadets”.
“The Wing will continue to hold Wing camps for 2014, on HMS Bristol at least 2 weekends (May and October) and depending on RAF annual camp places a week in the summer. Those that wish to be considered should ensure their OC is aware, as all camps are heavily oversubscribed."
View More Photographs from the HMS Bristol Camp