IT’S not every day you go from fighting alongside an international task force of warships to battling against them.
But that is exactly what the crew of HMS Iron Duke was tasked to do as part of a major Nato training exercise.
The Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate was one of a fleet of vessels taking part in the operation in the Baltic Sea.
Known as Baltops 17, the drill involved 40 warships from 14 countries – including France, Germany, the USA, Denmark and Poland.
Iron Duke – which has attended the annual training scenario previously in 2015 and 2016 – was kept busy during the latest bout.
The action was split into two sections; combat enhancement and then the force integration training phase, which comprised an intense series of warfare activities.
In just a single week, Iron Duke – embarked with a Wildcat helicopter – tackled 11 air defence exercises, four anti-submarine warfare drills, a replenishment at sea, refuelling from German ship FGS Bonn, as well as six anti-surface warfare tests and four gunnery exercises.
Then as part of the second part of the training, Iron Duke was forced to switch sides to play a fictional enemy of Nato.
Iron Duke was part of a Danish-led task group which aimed to deny control of the sea to the coalition and faced the full military might of the Nato group.
The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Steve Banfield, said it was an excellent opportunity for his 200-strong crew to experience some of the best at-sea training in the world.
Cdr Banfield said: ‘During Baltops 17, HMS Iron Duke has been able to provide training for 40 sailors and young officers borne from the Warfare and Engineering Training Squadrons and from Britannia Royal Naval College.
‘Its always a pleasure participating in world-class training with NATO to strengthen relationships between its partner nations and to make lifelong friends in the process.’
As part of her temporary role as the ‘bad guy’, Iron Duke approached Baltops warships, hailing them to keep clear and releasing propaganda via simulated news websites and social media feeds.
In total, the vessel steamed more than 3,385 nautical miles during the exercise, including six transits of the Denmark Straits.
Earlier this month Iron Duke played a key part in Armed Forces Day celebrations in Liverpool – which was leading the national event.
Iron Duke is now involved in UK maritime security details.