UK

Five Nato warships call in at UK port ahead of largest exercise since Cold War

Standing Nato Maritime Group One was visiting the Hampshire port before taking part in further drills as part of Exercise Steadfast Defender.

ESPS Cantabria berthed at the Port of Southampton
ESPS Cantabria berthed at the Port of Southampton ESPS Cantabria berthed at the Port of Southampton (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Five Nato warships have been carrying out air defence exercises off the UK coast before gathering in Southampton port ahead of the largest exercise by the alliance since the Cold War.

Standing Nato Maritime Group One (SNMG1), made up of five warships, was visiting the Hampshire port before heading to take part in further drills as part of Exercise Steadfast Defender.

Before arriving in Southampton, the five ships – Spanish flagship ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbon, BNS Louis Marie (Belgium), FS Normandie (France), FGS Bonn (Germany) and ESPS Cantabria (Spain) – also carried out gunnery exercises while travelling from Scotland.

The visit comes after armoured vehicles belonging to 7 Light Mechanised Brigade, also known as “The Desert Rats”, alongside Land Rovers, engineers’ tractors and support vehicles were loaded into a 23,000-tonne cargo vessel, Anvil Point, near Southampton to take part in the exercise which will be taking place off Norway.

And Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales set sail from Portsmouth after being prepared at short notice when its sister ship suffered a propeller issue forcing it to cancel its deployment to Steadfast Defender.

The Royal Navy also sent its four smallest ships, the P2000 “plastic patrol craft” HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter, earlier this month to take part.

A view of the Nato emblem on the side of the ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbon berthed at the Port of Southampton
A view of the Nato emblem on the side of the ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbon berthed at the Port of Southampton A view of the Nato emblem on the side of the ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbon berthed at the Port of Southampton (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A total of 90,000 troops from 31 countries will be taking part in the exercise, according to a Nato spokesman.

He said: “Steadfast Defender 2024 will demonstrate Nato’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from North America and other parts of the Alliance to reinforce the defence of Europe.

“It will show that we can conduct and sustain complex multi-domain operations over several months, across thousands of kilometres, from the high north to central and eastern Europe, and in any conditions.”