RFA Lyme Bay’s key role in Anglo-French amphibious exercise

Amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay has been key to major war games played out on the coast of Brittany.

For the first time British forces were invited to participate in Catamaran, a fortnight-long workout for some 2,000 Anglo-French personnel, mostly along the Breton coast.

The exercise is a key stepping stone towards creating a joint Anglo-French task group, ready to respond to global crisis – everything from humanitarian crisis and disaster relief, to conflict situations – in just two years’ time.

The UK dispatched RFA Lyme Bay, typically used to transport Royal Marines and kit, destroyer HMS Dragon to provide air cover and naval gunfire support, and HMS Chiddingfold to work with French hunters in keeping sea lanes clear of mines, plus elements of 45 Commando, 30 Commando IX Group, 539 Assault Squadron RM and RAF Chinooks.

We’ve had on board personnel from the French Army, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Navy and British Army – truly demonstrating an international joint capability.

Captain Robert Anders

‘This year is the first time we have invited the British to take part,” explained Major Frederic Capdeville, a French Army officer attached to 3 Commando Brigade aboard Lyme Bay.

“This will allow us to validate the Combined Task Group concept by demonstrating the interoperability between our two nations’ armed forces.”

Throughout Catamaran, which ends today, Lyme Bay has been home to Royal and French Marines and their respective equipment – 30 different vehicles in all, from several AMX 10RXs (French light tanks) to British military hovercraft (or Landing Craft (Air Cushioned) in official terminology, LCACs – pronounced ‘el cacks’).

Hovercraft are used to quickly land small parties of commandos – or rapidly extract casualties from a beachhead.

To move larger numbers/heavy kit and vehicles ashore, the French brought along CTM (chaland de transports de materiel or transport barges for material) landing craft to work alongside Lyme Bay’s own Mexeflote powered barges which are run by the Royal Logistics Corps.

Lyme Bay linked up with French assault ship FS Tonnerre (Thunder) to form the amphibious heart of Catamaran which was spread along a 130-mile stretch of the French coast between Quiberon Bay to La Rochelle.

The landings around Quiberon were witnessed by the Head of the Royal Navy. (Admiral Sir Philip Jones.) And the head of the Marine Nationale. (Admiral Christope Prazuck.) And the British Ambassador to Paris (Ed Llewellyn) who was especially impressed by the display of military precision – and by how much the two navies are behind the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.

“Commanders were very clear how our respective strengths combine to make a formidable joint force,” he said.

For Lyme Bay’s Commanding Officer Capt Robert Anders, the Anglo-French workout has capped an interesting spring for his ship.

We’ve been very busy in the amphibious arena recently, having completed Joint Warrior ahead of Catamaran.

“We’ve had on board personnel from the French Army, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Navy and British Army – truly demonstrating an international joint capability.

“The integration between the French and British units onboard has been very effective and we are forging links that can only be beneficial for the future of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.”