An action-packed two-day exercise has been teaching forces personnel how to save the crew of a helicopter crashed far behind enemy lines.
Run by the wings of the Royal Marines on Dartmoor, the exercise saw more than half a dozen helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Air Force and Army Air Corps, plus ground crews, commandos and ‘enemy’ troops converging on the forbidding terrain outside Okehampton to practise the art of extracting comrades by helicopter under enemy fire.
It’s the second year running the Commando Helicopter Force, based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, has run Exercise Forlorn Hope, named after a group of soldiers dispatched or left behind on what we’d today term a "suicide mission".
Lt Col Derek Stafford, 846 Naval Air Squadron’s Commanding Officer, explained:
"It’s a big call to place more people in harms way to recover others, which is why Joint Personnel Recovery involves a healthy degree of risk managementxxx"
“The reason behind exercises such as Forlorn Hope is that commanders have a capability at their disposal to do so if required so our fighting men and women can do their jobs with one fewer concern.
“Should it go wrong, there's somebody there to get them back to safety, reassuring for the families too!”
The commandos’ new battle wagon, the big green Merlin Mk3 which is taking over from the veteran Sea King, was chosen for the rescue mission, with reconnaissance support from the latter.
Before the rescuers flew in, surveillance ‘bagger’ Sea Kings tracked the movements of opposing forces, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, while new Wildcat helicopters carried out sweeps of the pick-up area on Okehampton range, quickly identifying enemy troops closing in on the downed aircrew.
That prompted Forward Air Controllers from 847 Naval Air Squadron to direct Army Air Corps Apaches to carry out simulated air strikes (a job performed by Prince Harry in Afghanistan) before the ‘recovery package’, Merlins escorted by Wildcat, flew in to collect the stranded personnel.
The Merlins flew in a protective force of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, who found themselves engaged by the enemy (played by personnel from the Commando Helicopter Force), who were wiped out by a combination of green beret fighting spirit and aerial firepower.
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