Norwegian ice man helps Royal Navy prepare for new era of Arctic aircraft carrier operations

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet Storyline: Arctic and Northern European Waters

The Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers are now more prepared for the rigours of Arctic operations thanks in part to ice man, Commander Harald thor Straten, of the Royal Norwegian Navy.

Cdr thor Straten joined HMS Prince of Wales for a month during Arctic exercises, sharing more than 40 years’ experience of operating in the extreme cold.

HMS Prince of Wales recently sailed within 900 miles of the North Pole, demonstrating the ability of the UK’s two 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers to operate in the harshest environmental conditions.

Harald is an expert in ice, ship and aircraft operations in cold climates, using his knowledge of how the ice affects navigation and warfare operations to increase the Royal Navy’s understanding in conducting its own cold weather operations. 

 “The next time a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier will be sailing into these waters, they will be more ready and prepared by using the reports of the trials and operations the ship has covered,” he said.

“It will be of great importance that this experience has been updated in 2022 as a reference for other navies. I feel very privileged to have been able to offer advice and ideas as to what the Norwegians do when we face similar cold weather challenges.

“You can’t control nature, it controls you. One of the hardest things when operating in the ice is knowing what to do. Sometimes nature can do unexpected things that can put you in a challenging situation. The main danger is doing nothing, that’s when a small situation can turn dangerous if you don’t react immediately.”

As HMS Prince of Wales began her journey deep into the Arctic, Cdr thor Straten’s expertise was extremely valuable; he held regular meetings with the various departments on board to discuss ice operations.

When different challenges arose, Harald was on hand to offer opinions and ideas as to the approach of the Royal Norwegian Navy when they face similar challenges.

Harald offered advice on meteorological factors, what plummeting sea temperatures mean for daily life, the effects of ice on the ship and its surfaces and equipment. 

He also provided expertise on the dangers of drifting ice and from drifting timbers from cargo ships around the Arctic. 

It didn’t end with the ship’s material ability to operate, with Harald looking at the impact of the conditions on sailors – from sharing information on ice bites, protective clothing, survival suits and making sure the crew working outside had the correct clothing.

Lieutenant Commander Chris Poulson, the navigation officer on HMS Prince of Wales, worked closely with Harald.

He said: “His advice has been pivotal in supporting and confirming courses of action. He has been an invaluable addition to command. Cdr thor Straten’s extensive experience operating in the Arctic is evident and myself and the Royal Navy are very grateful to him and the Royal Norwegian Navy.”

Cdr thor Straten is now close to finishing his career with the Royal Norwegian Navy, having joined 40 years ago. 

Harald – who is nearly 60 – has worked with fast patrol boats, in the coast guard, on exercise planning and he even taught at the Naval Academy in Bergen, Norway.

He also served at the Norwegian's Joint Headquarters as a coast guard officer and completes another first with HMS Prince of Wales.

“This is my first time sailing with a carrier, I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s a privilege to come onboard this fantastic ship, the crew have been so friendly and helpful.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with the Royal Navy and getting to know its people onboard HMS Prince of Wales.

“They have all been so eager to get to know me, and friendly and helpful. I’ve had many people ask me if I could help them with their reports on the cold weather operations, and I said – I’m here to serve, I’m available 24/7, so use me.”