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Cape Wrath

Lynx live firing at Cape Wrath

Published: 19 Apr 2012

Lynx helicopters of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) spent a week unleashing their firepower when they joined HMS York and the RAF on the remote ranges of Cape Wrath. Three helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton took part in an exercise, providing spotters to direct the gunfire of the destroyer as well as letting loose with their own machine-guns. With tracer streaking across the clear night sky the aerial gunners of 847 Naval Air Squadron tested their marksmanship abilities.

It took three days to move the bulk of the equipment and most of the 40 personnel in the detachment from Somerset to Cape Wrath in Scotland – a journey of 700 miles. The aircraft and 40 supporting personnel quickly decamped and were keen to hone their gunnery and spotting skills, which will be needed when they deploy to Afghanistan in 2013, and help the guns of the Fleet and RAF flex their muscles.

The detachment established itself around Loch Eriboll, a dozen or so miles east of Cape Wrath and once an anchorage of great battleships. To add to the realism, the detachment set up a helicopter landing site – basically a forward ‘airfield’ – where the Lynx were refuelled and maintained by the team of engineers and armourers.

By day the Junglie squadron – one of three front-line units in the Commando Helicopter Force – helped direct the fire of HMS York’s main 4.5in gun on to the range at Cape Wrath and practised their own marksmanship with the green and grey Lynx’s machine-gun. When night fell, the helicopters were aloft again for more door gunning (the 7.62mm general purpose machine gun is fitted at the side of the Lynx).

The aircrew were aided by the specialists of 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery Royal Artillery – battle-hardened spotters, observers and liaison officers who proved the value of naval gunfire support in Libya just a few months earlier. For added firepower, RAF Tornados from Lossiemouth also joined in for a ‘shows of force’, bolstering the close air support offered by the 847 Lynx.

The Squadron engineering team was required to provide two serviceable aircraft daily for the Exercise.

“The engineers did a fantastic job –any minor problems were remedied quickly, allowing for three aircraft available almost constantly. This is no mean feat when one considers the remoteness of our location,” said pilot Sub Lt Alex Lovell-Smith.

As for those in the air, a number of 847 personnel qualified as Naval Gunfire Support Air Observers – and an even larger number were able to hone their door gunnery skills.

“All in all this was a very successful exercise,” Sub Lt Lovell-Smith added.

“At all levels, everyone had a smile on their face by the end of the week.

“It was an excellent bonding opportunity for the squadron – and also a chance to re-kindle some traditional 847 roles – namely naval gunfire support, a skill which is practised more rarely than others. “The flying was eye-opening – most notably in the Scottish Highlands, where you constantly have to have one eye on the weather.”


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