Exercise Albanian Lion
Sea King Commando Helicopters based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton have returned to the Adriatic on Exercise Albanian Lion with the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG). They previously provided the quick reaction medical support to NATO led operations in Bosnia and the Former Yugoslavia when 845 Naval Air Squadron spent over a decade flying over the region from the Croatian seaport of Split.
This time however the coast of Albania is the background for the Junglies who are supporting 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines as it refocuses on its primary role as an amphibious force. The RFTG based around the Flagship HMS Bulwark and the Helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious has sailed into Adriatic waters on the final phase of the Royal Navy’s Cougar 2012 deployment to the Mediterranean. This exercise, in the South of Albania, has seen Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) deliver the Royal Marines inland from their maritime platforms onto steep rocky hillsides and an impressive landscape for the seaborne assaults.
“It’s a little strange coming back to the Adriatic after all these years. 845 Squadron were based at Split for quite a while, said Colour Sergeant Pete Wooldridge of CHF. This exercise is proving its worth for all involved and working with the Commando Brigade and the Royal Marines and getting back to doing what we are trained to do, amphibious ops, is fantastic.”
But flying the heavily armed Marines ashore is not the only skill being practiced. 29 Commando Royal Artillery, the Brigades Gunners, are bringing their fire power to the amphibious arena with their potent and extremely accurate 105mm gun. The Sea Kings make light work of shifting these loads from Ships to the very centre of the action. The under slung loads can weight in excess of two tons, taking the aircraft up to their maximum flying weights and challenging the skills of the Junglie aircrew.
Delivering the guns is only one part of the equation. CHF’s Commando Mobile Air Operating Teams (Cdo MAOT) are providing expert support and guidance to the aircrew and Gunners as they ensure the guns are rigged for flying correctly. The Cdo MAOTs also make certain the landing sites are secure before any boots hit the ground which can make the difference between winning or losing a battle. The team is often landed ashore several days before the equipment is required ensuring the area is available and safe for friendly forces.
Petty Officer Aaron `Monty’ Byrne of the Cdo MAOT Team said: “There’s a lot to think about when choosing a landing site and load lifting with helicopters. Not only thinking about the safety of the troops and the aircrew, there’s also a very heavy Artillery gun dangling below the aircraft. Getting the job done safely and efficiently is our main objective.”
The 2 week long Exercise has brought all the amphibious and air elements for a sea borne assault together and has challenged both men and machines on some extremely difficult terrain and crowded skies.
“Commando Helicopter Force has delivered results in an impressive style which can only come from working closely with the Royal Marines and their supporting Arms. Off-loading 45 Commando RM, the lead Commando Group and sustaining all the moving pieces needed to keep a Fighting Brigade in the battle is a complex evolution but our training and experience has contributed much to the success of this exercise.” Said Lt Nathan `Tac’ Dale of the Joint Helicopter Force Contingency Headquarters.
As Exercise Albanian Lion draws to a close, CHF has also been involved with real world casualties, providing a 24/7 Medical Response to the Force and conducted clinical evacuations to hospitals in Tirana, Albania’s capital 90 miles away.
Whilst CHF has been fighting in a Sea of Desert in Afghanistan for the past 5 years they have also retained the skills and expertise from their previous experience in the Former Yugoslavia and have now firmly established their position as a world class maritime aviation force.
Photographs Crown copyright.