Minehunter Blyth completes NATO mission with return to Scotland for Easter

Two months of NATO duties in the Baltic are up for minehunter HMS Blyth, which returned home to Scotland today.

The Faslane-based warship has spent the late winter/early spring attached to NATO’s dedicated mine warfare force patrolling northern European waters, Standing Group 1, carrying out combined training, dealing with wartime ordnance still blighting the Baltic, and generally flying the flag for the alliance.

During her two months with the NATO group, Blyth has sailed more than 4,000 miles, taken part in four multinational exercises, visited the Netherlands, Norway, Germany and Sweden and conducted training in Danish Waters.

The group comprised flagship BNS Godetia (Belgium) and minehunters FGS Datteln (Germany) ENS Ugandi (formerly HMS Bridport now owned by Estonia) and Blyth.

All in one Covid-safe bubble, the group was able to train, socialise and play sport together during port visits – although sailors weren’t able to explore

After being deployed for nearly 11 of the past 15 months in varying degrees of isolation, this was a welcome change for the crew and allowed them to welcome NATO friends onboard to show off their skills and drills and the specialist mine-hunting equipment available on a Sandown-class warship.

As well as live gunnery exercises off the Danish coast, the group conducted a hunt for historic ordnance and found two WW2-era mines partially buried in the seabed off Denmark, both of which were neutralised.

In Kiel, the minehunter forces rendezvoused with a large force of 14 warships including vessels from Germany, Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania for several days of navigation training and seamanship exercises. Kiel also allowed Blyth’s sailors to stretch their legs in the Covid-safe environment created in the naval base.

Throughout the deployment, engineers have worked around the clock to keep the thousands of working parts and machinery running, including carrying out a generator change and full overhaul of the freshwater plant in addition to day-to-day business.

This deployment has helped to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s enduring commitment to NATO. It has been a great opportunity to work with friends and allies, to learn from each other, and to support maritime security activity in the North and Baltic Seas.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Ellison

The small Swedish port of Karlskrona was as far east as the NATO group ventured with their hosts laying on complex seamanship/force protection exercises with the Swedish Navy.

“Both the NATO group and the Swedish Navy worked well together and demonstrated their capabilities,” said Blyth’s navigator Lieutenant Conor Smith. “It was great to be hosted by Sweden in Karlskrona but also to operate with the Swedish Navy in a challenging exercise scenario.”

That was Blyth’s last act as she bade farewell to her NATO chums and headed west for the Kiel Canal – the 60-mile-long artificial waterway cuts the better part of a day’s sailing around the Jutland peninsula, but does demand total concentration given it’s the world’s busiest seagoing canal and vessels are limited to a steady 8 knots for the eight-hour transit.

The ship has now arrived in Rosyth on the Scottish east coast for a short logistical stopover.

“This deployment has helped to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s enduring commitment to NATO,” said the minehunter’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Peter Ellison.

“It has been a great opportunity to work with friends and allies, to learn from each other, and to support maritime security activity in the North and Baltic Seas.

“We would also like to thank friends and families for their continued support and perseverance during these unprecedented times.”