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RFA Argus fliers ready themselves for storm rescues

15 September 2020
Aviators, medics and commandos on board RFA Argus have primed themselves to evacuate people in the Caribbean stranded by storms.

Commando Merlin helicopters of 845 Naval Air Squadron can provide a precious lifeline, dropping supplies and putting troops ashore.

But they can also rescue those cut off by in the aftermath of a hurricane smashing through island communities. 

The crews of the Merlins ensured they were ready for missions ahead, lifting casualties on stretchers from the flight deck of support ship Argus, before ramping up the difficulty by combining with 47 Commando’s 539 Raiding Squadron to winch the injured to and from a moving sea boat in choppy seas.

This all takes expert control from all involved to make sure the casualty is lifted safely and is able to be tended to by medics and brought back to Argus.

Petty Officer Aircrewman Joe Gibbs said: “Timing is key for the winchman. When working with the boat, we have to take great care so as to lower them into the boat at the right moment, as the boat is moving in the swell. We achieved a number of pick-ups and drop offs of 47 Commando and the medics.”

This training is another example of the range of skills in the Argus team, which is ready react to disasters in British Overseas Territories, as well as carry out counter-narcotics missions.

Along with the Commando Merlin helicopters and personnel from 1700 Naval Air Squadron, Argus has a maritime patrol Wildcat from 815 Naval Air Squadron in her air group, adding serious clout in security and search and rescue operations.

The Wildcat has powerful sensors and can survey damage and look for casualties, but they also work closely with the Maritime Sniper Team from 42 Commando, which join the helicopter on security operations and are able to shoot the engines of drug-running ‘go-fast’ boats to bring them to a halt in the water. 

The snipers are part of a highly-skilled commando team aboard Argus’s, including the Crisis Response Troop of 24 Commando Royal Engineers able to rebuild vital infrastructure and 539 Raiding Squadron of 47 Commando Royal Marines, experts in small boat operations and beach surveys.

They ensure the safety of a landing site, but are also able to quickly bring supplies ashore and fetch the injured back to Argus, either working with the helicopters or alone from the coast. 

The small team from 47 Commando also play a key role in counter-narcotics operations alongside the 42 Commando sniper team, joining the embarked team from the US Coast Guard on boarding missions of suspect craft. 

The 42 Commando snipers provide cover while the 47 Commando marines use their experience of raiding and boarding to intercept their target and allow US Coast Guard teams to board.

Royal Marine Corporal Thomas Thornton of 47 Commando said: “There is determination and cheerfulness even when conditions are hard, and anyone who is a commando understands that.”

Captain Henry Perks, the Crisis Response Troop Commander, added: “We have to be highly adaptable compared to other units as we are always going to new, often hard, operating environments.

“There is a shared mindset amongst commandos and this helps us work together. We can endure the same tough conditions and we can push ourselves.”

The commandos recently joined Dutch marines in Curacao during a maintenance stop and hiked Mount Christoffel, the highest point on the Dutch island, with an arduous 372-metre ascent from sea level in scorching heat.

They followed that up by joining the Dutch at their base for fitness tests and a march that took them up another of the island’s mountain.

Argus has been deployed in the Caribbean since April and, as part of the Royal Navy task group in the region with HMS Medway, have stopped at the British Overseas Territories to provide reassurance and also hone their disaster relief abilities on top of counter-narcotics operations.  

There is determination and cheerfulness even when conditions are hard, and anyone who is a commando understands that.

Corporal Thomas Thornton

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