The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) is Britain’s high-readiness amphibious task force, established following the 2012 SDSR. The Lead Commando Group (LCG) is drawn from 3 Commando Brigade and provides a scalable force able to deploy worldwide to meet crises.
Royal Marines launch amphibious raid on abandoned submarine base
As dawn broke over an abandoned former Cold War submarine base a series of explosions announced the arrival of the Royal Marines as they began a full scale amphibious attack. As part of Exercise Albanian Lion, the Marines landed on the shores of Sazan island and, amid a scenario based around smugglers, social unrest and the rise of terrorist groups, the Commandos attacked the hostile nation from the sea by climbing cliff faces in darkness to surprise the enemy.
The personnel of 42 Commando, based in Plymouth, and part of the Lead Commando Group (LCG), are honing their skills for contingent operations – where they must be ready to react at a moment’s notice – as part of the Royal Navy deployment named Cougar 13.
Unbeknown to the ‘smugglers’ hiding out on the Albanian island, they had been observed for the last few days by the Royal Marines Surveillance Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS).
Once a picture had been built of the enemy locations the initial dawn attack was initiated by explosions which simulated bombs dropped from RAF Hawk Jets.
Troops from J, K & M companies, 42 Commando then started the ground assault of enemy stronghold locations, storming and surprising their enemy.
The attack, which lasted eleven hours, saw the commandos clear their way through a maze of tunnels and buildings gathering information for further operations over the next few days.
Sazan Island, as well as being an old Soviet submarine base, used to be home to a chemical and biological weapons plant and there are more than 100 buildings and 5.7 square kilometres of trenches and bunkers.
The island now is uninhabited but there is a small manned naval base, used mainly to counter contraband routes between southern Italy and Albania.
During the exercise the Troops were visited by Major General Xhemal Gjunkshi, Chief of Defence of the Armed forces of the Republic of Albania and Ambassador of the UK Mr Nicholas Cannon.
They were escorted around the vast training area by Deputy Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, Colonel Kevin Oliver.
Colonel Oliver said:
“We are delighted to be here with our NATO allies for the third year running. The facilities are some of the best training areas the task group has ever used.
“We are extremely grateful for the use of their facilities and for the chance to work alongside the Albanian forces sharing experiences and operations.”
Over the subsequent 96 hours the Marines held further assaults onto positions 150km away as well as an evacuation with British embassy staff which saw British nationals safely extracted from a hostile environment.
As part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, the LCG is projected from sea by Royal Navy warships into troublespots across the globe as dictated by government.
Lieutenant David Kirk, Troop Commander of 5 Troop, K Company, led the initial assault and said:
“Moving up through the valley was pretty challenging, you’ve got a lot of kit on and the heat even at night time is considerable.”
“Our part of the attack lasted about six hours and although challenging, all our aims were achieved.
“We knew it was going to be difficult before we started so we mentally prepared ourselves beforehand and just pushed on through.”
Just to confirm, “Cougar” has nothing to do with picking up man-hungry Albanian vamps. That’s an entirely different kind of cougar.
Then again… with a run ashore… who knows?
Royal Marines gear up for Albanian Lion
The first men to arrive, predominantly from 42 Commando in Plymouth, stepped off their plane and immediately set about acclimatising to the rugged conditions and heat.
Already they have undertaken a series of river crossings, abseils and carried out mock assaults on enemy positions – all at heights ranging between 4,500 and 6,000ft.
While they train they await the arrival of the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark, as well as HMS Illustrious, and their embarked Royal Marines and elements of the Fleet Air Arm.
Once assembled in the Adriatic, off the coast of Vlore, Albania, they will work with Albania’s armed forces to put the Lead Commando Group (LCG) ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.
Albanian Lion is just the first in a series of exercises making up Cougar 13 and begins next week. The exercise offers a full RFTG/LCG run out in ideal conditions with the aim of deploying, supporting and sustaining the LCG whilst ashore.
Sergeant Chris Davies, 30, from 30 Commando Royal Marines, Plymouth said:
“This is the second time I have trained in Albania and the mixture of heat, altitude and mountainous terrain make it the ideal training environment for the Royal Marines.
“We are all rearing to go and looking forward to a high intensity, action packed few days as we undertake Albanian Lion with our colleagues from the Albanian Armed Forces.”
Cougar 13 is a long-planned deployment for the UK RFTG – the naval force formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review – which sees the Royal Navy hone its world class maritime skills thousands of miles from home through exercises with a number of key allies.
For the much-reduced Royal Navy and “austerity Britain”, this is a *BIG* deployment.
Royal Navy sails for annual ‘Cougar’ deployment
Thousands of Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel will leave the UK on Monday (12 August) for an annual deployment to the Mediterranean and Gulf region – Cougar ’13.
The long-planned deployment will see elements of the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) – the naval force formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review – hone its world class maritime skills thousands of miles from home through exercises with a number of key allies.
Four Royal Navy warships, the Lead Commando Group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of Naval Air Squadrons will be supported by five vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
This is the third time the deployment has taken place, after Cougars ’11 and ’12, with its aim to demonstrate the ability to operate a highly effective maritime force anywhere in the world to protect UK interests.
Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said:
“Since its creation under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Response Force Task Group has demonstrated its formidable strength and readiness to respond to emerging threats worldwide through a number of operations and exercises.
“This now routine and long-planned deployment will demonstrate once again its ability to operate as a rapid reaction force on behalf of the UK and, importantly, underlines the global reach and flexibility of the modern Royal Navy.”
The Task Group is able to conduct simultaneously a range of operations from deterring adversaries and maritime security to international engagement and supporting regional stability.
Its units can operate independently on discrete tasks or as a single entity.
Most importantly, it is an adaptable force that is able to work jointly with Army and Royal Air Force assets, other government agencies and partner nations when required.
After a number of planned port visits in the Mediterranean, the first major exercise for the force will be Albanian Lion, in the Adriatic.
Personnel will work with Albania’s armed forces, building on a similar exercise last year, with the goal to put the Lead Commando Group ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.
The ships will then sail through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf where the focus will transfer to the series of exercises with UK allies in the Gulf region; alongside Army and RAF units.
Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, said:
“Cougar ’13 is a bespoke opportunity to enhance the Royal Navy’s enduring core skill – the ability to operate and project power as a task group at range. In so doing, it will also remind interested domestic and international parties of the enduring utility, employability and interoperability of the Royal Navy.
“During Cougar ’13 we will engage with our partner nations through a series of exercises, reinforcing our commitment and demonstrating our contribution to security in the Mediterranean and Gulf region.”
Commodore McAlpine and his staff will command from the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark. Alongside Brigadier Stuart Birrell (Commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines) he will choreograph the efforts of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors, Royal Marine Commandos and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm personnel.
Joining Bulwark will be Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose (Plymouth) and HMS Westminster (Portsmouth) to provide escort duties, as well as undertake ongoing counter-piracy operations outside the exercise programme.
HMS Montrose is also due to reprise her role from Cougar ‘12 as the launch pad for small Royal Marines reconnaissance parties, which are sent ashore to scout the lie of the land and ‘enemy’ forces.
The Royal Marines will be embarking HMS Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Lyme Bay: the nation’s Lead Commando Group, including 42 Commando, elements of 30 Commando IX Group, and the Commando Logistics Regiment who will meet all the supply and medical needs and 16 Vikings of the Corps’ Armoured Support Group.
A number of Army Commandos from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will also deploy as part of the Lead Commando Group.
Brigadier Stuart Birrell, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said:
“Cougar ’13 provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate the capability and capacity of the Response Force Task Group and the Lead Commando Group. Operating in a wide variety of countries across the Mediterranean and Gulf region, the task group will engage in capacity building and defence engagement with a range of partner nations, in some truly outstanding exercises.
“A demanding and ambitious deployment, we will look forward to the challenges and opportunities that Cougar ’13 presents.”
RFA Fort Austin will provide stores, fuel, water, and ammunition and RFA Diligence is on hand to attend to any of the Cougar ’13 ship’s engineering requirements.
The majority of the Task Group is due home to the UK in December, although Diligence, Westminster and Montrose are due to remain east of Suez in support of the Navy’s long-standing mission in the region to keep the sea lanes safe and secure for lawful trade.