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IF LOOKS could kill... And knowing Royal, they probably


could.


A fully-cammed green beret of 3 Commando Brigade puts on his best war face (well, war eyes) as the amphibious element of the Auriga 2010 deployment gets down to business. The RN’s biggest gathering of


force of the year is split into two distinct groups: carrier strike led by Ark Royal (see overleaf) and amphibious strike led by HMS Albion with HMS Ocean and RFA Lyme Bay in tow (not literally...). After crossing the Atlantic, the amphibious group mustered in Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia – just in time for July 4 celebrations.


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Some sailors and marines decided to make for Washington (a good 200 miles away) to watch Independence Day celebrations... ...those less adventurous (including


Ocean’s ship’s cat – more from him later) made for Virginia Beach (two dozen miles away).


Whether in the capital or by the coast, there were high temperatures (30˚C), fireworks and music; indeed, the Virginia waterfront was lined with bands and entertainers as the night sky was momentarily lit by a million and one flashes. Sadly, you can’t enjoy July 4 forever. Or for more than one day.


(200-plus miles) to the waters off North Carolina and the swamplands which serve as one of the principal training grounds of the US Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune.


task group, which had completed its transit from Nova Scotia. So there was the rare – and


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Also in these waters now was Ark’s


impressive – sight of a mid-ocean encounter for three of Britain’s five capital ships (only Illustrious and Bulwark weren’t present; they’re in refit).


The Kearsarge is a sort of Albion- Ocean-Ark Royal hybrid; she’s an assault ship/helicopter carrier/strike carrier. She’s going through her pre- deployment training – COMPosiTe Unit training EXercise, commonly referred to by the Septics as COMPTUEX (think of it as a ‘mega BOST’ or Joint Warrior- esque test).


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“This is the Royal Navy coming together with very many moving parts – it’s been a while since we have executed anything like this,” said Carrier Strike Group – and overall task force – commander Cdre Simon


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“However, we have the assets and we are in ideal exercise areas to be able to re-generate the know how of how to conduct operations like these.”


Like their British counterparts, US planners impose real-world scenarios on fictitious lands. We name these fabled lands after colours (Brownia, Mustardia) or we bastardise historical titles (Dragonia, Caledonia), the Americans use precious or semi-precious gems and call their playground the Treasure Coast.


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visits to Albion, Ocean and Ark Royal (one visited Ark’s sister Illustrious the last time she came across the Pond a couple of years back). Osprey is not only an impressive (some might also say ungainly) looking machine, but also adds signifi cant punch to the party.


Although it can only carry as many troops as a Junglie Sea King (two dozen), the Osprey can fl y twice as fast and twice as far.


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“To embark the Osprey to HMS Albion is a real treat,” said the a


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Auriga is intended to test the ability of a Royal Navy task force to respond to a crisis in an intense, humid environment where the enemy poses numerous threats.


So it was back to sea and a short hop


The climax of Auriga (happening right about the time Navy News was going to press) was the end of a three- week exercise with the USS Kearsarge battlegroup.


than 50 aircraft (five Harriers, 42 Sea Knights and half a dozen Seahawks), the Kearsarge carries up to 1,900 US Marines. The latter are increasingly being carried into battle by a new steed, the Osprey tilt-rotor (half helicopter, half standard propeller-driven aircraft) – as the Auriga force is discovering. The Ospreys have been moving around the force, paying inaugural


Now the Kearsarge is big (40,000 tons) – although Albion, visiting US sailors commented, has wider ‘p-ways’ (we think they mean passageways) – and she’s scarily potent. Aside from the punch of more


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“The various challenges involved have been embraced by all involved in fl ying on board.” More typical transport awaits the men of 3 Commando for most of their journeys from ship to shore: Albion’s Landing Craft Utility (big ones, capable of carrying Challenger 2 tanks); Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (smaller ones); and Sea King Mk4 of 845 and 846 NAS. And there’s quite a lot for these methods of transport to deposit in the exercise areas of North Carolina. Aside from the men, there’s a fair bit of kit: Viking armoured vehicles (up to three at a time can squeeze on an LCU); 105mm field guns (courtesy of 29 Commando Regiment RA); combat engineers; the communications/signals kit of 30 Commando IX Group.


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assault ship’s aviation offi cer, Lt Giles Bradford.


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Some of the movements, particularly in the early stages, were conducted by day.


But if you’re really going to ‘insert’ yourself on hostile soil, you’re going to have to insert by night. In Ocean’s case, more than 500 Royal Marines were carried ashore in the dark by helicopter and landing craft (some are pictured below making their way to the Mighty O’s forward lift). It was, according to the ship’s cat


(he’s a regular blogger...) “a fantastic sight that made my fur stand up with pride”.


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Ashore, the green berets found the Camp Lejeune topography and climate ‘interesting’. The terrain is rough with thick undergrowth – jungle-like in places – interspersed with wide open arid grasslands with little or no cover from the enemy or the sun...


o first class”.


Despite such an unforgiving environment, Lejeune offers training which is, in the words of Lt Col Matt Stovin-Bradford, CO of 30 Commando IX Group, “absolutely


Other elements of the brigade were busy on the ranges firing everything from small arms to the 105mm guns from Plymouth-based 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, and green- bereted combat engineers scoured the landscape for (practice) improvised explosive devices of the type commonly used by the Taleban in Afghanistan.


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