Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.
The next morning, Five Section was sent out on its reconnaissance patrol, in preparation for an ambush at Gutter Tor. This was a place I was familiar with from a previous training cycle in May, in which I had spent three hours in the driving hail and rain waiting for an enemy that I was later to discover had been safely tucked up in bed back in camp at Lympstone.
This time the ambush was a lot swifter and fluid; a fast insertion, completion of tasking, and extraction back to the patrol harbour.
The following morning we had a Merlin HC3 helicopter pick us up; a fantastic experience. Standing behind the exhaust was the first time I had been warm in days. We were flown to Tregantle Fort near Plymouth where we RV’d with 1 Troop. It was a secure location and the troops got a hot wet (brew) and some much needed rest. That is except for 6 Section, who were tasked with a reconnaissance of Scraesdon Fort for the final deliberate attack named ‘Final Thrust’.
Anticipation of the battle
There was no let-up in the weather but in some ways this was a good thing as it masked the sound of our movement, and allowed us to move in more stealthily. The reconnaissance went well and we gathered all the appropriate information and made our way back to the secure harbour location.
On our return the preparations for the final assault began apace. This was to be the culmination of all the field exercises throughout the course and my training. Orders were given, ammunition distributed, communications checked and weapons oiled.
Our route took us over muddy, water-logged ground and required the crossing of numerous barbed wire obstructions in order for us to remain in dead ground.
The final leg included a rope climb in the dark, utilising our newly acquired vertical assault skills. At the top of the climb we were forced to squeeze through a small tunnel to access the dark underground passages of the fort. In complete silence we inched our way up to the final set of stairs ready to begin the assault. Stacked up, all thoughts of the exhaustion and cold of being in the field had dissipated and we waited in the darkness like fighting dogs waiting to strike. The anticipation of the battle to come was strangely exciting and just as the sun began to rise, the attack was initiated.
Following the brief given, my fire team provided fire support and casualty extraction, being called to rooms to move ‘casualties’ to safety. During the casualty extraction we made use of the infamous fireman’s carry and basha stretchers – hoofing (great), but a truly hard slog.
The dynamic then shifted and we were rotated into an assaulting role, relieving one of the other fire teams. We moved into a wooded area of the fort methodically clearing the enemy from each building. At one point an enemy was firing from a tiny room no bigger than a couple of square metres. Assaulting it safely would be difficult, so it was decided to throw a (practice) grenade in.
The noise from the explosion was accompanied with some choice expletives from the staff manning the attack position. It got the job done and after what seemed like minutes the two-hour long final assault finally drew to a close with those cherished words, “End Ex”.