North West Army Reserve Engineers 75 Engineer Regiment recently travelled to Gibraltar for their Regimental Annual Deployment Exercise, a key part of the unit’s training programme keeping them skilled and prepared to deploy alongside their Regular counterparts on operations around the world. They reported back to us on the experience:
PHASE 1 – OPERATING IN BUILT UP AREAS, TUNNELS AND CAVES By Sapper McCully, 107 Fd Sqn
The first day of the three-day package started off by traveling from Devil’s Tower Camp, home of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, to the Buffadero Training Area. The morning was spent in the classroom, learning the theory of Operations in Built Up Areas (OBUA). After lunch, we moved to the OBUA village to look at the different types of buildings in more detail and practice a range of entry methods; ladders, climbing with grappling hooks or simply jumping through the windows! Firstly a dry run through, followed by blank firing.
Day 2 was focussed on something quite different; learning the technique of tunnel fighting through the Rock of Gibraltar. The extensive tunnel system that was mostly carved out of ‘The Rock’ by Sappers during the Second World War, provided a unique and challenging training environment which was new to all those on the exercise. Capt Heap and Sgt Jones had arrived ahead of the main body to complete a ‘Train the Trainer’ package with members of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment; this allowed us to conduct all our training ‘in house’ and at our own pace.
The technique for the tunnel clearance was for the front two men in each fire team to systematically clear either side of the tunnel using rifle mounted torches to check for booby traps or IEDs and trip wires. If contacted, the Section would immediately return fire, switch off rifle torches and then, utilising powerful ‘Dragon’ lights, move forward with speed and aggression using fire and manoeuvre to assault the enemy position, the Dragon lights dazzling and disorientating the enemy to cover the advance.
Initially the Sections learnt the techniques for a narrow tunnel where movement was restricted, requiring strict command and control and good basic skills and drills. Once shown we practised the technique before moving on to the next scenario which was encountering the enemy in a wide tunnel or cave. It was very similar to the last technique except, after being contacted, the Section would form a base line then each fire team would move up in bounds.
After lunch we were brought to a cave where no safety lights were on so that we could see what a tunnel would actually look like without any light (complete darkness). The final technique that was shown to us was how to cross an obstacle or complex tunnel junction. This technique was demonstrated to us to allow us to practice in our Sections. The rest of the day we spent practicing the two techniques in preparation for the next day’s attack.
The final day of the exercise was the confirmatory phase which started with the troops moving by vehicle to a drop off point before entering the tunnel network on foot. The plan was simple; at 0330hrs 1 Troop would clear the first two tunnel chambers, allowing 2 Troop to move through to clear the remainder of the network.
Upon entering the first chamber, 1 Troop were contacted immediately. Using the skills taught the previous day, 1 Sect cleared the first chamber, 2 Sect then pushed through and continued the clearance, allowing 2 Troop to move through them. The tunnels were extremely hot and apart from the lights from our torches, completely dark, making the clear direction we were getting from our Section Commanders all the more important.
Once cleared, we exited the tunnels and marched over ‘The Rock’ towards the village which we would attack at first light. An OP was set up to monitor the enemy activity before H-Hour. Meanwhile, each Troop conducted Battleprep.
The enemy (which looked surprisingly like members of SHQ!) put up a good fight, however, by using the systematic methods taught to us, we cleared to the edge of the village and the bunkers beyond. Each Troop took casualties which had to be extracted back up the rough terrain to the HLS where Endex was finally called.
Overall, a demanding but enjoyable few days practicing some new soldiering skills and making the most of ‘The Rock’. A great start to the annual deployment.
PHASE 2 – SAPPER 300 COMMEMORATIONS & THE FREEDOM OF GIBRALTAR By Sapper Connell, 107 Fd Sqn
From the days of William the Conqueror, with 900 years of unbroken service to the Crown, The Royal Engineers through all its forms has provided outstanding military engineering and technical support not only to the Army, but the entire British Armed Forces. On 8 October 2016 we, as members of 75 Engr Regt, commemorated 300 years as the Corps of Royal Engineers by exercising the Freedom of Gibraltar.
Early evening in Casemates Square in central Gibraltar we marched on to parade, led by the stirring music of the Band of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. To our rear, seasoned veterans of the Corps and members of the Royal Engineers Association, many of whom had settled on ‘The Rock’; as proud and as loyal in retirement as they were in service. It was a real honour to march with them all.
The Senior Inspecting Officer was Maj Gen Cripwell CBE, a Sapper himself, whose moving address to those on parade as well as the hundreds of spectators in the Square, really set the scene for why we were there and why Gibraltar was such a special place for the Corps.
To have the distinct honour to then march through the streets of the town, uniform pressed, boots polished and even a new beret shaped a few hours before, was something that made me feel extremely proud to be a Sapper with such an illustrious history behind me. An eyes right to the Mayor of Gibraltar, whose father had been a Sapper in the Second World War, was a perfect way to end the day. I know I speak for all of us, Regulars and Reservists alike, in saying that it was a very special place and time to be a Royal Engineer.
PHASE 3 – CONSTRUCTION AND REFURBISHMENT TASKS by Sapper Armstrong, 202 Fd Sqn
Part of the 16-day exercise consisted of a four-day construction and refurbishment package. For my Troop, the aim was to repair the badly decomposed roof of one of the buildings in the Buffadero Training Area OBUA village which we has assaulted through on the infantry phase the previous week. We were to strip out the existing roof that had become dangerous and reinstate it with new supports and a profile sheet roof. The sun was out and morale was high on Day 1. We spilt in to sections; a section de-roofing, another sanding down fascia boards and repainting and another section fixing batons back on to the roof spars so that the new panels could be fixed securely. With a vast amount of experience existing within the Troop from our resident Roofer, Sgt Graham, we had the utmost confidence that we would complete the task to the highest of standards. By the end of the first day we were already well ahead of schedule, having some new roof panels secured.
To our disgust, the weather had closed in on Day 2 and rain was imminent. However, being Sappers and able to adapt and overcome, we cracked on and got all the panels in place in good time, only stopping for tea and biscuits. At the end of Day 3, I can safely say this was a job well done, ready to hand the site back to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) the following day. The task gave many of us an opportunity to practice new skills and use tools that we had never used before. The roof will definitely stand the test of time.
PHASE 3 – CONSTRUCTION AND REFURBISHMENT TASKS By Sapper Richardson, 107 Fd Sqn
Meanwhile, on the top of ‘The Rock’, my Troop had by far the best job; stripping and repainting ‘Spyglass Gun’ at ‘Breakneck Battery’. One of three surviving 9.2 inch coastal guns, this massive piece of artillery was used to protect the British Overseas Territory but was decommissioned in 1953. A bit of a slow start on Day 1, but only because it took us about an hour to stop staring at the view! It commands a spectacular view across all Gibraltar, into Spain and, on a clear day, across the straits to Morocco. We reluctantly started work, scraping and painting. Only a few feet off the highest point on ‘The Rock’ the gun is often battered by wind and rain, so DIO maintains it on an annual basis. Whilst we were there, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss! Weighing in at nearly 30 tonnes, the gun took some serious painting and although rain stopped play on occasion, when the sun was out it was hard not to congratulate ourselves on being so lucky to be there!
Finishing in good time – another job well done! It’s amazing what a lick of paint can do to restore a bit of our history and after having being welcomed so much by the friendly locals, it was great to be able to give something back to maintain the heritage of Gibraltar.