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Royal Marines unleash heavy weapons during Salisbury Plain battle

1 October 2019
Royal Marines unleashed their heavy weapons and armoured vehicles to assault ‘enemy’ positions during battles on Salisbury Plain.

Armed to the teeth and backed by Viking and Jackal vehicles, 45 Commando led an assault through Berrill Valley, pushing their adversary back across villages and bridges using some of their most potent anti-armour weaponry. 

Ten different pockets of resistance were routed in a day-long assault, as the commandos tackled undulated terrain and driving rain in Wiltshire, ahead of stepping off on deployments in the jungle, desert and Arctic in the next few months and into next year.

It was a chance for the heavy weapons experts, the Fire Support Group (FSG), of the Arbroath-based unit to test their machine guns, grenade machine guns and Javelin anti-tank weaponry on the battlefield.

The FSGs and X-Ray Company were transported into location using the Vikings to a site near the enemy before, with ruthless efficiency, gaining the upper hand during assaults.

With the FSG using their heavy weapons, laying down supressing fire in positions flanking enemy targets, X-Ray tested their close combat abilities, working through the valley and into the village of Imber – a settlement abandoned in 1943 to make way for training for the invasion of Europe in World War Two.

This was the fiery crescendo of the tactical phase of Exercise Blue Steel and Exercise Viking Warrior, which started with live firing, where FSGs from around 3 Commando Brigade gathered to blow off the cobwebs on the ranges.

“It’s important to shake out when we can to improve our ability to conduct those operations and avoid skill fade,” said Captain Oli Crow, Officer Commanding of 45 Commando Fire Support Groups.

“Each commando has a selection of FSGs which are a part of each close combat company and they provide the direct fire support capability to enable close combat troops to engage the enemy.

“It goes back to fighting a near peer enemy. You can expect them to have heavy armour which is a far cry from the previous decade when they haven’t.

“We have to ensure we can combat such a threat. It’s a really important aspect. We can’t predict what will happen but there are adversaries out there with high-tech equipment that matches or surpasses our own, so need to clearly know how to combat it.”

The marines cleared through woodland, hamlets and into Imber before taking back two strategically vital bridges from the enemy.

We can’t predict what will happen but there are adversaries out there with high-tech equipment that matches or surpasses our own, so need to clearly know how to combat it

Captain Oli Crow

They moved on Vikings across a 10km area, each time with the FSG providing firepower to X-Ray’s commandos before they committed to the decisive assaults.

After being on the ranges, this was about perfecting their skills and offering the chance to work alongside armoured vehicles.  

“Our role is to provide support to the troops from a nearby position. We’ll suppress a target from a distance, so we’ve got stand-off from their weapons systems and capabilities,” said anti-tank expert Marine Lewis Boateng of Zulu Company’s Fire Support Group.

“Once we’ve supplied that suppressive rate of fire that’s when the troops sweep through into positions.

“We’re due to go to the jungle in two weeks’ time. We haven’t done any anti-tanks for a while, so it’s great to blow off the cobwebs.”

Major Sam Hughes, Officer Commanding of X-Ray Company, was pleased to put his commandos through their paces.

He said: “Sitting on the range is one thing. Doing that in the wind and rain we’ve experienced this week in a tactical scenario, working with those vehicles, is huge. Hence why it’s really important to come together.

“The exercise has gone really well. It’s about recording what we’ve learnt. We’re about to go in to more traditional mountain training which is more on foot. Probably less of the heavy weapons and vehicles but that’s different skills. 

“So we will combine the training we’ve done here and the mountain training when we go to Norway in January for a three-month deployment doing Arctic training when we will have the Vikings, we will have the heavy weapons. It’s about taking forward the skills we’ve got.”

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