Challenger 2 in Poland

More than 1300 British soldiers and 100 armoured vehicles, including Challenger 2 MBTs and Warrior IFVs, from the 3rd UK Division participated in Exercise BLACK EAGLE, a British/Polish NATO exercise held in Western Poland towards the end of November.

Soldiers from Tidworth-based The King’s Royal Hussars (KRH), the UK’s Lead Armoured Battlegroup operating Challenger 2, carried out live-firing battlefield exercises in conjunction with their Polish counterparts equipped with the German made Leopard MBTs, whilst 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (1R Welsh), with the Warrior, provided troops on the ground.

A significant demonstration of the UK’s support to the region and NATO’s Immediate Assurance Measures, Ex BLACK EAGLE highlighted the British Army’s ability to deploy an armoured battlegroup at short notice anywhere in the world in support of the nation’s allies. The exercise raised several questions amongst analysts. The UK agreed to participate in the exercise in July and some have asked if the exercise was to make a point to Russia over the Crimea crisis – something flatly denied by the British Army and the UK government.

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Vector 6×6 Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV)

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The Vector Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV) is a six-wheel drive armoured vehicle employed by British forces during operations in Afghanistan. The vehicle is based on the Pinzgauer 6×6 all-terrain utility vehicle and was built by BAE Systems with the aim of providing British forces in Afghanistan with a patrol vehicle that offered greater protection from small arms fire and mortar detonations than previous vehicles such as the Land Rover Snatch. The vehicle was placed in to production following an Urgent Operational Requirement issued by the British Army in 2006. 180 units were eventually ordered including 12 configured as ambulances for the CASEVAC role.

Vector 2The vehicle retains the same basic chassis and motive components as the Pinzgauer thus easing logistical support requirements as the infrastructure is already largely in place. The armoured shell comes largely in the form of kevlar panels fitted around the vehicle’s body while the windows are made of laminated ballistic resistant glass. In many ways the Vector is the spiritual successor of vehicles like the Saxon armoured truck which was essentially a Bedford M-series truck with an armoured body. Additionally the vehicle was fitted with a a radio jammer designed to disrupt the ability of insurgents to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by wireless remote.

The Vector has a top road speed of 65mph and has a range of approximately 700 miles but this can be extended with the fitting of additional fuel tanks for extended endurance patrols. It is powered by a 109hp diesel engine that meets European emission requirements. It is normally operated by a crew of two with up to four fully armed troops in the rear compartment on blast resistant seats. Alternatively up to 1600kg of supplies can be carried internally and externally to support the patrols or resupply forward positions.

Vector 3In Afghanistan the vehicle was used primarily for urban and rural patrolling where it could expect to get caught up in close quarters combat with insurgents. Unfortunately the vehicle’s protection proved less than ideal against the latest IEDs although it has to be remembered that it was still an improvement over the Land Rovers used previously. It could protect reasonably well against small arms fire but their poor under-belly armour made them too vulnerable to roadside bombs. Also their standard Pinzgauer suspension proved unable to cope with the extra weight of the armoured body and electronic countermeasures equipment fitted in the conversion. Combining this with a shortage of spares (something that shouldn’t have happened since the Pinzgauer vehicle it was based on was in widespread service), the Vectors serviceability rates fell below 60% in 2008 and later that year it was withdrawn from service after just two years on the frontlines.

Operation Motorman

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Operation Motorman was a military operation carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland. It took place on the morning of the 31st July 1972 and involved the use of Centurion AVRE tanks to break down barricades erected in Belfast and Derry. The barricades were erected to segregate Nationalist (Catholic) and Loyalist (Protestant) communities. The first barricades were put up in 1969 around an area of Derry where there were large numbers of Nationalists living in what became known as “Free Derry”. The barricades were put up to stop Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrols and this lead to a three day clash between both sides in what is now known as the Battle of the Bogside.

The barricades of “Free Derry” were taken down but it set a tone for the future as more areas in Belfast and Derry erected barricades and by 1972 there were 29 of these segregated areas that were effectively under IRA and Nationalist control. Both factions of the IRA (provisional and official) patrolled these areas and enjoyed widespread support. For London the situation was intolerable and the Army was instructed to destroy the barricades and regain control.

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Seven Centurion AVRE engineering vehicles and upto 100 armoured vehicles such as the Saracen 6×6 APC were involved in the operation. The operation was carried out swiftly so as to limit the ability of the Nationalists to respond. A battle was not wanted by either side as this would no doubt cause horrendous civilian casualties; the British Army were still smarting from the “Bloody Sunday” tragedy and didn’t want a repeat while the IRA didn’t want to risk their own people’s lives and possibly suffer their own backlash from a high casualty rate. The IRA dispersed while the British Army took down the barricades with the only resistance being the odd rock or bottle thrown at the vehicles.

Sadly, what could have been a relatively bloodless end to this chapter of the history of Northern Ireland was not to be as a fifteen year old boy and his cousin were shot as they climbed a wall to watch the tanks demolishing barricades in Derry. The boy was killed while his cousin was wounded. One IRA member was shot and died a short time later while numerous arrests were made by the RUC in Belfast and Derry.