Softly, softly... Marines task force practise beach assault
Under cover of darkness, crack teams of Royal Marines set off in an audacious bid to restore the rule of law to a war-torn country.
Silently slipping away from the Royal Navy flagship, Devonport-based HMS Bulwark, the troops made their way to the coast in a flotilla of landing crafts.
In a deployment which – had events in Parliament last week taken a different course – could have mirrored reality, the Royal Marines launched into their Albanian Lion exercise.
The sprawling operation, which came to a close yesterday involved more than 300 members of the Royal Navy's fighting force who are part of the UK's Response Force Task Group (RFTG), which is on stand-by to react to emergencies ranging from humanitarian disaster relief to international military intervention.
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Captain Andy Atkinson, Officer Commanding Support Troop for the Assault Squadron on Bulwark, said it was fast-paced stuff.
"The first stage of the exercise is the entry into theatre and we attempted to carry this out as quickly and silently as possible through a beach landing," he said.
"Once ashore the commandos then established communications and will consider their next move for the push inland."
During the week hundreds of Royal Marines, supported by Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels as well as elements of the Army, joined the exercise.
The make-believe scenario at the heart of Albanian Lion was that an insurgent group was threatening the government of a fictional nation who the Royal Marines must defeat in order to restore stability.
In reality Albanian Lion was the first in a series of exercises making up Cougar 13.
Over four months the RFTG – comprising four warships, five supply vessels as well as the Lead Command Group of Plymouth-based 42 Commando – will undertake several exercises in the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf while also conducting counter-piracy missions.
Taking part in the first wave of the Albanian Lion assault were hundreds of Royal Marines.
In pitch black conditions with only glow sticks to guide them, the commandos kitted up with ammunition and stores on board.
Then they silently departed Bulwark in a combination of raiding craft and landing craft and headed for the shores of Albania where the operation got under way.
Exercise Albanian Lion was being played out around the Albanian city of Vlore on the Adriatic coast, and was a bilateral exercise involving the Royal Navy and Albanian armed forces.
It was the first major outing for the RFTG under Cougar 13, but had been months in the planning.
Petty Officer Chris Aspin, the operations room manager onboard Bulwark, said it was good to see the plans come together.
"Albanian Lion has finally entered the execution phase, we have entered action stations, all of the deployed ships are on high alert, and as a team we must fulfil our mission.
"The combined operations room is the nerve centre of Albanian Lion, the experts are gathered here and are advising the Marines on the ground, it is our role to ensure the operation runs smoothly and that we recover our men."
Albanian Lion ran through the week until yesterday and the RFTG now leaves for Albania heading for the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa exercising with further nations and demonstrating the UK Armed Forces' capability.