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Royal Marines take bite out of Black Alligator

21 September 2016
More than 1,000 Royal Marines and Royal Marines Reservists are feeling the desert heat once again as they take part in an annual exercise with their US counterparts and Korps Mariniers of the Netherlands.

For seven weeks the marines of Taunton-based 40 Commando are honing their war fighting skills in the sweltering temperatures of California’s Mojave Desert.

Exercise Black Alligator is played out on the US Marine Corps’ huge all-terrain exercise area near the town of Twenty-nine Palms, California – a space eight times larger than Salisbury Plain to allow unparalleled use of firepower in training.

The full range of the Royal Marines’ armoury – Viking and Jackal armoured vehicles, 105mm field guns, mortars, heavy machine-guns, Javelin anti-tank missiles and combat engineers – are also being put through their paces. 

We are not training for warfare in the desert, we are training for warfare in a challenging environment and this place is pretty challenging.

Lt Col Andy Watkins

Alongside US marines and Korps Mariniers of the Netherlands, the Commandos will take part in live firing, perfect their urban combat drill and conduct a battlegroup-sized live-fire Commando raid.

Exercise Black Alligator 16 forms part of the multi-environment training package that the Commando Group takes part in to ensure they remain at high readiness.

Next year will see the men of 40 Cdo take over the nation’s high-readiness Lead Commando Group – a contingency force able to deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice.

Commanding Officer of 40 Cdo Lt Col Andy Watkins said: “We are not training for warfare in the desert, we are training for warfare in a challenging environment and this place is pretty challenging.

“Black Alligator is an opportunity for us to deploy abroad which is essential for the Lead Commando Group to practice its expeditionary warfare capability.”

The British elite marines have also been joined by the US Marines Corps’ own troops who will bring their own artillery, engineers and battle tanks to create a large allied force.

Also taking part in Black Alligator is a selection of Royal Marines Reservists from units across the UK. The majority of Reservists have careers outside of the Corps and give up their time to support UK amphibious forces.

Mne Tim Williams, from RMR Bristol, who runs a small building company in Cardiff in his civilian life, said: “Out here the training is different, we are using a lot more assets and weapons – tanks, mortars – than we usually get exposure to.

“The main challenge of this environment is the heat. It’s not my first time in the desert but it’s the first time with a rifle, trying to keep that clear of dust.”

Exercise Black Alligator will culminate in a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX), consisting of a full-on assault of Combat Town – a two-acre site, complete with an IED alley and other realistic warfare scenarios.

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