HMS Westminster heads to Norway

There’s not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but a cutting-edge Type 23 frigate.

HMS Westminster powers through the Denmark Strait as the snappily-titled Task Group 1106.03 makes its way towards central Norway for NATO’s largest exercise of the year: Trident Juncture.

Westminster is one of two Royal Navy frigates assigned to the main amphibious task group making a relatively rough crossing from Iceland.

Joined by her sister HMS Northumberland, the two British ships are at the forefront of anti-submarine warfare shield around the flagship/assault ship/’high value unit’ USS Iwo Jima which, aside from US Marines, is carrying X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, into action.

They were tested during two air defence exercises as the force sailed within range of Norway and were also joined by two fast Skjold (‘Shield’) class Norwegian patrol boats.

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The group, which also includes Canadian frigates HMCS Halifax and Toronto, US amphibious ships USS Gunston Hall and New York and Denmark’s patrol ship HDMS Hvidbjoernen.

Portsmouth-based Westminster has made use of the lumpy crossing to keep her ship’s company on their toes.

Key to fending off any unwanted attention from hostile submarines are the Merlin helicopters assigned to Northumberland and Westminster. The latter’s Merlin, callsign ‘Gatekeeper’, from 814 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose, is at immediate notice to launch for ‘real world’ submarine activity, as well as any planned interaction with boats taking part in the NATO exercise.

The rest of the ship’s company have been put through their paces, from fire and flood training to first aid and applying dressings and bandages, and keeping the upper deck sentries alert at their guns to fend off fast-attack craft on the ocean or, as a last resort, incoming enemy aircraft.

They were tested during two air defence exercises as the force sailed within range of Norway and were also joined by two fast Skjold (‘Shield’) class Norwegian patrol boats.

In calm seas, the missile boat can reach speeds in excess of 60kts. In the less clement conditions in which Trident Juncture has begun, that’s reduced to nearer 40kts – still considerably faster than the rest of the task force.

The exercise moves up a gear next week with the ‘dynamic’ phase getting under way across central and northern Norway.

In all, around 50,000 personnel from across NATO are involved in Trident Juncture, crewing 65 warships, driving 10,000 vehicles and flying more than 150 aircraft. It’s the largest exercise Norway has hosted in 30 year.