40 Commando begin year's largest naval exercise

Royal Marines of Plymouth-based 3 Commando Brigade and Taunton’s 40 Commando attacked a ‘rebel’ stronghold as two weeks of exercises in Scotland began with a bang.

More than 30 warships, including a dozen British, and 13,000 personnel from all over the world are taking part in the latest Joint Warrior, the largest military exercise of the year in north-west Europe.

Col Kevin Oliver, Deputy Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, said working with NATO partners on large-scale exercises such as Joint Warrior was essential for future and current partnerships:

"We normally seek to do operations in a coalition – and one of our key partners is the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. 

"We have a long-standing relationship with them which last year was 40 years old. We have a radio which works with the Dutch radio, as well as a lot of other kit and their Viking vehicle is the same as ours and their landing craft are very similar.

“But you can't work side-by-side with each other with kit alone – you have to actually go and use it and go on exercise with each other so Joint Warrior provides that perfect opportunity."

The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group landed on the shore of the Solway Firth with Viking amphibious vehicles as part of an all-out ‘attack’ at the start of the huge multinational exercise.

It's been really good, really tiring, but worth it. It’s good to get out and practise these skills plus it's good fun

Marine Jack Ginger, 40 Commando RM

Beginning with an amphibious assault on three designated points on bay, south of Stranraer in south-west Scotland, around 1,000 marines arrived by landing craft and helicopters in the early hours to begin their bid to ‘recapture’ the airfield.

As part of the scenario for the twice-yearly Joint Warrior exercise, Castle Kennedy airfield had been captured by enemies of the fictional government – and it was the job of the Royal Marines to take it back.

Belgian and Dutch marines on the HNLMS Johan De Witt opened a path from the sea on to the beaches using their amphibious vehicles, after which the Royal Marines were launched from Plymouth-based HMS Bulwark and Portsmouth-based HMS Illustrious and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay.

Pushing their way forward under the cover of darkness on foot and in Viking vehicles, the men of 3 Commando faced heavy resistance from the ‘enemy’ played by their colleagues. Using night vision they assembled themselves in key positions and fired smoke grenades, blank rounds and dummy grenades to simulate how they would force a real surrender.

By mid-morning, the WW2 airfield was secured, while the ‘Low Country’ marines continued to bring their vehicles and personnel ashore at Craignarget to start preparing for the next phase.

Marine Jack Ginger from Chorley in Lancashire of 40 Commando, based at Norton Manor, said: "We were flown off HMS Illustrious by Chinook after we were stood up last night. It's been really good, really tiring, but worth it. It’s good to get out and practise these skills plus it's good fun."

For the duration of the week the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade will continue their drive to recapture key areas, culminating with a final assault on the last ‘rebel’ position in the ruins of 16th-Century Edingham Castle, near Dalbeattie, more than 40 miles to the east, on Friday.

Exercise Joint Warrior aims to test the high-readiness of the forces involved and the range of capabilities available for short notice operations across the globe.