‘Russians flew into active danger area’

Today Commander Jeanette Morang handed over command of the permanent NATO squadron SNMG1 to her German counterpart Flotilla Admiral Marx. This ended Holland’s command of the squadron after one year. Morang had been in command since the summer and looked back briefly in recent months.

Zr.Ms. Tromp and the Danish Absalon-class frigate Esbern Snare at sea in December. Among other things, these frigates sailed in the Baltic Sea when Russian planes flew over the connection. (Photo: NATO)

Almost a year ago, (then) Commander Ad van de Sande took command of Canada. This took place without ceremony, but via the screen in connection with corona measures. Corona quickly faded into the background, and more than a month later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Today’s command transfer therefore took place the old-fashioned way in real life. Admitted within. Because of possible bad weather, the warm Dukdalf at the Marine Museum in Den Helder was chosen. Delegates from the flagship Zr.Ms. Tromp and the future SNMG1 flagship FGS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern together with a select group of family members brought together ship commanders and Vice Admiral Ren Tas.

The British vice admiral Keith Blount, head of NATO’s Maritime Command and incoming Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, complimented Morang on her work over the past few months. After a short speech by Morang herself, she handed over command of the NATO squadron to her German successor.

Vice Admiral Keith Blount. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/ Marinechips.nl)

Commander Morang hands over the banner to his successor. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/ Marinechips.nl)

Morang congratulates Thorsten Marx, the brand new commander SNMG1. By the way, Marx is no stranger to Den Helder, just like Morang, he completed the training to become a Commando Central Officer (CCO) at the Operations School in Den Helder 26 years ago. A small part of Marx’s speech was therefore in Dutch. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/ Marinechips.nl)

A special year
For SNMG1, often active in the northern half of European waters, on the Atlantic and on the US East Coast, the year was dominated by Russia. The past six months, when Morang was squadron commander, meant, for example, that the two daily briefings had a lot of attention on Russian activities and the war in Ukraine. “The war actually affects everything that happens in the field of defense in Europe,” Morang said afterwards in an interview with Marinechips.nl.

It was a special year, says Morang. A year that started for her at the Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in London. There she was commander of surface forces and was able to follow developments in Russia closely. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best”, we said at MARCOM. And we were already making plans in early December [2021] started. The indications became more and more clear. I even had a message for the group leaders [de eskaders] made how to react if it actually came to an invasion. Because if you’re at sea and it happens, you’ll know immediately what’s expected of you.”

“On February 24 at 03:15 I got a call,” says Morang. “At that time, 42 ballistic missiles had already flown into Ukraine”. The message to the ships could be sent. But Morang was further advised to go to bed. “It was supposed to be busy the next day and there was nothing we could do for the ships at sea at that time. It makes it very difficult. But the ships were prepared for anything.”

Russian visit to the Baltic Sea
The ships were also prepared in November 2022, but people on board were still surprised when the Russian planes flew over, says Morang.

On November 17, the NATO squadron sailed in the Baltic Sea near Poland for an exercise. Morang and her staff were on board the Dutch Air Defense and Command Frigate Zr.Ms. Tromp and the Norwegian supplier KNM Maud and the Danish Absalon-class frigate KDM Esbern Snare also belonged to the squadron. The French Horizon-class frigate FS Chevalier Paul was with the squadron at the time, the Polish OH Perry-class frigate ORP General Kazimierz Pulaski was nearby.

Morang: “In the Baltic Sea, you have little warning time. Further in the Atlantic or up by Norway, you have much more time. In the Baltic Sea, everything is quite close to each other, and a situation can change very quickly. That is why the readiness of the weapons systems is in such a way , that you are ready to actually shoot.”

“We had just done an air defense exercise with Polish fighters. So the area where we were was reserved for an exercise. It was an active danger areaYou shouldn’t fly in that.”

Shortly after the exercise, SNMG1 received a report that two Russian fighter jets had gone off the runway. “As an air defense frigate, Tromp has excellent sensors and we picked them up [de vliegtuigen] instantly. We also had ID[ificatie] come through and then you see them come in over the edge of flight information region. Then we thought, ‘they’re not coming our way, are they?’ They did. And it surprised us, because the Polish fighters had just come home, but we might as well have flown out of our helicopter, and then you have a dangerous situation.’

It was not the first time that Russian planes flew against NATO ships in such a way. It was always done to intimidate and provoke, not to actually attack. “Yes, we also assume that,” replies Morang, “but you always have to treat it as if it could be something else. So it is always important to determine as soon as possible whether they are armed or not. You also want would like to know if anything happened ashore that could have caused those planes to have plans other than just stimulating. The dumbest thing you can do is think that a situation is routine. You want your people every time in a situation like that situation, all steps are nicely completed and that if it turns out to be more serious, they will still turn on the fire control radar.” Su-24 Fencers flew above the NATO ships at a height of 33 feet (91 meters). “Fortunately, we had trained for situations like this and everyone reacted in a controlled and professional manner,” Morang had said earlier in his speech. “It was amazing to see how Quick response flight from Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Estonia reacted and completely revolved around the Russians. Everything went smoothly, and the security situation allows no less. Increased preparedness in the Baltic Sea is important.”

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The increased preparedness was also appreciated by the inhabitants of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where Morang moored with his squadron. “I found it very special how the Baltic states are dealing with this situation. Of course they won’t be free from Russia for very long. And the people you’re talking to still know what it’s like to be dominated by Russia. If we want to nuance things and say ‘it’s not going that fast’ can really piss people off. But you shouldn’t. Take it seriously.” For SNMG1, the Russian invasion also meant a change. “Normally, SNMG1 is one standing naval force who travel around, train everywhere and of course also send the NATO message. But under my predecessor’s command, we were actually deployed as Task Group 441.01 under NATO Operation Brilliant Shield. And that gives a different context. Because where previously you just trained, you are now activated as Very high joint readiness Task Force Maritime and when it comes down to it, that is it no points for second place.”

It also meant a flexible sailing schedule, which was determined weekly by MARCOM. This, Morang said during his speech, allowed the squadron to respond quickly to changes. The downside is that changes that can come at the last minute make it more difficult to make port visits more attractive. That too Notice to moveperiod during the winter holidays, when the working group could rest in home ports while they were ready for quick departure, was deleted. It happened after the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

(Photo: Jaime Karremann/ Marinechips.nl)

Few ships
On several occasions, Morang had to choose between deploying his units for training to better fight together or deploying individual units to monitor Russian activities and demonstrate NATO’s presence. No easy choices if the squadron contains few ships.

Because despite the war in Ukraine, the working group SNMG1 did not grow to the size we often saw with its predecessor STANAVFORLANT during the Cold War, for example. Although all fleets then had several ships, SNMG1 regularly consisted of two to three ships this year. Morang: “Especially during large exercises, many ships connect. During Dynamic Messenger we had eight ships, with Joint Warrior we were five. Then you can see the dynamics, but it is still insufficient. When the invasion started, there was an increase in ships in context, but it was also related to the fact that they were just before Dynamic Mongoose, the big anti-submarine exercise, and there was a fine program in that. flow quickly.”

“But countries also need to be able to adapt. Ships need maintenance and navies make their plans well in advance. They also have all sorts of national programs and national obligations that they have to fulfill. So it takes a little time to turn it around.”

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Tromp
The German Brandenburg-class frigate FGS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (left) and Zr.Ms. Tromp this afternoon in Den Helder. In the foreground Zr.Ms. From Amstel. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is now the flagship of SNMG1 and will receive reinforcements from Poland and France tomorrow. (Photo: Jaime Karremann/ Marinechips.nl)

Polish and French frigate to Den Helder
“But the recognition is definitely there. For the first time since 2015, a Polish frigate is coming. Tomorrow here in Den Helder [General Tadeusz] Kosciuszko inside. The French will also run tomorrow [FREMM-]frigate into Aquitaine, Portland [Brits Type 23 fregat] also comes under the command of the group. There are countries that are trying to free up more capacity.”

Holland is no longer in command but will remain active in 2023. Morang: “Trompen is going on leave. But for the six months, Van Amstel is with the group for a period of three months, and in the second part Trompen is there again for three months . Because it contributes to practice and to what the Netherlands supports NATO’s message.”

Joint Warrior
No rest for Morang after being on the road for half a year. She becomes commander of the Dutch naval force. NLMARFOR is the Navy’s deployable, operational staff and also the organization that guides ships and Marines to be operationally deployed. Command transfer is next week. “And then Joint Warrior next month, with Rotterdam. It’s with a really big staff. Because the SNMG1 staff is 18 people, but with Joint Warrior there’s a whole battle staff, with and everything on it and on it. And 10 ships”, Morang looks ahead with pleasure.

Jamie Author: Jaime Karremann
Jaime is the founder of Marinechips.nl and has written more than 1,500 articles on various naval topics. In 2017, he published his non-fiction book In the deepest secret from and later submarine thrillers Killer whale. Before Jaime began working full-time with this site, he spent over 12 years in the Navy, mostly in a civilian role. Jaime studied communication in Groningen.

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