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All-action show from task group off Cornish coast

Cougar Task Group off Cornish Coast

08/10/2012

Royal Navy air and sea power combined on the sands of Cornwall at the weekend as a large scale beach landing was played out in Carlyon Bay. The ‘wader exercise’ – a landing in slow time – tested the ability of the forces involved in the key Cougar deployment to work together on complex manoeuvres before the task group sails to the Mediterranean imminently.

If you were looking for action at the weekend then the place to be was Carlyon Bay in Cornwall.

Yes, really.

Landing craft? Check.

Wacca-waccas? Check.

Mexeflotes? Check.

Britain’s flagship? Check.

Landing support ship? Check.

Lots of Royal Marines hovercraft and raiding craft? Check.

Sunshine? Check.

Bridge parts? Check.

Bridge parts? Yes, really.

For among the various manoeuvres played out on the sands near St Austell – in front of rather surprised locals – was the art of military bridge building.

Cougar Task Group off Cornish Coast 

 

An RAF Chinook ferried a pre-assembled bridge from the large ferry/military transporter MV Hartland Point to the shore, where the sappers of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment – the specialist Army unit attached to 3 Commando Brigade to provide the marines with battlefield engineers – completed the bridge by adding decking.

Although the green-bereted engineers regularly build bridges for the Royal Marines – in Afghanistan, on Exercise Joint Warrior and, most recently, on Exercise Scottish Lion with 45 Commando in south-west Scotland – this was the first time such a structure had been pre-assembled on a ship at sea and flown ashore. 

The engineers were joined on the training exercise by their Army comrades of 29 Commando Regiment RA – the brigade’s artillery support – with 4 Assault Squadron RM from flagship HMS Bulwark providing the assortment of landing and assault craft.

The bridge-building was just one element of the ‘wader exercise’ – basically an amphibious assault played out in slow time to make sure that all the many different aspects of the landing ran smoothly.

It’s been a year since the Royal Navy and Royal Marines have carried out a large-scale amphibious exercise and with large-scale landings serving as the crux the major deployment of the year, Cougar 12, in the Mediterranean, a ‘refresher’ was needed; hence the training in Carlyon Bay.

There is no more complex manoeuvre in warfare than moving men and machines from ship to shore, whether by boat or by aircraft.

And talking of aircraft…

Cougar Task Group off Cornish Coast

 

The deck of HMS Illustrious throbbed with Apache gunships and commando Sea Kings flying on and off the deck all day.

The former provided the aerial punch, the latter the cold steel, ferrying the men of 45 Commando ashore.

Lusty is home to around 140 green berets, who arrived in incongruous red ‘goon bags’ – the immersion suits worn to keep them warm and dry should their helicopter be forced to ditch – and quickly got changed into combats ready for the assault.

The carrier was designed as a launchpad for Harriers and submarine-hunting Sea Kings 35 or so years ago; as she’s not a bespoke commando carrier, a little improvisation is required when it comes to organising a beach assault.

So the floor of the wardroom was cleared and turned into a planning room with paper models of Lusty and other ships in the Cougar force, white sheets marked with gaffer tape depicted the ‘battlefield’ and black bits of card denoted units.

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