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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 151441 times)

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #750 on: October 29, 2010, 03:04:09 pm »

Just a "quickie" this time...mainly a correction.
Please delete the last 2 small paragraphs in my last post from the collective memory. The aging memory plays some odd tricks now and again! But as the bulk of what I post here goes into the record I'm more or less simultaneously writing for my granddaughter I'd better get it all as correct as I can. Not that it matters one jot to you, but it does to me!
     As I was seated on the "port" side of the aircraft I just sort of assumed that the ground rose on the "Stbd" side as well. Wrong. We were actually flying close to the face of the mountain range that's just inland from Split. Although it was still a bit disconcerting to see isolated ground lights shining above the aircraft. And it must have been about 9pm (only 4 hours late). I only remember that because when I eventually arrived at the ship the bars were still open, thank goodness. The rest of that post is as was.
    As you can see from the enclosed pic, Split is within a double lagoon. This was an unknown area to me....nice to go to somewhere new. But now that little correction is out of the way.......
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #751 on: October 30, 2010, 03:23:53 pm »

     This was now mid-May 1993.
But there was a taxi waiting for me. The driver had fallen asleep during the 4 hour wait for the aircraft to arrive. Couldn’t blame him. I hadn’t a clue where I was or where I was going. Miles and miles of unlit road and hundreds of unlit houses (perhaps they had blackout curtains?). But I had plenty of time ahead of me to discover all about that. I saw “Resource” from what appeared to be a few hundred yards away, lit up like a Xmas tree. But by road it was another 4 or 5 miles away.
      The guy I was relieving was actually pacing up and down the quay when I eventually arrived. Very agitated he was. He did, however, help me to cart my gear up to my well known cabin. He actually wanted to begin the “handover” there and then! Politely(ish), I told him to think again, and scooted off to the bar. I think he was a bit miffed as he didn’t join me. If he had, we could have done at least part of the handover there over a few cans of the Laughing Cavalier. He obviously didn’t realise that I probably knew the actual ship a damn sight better than he did! What I didn’t know about was the “Operation”. And at that stage I was just too tired to be at all interested.
      As I’ve said before about this ship, it had a very large complement, so it was inevitable that I saw many friendly faces…particularly the Engineers. In 1993 the RFA still had a lot of ships, but only the 2 “Rs” and the 3 “Ols” were steamships, so the Engineers tended to revolve around these 5 ships. Hence the familiarity.
        I’d also arrived aboard just a day after they’d gone from “Blues” into “Whites”. Apparently it gets very cold in Split during the winter period….so I was lucky there. At least all the others were as white as me, so we’d all get brown knees at the same time.
      From my time in the bar the previous evening I’d learned quite a lot…including who the Captain was. Oh, great. My old “pal” “Captain Speaking” from the “Olwen” back in 1998.
       It was with (just a tiny bit) of mild trepidation that I toddled along to let him know that I’d eventually arrived. To my utter surprise, he seemed effusively welcoming (warning bells were starting to ring already!). He gave me a brief run-down on what the ship was doing there. Actually, I’d expected this bit of briefing to come from the guy I was relieving, but to my rather cynical way of thinking this was a “good thing” as he couldn’t later turn around and say things like “But you should have known”.
       Be that as it may.
There were 2 RFAs in Split, and had been for the last 6 months (more or less, I never bothered finding out). “Resource” was kept permanently ready for sea due to the regions instability. She also carried her usual “full load” of “stuff” with the exception of  “some” of the more exotic things. No flight was carried, and all the flight workshops had been totally stripped bare…although the RFA part of flight operations was maintained just in case we needed to casevac or land an aircraft in trouble. There were always a few RN and RFA ships in the Adriatic at the time (the BBC did a TV series on them, built around one destroyer), so aircraft were coming and going from the Adriatic to places both unknown and unpronounceable all the time, but not via us, thankfully.
    Our main tasking was to provide the Army with whatever they needed….except a flight ticket to Brize Norton. Apart from some ammo (issued when we were the last resort), our main issue was food. As well as the normal meat, fish, fruit and veg stuff. Vast quantities of pizza were always in demand. If that’s what the army lives on then they’re welcome to it. Our stocks were large, but not inexhaustible. So we had a sort of “trickling” supply chain in place. Privately contracted lorries from the UK. At least once a week a couple of these things would roll up alongside. All the drivers were civilian “bog-standard” drivers (no disrespect here). I think the average en-route time was about 4 days from the UK. Some were delayed because of trifles like blown up bridges, churned up roads (never the best even in good times), snow and ice in the mountains…..and roving bands of local “militia”. These guys deserved every penny they were getting. But they kept coming.
      Although the ship was poorly protected from the wet side (shades of Glen Mallen, so not really unexpected), we were pretty well hemmed in on the landward side. Until I “visited” Split I was totally unaware that one of the main exports from Croatia (and also Yugoslavia in-toto as was) is marble. Of course, most commercial activity had more or less ground to a halt. So part of the ship was surrounded by absolutely huge blocks of marble. Blocks about the size of  the smaller size shipping container. All different colours. Very pretty. I wonder how much they weighed. They accounted for about a third of the perimeter (arranged about 100ft from the ship). The rest always reminded me of the old Berlin Wall. A concrete wall made of segments about 15ft high with a splayed foot/base and about 3ft thick. Naturally, there were gaps to let vehicles in and out. I certainly wouldn’t call it overkill, but with so many troops living/based within a stones throw plus being one of the main bases for the Warrior APCs in the area, anything less than a full scale assault would be a bit of a nonsense.
     We did have the occasional itinerant visitor staying on board for a few days, but our companion ship was the accommodation ship. RFA “Sir Percivale”. She was always stuffed full of people (being a troop carrier!). Her “overflow” was housed in an adjacent warehouse….which also doubled up as a secondary mess hall cum NAAFI. (Always known as the organisation with “No Ambition And Flip All Interest”….mistakenly, as they did a great job).
      Being allocated a bunk on the “Percy” had one great advantage over the “warehouse”. That’s because “Percy” also housed the many of the female soldiers out there at the time. Not surprisingly, not only the ships hidden nooks and crannies were being discovered on a regular basis. My counterpart on “Percy” once bewailed the hardship of doing late night rounds of the ship. He sort of likened it to being on a magical mystery tour, never quite knowing what would greet you around the next corner, or what was inside what should have been a locked locker, but wasn’t.
     
     
       

     
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #752 on: October 30, 2010, 03:51:00 pm »

Split
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #753 on: October 30, 2010, 05:36:24 pm »

OK. That’s the basic layout of the area.
Now to “the job”.
Although we ostensibly had nothing to do with whatever the Navy was doing elsewhere, we in many ways were the main co-ordinators between the Navy and the Army. I was perpetually surprised that the Navy hadn’t appointed an “overseer” to “guide” us simple sailors in this. But there’s never been any love lost between the Fishheads and the Pongos, whereas us open-minded wee souls had always (well, ever since we took over the LSLs) seemed to get along better with the Army than with the RN. Possibly because there was never any rivalry or point scoring and so on. Mutual respect and so on.
     Each Thursday morning the ship would be visited by 2 army types who would address the entire ships company (in the crew mess room) on the subject of what was happening in the area. A “broad brush” briefing, but it always held the attention of everyone.
      Apart from being “interesting”, it sort of concentrated the mind a bit. Not just because of all the nastiness going on around us (within a few miles anyway), but because there were so many factions involved.
First we had the Muslims and the Christians.
At this point I must admit to forgetting some of the “offshoots”, but I’ll try.
The Muslims had divided into perhaps 3 factions, probably more when you had Croatian Muslims, Serbian Muslims and Serbian ones. Not forgetting the influx of the mercenary factor.
Then we had the Bosnian Serbs, the Serbs, the Serbian Bosnians, the Croats and all sorts of other well armed and lethal organisations.
The absolute first thing I realised was that in no way were any of these groups able to be called “the nice guys”. Each was as bad as the other….and each had their own “Black Shirt” division that just seemed to delight in going around killing everybody they came across. (the name “Akram” comes to mind).
    And I was the “interface”. Every Friday afternoon I would be picked up by whatever means of transport the army had available to take me to the main army “nerve centre” which (funnily enough) was just over the road from the main entrance to Split Airport…about 20 miles from the ship. This area used to be the main regional HQ of the Yugoslav army, but now that Croatia was an independent country and in the military care  UNPROFOR  (United Nations Protection Force) the base had been loaned to the British contingent in the area. So it was quite a big place. More or less typical of medium/large army bases all over the world I expect.
This Friday briefing was much more detailed and “classified” than the one given in the crew mess. It was during these briefings that I learned more about when, where, how and numbers killed well before the general public, via the press, got even a distilled version. Although sickening to hear, it was pointless being sickened. Just knowing about it all was quite enough.
       It was during these 20 mile excursions that I began to learn about the countryside.
The area around Split is largely agricultural. And primitive. In Indonesia I got used to seeing ox-hauled farm wagons holding up lines of modern cars, but I didn’t expect to see a similar thing in Europe. OK, these weren’t “ox” driven, but not far from it. Huge farm carts with flat tyres. At the front, a little motor cycle engine directly attached to a single wheel. On top of this contraption, a pair of extended (backwards) handlebars. And this, approaching the 21st century. These people were poor. And yet the fields were full of produce….and no proper market except for small local ones.
    Many of the fields had been sold off for housing “development”…..and abandoned half way through the build. So these “skeletons” were all over the place. Such a pretty area, yet made so desolate. That was saddening.
     Another of my tasks was the monitoring and photographing the various commercial ships (mainly coasters, registered in places like the Cayman Islands) and report them to some outfit in Maryland USA (any guesses?), flagging up ships names that were “on a list”. Not that onerous a task to be sure, but interesting nonetheless.
       What took most of every morning was sifting through the incoming signal traffic and picking out whatever I decided was worthy of being “picked out”. This stuff ranged from “Unclassified” through “Restricted” and “Confidential” to the very occasional “Secret”. Then I had to brief Captain Speaking on my “pickings”.
By the way, he hadn’t changed his habits of a lifetime. He still delighted in picking up a microphone and announcing to the world at large that it was the “Captain Speaking”. Amazed that he couldn’t hear the collective groan.

     
     
       

     

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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #754 on: October 31, 2010, 08:25:37 pm »

Now that my predecessor had departed and I was left to my own devices, it was time to take stock of the situation. It was very clear that the guy I’d relieved had concentrated all his efforts into understanding the political and military aspects of the on-going situation in this area. Nothing wrong in that. In fact, what he had done in that area was commendable. But he’d ignored the simple fact that he was operating from a ship that was supposed to be ready for sea and capable of being part of a Naval operation. So, to the annoyance of just about everybody, I had to re-introduce parts of the old Portland training regime.
Truth to be told, some of the older and wiser hands told me on the quiet that it was about time, as many of “the lads” were just treating all this as a bit of a holiday.
Music to my ears!
My first “project” was to re-introduce the operation and uses of the IR (Infra Red) cameras. At £8000 a pop not many shore fire stations have one, never mind two. But we did. Normally used for finding people in a heavy smoke filled atmosphere, this needed a team of people. The “leader” holding the camera. Oh, I should mention that to imitate a “smoke filled atmosphere” the “team” would all be wearing full fire-fighting gear (heavy) and equipped with, and using, the BA sets.
As, unfortunately, most people never take note of their surroundings, it was necessary to get them used to working by touch and feel in total darkness…with a hissing air bottle strapped to their backs. To avoid total disruption to the ships routine I found that my old recipe of blacking out the masks with black tape made them (the team) effectively blind. Forget the camera operator for now, ‘cos I can’t black out his mask. This is a preliminary exercise.
 Over the next few months I’ll escalate this programme…..in my own way. Portland (now read Devonport) and Portsmouth had very good fire-fighting and damage control schools, I accept that as true. But for an individual “pupil” the class sizes at these establishments were always too big. On a ship a “trainer” can take a small group out of the ships routine and do everything needed at the speed of the slowest, even to the extent of changing the tasks given to them on joining that that person may not be suitable for.
    At the risk of becoming a bit boring, although I hope not, I’d like to expound a little on the sort of Emergency Organisation that prevailed (possibly still does) within an RFA. RN ships have a different set-up as they have larger crew numbers.
The RFA system was in many ways far too rigid. The “Emergency Stations List” did all the obvious stuff like allocating lifeboats, and which Fire Party etc. they would be part of. So far, so good. But there were also other columns which “fixed” the task that the individual would undertake within his “party”. A serious nonsense that just made things easier for the paperwork. In other words, instead of being “horses for courses” it was “courses for horses”. So, mixing my metaphors, I always tried to put the round and square pegs into the correct holes, rather than shave them to fit. I always enjoyed this sort of “tight group” sort of training…..and the prospect of being on a ship that, barring unforeseen circumstances, would remain alongside but fit and ready to go to sea at any time was an opportunity too good to miss. “Resource” did stay alongside for my entire 6 months aboard her. Gradually these little sessions became competitive between the various groups, to the extent that some who knew they’d “failed” asked to do the dummy runs again. Very gratifying….except that it was always me who got wet the most. Another thing that irked me was that the “organisation” always put an officer in charge of each party, no matter how inexperienced the poor soul may have been. A senior PO was generally a better choice. Some junior officers welcomed the chance to “learn” from the POs, but alas, as always, some would stand on “dignity” and their rank to make things awkward. Win some, lose some.
My “blacked out” obstacle courses were always a favourite. Every now and again I’d watch someone having a panic attack when confronted with an obstacle, even though there was no danger, and a “safety number” was within reach (but he wasn’t to know that!). All this seemed to get the message across. Sometimes to the extent that the “failure” would fret over it for a couple of days and then come to see me and ask if he could have another go…..because he didn’t want to “let his mates down”, or to rebuild his self esteem. This self imposed part of the job soon went from being a chore to one of pure pleasure when observing people growing in mental and professional stature.
So there was still at least one part of the RFA that I could take satisfaction in. I even got some of the more enlightened Senior officers to take part. But with others “dignity” was all.
However, these little exercises were like manna from heaven. In what other situation could this happen? A fully crewed up ship, ready to sail within 2 hours of a warning…..but going nowhere.
My first “full scale” exercise emergency was entirely legitimate. Even Captain Speaking  thought it a good idea. And the Ch.Engineer went along with it.
My “pitch” to the top brass was that although only the 2 of them would know all the details, we should put the ship on at least a sea-going watch system and sort of pretend we were actually at sea. For a start, the gangway would have to be raised and the ship “isolated”. No mail, no phone calls, no nothing. “Outsiders” like the army, the local police and fire brigade had to be told it was a serious sort of exercise. The ships agent (my mistake) wasn’t told, and she was understandably a bit miffed at being prevented from getting anywhere close to us.
Actually, although most on board expected the alarms to go off sometime during the second day (you just cannot keep a “secret” very long on a ship), I only let it run for 4 hours before setting off the alarms. The “alarms” on a major ammo ship like “Resource” were not the sort of thing you hear ashore…dear me, no.  At every deck lift opening there was an 18” diameter alarm bell (an overgrown version of an old alarm clock) with a rotating hammer inside it. Enough to waken the dead. Although, thinking about it, that was probably its purpose.
For the first half hour or so chaos reigned supreme. Not good. Stop exercise. Do a “Captain Speaking” sort of thing and try to cool down the situation, and remind everyone of what they’d learned during the previous few weeks….and before I’d finished talking I pushed the main alarm button again. Boy oh boy, did I get some stick after that! But it all settled down again, and even the die-hards agreed that it had been necessary, if unwanted. Punctured incipient complacency, at least.
       Back in the early 1990s there were very few avenues open to ratings who wanted to rise up through the ranks. No matter how “happy” the ship was, there would always be an undercurrent of “them” and “us”. Over the years there’ve been many ratings who’d bucked the system and gone on to great things. I’ve sailed with some, and with few exceptions they were the best seamen, had more open minds and understanding of their ships company. But I suppose that applies to any organisation that allows someone to rise through his own efforts. But just about all of these organisations are those where the individual can go home and study…not possible in a ship. So a rating wishing to join the “them” brigade had to endure the snide remarks of some class warrior or other. The “Seamens Education Service” provided a lifeline here. And, to their credit, so did the RFA management.
Now that the rank structure within the RFA has been drastically overhauled and modernised I can only salute the pioneers that struggled so hard to better themselves.
    Enough of all that. It really only started off as a small example of how quickly a “honed” crew can become a bit “blunt”.
 
Time I returned to Split and further meanderings.
   



     
     
       

     

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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #755 on: November 02, 2010, 01:58:41 pm »

Just thought I'd better remind you what "Resource" looked like.....
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #756 on: November 02, 2010, 03:29:13 pm »

As I’ve mentioned before, many of these later recollections have been recalled by perusing some of the letters I sent home, so they were all pertinent to the time.
In the intervening period between my leaving “Fort Austin” and joining “Resource” quite a bit had changed, quite radically. I think I also mentioned that the First Officer(X) position was going to be “modernised”. Well, within the space of a few months it had been. The biggest change affecting me was the “Ships Stores Officer” business. The Pursers department had been re-named as the “Logistics Department”. And about time, too. One of the more “logical” decisions to be made by “those in charge”. When I first joined the RFA back in the days of the “pinks” (sailing auxiliaries in Nelsons time) The officer in charge of whatever the department was then called was the “Writer”. Basically the ships clerk who delighted in being obstructive to anyone junior to himself. He was nominally a “2 ringer”. In charge of catering was a guy with the traditional title of Chief Steward. A Petty Officer. This on a ship that may have 300 souls on board. The Chief Cook was generally some layabout signed on from “the pool”. Catering was not then of the highest quality.
Gradually, oh so gradually, the concept of a “Purser” was incorporated to both take care of Ships Business and the catering aspects. Generally run by another (qualified) 2 ringer with a couple of “1 ringers” as assistants. Now the “department” can be run by a “Captain” (with 4 rings). Eventually this sort of “upgrading” has led to the, to me, ludicrous situation where one ship can have 5 (5!!!) officers entitled to carry 4 rings and have a “brass hat”. The weekly HODs (Heads Of Departments) meetings must be more akin to a meeting of Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon rather than the rather more mundane stuff affecting one ship going about its business. There must be some “Law” that predicted this escalation….the “Peter Principle” perhaps?
Anyway, once again making a short story long, my “tasks” (duties, whatever) had changed a bit. Apart from being the ships “Operations Officer” (Not the Navigating Officer, that was somebody else) I had the “portfolios” of:-
NBCDO(2)
Public Relations Officer.
Ship Security Officer.
Liaison Officer (with and between the Army and the RN).
Intelligence Officer.
Ship Training Officer.
Senior Duty Officer (on alternate days).
Plus the odd-ball one of being OIC and Travel Agent for those crew members wanting to “book in” somewhere on one of the outlying islands (Brach was popular) for a weekend of partying. So I was quite a busy bunny.
In the RN I believe that someone with all these job “titles” is called OJO….the Odd Jobs Officer. Partly true. But I quite enjoyed it, especially if we didn’t actually have to go to sea!
     I’d been ensconced in Split for a few weeks when I realised my knowledge of the country, its geography: including the location of the towns and villages that kept popping up for one reason or another….mainly due to yet another atrocity being committed, and the weather conditions. While we in Split basked in warm/hot sunshine the conditions in the hills only 20 03 30 miles away could best be described as “snow, wind and frozen mud”. This latter was useful to us when re-stocking food items for the army patrols. I needed a good map of the country….at least that part of it that involved us. During one of my Friday “visits” to the Army HQ I mentioned my predicament. No problem. During the period of the UK involvement both the RAF and the army had photographically “mapped” the country to a scale that roads could be followed, and names of places had been overprinted. I was presented with about 100 of these things, each being about 2ft square. Luckily, my cabin was large enough to have a bulkhead large enough for my to make up one huge map from about 60 or so of the “photos”. My briefings to the “HODs” became much more detailed and accurate as a result.
       A rather disconcerting distraction was the amount of local gunfire. It seemed as if just about every male Croat old enough to hold a rifle or light machine gun had one. And they were used on a daily basis. They would all blast off at the drop of a hat. Every event from a football result to some imagined success of a local militia. These bullets were just randomly sprayed into the air…generally towards the harbour area. And what goes up must come down. It got to the stage where we had to “sandbag” the QMs position at the head of the gangway as people “on deck” had often been narrowly missed by these still lethal items falling out of the sky. We had another incident that in retrospect was funny, but not at the time. One evening many rather large fires were seen within a few miles of the ship, and there was a really massive increase in the amount of small arms fire. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I just asked Capt Speaking to pop outside and take a look. He really flipped and put “Resource” and “Sir Percivale” on immediate notice to sail. Total consternation.
It so happened that one of our deck crew was engaged to be married to a local girl, and he managed to ‘phone her just to check on her safety and to find out what was going on. It turned out to be yet another celebration…rather like our 5th of November thing.
   They were celebrating their defeat in “The Battle Of The Blackbirds” that was fought sometime in the 1100s. Odd people, celebrating a defeat nearly 1000years ago.

   



     
     
       

     

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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #757 on: November 02, 2010, 05:51:23 pm »

So far in this very personal view of what was “going on” in Croatia (and the rest of the fractured state of Yugoslavia) I’ve concentrated on the “job” side of things. But everyone on board had loads of opportunities to be a “tourist”. If one wasn’t on duty or part of the duty watch (ships emergency team) then you could come and go as you pleased. Of course there would always be places/districts that “we” were sort of discouraged from going into. Again, as always, there were the idiots who just had to “try them out”. So we did have people coming back to the ship having been either beaten up or just robbed. But that would happen anywhere, so it wasn’t a great surprise. For myself, I generally considered that if they went looking for trouble, trouble would find them. So to my twisted way of thinking, they were all really “self-inflicted” injuries, and deserved no sympathy. Sometimes the milk of human kindness flows more like treacle out of me when sheer stupidity is the cause. But these incidents were really very few, and mainly involved “newcomers” (people were coming and going all the time).
My first foray into town began with a feeling of despondency. One of the Engineers and the ships Doctor (a retired RN Captain) were my guides, escorts etc. This was after I’d been on the ship for only 24 hours.
     The “walk” into town was about 45 minutes. I hate walking! But I’m glad I did it this time. As I’ve said, Yugoslavia, Croatia and Split were, until I arrived there, an unknown planet. Time to learn.
After trudging across the most delightful, weed infested patch of waste ground we arrived at habitation. Broad “avenues” of grey monolithic concrete structures with empty shops beneath. Not just empty of customers, empty of anything to sell. Despondency plus depression. Not a nice mixture. But my 2 companions seemed cheerful enough. Then, all of a sudden, the place changed, and I was in the most wonderful Roman/Medieval town you could possibly imagine. All the “tulge” came from the old communist era, but as with cities like Dudrovnik, the regime at the time had been a bit protective of the history. Mainly to attract the (mainly German) tourist trade I suspect. (The currency used here was still the German Mark).But I was still a “first tripper” here, so my better memories came from later visits. I do recall having one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had, and the local Croatian red wine is to die for. The only offputting aspect was the local method of sewage disposal. Pumped directly into the apparently crystal clear lagoon. But after my time in “Fort Austin” the smell was both familiar and ignorable.
During this first visit one or 2 things struck me as odd.
The first was the “teams/gangs” of Albanian “money changers roaming the streets.
Then there was the (serious) warning never to exchange a single word with anyone wearing an all-black uniform (with a gun strapped to his back)….these were members of the “death squads” that used to come into town just for their version of R&R. Point taken.
Then there’s the quaint notion that a packet of cigarettes on the table is an invite to any passing smoker to just help him/herself ….and then ask for a light. One lives and learns!
I would honestly say that the male population (on outward appearances) were the dirtiest, scruffiest poorly dressed and unshaven populace I’ve ever laid eyes on. Given the poverty, I sort of expected the poorly dressed bit, but not the rest of it. I only mentioned the “male” side of things. Poverty or no poverty, the female half were, almost without exception, the most glamorous, well dressed and presented women I’ve ever seen. Now I knew where all those air-hostesses came from!
More “exploration” would come later.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #758 on: November 02, 2010, 05:53:52 pm »

"Our" harbourfront restaurant.
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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #759 on: November 04, 2010, 04:28:43 pm »

By this time the tourist industry had dropped to almost zero and the national income was pretty much sunk. Inflation was by then running at over 30%. Most of the shops were empty of “normal” things like medicines…..but the “luxury” shops were still open for business, except that no-one could afford to use them. Taxation had gone sky-high. Doctors, Bank Managers etc; that “class” of people were now only taking home about £100 a month.
     The closest fighting to us was about 20 miles away, although we were within range of the larger Serbian mobile artillery units…but they had their hands full trying to prevent the Croats repairing bridges and roads originally destroyed by the Serbs. As I said, no “good-guys” here.
     A little “aside” that fits nowhere….I’d never have thought that Croatia would be prone to Malaria. But it was (still is, I’d think), so during the summer period, at a predetermined time, the streets would suddenly, magically, empty of people. Totally. This must have been promulgated via the local press, TV and so on. None of which we could understand. We learned fast though when a “flight” of aircraft flew low and slow over the town spraying the whole place with some gunk or other. Words were had with our Agent” about this..so we began to get some advance warnings about forthcoming events that may or not affect/effect us. Not a pleasant experience being sprayed by a “crop duster” loaded with something quite nasty.
     This was also the time of year when the hills around us took to self-igniting. The closest to us was probably only about 3 miles away, but the fires went on for miles along the hillsides. Very spectacular at night. The Croats used huge Russian helicopters with underslung water carriers to try controlling these fires..so there was plenty of air activity around us. So what with stray bullets flying around, miles of “shrub” fires and anti-mosquito spraying there was something new every day.
      I guess I must have been in Split for about a month before I was invited to call on the British Consul. Just for a “natter” apparently, but really it was because he was getting a bit miffed about the number of soldiers and seamen getting mugged, robbed or beaten up when in places they shouldn’t be in…..and what could I do about it. Sod-all mate. Really, he was straight out of “Our Man In Havana”. Pompous idiot just wanted a quiet life I suppose. He also didn’t like having to share a smallish building with the German Consulate. Tough. So not much in the way of friendly relations with him!
     Then I found out that this wonderful old walled town wasn’t a walled town at all. The entire place (within the walls) had actually been the Palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (I’d never even heard of him, so much for my lack of a classical education!). The Roman aqueduct that looks like a long Victorian railway viaduct still supplies water to the town. And just a mile or so out of town there’s the remains of the local Coliseum. Totally untouched. No renovation, no advertising. Just being allowed to slowly moulder away. My Doctor pal (who did have a classical education) was ecstatic when I took him there. He showed me the cells, stables and all sorts of stuff….and we were the only people there. Anywhere else and this would have been a megga tourist attraction.
     But again, it wasn’t all beer and skittles. Split was becoming a sort of stopping off point for all sorts of foreign mercenaries (trouble makers). Mainly Afghans, Iranians and Russians….although I did meet a Geordie who’d adopted the common black SS type of uniform worn by the Muslim extremist militant faction. These people were all really nasty and contributed to making this conflict last longer than it would have done in the natural course of events.
      Although the ships company were given a weekly “broad-brush” briefing by the army, there was never much in the way of detail. The UK papers and Sky News adopted a pretty similar position, so many items of “news” were never really published. Not that they were secret or anything, although a lot of it was pretty disgusting. Some real “nasties” also had a rather macabre funny side. One in particular stands out. In a fairly local (to us) village the local farmers (Christian) decided to start their own little war against the next village (Muslim). For centuries they’d happily co-existed and even intermarried. But the extremists got busy. After the days work in the fields was done. Old tractor tyres were dragged up a hill and stuffed with explosives, set alight and rolled down the hill into the Muslim village. The muslims responded in kind, doing exactly the same thing. I had this strange vision of clandestine teams climbing up opposite sides of the same hill.
    The Americans were doing food air-drops into isolated villages. But the parachuted loads were being constantly destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. So some bright spark “invented” a rocket propelled air-drop pallet. This gizmo, apart from destroying an scattering its load over a wide area, actually killed some of the people the food was meant for. Only the Americans…….!
      Perhaps the worst example of genocide within our area was one that I believe has not been solved to this day. Around 800 muslim males were rounded up by an unknown group (fingers pointed at either the Croats, the Serbs or Akrams bunch of mercenaries. All these “prisoners” were led into a railway tunnel and the tunnel ends were blown up. No-one got out.
    With the ship being “static” for so long in a relatively tideless area the engineering staff were reporting problems. Apparently our underwater inlets and outlets were becoming colonised by thousands of mussels (how do they breed?) and were clogging things up. I guess it would have been a bit silly to employ local divers in this situation….especially to a ship that could re-draw the local coastline. So RN divers were brought in. In a dry dock this operation would have been quick and routine….but a couple of weeks in this situation as the ship couldn’t be “shut down”. So sometimes the divers were being sucked into the ship, and at others were being blown away….and some of these underwater “orifices” were 2 feet or more in diameter. Better them than me!
       Due to various “incidents” to do with the conflict within the country it was becoming clear that the UN (of whch we were a part) was becoming increasingly unpopular. The drawback of being neutral is that eventually you are distrusted by everybody. And that, by the middle of August, was quite evident. Nothing overt. Just sideways looks and mutterings. A slow response and surly service in our favourite eateries. That sort of thing. So, slowly, our runs ashore began to taper off. It didn’t help that the fighting was creeping closer with all “sides” shelling and rocketing each other. From our berth the gun flashes and rocket launches were plainly visible. But at least (as yet) they weren’t aimed in our direction.
    But nothing was aimed at us. By now I was becoming a bit bored and a bit homesick. I was fed up with the sheer stupidity and intractability of the people. The senseless killings, the sense that nothing the UN or anyone else could do anything to stop it, or even contain it all, until even the “participants” got fed up with it all and just called a halt. But that never really happened, did it.

And so my sea-going career came to an end. A flight from Split to Zagreb, on to Amsterdam and a flight to Newcastle.
One post to go though before this saga really is over.


     
     
       

     

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pugwash

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #760 on: November 04, 2010, 04:49:26 pm »

I was in Split in happier times (mid 60s). What I remember most was as we came into harbour there was a most
stunning backdrop of mountains, some beautiful old buildings amongst the cheapo communist concrete monstrosities
and we all ended up in the best place for good and cheap beer - turns out it was the local Communist Party equivelant of
a Social Club - lots of locals trying to chat you up about the types of electronic warfare gear that we had onboard as some of it
was brand-new, and the most splendid Polish sail training shiip berthed just along the jetty. The rest fades into oblivion.
Geoff
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #761 on: November 04, 2010, 06:14:23 pm »

As usual I always tried to leave you with a picture of the rump end of the ship....not always successfully.
But I forgot this one. so after this pic, there is still one to go.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #762 on: November 04, 2010, 06:24:11 pm »

As with all things, a “closure” is the hardest part to write.
This little saga began in January 2008 and completes in November 2010. Nearly 3 years in the writing. Gosh, doesn’t time fly!.
Some of you have been with me from my gauche and adolescent days of joining my first ship back in 1957, cumulating with my retirement in 1994.
In that “lifetime” many things happened to me that weren’t pertinent to the story….stuff that happens to most people, no matter what walk of life they tread.
Sometimes just keeping going has been a tad difficult. Not because of the content, more my concern that, not being a writer, I now and again fretted a bit that because of any reaction, although I did see the number of readers going up, I couldn’t tell if the posts were actually being read!
Surprisingly and happily just about all posted responses and PMs were positive, with the “negatives” being able to be counted on the fingers of one hand. But I took those into consideration also. So a very big “Thank You” to you all.
Of course I know that this forum is about “Model Boats” (and Ships), but my reasoning was that to understand a ship and how it works-or not- you have to look at the people and the kind of life they lead. I hope I succeeded in doing that, albeit from only the perspective of one person.
There were many “good times”, but almost as many “bad times” in my career. I guess an inbuilt hardness of soul got me through most of the bad times, but even during those periods I found sources of amusement. As I hope I’ve conveyed to you.
I also, on re-reading much of what I’ve written, realise how much I have changed within myself. I don’t think I ever became “sour” like some of my compatriots, but actually more tolerant and sort of “understanding” of peoples behaviour. Not always a good trait in a “senior” officer.
     Out of all the ships I sailed in I’m sure that someone will ask the question “Which was your favourite ship?”. That’s easy. My favourite “class” of ship would undoubtedly be the RFA  LSL (Sir Class) ships. Hard work, but oh, so satisfying. From the awkwardness of Belfast in 1969 to the later wonders of the Norwegian coast, I loved them.
But the absolute favourite individual ship has to be the cable repair ship “Recorder”. She was a beautiful ship. A wonderful “sea-keeping” ship. And many fond memories of her. I was 14 years old when my father took me to see her in 1954 when she was brand new out of Swan Hunters yard. I fell immediately in love with her. Her looks were the final bit of the catalyst that I needed to choose my future career. I never thought or dreamed that I would be one of her navigating officers 10 years later. Nor did I know that she would be the only ship that I was ever in that went into an episoidal wave, completely submerged and then came out the other side. Bruised, battered and damaged..but still afloat.
    When I first joined the RFA my first “real ship” (as opposed to a “look see” ship) was the then quite new RFA “Resource”. Over the years we became very well aquainted, warts and all. So it was both apt and poignant that we “retired” together also. Shortly after I swallowed the proverbial anchor and went on with the rest of my life, she toddled off to Alang Beach and was broken up like her sister “Regent” was a few months earlier.
I like to think of it as a fitting end.
Since then I’ve been building model ships (not kits!)……..
Thank you all, again. Regards. Bryan Young.
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Netleyned

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #763 on: November 04, 2010, 06:42:36 pm »

Magnificent Brian
A Sea Story of the First order.
As a time served Grey Funnel mariner I have to say the RFAs
passing their hoses and high wires to supply us with what we needed
(especially canteen stores!) vertreps by kind permission of the FDO (Could have been you)
We would not have got to go anywhere without you guys
You have given a host of 'Dry Land Sailors' a look at a life that few manage to see
Thanks Brian

Yours Aye

Ned


 
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Colin Bishop

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #764 on: November 04, 2010, 07:15:04 pm »

Our thanks to you Bryan for keeping us all entertained and giving us an insight into what life is/was like in the RFA. Will you be 'bundling it up' for your Granddaughter now?

Colin
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #765 on: November 04, 2010, 07:17:08 pm »

Bryan,

A big 'Thank You' for keeping us interested, entertained and informed for so long. I think I'll go back and start reading it again.  :-))  :-))

Cheers,

Barry M
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #766 on: November 04, 2010, 07:39:18 pm »

Magnificent Brian
A Sea Story of the First order.
As a time served Grey Funnel mariner I have to say the RFAs
passing their hoses and high wires to supply us with what we needed
(especially canteen stores!) vertreps by kind permission of the FDO (Could have been you)
We would not have got to go anywhere without you guys
You have given a host of 'Dry Land Sailors' a look at a life that few manage to see
Thanks Brian

Yours Aye

Ned


 
Thanks Ned. I could well have been the FDO......tell me the ship and the approx date and I'll check. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #767 on: November 04, 2010, 07:42:22 pm »

Our thanks to you Bryan for keeping us all entertained and giving us an insight into what life is/was like in the RFA. Will you be 'bundling it up' for your Granddaughter now?

Colin
Colin, indeed I will...am, on fact. My version to her contains "stuff" that is more family oriented and has more photos, but the gist is essentially the same. Thanks for both asking and reading. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #768 on: November 04, 2010, 07:49:51 pm »

Bryan,

A big 'Thank You' for keeping us interested, entertained and informed for so long. I think I'll go back and start reading it again.  :-))  :-))

Cheers,

Barry M
Barry, my Caledonian sparring partner. Thanks for being supportive (now and again) for the last couple of years. I have (somewhat reluctantly) sort of forgiven your remarks about wearing spats on a visit to Bougis Street and so on, but I will never, ever, forgive you for trying to present old Flora as an honourable person. Doing that made me look almost legitimate, and that I resent. Stick with your steam.
Apart from that......thanks. Bryan.
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Shipmate60

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #769 on: November 04, 2010, 09:19:21 pm »

Bryan,
I have read every word and looked forward to the next installment.
I didn't go to sea till the 80's and then in the RMAS so mostly coastal, but lately worldwide.
Your narrative captures the sea-going world truly, warts and all.
I recognise some of the MoD way of doing things and ship board life.
I am grateful for my time at sea and short of the services the camaraderie of most sea farers.
Thank you for your writings, I really do appreciate them.

Bob
newly retired and at the moment hating it!!
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #770 on: November 04, 2010, 09:42:26 pm »

Bryan,
I have read every word and looked forward to the next installment.
I didn't go to sea till the 80's and then in the RMAS so mostly coastal, but lately worldwide.
Your narrative captures the sea-going world truly, warts and all.
I recognise some of the MoD way of doing things and ship board life.
I am grateful for my time at sea and short of the services the camaraderie of most sea farers.
Thank you for your writings, I really do appreciate them.

Bob
newly retired and at the moment hating it!!
Thanks Bob. But don't hate your retirement. It's a young mans game now. Cameraderie only exists sporadically, as everyone sits in their own Internet connected little cells. Go back to the early 1980s and it was a lot different to now. Enjoy modelling instead. Bryan.
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pugwash

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #771 on: November 04, 2010, 10:31:50 pm »

Bryan I have really enjoyed your tales of the sea - I just wish I had your gift for  the printed word.  It has been entertaining
and illuminating seeing life from the other end of the fuel pipe. I shall really miss your updates as they are the first thing I look for
every evening. Your stories brought  back a lot of things to me that happened in my 10yrs under the White ensign. I had even
forgotten I had visited Split 'till you mentioned  your posting there.
I will no doubt see you at the lake as I posted off my application form today
Geoff
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Colin H

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #772 on: November 04, 2010, 10:53:20 pm »


Bryan,

Has it really been that long in the writing it surely didn't seem so from the readers point of view. Though it must have seemed like a marathon to you.


With no updates to follow I shall have to go back to the beginning and start again.


Many thanks for all your work. It has been illuminating, at times very funny and always a good read.


Yours Colin H.
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MikeK

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #773 on: November 05, 2010, 09:03:26 am »

Bryan, many, many thanks for an absorbing recount of your career at sea.
Shortly after starting my own journey (very close to yourself - Oct '57) in the 'Merch' I occasionaly ( %)) used to go for a pint down in Shields Market pubs where other seamen used to hang out, just so I could hear familiar tales covering the whole world being talked about around me before returning to my local and the more trivial discussions.
Your story had the same effect on me, feeling very at home amongst familiar surroundings.
Now what ?  :-))

Mike

PS Bob, it can only get better ! The first time I watched a poor blighter climbing over the bar at the Tyne piers into a hooligan, then ambled back to a nice warm house, I started to miss it less and less ! (Except the people, of course )
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Welsh_Druid

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #774 on: November 05, 2010, 09:44:58 am »

Bryan   - When I found that the end of your saga had arrived I felt  really sad that there would be no more. I suppose that everything really good has to end some time though

I have been reading your tale from the very beginning and was amazed to realise  that it has been so long. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

Don B.
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