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Merlin Mk3A from 845 Naval Air Squadron
Merlin Mk3A from Commando Helicopter Force

HMS Ocean leads British involvement in major Greek exercise

Published: 28 Nov 2017

More than 20 ships, led by British flagship HMS Ocean, and over 300 British, Greek and US Marines stormed Crete for the Hellenic Navy’s main autumn war games.

The Greeks host Exercise Niriis to test a sizeable international naval force and its ability to respond to a major crisis in the region – not unlike the Turkish exercise HMS Ocean and the NATO group she leads has just completed.

The 2017 incarnation of Niriis involved ships/aircraft/personnel from Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Israel, the USA and the UK.

The UK contribution was significant: helicopter carrier Ocean, survey vessel/minehunter mother ship HMS Enterprise, over 150 personnel from Bravo Company, 40 Commando and soldiers from 24 Regiment Royal Engineers and 29 Regiment Royal Artillery, Wildcat helicopters from 847 Naval Air Squadron and Merlins from 820 and 845 NAS.

As part of a fictitious UN force they had to conduct boarding operations, deter and interdict illegal activity at sea, building up to an amphibious assault which paved the way for a safe extraction of civilians from Cretan soil.

This has been a great opportunity to bolster our ability to operate with NATO and other regional partners

Captain Rob Pedre, HMS Ocean’s Commanding Officer

Greek, Royal and US Marines were embedded in each other’s units as they carried out combined reconnaissance patrols and raids leading up to the final main effort.

“Niriis has provided an invaluable opportunity to conduct large-scale amphibious operations with both US and Hellenic Marines,” explained the Mighty O’s amphibious operations officer Lieutenant Colonel Tony Lancashire.

”It’s meant a range of mission types from small-scale reconnaissance to simultaneous company raids and a unit level assault which really enhanced our ability to operate successfully with one another.”

The Royal Marines of Bravo Company, 40 Commando, normally based at Norton Manor camp near Taunton, made extensive use of the Commando Helicopter Force assets, which shifted base from HMS Ocean to Maleme airfield on Crete’s northwest coast.

There the green berets rapid roped repeatedly from both Wildcats and Merlins – more than 500 descents successfully performed by the 93 men of Bravo Company without a single injury.

When Niriis kicked in, the Merlin Mk3 was committed on low-altitude troop insertions and extractions, as well as being held at readiness for medical evacuations.

And the Wildcat proved invaluable in conducting intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions – one of the most comprehensive tests for the battlefield variant of the helicopter, with the added pressure on one sortie of carrying the land forces commander for the exercise who joined the 847 NAS helicopter for a bird’s eye view of the exercise.

“The intelligence-gathering serials accompanied by the Land Force Commander were extremely challenging but immensely rewarding flying,” said Wildcat pilot Lt Dave Burnett.

“The sophisticated camera and mission system on the Wildcat significantly enhanced our picture of the enemy and proved invaluable during the amphibious raid.” 

Having just participated in a similar Turkish exercise, Ocean’s Commanding Officer Captain Rob Pedre said Niriis kept his men and women on their toes.

“HMS Ocean has once again demonstrated her amphibious capabilities during this multi-national exercise – we’ve operated landing craft and helicopters throughout and successfully integrated US and Greek Marines as well as soldiers from the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers into our operations,” he said.

“This has been a great opportunity to bolster our ability to operate with NATO and other regional partners.”


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