23 March 2020
Royal Marines have shared essential experience and expertise with Belarusian forces during landmark exercises with troops specialising in peacekeeping missions.

Green Berets from Plymouth-based 42 Commando worked with the Peacekeeping Company of the 103rd Guards Airborne Division at the Losvido Training Areas, in northern Belarus.

While on the two-week Exercise Winter Partisan, the commandos – 28 of them from Lima Company – trained the Belarusians in abseiling and general tactics useful for peacekeeping missions utilised by the Royal Marines.

In return, the Belarusian troops showed the marines their own survival, navigation and tactical skills at the training area near the north-eastern city of Vitebsk.

This was the first time Belarusians have provided training to any nation in recent history – they’ve previously only ever hosted instructors teaching their own forces.

In between the joint training, Lima Company visited museums and the Khatyn Memorial, which is a tribute to almost three million Belarusians who died during World War Two and the site of a brutal massacre by the Nazis in 1943.

“Exercise Winter Partisan was a great experience for Lima Company, where the exchanges of tactical and survival skills enhanced the company’s abilities for the future,” said Major John Whiteman, Officer Commanding, Lima Company.

“Visiting the Khatyn Memorial was a memorable visit. This was a very sobering affair and highlighted the brutality that was experienced on the Eastern Front. The company also visited the Afghan museum and Partisan museums in Vitebsk.”

The training was carried out in two mixed troops of Belarusians and commandos and culminated in an exercise under the cover of darkness.

The final phase saw the teams tested on a 25km yomp, which included various missions that tested the skills learned during the fortnight of exercises.

In addition to this, the marines were hosted in Minsk, where they took in the Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War (World War Two) – where they also laid a wreath – and visited the Stalin Line Military Museum.

The wreath read: "In grateful memory of our grandfathers who, 75 years ago, fought fascism together on different fronts. 42 Commando Royal Marines."

“Overall it was a very enlightening experience where there was a great respect for how the Belarusians operate and their sacrifice in the Second World War,” added Maj Whiteman.

This was the return leg of joint work after Belarusian troops attended exercises in the UK last summer. It is all aimed at building trust and mutual understanding.

Lima Company are the Royal Marines’ specialists in ‘Joint Personnel Recovery’, meaning they are experts in rescuing downed aircrew, military or civilians from hostile environments.

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24 Commando Royal Engineers. Commando Sappers ‘breaking new ground’ in the arctic…
Using a Light Wheeled Tractor to create a Tactical Landing Zone on a frozen lake in the arctic. This provides greater flexibility for aviation to increase lethality and reach during commando operations.
Wildcat successfully conducts multiple landings on the TLZ whilst 24 Commando work alongside NATO partners to review and develop new doctrine on ice landings.
The arctic bites b...ack. Although well within tolerance for ice thickness, the ice challenges existing doctrine in spectacular style. Would you keep calm enough to carry out the immediate actions before extracting from a sinking vehicle? Dunker training pays off!
Extreme cold makes everything harder, including recovery. Alongside our Norwegian partners, combat engineering solutions require ingenuity and engineer divers to recover the equipment through a 120m channel cut through ice which is up to 1m thick.
Environmental and equipment assessment conducted, the vehicle is recovered back to a warmer environment for repair. Lessons learned. Doctrine updated. Mission continues…

HMNB Portsmouth in glorious sunshine
In shot are:
HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Victory
HMS Diamond
HMS Defender
HMS Dragon
HMS Daring
HMS Duncan
HMS Westminster
HMS Kent
HMS Trent
River Class Batch 1
3 Hunt Class MCMVs
HMS Bristol
Mary Rose Museum
ex-HMS Clyde
ex-RFA Diligence
2 decommissioned Hunt Class MCMVs
1 decommissioned Sandown Class MCMV

Vanguard Class SSBN in the Shiplift at HMNB Faslane
27 May 2020
Royal Marines stormed a tanker off Plymouth as they sharpened their board and search skills – crucial in the wars against drug-running and terrorism.

Marines from 42 Commando and 47 Commando (Raiding Group) headed into Plymouth Sound to practise maritime interdiction operations – the art of intercepting, boarding and securing vessels suspected of involvement in criminal activities.

Waiting to be boarded: 39,000-tonne naval tanker RFA Tideforce, normally used to keep HMS Queen Elizabeth and her carrier task group topped up with fuel.

Climbing up the imposing side of Tideforce was a return to more regular duties for both Royal Marines units as the nation begins to emerge from the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic.

Teams from 42 Commando, based at Bickleigh just outside Plymouth, helped to run mobile test centres for the virus to help key workers across the south west, including sites in Torbay and Salisbury.

Stood down from those duties, the marines can focus on their usual mission – especially as both 42 and 47 Commandos are constantly held in a state of very high-readiness to deploy on operations across the globe.

Small teams from 42 Commando’s Juliet Company – the Corps dedicated maritime interdiction operators – secure a suspect vessel.

The ranks of Juliet are well practised in Close Quarter Battle – crucial in the confines of a boat or ship – as well as mechanical / explosive access and vessel embarkation, using either a sea boat such as the Royal Navy’s Pacific 24, or rapid roping on to a deck from a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter.

Once the commandos have secured the suspect vessel, a Royal Navy boarding party of trained sailors comes aboard to conduct the search for anything untoward. They’ve recently been given enhanced search kits as smugglers use increasingly devious methods to hide their illegal cargos.

The combined efforts of the Royal Marines and Royal Navy boarding teams have seized or destroyed more than £150m of illegal narcotics since the beginning of 2019 in a dozen major busts, with the Indian Ocean accounting for all but two of the successes.

All the drugs would have funded illicit activities had they reached the streets; in the Middle East, the illegal trade in narcotics is known to fund terrorism.

“Maintaining this level of readiness for boarding operations demands that the unique techniques and procedures needed for success must be regularly exercised in the most arduous conditions,” explained Captain Jack Denniss RM, Operations Officer of 539 Raiding Squadron, 47 Commando’s front-line unit.

“Failure to do so could mean that crucial skillsets degrade, and the capability can quickly become compromised.”

Capt Denniss continued: “539 Raiding Squadron provides the sea boat coxswains, responsible for getting troops to a target vessel, day or night, and in a position from which they can launch their assault.

“Although these ranks belong to different units, regular integration and rigorous training allows them to seamlessly operate with one another.”

Teams from Juliet Company are currently deployed in the Middle East with frigates HMS Montrose and Argyll on maritime security operations.
29 May 2020
Minehunter HMS Ramsey has taken her place alongside NATO counterparts in the Baltic.
The Faslane-based ship – which specialises in finding mines in deep waters – is spending the next five weeks with an international task group dealing with problems past, present and future.She takes over from her sister HMS Grimsby which earlier this spring was attached to Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 1, the NATO force dedicated to eliminating the threat of historic mines in the waters of northern Europe, practising dealing with present-day mines, and promoting the alliance and freedom of the seas. Ramsey arrived during the second phase of a nine-day exercise by the NATO group as it conducted its latest operation to remove historic ordnance from the depths off the coast of Estonia. Tallinn and the approaches to it in the Gulf of Finland witnessed particularly heavy fighting in the summers of 1941 and 1944 especially.
That, plus extensive mine laying during both world wars mean that, despite more than 75 years of peace and sweeping/clearance operations, the seabed is still peppered with aged ordnance. The NATO group – Ramsey, plus flagship FGS Donau, Norwegian minesweeper Otra and German minehunter Fulda – were joined by Estonian naval forces for the concerted effort, including two old friends. The Estonians snapped up three Sandown-class ships back in 2006, two of which – Admiral Cowan (ex-HMS Sandown) and Ugandi (formerly HMS Bridport) – took part in the joint exercise. Together, the international force scoured an area of 58 square miles (roughly the size of Bristol), identified 180 mine-like objects, three of which turned out to be historic mines… which were neutralised. “I am delighted to have joined Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 1 on operations in the Baltic,” said Lieutenant Commander Joel Roberts, HMS Ramsey’s Commanding Officer.
“Given the uncertainty caused by COVID, it is really important we are able to continue delivering on operations. The training value gained since joining the group has been brilliant and my crew and I are looking forward to integrating further over the coming weeks.”
Task group commander Henning Knudsen-Hauge said the success of the operation off Tallinn demonstrated that no matter which nation joined NATO on mine warfare operations, near identical procedures and communications meant it was “almost ‘plug and play’”.
He continued: “We covered quite a large area, and investigated a lot of mine-like objects, resulting in three identified and neutralised mines. This low number of mines found is actually a positive result, as it proves low historic mine density in the area.
“Together with our Estonian allies, we made the Baltic Sea a safer place, and enhanced NATO’s overall situational awareness in the area.”

Pictures: Haakon Hasselgren Eilertsen, NATO

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HMS Protector, the Navy’s only icebreaker, has started her maintenance period on Teesside. The major overhaul will include upgrades to embrace latest scientific/survey techniques, and the increased use of autonomous survey methods.

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RAF Typhoons Scrambled In Lithuania To Intercept Aircraft
Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets deployed to Lithuania on a NATO policing mission have carried out their first intercept of the operation, on a Russian Military Aircraft off the Baltic coast. The Typhoons launched on 2nd June 2020 to intercept a Russian IL-20 COOT Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft operating over the Baltic Sea.

RAF Typhoons and Reapers air strikes against Daesh
RAF Typhoons and Reapers have conducted four separate air strikes against Daesh this month, as the UK Armed Forces continue to support the Iraq Government’s fight against the terror group.

Minehunters begin 6,000-mile odyssey on latest Gulf mission
10 June 2020
Beginning a 6,000-mile odyssey which will take their ships to the Gulf for three years are the crews of minehunters HMS Penzance and Chiddingfold.

The latter sailed from Portsmouth today to begin the epic journey to Bahrain, a journey she will share with Penzance which departed her base at Faslane at the end of last week and, after a brief fuel stop in Falmouth, before linking up with Chid in the Atlantic.

It’s the second time the two vessels have sailed in company to the Middle East for a three-year tour of duty, having last made the extended trip between 2014 and 2017.

Heading back to the UK, mission accomplished, once Penzance and Chiddingfold arrive, are their sister ships HMS Blyth and Ledbury.
The Royal Navy has maintained a four-strong minehunting force – bolstered by a dedicated battle staff and mother ship, currently RFA Cardigan Bay – for more than a decade.

Together, they keep the sea lanes open, deter aggression, work with allies and fly the flag for the UK in a part of the world which is key to the nation’s security and economy.

The two Gulf-bound ships are the first to switch over to a new crew rotational system – four months aboard instead of six, followed by four months back in the UK on leave/undergoing training, courses, education and the like.

The programme is intended to give sailors – 51 on Chid, 40 on Penzance – a more settled life, while getting the maximum out of their vessels on operations in theatre.

“We are the first crews in this new programme – and we’re determined to make it a success. Many sailors are pleased to have increased stability in their lives,” said HMS Chiddingfold’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Tom Harrison.

The global Covid-19 pandemic reduced the scale of the traditional send-off from families and friends ¬– the usual pre-deployment look around the vessel was, in Chiddingfold’s case, replaced by a social-distanced wave from Portsmouth’s Hot Walls – and will limit/restrict the ten or so port visits on the journey out.

That aside the crews are keen to knuckle down to their mission.

“This will be my first deployment and I’m very much looking forward to putting into practice on operations what I have learned over the last year,” said Able Seaman Connor Hurst, one of Penzance’s mine warfare specialists.

“Minehunters have a long history of delivering success in the region and I look forward to becoming part of that.”

Lieutenant Commander Harrison, 32, from Exeter, said that his team had worked “incredibly hard to get to this stage – it’s been a long run-up to deployment. Now the ship’s company are excited and I am hugely confident they will continue to perform to a high standard, particularly with the introduction of four-month deployments.”

His counterpart on Penzance, Lieutenant Commander Graeme Hazelwood, agrees.

“It has been a team effort across the enterprise and one made all the more challenging during the current coronavirus crisis,” he added.

“I feel incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication that the crew and all the support organisations in Faslane have shown in getting Penzance ready to deploy.”

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Frigate HMS Montrose resumes long-term Gulf security mission
10 June 2020
HMS Montrose is ready once more for the challenge of keeping Middle Eastern sea lanes open, now through the height of summer.

The crew of the frigate have undergone intensive assessment to resume patrols, just months after they were carrying out the same mission in these same waters.

The frigate is geared up for four demanding months keeping Middle Eastern sea lanes open – and keeping illegal activity in check – in the latest chapter of her extended tour of duty in the region.

Normally based in Plymouth, the Type 23 frigate is deployed to Bahrain – the hub of the Royal Navy’s operations east of Suez – for three years as part of the new Forward Presence programme which ensures vessels spend more time at sea in an operational theatre – and their crews enjoy more settled, plan-able lives.

Every four months the ship’s company of more than 200 sailors, Royal Marines and Wildcat helicopter crew change entirely – in this case Port Crew, under Commander Ollie Hucker, moved on board Montrose for the third time.

Straight back into it, the ship sailed and the Port team were assessed by a specialist team from the UK to ensure they were prepared for the unique demands of Gulf operations.

The ship herself was given an ‘MOT and service’ to ensure her machinery and systems are ready for summer in the Middle East when temperatures can hit 50°C on the upper deck, even more in non-air-conditioned parts of Montrose, such as her hangar and engine spaces.

The ship performs a wide-ranging mission from working with the UK’s partners and Allies in the Gulf to provide reassurance to merchant shipping arriving or departing the region and conducting counter-terrorism/smuggling/piracy patrols in the broader waters of the Indian Ocean.

During their four months in theatre, the Port Crew plus friends and family back home have set themselves the ambitious goal of running or walking around the world - 40,075km (24,901miles), the equivalent of 160,300 laps of the frigate’s upper deck (approximately 250 metres).

“Being away from our families during these challenging times, we wanted to do something to support those back home, so we came up with an idea to raise some money for some charities close to our hearts,” explained organiser Lieutenant Commander Barry Crosswood, the ship’s Principal Warfare Officer.

“Being able to involve the wider Montrose family in the initiative is really important to us – it’s about looking after everyone’s welfare, staying healthy and fighting the pandemic together. We can run laps around coronavirus.”

Proceeds will be shared among the mental health charity MIND, the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust and Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity. You can show your support via:

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Fire and fury from the Queen’s Frigate on weapons trials
10 June 2020
HMS Lancaster is spending a fortnight flexing her military muscle off the south coast as she prepares for renewed front-line duties.

After a spot of maintenance in her home base of Portsmouth, the frigate put to sea at the weekend to focus on the ‘business end’ of Royal Navy operations: warfare.

The ship is gearing up for her first operational duties in nearly five years following a period of extended readiness and two-year refit in Devonport.

That overhaul gave her numerous new systems and sensors, from Artisan 3D radar (the grey slab which spins on top of the main mast) to the Sea Ceptor air defence system (the Mach 3 missiles which take out airborne threats up to 15 miles away).

Those systems, as well as the ship’s company, will face a two-month-long test in September when the Queen’s Frigate – she’s named after the monarch in her role as Duke of Lancaster – faces Operational Sea Training.

Akin to ‘pre-season training’ for Royal Navy warships, it ensures the 180-plus sailors and Royal Marines on board are ready for every possible eventuality on deployment.

That includes, however unlikely, preparing for chemical or nuclear incidents by donning precisely-fitting respirators (Lancaster has a self-contained inner citadel to protect its sailors in the event of radioactive fallout/biological threats, but it doesn’t extend to working on the upper deck).

Firefighting and damage response teams were put to work in the bowels of the frigate. And the 4.5in main gun was thoroughly put through its paces at maximum elevation, maximum depression and maximum rate of fire (two dozen rounds a minute) which truly tested the gunbay team handling 21kg shells beneath the turret.

Shells leave the barrel at speeds in excess of twice the speed of sound and have a maximum range of 15 miles.

“It was great to finally be back at sea and use the gun,” said Petty Officer Alan Bates. “Having joined Lancaster over a year ago as the maintainer to get to function the gun was fantastic. We are now ready to move forward in our training. A lot of the junior members of the crew have never heard or seen the gun fire so it was a great demonstration to them about the impact the gun can provide.”

Further training and equipment trials over the next ten days will focus on the 4,500-tonne warship’s other weapons and sensors – every day bringing her one step closer full operational status.

“Lancaster’s story from engineering project to ship and warship is now in its final few chapters,” said the frigate’s Commanding Officer Commander Will Blackett. “She is a fantastic ship, with a fantastic team and plenty more to offer UK Defence over the months and years ahead.”
UK’s operational F-35 jets mark first landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth
09 June 2020
The decks of HMS Queen Elizabeth are roaring with the sound of F-35 Lightning jets as the famous Dambusters squadron landed on the aircraft carrier for the first time today.

Pilots, engineers, cyberspace and mission support staff from 617 Squadron, the UK’s operational strike squadron, embarked the carrier over the weekend during a quick stop in Portsmouth for supplies before the aircraft themselves landed on board this afternoon.

It marks the first time 617 Squadron – famously known as the Dambusters – has fully joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as the UK prepares to deploy the next generation squadron of fighter aircraft to operate from the sea.

The F-35 jets that landed on board today will be the same aircraft that will sail next year with the ship for her maiden Global Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment.

Commander Mark Sparrow, the Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, said: “We are excited to be on board the carrier and we have been training hard to be here.

“This is the first time the ship’s operational squadron has embarked and worked together.

“The F-35 brings next generation capability to UK Defence through its ability to find, destroy or avoid enemy air defences and enemy aircraft whilst gathering intelligence data.”

Commander Ed Phillips is the Commander Air on board HMS Queen Elizabeth. Known as ‘Wings’, Cdr Phillips is in charge of flying operations on the aircraft carrier.

He said: “Today is a significant day for HMS Queen Elizabeth on the road to delivering carrier strike operations for the Royal Navy.
“We are at the heart of a world-leading capability for the UK and will soon have on our decks two squadrons of F-35s – from the UK and US – plus the protection of a strike group made up of destroyers, frigates and support ships.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth will now enter an intense period of flying having just successfully completed four weeks of basic sea training.

The aim is to demonstrate that the jets can successfully defend the aircraft carrier by delivering combat air patrols – launching from the ship to conduct strike missions against a target – and being ready to take off at short notice.

After the initial qualification period, 617 Squadron will test their ability to work with Portsmouth-based HMS Queen Elizabeth and Merlin helicopters of Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron by conducting a number of complex training missions.

This is all in preparation for their second embarkation later in the year when the squadron will join the carrier and her task group for a large multinational training exercise with US, European and NATO partners.

The Royal Navy is transforming into a force centred around carrier strike – supporting the ships as they conduct carrier strike missions, enforce no-fly zones, deploy Royal Marine Commandos, deliver humanitarian aid, and build international partnerships with our allies.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to return to Portsmouth later this month.

Talent’s crew celebrate submarine’s birthday at sea
08 June 2020
ROYAL NAVY Trafalgar Class submarine HMS Talent reached a significant milestone recently when she hit 30!

Launched on March 12, 1990, HMS Talent has steamed over 600,000 nautical miles during her career, most of them underwater on patrol.

So, it was fitting that her crew marked her 30th anniversary in Talent’s natural environment – under the sea where she has spent so much of her working life.

It wouldn’t be a birthday without a cake and the submarine’s team of Royal Navy chefs stepped-up to create a submarine-shaped one for the occasion.

The traditional Wednesday curry night was also interrupted with the chefs serving a mouth-watering birthday feast.

No-one was complaining about missing their curry as the menu of pork, black pudding and stuffing Wellingtons, served with fondant and roasted root vegetables, had the crew wishing for more. There was even a triple chocolate cheesecake for desert.

Commanding Officer of HMS Talent, Commander Paul Jamieson, also took to the submarine’s main broadcast system to address the crew and highlight HMS Talent’s significant achievements over the three decades.

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Royal Navy warships join major NATO exercise
08 June 2020
Frigate HMS Kent and minehunter HMS Ramsey lead the Royal Navy’s involvement in the biggest war games of 2020 in the Baltic.

The two British warships and their 250 sailors join upwards of 3,000 military personnel from over a dozen nations in NATO’s Baltops, an annual workout of allied and partner nations to test their combined ability to guarantee the safety and security of the Baltic region.

Baltops has taken place every year since 1972, with the 49th iteration focusing entirely on operations on, above and beneath the waves.

Around two dozen ships and a similar number of aircraft will concentrate on numerous core naval warfare tasks including air defence, anti-submarine warfare and minehunting.

At the forefront of the latter is HMS Ramsey, which arrived in the Baltic last month to take her place with a NATO mine warfare group which has spent the past couple of works operating off Estonia and Lithuania, dealing with leftover ordnance from the two world wars.

It’s the second year running the Faslane-based minehunter has taken part in Baltops – the Royal Navy maintains a presence in the region most of the year as part of a NATO task group.
“In these uncertain times, continuing to deliver on operations is essential in protecting collective NATO and UK interests, and Baltops demonstrates an enduring commitment to strengthen our combined understanding, diverse range of capability, and ability to respond to emerging threats,” said Ramsey’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Joel Roberts.

“The training value being in company with so many allies and partner nations is invaluable.”

HMS Kent arrives in the Baltic after joint training with the US Navy in the Barents Sea – the first foray into waters off the northernmost tip of Europe in more than a decade by a Royal Navy warship.

Like Ramsey, the Portsmouth-based Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigate was in these same waters last year, joining the Royal Navy-led amphibious Joint Expeditionary Force.

Kent’s primary role is anti-submarine warfare, making use of a combination of active and passive underwater sensors and, currently, a Merlin helicopter from 814 Naval Air Squadron to hunt down and, if necessary, eliminate submarine threats.

With no submarines taking part in the 2020 roll-out of Baltops, instead the frigate will be expected to deal with multiple threats from aircraft, boats and submarines, using her suite of cutting edge sensors and weapon systems to detect and engage them.

“My ship’s company are eager to take part in the exercise and up for the challenge, focusing on our ability to operate seamlessly with our NATO and partner nations,” said Kent’s Commanding Officer, Commander Matt Sykes.

“In these turbulent times, it is also vitally important that we demonstrate our commitment to the region and to upholding the principles of freedom of access to the Baltic Sea.”

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