While some Royal Marines are freezing in the Arctic at 30 degrees below zero, others are learning to survive and fight in the tropical Central American jungle. As the UK’s ultimate conventional warriors, the Royal Marines are likely to be the first called upon in the event of an international crisis, wherever it occurs. They must be able to safely operate in extreme climates and terrain, as well as more typical temperate environments with rolling green countryside. For Exercise Curry Trail, Alpha Company from 40 Commando, based in Taunton, have been joined in the jungle by soldiers from 24 Commando Royal Engineers, gunners of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, based in Plymouth’s Citadel, and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Commando.
They first learnt basic skills: how to live, move and survive in the jungle. Temperatures are in the high 20s and low 30s Celsius, and in humidity that is never less than 85 per cent. Movement is on foot – the undergrowth is too thick to use the Royal Marines’ Viking and BV tracked vehicles. Instead, to get anywhere, the commandos have to hack away with machetes to cut through the thick vegetation – covering just a short distance may take hours. Having learned the basics, training progressed to jungle warfare against a determined enemy: tracking, closing and finally ‘killing’ an adversary whilst simultaneously making it as difficult as possible to be tracked and attacked themselves.
Having only earned his green beret in December after completing more than a year’s training to become a Royal Marines officer, 21-year-old Lieutenant Henry Hives found himself leading men from Alpha Company through the dense scrub. “I have really enjoyed the challenges of working in the jungle; you wouldn’t get many opportunities outside the Royal Marines to work in a place like this.” Twenty-five-year-old Franco Bent, also from Alpha Company, added: “It has been really beneficial getting to work as a company, improving our skills in a jungle environment.”
The present-day reputation of the Royal Marines is built in part on what the commandos of yesteryear – including the late Paddy Ashdown – achieved in the jungles of Borneo half a century ago. With the region taking on renewed importance for the future of the UK, 40 Commando’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard said training in the tropical climate and undergrowth of Belize was imperative. “It is essential that the UK’s commandos can operate with partners and allies in the many close tropical environments in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added. “We have a long and distinguished history of operating in the jungle and the advanced soldiering skills required to be effective will be equally important as we look to the future.”