Bulwark helps Royal Marines invade Austell territory

After a winter break, amphibious operations are back on for the Navy’s ‘sea soldiers’ – and the machines which carry them into battle.

The green berets and amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark are warming up for a major Anglo-French exercise in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea by learning and re-learning the basics of putting troops and their equipment ashore.

As the nation’s on-call assault ship, Devonport-based Bulwark needs to be ready for operations at all times, and constant training plays a vital role in honing the skills of experienced personnel and preparing newer members of the ship’s company.

A two-week ‘wader’, Exercise South West Sword, runs through all the complex elements of a landing, but in slow time.

Intensive amphibious training of this nature is vital to ensure we are ready to respond

Captain James Parkin RN

Making use of the beach at Pentewan (a popular spot for practice invasions thanks to its relative shelter from the elements and the gradient), Bulwark disgorged men and vehicles of 42 Commando from Bickleigh, near Plymouth, from her vehicle dock on to shore via landing craft (large enough to carry Challenge 2 tanks).

And at the same time, Merlin helicopters from 846 Naval Air Squadron, Wildcats from 847 Naval Air Squadron (both based in RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset) and RAF Chinooks from 27 Squadron (based in RAF Odiham, Hampshire) were busy practising operating to and from Bulwark’s large flight deck.

It’s the first time the battlefield version of the Merlin, the Mk3, has flown on to Bulwark – whose deck was throbbing to the sound of their submarine-hunting versions 12 months ago during the mission to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean.

The green battlefield version replaces the veteran Sea Kings, which bow out of service later this month – though not before one has landed on Bulwark’s deck, the very last time one of the helicopters will fly aboard a Royal Navy ship.

“This is my first time at sea in HMS Bulwark since I joined from training and I’ve learnt lots about what an amphibious ship does,” said Midshipman Emily Gunning, from St Austell, just up the road from Pentewan.

“This week is even busier, and I can’t wait to see the last ever flight of a Sea King Mk 4 onto my new ship.”

When South West Sword finishes at the end of the week, Bulwark returns to Plymouth for the Easter break before April kicks in with a vengeance and Griffin Strike, an Anglo-French war game testing the abilities of both nations to jointly respond to an international crisis.

“Intensive amphibious training of this nature is vital to ensure we are ready to respond when the government requires Bulwark to act,” said Commanding Officer Captain James Parkin.

“The first week of South West Sword was excellent as the maritime, air and land parts of amphibious operations came together for the first time this year.

“It’s especially good to see the new Merlin ‘Junglies’ of the Commando Helicopter Force at sea, working with Bulwark for the first time.”