The safety and security of the Baltic is in firm hands as its biggest military exercise of the year ends.
British naval commanders say Baltops 19 – a test of land, air and mostly naval forces concentrated in Lithuania and Sweden – “bodes well for the future” after two weeks of large-scale fleet manoeuvres, amphibious assaults, stealthy commando raids and helicopter attacks.
Eighteen nations committed personnel and equipment – more than 50 ships and submarines, three dozen helicopters and aircraft – and over 8,500 military personnel to the US-led war game.
After the Americans, the UK was the second largest participant in the exercise – ten warships, one Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship, half a dozen helicopters, well over 1,000 sailors and Royal Marines.
Much of Baltops was directed from the American Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney, home to the UK Maritime Battle Staff and Rear Admiral Andrew Burns, an RN officer who’s been made deputy commander of the US Second Fleet.
Over the 14 days of the exercise – which has been running for more than 40 years – almost every aspect of naval warfare was tested: manoeuvring large task groups, pounding enemy positions with gunfire support, fending off submarine, air and fast boat attacks.
UK flagship HMS Albion oversaw an amphibious assault spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade who honed their combat and tactical skills on ranges in Sweden and Germany before Baltops reached its climax with ‘free play’: an unscripted clash between the two ‘sides’ drawn up for the exercise.
A Royal Marine moves positon as he gets protected by others on the section attack training See all 8 images
“The war at sea was a fantastic test of naval warfare in the Information Age,” said Captain Michael Wood, chief-of-staff of the Amphibious Task Group which is choreographing the summer deployment from onboard Albion.
“Manoeuvring formations at a fleet-scale and piecing together clues to locate and defeat a first-class opponent above, below and on the surface made for a really impressive exercise.”
The most overt demonstration of international military might took place before holidaymakers and world leaders in Lithuania.
Royal Marines of 45 Commando assaulted the 18 miles of beach at Palanga, Lithuania’s premier seaside resort, rapid roping from Merlin helicopters or leaping out on to the sand from Offshore Raiding Craft.
They were joined on the beach just north of Lithuania’s main port Klaipeda by Romanian and Spanish marines who waded ashore in amphibious armoured vehicles, while the Americans parked landing craft on the shoreline and Harrier jets provided air cover – launched from the Spanish carrier Juan Carlos.
“We are a group of like-minded nations, with the peace and stability of this region first and foremost in our minds. Working as we have with so many different navies has proved we are integrated, and it bodes well for the future,” said Brigadier Matt Jackson, in charge of 3 Commando Brigade.
“Our Baltic Protector deployment continues, but for now we can be very pleased with a very successful conclusion to our Baltops participation.”
After a visit to Kiel and participation in its annual yachting/seafaring festival Kiel Week, the final stage of the UK’s two-month-long Baltic Protector deployment will focus on amphibious operations working with forces from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.