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.