Royal Marines satisfy their appetite for destruction and construction

Royal Marines Assault Engineers honed their skills during an explosive fortnight on the range in Wales.

Assault Engineers (or AEs) provide vital close-combat support to all commando units: bridging, Explosive Methods of Entry (EMO), clearing obstacles, carrying out demolitions, removing mines and setting up defences among other skills.

The range at Caerwent near Chepstow is the perfect training ground for maintaining those skills – learning new ones and keeping abreast of the last tactics, equipment and weaponry to ensure the Royal Marines remain at the cutting edge on the battlefield.

There are three levels of assault engineers in the corps, from the junior AE3s who’ve completed their eight-week training at the Royal Marines’ training centre at Lympstone, near Exeter, up to AE1s who are the most experienced and knowledgeable members of the specialisation.

Our work with 40 Commando in the Caribbean last year demonstrated the true value of engineering support.

C/Sgt Dixon

At the basic level, the engineers practised forced entries – something the Corps was particularly adept at in Afghanistan when commandos regularly breached terrorist compounds: explosive, mechanical (forcing/battering doors) and the thermal method… ie burning down a door or window to gain access to a room or building.

"Assault Engineers are – and always will be the lead on all close support in all aspects of engineering,” explained Colour Sergeant John Dixon of 40 Commando, based at Norton Manor, near Taunton, who led the fortnight’s training in Wales.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener was the insight offered into humanitarian work – assault engineers are experts in construction as well as destruction.

C/Sgt Dixon led a team of assault engineers deployed to the Caribbean last autumn to help British citizens affected by the devastation caused by a succession of severe storms.

Their specialist training proved invaluable in clearing roads, unblocking storm drains, building emergency shelters and constructing defences before more storms came.

"Our work with 40 Commando in the Caribbean last year demonstrated the true value of engineering support.

“As some of the first guys on the ground, we were able to have maximum effect at short notice to really make a difference to the people of the British Virgin Islands,” C/Sgt Dixon said.

It’s back to destruction, however, shortly when later this month assault engineers will train in a new skill – ‘vessel denial’ – better known to seafarers as scuttling, with the controlled sinking of a large yacht to prevent it falling into ‘enemy’ hands.