Norway: Snowstorm Lashes Navy’s Arctic War Games

Snowstorm Lashes Navy's Arctic War Games

Sailors and marines were buffeted by high winds and pelted by snow and ice as Arctic war games got under way. A blizzard brought flying operations aboard helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious to a standstill in northern Norway, but nearby flagship HMS Bulwark continued to put Dutch marines ashore by landing craft.

Flying operations were brought to an immediate halt aboard the Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier, leading Britain’s participation in NATO’s winter exercises in northern Norway, as flurries swept through Vågsfjorden, near the port of Harstad.

Commando Helicopter Force Lynx and Sea Kings were all set to embark the Royal Marines of Kilo Company, 42 Commando, when the weather took a turn for the worse – and all flying operations were postponed until further notice.

With aircraft arrayed on deck, however, there was small matter of making sure they were safe for the duration of the snowstorm.

Flight deck crews and aircraft maintainers had to battle high winds and blizzard conditions to secure the aircraft to the deck or move them to the relative warmth of the hangar before retreating inside for a well-earned cuppa.

And once the snow had abated somewhat, the aircraft handlers returned to 600-ft-long deck to shovel the snow – now several centimetres deep – over the side so the helicopters could resume operations.

Right now, it’s actually quite mild in Harstad – one of the focal points of Exercise Cold Response – with temperatures hovering around 0˚C by day and dropping to about –6˚C or so by night, but away from the coast, where some of the major exercise plays out, it can plunge to -30˚C.

Illustrious is acting as the command ship for Maj Gen Ed Davis, Commandant General Royal Marines, who with his Commander Amphibious Forces staff will be directing the movements of Allied warships during the NATO exercise.

The ten-day war game sees an international task force gathering in the waters of the Arctic as the situation in the fictional ‘Nerthus’ region (actually northern Norway) deteriorates with the forces of ‘Gardarland’ refusing to withdraw its troops from neighbouring ‘Borgland’.

The multinational naval force is being held at on high alert offshore, readying itself for potential intervention in the disputed area.

For Lusty, that means her ship’s company working around the clock in preparation for amphibious operations that may be required of them, the embarked Royal Marines and the helicopters of the Commando Helicopter Force.

It is particularly challenging for those working on the flight deck. Day and night, they are facing blizzards and strong winds that can drop the temperature to minus -40˚C as they marshal and refuel the essential helicopters. At temperatures that low, exposed skin can freeze almost instantly.

Illustrious has eight helicopters embarked, all from RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset: four Sea King Mk 4 from 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons, three Lynx Mk 7 from 847 Naval Air Squadron and one Lynx Mk 8 from 815 Naval Air Squadron.

With all of the aircrew needing to prepare for operating from the Ship in arduous conditions the result is a very busy flight deck.

“Illustrious and her embarked helicopter squadrons are certainly facing some tough Arctic conditions,” explains the carrier’s Commanding Officer, Capt Martin Connell.

“We have prepared for this, both in terms of training and with all our equipment, and I am very pleased with the way the crew have approached the exercise throughout the ship.

“In particular the positive attitude and cheery enthusiasm of those operating on the flight deck has been vital and has allowed Illustrious to conduct helicopter operations around the clock in support of the multinational task force.”

Meanwhile, just a few miles away from Illustrious – and undaunted by the flurries – the Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark has been carrying out amphibious exercises with her landing craft.

The assault ship has been training with the Korps Mariniers – the Dutch counterpart of the Royal Marines and long-standing partners of the green berets.

Before there could be any thought of landing the Dutch marines at Red Beach on a military exercise area near Harstad, the Anglo-Dutch staff had to plan the complex exercise.

In true improvised fashion they did so with black and yellow masking tape, stuck to the deck in a planning room aboard Bulwark to create a rough map of the shores around Harstad, and small pieces of card to designate ships and ground troops in the area.

The two-hour-long planning session was overseen by Cdre Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, and his staff who are directing amphibious operations by Bulwark and her subordinate ships and units.

The link-up with the Dutch also saw landing craft from Bulwark’s permanent Royal Marines unit, 4 Assault Group, train with Netherland’s assault ship HNMLS Rotterdam, which is a cross between Bulwark and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Bay-class landing support ships.

In all, some 16,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen from 15 nations, led by the hosts Norway, are taking part in Cold Response which tests the ability of NATO’s forces to fight in the harshest environment imaginable.

The war games, which sees major participation from Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and USA as well as Britain, is due to end next Wednesday [MARCH 21].

Naval Today Staff , March 15, 2012; Image: navy