November 5, 2018 – Before dawn in a cold, windswept Norwegian fjord, HMS Northumberland’s 4.5in main gun lights up the sky in support of NATO troops ashore.
Responding to a number of fire missions requested by Viking, the call sign of the fire controller ashore, 21 high explosive shells left the barrel at more than twice the speed of sound in salvos of up to five rounds at a time.
The barrage was the Devonport warship’s most overt act yet after nine days’ participation in Trident Juncture 18, NATO’s largest exercise of the year – and the biggest war game hosted by Norway since the Cold War.
To date, Northumberland has been largely focused on practicing anti-submarine warfare alongside her sister HMS Westminster, ‘protecting’ US assault ship USS Iwo Jima.
But as the task force approached the Norwegian coast, Northumberland broke away from the task group, sailed up to the ‘gunline’ in Frohavet Fjord under the cover of darkness.
At 5.40am, the Principal Warfare Officer in Northumberland’s operations room gave the order: Four-five, engage.
And seconds later an hour-long bombardment of the ranges at Malorade was unleashed.
With the support of troops ashore complete, the ship moved forward into the Trondheimsfjord to form part of the protective screen defending a host of multi-national troop carrying vessels.
Operated and maintained by Petty Officer Engineering Technician (Weapons Engineering) Robert Fast, the 4.5in gun has a maximum range of 16½ miles and can fire up to 24 high explosive shells per minute.
Supported by a team engineers, each with an individual role to play in reloading the ammunition, PO Fast provides the ship’s command the ability to fire against targets that are both visible and over the horizon.
“Northumberland’s 4.5in gun is a formidable weapon that can be used against different targets,” said PO Fast. “Having the opportunity to fire not only multiple bursts of rounds but also against a number of land targets, directed by a spotter on the ground, tests the gun and the team, but it is exactly what we train to do and a great feeling to be able to provide support to forces ashore.”
The gunnery firing comes one week into the exercise which has seen Northumberland test her crew and weapon systems against a number of adversaries from the sea, the air and now the land.
Having sailed from Reykjavik in Iceland, the ship has been part of task force 1106.03, conducting sea-going exercises against an ‘enemy’ force of fellow NATO ships, submarines and aircraft.
Ahead of Trident Juncture, Northumberland completed an arduous period of Operational Sea Training during which the ship’s company were exposed to scenarios from a number of threats, including underwater and air.
The NATO exercise has offered not only an opportunity to build on this training but also to further work with other units to help reinforce the strong bond between member nations.
“It has been a privilege to represent the Royal Navy in the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War,” said Commander Andrew Canale, Northumberland’s Commanding Officer.
“The first week of the exercise has demonstrated how close we are with our partner nations and has proven our ability to operate together as part of a task group. We’ve also benefitted from some excellent anti-submarine warfare training against a number of highly-skilled N ATO submarines.
“After a busy operational work up in September, the ship’s company is excelling to distinction amongst our NATO allies and I am proud of this resilience during what is undoubtedly a challenging period away from home waters.”
Trident Juncture runs until November 7 having drawn in some 50,000 participants, including 65 warships, more than 150 aircraft and in excess of 10,000 vehicles.