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Another year at the sharp end: Royal Marines in 2023

9 January 2024
Royal Marines spent 2023 deployed across the globe at the tip of the spear of UK defence – epitomised by notable operational successes during the evacuation of Sudan and in counter-narcotics.

The hard work did not stop, either, with more than 1,000 Commandos deployed across ten nations across the Christmas period, away from families and loved ones to ensure the UK’s best interests are protected 365 24/7.

In April, at short notice, 40 Commando were dispatched to Sudan to lead a full-scale evacuation of British citizens as violence spread across the African nation.

Over five days, 2,184 people were lifted to safety from Wadi Seidna airfield just north of the capital Khartoum – setting new records for the number of evacuees transported by RAF C-130J and A-400M aircraft.

40 Commando had just returned from a notable mission to South Korea – the first Royal Marines deployment to the peninsula since the Korean War, but were recalled from Easter leave and rapidly deployed within 11 hours to Cyprus to begin planning operations in Sudan. 

“In a world already overshadowed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, we have seen instability in Sudan, the Middle East and ongoing security concerns across the maritime environment,” Commandant General Royal Marines General Gwyn Jenkins says in his end of year message to the Corps.

“Throughout all of this, Royal Marines have been front and centre, responding to these crises, delivering under the most extreme circumstances and demonstrating the highest standards of excellence.”

Royal Marines boarding teams of 42 Commando are right now, or soon to be, on patrol with HMS Lancaster and HMS Diamond in the Gulf, bolstering the UK’s security presence in the Middle East in the face of a more “volatile and contested world,” as Defence Secretary Grant Shapps stated.

Those boarding teams have also faced down smugglers and pirates on drugs interceptions, seizing more than £12m of drugs and stopping a shipment of anti-tank weapons and ballistic missile components in the Gulf alone.

In the Caribbean a 42 Commando sniper team were involved in drugs busts with HMS Dauntless, helping seize more than £200m of cocaine alongside US Coast Guard teams.

Into West African waters, a boarding team with HMS Trent worked closely with partner forces to increase their ability to counter pirates and smugglers across the Gulf of Guinea.

Elsewhere in Africa, the first Kenyan Marines are ready for operations after completing world-class training laid on by Royal Marines.

The newly-created Kenyan Marine Commando Unit will be an elite fighting force with the ability to conduct specialised amphibious operations to weaken and disrupt threats in the region, and take the fight to al-Shabaab.

A ten-strong specialist training team from 40 Commando put the KMCU – whose motto is ‘Quell the Storm’ – through 12 weeks of intensive training, like that faced by recruits at the Commando Training Centre in Devon.

Into the Indo-Pacific, Royal Marines worked with allies and partners across this vast region. Notably, Commandos deployed to South Korea and Australia to nurture flourishing bonds and work on the ability to operate seamlessly with allies and partners, while also completing vital jungle training in Brunei

Looking north to the Arctic Circle and Baltic, Commandos carried out their annual winter deployment in Norway to keep themselves razor sharp for combat in the extreme cold – honing skills in survival, the ability move across the snow and ice and, finally, fight alongside allies in one of the world’s most unforgiving environments. 

Following this up, Royal Marines headed to the Baltic Sea to take part in Sweden’s largest military drills in 25 years before heading to Estonia for Baltops – the largest annual NATO training in the region.

Commandos returned to the Baltic this month, taking part in Finland’s first major military drills as a NATO member and mastering the complex coastline near to capital Helsinki. 

There remains ongoing operations in the Mediterranean, while 45 Commando have just completed Exercise Green Dagger – which saw the Arbroath-based unit work in the High Sierras in California to conduct high altitude and advanced mountain training.

At home in the UK, Royal Marines spent more than six months training nearly 1,000 Ukrainian counterparts in the art of commando raiding and complex amphibious operations.

Specialist instructors from across the UK Commando Force passed on invaluable expertise and knowledge in how to plan and carry out raids using small boats by day and night. 

“Whether at sea or on land, in training or on operations, the Royal Marines have truly embodied the Defence purpose of protect the nation and help it prosper – and I am immensely proud of all you have achieved,” added General Jenkins.

“Behind every Marine is a network of support and strength, and I’d like to share my heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices made by those who stand by our side and allow us to focus and succeed on operations.

“To them, I send my deepest gratitude and admiration for the part they play in protecting our Nation.

“As we look ahead to our 360th year, 2024 promises to be no less exciting.

“While it’s impossible to predict exactly where the Royal Marines will find themselves, rest assured, the warfighting Commando Force and expertise of the Royal Marines will be in high demand!”

Anniversaries and ceremonial events have also punctuated the year. Namely with The Coronation of His Majesty The King – the Captain General of the Royal Marines – and the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of one of Europe’s oldest forces: the UK and Netherlands Amphibious Force (UKNLAF).

In Den Helder, the two NATO and Joint Expeditionary Force allies shared plans on ships to carry the vehicles, boats, aircraft, and weaponry of highly-trained marines – and, vitally, land them ashore wherever they’re needed.

The anniversary events also saw 100 Royal Marines win a sports tournament against Dutch counterparts.

There is also continuing work to modernise the Commando Force, which was highlighted with the announcement of the new rifle.

The Knight’s Stoner 1 (KS-1) rifle (designated L403A1) headlined a host of new kit additions for the UK Commando Forces in ‘lead strike teams’ – those responsible for raiding and amphibious operations worldwide.

More than a thousand of the new rifles have been bought from US producers Knight’s Armament Company and come with advanced optical and thermal sights as well as suppressor (silencer) systems to make Commandos harder to trace and more formidable in combat.

The new rifle, night vision goggles, tactical communications systems, battlefield vehicles and ‘survivability systems’, including new helmets, communications and suppressors which make the force more difficult to detect, are to be rolled out as the Royal Navy makes an initial investment in new kit for its elite, very high readiness fighting force, with plans for a longer-term procurement programme from 2024.

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