Marines unleash firepower on Northumberland ranges

The Royal Marines tore the peace of the English summer apart with three weeks of fire and thunder on the English-Scottish border.

The commandos took their main artillery batteries – the 105mm light field gun from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery from Plymouth – plus the 81mm mortar troop of 42 Commando in nearby Bickleigh, 120mm heavy mortars from the Dutch Marines, and some anti-tank missiles from the Army’s 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.

And just for good measure, Army Reservists from 103rd Regiment RA and Hawk jets from RAF 100 Squadron joined in to offer some close air support, guided by 29 Cdo’s Royal Marine, Royal Air Force and Royal Artillery Forward Air Controllers.

Before the full-on onslaught of lead, steel and high explosive at the Otterburn ranges – about three dozen miles outside Newcastle – Exercise Green Cannon began with participants getting down to the basics of infantry warfare, rather than artillery.

For many, after the challenges of mobile and stabilisation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was the first time that they had dug field defences and operated in respirators

Captain David Dew RA

The first few days were spent making use of Otterburn’s small arms ranges, where the commando gunners tested their infantry skills before moving out into the field for a combat scenario which required them to dig their guns in with the support of the Royal Engineers

"For many, after the challenges of mobile and stabilisation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was the first time that they had dug field defences and operated in respirators," said Capt David Dew RA.

Green Cannon tested every facet of 3 Commando Brigade’s Strike Group – from reconnaissance teams to artillery and mortars, command, control, concealment, signals, survival, local defence, medical, fuel, equipment maintenance and repair and ammunition resupply.

As for the firepower in action, the 105mm – the British Army’s standard light gun – can fire up to eight rounds a minute, the shells leaving the barrel at more than twice the speed of sound before crashing down on their targets up to 12 miles away.

The 81mm mortar, operated by two-man teams of Royal Marines drops grenades down on enemy positions about three miles away. A well-honed duo can fire 30 rounds a minute.

As well as being heavier, the Dutch 120mm is faster (rounds leave the barrel at more than 800mph) and has a greater range (eight miles) but requires six men to crew it – and even then can only spew out a maximum of ten rounds per minute.

Put them all together and you have a storm of steel any foe would think twice about braving…

…but if any enemy armour did get through, the Royal Horse Artillery had Exactor missiles – their equivalent of the Royal Marines’ Javelin anti-tank weapon – at the ready.

"Green Cannon has been a really valuable opportunity to test ourselves, starting with the very basics and working up to complex fire plans where we integrated air and surface weapon systems. Every force element was tested from convoy moves to field replenishment at night," said Lieutenant Colonel Jon Cresswell, 29 Commando’s Commanding Officer.

He was at the sharp end throughout Green Cannon alongside his regimental sergeant major, WO1 James Short – and fell victim to some counter-battery fire, which left them hit by shrapnel… for the purposes of the exercise.

The pair were treated on the ground before being evacuated through the medical chain. Both reached the regiment’s battlefield hospital in less than one hour – within the target time.

With Green Cannon over, the guns will be in action on home turf this weekend.

The Regiment is looking forward to celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Royal Artillery with a ‘Feu de Joie’ on Plymouth Hoe for Armed Forces’ Weekend 2016, linked with the 350th anniversary of their iconic barracks, Plymouth’s Royal Citadel, with an open day as part of the overall celebrations.