Prince Harry ceremonially opened the Royal Navy’s newly built £30m centre of amphibious excellence in Plymouth (Friday 2nd) in front of hundreds of families and friends of Royal Marines.
HRH launched Royal Marines Tamar, the centre of operational and training units for small craft crews of landing craft, hovercraft and fast boats at HM Naval Base, Devonport, under a blue sky accompanied by HM Band Royal Marines.
The royal guest, in his role as Commodore-in-Chief Small Ships and Diving, attended a parade and VIP reception at the centre which also trains assault Marines in coastal and river landings. HRH, a fully trained Apache Attack Helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps, unveiled a plaque on the new ‘Tandy’ building (named after a D-Day hero Marine) marking the occasion after taking the parade salute and reviewing the guard and parade of RM Tamar personnel from 1 Assault Squadron.
Colonel Garth Manger, Commanding Officer of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, said: “Having Prince Harry open Royal Marines Tamar is a great honour and serves to highlight the importance of this new bespoke amphibious base. For the first time the Royal Navy will have all the amphibious elements together in one place ensuring that we deliver real operational capability in a cost effective and professional manner. Prince Harry’s presence on this seminal day in 1 Assault Group Royal Marines’ 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,’’ said Colonel Manger..
He added: “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.
One of the new training buildings officially named the Francis Building is named after a Royal Marines Colour Sergeant Michael Francis for his bravery during the Falklands Conflict. Colonel Manger said: “We are very pleased Prince Harry agreed to unveil the name plaque for this building and it is fitting that Colour Sgt Francis’s family are here today for this event, although Francis himself cannot. His family are also honoured that his exploits are being recognised in a high profile way.’’
CSgt Francis wife Marie, of Suffolk, attended with her daughter and grandchildren. She jointly cut the ribbon to the building sharing the same Commando dagger with HRH. She said: “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.’’
Mrs Francis added HRH was easy to talk to and friendly and added: “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.’’
539 Squadron Sergeant Major Roo Bell and his family, wife Flo and sons Alf, 10, and Herbie, 7, met HRH at the event reception. He said: “Prince Harry was friendly and asked about the move of 539 Squadron to RM Tamar. His presence is very much appreciated by the Marines and certainly gained us a lot of public interest. My boys certainly loved meeting him.’’
Alf said: “He (Prince Harry) asked me if we were going to join the Marines and if we were proud of our dad.’’
Warrant Officer (1) 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.’’
WO Cray, on the engineering design project team for RM Tamar and said the new site now meant a more focused emphasis on the amphibious ship side of operations and training.
Major John Fidler, Officer Commanding Ten Landing Craft Squadron (formerly Poole-based) introduced his staff to HRH. He said: “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.’’
RM Tamar comprises the HQ of two units which have co-located 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines and 10
(Landing Craft) Training Squadron Royal Marines (formerly of Poole), provides waterfront training rooms, marina, jetty, huge maintenance/engineering sheds and workshops, ship lift and slipway. The facility was delivered by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO in partnership with Debut Services (South West) Ltd.
RM Tamar provides vital support for Royal Marines preparing for operations worldwide and for amphibious training and locates the units for the first time in one place next to their headquarters unit 1 Assault Group Royal Marines and alongside the berths for amphibious ships HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and HMS Ocean. It houses 300 military personnel (plus up to 132 throughout the year on courses).
1 Assault Group Royal Marines (1 AGRM) is the lead for amphibious warfare and Royal Navy board and search training. The group is tasked with training and developing core amphibious and surface assault skills and equipment, including the provision of operational support for the Ministry of Defence. The Group is responsible for 4 subordinate units which deliver the vast spectrum of training and operations required in delivering amphibious and surface assault capability of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.
Under 1 AGRM comes10 Landing Craft Training Squadron which delivers trained landing craftsmen training as well as small boats, engineering and assault navigation training. And 11 Amphibious Trials and Training Squadron in Instow, North Devon deliver training that covers the area between the craft and the beachhead. The Instow squadron also conducts the trials and testing of future crafts.
The Royal Navy School of Board and Search at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint trains both individuals and ship’s boarding teams to conduct the full range of boarding operations that is required by the Naval Service.
In addition, 1AGRM is also tasked with parenting the Assault Squadrons of the Royal Marines (ASRMs) and their Landing Craft detachments which are assigned to the amphibious assault ships. These ASRMs provide the landing craft and therefore the fighting capability for the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Capital Ships, HMS Ocean and the Albion Class Landing Platform Docks.
HRH unveiled a plaque on Tandy Building, one of the huge engineering buildings. This is named after Marine (Acting Temporary Corporal) George Ernest Tandy, who received the Distinguished Service Medal for the following WW2 D-Day Landings action:
Of the many individual exploits of the men in the assault craft the performance of Corporal George Tandy, coxswain of L.C.A. 786, and at the time he was only 19, is special. His part in the invasion was to act for four hours as a ‘human rudder’. While his landing craft was being lowered from its parent ship in a heavy sea, its steering wheel got carried away. There were 32 soldiers in the craft. It was the sacred duty of the crew to land them and in such a sea there was only one way to do it. So, slipping over the stern, George Tandy stood with one foot on the rudder guard and guided the rudder with the other. The beach was seven miles away; but Tandy stuck to his self-appointed task and, steering his craft through a forest of mines, brought her under fire into the beach and landed his troops punctually at the precise spot. Having taken his chance and kept his time, the Marine corporal turned his craft and, acting again as a human rudder, made the seven mile run back to his parent ship, this time against wind and sea. Numb and bruised, but still game, still protesting that he had done no more than his comrades would have done, he was carried much against his will to the sick bay.
HRH named Francis Building, the training block, after Colour Sergeant Michael James Francis, Royal Marines, Distinguished Service Medal for the following Falklands Conflict actions: Colour Sergeant Francis, coxswain of landing craft F1, was working in the vicinity of HMS Antelope when her unexploded bomb detonated, resulting in an immediate fire which caused her crew, already at emergency stations, to be ordered to abandon ship. Colour Sergeant Francis took his craft in to help with the close range fire fighting before being ordered to withdraw because of the considerable danger to his craft. In a later incident on 8th June he put his craft alongside RFA Sir Galahad to start offloading troops to Fitzroy. Whilst alongside there was a sudden and completely unexpected bombing raid on the vessel and her sister ship RFA Sir Tristram by four enemy aircraft. RFA Sir Galahad was hit centrally, immediately bursting into flames and billowing black smoke. One bomb fell within 10 feet of LCU F1. Despite the possibility of a second raid (which developed later), Colour Sergeant Francis stayed alongside and took off a craft load of about 100 survivors, including many very badly wounded. After landing this load Colour Sergeant Francis returned to the area of RFA
Sir Galahad, by now an inferno, took off the few remaining survivors, helped RFA Sir Galahad’s life rafts into the shore, and then checked the rest of the area and other life rafts for further survivors. These are two separate actions of calm and selfless bravery, one in the presence of the enemy.