The first phase of the Royal Navy’s giant TAURUS 09 deployment has culminated in a huge multi-national exercise off the coast of Turkey in which Royal Marines practised their amphibious assault capabilities.
Exercise Egemen also involved US troops and Dutch and Belgian troops operating from the ships Johan de Witt and Rotterdam, under the command of 40 Commando, Royal Marines.
Turkish reconnaissance operators based on HMS Argyll, helicopters from the Commando Helicopter Force, RAF Chinooks and, of course, 40 Commando and Royal Naval personnel also took part in the exercise which was designed to test the Task Group’s ability to influence a land-based objective.
Split across the Amphibious Task Group, which consists of eleven Royal Navy ships, the Marines’ headquarters and Alpha Company were onboard HMS Ocean, Charlie Company on RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Mounts Bay, and Delta Company, with much of the Logistics Company, on RFA Lyme Bay. The whole exercise was controlled from HMS Bulwark.
Speaking from his flagship HMS Bulwark as the exercise drew to an end, Commodore Peter Hudson, Commander UK Amphibious Task Group, said:
“The main objective of the first phase of this deployment was to exercise the UK’s Amphibious Task Group in a testing, challenging multi-threat environment – for both the ships and the Royal Marines.
“In completing Exercise Egemen with our US, Dutch and Turkish partners we have fully achieved this, enabling nearly 2,500 Royal Naval personnel to hone their skills, to refine procedures and to demonstrate what a powerful capability the Amphibious Task Group can deliver. It has been a very successful period which sets the right tone of the next phase of work in the Indian Ocean.”
Lieutenant Paul Newall of 40 Commando said:
“Although there were plenty of moving parts, the aim of the exercise was straightforward: to test our capability to send ashore the entire Commando Unit and sustain it, while the ships dealt with whatever threat might come their way.”
In total, the Marines were ashore for five days with several tasks to conduct, from reconnaissance of potential enemy locations and attacking objectives, to fixing vehicles and resupplying water and food. Lieutenant Newall continued:
“The exercise brought together everything we have done so far as we waded off the landing craft with not just ourselves but also all our vehicles. It was also a test for the body because calling the terrain mountainous was a bit of an understatement and the temperature went down rapidly in the evenings.
“On the first night we had the task of clearing enemy from the beaches so we could move further inland to attack two sites that had been identified by Reconnaissance Troop and their Turkish counterparts, who had – as usual – already been ashore for several days, hiding by day and working by night to give us an idea of what the enemy were doing.
“Charlie Company landed on an unoccupied beach in the early hours and sneaked their way onto the high ground overlooking one of the objectives. They then gave fire support to 21 Company, composed of Dutch Marines and Belgian troops, as they assaulted the beach and then quickly onto the objective in the valley below Charlie Company’s position.
“At the same time, Alpha Company were attacking another target further inland, having been dropped off by helicopters. The intention was to be able to carry out raids by air and by sea/surface simultaneously, and we proved we could achieve this by quickly overwhelming both positions.”
It was then that the real work began, added Lt Newall. As the companies reorganised themselves, the ships had to begin sending ashore the rest of the unit, establishing all the support services – medical facilities, food and water supplies, equipment, vehicles, communications etc that are needed to sustain the force for any significant period of time away:
“This meant loading all the vehicles and kit from the ships onto landing craft and then driving off at the beach, hoping that the vehicles would remain dry inside,” continued Lt Newall. “Delta Company also waded into position as the reserve, ready to be sent forward. The whole process had not been tested for some time so it was quite an achievement, which we could tell from the number of high-profile visitors who wanted to come ashore themselves to take a look.”
The headquarters remained onboard HMS Ocean to control everything while the commanding officer was on the ground in command. The whole point of sending everyone else ashore was to support operations further inland rather than limiting themselves to the immediate coastline, so over the next few days the Marines began to conduct patrols and expand their control of the area, looking for signs of further enemy positions and any civilians they could help.
The exercise scenario was based around reassuring locals in the face of a terrorist threat so they looked to establish security and start engaging with people to find out what they could do for them:
“Alongside our efforts, the Turkish Marines were preparing to practise a non-combatant evacuation, which meant moving people to safety from a practice refugee camp, and we sought to provide them with protection to do so,” said Lt Newall.
“Reconnaissance Troop soon identified further enemy positions to the north and so we had to plan a second wave of attacks, which took place on the penultimate evening.
“Alpha Company were picked up by helicopters and dropped off unseen and unheard close to their objective, while Delta Company moved forward with Charlie Company in reserve.
“The Dutch/Belgian 21 Company remained behind, securing the beachhead ready for withdrawal. The Marines had soon taken the positions, with the few remaining enemy on the run and being chased down – including, it was rumoured, the Commander of the Amphibious Task Group, who wanted to see for himself what we are capable of!
“If bringing everything ashore after the initial attacks was difficult, restowing it after all our objectives were clear would prove even more of a test. Not only did we have to take everything off the beaches by a variety of means but we also had to plan ahead for the next phase of TAURUS 09, ensuring that each vehicle, Marine or piece of kit went to the correct ship, which was not necessarily the same one they left on the first day.
“It was testimony to Logistics and Command Companies’ efforts, as well as the STOM (Ship to Objective Manoeuvre) teams onboard the ships, that we were ready to depart within twelve hours of the attacks finishing.”
The TAURUS 09 Task Group now transits through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for Phase 2, which will culminate in an intense, multi-national training package in the primary jungles of Brunei. This will provide crucial training for the Royal Navy and its Royal Marines, many of whom have more recently been serving in a land environment during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Riverine training will also be conducted with the Bangladeshi Navy, the first such interaction in more than a decade.
Lt Newall added:
“Egemen was a challenge, perhaps logistically more than in combat terms, but the unit has now proven itself capable of conducting large-scale operations. Even so, everyone realises that the toughest personal challenge still lies ahead of us in the jungle.”