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THE pale light of the lamps in the
The helicopter carrier, says her CO Capt Simon
loading dock gives the men a blue
Kings, has been “on the go” since last May – when Vik
she was still in the depths of refi t in Devonport. ‘pr
AFTER scattering acrAFA oss the western and central Mediterranean,
Since then she’s emerged from that revamp, res
They check ammunition belts, inspect their rifl es,
the ships of the Royal Navy’tht s fl agship deployment of the year worked up, passed operational sea training then
check their kit one last time, smear camoufl age
– T– aurus 09 – gathered en masse for the fi rst time off Cyprus’
deployed almost immediately. nu
paint on their faces. Mixed with the sweat running
southern coast to practise the art of moving men and material
“The ship’s not done amphibious operations in tro
down their brows it glistens.
more than two years – there are a lot of people –
Refl ective tape and glow sticks fi xed to the back from ship to shore. Richard Hargreaves reports.
aboard who have no amphibious experience,” Capt ho
of the men’s uniforms catch the light and glimmer.
Kings explains (his ship’s last deployment before ‘up
Red and green navigation lights on the offshore
refi t was chasing drug runners, not moving marines
raiding craft and a couple of commandos wearing
from ship to shore). ful
luminous yellow jackets provide the only colour in
“We’ve followed a simple plan: crawl, walk, run. of
this otherwise monochrome world. a slight bump. More throttle to the engine. The craft The landing craft draw back and disappear into
Start slowly, then work your way up. It’s a long Sim
The waters of Akrotiri Bay lap gently up the ramp glides forward slightly. Another bump. Whirr. Clank. the blackness. Shadowy fi gures move steadily up
process, but it works much better in the end.” ev
in the loading dock. The drivers of the offshore The landing ramp is down. the incline before merging with the night.
Crawl-walk-run neatly sums up the opening su
raiding craft throttle their engines, spewing an acrid The commandos leave the boat in rather more Cyprus Wader has begun – and with it the RN’s
stages of Taurus. There are major amphibious rea
black smoke, before reversing into the night. haste than when they clambered aboard. Some run fl agship deployment of 2009 has kicked off in
exercises planned with the Saudis, in Bangladesh,
As they pull out, landing craft nudge into the dock, into the water, some jump – and fi nd the bay rather earnest.
on the Malay peninsula and in Brunei before the pu
their exhaust fumes leaving a milky mist which sits deeper than expected. A couple stumble.
fi nal ships in the group return to the UK in August.
on the water of the loading bay. All quickly cross the beach – a rather grandiose
Arrayed left to right looking across Akrotiri Bay
from the small port which is home to the RN
But with the task force mustered for the fi rst time
The commandos fi le aboard. Radio antennae name for a very narrow strip of sand at the bottom
Cyprus Squadron are HMS Ocean, RFAs Mounts
it’s time to choreograph the most diffi cult of naval mi
stick out of the back packs of some, from others of a rocky slope, pockmarked with craters and
Bay and Fort Austin, force fl agship HMS Bulwark
– and military – operations: assault from the sea on
huge bolt cutters to prise through chain fence. dissected by ravines.
and tanker RFA Wave Ruler. Moving in between
to foreign shores.
The craft edge slowly out of the dock. The The monotonous, throbbing sound of motors
them – a very rare sight on the surface – hunter-
The basics of amphibious operations are simple:
pale light through the small windows fades to be announces the approach of yet more landing craft.
killer submarine HMS Talent. (Lyme Bay is also
put the right men with the right kit in the right place
replaced by a three-quarters moon and the stars on Indistinct dark shapes begin to move out of the
part of the force but bad weather meant she was
at the right time – then sustain them as they push
a crystal. darkness, bringing Charlie Company, 40 Commando
a couple of days behind, while escorting frigates
There’s little banter, little talk, and the only ashore.
HMS Argyll and Somerset were, temporarily,
“Everyone likes seeing the task group formed out
artifi cial light is provided by the dull red glow of a A quad bike with stretchers fi xed to the trailer
doing their own thing.)
here, getting all the moving parts into place,” says
landing craft crewman’s cigarette. wades into the water then up the hill. There’s the
It’s a while since the Royal Navy ‘did this’ –
Mounts Bay’s CO Capt Kevin Rimell.
There is just the drone of the engine for a good 15 unmistakeable outline of a Javelin anti-tank missile
certainly on these shores. There’s been a lot of
“We do a lot of training around the UK but it is
minutes until it cuts out, then revs up again. There’s launcher strapped to a bootneck’s back.
work amid the fjords of Norway, some exercising
important that we work somewhere different.”
in Africa, quite a bit around Blighty, but sending an
Mounts Bay has taken part in her fair share of
amphibious group to Cyprus and beyond, well you
amphibious exercises – West Africa, South-west
have to hark back a good while.
England, the Arctic, even the waters of Brazil.
In fact, it’s a good while since anyone’s seen
There is, Capt Rimell, says “a wealth and depth of
Ocean deploy to foreign shores – a substantial
experience” among her ship’s company, but as a
overhaul kept her out of action from mid-2007 until
task force he points out, “we don’t do this as often
late last summer.
as perhaps we would like.”
● Offshore raiding
craft, a landing craft,
Mexefl ote, and Rigid
Raider buzz around
RFAs Lyme Bay
and Mounts Bay off
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