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Hythe Army Depot Activity
Combat Equipment Base - North Atlantic (CEB-NA)
Hythe, England
5052'N 124'W

Say the words "depot maintenance" and images of tanks, trucks, howitzers, and even helicopters, in various stages of maintenance, upgrade or repair, come to mind. But that image is changing rapidly as the IOC takes on the Army's War Reserve Afloat Program. Watercraft and other marine equipment are now being maintained and overhauled at the Army's only government-owned, government-operated watercraft repair and storage facility-Hythe Army Depot Activity, in England.

Though it covers just 11 harborside acres near the sprawling port of Southampton, Hythe offers facilities and a workforce tailored to the maintenance, storage and support of forward-deployed Army watercraft. As the only US government-owned and -operated facility dedicated to that increasingly important mission, Hythe plays an essential role in maintaining a variety of Army vessels earmarked for use in Southwest or Southeast Asia.

On the south-central coast of England across from the port of Southampton, Hythe does all levels of maintenance. Currently, Hythe maintains more than 65 watercraft and major marine end items. The watercraft includes 100-foot tugboats, self-propelled landing craft, 100-ton floating cranes and an assortment of barges and floating causeways. These watercraft and equipment are used to open ports and provide logistics over-the-shore, and lighterage operations, to support Army units in a theater of war. In fact, at any given time, half of the war reserve watercraft maintained by Hythe workers is riding on the deck of a huge semi-submersible heavy-lift ship, which is actually a converted super tanker, in the Indian Ocean.

The ship surveyors and inspectors of Hythe's Quality Control Division examine the vessels to determine what repairs or modifications are needed, and then write the specifications for the work. The job is then done by the electricians, ship fitters, shipwrights, mechanics, electronics technicians, packaging specialists and painters of Hythe's Maintenance Division. The watercraft structural work done at Hythe can range from minor repairs to the sort of stem-to-stern maintenance performed on the three 100-foot tugboats recently uploaded on American Cormorant. The 1950s-vintage tugs underwent a comprehensive, 18-month-long facelift that gave them redesigned interiors, new engines, sophisticated electronics and up-to-date firefighting systems. The rejuvenated boats replaced unmodified tugs that will undergo the same refurbishment before going back aboard American Cormorant upon her return to Hythe in 1997.

Hythe's other main task ---- preserving watercraft and the supplies and equipment embarked aboard them ---- is undertaken by the depot's Supply and Storage Division. The division's Preservation Section takes everything removable off the vessels and then "cocoons" the craft by sealing all exterior openings. The items removed for storage are inspected, replaced if necessary and then preserved until needed. Many items have "use by" dates on them, and when that date passes the items are reinspected, repaired or replaced, and returned to storage. Before the vessel is put into the water all necessary items ---- from spare parts to first aid kits to mattresses for the crew bunks ---- are taken out of storage and put back aboard. The division's other function ---- supply ---- requires the procurement and tracking of everything from basic soldier items to repair parts for the watercraft. The depot's Administration and Services section keeps track of all the personnel, planning and policy issues involved in running the facility. One of its tasks is supervising the dispatch of small, customized teams of specialists to forward areas to support watercraft operations.

The facility was a vital player in the buildup for Operation Desert Storm, and played equally important roles in Somalia, Rwanda and the 1994 buildup of US forces in Kuwait. Hythe brings two things to CENTCOM. The first is flexibility. The facility and its workers can quickly switch focus from a normal maintenance cycle to a contingency support mission. The ability to pull out all the stops and fulfill a warfighting CINC's requirements is one of the depot's greatest assets. Hythe's location is a plus. The depot is closer to Third Army's area of responsibility than any continental United States port, yet is far enough away from any danger zone to be safe from possible hostile action. Moreover, the port of Southampton can handle virtually any vessel afloat, and Hythe is just four miles from the British military watercraft center at Marchwood.

Commanded by an Army major, Hythe is on an old British Ministry of Defense installation dating back to World War I. This installation was established in 1967 to store and maintain Army watercraft intended for wartime port operations in Europe. Over the years we developed the structures and facilities needed for that task, and assembled a professional and motivated workforce. When the Cold War ended, Hythe was a logical choice to assume the mission of supporting prepositioned Army watercraft.

Only three Americans are stationed there. A civilian executive assistant and an Army warrant officer, who acts as the depots supply technician. British citizens make up the rest of Hythe's work force of about 200. Their skills are typical of any shipyard and, in some cases, not so different from a typical depot. For example, shipwrights, or carpenters, riggers and fitters work alongside welders, mechanics and electricians. Hythe's largest current program is the extensive rebuild of seven tugboats used during the Gulf War. Built in the early 50's, these 100-foot ocean-going tugs were found to be under powered and difficult to find repair parts for, and crew accommodations were inadequate. To replace the tugs would cost $10 million each; rebuild at Hythe will cost less than $2 million each. The tugs have been gutted down to the hull. Hythe workers will replace everything from engines and gearboxes to new quarters for the crew.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:50:42 ZULU