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Royal Marines’ role in Australian exercise ends with night and dawn assaults

Men of 40 Commando are packed in an Australian landing craft ready for the dawn raid at Forrest Beach
2 August 2021
A dawn beach assault and attack on a coastal town brought the curtain down on Royal Marines’ involvement in Australia’s biggest military exercise.

Bravo Company, 40 Commando, ‘fought’ alongside comrades from the host nation, plus the USA and Japan on the northern Queensland coast as Exercise Talisman Sabre reached its climax.


Few workouts around the globe match the exercise either in scale or scope as it involves air, sea and ground forces dispersed across a vast area.


The Norton Manor-based marines took part in the 2019 exercise and once again accepted the invite as part of a wider package of training in Australia.


Covid restrictions limited overseas boots on the ground in 2021 to 2,000 personnel, otherwise the fortnight-long exercise was impressive, extending from the Coral Sea along several hundred miles of the Queensland coast into the hinterland, and (less tangibly) into space and cyberspace.


As for firepower: tanks, F-35s, assault ships, missiles, B-52s, howitzers, gunships, bombs, cannons, mortars.


Basically non-stop heavy metal thunder, Down Under, involving 17,000 personnel from seven allied nations (Canada, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand completed the septet).


Directing some of that fire and fury were 29 Commando Regiment RA who were invited to join Australian and US Marine Corps counterparts on the ranges at Shoalwater Bay.


 It’s the task of forward observers and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers of bringing a devastating hail of iron and lead accurately down on enemy positions.


And what a selection of air and naval weaponry was at their disposal – mostly aimed at uninhabited Townshend Island.


Gunner Sam Rees, who’s attached to 40 Commando, relished the opportunity.

I was calling in the missiles and the rockets on the helicopters– I’d say it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Gunner Sam Rees, 29 Commando Regiment RA

“Training with naval gunfire – which I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to do again – was really good. I really enjoyed it,” said Sam.

“It was different from what I normally do. It was good working with the different nations out there, to see how they do things differently.

“I was calling in the missiles and the rockets on the helicopters– I’d say it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Talisman Sabre reached its climax further up the coast around the sleepy coastal village of Forrest Beach and the small town of Ingham – the subject of a combined assault by Australian, American, British and Japanese forces.

Locals watched the silhouettes of landing craft ferrying troops and kit ashore from HMAS Canberra – a sort of hybrid HMS Albion/HMS Ocean – and HMAS Choules (the former RFA Largs Bay, named after Australia’s last WW1 veteran) as the sun rose over the eastern seaboard.

Red, blue and green lights on the shore – carefully positioned by the pre-landing force – guided the craft to their disembarkation points.  

Marine Matthew Owen, who spent several weeks aboard the Canberra, was in the first assault wave.

“The landing craft were different to ours,” he said. “It was pretty deep when we got off, though back home they would probably drop us out further.” 

Once ashore, the force was expected to push ten miles inland – on foot or in armoured personnel carriers landed by the amphibious force – and capture the airfield at Ingham, to serve as an ‘air head’ for future operations.

Further down the coast at Bowen, Royal Marines accompanied Australian and Japanese soldiers in a night assault on a former coal processing plant before clearing the town’s showground of ‘enemy’ forces after US Marines had seized the local airfield, swooping in aboard Osprey tiltrotors.

The goal of Talisman Sabre is to make sure that whenever the participants are working together, they are all reading from the same playbook – probably never more important than in an amphibious assault.

Pictures courtesy of 1st Lt. Isaac Lamberth USMC and the Royal Australian Navy

“These types of skills don’t come easily, they take a lot of training to make sure that our people are highly capable,” said Australian Major General Jake Ellwood, in charge of his nation’s Deployable Joint Force Headquarters. 

“You can’t take for granted that you can just do it on the fly; it’s something that must be worked at.” 

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