Two Merlins and 60 air and ground crew have joined a French Navy task group on the trip of a lifetime.
For the next five months, the Brits will serve with on France’s annual Jeanne d’Arc deployment, taking in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Japan, Guam and Australia.
One of Mistral’s flight deck officers guides one of the two Merlins safely on the deck. Pictures: Marine Nationale
SIXTY Fleet Air Arm fliers and ground crew have sailed on the adventure of a lifetime as two Merlins join a French task group to the Pacific.
A flight from 845 Naval Air Squadron will be a permanent presence aboard the French assault ship FS Mistral as she leads the French Navy’s annual Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) deployment – similar to the RN’s annual Cougar/JEF workout.
The five-month amphibious deployment will take the force – which includes the frigate Courbet – as far east as Japan and Guam, as far south as the northern coast of Australia, with visits to Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Djibouti on the 24,000-mile round-trip.
The Mistral, with a Merlin on deck, departs Toulon with her escort FS Courbet (left)
The ships left the French Navy’s Mediterranean home of Toulon yesterday with full pomp and ceremony, attended by the head of the Marine Nationale Admiral Christophe Prazuck, with the two troop carrying Merlins arrayed on the flight deck and sailors, soldiers, marines and Brits lining the upper deck for the formal departure.
CHF briefly practised co-operation with the French Navy last year when a Junglie dropped in on Mistral’s sister FS Tonnerre during combined training in UK waters.
And the Fleet Air Arm has assigned a Lynx Flight to a French ship on deployment before, with an 815 NAS helicopter from Yeovilton joined the FS Surcouf on counter-piracy duties – with considerable success.
The detachment to the Mistral is considerably longer and larger, however.
Mistral’s Commanding Officer Capt Stanislas de Chargères told everyone aboard his ship they had a “long, distant operational mission” to complete. “To this requirement, I add a wish: Enjoy yourselves on our ship. Forge memories.”