After just over two months in the Baltic Sea HMS Albion, the Fleet Flagship, has returned to her home port of HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth.
Returning on a grey, rainy day in Plymouth didn’t dampen the spirits of the waiting families and friends of the ship’s company. Over 400 of them were gathered on the jetty to wave the ship in as she sailed into Devonport Naval Base this morning.
The ship has completed her first Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Maritime Task Group mission – regarded as highly successful – that demonstrated the co-operation between nations in the Baltic and their continuing commitment to regional security.
Commodore James Parkin, who commanded the task group from aboard Albion, said: “Baltic Protector has delivered beyond all my expectations and I am immensely proud of what we have collectively achieved.
“Together with the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, we have shown that the JEF has real utility and purpose in this region, and I have hugely enjoyed working alongside all of the partner nations.”
The first phase was staged in the western Baltic and eastern North Sea, with the task group linked up with forces from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.
After attending Kiel Week in Germany, the annual celebration of seafaring attended by more than three million people, the British task group took part in the Baltic’s largest naval exercise, the US-led Baltops.
This year the exercise attracted 50 ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines and 8,600 sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen from 18 nations.
The final phase of Baltic Protector took place in the Baltic States. Royal Marine Commandos worked with Lithuanian Armed Forces to deliver training in urban, ambush and defensive tactics, and Royal Engineer Commandos conducted urban training with Latvian Armed Forces.
In Estonia, Royal Navy ships supported minehunting exercises and amphibious raids, and Royal Marines trained alongside the Estonian Defence League. This phase was also an opportunity to learn how the JEF might support the Baltic States during a crisis, and how to dock into a larger NATO operation.
The Task Group worked closely with RAF Typhoons from NATO Baltic Air Policing and British Army Apache helicopters from NATO enhanced Forward Presence, as well as embarking a Challenger II Main Battle Tank onto HMS Albion using her landing craft.
In Klaipeda, Lithuania, HMS Albion was the dramatic backdrop for a meeting of the JEF’s nine Defence Ministers and Chiefs of Defence. The conference marked the first anniversary since the JEF was declared fully operational and set out a ‘roadmap’ for the future.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said at the conference: “A year on from signing the memorandum of understanding we have provided reassurance, we have also shown that we are aligned and we are ready.
"Russia is becoming more assertive, we see her deploying more forces and new weapons and you can imagine the scenarios that may play out. It is important and right we stand together with our allies.
"That gives us an adaptable force, the ability to deploy more than 10,000 people on a whole variety of missions, independently or as part of NATO operations as we saw in Exercise Baltops. The UK is very proud to be part of this.”
The Minister for the Armed Forces, Marl Lancaster, best summed up the deployment when he said: “From Denmark to Lithuania, from Sweden to Estonia, Baltic Protector will leave potential adversaries in no doubt of our collective resolve and ability to defend ourselves.
"This force is a key component of European security, a force of friends that complements existing structures and demonstrates that we are stronger together.”
In the final phase the JEF moved to the Eastern region of the Baltic, training alongside the Estonian Defence League and practising amphibious raids, while HMS Albion was the backdrop for a meeting of the nine defence ministers and nine military leaders from the Joint Expeditionary Force nations in Klaipeda, Lithuania.
“This has been an extremely exciting and challenging, but very rewarding and successful deployment for HMS Albion,” said her Commanding Officer Captain Peter Laughton
“I am incredibly proud of what my ship’s company has achieved over the last nine weeks and I am very grateful to Albion’s extended family for the unstinting support that they have provided whilst we have been deployed.”
Albion’s ship’s company now look forward to some well-earned summer leave, which will be followed by a major maintenance period to keep Albion at high readiness for any tasking that comes her way. Albion undertakes Exercise Joint Warrior and Basic Operational Sea Training later in 2019.