London’s Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) unit, HMS President, was the hub of the Royal Navy’s security operation on the River Thames during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
With its riverside location by Tower Bridge, and rapid access via road or water to all key venues, HMS President proved an ideal base for the two diving teams that were available for tasking at short notice throughout the games.
Within these teams were five members of the RNR’s Diving Branch who, along with 350 other Maritime Reservists, put their civilian jobs on hold to mobilise for Operation Olympics, the huge effort by the UK Armed Forces that made the London 2012 Games possible.
Working alongside their regular counterparts from the Royal Navy’s Southern Diving Group, Lieutenants Adam Bolton and Nick Foster, and Able Seamen Tony Cassidy, Rob Powell and Jim Travers, provided niche underwater explosive ordnance disposal support to assist the Metropolitan Police.
This proved an ideal opportunity for the RNR personnel to integrate fully with Royal Navy (RN) divers over a sustained period, putting their years of reserve training to the test.
Lieutenant Adam Bolton, 27, from Plymouth, found his mobilisation a rewarding experience:
“This deployment offered me the opportunity to see firsthand how the RN diving branch conducts itself in an operational environment.
“It has been immensely useful as a test of our branch’s training programme and we will be able to use the experience to tailor the future direction of the RNR branch.”
A member of HMS Vivid, the RNR’s home in Plymouth, Adam is an offshore surveyor when not performing his naval duties.
Lieutenant Nick Foster, 37, from Durham, echoed Adam’s comments:
“Being deployed for Op Olympics has given me the chance to put into practice all the skills I’ve gained over the past five years within the RNR diving branch.
“It has also allowed me to see how the RN diving team conducts itself over a sustained period of time, which will help us support the fleet better in future deployments.”
Nick, a Royal Mail Manager in civilian life, is a member of HMS Calliope, the RNR unit in Newcastle. He enjoyed his time deployed in the capital, he said:
“On a personal level, this has allowed me to play a part in ensuring the delivery of this successful global sporting event and to experience the wonderful atmosphere in London during the games period, something that won’t be repeated in my lifetime.”
The RNR divers were involved in underwater searches of key strategic locations ahead of the Olympic Torch flotilla and, throughout the games, the Royal Docks and Canary Wharf, which were visited frequently by important vessels.
In addition to their security role, their underwater skills were regularly put to the test with a variety of diving tasks. With the Royal Navy’s largest ship, HMS Ocean, moored at Greenwich as a key base for personnel and helicopters, these tasks included diving on the ship’s freshwater pipe to ensure that it continued to operate correctly.
Other tasks were hull and propeller surveys on military vessels in the Thames, and searching for lost equipment dropped in the river.
Nick Foster said:
“Diving in the Thames is always challenging due to the tidal conditions, with currents reaching up to 4 knots and underwater visibility being nil, but it allowed the RNR divers to hone their skills in challenging conditions.”
Able Seaman Tony Cassidy, 27, from Liverpool, is a support worker in civilian life.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge and experience of working alongside the RN over the last few months,” Tony said.
“Op Olympics has given the RNR divers the chance to show our regular colleagues how we can integrate into an active diving team and get the job done.”
When not mobilised, Tony attends HMS Eaglet, Liverpool’s RNR unit.
A carpenter in civilian life, Able Seaman Rob Powell, 37, from Birmingham, also found being mobilised for the London Games a rewarding experience.
“Diving with the RNR gives me the chance to do something completely different from my day job,” Rob said.
“And participating in Op Olympics has allowed me to work alongside our regular counterparts, putting into practice all my training gained so far,” he added.
Rob is a member of HMS Forward, Birmingham’s RNR unit.
For Able Seaman Jim Travers, 38, a company director from Stirling and a member of Rosyth’s RNR unit, HMS Scotia, it was a similar experience.
“Op Olympics has proved that a positive integration between the RNR and the RN is possible,” he said.
“And for me personally, it’s literally been a blast, especially as we had the excitement of carrying out controlled explosions during our pre-games training.”
Lieutenant Commander John Beavis RN, Commanding Officer of Southern Diving Group, said:
“Having these reservists support our operation was absolutely key.
“The RNR divers provided the operation with critical resilience.
“Utterly professional, their swift and seamless integration into our team proved to be a tremendous asset and testament that this small, but fastidious, component of the RNR is a vital asset to UK-based diving and explosive ordnance disposal operations.”
Diving is just one of the branches open to members of the Royal Naval Reserve, which is recruiting nationally under the slogan “Transform Your Spare Time”.
Candidates need to be physically fit, British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens, and aged between 16 and 40.
Press Release, September 28, 2012; Image: Royal Navy