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Harry’s heroes: Prince opens Royal Marines’ new £30m amphibious complex in Plymouth
2 August 2013

Prince Harry met Royal Marines and their families as he officially opened the new £30m amphibious operations complex in Devonport Naval Base.

Royal Marines Tamar brings the bulk of the Corps’ amphibious forces on to a single site at Weston Mill Lake, creating the first of the Navy’s ‘centres of specialisations’.

Prince Harry enjoys a joke with the Royal Marines’ Guard of Honour. Pictures: CPO(Phot) Rob Harding, FRPU West

PRINCE Harry was today shown the ‘beating heart’ of the Royal Navy’s amphibious warfare operations when he officially opened the Royal Marines’ new base in Plymouth.

RM Tamar at the northern end of Devonport Naval Base brings together the bulk of the commandos’ amphibious forces on a single site – and just a stone’s throw from the RN’s amphibious ships – for the first time in history.

To mark that occasion, Prince Harry – in his role as Commodore-in-Chief Small Ships and Diving – spent two hours at the £30m complex, inspecting the Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel on parade before performing the honour of officially opening Tamar (it’s actually been in operation for about ten days).

The prince takes the salute as the men of 1AGRM march past

“Having Prince Harry open Royal Marines Tamar is a great honour and serves to highlight the importance of this new bespoke amphibious base,” said Col Garth Manger, Commanding Officer of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines which oversees the new complex.

“Prince Harry’s presence on this seminal day in 1 Assault Group’s history is fantastic and gives the unit a real boost.

“As a professional soldier himself Prince Harry understood and appreciated the importance of the new centre. He has already shown a lot of interest in the RM Tamar and what it means to the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy and defence as a whole.

Col Garth Manger, 1AGRM’s CO accompanies Prince Harry across the parade ground – normally used for maintenance on the amphibious unit’s boats – with the nation's flagship, HMS Bulwark, looming in the background

“The most important people here today are the families of the troops. They see them go off every day to work or on deployment - today is for them. They can see what they do every day and get an idea of how they spend their times deployed and training.”

Around 300 Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel are based at Tamar which comprises the headquarters of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, 539 Assault Squadron RM – whose raiding craft and hovercraft fight on the front line – and 10 Training Squadron RM, which provides the Corps with specially-trained landing and raiding craft operators and commanders.

The new base at Weston Mill Lake concentrates the majority of the Royal Marines’ landing and raiding craft in a mixture of new and existing buildings and a new marina. There are also two mobile ship lifts to haul vessels out of the water for repairs and maintenance.

The new Francis Building is named after C/Sgt Michael who risked life and limb to fight fires on HMS Antelope when she was bombed in the Falklands, then evacuated the wounded from RFA Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram when they were bombed on June 8 1982. Despite the danger – one bomb landed just ten feet from F1 – the craft rescued at least 100 soldiers and soldiers.

All present and correct, sir

C/Sgt Francis’ wife Marie jointly cut the ribbon to the building, sharing the same Commando dagger with HRH.

“My husband and all our family are honoured that Prince Harry opened the building in his name. We can’t think of better person to do this,” she said.

“Michael never really spoke about his bravery in this specific incident. He was a very modest man. He just said he was trained to do such things and did what was expected of him.”

Men of 10 Training Squadron move up the Hamoaze in a RIB

The Tandy building, which is home to the assault group’s engineering support, was also dedicated. It takes its name from Mne George Tandy, coxswain of a landing craft at Gold Beach on D-Day.

He acted as the boat’s ‘human rudder’ for four hours when the steering gear broke, climbing over the stern of the craft and keeping his boot on the rudder to guide the boat and the 32 troops aboard safely on to the shores of Normandy.

Having performed the opening honours, the prince met personnel and their families such as 539 Squadron Sgt Maj Roo Bell, his wife Flo and sons Alf, ten, and Herbie, seven.

“Prince Harry was friendly and asked about the move of 539 Squadron to RM Tamar,” said Sgt Maj Bell. “His presence is very much appreciated by the Marines and certainly gained us a lot of public interest. My boys certainly loved meeting him.”

Two ORC raiding craft shepherd a large Landing Craft Utility in Plymouth Sound

WO1 Andy Cray, of the RM Tamar engineering team was introduced to HRH. He said: “It has been a brilliant day. Prince Harry asked me about the engineering in detail. He was very engaged and keenly interested – which gives us a boost.’’

Maj John Fidler, Officer Commanding 10 (Landing Craft) Training Squadron added: “It has been a fantastic day – particularly to have a royal VIP endorse us and especially a serving soldier.  This day has been ten years in the making and stresses the importance amphibious training and operations are to the Royal Navy and the defence of the UK.”

With the Royal Navy’s amphibious assault ships Albion (currently in extended readiness) and Bulwark (the UK’s flagship) towering over Tamar as they’re berthed along the same jetty and 3 Commando Brigade based a short distance away at RM Stonehouse, the new Royal Marines’ landing and raiding craft facilities complete what First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas calls “the first of the Royal Navy’s centres of specialisation”.

Landing and raiding craft head up Weston Mill Lake to the new marina built for them as part of RM Tamar

The admiral added: “Our ambition is that these new centres will provide beacons of excellence. With Devonport carrying the torch as the amphibious centre of specialisation, I am excited by the prospect of it lighting a path for the other centres.”

539 moved in a few weeks ago, making the short trip from across Plymouth Sound at Turnchapel. 10 Training Squadron made the move from Poole in late July.

In addition to the units under the Tamar umbrella, there are Royal Marines assault squadrons permanently assigned to Bulwark, Albion and Ocean, responsible for their large Landing Craft Utility (capable of carrying a Challenger 2 tank or five RM Viking armoured vehicles) and smaller Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (capable of carrying troops and smaller vehicles). And up at Instow on the north Devon coast there’s 11 Amphibious Trials and Training Squadron who assess and advise on new craft and developments.

The new centre in Devonport takes its name not just from the river, but also the Royal Navy’s base in Hong Kong for a century, from where Royal Marines’ raiding squadrons operated with distinction.