Maritime Fellowship Award for ‘Immense Contribution’

Iain Ballantyne has been saluted with a Maritime Fellowship at the UK’s Maritime Media Awards 2017, which were held at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall, London.

One of the UK maritime community’s headline awards, Iain received it for his ‘immense contribution to the maritime cause’ since 1990, as a journalist, author of naval history books and Editor of WARSHIPS International Fleet Review magazine (from 1998 to the present).

One of numerous lead stories Iain Ballantyne wrote during his time as the Defence Reporter of the Evening Herald, Plymouth in the 1990s.

The Maritime Fellowship citation highlighted Iain’s varied endeavours across his career, including covering aspects of the fall of the Soviet Union as a newspaper reporter, along with other assignments including the 1990/91 Gulf War and peace talks aboard a frigate in the Adriatic.

A depiction of the end of the Cold War between the Royal Navy and Soviet Navy in the Barents Sea, one of the historic events Iain Ballantyne covered during his time as a newspaper reporter. Iain Ballantyne is among the figures waving to the Gromky (background) from the bridge roof of HMS London (foreground). Painting by Ross Watton © 2013. For more on the work of Ross Watton visit www.navalbroadsides.co.uk

The citation saluted Iain’s‘authoritative and well-received books’ and added: ‘Few of today’s maritime writers have his breadth of experience, his instinct for a story, or his ability to undertake a tenacious, critical and careful search for the truth.’

More than 200 prominent members of the international maritime community and media gathered to take part in the established annual event, now in its 22nd year, and established by the Maritime Foundation to honour the memory of legendary Fleet Street naval correspondent Desmond Wettern.

This year the awards were presented by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, who said: “I’d like to congratulate our prize winners, together with all those nominated. We are truly fortunate to have so many diverse, creative and persuasive communicators to spread this message of maritime opportunity far and wide.”

In accepting his award, Iain thanked the Maritime Foundation, organizers of the Maritime Media Awards, and First Sea Lord for making the presentation.

The most absorbing task of the past two decades for Iain has been establishing and running the global naval news magazine WARSHIPS IFR, which he established at the invitation of UK-based publisher Derek Knoll who attended the dinner along with his daughter Christine, who continues to play a key role in the running of the magazine.

Iain expressed his heartfelt appreciation to Derek for having ‘taken a punt’ on what remains the only naval news magazine of its kind in the world, giving him the opportunity to edit WARSHIPS IFR and also to Christine and her sister Alison for all their hard work.

Also at the awards dinner was WARSHIPS IFR Associate Editor Peter Peter Hore whose perceptive prose and commentaries have considerably enlivened the magazine since its early days.

The globally distributed contributors to the magazine around the world have, said Iain, ensured there is barely a place where a naval activity is not recorded visually and reported on, and so they deserve commensurate high praise for all their efforts. One other key player from the magazine’s editorial team who was present at the awards dinner was Usman Ansari, who is the presiding Chief Analyst, writing commentaries, analysis and news items.

Iain Ballantyne (centre) with his WARSHIPS IFR colleagues and friends Usman Ansari (left) and Peter Hore (right) at the awards dinner in London.

WARSHIPS IFR’s strength resides in its world-wide analysts and commentary writers, not least the fiery Odin who speaks truth to power via his popular monthly leader column ‘Odin’s Eye’. Many times over the years there have been enquiries as to who the incredibly well informed, astonishingly perceptive and often rather blunt ‘Odin’ is, but his (or her) true identity remains a secret. Iain suggested that keeping his acceptance speech short was important to avoid provoking Odin, who might otherwise start hurling bread rolls from the back of the room.

Iain made a special point of saluting the fantastic men and women of today’s world’s navies and Royal Navy in particular, for their work around the Globe to preserve maritime security, and thanked the veterans of wars who have made his books a success.

In fact Iain expressed his gratitude to everyone whom he has worked with across his career in newspapers, magazines and the publishers of his books, including Pen & Sword Books and Orion Publishing. It was for Orion that Iain wrote ‘Hunter Killers’ (2013), a ground-breaking book on the British experience of submarine operations in the period of the late 1940s to early 1990s.

Iain thanked Captain Doug Littlejohns and Commander Rob Forsyth for joining him at the awards dinner. The two distinguished former submarine captains – who both commanded the nuclear-powered attack submarine HMS Sceptre during the Cold War – played a key role as technical advisors for ‘Hunter Killers’ – providing him with his own version of The Perisher course (almost). It’s worth noting here that the book also told the story of their adventures in the Submarine Service, as well as fellow submarine captains Cdr Tim Hale and Capt Dan Conley among other underwater warriors, most notably Michael Pitkeathly (Pitt.k).

Iain’s next book ‘The Deadly Trade: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present’ is to be published in March 2018 by W&N and has again benefitted from the technical advice of his submariner friends.

Lastly, Iain paid tribute during the acceptance speech to the late Desmond Wettern as an inspiration, whom he hoped “was smiling down from heaven on the thriving pursuit of naval writing in the UK today, which may not quite be the old school variety of days gone by – when newspapers were king – but has evolved to match the times and new technology.”

For more on the awards: https://www.bmcf.org.uk/category/news/

Cold War game provides some serious insight

Guest blogger Dennis Andrews takes a look at a submarine warfare board game that benefits hugely from an inside perspective on real front line operations.

‘They Come Unseen’ (Osprey Games, £39.99) features a contest between NATO and the Soviet Navy – with the maritime forces of the West and Russia again squaring up for shadow games at sea it has gained added piquancy.

The components of ‘The Come Unseen’. Image: Osprey Games.

The game’s creator is former submarine captain Andy Benford who conceived it after devising a prototype in 1974, while Navigating Officer aboard the Porpoise Class conventional submarine HMS Grampus. Various submariners road tested the first version of the game, ‘Submarine’, while actually at sea on patrol to counter the Soviets. Further developed over time, and now with Osprey’s involvement, it is probably one of the best naval strategy/tactics board game that is neither a simulation nor computer-based ‘shoot them up’.

The prototype of ‘They Come Unseen’ being put through its paces by two officers in the wardroom of the nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine HMS Sovereign during the late 1970s. Photo: Used courtesy of Andy Benford.

Two or more persons can play (up to a maximum of five). A pair of conventional diesel-powered hunter/killer submarines represents the NATO force while the Soviets field two destroyers and three support ships. Each vessel is represented in play by a simple piece occupying a single square on a grid. The same grid is marked out on two separate boards, one smaller than the other. These are the Main Board, which charts surface activity, and the Deep Board, where submarines that have dived below periscope depth manoeuvre. On reaching ‘periscope depth’ again the NATO players return to the Main Board. The Deep Board is only visible to NATO players and to conceal submarine movements from prying eyes a card shield is provided (a bit like the technique used in ‘Battleships’ to hide opponents’ units from each other).

The rules booklet for ‘They Come Unseen’.

Set in the Barents Sea, where the Russians are depicted as possessing six Ice Stations on various land bases, the scenario for gameplay puts the Soviets on the verge of a breakthrough with the development of nuclear-powered submarines.

The NATO mission is to deploy two submarines and seek out the Ice Stations while destroying four of the six by landing Special Forces wins the game. Both sides are keen to avoid nuclear war, so outright aggression is denied – but maybe a submarine goes missing at sea? After colliding with a so-called ‘iceberg’?

That surely never happened!?

Soviet players win the game by sinking the two NATO submarines while movements across the board are taken in turn, with Rules of Engagement (RoE) provided in two accompanying booklets. While easy to understand, novice players may need to keep referring to the RoE until familiar with gameplay.

The literature that is part of the package provides some excellent insights into submarine operations by the Royal Navy during the Cold War (including a chapter on strategy and tactics). This provides ideas for complex moves in play.

Cold War cat and mouse: The masts of a Victor Class attack submarine of the Soviet Navy, which has just dived having been caught on the surface. Photo: US DoD.

‘They Come Unseen’ is a great game of cat and mouse where, even with the best of tactical efforts and sharpest of minds, nothing is certain. The vagaries of weather and temperature layers in the sea are the unpredictable factors that slew the outcomes.

It all gains enormously from real-life experiences of its creator who, during his naval career also commanded the Australian submarine HMAS Oxley and was second-in-command of the British nuclear-powered Polaris ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) HMS Revenge.

The Australian diesel-electric patrol submarine HMAS Oxley, which was in the early 1980s commanded by Andy Benford, creator of the game ‘They Come Unseen’. Photo: RAN.

The ‘History and Strategy’ booklet by Benford is a fascinating read on its own while ‘They Come Unseen’ itself takes us back to the golden era of complex and mind-bending strategy and tactics board games of the 1970s and 1980s. It is definitely not for impatient wimps and requires the participant to think in three dimensions…or die!

Contact Andy Benford direct via e-mail: theycomeunseen@gmail.com

 

 

Russians Target Ballistic Missile Defence Ship Again

For the second time in two years Russian strike jets have buzzed the US Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook, except in the latest episode not in the Black Sea but in the Baltic.

What makes the Arleigh Burke Class warship so interesting to the Russians – and therefore, Moscow feels, worthy of some close attention – is her status as a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) vessel.

Russian jets buzz USS Donald CookA Russian Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft makes a very low
altitude pass past the USS Donald Cook on April 12. Image: US Navy.

The Donald Cook is one of four forward-based US Navy destroyers (operating from Rota in Spain) that are BMD-capable. They sail European waters to provide NATO nations with a protective umbrella against potential missile attack, but Russia deeply resents the deployment of such warships close to its borders.

The Pentagon claims the patrols by the BMD-capable Arleighs are more about protecting allies and US interests, and forward-based forces overseas, from attack by rogue states than seeing off a Russian threat. The Kremlin views them as a very provocative presence, hence the Donald Cook’s encounters with low-flying strike jets.

Referred to by the US Navy as ‘several close interactions’, the latest incidents also involved a Helix helicopter adopting the Cold War tactic (used by both sides back then) of photographing a NATO vessel up close.

Helix helicopter

The KA-27 Helix flies close to the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic. Image: US Navy.

‘USS Donald Cook encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship,’ explained a US Navy statement on the episodes, which occurred as the destroyer sailed within international waters.

The Arleigh Burke Class destroyer was ‘conducting deck landing drills with an allied military helicopter’ according to the USN, when at 3.00pm European time on April 11, a pair of SU-24 jets ‘made numerous close-range and low altitude passes’.

The decision was swiftly taken to temporarily halt the deck landings (by a Polish naval helicopter). According to the US Navy the situation swiftly became unsafe, especially with one SU-24 Fencer jet passing around 30ft above the Donald Cook. This happened as a helicopter was being refueled on the destroyer’s flight-deck.

RUSSIAN-BUZZ-PAST

Two Su-24 Fencers pass very close to the USS Donald Cook on April 12, 2016. Image: US Navy.

The following day the SU-24s were back, but this time just after the KA-27 Helix had circled the Donald Cook at low altitude, it is believed to enable a photographer to take shots of the warship’s radars and other systems.

‘About 40 minutes after the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total,’ the USN statement revealed. ‘The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian.’ The boss of American naval forces in Europe, Admiral Mark Ferguson slammed the Russian actions as “unprofessional and unsafe.”

The episode has generated headlines around the world while diplomatic back channels have been buzzing; with the USA seeking to make sure Russia knows how dangerous such manoeuvres are. “We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” said a USN source. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”

During the Cold War such incidents were common, with both sides going as close as they dared to test the reactions of the other side’s warships. Photography of exposed systems, in order to try and gain an insight into the opposition’s warfare potential, was a key objective of helicopter flights. Jet passes were also designed to test the reactions of the target vessel’s crew and pick up intelligence on tactics and sensor capabilities. The same dangerous game of using your own surface vessels and submarines to come as close as possible to the other’s side’s equivalent units was conducted for identical reasons.

WIFRBuzzReport2014

The news report on USS Donald Cook’s previous encounter with low flying Russian strike jets, as published in the June 2014 edition of WARSHIPS IFR magazine.

The USS Donald Cook was last subjected to the same kind of jet buzz treatment while on patrol in the Black Sea at the height of Russia’s intervention in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The destroyer was sailing through international waters when a SU-24, possibly from a Russian naval aviation squadron based in the Crimea, came a little too close. The SU-24 made a total of 12 passes, going from near sea level to around 2,000ft – but never flying directly over the warship. A second SU-24 was present but remained at high altitude throughout the provocative 90 minute display.

The aircraft was not visibly armed and did not respond to multiple queries and warnings from the Donald Cook. The episode ended without further incident. The SU-24 had, at its closest, approached to within around 1,000 yards.

At the time Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren observed: “The USS Donald Cook was never in danger.” He added: “The Donald Cook is more than capable of defending itself against two Su-24s.” Warren said he did not think it was a case of a young pilot ‘joyriding’ and suggested: “I would have difficulty believing that two Russian pilots, on their own, would chose to take such an action.”

Episodes of Cold War close calls at sea between NATO and Russian submarines are detailed in Iain Ballantyne’s ‘Hunter Killers’ (Orion Books). More information here.
Visit the Orion Publishing Group web site for more on ‘Hunter Killers’
Iain is also Editor of the global naval news WARSHIPS IFR magazine, which will be providing further analysis in a forthcoming edition. For more naval news information and details on the magazine visit www.warshipsifr.com

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