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HMS Albion returns to Plymouth after leading Baltic task group

29 June 2021
More than 1,000 sailors and Royal Marines have returned to the UK after a mission into the heart of the Baltic Sea for the largest gathering of NATO naval power in the region this year.

The Littoral Response Group (North) deployment saw Royal Marines and amphibious ships HMS Albion and RFA Mounts Bay – supported at times by the Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster – work across the region with the operations culminating in the Baltops war games that saw forces from 18 countries train together.

Plymouth-based Albion led the UK task group on the major exercises – which also included US-led training along the Norwegian coastline – as the Royal Navy continued to shape how British commando forces, centred on the Royal Marines, will operate in the future by testing tactics and equipment.

The assault ship returns home to Plymouth today after briefly stopping in Leith in Edinburgh to offload her vehicles on her way back.

Captain Simon Kelly, Task Group Commander and Commanding Officer of HMS Albion, said: “We have conducted a busy three months of training and engagement with our NATO allies and regional partners.

“Since leaving Plymouth in April, we have conducted amphibious training around the coast of Scotland, participated in a major exercise off the coast of Norway and operated in the Baltic Sea region.

“We have developed the Royal Navy’s commando force concepts, shaping how Royal Marines will operate in the future by trialling new tactics and equipment.”

Albion began her deployment with amphibious exercises with the US Navy and the US Marine Corps, operating alongside the USS Iwo-Jima and the USS San Antonio.

The training had an emphasis on US aircraft working with Royal Marines, lifting them ashore from Albion’s flight deck and on sorties inland, including with the unique tiltrotor Osprey, to help the two sides operate easily together in the future.

Lieutenant Commander Bob Powell, the Task Group’s Staff Aviation Officer on board HMS Albion, said: “The value of this training with our US allies cannot be underestimated. It allows us to test, prove and learn from even the most simple of daily tasks up to concurrent helicopter load lifting and replenishment at sea between three very large ships in very close quarters.

“It’s a skill set not many nations can carry out as efficiently and safely as the Royal Navy and US Navy.”

Albion’s mission then took her into the Baltic for the first time since 2019, completing visits to Finland, Lithuania and Latvia, as well as training closely with Swedish and Finnish forces before Baltops began.

The assault ship tested her air defence abilities, coming under simulated attack from two Spanish Typhoons of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, which fired mock anti-ship missiles at them.

The Littoral Response Group (North) also gathered in the North Atlantic as part of a group of fifteen allied ships from five NATO nations in one of the most impressive showings of naval strength in recent memory.

Two Royal Navy task groups, the Carrier Strike Group and the Littoral Response Group (North), sailed in tandem with the US Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group off the Scottish coastline.

The impressive line-up included HMS Queen Elizabeth, USS Iwo Jima, USS San Antonio, RFA Tidespring, HMS Albion, USS Arleigh Burke, USS Ross, USS The Sullivans, HMS Defender, HMS Diamond, FS Normandie, HDMS Esbern Snare, HMoMS Fridtjof Nansen, HMS Lancaster and RFA Mounts Bay.

Support ship Mounts Bay completed exercises with the Danes, Swedes and the Norwegians among others, as well as making a stop in Estonia and the finale of their deployment: an ‘invasion’ of Lithuania’s coastline as part of the Baltops exercises.

The raids in Lithuania were the dramatic climax of intensive training for Royal Marines on Exercise Strong Griffin, which saw commandos work closely with Lithuanian forces and allies from Portugal and the United States.

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