Allies on war games prove they’re a force to be reckoned with
PLYMOUTH-based warship HMS Northumberland has completed NATO’S biggest war game in years – and the largest staged in Norway in three decades.
Seven Royal Navy ships joined warships from across the alliance in a 65-vessel force mustered at sea and in the fjords, with Royal Marines from 45 Commando on a US assault ship and Fleet Air Arm Merlin helicopters hunting submarines.
The two-week workout – from Reykjavik in Iceland to Narvik in the Arctic Circle and Trøndelag in Norway – drew in more than 50,000 military personnel, with 10,000 vehicles rumbling along the winding Norwegian roads.
Frigates HMS Northumberland and Westminster spearheaded Royal Navy involvement in Trident Juncture, sailing from Iceland to the Norwegian Sea as part of a task group formed around the American assault ship USS Iwo Jima.
Devonport-based Northumberland, the exercise came hot on the heels of six weeks of intensive operational sea training.
That test is played out in the Royal Navy’s backyard (the Channel off Cornwall and Devon) usually alongside other British vessels, involving numerous scenarios – but relatively few surprises to seasoned sailors.
Northumberland and Westminster successfully located and tracked Norwegian and French submarines in con- junction with surface ships from Poland, Canada, Norway, Denmark and France, safeguarded American amphibious ships during air defence exercises – then supported those vessels as they put troops ashore safely.
The sub hunts reminded crews of the demands placed on every sailor aboard – whether they were monitoring sonar displays or preparing meals in the galley.
It meant closing doors and hatches as quietly as possible, putting on soft-soled shoes, banning activities such as running or weightlifting in the gym and keeping TV/ music volume to a minimum.
“Any bump or bang makes our task extremely difficult as the sensitive equipment picks up any ‘self-noise’, which can also give our position away,” said Able Seaman Tamara Dillow, a sonar specialist aboard Northumberland.
“Turning off the lights around the ship made everyone move around that little bit quieter; we assume our shipmates are asleep and we try not to disturb them.”
The extended period assigned to the NATO task group also meant Northumberland emptied her fuel tanks as she chased down submarines and chased off bombers. She took on fuel in the middle of the Norwegian Sea in a double ‘fill-up’ with the French tanker Somme and French frigate Bretagne.
“During high-tempo operations we cannot afford to call into port each time to refuel, so must replenish at sea,” said Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Brettell, Northumberland’s executive officer and second in command, who steered the ship alongside FS Somme for the refuel at sea.
“Sustaining each and every ship in a task group at sea is fundamental to the continued delivery of a fighting force.
“Working with our French partners not only proves we can successfully RAS on the high seas, but that we can conduct it with another nation with whom we are building ever-closer ties.”
Northumberland’s commanding officer, Commander Andrew Canale. said: “Exercise Trident Juncture is a clear and unambiguous demonstration of why we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies.
“Operating in a large multinational task group needs commitment and willing from us all. The opportunity to replenish with French Navy colleagues was a useful reminder of our close military links.”