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P2000s landmark visit to Arctic Circle for NATO exercise

Four P2000s went to the Arctic Circle for the first time in support of NATO exercises. Picture: LPhot Bill Spurr
26 April 2023
Four of the Royal Navy’s smallest ships made history by operating in the Arctic Circle for the first time in their 35-year careers.

His Majesty’s Ships Archer, Puncher, Pursuer and Smiter – all belonging to the Coastal Forces Squadron – battled the freezing conditions of northern Norway during exercises alongside NATO allies.

They sailed from Portsmouth to Harstad – 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle – to take part in Exercise Joint Viking, training for Norway and its allies to defend its frontiers and NATO’s northern flank in the face of a modern threat.

The boats operate with a core ship’s company of just five sailors and spend the bulk of their time in home waters, patrolling and safeguarding the UK coastline and helping to train crews of larger warships such as in the art of fending off fast attack craft.

But this spring four of the squadron travelled along the coasts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark to reach the stunning fjords of Norway.

Their arrival marked a milestone for the Coastal Forces Squadron, whose headquarters are in Portsmouth, and demonstrated the flexibility and robustness of the 20-metre-long Archer-class small ship and their crews.

“This deployment marks a watershed moment for the Coastal Forces Squadron, not only have we breached the Arctic for the first time we have integrated seamlessly with the Norwegian Coastal Rangers to deliver operational effect where needed,” said the squadron’s Commanding Officer Commander Richard Skelton.

“This a clear declaration of intent to support our allies and partners in non-traditional means.  Not to mention it was the sort of adventure you join the RN for.”

During Exercise Joint Viking, the four P2000s integrated with the Norwegian Coastal Forces (KJK) to conduct joint operations. This included the insertion of small teams from both the KJK and the Royal Marines ashore via Zodiac boats, in a blizzard and at night.

They then had to return covertly at a later time to collect the teams after their mission was complete, embarking them and their Zodiac for the return trip.

HMS Puncher and Smiter also set another first by being the first Squadron units to conduct a personnel transfer with a Norwegian submarine, HNoMS Ured, while underway, embarking one of their submariners to return them to port.

Lieutenant Beth Humby, Commanding Officer of Smiter, said: “The ship’s company have responded brilliantly to the flexible nature of our tasking, from tactical insertion of combat teams to submarine escorts in some extreme weather.

“Integration with the Norwegian Coastal Rangers has been invaluable in allowing us to develop our own tactics and procedures.”

While in Norway, the boats supported the wider Joint Viking task group which gave them the chance to sail with amphibious flagship HMS Albion and HNoMS Ured, led by HNoMs Skjold while a pair of F-35 stealth fighters flew overhead.

HMS Pursuer then supported the KJK with an amphibious boarding demonstration with the Crown Prince of Norway HRH Magnus Haakon present on a Norwegian CB90 fast combat boat.

Moving back to more traditional Coastal Forces Squadron tasking, the ships were asked to carry out force protection for the amphibious task group as well as being used to defend a strategic area from a hostile submarine.

Being able to quickly transition from traditional tasking to higher tempo and covert operations highlights the range of roles and tasks the Squadron can achieve, even in some of the most hostile and challenging conditions.

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