HMS Ocean is Britain’s biggest warship and the flagship of the Royal Navy. Now Channel 4 cameras have gone on board for a new series.
She’s a floating village with her own hospital, shop, police force, church, bank, laundry, gym and even pubs. However, this village is an amphibious assault weapon – designed to sail across world and, when necessary, bring violence to an enemy.
Its crew has a deep affection for their ship. But one third of them are new recruits – they’re off to sea for the first time. And the twenty-year old vessel is showing signs of strain – to keep it going requires non-stop maintenance.
Now they’ve got to get HMS Ocean halfway across the world to join a US naval task force in the Gulf – a huge role for a British warship. They’ve got just 9 weeks – the time it will take to get there – to get everything and everyone on HMS Ocean up to scratch. And they’ve let Channel 4’s cameras on board to show what they’re up against.
The series follows HMS Ocean on this sensitive seven-month active deployment beginning in September last year and culminating with her taking on the role of command platform for the United States Naval ‘Combined Task Force 50’ when she reaches the Gulf – the first UK ship ever to lead a US task force in the Middle East. Positioned off the coast of Iran, and close by Iraq and Syria, the task force’s job is to police some of the most volatile waters on the planet and to co-ordinate the fight against ISIS.
HMS Ocean is a helicopter carrier with up to eight helicopters, and also a base for its 400 Royal Marine commandos, ready to carry out amphibious assaults at a moment’s notice. Throughout the deployment the emphasis is on continual training to meet any eventuality – ready for the ‘real thing’.
With exclusive access to the ship and her crew, the series sees the men and women of Ocean show how they’re preparing for one of its most high profile missions – from the 17 year old engineering apprentice learning the ropes, to helicopter pilots training to land in total darkness on Ocean’s pitching flight deck, and the whole crew learning to defend themselves and their ship from potential attack.
In the first edition this Monday, (10th April), HMS Ocean leaves Plymouth for the Mediterranean where she has just three weeks to get the ‘Tailored Air Group’ of elite Army, Navy and Air Force helicopter pilots through training to takeoff and land on a carrier so that they are qualified to fly and fight at sea. It’s the key priority for Ocean for the first three weeks of the deployment but the mission is compromised by bad weather and constant engine problems with the old ship. As such the episode focuses on two groups of people, the pilots and the ship’s engineers – or ‘stokers’ as they are known in the Navy.
The programme meets 17 year old Kiera Parry the youngest person aboard the ship and an apprentice engineer, fifth generation stoker Michael Hedgecock, the man with the anti-Midas touch when it comes to the engine room, and the ship’s second in command, Executive Officer Nick Wood, the man who has to keep them and the ship in order. Nick left school at 16 with one O level – he’s now Commander of the fleet flagship and has the job of getting the new recruits up to speed with the mission ahead.
In the helicopter hangar 56 year old Air Control Room Officer Paddy Ashe is the oldest man on board and a Falkland veteran who survived his ship being sunk in combat. Paddy is the link man between the army of engineers in the hangar and the flight deck crew who get the multi million pound helicopters ready for take off.
Flying the aircraft are pilots like Commander Matt Punch – commander of the Tailored Air Group (TAG) and a veteran of Afghanistan, and Captain Blake Lee – a member of the Army Apache display team and a classmate of Prince William at flight school (Cress checking this fact)
As the ship continues to throw up engine problems and a huge storm approaches, the new recruits and the old hands have to come together to complete their mission and get the TAG qualified in time.
Warship airs at 8pm on April 10th on Channel 4