Welcome to the Jungle: HMS Albion’s Royal Marines step ashore in Brunei

Stifling humidity, tropical diseases and crocodile-infested rivers were just some of the challenges facing HMS Albion’s Royal Marines as they exercised in Brunei earlier this month.

As the United Kingdom’s ‘go to’ force for global operations, Royal Marines must be ready to operate in any environment - be it urban, arctic, desert or, in this case, jungle.

"This is the first time a Special Purpose Task Group has been sent to the Far East which is why we wanted to exploit whatever training we could in this part of the world. Brunei offered 80 per cent of my guys their first opportunity to work in the jungle”, explains 45 Commando’s Major Mick Trafford.

"The jungle is probably the best possible environment for honing Commando skills.

"In the Arctic the elements will always be your biggest enemy, whereas in the jungle once you learn how to manage the heat and humidity you can actually focus on pure soldiering."

The jungle is probably the best possible environment for honing Commando skills. In the Arctic the elements will always be your biggest enemy, whereas in the jungle once you learn how to manage the heat and humidity you can actually focus on pure soldiering.

Major Mick Trafford, RM

A Special Purpose Task Group (SPTG) is a high-readiness force of Royal Marines that can be forward deployed on a variety of ships – from auxiliaries to aircraft carriers – to fulfil a range of missions, including disaster relief and maritime security through to classic amphibious operations.

HMS Albion’s SPTG consists of some 160 officers and men, predominantly from 45 Commando’s Y Company but with engineer, logistics, signals and fire support elements drawn from various other Royal Marine and British Army Commando units.

Joining them in the jungle were HMS Albion’s own landing craft specialists from 4 Assault Group Royal Marines. One of them was Marine Jack Cameron who said:  “The humidity hit me as soon as were on the vehicle deck, even before we boarded the landing craft, and I didn’t stop sweating throughout.

"Once we got under the tree canopy it was cooler, but we had to do things differently. There was no crashing through the jungle. We had to slow right down and stay hydrated."

The first few days in the jungle focused on the core skills needed to operate in the unique environment, building basic competence from which to progress.

"The amount of personal administration to do with kit and healthcare was immense but you can’t afford dehydration or prickly heat to get in the way when you need to focus”, explained Lt James Smith of 45 Cdo.

The latter part of the week saw the Royal Marines conducting break contact drills, close target reconnaissance, patrol and navigation training and riverine exercises.

“It’s difficult to spot people in dense vegetation so you quickly become reliant on sound instead. But the more time you spend in the jungle the more attuned you become to the environment around you. Before long, you start to see the clues that people leave behind”, said Lt Smith, adding:

“When the terrain becomes too tough, the Royal Marines naturally take to the water. Our zodiac craft enabled us to move quickly and covertly in a way that would be impossible on foot or by road."

The Royal Marines were joined by a small group of officers and ratings from HMS Albion’s Ship’s Company, who were specially selected to gain an insight into how Commando Forces operate ashore.

HMS Albion’s ‘Bish’, Chaplain Eddie Wills, was one of them.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the woodlands of the UK and so I felt entirely comfortable living among the trees but entirely uncomfortable in the heart and humidity.

"Nevertheless, it was a hugely memorable experience. You can count on the Royal Marines to put their heart and soul into any challenge, and that was absolutely true for the jungles of Brunei.”

Major Trafford said: “We crammed in a lot over six days, but it meant we had to move on quickly.

"This time we focused on section level drills rather troop or company level exercises, so it would be great to go back and do it all again in more depth and on a larger scale.”