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EX MAPLE ASSAULT

V(Army Cooperation) Squadron is a joint squadron which takes great pride in its Army and Royal Navy elements. Exercise MAPLE ASSAULT has become an annual event, training and testing members of the Squadron in fieldcraft and developing junior leadership through command experience.

The rehearsal on day one progressed swiftly from reaction to effective enemy fire and withdrawing from contact, to full-on section attacks. There was a broad range of experience, from those who hadn’t been in the field since basic training to the few who have deployed on the ground in Afghanistan, and this initial training day blew out the cobwebs and allowed experiences to be passed on. Whilst the riflemen practised individual skills and working as a team, the section commanders got leadership experience. By the end of this phase the sections had bonded as teams, and any early apprehensions had passed as they merrily charged through ditches of water to post grenades and assault enemy positions. Stepping up a gear the day ended with a deliberate platoon attack on farm buildings. Sgt Parker led the fire support group with the GPMG gunners into position, whilst Capt Moore took the long route round to approach from the flank. With the assaulting force still a way off, the enemy opened fire on the fire support. A five hundred-yard dash round the flank, leaping fences and ducking ditches, brought the assault teams to the walls of the farm building. With GPMG fire suppressing the enemy and keeping them cowering behind the solid brick walls, the assault teams advanced, screened by smoke. The building then shook from the blasts of grenades and rapid fire as each room was cleared in succession.

At the end of the training phase the platoon established FOB ARCHER and moved into routine. The next day saw a succession of platoon advance to contacts. The first contact came from dug-in defensive positions as the platoon patrolled across an open field. The section providing covering fire took up position in a tree line, whilst the assaulting section commenced a gruelling flanking manoeuvre through a ditch that turned out to be very long, very wet, and very deep. Gathering his men on the far side in good cover, Cpl Ratcliffe led them forward to assault the position and immediately form an all-round defence for the fire support section to return to. Cpl Swales led his men the same route round. No sooner had they caught up and reorganised the platoon than a second position opened fire from several hundred metres away. This time it was Cpl Swales’ turn to lead the  assault, using a dense hedgerow to move up close to the enemy before charging forward and securing their position on what turned out to be an enormous pile of dung. With the platoon re-org complete, the dung heap was deemed the ideal location to conduct an administrative halt whilst the command appointments changed. Moving forward down a track, the lead section came into contact from the front. With the lead section taking up fire positions, LCpl Thompson led his section from the rear round the left flank. Fighting through a ditch filled with a suspicious coloured effluent and dense overhanging undergrowth the enemy position was soon cleared. With the fire support section moving up to join them, the platoon was again engaged from the flank. LCpl Reilly moved his men up a hedgerow to assault the position with LCpl Thompson’s section giving covering fire. On this occasion the enemy moved and LCpl Reilly soon found himself pinned down in open ground. LCpl Thompson shifted his fire support position allowing LCpl Reilly to crawl through a hedge and gain cover. This allowed a swift advance and the position was cleared in clouds of smoke. Searching the dead, Sgt McManus as enemy decided that now was his chance to gain revenge and a tussle ensued before he was dispatched.

Recovering at FOB ARCHER, the platoon once again split into individual sections for the remainder of the day. The first section went forward in the afternoon to conduct a closetarget reconnaissance of a farm complex suspected of housing the local enemy base, whilst the second section prepared for a night reconnaissance of a potential ambush site. The first section gained an attachment  from the Station Photography Section, SAC  Carruthers, who took detailed photos for future plans. Following the night recce of the proposed ambush site, orders were conducted at 0300hrs for the whole platoon to conduct the ambush, with detailed night rehearsals conducted in FOB ARCHER before the long march into position. With Sgt Parker controlling the rear group, the remainder of the platoon laid up in a linear ambush to wait for the dawn. As the light grew, the figures of the enemy patrol were silhouetted by the rising sun. As they crossed the middle of the ambush position the GPMGs sang out with a sputter, tearing into the unsuspecting enemy. Soon all the enemy were destroyed, with only one survivor making a dash for safety but swiftly taken down by the cut-off group. Once the dead were searched, the platoon hastily returned to Sgt Parker, conducted admin, and returned to FOB ARCHER for breakfast.

In the afternoon the platoon took up defensive positions in and around the farm, but soon came under indirect fire. The casualties mounted and the chain of command began to break down, with Capt Moore, the platoon commander, the first to succumb. The enemy assaulted from every direction, and the platoon responded and fought off every attack. The picture grew confused as several separate battles broke out on different sides of the farm. As the ammunition supply dwindled, the defenders found themselves surrounded by pools of hot brass. Sgt Parker led the platoon through the attack, with medics tending casualties and the sections securing the perimeter. They held firm and the enemy waves subsided. Eventually the all-clear was called and permission was given to withdraw. The serial was modelled on the platoon houses established in early HERRICK operations, and this brought home the potential reality of operations to those with less experience.

Thoughts now turned to the final attack. SAC Carruthers returned with print-outs of the photographs he had taken of the enemy position the previous day. The platoon was then divided into four teams, who then pored over the images. Here their training as imagery analysts combined with their tactical acumen. Each team back-briefed the platoon on their findings about the farm complex that was to be attacked the next day. As well as highlighting findings they were encouraged to make suggestions for the attack. An accurate picture of the farm complex was assessed and the recommendations actively influenced Capt Moore and Sgt Parker in their    planning. The teams rehearsed room clearance and silent de-bussing drills before reassembling for orders. The fire support team with GPMGs would get into position overlooking the farm complex first, before the remaining three teams drove forward in Pinzgauers to assault the farm. All went to plan, with the GPMGs opening up on the enemy at the south of the position dead on H-hour, whilst the Pinzgauers sped into position. With the first team taking up a fire position in the undergrowth to the east, the two remaining teams moved fast on foot to enter the complex from the north. Delayed only by sporadic gunfire, the two assaulting teams quickly passed north to south, securing the outbuildings then stacking up ready to assault the farmhouse itself. Resistance was fierce outside the farmhouse and the teams were channelled into an enemy-killing area as they approached the entrance. Whilst the enemy covering this area were suppressed, the team which had approached from the east stacked up at the door, before moving through to clear the ground floor and open up the main front door. Another team then passed through this main door straight upstairs to assault the remaining enemy. In the meantime, the fire support team had abandoned their position, switched their GPMGs for rifles, and arrived in the farm complex to clear the minor buildings to the rear of the farmhouse. With this complete all that remained was for the final enemy to be removed from upstairs, a process expedited by LCpl Fenwick who secured entry to two rooms by physically taking the doors down, frames and all. When the firing had stopped and the brass cooled, the platoon reformed in all-round defence ready for any counter-attack. Only then was endex called, and the clean-up (and reattachment of doors) commenced.

The exercise was a great success. Not only did the troops practise basic fieldcraft skills, but there was also excellent development in other areas. First aid was tested, particularly in the defensive serial where casualties  stacked high. More importantly, JNCOs of both Army and RAF gained valuable command and leadership experience. Significantly, the final attack allowed the imagery analysis skills to come into play, and forced the analysts to consider how the intelligence they produced could be used by those actually conducting the assault. In all the exercise was deemed a success, with much credit going to Capt Vlietstra who masterminded the event.

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