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Viking warriors show their mettle as Royal Marines blast away on the Dorset ranges
19 July 2013

The armoured punch of the Royal Marines completed their training for the Royal Navy’s key deployment of 2013 with a week of live-fire action on the Dorset ranges.

Sixteen Vikings from the Armoured Support Group will join the Cougar 13 task group as the Corps returns to its amphibious roots after a decade in the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Caroline Davies, RNAS Yeovilton

THE armoured punch of the Royal Marines have completed their training to prepare them for the Navy’s key deployment of 2013.

Vikings of the Armoured Support Group spent a week on the ranges at Lulworth in Dorset to hone their shooting skills before joining the Cougar 13 deployment.

Cougar, which begins in August, is the annual work-out for the UK’s Response Force Task Group – a combination of amphibious ships, escorts, support ships, helicopter carriers, Royal Marines and air power which is able to respond at short notice to global events should the government require it.

All 16 Vikings will be joining the deployment, operating from RFA Mounts Bay for the duration of the autumn-long deployment by the UK’s Response Force Task Group which sails for exercises in the Mediterranean next month.

The Royal Marines have operated the vehicles since 2005 and spent four years in Afghanistan supporting the Allied mission there.

But with the Corps having finished its duties in Helmand – 40 Commando were the last to deploy to the country and returned this spring – the emphasis is back on the Royal Marines’ traditional business: amphibious warfare.

And the Viking warriors, based at RNAS Yeovilton, are keen to show to their fellow green berets what their remarkable armoured vehicle can do.

“Anywhere the brigade goes now, Viking goes,” said Maj Rob Simmons, Officer Commanding Armoured Support Group RM.

“I want as many Royal Marines as possible to experience Viking during Cougar, to spread the word, to show the Corps what it can do. It gives us so much. It’s fast, it’s mobile, it gives 3 Commando Brigade so much more. It’s a true battle winner.”

The Viking is an all-terrain armoured vehicle which gives its two-strong crew in the forward compartment and the eight marines in the rear much greater protection than the long-serving BVs used by the Corps.

It’s fully amphibious – it crosses rivers, streams, lakes and can power through the sea at up to 5kts; the grooves on its caterpillar tracks act rather like the wheel of a paddle steamer.

There is nothing like it in the British military’s inventory.

“It is a fantastic bit of kit,” said Capt Stu Mitchell, Officer in Charge 1 Troop, Armoured Support Group RM. “Snow, sand, gradients of 45 degrees, gaps 1.8 metres wide, ledges 80 centimetres high – Viking can deal with all of them. It’s almost impossible to get stuck in one.”

For the live firing training, Viking commanders – standing in the turret and manning the 7.62mm machine-gun – have been pouring lead into targets at Five Tips Range, with the driver (known as an operator) not merely steers the vehicle, he reports targets and the fall of shot from the gun.

The range is equipped with various ‘pop up’ targets to simulate gun positions, and also has a vehicle moving on a track for gunners to practise the more difficult manoeuvre of striking an enemy on the move. If the gunnery is accurate, the targets are knocked down – rather like a game at a fairground stall.

Viking can engage the foe at 1,800 metres (just over a mile), but for accuracy gunners prefer to close to within 800 metres (about half a mile).

It is not a tank – it wouldn’t dare engage enemy armour. But it does provide much improved armoured support and protection for the commandos over the older BV tracked vehicles used by the Corps.

“First and foremost we’re commandos – we understand what the lads are doing on the ground, we know what they’re going through because we’ve been their ourselves,” said Viking operator Mne Blair Monaghan.

“It’s important to tell the guys in the back what is going on. There’s nothing worse than the guns going off when you’re in the back and not being told about the situation. You want to know why.”

The group is taking the original Mk1 Vikings with it on Cougar. The rest of the fleet – 99 vehicles – are in Sweden right now undergoing a £37m revamp to give them additional firepower, armour and protection.