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Minehunter Pembroke completes whirlwind NATO stint in Baltic

HMS Pembroke leads the way out of Warnemunde near Rostock
A whistle-stop attachment to NATO’s mine warfare force is over for HMS Pembroke, who’s back in her native Scotland after spring in the Baltic.

The ship has spent the past few weeks attached to the alliance’s Mine Countermeasures Group 1 – responsible for keeping the waters of northern Europe mine free.

Although the Sandown-class ship’s time with the force was relatively short, she crammed in four port visits, one major international exercise, combined gunnery training and, rarely for minehunter, fended off fast jets and helicopters,

Pembroke joined the NATO group in Klaipeda, Lithuania’s principal port, and upon sailing into the open Baltic in formation, directed their guns to starboard and concentrated on a killer tomato – six vessels firing simultaneously.

After a brief port of call in Warnemunde, eastern Germany, the group made the 180-mile journey east to Szczecin, Poland, to prepare for the crux of this particular NATO deployment.

The ships were invited to join their hosts in one of the Polish Navy’s largest war games, Solidarna Bellona, played out off the Pomeranian coast over a week in late May.

The force was given a plum berth in the shadow of Szczecin’s famous Chrobry Embankment – imposing early 20th Century buildings which dominate the waterfront below.

Szczecin is located about 30 miles inland and it took the minehunters six hours to complete the passage from the open Baltic through the natural and man-made waterways to reach its destination, whereupon each ship was treated to the river pilots playing each vessel’s national anthem in salute.

Briefed and stocked up, the group joined 14 Polish vessels for a concerted hunt for practice mines laid on the Baltic sea bed.

While not being able to go ashore properly has been a shame, some of bases have been great to visit and organising our own socials, such as the whole force BBQ has made up for it.

Sub Lieutenant Kieran McBride

For a spot of variety – and excitement – the 20 vessels were buzzed by Polish Air Force Sukhoi-22 and MiG-29 jets. With no air defence radar and equipped with nothing more than a 30mm main gun and small arms, Pembroke had to rely on the skill of the bridge team and gunners to sight, evade and target the fighters roaring low over the Baltic.

For good measure a search and rescue element was thrown into Solidarna Bellona to make for a comprehensive workout for the participants.

Exercise concluded, the NATO force put into Świnoujście, the port at the gateway of the channels leading to Szczecin to replenish supplies and give crews a rest after an intensive week of combined training.

Covid restrictions prevented the crew from the usual runs ashore, but the NATO ships formed their own bubble to socialise and enjoy sports and other activities together.

It has been great fun to meet up and party with the other navies in the task group, we have had a great laugh." said mine warfare specialist Able Seaman James Tattersall.

Trainee junior officer Sub Lieutenant Kieran McBride added: "While not being able to go ashore properly has been a shame, some of bases have been great to visit and organising our own socials, such as the whole force BBQ has made up for it."

And that was Pembroke’s NATO mission done. A quick trip through the Kiel Canal and across the North Sea, the ship arrived in Rosyth for a logistics stop.

And if you’re struggling with those Polish tonguetwisters… try Shtech-een and Swina-ohs-che…

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