French and British army units prepare for assault on Woodbridge – as part of joint training exercise
As the sun beamed down on Suffolk today Wattisham Flying Station hosted a combined British and French military force going through its final preparations for an audacious night-time raid – on Woodbridge.
Later this week they will be operating under the cover of darkness again, parachuting into Thetford to assault key enemy positions.
But rather than quelling a sudden rebellious uprising both missions will be training exercises designed to demonstrate Franco-British military co-operation.
The scenarios are part of Exercise Eagles Amarante which involves around 1,600 soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade and 11e Brigade Parachutiste, with the force built around 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment and 1er Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes.
As the troops geared up for their raids, using Wattisham as a forward mounting base, vehicles from both forces were lined up and prepared for the operation, including Apache attack helicopters from the Army Air Corps and Gazelle helicopters from the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre.
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Explaining the force’s preparations for the scenario tonight, which is centred on Rock Barracks in Woodbridge, Major Chris Prior, second-in-command of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, said troops were going through final rehearsals for the raid.
“Today is what we call battle prep, it’s essentially getting ready for the mission,” he said. “We’ve got helicopters involved in the mission, we’ve got to practice getting on and off the helicopters which is pretty mundane but its really important we get that right.”
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The scenario in Woodbridge involves a squad of Royal Engineers which have gone missing while training with a foreign army. The combined British and French force is being sent in to find them.
Maj Prior added: “There’s also some enemy on the ground which we’re going to have to deal with as well, it’s never straightforward.
“We fly in tonight and that all happens under the cover of darkness. It should be quite exciting.”
Both army’s brigades provide rapid reaction forces and form the Interim Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, ready to deploy at short notice anywhere in the world.
Maj Prior said the British forces could learn a lot from working with the French.
“They’re a fantastic army who have a lot of experience in Africa, especially the French airborne have a lot of experience of operational jumping.
“It’s great fun to exercise with the French, we learn a lot from each other and there’s a very real possibility we could be working with each other in the future.”
Major Stephan Cognon, chief of staff of 1er Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, added the purpose of the joint working was “to improve all skills from the top decision level to the paratroopers to enhance all capabilities”.
On the mission last night he added: “We have one company in support and the French pathfinders will be the first deployed on the ground in order to link up with the British regiment and fulfil the mission.”