Up close: a Royal Navy night amphibious exercise with NATO partners
In this photo essay we witness an amphibious night raid conducted during the early phases of exercise Joint Warrior.
The Royal Marines have a long history of working with the Dutch marines and there is great mutual respect between two forces that frequently train together. Embarked on RFA Lyme Bay, Korps Mariniers of the 21st Raiding Squadron where delivered to the beach by Royal Marine-operated LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel).
Launched in the very early hours of the morning around 0200, 60 troops were tasked to reach an inland objective before first light. (While proving their ability to operate covertly, the pitch darkness was not conducive to photography of them going ashore!). Under fluorescent blue light, the marines muster on the vehicle deck of the RFA for final checks before being directed down the ramp into the landing craft. Inside the ‘VP’ are narrow wooden benches on each side and down the middle, with just enough space for the men and their heavy burgens and rifles. Each man is equipped with night vision goggles and only red or very dim lights are used on board.
On a signal from the marshals, the LCVP backs out of the shelter of the dock. It is a cold, moonless night with occasional hail and rain showers but fortunately, the wind has eased and the sea is much calmer than just a few hours before. The shoreline is invisible but the experienced coxswain has little difficulty driving the craft the quarter of a mile to the precise point on the beach. Just before arrival, two Royal Marines come forward to man the GPMGs, suddenly the diesels are eased back and there is a gentle crunch as the bow hits the shingle. The ramp is quickly lowered into the water and the two lines of Dutch marines file briskly off, wading ashore knee-deep before disappearing into the darkness.
This is a light raid designed to insert troops quietly take a specific objective, avoiding alerting the enemy until the last possible moment. Later in Joint Warrior much larger numbers of troops and their equipment will be delivered from HMS Albion and RFA Lyme Bay. Another amphibious task group based around HNLMS Johan de Witt is also participating.
Royal Marine beachmaster’s camp on the shores of Loch Ewe in the rain. Various support vehicles have been landed from the ship including the Hippo Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV). The small tent on the right is used for communications with the ships.
When not being used to transfer vehicles from ship to shore, mexeflotes can be used to form a small jetty that makes the movement of vehicles on and off the beach much easier. It also allows ‘feet dry’ embarkation to and from the landing craft.
The mexeflote propulsion pod can be seen in the raised position on the right.
Korps Mariniers apply camouflage cream and check their kit in the large mess area on board RFA Lyme Bay prior to the raid.
The well-dock of RFA Lyme Bay which has space for two LCVPs (or a single LCU).
The marines descend the wide stairwells and access routes to RFA Lyme Bay’s spacious vehicle deck ready to embark in the landing craft. At night illumination is provided by dim blue lights to help maintain night vision. A red light at sea normally denotes the port side of a ship so blue is used to avoid confusing other vessels.
Leaving the safety of the ship the landing craft slip out into the total darkness. The LCVP coxswains navigating using night vision goggles, radar and echo sounder.
Original video footage via NATO TV
After a successful night raid on the target inland, early in the morning, the Marines return to the beach to be taken back to the ship.
The 24-tonne LCVP Mk5 can carry around 35 fully equipped marines. The cabin roof can be detached to allow a small vehicle to be carried instead.
A marine stands guard over the landing area. Note the helmet-mount for night vision goggles.
Royal Marines quickly dismantle their beach camp, prior to loading onto the LCU ready to be returned to HMS Albion.
The 240-tonne Mk10 LCU can carry around 120 troops or a main battle tank or up to 4 heavy vehicles. With a crew of 7 they are capable of up to 14 days independent operations with a range of 600nm.
LCU approaching ‘mother’.
The flooded well deck ready to receive landing craft.
HMS Albion’s floodable dry dock capable of embarking 4 LCUs. The stern gate is closed and the landing craft had been deployed ashore when this image was taken.
The largely empty vehicle deck on board HMS Albion. Note the ramp (top left) that can be lowered to give vehicle access to and from the flight deck above.
Merlin Mk4 of 845 Naval Air Squadron lands on RFA Lyme Bay carrying Dutch Marines.
The magnificent surroundings of the North West Scottish coast make an ideal amphibious exercise area. The deep waters Loch Ewe have been used as a sheltered anchorage by naval vessels for many years and was used as an assembly point for merchant ships before sailing on the bitter Arctic Convoys to Russia during WWII.