Key to her future operations around the world is the ability to put Royal Marines and their equipment ashore.

In clear sight of Plymouth Breakwater, the ship took on 2,500 tonnes of sea water to 'ballast down', then opened her stern gate and flooded her loading dock with 1,500 tonnes of water - Albion's 'party trick' - for landing craft to operate.

Albion carries a permanent Royal Marines detachment in charge of two large landing craft (they can carry Challenger tanks), and four smaller variants for troops and vehicles such as Land Rovers.

With the dock successfully flooded, four of the landing craft with commandos embarked headed off for a two-week-long independent exercise assaulting beaches, conducting beach reconnaissance and basic weapon drills up to some live firing on the ranges.

On board, the crew also knuckled down to shooting, firing the 20mm cannon, all the machine and Miniguns, as well as the saluting guns.

To sustain Albion at sea for four weeks, she performed her first refuelling on the go (aka replenishment at sea, or RAS) in six years, taking fuel from tanker RFA Wave Ruler in the English Channel.

Many of the trials are new to the assault ship's class - Artisan 3D radar, Phalanx Gatling gun, electronic warfare systems and a new brain for the operations room, the DNA2 command system which meshes the data from Albion's many sensors and converts it into displays and information which the crew can interpret.

And the flight deck was put to the test by PO Mike Setterfield - Albion's physical training instructor - who used it for daily circuits and other sporting activities.

Now back in Devonport, the crew are making Albion look spick and span ahead of the ship's rededication on Friday when the Princess Royal will be guest of honour, 16 years after she launched the ship at BAE's Barrow yard.

HMNB Devonport

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