Royal Navy helicopters from RNAS Culdrose are preparing to join NATO forces in the Mediterranean later this month as part of the fight against enemy submarines.

Personnel from two Culdrose squadrons will be heading to Sicily to take part in NATO's largest anti-submarine exercise, known as Exercise Proud Manta.

The 75-strong team, from 829 and 814 Naval Air Squadrons, will consist of pilots, observers, aircrewmen and engineers as well as the logisticians required to support the three Merlin Mk1 helicopters making the 1,400-mile journey across Europe.

Their new temporary base will be at US Naval Air Station Sigonella in Eastern Sicily.

An incredibly versatile helicopter, the Royal Navy's Merlin Mk1 can be used in many roles from search and rescue to counter piracy and drug smuggling patrols. However its primary role is to conduct anti-submarine warfare.

This exercise will allow the aircrews taking part to prove their submarine hunting skills as they work alongside ships, aircraft and submarines from the UK, USA, Canada, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. It will also provide vital experience and training for 829 Naval Air Squadron's engineering teams, who are more accustomed to operating from the more limited space onboard Type 23 Frigates.

The commanding officer of 829 Naval Air Squadron, Commander Steve Windebank, who will be heading up the UK contingent, said: “The Merlin is one of the best anti-submarine aircraft in the world and this is a great chance to prove that we are equally capable operating from ships or land based airfields at home or abroad.

“I hope that everyone involved will take something away from this year's exercise.”

The exercise is programmed to last until mid March, when the crews will return to the UK to continue supporting operations from both land and sea.