February 25, 2021 – HMS Blyth linked up with an old friend as she knuckles down to NATO duties in the Baltic.
The minehunter has been working side-by-side with Estonia’s Ugandi – which spent a decade in the Royal Navy as HMS Bridport – as the former sisters are assigned to the same task group patrolling the waters of northern Europe.
The Faslane-based warship – which this time last year was baking in temperatures up to 55 Celsius in the Gulf – is attached to the NATO force for the next few months.
ENS Ugandi is one of three Sandown-class ships snapped up by the small Baltic state in the mid-00s when the Royal Navy decided they were no longer required.
“It is great to be in a NATO Group which includes another Sandown Class MCMV and we are thoroughly enjoying working closely with our Estonian allies,” said Blyth’s navigator Lieutenant Conor Smith.
“ENS Ugandi is clearly in capable hands, and two Sandowns working together pack a serious mine-hunting punch.”
After meeting up with the Dutch-led group in Den Helder in the Netherlands, the group crossed a rough North Sea (described as “a bit choppy” by Blyth’s ship’s company with typical Royal Navy understatement) to a wintry Kristiansand near the southernmost tip of Norway.
As well as the two Sandowns, the force comprises two ships from Belgium, including flagship BNS Godetia, and Germany’s FGS Datteln – five vessels in all, well over 250 sailors and marines.
The group performs three missions: to be ready for any present-day conflict/incident/crisis; to act as ambassadors of NATO; and to rid the waters of historic ordnance in its patrol zone – from the shores of Finland and Estonia (extremely heavily mined in both world wars) in the east to the Atlantic coastline of France in the west.
Covid restrictions meant there was sadly no chance for the sailors to explore Kristiansand, only take fresh supplies on board and give the ship’s companies a chance to recover after the rough passage.
Replenished and refreshed, the group left Kristiansand for exercises in Norwegian and Danish waters.
Much of the opening stages of the deployment are devoted to getting the various ships to work seamlessly together, from manoeuvres in company, transferring stores between vessels on the move and practising towing a broken down ship at sea, to being able to recover a diver safely following an accident (the Sandown-class ships, for example, have decompression chambers for use in such emergencies).
Blyth must also prove herself capable of saving anyone from the force who falls overboard, involving not just launching her sea boat, but putting her swimmer of the watch in the water… which currently is colder than 3°C (it’s a balmy 6°C in the ship’s home base).
Blyth’s force protection team have also been called on to prove their marksmanship and reaction times on a ‘quickdraw’ exercise – gunners have to be quick on the draw to respond to fast craft bearing down on the ship, halting their attacks with a wall of lead from the minehunter’s machine guns and Miniguns (manual Gatling guns which spew out up to 3,000 rounds in a minute at targets up to a mile away).
The NATO deployment will continue with the force heading deeper into the Baltic for Historic Ordnance Disposal Operations (HODOPS) dealing with unexploded bombs, torpedoes and mines from the two world wars, as well as Allied exercises and training.
Lieutenant Smith added: “The group routinely conducts historic ordnance clearance tasking and we look forward to taking part in future operations in order to ensure that the seas are safe for all mariners.”