April 14, 2020 (Google Translation) – The Baltic Mine Countermeasure Squadron Exercise 2021 from March 15th to April 1st made the western Baltic Sea a little safer.
When the 3rd minesweeping squadron exercises internationally, it is primarily about one thing: explosive charges under water. There is enough exercise material and dangerous goods for this in the North and Baltic Seas. Because thousands of tons of old mines, torpedoes and other ammunition from the past world wars are still in the sea.
As always, this year’s Baltic Mine Countermeasure Squadron Exercise ( BMCMSQX) initially trained its participants in the broadest possible spectrum of military seafaring. Seafaring maneuvers at the beginning to get used to each other and to test the good communication: mutual towing, sea supply with mail bag handover or the fine art of driving in close formation. Target practice with the on-board guns is also one of the standards of such a large-scale exercise. But the BMCMSQX would not have been a mine-hunting maneuver had the majority of the maneuver not revolved around that: the search for sea mines.
While the international maneuver Open Spirit searches for so-called contaminated sites off the coasts of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia every year, the BMCMSQX association trained further west this year. The German anti-mine boats involved did not have to travel far: this time, together with NATO partners, they tracked down old ammunition from the two world wars directly across from the Kiel Fjord south of the Danish island of Langeland. The result: they were able to identify eight British ground mines and one torpedo.
“It’s a complete success for the crews when you see that they have mastered their core business so well,” explains frigate captain Inka von Puttkamer. The deputy commander of the 3rd minesweeping squadron was in command of the almost three-week maneuver. “For shipping, on the other hand, we are making sea routes safer by identifying such contaminated sites.”
An international mix even on the flagship
In addition to the tender “Elbe” as the association’s lead ship and three mine-hunting boats of the 3rd minesweeping squadron – “Grömitz”, “Bad Rappenau” and “Fulda” – the joint mine defense association of the Baltic states BALTRON took part. Its commander, frigate captain Krists Kristlibs, was subordinate to the Latvian support ship “Varonis”, the Latvian mine-hunting boat “Tālivaldis” and the Lithuanian mine-hunting boat “Kursis”.
The internationality of the maneuver was evident next to the BALTRON group on the “Elbe” and the “Bad Rappenau” itself. A Danish anti-mine team carried containers on board the German flagship’s two own drone boats, a Belgian team for the underwater drone Remus drove on the “Bad Rappenau”. Thus the association from five nations was mixed. Inka von Puttkamer explains: “This is what makes the Navy special for me: We exchange ideas, learn a lot from each other and improve our cooperation. So we are well prepared for everything together. ”
The COVID-19Coronavirus Disease 2019-The pandemic made cooperation more difficult, of course. Normally personnel were exchanged between the boats and joint meetings took place, something like this is currently limited to the bare minimum. The crews should remain in their own isolated cohort during the maneuver. It was also not possible to stay in port with shore leave on the weekends for the duration of the exercise.
Corvette Captain Marioeval, commander on the “Fulda”, already knows this burden as well as the necessary flexibility in dealing with the situation. When the pandemic broke out ,eval and his crew were part of NATO’s Permanent Mine Defense Association 2 . “After we were mainly deployed as a crew in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean last year, it is a good feeling to be making our contribution in our domestic waters too,” he explains the motivation of his team.
The mine hunters also confirm mine-free areas
At the end of the BMCMSQX, the mine hunters were able to prove how important their work is. Because in addition to the mine finds, the boats also contribute to other improvements to underwater sea maps – after all, it is also good to know that in certain areas there are only stones and no old ammunition. For example, “Fulda” identified 41 contacts during the exercise, but one of them was then verified as a mine. Like the others, the boat delivered the data to the underwater data center of the naval command. The Navy also forwards information from this database to the civil authorities responsible for the evacuation.
The next mine defense maneuver will start from Kiel as early as autumn. Even then, the mine hunters from Kiel will look for contaminated sites again. What is good training for the crews also creates safe sea routes.