WEB SPECIAL - The Royal Marines

FINAL DAYS BEFORE COMBAT FOR UK ROYAL MARINES

AROUND 4,000 personnel belonging to the UK's 3 Commando Brigade RMs have been sent to the Gulf, to spearhead the campaign in southern Iraq. As reported in WARSHIPS IFR previously, 40 Commando sailed for the Middle East in the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean and other ships of the Royal Navy's Amphibious Ready Group, while 42 Commando flew to Kuwait. The Headquarters and support elements of the British commando brigade were also sent to the Gulf.

The British Type 42 destroyer HMS Liverpool keeps close company with the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in the final days before Royal Marines flew from the carrier on their mission to seize the al-Faw Peninsula in Iraq. Photo: Royal Navy.

Having spent some time in the southern Gulf on training exercises, HMS Ocean and the ARG arrived in waters off Kuwait in mid-March

"We are definitely ready and the sooner it's finished, the sooner we can get home and that's the important thing," said 40 Commando's Marine Grant Slaney, 20, as HMS Ocean arrived in the northern Gulf.

Royal Marines from 40 Commando, on urban combat exercise in Kuwait. Photo: Royal Navy.

The commando unit's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Messenger, said that he saw keeping his men at full combat pitch as a top priority.

"We are now absolutely ready to conduct offensive operations," said Lt Col Messenger at the end of last week. But, he added: "There is certainly no warmongering among my men."

As the time for 40 Commando to join the rest of the brigade approached, the unit's chaplain, Ron Martin, did the rounds aboard HMS Ocean, offering words of comfort to anyone anxious about what might lie ahead. He revealed that he had given out more than 300 silver crosses to the commandos.

"When the lads are facing the reality of putting themselves in harm's way, it obviously makes them think about the important things in life," said the chaplain. "It's not as if they're all converting en-masse, but most people have some sort of spiritual sense in them whether they believe in God or not."

The chaplain was there on the start line as 40 Commando's men received their live ammunition in the minutes before invading Iraq, offering last minute spiritual support.

He said: "It's my job to be with the lads if they need me, but I am not there to tell them that God's on their side or tell them they are fighting a holy battle."

Royal Marines from 40 Commando disembarking from a Chinook in the Kuwaiti desert. Photo: Royal Navy.

They British marines are fighting alongside the US Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is under the command of 3 Commando Brigade.

The American and British marines are very tightly integrated and the 15th MEU provides M1 heavy tanks, Harrier AV-8B strike jets and Cobra helicopter gunships that the Royal Marines will need in any battles that lie ahead. The Royal Marines were carried into combat by Sea King helicopters belonging to the UK's Commando air squadrons and US Marine Corps CH-46s and CH-53s. British Lynx attack helicopters are supplying additional firepower. The main objective of the British forces is thought to be Iraq's only major port at Basra, which is on the Shatt al Arab waterway at the top of the Gulf. Taking Basra will be essential not only to keep military supplies flowing, but also to bring in humanitarian aid. For that reason the strategically important oil terminal city and naval base at Umm Qasr, which lies between Basra and the Gulf, was the first night objective of 3 Commando Brigade and the 15th MEU. See our War on the Gulf Special Report for details of the fighting so far.

An RAF Chinook picks up Royal Marines from HMS Ocean. Photo: Royal Navy.

"Everyone is quietly confident," said Kuwait-based Royal Marines spokesman Major Tim Cook when he spoke to WARSHIPS IFR on the eve of war. "The guys have done a great deal of training and are ready to go. We do not know exactly what Saddam Hussein will do, but we are ready for anything."