Twenty-one years of successful operations from the sands of Iraq to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines and exercises from the Med to the Pacific Rim are being celebrated by one of the RN’s busiest teams.
The Commander Amphibious Task Group (COMATG) is responsible for all major deployments demanding the combined forces of the Royal Marines and Royal Navy, everything from full-blooded conflict such as the assault on the Al Faw peninsula in 2003, to evacuating Britons from war-torn Lebanon and delivering aid across islands struck by the storm of the century.
With the MOD committed to continuing to run flagships/amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and Bulwark the task group commander says the force – just back from a major exercise in Oman – is in a strong position to meet the global challenges of the next decade or so.
The arrival of new carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales – not amphibious ships, but capable of providing tremendous amphibious support with their air groups – Commander Amphibious Task Group Commodore James Parkin is excited at the prospect of ‘fifth-generation commandos’ fighting alongside ‘fifth-generation jets’.
“The ability to fuse the world’s most advanced aircraft with one of the world’s elite fighting forces, and command it from a Task Group that will soon include the newly-named Type 26 Global Combat Ships is a prospect as reassuring to our allies as it is ominous to our adversaries.
“I am hugely proud to command COMATG on its 21st anniversary and look forward to more exciting times ahead.”
The staff works hand and glove with its sister headquarters – 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines – both located at Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth.
Together the two headquarters command a potent mix of ships, initially led by HMS Fearless, today by HMS Albion or Bulwark, landing craft, helicopters and commandos that can be used for whatever mission No.10 deems necessary.
It’s the second highest-ranking seagoing command in the 21st Century Royal Navy alongside the Commander UK Carrier Strike Group; only the Commander UK Maritime Force, Rear Admiral Jerry Kyd – in charge of all surface forces – is more senior at sea.
The organisation was formed on the first day of December 1997 under Commodore Paul Stone, charged with being the UK’s specialists in what is regarded as the most difficult and complex art of war given the myriad of moving parts.
Since formation the group has been involved (inter alia) in:
-- Saif Sareea 2 (huge exercise in Oman, 2001)
-- Operation Veritas (war against the Taleban, 2001)
-- Operation Telic (war against Saddam Hussein, 2003)
-- Operation Vela (West Africa, 2006)
-- Operation Highbrow (evacuation from Lebanon, 2006)
-- Taurus deployment (Far East, 2009)
-- Operation Ellamy (Civil war in Libya 2011)
-- Operation Patwin (relief mission in the Philippines, 2013)
-- Operation Weald (migrant rescue/people trafficking in the Mediterranean, 2015)
-- A succession of Cougar amphibious deployments (2011, 12, 13, 14 and 15) until they were renamed JEF(M) (Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime)) in 2016
-- Command of Combined Task Force 50 (US carrier battle group in the Middle East, 2017)
-- Saif Sareea 3 (largest UK-Omani exercise since 2001)
Such an operationally focussed and varied pattern of deployments is matched by the make-up of their staff.
The staff draws upon personnel from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and RAF – both regulars and reservists, plus officers from Canada, Australia, France and the Netherlands.
“COMATG has a great reputation in the Navy,” said Lieutenant Robert Perren. “Both as a Royal Marine and now as a Royal Navy Reservist, it was always somewhere I wanted to work as you are guaranteed to get away on interesting deployments and operations.”