HNLMS Bruinvis in Cork - The strange tale of the submarine and the protesters...
A submarine in Cork. Now there’s something you don’t see every day. A years ago, a submarine of the Royal Netherlands Navy, HNLMS Dolfijn stopped by in Cork for refuelling and a few days of shore leave. I was down at the docks back then to get a few pictures of it, who knows whether another submarine would ever come to Cork. Then, a few days ago, while browsing through the shipping schedule on the Port of Cork Website, I stumbled across a rather interesting visitor that had surfaced (pun fully intended) there, HNLMS Bruinvis. The name already seemed familiar, and a quick search confirmed it. Like HNLMS Dolfijn, Bruinvis is a Walrus class submarine of the Royal Netherlands Navy. There was no way I was going to let this boat pass by without taking a few photos. I was going to get a bit more than that, but lets first talk about what these boats really are.
The Walrus class boats were built for the Dutch Navy in the 1980s to replace a fleet of ageing Dolfijn and Zeehond class submarines. The lead ship of the class, HNLMS Walrus, was laid down in 1985, but suffered a horrific fire while still under construction in 1986. She was finally completed in 1989 and entered the fleet in 1991. All Walrus class submarines sport a teardrop shaped hull modelled after the USS Albacore, which has become the norm for modern submarines. Their stern dive planes and rudders are arranged in an X fashion to facilitate manoeuvrability in shallow waters like the North Sea, another innovation first tested on USS Albacore. They are 67.73 meters long, with a beam of 8.4 meters and a draft of 6.6 meters.
|She certainly isn't big, no doubt about it. Still, the rounded teardrop hull should be pretty obvious from this shot.|
|Close-Up of the X arrangement of the rudders and stern dive planes. That weird thing on one of the fins is part of the assembly for the towed-array sonar.|
Despite their sleek appearance, the Walrus class boats are not nuclear-powered. They are diesel-electric boats, with large diesel engines powering the boat when surfaced and charging large banks of batteries. The exact endurance while running on batteries is unsurprisingly classified, but it is a safe guess that these batteries have to be recharged every 6-7 days. To eliminate the need to surface in order to recharge the batteries, all Walrus boats, like all modern diesel-electric subs, are equipped with a snorkel that enables the diesel engines to be run while still submerged at periscope depth. All boats of the class are manned by a crew of 50-55 officers and enlisted sailors, although it is a safe bet that they are able to embark special forces when needed.
|A look up at the main periscope (right) and the snorkel (left). The sub is also equipped with an attack periscope, a radar mast, as well as a communications mast. Most of these are retracted when underway.|
All boats sport a sophisticated sensor and fire control suite, including a towed-array sonar that can be streamed behind the ship, and a number of hull-mounted sonar systems. Their armament consists of a combination of up to twenty Mk.48 torpedoes, Harpoon anti ship missiles, or mines. These weapons are launched through four 53.3-cm torpedo tubes in the bow. It should come as no surprise to anyone that any details about the sensor suite, the armament, or the performance of the Walrus class are highly classified. Informal feedback from sailors who were pitched against HNLMS Walrus and her sister ships in fleet exercises indicates however that these boats are extremely hard to detect when submerged and running on batteries, and are not to bet taken lightly.
HNLMS Bruinvis (Porpoise) is the last of the Walrus class boats to enter service with the Royal Netherlands Navy, although two more boats of the class were sold to Taiwan as the Hai Lung class. She was laid down in 1988 and entered service in 1994. Details of her operational history are extremely hard to track down, however it is pretty much certain that both she and her sister ships were used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering in all major trouble spots during the 1990s and 2000s so far. It is equally unclear what brings her to Cork, although I expect that she’s here to refuel and enable a few days of shore leave for her crew before crossing the Atlantic to either reach one of the US naval bases along the east coast, or one of the Dutch territories in the Carribean.
|One of these things is not like the others....|
|No, the image wasn't photoshopped. That's all you could until you literally stood at the edge of the quay.|
She certainly couldn’t have picked a better weekend for it. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky when I made my way down to JJ Horgan’s Wharf, where HNLMS Bruinvis was moored. Apart from her oversized sail (sometimes still referred to as conning tower) and the sail-mounted forward dive planes, there was not much visible of her until I was at the edge of the quay. Considering that submarines are generally among the most sensitive vessels in any navy, I was surprised that there was no security cordon around the sub. Only a single armed crewman armed with a Colt Canada C8 carbine kept watch near the midship hatch, with an officer and several ratings standing nearby, and probably talking BS judging by the body language and regular giggles. There were also lots of people on the quayside. A submarine in Cork is sure to draw attention, after all. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed.
|You don't see Cork like that every day!|
|The crest of HNLMS Bruinvis. I included this image on porpoise...|
|The ensign of the Royal Netherlands Navy flying on the bow of HNLMS Bruinvis.|
|Unfortunately, it wasn't as warm as this image would make you believe...|
|Both hatches aft of the sail were open when I was there. That hose running down into the engineering spaces via the aft hatch was used to resupply the boat with drinking water. I presume they paid their water charges ;)|
Except for a group of uptight old men in poorly fitting clothes, that is. At first, I thought they were the typical crowd of drunks that tend to congregate wherever something interesting appears to be happening. The hand-drawn signs made it clear that these “gentlemen” were member of a “peace initiative”, opposed to a NATO warship visiting “neutral” Ireland. Their leader, and apparently the only member of the group proficient in the use of a razor wasted no time trying to whip out the crowd, using a poor quality megaphone (The type you find at Dealz/Poundland), telling the sailors that they were “not welcome” and that they were “committing an offence” by even being in Ireland. I just shook my head at the idiocy and continued taking a few photos, as well as talking to some of the other spectators.
|If these "protesters" are the guardians of Irish neutrality, then we're all doomed.|
|Only that cluster of "characters" in the center of the image were protesters. And even they weren't really good at their job.|
|Nothing says "peaceful protest" like hurling bottles filled with some undefined liquid at a warship....|
Suddenly, I heard a loud crack. I turned around to see glass splinters fly outward from an impact on the sail, over the forward dive planes and back onto the quay. Within an instant, the good mood on the quayside was gone. Everyone went quiet. The armed post aft instinctively raised his rifle and started scanning for the origin of whatever had hit the sub. As I only saw the impact, I cannot pinpoint the origin of that unknown projectile, but given the height and position of the stain, as well as the spinners and shards, it must have come from somewhere slightly aft of midships, which would be where the “peace protesters” were standing, and “Ol’ Straight Shave”, the leader was still mouthing off at the crew of the submarine, his confidence buoyed by that most ethereal of powers, the authority of the high-vis vest.
Shortly after that incident, the Garda showed up, with one of them immediately making his way down the precariously angled gangway to talk with the Officer of the Deck, who was still standing near the midships hatch with a few sailors. What followed can best be described as “shuttle diplomacy” between the protesters, the crew of HNLMS Bruinvis, and the lone Garda Patrol Car. Meanwhile, while that was going on, the protest leader thought it might be a good idea to turn on the guards and start chewing them out, basically accusing them of aiding offences against the state. Not a smart move, if you ask me. But then again, the “intelligence” of these protesters was best summed up by the fact that their high-vis vests and some of their banners sported the slogan “US out of Shannon”. While protesting against a Dutch submarine. In Cork. Oh, and then there was that one guy who couldn't distinguish between a peace symbol and the Mercedes star. I rest my case.
With shuttle diplomacy apparently not quite successful, things turned tense again, especially when a number of extra Garda patrol cars and a bus arrived. At the same time, some gardaí started clearing an access path along the quays. At the same time, Bruinvis had for some reason raised it’s attack periscope and what appeared to be it’s radar mast, although the latter wasn’t fully extended. The deck aft suddenly appeared empty as well, with the exception of our lone sentry and two ratings rolling up the hose that had been used to fill up the drinking water tanks of the sub. From the looks of it, they were either getting ready to depart prematurely, or at least preparing to seal the boat in case things got rough on the quay. However, the guards decided that discretion was the better part of valour in this case. They must have had some choice words with the protesters, though, as Mr. Big Mouth seemingly ended his loving relationship with the mouthpiece of his megaphone. That was also the moment when I decided to call it a day, and left the quay to find a café to warm up.
|As the shadows were getting longer, I decided to get out of there.|
|Meanwhile, HNLMS Bruinvis was soaking up the afternoon sun...|
|... and rightfully so.|
Looking back, I cannot help but shake my head at the sheer stupidity of these protesters. They are apparently incapable of distinguishing between neutrality (a country remaining impartial and not favouring, or siding with, any side in case of a conflict) and isolationism. Since its full independence in 1938, Ireland has made it appoint never to clearly favour one country. While US Forces have used Shannon as a stopover since WW2, that same airport was used as a major stopover point and base for Aeroflot, the state airline of the Soviet Union, through much of the latter part of the Cold War. Aeroflot even established a fuel depot at Shannon. Also, while there have been a number of NATO vessels in port over the years, many of which incidentally ended up on my blogs, Cork Harbour has also hosted a number of Russian warships, most recently RFS Soobrazitelny (please pardon the spelling), during the Gathering 2014. I myself was able to tour the RFS Vice Admiral Kulakov when she was in Port back in 2012.
|RFS Vice Admiral Kulakov in Cobh back in 2012.|
|If we let these ships in...|
|... what's the problem with NATO vessels visiting?|
So, we’ve established that neutrality is no impediment to courtesy calls by by foreign naval vessels, and that it doesn’t mean isolating the country from the world. There is however another aspect to this. While it would theoretically be possible for a warship to enter the waters of a state without the consent of the government involved, sailing ten kilometres up a river to tie up at a quay in the heart of a city simply wouldn’t be possible, especially when you have to pass a naval base and navigate a river that negates all tactical advantages your submarine may have. So, far from being here illegally, HNLMS Bruinvis is here with the express approval of the government in Dublin. These visits aren’t undertaken on a whim. They are usually planned months in advance, and involve a lot of contact between the military or naval attaché at the embassy of the visiting nation and the Protocol Service of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin. In fact, the Protocol Service has a dedicated section just for assisting foreign embassies with arranging these visits. So not only is there no legal precedent to denying these kinds of courtesy call, they actually occur with the express approval of the Irish government, which is of course elected by the Irish people.
Lastly, let me say a few words about these protesters and their ideals. Their performance was pathetic, their appearance revolting, and their preparation non-existent. You can’t simply stage a protest and hold up completely unrelated banners. Belting out poorly researched rants through a cheap megaphone won’t get you anywhere, either, and lastly no one is going to take you seriously if you come up to a protest looking as if you’ve just drunk away the last few euros of your social welfare check in a seedy pub. Anything worth protesting against deserves a major effort, and when you’re not willing to put in that effort, you might as well resume your own “shuttle diplomacy" between your favourite pub, bookies, and off-license.
Don’t get me wrong. Peace between nations, between humans, is a noble goal, and something that’s worth striving for. However, forcing through peace at all costs will achieve nothing. There are actors out there on the international stage who see it as their god-given right to ensure their nations superiority whatever the cost may be. We are faced with a number of heads of state who believe that only belligerence and threats will get you anywhere, and who have no qualms about sacrificing entire cities to ensure their supremacy. It is not a nice world out there, on the contrary. Therefore, it is upon every single person who stands up for a lasting peace in this world to thoroughly check whether the actions they are about to take will be effective or whether they risk alienating one party while favouring another. Striving for peace must never be allowed to become a cover for partiality!