Lynx of the Commando Helicopter Force spent a week unleashing firepower when they joined HMS York and the RAF on the remote ranges of Cape Wrath.
Three helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron from Yeovilton took part in the exercise, providing spotters to direct the gunfire of the destroyer as well as letting loose with their own machine-guns.
WITH tracer streaking across the clear night sky the aerial gunners of 847 Naval Air Squadron test their marksmanship.
Three Lynx and 40 supporting personnel decamped from their usual home in Somerset to the northwestern tip of Scotland to hone their gunnery and spotting skills with a tour of duty in Afghanistan looming – and help the guns of the Fleet and RAF flex their muscles.
By day the squadron – one of three front-line units in the Commando Helicopter Force – helped direct the fire of HMS York’s main 4.5in gun on to the range at Cape Wrath and practised their own marksmanship with the green and grey Lynx’s machine-gun.
When night fell, the helicopters were aloft again for more door gunning (the 7.62mm general purpose machine gun is fitted at the side of the Lynx).
By day and night the aircrew were aided by the specialists of 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery Royal Artillery – battle-hardened spotters, observers and liaison officers who proved the value of naval gunfire support in Libya just a few months ago.
One of the Lynx Mk7s makes its way to the range in glorious spring weather
For added firepower, RAF Tornados from Lossiemouth also joined in Spring Wrath for ‘shows of force’, bolstering the close air support offered by the 847 Lynx.
It took three days to move the bulk of the equipment and most of the 40 personnel in the detachment from 847’s home at RNAS Yeovilton to the Cape Wrath – a journey of 700 miles.
Once in Scotland, the detachment, established itself around Loch Eriboll, a dozen or so miles east of Cape Wrath and once an anchorage of great battleships.
To add to the realism of the week-long training, the detachment established a helicopter landing site – basically a forward ‘airfield’ – where the Lynx were refuelled and maintained by the team of engineers and armourers, with guards posted around the clock to safeguard the site.
The forward landing site established by the squadron on the remote shores of Loch Eriboll
The engineering team was required to provide two serviceable aircraft daily for Spring Wrath – and did so.
“The squadron engineers did a fantastic job –any minor problems were remedied quickly, allowing for three aircraft available almost constantly. This is no mean feat when one considers the remoteness of our location,” said pilot Sub Lt Alex Lovell-Smith.
As for those in the air, a number of 847 personnel qualified as Naval Gunfire Support Air Observers – and an even larger number were able to hone their door gunnery skills.
“All in all this was a very successful exercise,” Sub Lt Lovell-Smith added. “At all levels, everyone had a smile on their face by the end of the week.
“It was an excellent bonding opportunity for the squadron – and also a chance to re-kindle some traditional 847 roles – namely naval gunfire support, a skill which is practised more rarely than others.
“The flying was eye-opening – most notably in the Scottish Highlands, where you constantly have to have one eye on the weather.”
HMS York lets rip with her main gun - as directed by the 847 NAS spotters
Major Nick Venn RM, 847’s Commanding Officer, said the live-fire exercise in Scotland was “a crucial milestone” for his team.
“Spring Wrath afforded the squadron an excellent opportunity to renew their proficiency in directing naval gunfire on to land targets from battlefield helicopters,” he added.
“The ability to plan and conduct Joint Fires, including controlling fast-jets, directing artillery, mortars and spotting for naval gunfire from a Lynx Mk7 is an essential capability for amphibious operations.”