Royal Marines breathe fire in Wales

Royal Marines gunners and coxswains have been sharpening their ability to accurately hit ‘enemy’ targets from their fast raiding craft in rough seas as part of Exercise Dragon Fire.

539 Assault Squadron of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines and gunners of Air Defence Troop, 30 Commando IX, have spent two weeks at the Castlemartin Ranges in Pembrokeshire, unleashing fire and fury on shoreline targets on the tactical phase of the exercises. 

Using the fire support variant of the Offshore Raiding Craft (ORC), which are bristling with armaments, the marines fired on targets from the sea day and night as part of essential training.

The ORCs are powerful but small – they can reached up to 50mph and are able to carry General Purpose Machines Guns (GPMG), .50 Heavy Machine Guns (HMG) and Grenade Machine Guns (GMGs). 

Understandably for their size, they are rarely stable in any waters, let alone the choppy seas around the Welsh coast, making this the ideal test for gunners and coxswains.

“You definitely need to be aware of everything that’s coming in and understand how it will affect the craft that will in turn affect the gunners,” said Lance Corporal Jake Fonseka, coxswain, 2 Troop 539. 

“There’s been quite a lot of sea state, so when we had more junior coxswains on the craft it’s quite key to get a grip on them to ensure they understand their situational awareness and pre-empt any waves heading your way, especially when the gunners are getting the rounds down. 

“It’s very important to keep a stable firing platform. The coxswains of 539 are at a high level – most of the lads are at a pretty high level with keeping things stable.”

All the weapons on board the ORCs require highly proficient operators, able to deliver accurate fire to shore from a fast-moving craft in up to sea state three. 

This responsibility falls to Air Defence Troop in 30 Commando IX, who remain at high readiness to deploy with 539 Assault Squadron on operations across the globe.

This training, called the Small Craft Gunners’ Course, refreshes the coxswains and gunners on how to operate together, conducting basic sea to shore firing at both day and night, static and underway. 

Not many people are used to firing on boats. Not only do you have to be capable of manoeuvring a boat that can do 40 knots, but you’ve got the firepower and the troops to think about too

Sergeant Matt Goldsworthy

Many of the techniques, words of command and items of equipment are unique to ORC gunnery and demand hours of training to master. 

The opening two-week section of the course achieves an initial level of expertise, before the marines return for the tactical phase of the training. 

This incorporates a ground combat element to test control and ability to operate with friendly forces closing the target.

“Regular and frequent refreshment of competency is paramount if we are to ensure our constant readiness for operations,” said Captain Jack Denniss, Operations Officer, 539 ASRM.

Sergeant Matt Goldsworthy added:  “539 can deploy up to eight boats, dropping off boats ship-to-shore or even from land-to-land, making important trips shorter.

“We can get troops in there as fast as we can and get them out fast and safely. 

“We have a twin mount at the front of the fire support variant. We also have a single mount GPMG and a HMG at the back. 

“This can be re-rolled into two heavy weapons at the back too. 

“Not many people are used to firing on boats. Not only do you have to be capable of manoeuvring a boat that can do 40 knots, but you’ve got the firepower and the troops to think about too. 

“So situational awareness is a key thing. All these moving parts. It’s just getting a better understanding of the situations we could operate in.”