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Strident moves in the Mediterranean as Ocean and Bulwark complete NATO war games
6 November 2015

A beach landing and occupation of a Portuguese peninsula played out in front of world leaders brought the curtain down on NATO’s biggest exercise in two decades.

Spread across around 1,000 miles of the Mediterranean and Atlantic, Exercise Trident Juncture involved 36,000 personnel – one in 12 of them from the UK – and 60 ships from 30 nations, including amphibious assault ships HMS Ocean and Bulwark.

Pictures: LA(Phots) JJ Massey and Des Wade, and NATO

ZULUS. About 100 of them.

The men of Zulu Company, 45 Commando, sweep ashore on to the peninsula of Troia, a dozen miles south of the capital of Portugal as the biggest NATO war games in 20 years reach their climax.

Spread across around 1,000 miles of the southwestern Mediterranean and eastern shores of the Atlantic, Exercise Trident Juncture sucked in around 36,000 personnel – one in 12 of them from the UK – 230 units and 60 ships from 30 nations over a five-week period.

Trident Juncture opened in Italy before shifting westwards through the Med, first to Spain and finally to Portugal, where the closing stages were witnessed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

HMS Bulwark leads part of the international task force – as seen from the Canadian frigate HCMS Halifax

They – and other VIPs – watched as landing craft from HMS Bulwark carried the commandos, normally based in Arbroath, on to the spit which reaches out into the estuary of the River Sado.

While the green berets were busy driving enemy forces off the narrow strip of land, Portuguese marines were fast roping from a helicopter on to a ship which they seized from pirates.

Following the action-packed beach display, VIPs transferred to the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ocean, for a sail past involving several international warships and submarines.

Royal Marines Vikings come ashore at Troia

“We are just a small cog in a really big machine and on this exercise all the cogs have been working,” said Mne Si Alcroft.

“We don’t often get the chance to work with helicopters on standby, landing craft, the Navy, and other nations all sharing experience and tactics; so this has been great training for us.”

45 Commando comrade, mortarman Mne David Kielty, added: “This exercise has also shown us how easy it is to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice and that has been of vital importance to us.”

Zulu Company ride into battle in an LCVP from HMS Bulwark

Trident Juncture also tested the functions of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – or Spearhead Force – ahead of it becoming fully operational next year.

In charge of the maritime ‘arm’ of that force will be the RN’s Rear Admiral Tony Radakin and his staff, who also directed the naval element of this exercise.

“The scale and scope of this exercise involving forces on land, in the air and at sea has provided excellent training as I prepare to take command."

Ocean’s Commanding Officer Capt Steve Moorhouse agreed: “On the back of this exercise we have a greater understanding of the units we could operate with next year; that level of understanding and familiarity is hugely important, as should we be called upon then we know straight away what units, what ships, and which familiar faces will be operating, and where.”

His flight deck acted as the launchpad not just for Royal Navy Merlin and Wildcat battlefield helicopters – the latter on their first overseas deployment – but also Army Apache gunships and RAF Chinooks.

It’s the scope and variety of Trident Juncture which Royal Navy participants have particularly savoured.

“We’ve carried out training with submarines, silently tracked them and carried out some winching and load lifting throughout the exercise,” said LACMN Hannah Leask, who worked in the rear of a Merlin from 814 Naval Air Squadron, typically based at RNAS Culdrose.

“It’s been a busy time and it’s rare to be involved in such a large exercise like Trident Juncture but it’s been good and I wouldn’t mind doing more like it.”