LHD 'Amphib' operations likened to Jenga

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Emily Kennedy (author), ABIS Jesse Rhynard (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Base East, Sydney

Topic(s): HMAS Canberra (L02)

The Well Dock of USS Bonhomme Richard packed with amphibious watercraft and land based vehicles as well as equipment. (photo: ABIS Jesse Rhynard)
The Well Dock of USS Bonhomme Richard packed with amphibious watercraft and land based vehicles as well as equipment.

Looking down the well deck and vehicle deck of USS Bonhomme Richard is an awesome sight. Landing craft and rigid hulled inflatable boats line the well deck. The well deck extends into the vehicle deck where an array of vehicles such as Humvees, Amphibious Assault Vehicles, trailers, medical vehicles and jeeps line the entire length of the vehicle deck from one end to the other.

To load this amount of equipment can take days and the United States Navy personnel onboard Bonhomme Richard liken the activity to playing a game of Jenga. The decks need to be loaded carefully like puzzle pieces to ensure the unload can take place efficiently and effectively, taking into account the operational requirements of the next mission.

NUSHIP Canberra’s Amphibious Department had the opportunity to tour Bonhomme Richard during her recent port visit to Sydney to learn more about what its like to coordinate large scale amphibious operations onboard a Landing Ship Helicopter Dock (LHD).

This is what Canberra’s Amphibious Department will be doing very soon as both Navy and Army personnel work together to develop the team and procedures to ensure they get it right.

The Amphibious Department is one of the fundamental links between the ship and its Embarked Forces. During operations the department is responsible for coordinating the area between the ship and the back-of-the-beach in support of the land forces.

The functional areas of the Amphibious Department include Embarked Forces Management, Cargo Operations and Stevedoring, Dock Operations, Landing Craft Operations, and Beach Operations.

Canberra’s Amphibious Department Regulator, Ship’s Sergeant Major and Load Master, Warrant Officer Pete Woodham, agreed that amphibious loading and unloading operations could be complex.

“In the Australian Defence Force, rather than Jenga, we compare the amphibious loading process to playing a game Tetris – careful planning and coordination is required for successful amphibious operations.”

NUSHIP Canberra personnel in the hangar of USS Bonhomme Richard listen intently as Chief Select Operations Specialist 1 Adam Smoller explains the operational aspects of coordinating multiple aircraft onboard.

NUSHIP Canberra personnel in the hangar of USS Bonhomme Richard listen intently as Chief Select Operations Specialist 1 Adam Smoller explains the operational aspects of coordinating multiple aircraft onboard.


“To form Canberra’s Amphibious Department, we are bringing together around 60 personnel from Navy and Army. The services operate differently in their single service environment and working in a way that we understand each other and work as one will be hugely important,” he said.

WO Woodham has served half his ADF career working with Navy doing amphibious jobs so he understands the way both services operate.

“Luckily, I’m proficient in ‘Narmy’- the language everyone will quickly learn to use so that our Department can communicate seamlessly,” he joked.

The tour onboard Bonhomme Richard gave the Canberra personnel an insight into the quantum leap Navy is about to make with regards to operating the new amphibious capability.

NUSHIP Canberra’s Dock Manager, Petty Officer Cartrena Skinner, said the tour of Bonhomme Richard was very worthwhile.

“Going onboard Bonhomme Richard reinforced what we’ve got coming in terms of the huge leap in size and scale of the ship.

“Having worked in an amphibious environment for most of my naval career, this posting to Canberra is without a doubt the pinnacle – and going onboard USS Bonhomme Richard and getting a glimpse of what an operational LHD looks like was a brilliant opportunity for us,” she said.

The Bonhomme Richard visit was another opportunity to learn from those who have decades of experience operating LHD as the Canberra team build their knowledge and develop their own procedures for LHD operations in the ADF.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20131149.