Echoes of 1919 for patrol boats on Baltic war games

Some of the smallest ships are mirroring the actions of their predecessors 100 years ago during the Baltic’s biggest war games.

Seven Royal Navy P2000 fast patrol boats are among the 60 warships from across 18 allied/NATO/partner nations taking part in the huge Baltops exercise which ends this week. 

 The 54-tonne boats, typically used to give university students an insight into life in the Royal Navy, have been ‘attacking’ the numerous warships mustered for the US-led workout... just as British motorboats caused havoc in the Baltic in 1919.

Coastal motorboats – smaller, lighter but slightly faster than the P2000s, and armed with just a single torpedo and several machine-guns – were used extensively by the Royal Navy during the Russian Civil War.

In mid-June 1919, one evaded minefields and heavy enemy fire and launched a torpedo at the cruiser Oleg – 6,645 tonnes, bristling with a dozen 6in guns, a similar number of 11-pounders and protected by a belt of armour up to three inches thick – in Kronstadt Naval Base near St Petersburg.

Technology and capabilities may change and evolve in the Royal Navy, but one thing that does not is our core values, and whether in times of war or peace, courage is always held in high esteem.

CO Lieutenant Roddy Hartridge (HMS Ranger)

The action was one of numerous clashes between British and Bolshevik forces in the Baltic as the Royal Navy sought to stem the tide of Communism. The intervention of the Brits helped to prevent Estonia and Latvia falling to Moscow’s red juggernaut. 

 Lieutenant Augustus Agar, the man who led the daring attack on the Oleg was cheered back to base and subsequently awarded the VC.

A century later and among the numerous tasks today’s P2000s – including HMS Blazer, Smiter and Express – were given during Baltops was testing the response of warship crews to attacks by fast moving pirate/terrorist craft… rather like Agar did in 1919.

The crew of HMS Ranger paused to remember the deeds of Agar and his two shipmates in the midst of Baltops.

“Being a smaller ship we bring alternative skills and capabilities, and can bring a different kind of challenge to larger ships in the training scenarios.

“Knowing about Lt Agar and what happened in this part of the world a century ago means we have a proud history to live up too, but we enjoy every minute.”

Ranger and her six sisters will remain in the Baltic until mid-July in support of the UK’s Baltic Protector deployment – an amphibious task force led by flagship HMS Albion, taking part in several exercises such as Baltops and working alongside nations with Baltic and North Sea shores.