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HMS Somerset masters the fjords on Arctic submarine hunt

23 March 2023
HMS Somerset mastered the complex art of hunting submarines in Arctic fjords as she protected an allied task group in Northern Norway.

The Type 23 frigate deployed as escort for a UK and Netherlands Amphibious Force task group, protecting the hulking amphibious ships, their troops, landing craft and helicopters from ‘attacks’ from beneath the waves.

The task group – which included HMS Albion, RFA Mounts Bay, HNMLS Rotterdam and HNMLS Karel Dorman – parked up in the fjords of Northern Norway to conduct amphibious landings during large-scale Norwegian-led exercises.

Often time-consuming, the amphibious landings can leave a task group vulnerable to the ‘interests’ of submarines lurking in the depths.

It was up to Plymouth-based Somerset to hunt down these submerged threats – which were tasked with preventing troops landing ashore -- testing her expert submarine hunters and powerful sensors in the tight confines of the fjords.

“Norwegian fjords are navigationally confined, deep and steep sided which results in a complex underwater environment that differs significantly from our usual hunting grounds,” said HMS Somerset’s Principal Warfare Officer (Underwater) Lieutenant Commander James Williams, who is on exchange from the Royal New Zealand Navy.

“Conducting Anti-Submarine Warfare within this environment required our teams to adjust their thought processes to ensure we were getting optimal tactical employment of our sonar.”

Somerset was also tasked with protecting the task group from ‘enemy’ warships on the surface, often in rough and imposing Arctic waters – a sharp contrast to the serene and beautiful fjords. 

The Type 23 played the role of adversary as potential Norwegian submarine commanders were put through their paces in the close confines of the fjords.

The would-be skippers were tasked with evading Somerset under the scrutiny of examiners/assessors.

Somerset’s deployment to frozen north came hot off a month-long period of Warfighting Operation Sea Training by the training teams at Fleet Operational Standards and Training (FOST).

Consolidating efforts from last year, Somerset’s sailors were put through demanding warfighting scenarios, including Anti-Submarine Warfare and gunnery at Aberporth ranges off the coast of Wales.

There was also a test of the ship’s ability to control damage while continuing to fight, including sustaining ‘enemy hits’ to essential machinery and propulsion systems, weapons and sensors.

Able Rating (Underwater Warfare) Pete Calvert joined Somerset in November 2022.

He said: “It was great to be operating at sea following my basic training. It helped me feel part of the team and allowed me to integrate quickly into my first ever ship.”

It all culminated in final inspection, during which Somerset hosted both the Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Andrew Burns, and Commander Maritime Operations (COMOPS) Rear Admiral Edward Ahlgren.

“With the support of FOST it has been a pleasure to watch my team grow into a ship’s company who are ready for operations around the globe,” said Commander Dave Mason, Commanding Officer of HMS Somerset.

“With the Arctic deployment immediately after our training it gave us the opportunity to test our abilities, in a large task group, in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Circle. Anti-Submarine Operations within the fjords, complex navigation and plenty of flying from our embarked Wildcat have all been huge highlights.”

Somerset is in Copenhagen to strengthen ties with the Danish Ministry Of Defence and give the ship’s company a break following their efforts over recent months.

Following that, Somerset will return to Devonport for a maintenance period which will include further key system upgrades including Maritime Offensive Strike System (MOSS) before continuing Maritime Task Group Operations through the remainder of 2023.    

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