Tigers NATO squadrons train in Poland

Sub-hunting Naval fliers found themselves over the plains of eastern Europe as they joined namesake squadrons from across NATO.

Squadrons featuring tigers either in their crests and badges, or in their nicknames converged on Poznań-Krzesiny airbase in western Poland to hone the ability of friendly jets and helicopters to work together.

There are at least two dozen Tiger-themed squadrons in NATO; 19 of those took part in Exercise Polecat, with the Flying Tigers (814 Naval Air Squadron) and their Merlin Mk2 plus a Puma from RAF 230 Sqn representing the UK.

They shared Polish skies with F-16 Falcon fast jets, Eurofighters , Tornados, Rafales, Hornets and Gripens, plus E-3A Sentry planes and Gazelle and Hind helicopters.

The Merlin’s endurance, speed and capability of its advanced sensor suite with the electro-optic/infra-red camera became a real asset

Lt Luke Maciejewski RN

“We were hundreds of miles from the sea but were not out of our depth,” said 814 NAS Observer Lt Luke Maciejewski.

“We had new ‘enemies’: Man-Portable Air Defence Systems – shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles – tanks, and F16 fighters.

“In fact, our Merlin Mk2 displayed its versatility in a variety of roles which are normally the preserve of our Commando Helicopter Force cousins: troop transporting, casualty evacuation, intelligence gathering, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance.

“The Merlin’s endurance, speed and capability of its advanced sensor suite with the electro-optic/infra-red camera became a real asset working alongside the French Gazelles, Czech Hinds, Italian T212s and the RAF Puma.”

A typical mission involved the fast jet squadrons flying Combat Air Patrols protecting the helicopters on their way to a ‘hot landing zone’. The Merlin identified targets such as tanks, the Gazelles attacked the targets and the Puma, T212s and the Merlin dropped off the troops.

“Polecat provided unique training opportunities for 814 to collaborate with NATO allies and prove the utility of Merlin Mk2 outside of its primary role of anti-submarine warfare,” said Cdr Sarah Birchett, 814 NAS Commanding Officer (aka ‘Tiger Boss’).

“The opportunity to witness how other nations conduct their business and educate them on how the Royal Navy operates was of tremendous value amongst my junior aircrew and engineers.”

There was an opportunity for some of the RN detachment to visit Poznań’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery where five mechanics of the Royal Naval Air Service – predecessor of the Fleet Air Arm – who died serving in an armoured car detachment fighting with the Russians in July 1917.