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Exercise Vobster Dive puts Sappers to the test underwater in Somerset

Divers from 22 Engineer Regiment based in Tidworth have used their expert skills to sink a Speedboat, as part of a series of training exercises that they’ve been undertaking at a Dive Centre in Somerset.

It is a well-known fact that Sappers are used to lifting and moving heavy machinery. The role they occupy within the British Army involves providing armoured engineering support and are equipped with heavy duty capabilities, such as the Titan and Trojan vehicles. The Unit boasts many trades within its ranks including Plant Operators, Tradesmen and Logistic Specialists.

“Every kid wants to do something extraordinary, whether it’s to be an Astronaut or a Fireman. For me it was becoming a diver. The Army has given me the opportunity to do this as a career. It’s out of the ordinary, you can be sent anywhere, you never know what you’re going to see or do.” Staff Sergeant Rick Smith 22 Engineer Regiment

But not many people may know that each Regiment within the Royal Engineers has its own dive team consisting of up to 20 highly skilled service personnel.

22 Regiment Dive Officer, Staff Sergeant John Farrance, (35) from Folkestone:

“We get asked to go to different ports around the world. If there are obstructions under the surface, we can use our tools and buoyancy aids to sink or raise objects or vessels. We can also remove anything that is in the way or considered a hazard to shipping.

The Dive Centre located at Vobster near Frome regularly accommodates 22 Engineer Regiment Divers by providing a variety of aquatic facilities for them to undertake their training. In return personnel carry out tasks for the Centre that in turn can be incorporated within their drills.

Sergeant Paul Hudson is 22 Engineer Regiments Dive Supervisor. He says it provides great training value for the Unit whilst helping the local community too:

“With tasks like this there are many challenges to overcome both technical and physical. We are putting something that’s meant to be on the surface and sinking it. In future club members will be able to recce this vessel safely when they come and dive.

Some of these soldiers will deploy to Estonia in the months to come so it’s good to perfect our skills and drills. This initiative here has provided us with the ideal opportunity”

Before any dive can take place a series of stringent checks and risk assessments have to be carried out. Only when the supervisors and team leaders are content is the green light given for these highly trained Sappers to take to the water

Whilst one team set about preparing the speedboat for sinking, other Sappers were undergoing regular essential training drills that have to be passed in order for them to continue in this intense, complex and dangerous role.

Staff Sergeant Gary Rawcliffe, who hails from Blackpool is one of the team overseeing drills and coaching the divers:

“We’ve been working in kit mostly used for construction tasks and personnel have been conducting emergency procedure drills which we all have to complete every 6-12 months to make sure that we’re current and competent.”

Training is ongoing and there are three intense courses that a Sapper has to complete as part of their competencies. They will also carry out deep dives and be set tasks using hydraulic tools like chainsaws and high impact underwater cutting equipment.

Staff Sergeant Rick Smith (42) From Wiltshire has been in service for 18 Years and started diving in 2007 whilst stationed in Germany with 35 Engineer Regiment based at Paderborn:

“Every kid wants to do something extraordinary, whether it’s to be an Astronaut or a Fireman. For me it was becoming a diver. The Army has given me the opportunity to do this as a career. It’s out of the ordinary, you can be sent anywhere, you never know what you’re going to see or do.”