Corsican evacuation tests Anglo-French Task Group

A dozen helicopters and 250 Royal Marines helped evacuate people from a ‘war-torn’ Mediterranean island – a major test of the British and French military to work side-by-side.

For the past week, more than 2,000 British and French sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines have been engaged on Exercise Corsican Lion, played out on and off the north and south coasts of the island.

A force of four ships – three British, one French – used their helicopters and landing craft to evacuate civilians to safety in a mock humanitarian crisis.

The exercise is the latest test of the two nations’ armed forces as they work to create a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, an amphibious task group which the British and French military can form to respond to international crises, dealing with anything from conflict to humanitarian missions.

The force – UK flagship and helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark, ro-ro military ferry Hartland Point, and French assault ship FS Dixmude – spent three days training off the northern Corsican coast, before shifting to the island’s southern shores for the active phase of the exercise.

The chance to work with our French counterparts has been a highlight of our Cougar 2015 deployment

Commodore Martin Connell, Task Group Commander

At dawn on Sunday, 130 Royal Marines from 45 Commando were airlifted ashore in waves from the Dixmude – British Apache gunships, Chinook and Wildcat helicopters were among those supporting the effort – so they could secure the evacuation site where 40 British and French sailors playing the part of evacuees were waiting to be saved. With the perimeter secure, the ‘civilians’ were brought back to Dixmude and Bulwark by helicopter and landing craft.

Aboard Bulwark they were received by a well-honed team offering food, water, clean clothes and medical assistance, exactly as the ship did in the spring when she rescued thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean.

It’s the second time Corsica has played host to the Anglo-French exercise; this year’s run out was also the first major work-out for the RN’s amphibious task group on its annual Cougar deployment.

“Exercises like this are vital to practise working and learning from close allies such as France,” said Commodore Martin Connell, the task group’s commander.

“The chance to work with our French counterparts has been a highlight of our Cougar 2015 deployment and we look forward to taking our partnership to the next level when we re-group for an even larger exercise called Griffin Strike next year.”

The task group is presently scheduled to return to Devonport in the middle of December.