Ex-Whitley Bay diver receives bomb honour

Royal Navy bomb disposal experts detonated an 'unexploded Second World War bomb on February 22, 2017 after it was 'dredged up from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour. Picture by LPhot Paul Hall
Royal Navy bomb disposal experts detonated an 'unexploded Second World War bomb on February 22, 2017 after it was 'dredged up from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour. Picture by LPhot Paul Hall

A diver, originally from the Whitley Bay area, who oversaw a dangerous eight-hour operation to prevent a bomb devastating Portsmouth Harbour has been recognised for bravery.

Chief Petty Officer Kris Fenwick led a team of specialist Royal Navy Clearance Divers who dealt with a 500lb German bomb which caused the closure of Portsmouth Harbour one morning rush hour in February last year.

Royal Navy bomb disposal experts detonated an 'unexploded Second World War bomb on February 22, 2017 after it was 'dredged up from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour. Picture by LPhot Paul Hall

Royal Navy bomb disposal experts detonated an 'unexploded Second World War bomb on February 22, 2017 after it was 'dredged up from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour. Picture by LPhot Paul Hall

Work to pave the way for the arrival of new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth caused several pieces of wartime ordnance to be unearthed, but the SC250 bomb picked up by the dredger Stemat was among the most difficult – and dangerous.

Still live and capable of causing damage up to a mile away, the bomb was trapped in the dredger’s claw next to the Wightlink ferry terminal.

CPO Fenwick succeeded in removing the bomb from the claw, before it was carefully towed out into the Solent in the face of Storm Doris – where the waves threatened to sink the dive boat until a police launch came to help.

The divers were then finally able to blow up the bomb safely after a demanding eight-hour operation played out ‘under some of the worst conditions possible’ and with ‘considerable media attention and the public’.

The resulting huge blast showed how devastating the bomb could have been had it detonated in the harbour.

In all, the divers cleared five tonnes of unexploded or old ordnance from Portsmouth Harbour – including a large German parachute mine, one 1,000lb bomb and two 500lb SC250s – during 34 call-outs throughout the dredging operation, a collective effort which earned the team of around 30 divers the ‘Heroes at Home’ award at last year’s Sun Military Awards, plus a commendation from Britain’s second most senior sailor, Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Ben Key.

CPO Fenwick has been a Navy diver for 16 years. He said the award of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal was ‘flattering because it’s really a team effort’.

The 41-year-old continued: “We dealt with many challenging incidents during the dredging and it was a real team success. I’m only successful if I have a successful team behind me – and bravery ran right through the ranks.

“Every time you go in the water as a diver it’s dangerous – it’s the Able Seaman Divers and Leading Divers who do the hard work. I’m in awe of them. They’re the ones who are incredibly brave. So although the award is to me, it’s for all of them.”

Commander Al Nekrews, in charge of the Fleet Diving Squadron and a holder of the QGM for his bravery dealing with improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, said the clutch of awards was ‘fantastic news – both for the individuals and for the Clearance Diving Branch. I am utterly proud of our people being recognised for their courage’.

Eight Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel have been singled out for going above and beyond the normal call of duty in the UK and abroad in the latest series of Operational Honours announced by the Ministry of Defence. Details can be found at www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news.