Royal Marine engineers test amphibious support skills

A squadron of Royal Marines engineers took to the shores of western Scotland recently for an exercise that tested their ability to provide support to an amphibious unit in the field.

On paper, the boat group from Plymouth’s 539 Assault Squadron should be able to deploy two hovercraft, eight ORC raiding craft/gunboats, and eight inflatable raiders with all their supporting kit and caboodle in five days.

Exercise Raging Torrent sought to put that to the test in the wilds of the Highlands.

It took the team of 13 engineers – a mix of commando vehicle mechanics and Royal Navy marine and weapon engineers – two days to reach the Kyle of Lochalsh and neighbouring Loch Kishorn in their military convoy of trucks, vehicles, a mobile workshop – a container on the back of a truck quipped with a lathe, pillar drill and various hand tools – with its own power plant, and a newly-introduced specialist crane to launch and recover the craft.

They set up camp on the shore at Kishorn, just ten miles away as the crow flies, but a two-dozen-mile trek by road thanks to the winding roads and inlets of Scotland’s west coast.

And a good thing they did because the beaches of the western Highlands proved to be troublesome for the craft.

Rather than sand, the foreshore on Loch Kishorn consists of large pebbles, stones which were sucked into the jet drive intakes – causing the ORCs, normally with a top speed of nearly 40kts, to run much more slowly; the engineers and their mobile workshop fixed the problem.

And some of the beaches and landing sites proved to be unsuitable for the hovercraft – in Royal Marines terminology, LCACs (‘el cacks’ or Landing Craft Air Cushioned) – one of which became stuck and needed rescuing.

That was a job for the new Support Vehicle Recovery and its powerful crane… except that first a line had to be connected to the hovercraft, forcing L/Cpl ‘Tuppers’ Tupman to struggle for 80 metres through knee-deep mud to attach the wire to the stranded craft. Once lifted to safety it was quickly repaired and back in the water in two hours.

After ten days in Kishorn, the team moved 50 miles down the coast to set up a second forward support base on golden sands south of Mallaig… where it was the turn of an ORC to get stuck on a particularly inaccessible part of the beach.

Thanks to permission from the landowner, removal of a stretch of fence, some skilful driving to manoeuvre a 30-tonne truck down a narrow track and on to the beach at low tide, the stricken craft was hauled to safety.

So as well as proving that 539’s boat troop could deploy to a remote location with its mobile support team and vehicles at short notice, the grandly-titled Exercise Raging Torrent also proved that the Support Vehicle Recovery does exactly what was expected of it.

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