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BRISTLING with guns, the offshore raiding craft smashes to
a halt in the waters off RM Turnchapel. The green berets of
539 Assault Squadron focus grim-faced on their targets. The
journalists floating in their own boats look slightly alarmed.
The small boat experts of 539 have welcomed the arrival of a new
model of their offshore raiding craft (ORC) – the somewhat uninspiringly-
named mid-console variant, but let’s call it the gunboat as that sums up
its role so much more graphically.
The existing ORCs – the troop-carrying variant – are designed with the
console (the bit where you drive the thing) at the back of the craft, with
seats for up to eight men in front. Ideal for troop-carrying but not the
ideal arrangement to provide 360˚ gunfire cover. The seats can come out,
guns can be bolted in, armour cladding can be attached. But structurally
the boat remains the same.
Now the Royal Marines of 539 ASRM are being supplied with five
bespoke gunboats – these are craft dedicated to the core of their being to
the fire-support role.
It offers far better protection to the men inside – it boasts 7.62mm
ballistic protection; it has thermal and image intensifiers in advance of
its troop-carrying sibling, and greatly improved visibility for the men at
the console.
It’s portable, can be carried on road trailers, put into the back of
a Hercules, slung under Chinooks. It’s well suited to the riverine
environments in which they patrol and operate.
It runs with a crew of seven: two coxswains, two gunners on the forward
GPMGs, three in the stern – two on the guns, and one in the middle
controlling all the fire.
In these new ORCs, the console sits in the middle, allowing the gunners
to be arrayed to cover every angle; this gunboat lives up to that title,
carrying heavy machine guns, grenade machine guns, or GPMGs.
Capt Matt Pinckney, OC Raiding Troop 539 ASRM, explained: “This
weapon system will always be firing. There is never a time where from the
angle of the craft we will be unable to fire.
“What you don’t want in a firefight is nobody firing because then
obviously the enemy will be able to get the upperhand.”
It definitely gets the job done. And as is often required by the Royal
Marines, it is versatile enough to do other jobs too.
Capt Pinckney admits: “The US have bespoke riverine craft, they don’t
have craft that try to do everything. We’re as likely to come from 30 miles
off-shore and be living in the craft off Norway as we are to be upriver in
Iraq or somewhere similar.”
Ten of the 40 ORCs will be the dedicated mid-console gunboats, split
among 539 ASRM, 10 LC Training Squadron and FPGRM.
Other changes within 539 have seen the steady growth of the beach
recce role of the Squadron Reconnaissance Unit become integrated
within the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.
● Top and left: the mid-console variant of the Offshore Raiding Craft;
right and below: the Squadron Reconnaissance Unit train in the
Plymouth area
Pictures: PO(Phot) Sean Clee and LA(Phot) Jenny Lodge
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