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40 Commando Complete Turkish Exercise

40 Commando on Exercise Egemen
40 Commando on Exercise Egemen
40 Commando on Exercise Egemen

The culmination of the first phase of the Royal Navy’s Taurus 09 deployment was to be a huge multinational exercise on and around the coast of Turkey by the name of EGEMEN. Including 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 itself. The exercise was designed to test the task-group’s ability to influence a land-based objective.

Split across the Amphibious Task Group, with headquarters and Alpha Company onboard HMS Ocean, Charlie Company on RFA Mounts Bay and Delta Company with much of Logistics Company on RFA Lyme Bay, the whole exercise was controlled from HMS Bulwark. Lt Paul Newall RN of 40 Commando tells the story:

“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, we 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. 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. 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, and so on – that we need to sustain ourselves 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! 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 CO was on the ground in command. The whole point of sending everyone else ashore, of course, was to support operations further inland rather than limiting ourselves to the immediate coastline, so over the next few days we began to conduct patrols and expand our control of the area, looking for signs of further enemy positions and any civilians we could help. The exercise scenario was based around reassuring locals in the face of a terrorist threat so we looked to establish security and start engaging with people to find out what we could do for them. Alongside our efforts, the Turkish Marines were preparing to practice 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.

“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 in everyone’s interest to get this right, not least because a mistake would mean sailing on the wrong ship in the wrong direction. 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 deployment now takes elements of the Unit on different paths. For the majority, we sail for the UK onboard either Lyme Bay or Mounts Bay and take some well-earned Easter leave before we fly out to Brunei to begin phase two in the jungle. For Charlie Company Group with its attached ranks, they have a long trip ahead, through the Suez Canal to an exercise in Saudi Arabia before sailing on to Bangladesh and the jungles of Malaysia. The next time the Unit is together again will be in Brunei for the final multinational exercise. 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.”