The Royal Navy will lead its largest task group in more than 15 years when it takes a 20-strong international force into the Baltic.
Flagship HMS Albion will spearhead the two-month-long Baltic Protector mission, involving nearly 2,000 British personnel from all three Services – but mostly Royal Navy and Royal Marines – alongside more than 1,000 comrades from allied nations.
The deployment is the first large-scale run out of the new UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, set up four years ago with eight like-minded nations – Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – to forge a force of more than 10,000 military personnel in the air, at sea and on land if required to respond to world events.
The aim is to demonstrate the ability of participants to mobilise forces at short notice, deploy them and fight side-by-side to protect Europe at a time of increased threat.
The task group will be tested in a range of drills and exercises, from the ability to safely sail in company and communicate, through basic amphibious drills and raids to larger-scale landings and manoeuvres with three major exercises punctuating the two-month deployment.
“With our close friends and partners from the other eight Joint Expeditionary Force nations, this UK-led maritime task group will conduct a series of demanding amphibious exercises and maritime security patrols across the Baltic Sea which will serve to improve the way we operate together and our readiness to respond to crisis,” said Commodore James Parkin, in charge of the force.
From HMS Albion, he will take charge of frigate HMS Kent, Royal Fleet Auxiliaries to provide amphibious, aviation, logistics and fuel support, more than half a dozen P2000 patrol boats, six helicopters, an elite dive team to search for mines, and Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade – including fast assault craft, field guns and combat engineers.
In addition, ships from the other participating nations will join the force at various times – committing everything from patrol craft up to assault and command ships, some 30 different vessels in all.
At the group’s largest – in excess of 20 ships – it could be the biggest Royal Navy-led force dispatched to the Baltic since the end of World War 1.
After a ten-month deployment which took her all the way to Tokyo last year, HMS Albion has been preparing for her new mission by carrying out amphibious training in Devon and Cornwall, putting more than 500 Royal Marines ashore at Pentewan Beach near Mevagissey by raiding and landing craft and Merlin and Chinook helicopters.
Her Commanding Officer, Captain Peter Laughton, said after the successful training – despite winter storms – the flagship and her 400-plus sailors and Royal Marines were “looking forward to flexing our amphibious muscles.”
The Joint Expeditionary Force was established five years ago and became fully operational last year.
It’s a force which can be mustered rapidly anywhere, at any time and in any environment and is expected to conduct the full spectrum of military operations from delivering humanitarian assistance to acting as a deterrence through to combat operations on its own or working with NATO, the United Nations, European Union or the ‘Northern Group’ of countries (Baltic and Scandinavian states, Britain, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany).
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said that deploying a task group on such a scale demonstrated Britain’s “unwavering commitment to European security and stability” as the country prepared to leave the European Union: “Deploying our world-class sailors and Royal Marines to the Baltic, alongside our international allies, firmly underlines Britain’s leading role in Europe,” he added.