• Si Biggs

539 ASRM - A Genesis

Updated: Mar 30

539 ASRM (Assault Squadron Royal Marines) now 539 Raiding Squadron is a unique unit, for those of us that were privileged to have served in the Squadron whether Landing Craft operators, signallers, drivers, mechanics clerks, or Royal Navy support personnel it was a family that you didn't want to leave, a small unit that knew it was special, knew it was good.


I served twice spending nearly 6 years in Turnchapel the first as a Corporal Hovercraft Commander and later as what I considered one of the best jobs for an SNCO in the Corps, as the Senior Coxswain 539 ASRM.


In 2004 I had the privilege of being in this post when we celebrated 20 years of the Unit since its formation in 1984. Honoured guests included the innovative driving force behind the concept and early development of the Squadron and quite rightly its first Officer Commanding (then Major) Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour and its first Sergeant Major Dave McDowall.


What I hadn't realised until then and more so now was how long before 1984 the Genesis of this unique and most capable of small units had been an aspiration, the testing and trails & lessons learnt, the decision making process, and politics that needed to be navigated before it became a reality.



539 ASSAULT SQUADRON ROYAL MARINES


A GENESIS

by kind permission of

Ewen Southby-Tailyour


While it is true that 539 Assault Squadron was formally established on 2nd April 1984 – appropriately, the second anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands – various naval websites (and even Wikipedia!) state that this was in direct response to lessons learned ‘down south’ in 1982. This is not correct for Operation Corporate merely confirmed what was well known and had been well practiced over the years in north Norway. As Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore’s subsequent Report of Proceedings states, in effect, No new lessons were learned but some old ones emphasised. Instead, contrary to common belief, the campaign actually delayed the formation of the squadron by two years. To understand why this was so we must go back to 1972 and the Lofoten Islands, a good ten years before Operation Corporate and even further back to acknowledge the various post-war antecedents.


During the 1950s, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines operated shore-based landing craft flotillas on, among others, the Rhine. Then, throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, the Royal Marines manned small raiding squadrons of rigid and inflatable raiding craft from shore bases in Plymouth, Singapore and Hong Kong. However, from the 1950s onwards until 539’s formation (pace the Falklands campaign) the UK amphibious force’s landing craft squadrons of LCMs and LCAs had been tied very much to their parent ships, the LST(A)s, LPDs and LPHs. This meant that if the shipping left the Amphibious Operating Area (AOA) landing craft support (maritime manoeuvre with tactical, administrative and logistic landings) was lost to the Commando Brigade.



In the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and perhaps less so in the Far East, this loss of mobility had been acceptable as the commandos moved inland but in north Norway (and, eventually, in the Falkland Islands) the problem was more acute. Fjords bisect many lines of advance and offer the only guaranteed methods of movement in winter when enemy action or avalanches can close valleys and roads while blizzards prevent flying. Without the sea lanes this loss of flexibility seriously hampered the Commando Brigade’s mobility.

Foxtrot 4 an LCM (later designated LCU) manoeuvres astern out of the flooded dock of HMS Fearless off Sardinia during a NATO Exercises, she is carrying the BARV (Beach Armed Recovery Vehicle) & Michigan with spools of Class 30 Trackway. [IWM U 102602]

There was a realistic reason why minor landing craft (MLC) were not allowed to 'play away': it was taking a long time for successive LPD and LPH commanding officers to accept that the colour-sergeant cox'ns of LCMs (later LCUs) were capable of independent command that included both ocean navigation and inshore pilotage. Understandable perhaps, but to use the MLC only in ship-to-shore, controlled (almost line-of-sight) passages was a terrible waste of experience and, of operational importance, was denying Brigade Commanders an asset they could not know would be of immense value.

Royal Marines of 45 Commando wade to the Norwegian shore from their Landing Craft Assault (LCA) during Exercise Strong Express 1972 [IWM © IWM HU 10269]

In September 1972, during exercise Strong Express in north Norway, Captain Cassels, (later Admiral Sir Simon and Second Sea Lord) of HMS Fearless, Captain Staveley (later Admiral Sir William and First Sea Lord) of HMS Albion and Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Steuart Pringle (later lieutenant-general and CGRM) the Commanding Officer of 45 Commando, were to change all that and thus set a precedent for the future.


At one stage during the exercise the Brigade Commander, Brigadier (later Major-General) Pat Ovens tasked Colonel Pringle with attacking the Italian San Marco battalion, defending the head of Reisenfjord. The NATO umpires expected a conventional, over-land assault on skis but the Colonel had other ideas which he put to the Brigade staff - so remembers the Brigade Major (later major-general) Julian Thompson. The plan was wholeheartedly supported and so, with this impetus and authority, the Colonel called on Captain Cassels in his ship’s Amphibious Operations Room (AOR).

Royal Marines in Rigid Raiding Craft prepare to make their way ashore during Exercise Strong Express 1972. An SR.N6 hovercraft passes in the background [IWM HU 102690]

As Officer Commanding Fearless’s Amphibious Detachment, (4th Assault Squadron) I was summoned to the AOR where Colonel Pringle asked the captain if he could ‘borrow’ his LCMs to attack the enemy, 50 nautical miles away, from the rear. This would involve a long night passage, a pre-dawn raid while the landing craft laid up, camouflaged, alongside the fiords’ vertical edges. This was to be followed by a post-dusk withdrawal and the 50 mile return before anyone knew how 45 had achieved such a manoeuvre. The captain’s answer was an emphatic ‘yes’ and I was told to ‘make it so’. Planning with the commando’s Operations Officer began immediately.


Because the whole of 45 Commando could not fit into two LCMs (understandably, the captain did not want to be bereft of all four) the Officer Commanding Royal Marines of HMS Albion, (9th Assault Squadron) Lieutenant (later OC 1st Raiding Squadron and, later still, Brigadier) Roger Dillon was asked to supply the LPH’s four LCAs (later designated LCVPs). Captain Staveley was equally enthusiastic and so we lashed, two each, either side of the LCMs while the ‘two ships’ then displayed the lights of fishing vessels. Despite the best efforts of the very active Norwegian coastal forces, 45 Commando was landed clandestinely across un-recced beaches (amazingly, another first) and the enemy routed: the Italians and the umpires all shouted ‘foul’ at the Post Exercise wash-up but were soon silenced!


The same happened a few nights later against a Norwegian-held fort on the island of Grytøya where we inserted a company of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, despite being aggressively-challenged by the coastal battery at Stornes. The die was cast but there was yet much water to pass beneath the Tjeldsund bridge - plus a ‘war’ - before the concept of a landing craft squadron, independent of the amphibious shipping and within 3 Commando Brigade’s order of battle, became a reality.


Over four winters between 1977 and 1981 as, first, the Second in Command and then the Commanding Officer of 45 Commando, Lieutenant-Colonel (later colonel) Roger Learoyd, ‘often made use of the amphibious fleet’s landing craft after they had been detached from their mother ships’. On handing over command the Colonel was invited to carry out a series of studies into various aspects of arctic warfare, one of which was ‘the use of detached landing craft in support of the Brigade and in particular, movement and logistic support up and down Norway ‘inside the islands’.’ Colonel Learoyd’s studies, based on his own experiences in the north, envisaged a company-sized formation, although the name ‘539’ was not mentioned.


Later in that same year, 1981, the proposal was aired during an Arctic Warfare presentation to the Army Staff College by which time ‘539 Assault Squadron’ had for the first time in public, been accepted as the working title.


So, why the number 539?

Corporal George Tandy demonstrating the position he took to steer his LCA the 7 miles into Gold beach and back © IWM A 24146

During Operation Neptune beginning on 6th June 1944, a 19 year-old acting temporary Corporal George Ernest Tandy (Ch.X.110723) was serving in 539 Assault Flotilla. On launching from the SS Empire Halberd the steering gear of his LCA number 786 was damaged yet, without hesitation, he climbed over the stern and steered the vessel with one foot on the port rudder and one on the rudder-guard. It was nine nautical miles to Gold Beach and nine back, under fire and in a cold, unpleasantly-choppy sea. His award of the DSM was announced in the London Gazette of 29 August, 1944.


Consequently, in 1981, when deciding what to name this latest landing craft squadron the number 539 was chosen in order to honour George Tandy’s courage while, at the same time, perpetuating the memory of all those landing craft rates that took part in the seaborne invasion of the Normandy beaches. Who actually suggested this title remains unclear.


In the meantime, in 1979, I was appointed OC the Landing Craft Branch based at Poole under the command of Colonel Richard Preston. This was the time that landing craft training, at every level, had been cancelled due to the ‘moratorium’ brought about by John Nott’s Defence White Paper that proposed selling off the two LPDs; thus putting the very existence of the Corps at peril. Nevertheless the Commando Brigade was still deploying to north Norway each winter and so with my colonel’s full support the Branch Marine Engineer Officer (MEO), Lieutenant-Commander Chris Maunder, and I felt that we could offer the brigade, unofficially, one about-to-be-redundant training LCM which we would ‘arcticise’ - but with no funding.


LCU MK9R (713) with black and brown arctic camouflage and extendable Igloo (here folded away) to provide environmental protection for embarked forces.

Lieutenant-Commander Maunder was on good terms with the glass fibre ‘shop’ in Devonport Dockyard and so on 17th November 1980, and from a back-of-an-envelope design, the dockyard was confronted with the task of producing a sectioned, removable canopy, and forward screen with double doors, that enclosed two thirds of the LCM’s well-deck. From somewhere else, on 3rd January 1981, the MEO then ‘found’ a massive diesel engine that took up much of the well deck’s space allowing his Poole engineers to produce under-deck heating, warmth to the diesel, ballast and fresh water tanks as well as warm air to the ‘igloo’. In time, and having proved that the system ‘worked’, the engineers would use a smaller engine and place it in one of the bilge’s void spaces.


It was now time to decide precisely what we were going to do with this experimental LCM. To lay the foundation for what Colonel Preston was calling a ‘pool of craft’ based at Poole ready, on call, to be despatched in support of the Commando Brigade (or anyone else, such as the SBS or police) I wrote a paper on 31st January 1981 headed simply ‘Forward Operating Base (FOB) Précis’. In truth, at 31 pages it was hardly a précis for it encapsulated everything we had in mind for operating a squadron of landing craft as part of 3 Commando Brigade. At that stage I envisaged a unit of two ‘arcticised’ LCM Mark 9s, four ‘arcticised’ LCVPs and the 1st Raiding Squadron’s rigid and inflatable raiding craft. I also mentioned a scaled-down Amphibious Beach Unit.


An LCVP MK2 with Arctic Canopy landing Marines from L Company 42 Commando during an amphibious demo at RM Poole in May 1981

I referred to it simply as ‘3 Commando Brigade’s landing craft squadron’ and drew a ‘wiring diagram’ of the suggested manpower, including the headquarters, communications, maintenance and support sections. The paper discussed tactics, camouflage and concealment, the known effects of weather on the crews and embarked force, communications, training, means of deployment (either in an LPD, LSL, civilian heavy-lift ship - or self deployed) and operating with the Norwegian Navy’s LCT’s and the RNLMC’s Boat Group. The paper’s final sections were devoted to everyday preparations of craft for the arctic, including changing the lubricating oil and similar precautions against the extreme cold.


Once completed I gave this paper to the Commandant for him to read and amend and then, with Colonel Preston’s final approval, it was sent to Headquarters Training and Reserve Forces Royal Marines and the officers commanding the Royal Marines detachments in HMSs Hermes, Bulwark, Fearless and Intrepid, plus the raiding squadrons


By 6th March 1981 we were ready to offer the ‘arcticised’ LCM to the Brigade for that season’s arctic training and so I and the LCM sailed north in HMS Intrepid with the express intention of studying in detail the problems of operating open landing craft in the arctic while also visiting the RNLMC Boat Group which worked independently of any ‘mother ship’.


On my return we received a paper (CF 8/3/62 dated 23 April 1981) from HQ Commando Forces to DCGRM and copied to, among others, Commander in Chief Fleet and Flag Officer 3rd Flotilla. Written by Colonel Keith Wilkins, this paper was headed Concept of Operations for 539 Assault Squadron and had been written at the request of DCGRM to discuss the formation of this squadron. In the paper’s covering letter (TRF 5/16/20 dated 1 May 1981) Colonel Andrew Harfield, a landing craft officer on MGRM TRF’s staff, wrote to Royal Marines Poole requesting them To examine methods by which LCUs could be moved to an assigned employment area (other than by LPD). The colonel ended with the words, This study is to be given high priority and you are to submit an interim report by 1 June 1981, identifying areas which merit further examination. He also stated that, The subject of the forming of 539 Assault Squadron will be a major factor in the forthcoming submission to the Admiralty Board.


Gemini inflatable raiding craft operated by the Royal Marines Reserve landing troops on exercise in Malta

Almost immediately, such was the speed now being generated to form the squadron, a meeting was held on 29 April 1981, in the Ministry of Defence (minutes at RM 5/1/119 and distributed in letter RM 5/1/119 dated 9 June 1981) chaired by Lieutenant-Colonel (later colonel) Ian Moore as GSO1 on CGRM’s staff. This was attended by, inter alia, representatives from the Directorate of Naval Manpower, the Commander-in-Chief Fleet (Major Roger Blundell – later lieutenant-colonel), the Flag Officer 3rd Flotilla (Major David Minords – later lieutenant-colonel) and the Directorate of Naval Warfare (major Alastair Grant – later lieutenant-colonel). I and Lieutenant-Commander Maunder, represented RM Poole. The simple aim of the meeting was to Discuss the formation of 539 Assault Squadron. To meet this aim the meeting concerned itself with every aspect of forming a new unit although it was not possible to consider a few specific items in detail due, inevitably, to costings and manpower. These two sticking points had to be (and were) considered, in house by the Naval Directorates concerned, prior to submission to the Admiralty Board.


A deciding factor for the formation of a permanent squadron rather than for the ad hoc suggestion that had begun this process, was covered in the Chairman’s statement, The formation of an ad hoc squadron with no legitimate funds, which placed a strain on manpower resources might be acceptable as in the case of the Hong Kong Squadron when there was a compelling operational need. However this is not the case. In view of the conflicting factors involved it was agreed that the formation of an ad hoc squadron (or pool of vessels) should not proceed. HQ Cdo Forces (Lieutenant-Colonel John Fisher) accepted this but stressed that the early formation of 539 Assault Squadron RM should continue to be pursued with urgency.


Hence, later in the meeting one straightforward statement read, It was agreed that 539 Assault Squadron should start forming in April 1982 with an operational date of 1 September while another was, HQ Cdo Forces RM agreed that as a Captain RM currently commands 1st RSRM the OC of 539 Assault Squadron should be a Major. HQ Cdo Forces agreed to forward a suitable case for this proposal to DCGRM.


It was now clear that not only did the squadron have a name but it was well on track to be formed within twelve months - coincidentally, the month that Argentina was to invade the Falkland Islands.


During the winter deployment 1981-1982 the winterised landing craft, LCM 710, now fully up to our ‘arctic’ specification, sailed from Poole on 14th September to make her own way to Harstad - a passage of approximately 1,500 nautical miles. HMS Fearless sailed north on 26th February for exercise Alloy Express where I joined her and the LCM. To make room, one of Fearless’s LCMs, Foxtrot Four, had been left behind at Poole allowing her crew to take over the ‘cuckoo’s egg’. The crew were Colour-Sergeant BR Johnston, Sergeant RJ Rotherham, LME(M) D Miller, MEA(P) AS James, Marine AJ Rundle and Marine PA Cruden. All of whom, except Marine Cruden (who was wounded) but including Marine RD Griffin were to be killed in action on 8th June in Choiseul Sound.


LCU MK9 (710) the 'Black Pig' in Poole before self deploying to Northern Norway in 1981 for trials

On launching the trials LCM into a snowstorm across a Norwegian fiord on our first morning it was obvious that the conventionally painted light grey hull stood out against the dark fiord edges, especially at low water, and even more so against the snow at high water. As part of the wide ranging remit for our trials it was clear that we needed to paint the craft differently. I wasn’t sure what colours to use for this experiment but anything was preferable to light grey.


People who had not experienced the arctic expressed surprise that anything other than white would be effective. I didn’t then know what the most realistic answer was, and went in search of HMS Fearless’s bos’n. The only paint he could let me have in any quantity were black and dark brown. So, much to the surprise of the ship’s company, and the LCM’s crew, we painted what we nicknamed the Black Pig in fetching disruptive patterns of these two very dark shades. Instantly, against the fiord’s edges she disappeared and we never looked back. When people ask I tell them that the colours were the brainwave of my artistic mind, but the truth is far more prosaic!

C/Sgt Brian JOHNSTON, Royal Marines, QGM

I could not have asked for a finer cox’n (among all of Fearless’s fine coxn’s) than Brian Johnston who, with his equally willing crew, wholeheartedly entered into the many experiments and drills we needed to practice and perfect in order to prove the value of this self-supporting squadron to the senior officers: one of whom was now Brigadier Julian Thompson the commander of 3 Commando Brigade and under whose control the Black Pig came for various phases of the deployment.


This new maritime ‘art’ included the embarkation of the tactical headquarters of the Commando Brigade (or that of a single commando) with its organic communications; establishing a small, heated mobile hospital or dressing station able to keep up with the land battle; setting up a mobile re-broadcast station giving a horizontal relay, which was more difficult for an enemy to locate compared to the static version on the mountaintops; providing a mobile launching base for small-scale operations using embarked raiding craft; logistic resupply from a mobile, easily hidden ‘depôt’ - including catering facilities; mooring to cliff edges and hiding among ice flows as well as covert, static and mobile concealment and navigation. This required further experiments with paint schemes and white camouflage netting. Ice-breaking was another skill to be learned in order to gauge through what thickness the various craft could sail and onto which marines, on foot or skis, and vehicles could be ‘landed’. One unusual trial involved the use of a locally-crewed, shrimp fishing vessel with which we practiced the covert insertion of recce troops. This worked well provided we remembered to stop and fish every so often in order to impress the Russian ‘spies’ who were watching every NATO movement!


As HMS Fearless and Captain (later Rear-Admiral) Jeremy Larken had given us superb support throughout the winter’s deployment I wanted to repay him and those of his officers, petty officers and ratings, who had helped us. To thank them all I threw a Black Velvet party in the Black Pig’s tank deck as the ship pitched and rolled her way south. The ingredients of champagne and Guinness were mixed in the same dixie that, a generation before, would have contained the daily mix of rum and water.


Two weeks later Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Both LPDs, Fearless and Intrepid, took part in Operation Corporate with their combined fleet of eight LCUs and eight LCVPs; the four LCVPs of HMS Hermes (9th Assault Squadron) were also available should they have been needed but, sadly, and despite valiant efforts by the OCRM, Lieutenant Paul Stearns, they never came inshore.


F4 conducting during a work up exercise in English Bay Ascension Island en route to the Falklands.

Shortly before D Day and mindful of the fact that the campaign was likely to be similar, as far as the coastal waters were concerned, to exercises in Norway, Commodore Michael Clapp (COMAW) and Brigadier Julian Thompson appointed me as OC Task Force Landing Craft Squadron believing, with prescience, that much of the landing craft work would be independent of mother ships, just as we had been practicing over the previous ten years...and it was. The Commodore’s aim of having a central controlling point for all the MLC and raiding craft was to improve efficiency, prevent confusion and more safely protect the landing craft from ship and air attack.


On the return journey from the South Atlantic I was invited to write the Landing Craft Operations annex for Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore’s Report of Proceedings (Annex O to CF 7/11/237R dated 18 October 1982). In this I included the opinion that all the craft had performed admirably within the limitations of their capabilities and that the stoic professionalism of the crews was worthy of particular mention. I noted that the operating conditions for the craft (weather, navigation, topography, hydrography, distances, payloads, beaches and jetties) were similar to those experienced in Norway and added, It is important that the recommendations in this report, which had been submitted in two previous post-Norway reports, are given due attention. The lack of an established forward operating base headquarters with dedicated manpower and communications equipment caused problems of command and control. This resulted in less than the best use being made of the assets available.


When referring to the less than the best use Commodore Clapp was obliged to confirm, Although this worked well it did not always happen as the FOB HQ was way too small and put other lives at great risk. Foxtrot Four is the obvious example but an earlier one with the Paras at Fitzroy created a huge risk for the LSLs and Fearless in particular with Div. HQ embarked.


The command and control of landing craft was the one lesson that we did learn during Operation Corporate and thus were able to concentrate on this once 539 was in being. Up to then of course, we only had one LCM to play with and our time had mostly been spent on arctic trials rather than the command and control of a squadron. In short, the campaign was the perfect learning tool for C2.


1st Raiding Squadron FOB (Forward Operating Base) and TacHQ

The point was well emphasised ‘down south’ for the San Carlos FOB had been manned solely by Corporal (later colour-sergeant) ‘Taff’ Williams and (by now) Major Roger Dillon, doing a job that would eventually, from empirical experience, be undertaken by an officer, a Warrant Officer, a Signals SNCO and a number of corporals.


Nevertheless, in the autumn of 1982, quite understandably, the Admiralty had more pressing issues to address than that of a small squadron whose formation had been interrupted by events in the South Atlantic and so no more was heard!


And that was it until mid 1983 (probably the 13th July but my diary entry is vague - possible because I was not invited to attend the meeting) when a conference was convened in Headquarters Commando Forces to discuss the formation of 539 Assault Squadron, having, been given authorisation from the Admiralty Board to do so. This large meeting consisted of representatives from many Directorates and branches of, respectively, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines with the aim of deciding the precise composition of the squadron as far as manpower, craft, transport, communications, stores and logistics were concerned.


I had not been invited for I was the Officer Commanding Plymouth Garrison in Stonehouse Barracks, but as I felt I had a serious interest, I managed to find some excuse to be at Hamoaze House that morning. When I arrived the delegates were enjoying stand-easy in an adjoining room which gave me the opportunity to slip into the empty conference room and study the black board on which, in chalk and with many rubbings-out and alterations, was the proposed squadron’s outline composition. I was disturbed to see that, despite HQ CF’s earlier statement at the London meeting on 29th April 1981, the rank of the officer commanding was still un-decided and noted as ‘Captain/Major’. As this did not bode well for my aspirations I rubbed out ‘Captain’, left in ‘Major’ and, unnoticed, quickly returned to Stonehouse.


LCU MK9 'Black Pig' on trails in Norway in March 1984 with Major Southby-Tailyour and Coxswain C/Sgt Wynn and his crew.

In early January 1984, and before I flew to north Norway for more Black Pig trials, notably with 45 Commando now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Moore, the Military Secretary telephoned to tell me that the Admiralty had approved the formation of 539 Assault Squadron and that he had decided to offer me the post as the first Officer Commanding, starting on 2nd April 1984. On the 20th February 1984 my appointment as OC 539 Assault Squadron was announced followed by a Royal Navy Press Release on 12th March 1984 publicising the formation of a new Royal Marines unit; this was carried by all the usual newspapers.


As the 1st Raiding Squadron was already based in Royal William Yard (RWY) we moved the two arcticised LCUs (the Black Pig and the Brown Sow) there to join the rigid raiding craft. Four LCVPs then came from among the eight of the decommissioned HMSs Albion and Bulwark, (7th Assault Squadron) and were soon painted black and brown and fitted with arctic covers. Our headquarters offices were first established in Number Four House, Stonehouse Barracks, until we, too, moved to RWY.


A section of RRC MK1 from '1st Raiding' transiting a Fjord at 30+ knots

Those early days were not easy for few knew of our existence let alone our role or raison d’être, thus the obtaining of stores was complicated but nothing was beyond our first Squadron Sergeant Major, the quite outstanding Warrant Officer 2 Dave McDowall. He knew all the necessary tricks, how to bypass bureaucratic red tape and who to coerce! Mr McDowall was more than ably assisted in those formative months by the Second in Command, Captain Tim Rendell (later a commercial airline pilot); the meticulous Lieutenant David Board, Royal Navy the MEO (later lieutenant-commander and MEO of the Sultan of Oman’s Royal Yacht); the frighteningly knowledgeable Colour-Sergeant (later WO2) Dave Barratt, the Squadron ‘Pronto’; Sergeant (Mac) McKcich, the widely-experienced MTO and the amusing Administrative Officer/QM Lieutenant (later captain) John Young. The two Landing Craft lieutenants were the urbane Paul Stearns (later Brigadier) and the phlegmatic William Trollope (later with NP 8901 when Argentina invaded, later still an apiarist in New Zealand). The two LCU cox’ns were the vastly experienced Colour-Sergeant Pete ‘Pony’ Moore (later WO2 and senior cox’n at ATTURM, Instow) and Colour-Sergeant ‘Ginge’ McHugh (later training cox’n with the RNLI at Poole). Sergeant ‘Taff’ Symonds was the down-to-earth RRC section SNCO. Finally, Colour-Sergeant ‘Bing’ Resin was the very busy and inventive AQMS.


What a team, all of whom I had known over the years and all of whom were equally able to bypass unnecessary officialdom in their scramble for equipment. By force of necessity, stores and kit were often obtained through nefarious, under-the-counter bartering, as 42 Commando’s signals and MT storeman - plus many others - could testify! While they all busied themselves with ‘building’ the squadron I conducted a series of lectures introducing 539 to the Corps.


Our Inaugural Parade was held at the Longroom on Friday 20th July, 1984, with Major-General John Grey taking the salute. However, I hope the general will forgive me if I say that by far the most important guest that day was a very spritely, very proud Corporal George Ernest Tandy, DSM.


It would be easy to end this résumé of 539’s genesis with the cliché and the rest is history but for many more months we continued to ride a very steep, and not always smooth, learning curve. At the beginning we had not only to find our feet as a minor unit within the Commando Brigade but also demonstrate to others how to use us to their advantage. For support, advice and direction (and understanding) in those early exercises in Denmark and Norway, and to help us fit in to the Brigade’s order of battle, we were guided and encouraged by Brigadier (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Henry Beverley.

539ASRM were formed at Royal William Yard in 1984, moved to a purpose built base at Turnchapel in 1993, they moved again to join 1st Assault Squadron at RM Tamar in 2013 here in 2019 they changed their name to 539 Raiding Squadron RM

All of us in 539 were deeply conscious that we were under strict (and sometimes cynical) scrutiny as to our utility, thus any failure on our part would be pounced upon and critical questions asked. My orders to all ranks of the squadron were clear: despite all our craft, kit, communications and vehicles being second-hand and elderly they had to work - first time and no excuses! David Board in particular, having come straight from an immaculately maintained, new frigate, soon learned that even if he had to use rubber bands it was imperative that the craft made each rendezvous on time - and apart from one early occasion (which was not due to a mechanical failure) they did.


At the end of four thoroughly enjoyable years working with mature, professional seamen and colleagues I handed over command of a fully functional 539 Assault Squadron to Major (later lieutenant-colonel) Chris Menheneott who moved it forward to greater things.


Read more related 'Dits' here;


External Links


BBC Devon - 7th May, 2004 - (539 ASRM) MARINES ON ANNIVERSARY PARADE




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