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Trainee Royal Marine officers made to sweat in Arran exercise

27 November 2018
Men who will lead the Royal Marines of tomorrow into battle as ‘war’ came to an idyllic Scottish island.

Arran in the Firth of Clyde was turned into a battleground for Young Officers as the ‘in the field’ element of their 60 weeks of training – nearly twice as long as that the ranks go through – drew to a close.

To make the assessment as realistic as possible, the trainee officers are given real Royal Marine assets to command and utilise: men and material.

Which is why one Merlin Mk3 – a Royal Marines troop carrier/beast of burden – and two battlefield reconnaissance Wildcats Mk1s were jinking and buzzing around Arran and Ayrshire for several days.

As the ramp of the Merlin hit the deck, its cargo of heavily-laden, well-drilled Royal Marines were out and ready to fight.

Lieutenant Rowan Duncan

The helicopters – from 845 and 847 Naval Air Squadrons – are permanently assigned to the Royal Marines as part of its aerial wing, the Commando Helicopter Force.

They decamped from their base at Yeovilton to Prestwick in Ayrshire, home of the Fleet Air Arm’s sole base north of the border, HMS Gannet.

They did so in the face of what was left of Hurricane Oscar – wind, rain, clouds – which were ideal training conditions for both the officers and the fliers/ground crew as they tested their ability to support and operate helicopters with minimal equipment a long way from home.

From Prestwick just it’s 25 miles – five minutes’ flying time – for the Wildcats and Merlins to Arran, an island is the size of Sheffield, but home to only a fraction of the steel city’s population: a little over 4,600 inhabitants.

The Wildcats used their sensors to pass on key intelligence to the Young Officers on the ground so they could plan attacks and manoeuvres around the hills and valleys of Arran.

The exercise reached its climax with an insertion of trainee officers on to a rain-soaked mountain a few kilometres from ‘enemy’ positions. The Merlin ferried in the officers, the Wildcats flanking it armed with machine-guns as protection, before providing ‘cover’ as the troops were dropped off at a landing zone.

“As the ramp of the Merlin hit the deck, its cargo of heavily-laden, well-drilled Royal Marines were out and ready to fight,” said pilot Lieutenant Rowan Duncan.

“No sooner were they done than the Commando Helicopter Force helicopters were disappearing into the drizzle, another job well done.”

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