Read part nine here.
We were in a hasty harbor area. Those left on the course were to receive a set of orders for the final assault on a jungle camp we had been watching for nearly three weeks. All the hours spent on recce and writing reports was all going to be tested. Everything we had learned from the beginning would culminate in one final push. We had been on hard routine for the entire final exercise and it was tough. No lights, no hot food the list of sacrifice in pursuit of ultimate soldiering was endless.
This should, if all went well, be our last night in the trees. You could never be too sure, but you had a rough idea as you knew when planes had been booked etc; and anyway they couldn’t keep you there indefinitely as there was more than just the trees on the course. In fact some of the most challenging bits were still ahead. “No time to dwell on thinking about next phases,” I thought as I choked down some cold corned beef hash covered in Tabasco. I washed it down with some heavily purified water (always a treat) and then wrapped my rubbish into my crap sack and prepared for the O group.
There was a large chunta basha (lean-to for administrative tasks) in the center of the harbor. Inside was a model of how we had interpreted the camp we were going to attack, based on the patrol reports. Model making is a big deal it needs to be to scale and orientated as it is on the ground. The relief of the ground needs to be shown and all vital areas need to be clear. On the prelims of the O group the model is described in detail to all present. A shit set of orders could be saved by a decent model. And a shit model could ruin a good set of orders so it was a must to get it right. As a patrol commander you relied on the rest of the patrol sorting the model out. It was a big thing and one which if you weren’t pulling your weight, could leave you with a fail. The model on this occasion had been made using the patrol reports brought back by each patrol.
The DS (directing staff) would know how accurate it was. If whilst on patrol you got too close, you would be seen or set off a defensive measure, too far away and you wouldn’t get the information required to build a plan. It was a real-time test because if you were seen, you could be binned from the course and you wouldn’t find out until the end.
We received our orders from a Rupert (officer) from the Anglian Infantry Regiment. He looked a bit nervous as he must have known if they still wanted to see him give orders at this stage, he may not be through to the next stage yet. One patrol was going to provide eyes on from an OP whilst the rest of the course got into position for a coordinated dawn assault. All the skills we learned would be tested. Navigation would have to be spot on, patrol skills needed to be second to none and once the assault began all the rest would be tested to the limit. Fuck this up and you could be sent packing at the end of the phase without any explanation given whatsoever.
You needed to have understood your orders and not be afraid to ask questions if you hadn’t understood things, even if that made you look like a fool. Its better to ask in the safety of the patrol harbor than get things wrong and compromise the whole mission. My patrol was going to attack the 9-12 position on the camp. For exercise purposes you attacked an area someone else had recce’d to test the plan they had produced and your ability to work blind from a report.
All briefed up, we returned to our own bashas to prepare ourselves for the next 72 or so hours. We were to prepare everything we would be humping with and we would be expected to cover all ground sign to prevent follow-up. We would then leave at intervals with the observation team getting in position first. We would have about 48 hours to get into position, ready for a dawn assault. We frantically packed our things away and sanitized our space. We would be leaving just after midday and would need to get a good distance before we laid up for the night. The route we had was horrific, up and down through the thickest of jungle and the steepest of hills. We were cross graining all the way and we had to hit our start line on the nose at the right time.
Our DS would be watching everything we did from the rear of the patrol. We left on time and patrolled through secondary jungle up until about an hour before last light, we then broke track and put in an ambush before finding a small depression in some dense foliage to lay up for the night. The following day, more of the same. All the time check-navigating and covering up all sign. We laid up on the second night knowing that the next night we would actually be in the start line and that we were now very close to the enemy. This was going to be our last chance for a decent rest and a good eat. I wasted no time in getting my bag of cold Lancashire hot pot down my neck and then once we had stood to, I was in my dry kit and asleep in no time.
We woke up just before first light and got straight back into our wet kit. We were used to it now and I actually liked it because it gave you a defining line between rest and work. We were tom patrol: into the start line, observe the target all night and launch a dawn assault in conjunction with the other patrols who were now all moving in as well. It had been a long exercise and this was the final action, still time to fuck it all up. Every step was pressure and every action had consequence. It was for real, only get it wrong for real and you could die, worse your patrol mates could die.
It was late and we finally broke track after a whole day on the hoof. We put in a snap ambush and then made our way silently to our section of the start line. From there after we all stood to for an hour or so, we went into a routine of half resting (not sleeping), half watching. We could see the camp and hear all the noise, the discipline on the camp was not good. There were fires going, torches on and people smoking on sentry duty. Laughter rang out from the bashes where the enemy were resting, seemingly oblivious to our presence.
Rest assured there would be DS amongst them looking for us, hoping to see us and locate our positions so that we could later be identified and binned. We stayed in wet kit there was no time for shuffling about getting comfy. It was a case of just take it on the chin. I had a packet of biscuits in my pocket which I sucked on to avoid making a crunching sound, I had wrapped them in tissue to avoid a rustling noise as I got at them.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons