Warship fires dummy torpedo into nuclear submarine dockyard wharf

Royal Navy investigates after weapon containing no explosives is accidentally jettisoned during training exercise in Plymouth

An investigation is under way after a Royal Navy warship accidentally fired a torpedo into a dockyard wharf where Britain’s nuclear submarines are refuelled and repaired.

HMS Argyll was on a training exercise at Devonport dockyard in Plymouth when the torpedo was “jettisoned unexpectedly”.

The navy said the Test Variant torpedo was a dummy weapon which contained no explosives. No one was injured in the incident on Wednesday, but training has been suspended while an investigation is carried out.

A spokesman said no one was on the jetty at the time, and the torpedo caused minor damage to a security fence when it landed inside the base.

“We can confirm an incident occurred on board HMS Argyll on March 12 at 3.24pm, while the ship was alongside at Devonport naval base in Plymouth,” the spokesman said. “HMS Argyll was conducting a system test when an inert Test Variant torpedo was jettisoned unexpectedly. The torpedo is not an explosive hazard.”

Plymouth-based HMS Argyll, which was built in the late 1980s, is the longest-serving Type 23 frigate in the Royal Navy.

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An unnecessary death: commander speaks out over ‘blue on blue’ shooting

Major Richard Streatfeild claims lack of basic equipment contributed to killing of Michael Pritchard by British sniper

The winter months are usually the quiet ones in Afghanistan, when the insurgents withdraw across the border to Pakistan or retreat to their villages in the hinterlands of Helmand province to wait for the rain and snow to lift.

But in December 2009, there was no such lull. The fighting – British orthodox against Taliban guerrilla – was focused on a stretch of Route 611, which links Sangin town to the rest of the province.

Control of the 611 was strategically important for both sides, and it was on the seventh day of an intense battle involving 350-400 British troops that Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard lost his life. He was killed not by the insurgents, who had planted roadside bombs wherever they could – 45 were found on the 611 in that brief period – but by a bullet fired by a British sniper.

No single mistake led to his death, but a catalogue of missed opportunities, and a lack of basic equipment such as radios, created an extra layer of confusion on top of the usual fog of war in which Pritchard’s commanding officer, Major Richard Streatfeild, was trying to establish some order. He described the incident as “the worst we had in Afghanistan. It remains by far and away the one that has concerned me most.”

Hours before the shooting, Streatfeild had hoped the operation was drawing to a close. He had joined the men and women of 2 Platoon – one of four for which he was responsible – at a patrol base called Blenhein, close to the 611, to take stock and recuperate after several days of what he calls “monumental fighting.”

“Every patrol they’d been on had been attacked and the sleep deprivation from earlier in the week was chronic. We were all absolutely shattered.”

But just after 9pm, a new emergency crackled over the radios in the operations room with two words that set off controlled panic in the chain of command: “Man down.”

Even at that early stage, the sniper who fired the fatal shot, Lance Corporal Malcolm Graham, realised what had happened, says Streatfeild. “As soon as the message came through, they knew they had fired. They knew immediately it was ‘blue on blue’. I remember exactly how I felt. I have relived it more times than I care to think about.”

Pritchard had done nothing wrong. He was an enthusiastic member of the Royal Military Police, who had apparently volunteered for more frontline duties and been seconded to 3 platoon, where he was well-liked and trusted.

On 20 December he was posted to a new and temporary observation post in a blind spot area of the 611 that had just been cleared. He was due to remain there for 24 hours to consolidate the gains that had been made.

Members of 1 Platoon were stationed a little further up the valley, on the look-out for insurgents, seemingly unaware that the figures they could see moving …read more    

British ex-commander hits out over ‘inadequate kit’ in Afghanistan

Exclusive: Major Streatfeild speaks of shame at defending equipment and calls for MoD apology over friendly-fire death

A former army commander has given a devastating insider’s account of some of the mistakes that beset the military campaign in Afghanistan, saying the training and equipment provided to troops “wasn’t good enough” for the mission they faced.

Major Richard Streatfeild, 40, who the Ministry of Defence used as a “poster boy” for the war, was a commanding officer in the insurgent stronghold of Sangin during some of the fiercest fighting.

In a Guardian interview, Streatfeild said he now felt ashamed at how he toed the MoD line in reports for the BBC, defending kit he knew to be inadequate.

He said the “blue on blue” death of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard in Sangin during their tour in the winter of 2009-10 was symptomatic of the problems British soldiers faced in tackling the Taliban. He has called on the MoD to give the 22-year-old’s family an unprecedented public apology.

“It’s true to say we were the best trained we’d ever been, and we did have the best equipment we’d ever had. But it is also true to say it wasn’t good enough in relation to the operation we were going on and the tasks we were being asked to do,” said Streatfeild, who commanded A Company, 4 Battalion, The Rifles, during a seven-month Sangin tour.

“Undoubtedly the core equipment has been found to be inadequate. Before I went out there I felt ready. Hindsight suggests we were far from being the finished article.”

Streatfeild insisted some military achievements in Afghanistan had been overlooked, and though bloody, his tour saw considerable progress on the ground. But he admitted there were shortcomings that made the campaign unnecessarily difficult and said he was “amazed there haven’t been more resignations in light of … the ongoing issues of equipping the army”.

He was scathing about the way the MoD decided what to buy under Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) – the kit needed at short notice because the army did not already have it.

Streatfeild told the Guardian:

• The MoD had failed to upgrade essential elements of the army’s core kit despite pledging billions of pounds to pay for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers and Typhoon jets for the Royal Air Force. “You have a position where either you don’t have the right equipment or you have the equipment but you aren’t trained properly. [It’s like] the MoD is asking the army to live with a 1999 mobile phone, and saying you cannot replace it until 2019. You try to do that with a mobile phone and you won’t be able to talk to anyone.”

• The MoD dithered about spending money on beacons that allow commanders to identify their own troops on the battlefield, technology that could have saved Pritchard’s life. “It’s fundamental: you need to know where your people are. The Americans, the French, Norway, Israelis, the Germans, all have [this] equipment. It is widely available. We still don’t have it.”

• The …read more    

MoD did not tell whole truth at inquest, says mother of ‘friendly fire’ victim

Helen Perry says Major Richard Streatfeild should have spoken sooner about lack of equipment in Afghanistan

Helen Perry will not be the only grieving mother to read Major Richard Streatfeild’s book with very conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, Perry, whose son Michael Pritchard died in a “friendly fire” incident, will feel a degree of relief that an officer has been prepared to stand up and say what she has always believed to be the truth: the army was not as well equipped for Afghanistan as it should have been.

But there will be righteous anger too; she has always maintained that Michael, 22, a lance corporal in the Royal Military police (RMP), died unnecessarily in Sangin in 2009 when a British sniper mistook him for an insurgent, and that the Ministry of Defence was not straight with her either before or during the inquest.

However, she also believes Streatfeild, her son’s commanding officer, should have come out sooner with his concerns – particularly his admission about the lack of radios, the fact his troops hadn’t been trained on the right equipment, and that the MoD did not tell the whole truth to her and the coroner during her son’s inquest.

“I have always known there were more reasons that caused my son’s death than were admitted to at the inquest.

“I read everything, all the witness statements, all the evidence in connection with my son’s death. I met with the coroner and attended meetings with the army and MoD.

“The obvious thing that always stood out was this should never have happened. Michael’s death was completely preventable and was caused by more than human error.

“It was caused through complete incompetence. Incompetent leadership which included the provision of equipment not fit for purpose or the lack of the equipment to enable our soldiers to do a proper job.”

Perry believes the fact the British sniper who shot her son had never used the night-vision sight on his rifle before is astonishing.

“What chance did my boy stand and for that matter what chance did the sniper stand? Streatfeild claims he appealed for better radios for the lads whilst he was in command in Afghanistan. All of this should have been admitted at the inquest. Why did Streatfeild not stand up for the truth and admit these issues, as he obviously knew them?

“This makes an entire farce of the inquest process. Michael died and still the army has not apologised to him for their failings. I remember during the inquest one of the riflemen approached me in private stating that the whole story was not being told and that I should really press for as much information as possible.”

From the moment her son died, Perry believes the MoD obfuscated and misled her.

“I am always mindful of the fact that its drummed into the military that they should only ‘answer the question that is put to them’ and never add any more detail than is asked of you. We struggled with this from the start.”

She believes the MoD – and Streatfeild …read more    

First world war soldiers buried with full military honours after 100 years

Private William McAleer among 20 British troops killed in action at Battle of Loos in 1915 whose bodies were found in 2010

Twenty British soldiers killed in action during the first world war have finally been laid to rest with full military honours, almost 100 years after they died.

The soldiers who perished in the Battle of Loos in 1915 were found in 2010 during clearance work for a new prison near Vendin-le-Vieil, north of Arras, in France.

Only one of the soldiers discovered has been identified – Private William McAleer of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, part of the 45th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division.

Born in Leven, Fife, 22-year-old McAleer died shortly after the battle began and he was identified from a small homemade oval metal tag with his name on it.

It is understood the young soldier’s family emigrated to the US, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said. Very little is known about McAleer but it is known that his father was a miner who died in a pit accident, and his mother later remarried.

Among the other soldiers who were found at the same time were a Northumberland Fusilier, another six Royal Scottish Fusiliers and a member of the York and Lancaster regiment. In addition, there were two Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and nine others whose regiment has not been identified.

The remains of 30 German soldiers were also found nearby, and they were handed over to the German authorities.

Representatives from all the regiments with links to the British troops attended a reinterment service on Friday at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Loos-en-Gohelle, near Lens.

Those who could not be identified were buried as soldiers “Known unto God” in front of more than 200 people, including McAleer’s great step-nephew, Stephen McLeod, 47, who travelled to France from Scotland.

All 20 soldiers were given full military honours. McAleer’s coffin was given his own burial plot, with his headstone reading “13766, Private W McAleer Royal Scots Fusiliers, 26th September 1915, age 22”. The remainder were buried in six other plots side by side.

In thick fog, a piper led six bearers as they carried the union-flag-draped coffin topped with a wreath, belt and cap past the crowds and the burial plots of hundreds of other fallen soldiers. A military firing party fired a salute during the service and the Last Post was played.

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