ROYAL NAVY AMPHIBIOUS GROUP DEPLOYMENT
By Bob Morrison
In mid-February the largest Royal Navy ATG (Amphibious Task Group) to leave Britain’s shores on exercise for the best part of a decade slipped out of Plymouth Sound. It’s ultimate destination, following a transit through the Suez Canal to the Far East, was a multinational training package in the primary jungles of Brunei. Along the way secondary exercises or engagements with allies in or off Gibraltar, Spain, Malta, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were built into the programme. Battlespace joined the fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean in March to cover the CYPRUS WADER ’09 exercise phase, where 40 Commando Royal Marines plus supporting arms conducted a series of amphibious raids and landings on the Western Sovereign Base area.
The aim of the TAURUS ’09 Amphibious Task Group was “to maintain the Royal Navy’s fighting capability as well as develop the UK’s capacity to operate with key partners and allies from NATO countries and other nations, enhancing interoperability and demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the stability and security of the Mediterranean, Middle East and South East Asia”.
In exercising this ability to deploy globally, the Task Group conducted a wide range of activities, including Maritime Security Operations involving piracy deterrence, and exercising in Amphibious and Anti-Submarine Warfare. Led by the flagship HMS Bulwark, the eleven ship fleet crossed the Bay of Biscay and sailed into the Mediterranean, first visiting Gibraltar then splitting to simultaneously visit Malta and Italy, before anchoring for a few days off Cyprus to conduct what is known as a WADER exercise, where an amphibious force is put ashore by landing craft and helicopter.
Forewarned of the event by the Royal Navy and invited to join the LPH (Landing Platform Helicopter) HMS Ocean out on the Mediterranean, we grabbed a flight out of Heathrow and headed east by southeast. As we touched down on Cyprus the fleet had just arrived off the Western Sovereign Base Area and next morning we headed off to the westernmost landing beaches to do our own beach recce, coincidentally arriving just seconds after Ocean’s Squadron Reconnaissance Team’s two inflatables hit the pebbles to do their own recce on what would later turn out be the primary assault beach.
As an introduction to TAURUS ’09 and speaking from his flagship, HMS Bulwark, Commander of the UK Amphibious Task Group (COMATG) Commodore Peter Hudson stated: “Amphibious operations are extremely complex and require considerable planning and slick execution, something that the Royal Navy excels at. We seize every opportunity to keep ourselves fresh and the space, both afloat and ashore, that something like TAURUS give us, is vital. This kind of multi-discipline, joint training is particularly important for 40 Commando, who are re-sharpening their skills afloat after their recent operational tour in Afghanistan.”
Over the next three days Battlespace would get a brief insight into these skills, some sixteen years after the author first visited the island to cover CYPRUS WADER ’93 with 42 Commando. Since 1993 the ships have changed and virtually every bit of kit used on amphibious operations, other than the old faithful Commando Sea King helicopters, has been replaced. However, the principles are basically the same today as they were back then and, to a great extent, little different from those employed in the 1956 commando operation to seize the Suez Canal; which was the first time a combined amphibious and heliborne operation was launched. Indeed some of the events we would witness in the Eastern Mediterranean this year were little different from the classic re-taking of the Falkland Islands by an Amphibious Task force in 1982, though greater emphasis is usually now placed on heliborne insertion of the initial wave to secure inland of the amphibious landing beache