Dave Lassam - A Russian encounter
One main episode that had me sort of tiptoeing around a bit because I was only a young bloke, I was at sea within two years of joining the Navy, which is pretty quick, so I still had a lot to learn. And the geopolitical thing was way above my paygrade, I was an AB med and I did my job.
There was a situation where we left on our first mission and we were heading off into the Indian Ocean to do flying the flag. And we had, we're doing some, just going back, basically doing triangles out in the sea and just being there. And the Russians at this time weren't overly impressed with anybody mucking around in the Indian Ocean, they saw it as their patch.
And as we came up, away from Australia, and moved out into the Indian Ocean, they sent a very large warship, which I can't remember the name of at the moment, down to just keep an eye on us. And what, that was another thing, there was a lot of those communication ships that they had that looked like fishing boats that had more aerials on them than a C and N bus, that were out there tracking us, and every day our planes would go up and look around, we get photos of this boat, and this boat, this boat.
And then this rather large destroyer turned up one day and we had, the voice of the captain come over the Tannoy and said, "All personnel be aware, we have a Russian warship to portside". And of course, everybody goes to have a look, "Gee, I want to see this". And pretty close, say a kilometre away, that's pretty close. You're not likely to run into them but it's, you know that they're Russians, and they were bristling with everything and we were in a carrier that had some pop guns for protection and some aircraft.
And it takes time to get the aircraft off if you need to. I do remember one of my mates was a communicator, and he had actually wanted to be a medic and he had done some time with us in the sickbay because you can change category sometimes and he was looking to becoming a medic , and I said "Well, you need to get some hands-on time to have a bit of work experience down the sick bay".
Anyway, but he was on the signal deck the day this happened and of course, you see the ship's flashing lights, he gets, like in the old days, they do the flashing lights, and I can't read it so I've got no idea and at a certain point you hear their klaxons go off. So this didn't sound good, they then go to action stations.
So there we are in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we've got no one to protect us, get a Russian warship there, it's 1980, Cold War still banging away quite happily and I'm sitting there thinking this could get ugly. And they then went to putting missiles up on the ramps and then pulling them down and then putting them up and pulling down and swinging things around and doing things and you just stood there and couldn't believe it. And the lights are flashing madly.
Anyway, after certain period time, we managed to get some helicopters up. And as soon as they did, they broke off and moved away. And it was just the fact. I mean, our helicopters were pretty old then and whether, no one would have done anything, you hope, but there was still this thing floating out there and I did find I did find this quite funny because my mate, I did have a chat with him later on, I said, "What was going on up there?" "Oh, it was a madhouse" he said, "But the skipper was really good" he said.
I said, "What were they flashing?" And he said, "Well, the captain flashed to the Russians", or "The Russians flashed to us, When are you going home?". As I said they were not happy that we were there and the captain came back very quickly "After the movie tonight".
And they didn't take that as a good thing and that's when they went to action stations. So, just a little bit of humour and they went off the deep end … But it was always one of those ones where you were trying to be very careful, I believe because he just didn't know what was going on.