Rookie sailors at HMS Raleigh were given the rare treat of a ride in a hovercraft as the Royal Marines and HMS Ocean stepped in to help their final training exercise.
Britain’s biggest warship and the amphibious experts of 539 Assault Squadron made themselves available to 60 civilians-turned-sailors as the three-day Exercise Bright Diamond, the culmination of the rookies’ training, reached its climax.
Pictures: Dave Sherfield, HMS Raleigh
MAKING its way up past HMS Brecon on the River Lynher on a beautiful spring morn, this is a Royal Marines hovercraft of 539 Assault Squadron.
Inside the small craft are not battle-hardened green berets, however, but rookie sailors who’ve spent just two months in the Senior Service.
The specialist squadron, based just across Plymouth Sound at RM Turnchapel, stepped in to help new recruits complete their training – a three-day test ‘in the field’, Bright Diamond.
The trainees load their kit aboard the hovercraft
The exercise was introduced last year as part of an overhaul of the initial training which turns civvies into sailors. Bright Diamond fuses all they have learned during the ten-week training package – and puts it to the test.
The exercise is typically played out around Scraesdon Fort, a sprawling and overgrown Victorian bastion just outside the village of Antony.
But with Scraesdon unavailable and another of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ frequently used by Raleigh, the clifftop Tregantle Fort, otherwise engaged, Plan C was needed.
So after spending a night as the ship’s company of Brecon, the 60 trainees were sent ashore by hovercraft to set up a Forward Operating Base at Bull Point – normally used for disaster relief training by Her Majesty’s Ships.
Are we there yet?
Ordinarily, hovercraft are the domain solely of Royal Marines Commandos.
Capable of speeds of up to 33kts, the hovercraft – known in military parlance as LCACs (Landing Craft (Air Cushioned)), pronounced el-cacks – are normally used to deliver up to 16 green berets ashore in secret.
Using the naval base also brought helicopter carrier HMS Ocean into play. The Mighty O, fresh from her exploits off Libya, provided a tactical brief aboard for the trainees, who were required to provide disaster relief to the populace of the fictional town of Corvon (a contraction of Cornwall and Devon, if you hadn’t already guessed), prepare the area for other units arriving, and remain alert in view of rebel forces operating in the area.
After carrying out a variety of leadership tasks at the FOB, such as security patrols and intelligence gathering, the trainees spent the night under canvas, before returning to Brecon for the final day of their exercise.
The trainees receive a briefing on their mission from a Royal Marine aboard HMS Ocean
One group was responsible for looking after the ship, dealing with fires and floods on board. They also established headquarters on the bridge from where they could coordinate the other group by radio, who were despatched in their teams to survey the river and surrounding shoreline in inflatable boats.
“So far the feedback has been encouraging; the recruits say they have found it challenging and tiring but very enjoyable,” said Lt Tom Rooney of Raleigh’s exercise management team.
“Common highlights are the night on Brecon and the activities in the FOB and those that have experienced the hovercraft transfer described it as ‘awesome!”
The trainees set up headquarters in a run-down building at Bull Point, using grass, rocks and other detritus to create a map of the site
Although the use of Bull Point and the naval base was a temporary measure, Lt Rooney said it could be repeated.
He explained. “The positive response that we have had from the Flag Officer Sea Training, 539 and HMS Ocean has been amazing. They have helped to ensure that we now have three choices of location for this important part of the exercise enabling us to vary the scenarios and provide the best experience for the recruits.
“It is vitally important that the training the recruits receive is relevant in order to prepare them for their lives and careers in the Royal Navy. Since its introduction last May Exercise Bright Diamond has been developed further which has increased the maritime elements.
“We will continue to review and refine this exercise to ensure it meets the future requirements of the Royal Navy, but right now all that have seen it agree Exercise Bright Diamond is delivering all that is expected and more.”