Royal Marines arrive in Baltic for Finland's first major NATO exercise
The commandos are about to carry out waterborne operations with specialist troops from the Uusimaa Brigade and US Marine Corps along Finland’s jagged and complex coastline.
Amphibious ship RFA Mounts Bay is currently in the Gulf of Finland, off the Uusimaa coast – with capital Helsinki contained along it – ready to land forces ashore on commando raids/covert missions as part of the exercise – codenamed Freezing Winds.
Specialists from across the UK Commando Force have been deployed and will be taken ashore by 4 Assault Squadron, who are expert landing craft pilots – used to navigating difficult waterways to get commandos inland to hit an adversary where they least expect.
Among the teams to be landed ashore are 148 Battery of 29 Commando Royal Artillery, who are responsible for calling in naval gunfire from nearby warships and air strikes in their specialist role but are also experts in covert patrols behind enemy lines, concealment, encrypted communications and battle damage assessment.
All of this is part of Littoral Response Group (North) (LRG) operations. The Royal Navy has two LRGs – North and South – which are designed to deploy rapidly to strategically important locations in response to world events.
LRG South is in the Mediterranean currently as LRG North works in the Baltic.
Major Adam Seaney, the Amphibious Operations Officer leading the 4 Assault Squadron boat group, said: “We are used to operating in the challenging and arduous conditions of the Baltic, having only recently returned from deployment there last summer on board HMS Albion.
“This opportunity to deploy on Ex Freezing Winds on RFA Mounts Bay supporting LRG(N) operations as part of the Finnish-led exercise will be a new challenge that we are looking forward to.
“The training with 148 Battery and Finnish Forces will be a new experience and help to prove the interoperability between the UK and one of the recent members to join NATO.”
The UK’s involvement in Freezing Winds not only underscores its commitment to NATO but also the six allied nations that sit on the Baltic Sea.
The Royal Navy has a long history of operating with the Finnish Navy and other Baltic forces as part of the Joint Expeditionary Force – a group of ten like-minded nations who work together to bring stability and security in the North Atlantic, Baltic Sea and the High North.
The Finnish say around 30 ships and 4,000 personnel are involved in Freezing Winds and is designed as practice for operations in the Gulf of Finland and Archipelago Sea – the latter is home to some 80,000 islands.
Among the participants in Freezing Winds is two major NATO task forces: Standing NATO Maritime Group One and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasure Group One – which are both responsible for the security and protection of northern Europe’s many waterways.
“This autumn’s main exercise is the first one that we will execute as a large NATO exercise in which also our Swedish partners will be strongly involved,” said Captain Juhapekka Rautava, the commander of the exercise.
“By training together, we will not only strengthen military capabilities, but also interoperability and our ability to work together.
“The large number of mine countermeasures vessels participating in the exercise is a demonstration of NATO’s interest in and commitment to the protection of underwater infrastructure,” Rautava added.