Plymouth marines river training in the heartlands of Holland

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Marines

Royal Marines took their landing craft and assault boats on an 850-mile odyssey to Holland to train men to lead the amphibious attacks of the future.

An idyllic nature reserve in the heart of the Netherlands was chosen for the final test of would-be landing craftsmen and landing craft officers – the culmination of 14 weeks of training.

The wetlands of De Biesbosch encompass 35 square miles of canals, channels, creeks and lakes squeezed between the Nieuwe Merwede and Amer rivers half a dozen miles outside the historic city of Dordrecht.

There’s nothing quite like it in the UK – certainly not in the normal training areas used by 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, the Corps’ specialists in amphibious warfare based at RM Tamar in Devonport Naval Base.

Thanks to the marines’ long-standing ties with their Dutch counterparts, the group was invited to make use of the waterways – an invitation accepted by more than 100 green berets and over a dozen craft.

They left Plymouth with two large Landing Craft Utility (capable of carrying Challenger tanks, but only loaded with a couple of Land Rovers for Exercise Green Tulip 16), two smaller Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel, five fast ORC raiding craft and finally four tiny Inshore Raiding Craft (inflatable boats).

The first week was spent in UK waters, initially around the Exe in Devon, then in the Solent and on Browndown Beach in Gosport, before heading across the Channel and southern Holland.

Such extended periods of navigation aren’t unusual for the largest landing craft which have basic cooking and living facilities (although crew rely on paper rather than digital charts commonplace across the Royal Navy), but are considerably more challenging for the ORCs – there’s no shelter from the elements.

After a three-day rest in Vlissingen in southern Holland, the group moved into the country’s heartland passing through canals, locks and beneath the spans of its longest bridge, the three-mile-long Zeeland, before finally reaching Biesbosch to begin the main part of Green Tulip.

Experienced hands from the assault group wanted to see how the 14 recently-qualified landing craftsmen and officers fresh from courses and to learn how to use a small group of boats to patrol a network of confusing waterways, reassuring the local populace and deterring any moves by an enemy.

Among the newly-qualified landing craftsmen being tested was Marine ‘Bungy’ Williams. “The course has been great fun and I’ve learnt a lot from it.

“I look forward to the opportunity of taking the skills I’ve learnt and using them on board HMS Bulwark during our deployment this autumn.”

Beyond testing newbies like Bungy, the exercise also tested old hands like Corporal ‘Taff’ Fulton – recently recognised as the Royal Marines first Marine Engineering Officer – to prove he and his team had the skills to maintain the complex systems and engines but without all the workshops and facilities they normally rely upon.

“The three weeks away proved a real challenge – maintaining the craft without the usual base unit support. 

Although we faced the usual faults we experience when operating from a shore base or ship, we were left to our own devices to rectify them.”

Senior officers from 1AGRM and its Dutch counterpart SATG observed the final stages of the exercise – two of the officers being assessed were from the Dutch Marines Corps – with the RM’s Col Graeme Armour delighted by what he’d seen.

“De Biesbosch National Park and the inland waterways of the Netherlands provide a perfect area for our training and development which could easily represent areas we may find ourselves operating in at some point in the future. 

“Our strong relationship with the Netherlands is key to developing our excellence in amphibious warfare. The time spent exercising during this visit has been highly beneficial to both my assault group and SATG.

“The vastly different terrain of the South Coast cliffs compared to the flat national park of De Biesbosch provided completely different operating areas, ensuring that those being trained were ready for any operations they may face in the future.”

Our strong relationship with the Netherlands is key to developing our excellence in amphibious warfare

Colonel Graeme Armour RM, Commanding Officer 1 Assault Group Royal Marines