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T’S the dark hours
Out of the
of June 6.
Overhead a bright moon etches
the shapes of the sleeping men across
the deck.
The landing craft is full with
sprawling bodies, men resting
in preparation for the morning’s
The dull glow of cigarettes is
sheltered by cupped hands, men’s
low voices rumble in distracting chat,
the reek of diesel taints the air.
Overhead the distant flicker of
aircraft lights hint at the troops about
to be dropped ashore.
H-hour is coming and right now is
just a waiting game.
As first light breaks the first of
the landing craft will hit the shore,
launching their cargo of men and
weapons into the expectant enemy.
But this isn’t 1944. And this isn’t
the Channel.
This is 2009 and the South China
The men are Alpha Company, 40
Commando. Delta Company, 40
Commando, are already in the thick
of battle. The ‘enemies’ are Charlie
Company, 40 Commando. The shore
is Brunei.
This moment hangs in the middle
of a vast push of activity.
Traditionally there is an aspect of
reverence about the dawn, the shore,
the moment of transition from night
to day, from sea to land.
Traditionally this is the realm that
the men and women of the Naval
service – the sailors, the airmen, the
marines – rule.
As the boots of the Royal Marines
plunge ashore through the foaming
waves as the dawn light breaks, as the
action of beach assault flames into
life, this moment is the crux between
months of planning and training and
the final push for home.
Four months earlier the Royal
Navy’s Taurus Task Group set out
to travel 6,500 miles to this distant
Up to 12 ships and 3,300 people
have planned, travelled, laboured to
reach this goal.
Recent months have seen training
in the river deltas of Bangladesh and
the desert shores of Saudi Arabia.
The last week in the South China
Sea has brought a deep survey ship
close to shore to recce the shallow
The previous 24 hours have seen
plans adapt as intelligence, technology
and environment have driven changes.
Marines have been briefed using maps
laid out in Ocean’s hangar with blue
and green paper-towel, gaffer-tape
and paper-plates.
The intricate clockwork of
amphibious attack has been
meticulously meshed together by
every man and woman in Taurus 09
to bring these men to H-hour.
The dawn is coming, and once
that cusp has been passed, the beach
crossed, the future holds gunfire,
jungle, riverine operations, helicopter
assault and more in Exercise
Commando Rajah.
The teeth of the cogs will continue
to grind into the future as landing
craft, ORCs, helicopters, assault
ships, marines and matelots fight,
fend and fix the complex gearwheels
of shipborne assault.
And then the heavy ships will turn
their noses towards home, gradually
shedding and scattering their cargo of
people, kit and vehicles to their next
call of duty.
This is no ordinary deployment –
it’s the first time in 12 years that such
a large task group has come this far
east to exercise, and pushing into the
Orient has opened the eyes of many
on board.
To quote the commanding officer
of 820 NAS and Ocean’s Tailored
Air Group, Cdr Jason Phillips: “India
was the really turning point for many
people. When we got to India it
really was the Narnia wardrobe,
we’d opened the door and come out
somewhere entirely different.”
New aspects have opened up to all
the participants.
The hefty assault ships (the ‘amphib
heavies’) are no seasoned veterans of
this sea with water temperatures up
to 35˚C.
For many Marines of 42
Commando this is the first time they
have trained in the jungle after the
enduring dry and high challenges of
landlocked Afghanistan.
Some airmen in Naval squadrons
have had their first experiences of
operating from ships.
Grey Merlins have turned from
their traditional submarine hunting
to become junglies carrying men and
material from assault ship into the
jungle’s heart.
Survey ship Echo has moved into
an unaccustomed task group bringing
the pre-landing force team to carry
out their stealthy assessments of the
coastline’s weaknesses.
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