The current QOOH serving unit is 142 (QOOH) Vehicle Squadron, Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) and based at Banbury, Oxfordshire Army Reserve Centre. Their parent regiment is 165 Port and Maritime Regiment, RLC and is headquartered in Plymouth, Devon.
For the UK, all major operations need maritime support to deploy, sustain, withdraw, or re-deploy forces. Airpower can be used to achieve extremely rapid effect with light forces for short periods, and provide an air bridge for more substantial operations. It can also be a more practicable method of moving personnel, even large numbers. However, sealift is the only practicable means of deploying equipment and logistic support and then sustaining them at anything other than very small scale, due simply to the sheer volume of equipment involved. Even when an operation is a landlocked state, the majority of lift required to deploy and sustain a joint force will be achieved from the sea. Sealift permits land and amphibious forces to transit to theatre, poise offshore if required, and then enables joint power to be brought to bear ashore. It also may be the only means available for gaining initial theatre entry if access basing and overflight permissions are not forthcoming from other states. The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary are the only force able to provide sealift in a threat environment. In a benign environment, with maritime force protection teams embarked, the strategic Roll-on/Roll-off ships (RO/ROs) provide the major MoD contribution.
Marine and maritime operations may be supported for a short time only, by over-the-beach facilities using specialist equipment. However, a seaport provides a significantly greater degree of flexibility and logistic capacity.
Harbours and port facilities can take years to develop. It is highly likely therefore that use will be made of existing ports to support an operation rather than build a new one. Nevertheless, additional facilities may be required at a port either for ship-to-shore transfer or to store materiel prior to transit. This can be very time consuming.
A key requirement during early planning for an operation will be to confirm that any intended Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) has the requisite handling facilities. More modern ports are designed around bulk container handling. Military operations are likely to require roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) facilities. Unfortunately, these are not commonplace in ports worldwide.
So what of the equipment used by 165 Port and Maritime Regiment and 142 (QOOH) Vehicle Squadron? The following is a brief summary of the ships, boats and rafts used by the RLC to carry out its sustain mode:-
The LCU Mk10’s are large craft, designed for transporting personnel, stores, armoured vehicles and engineering plant. The LCU Mk10 can be used for general movement of equipment and operate independently for up to a couple of weeks with its 9 man crew out to a range of 600 nautical miles. Their roll on-roll off design (stern and a bow ramps) is designed for ease of loading and unloading in the well dock of the Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) – LSD (A) - operated by the RFA. Up to 120 troops (100 in normal operating conditions), a Challenger main battle tank, or other heavy or logistics vehicles can be carried.
The 1998 SDSR recognised the need for a strategic RO-RO capability in light of increasing expeditionary requirements and likely trends in the commercial shipping sector. It was predicted that RO-RO vessel size would increase and evolve leading to a reduction in charter availability. The design chosen was the RoRo 2700, an existing 23,235 tonne design. A contract was let in 2000 to the AWSR shipping consortium and due to last until 2024. Their capacity is listed as 2,700 lane metres, a maximum speed of 18 knots, and a crew of 22. The stern ramp can access a Mexeflote at sea for transfer to other ships or direct offloading to shore. Although these ships are privately owned (on contract to the MoD) the crews are British when on MoD service and Sponsored Reserves.
The Mexeflote came into service with the British Army in the early 60’s. Technically, it is called the Harbour and Landing Ship Logistics Pontoon Causeway Equipment, the Mexeflote is elegant in its simplicity. Comprising three types of hollow steel pontoon sections with internal bulkheads they can be pinned together to form lighterage rafts, jetties, piers, and floating platforms in the manner of big boys Lego. The bow sections are angled and articulated to facilitate loading and beaching. Stores and vehicles can either be craned from larger ships or driven onto the raft when docked to a ship equipped with a well deck or ramp. Recovery is a reverse of this process. When in the water the propulsion units are secured in place at the stern and that is it, they are more or less ready to go. Each Mexeflote is usually commanded by a junior NCO and crewed with 4 or 5 other ranks. Total payload depends on the size of the assembled pontoon, but can vary from 60 to 180 tonnes. Although it might not look particularly seaworthy it can be used in 1.5m wave height conditions. Although it is not used often Mexeflote’s can be used as an intermediary link-span or beach pontoon to enable landing craft to discharge without beaching. The landing craft can drop its ramp onto the Mexeflote and its vehicles driven off and on to the beach. During the Falklands conflict, loads of up to 200 tonnes were carried and Mexeflote’s moved two thirds of all the supplies transferred from the various ships at San Carlos. Since then they have been in continuous use and for shifting volume and weight, there really is no substitute.
A short film clip showing the Mexeflote in action can be viewed by clicking on this link :-
The squadron is unique in that it is the Army’s only unit [Regular or Reserves] which provides exclusive vehicle delivery capability to Defence. It provides all the Army's vehicles for major exercises and operations.
Their soldiers can qualify to hold every driving licence from Motorcycle/Quad Bike through to the Main Battle Tank.
Their role is to prepare vehicles for handover to units then to take receipt of them after use and return them into storage in readiness for the next demand. At airfields, seaports, railheads, the vehicle specialist is the expert on manoeuvring, loading, and equipping the whole range of military tracked and wheeled vehicles. Many of which are expensive pieces of kit.
Their responsibilities extend to vehicle inspections, maintenance repair and servicing, plus of course, ensuring that all the paperwork is correct and completed.
Trade skills available are - Category C + E [the old HGV/LGV with trailer] Driver Licence; Cat H [tracked veh] Licence; Cat G [road roller] Licence; plus special modular courses on the various ‘Urgent Operational Requirement’ classes of vehicles [Jackal, Wolfhound, Foxhound, Mastiff and various plant equipment]. Further modular courses for ‘A’ vehicles will also be available covering - Challenger, Warrior, Bulldog, CVR (T), AS90, Titan, and Trojan.
Technical Training weekends
Technical Training weekends are held at various locations: the Defence Support Group, Ashchurch; Land Training Fleet, Warminster; and 17 Port & Maritime Regt RLC, Sea Mounting Centre, Marchwood, Southampton.
Support to the Regular Army
The opportunity for travel and overseas-postings are considered part of the role. There are various ‘Port Task Groups’ [PTG] in support of operations worldwide. These PTG’s are based in Germany, Dubai, Jordon, Africa, Belize, and Canada, and are manned by 17 Port & Maritime Regt RLC.
Another task is to assist the Land Training Fleet at Warminster. Many military units now hold a reduced fleet of vehicles [active fleet] sufficient for low level collective training, these holdings are augmented from training fleets held in collective pools, for higher level training. Operational deployments utilise vehicles from the operational pool [stored fleet] which are held in a controlled humidity environment to avoid degradation. This is part of the MoD cost-cutting initiative and ‘downsizing’ of the Regular Army. Part of this initiative has been to develop the Operational Training Equipment Pack and 142 Veh Sqn helps with the rehab of this fleet.
142 Veh Sqn support the 17 Port & Maritime Regt Veh Specialist Troop at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, loading and unloading C17 [Boeing Globemaster] and Antonov aircraft.
A selection of some of the vehicles and equipment which the squadron are expected to handle:-
Jackal – high mobility weapons platform Foxhound – armoured patrol vehicle Wolfhound – heavy armoured truck
165 Port and Maritime Regiment train as Port Operators in order to load and unload ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) who carry stores and equipment for British Forces on operations overseas. They specialise in unloading ships and getting stores ashore where no established port exists. The Regiment also train as Seaman and Marine Engineers in order to pilot and maintain their fleet of inshore vessels such as Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10 and Mexeflote powered rafts. The Regiment work alongside their Regular counterparts - 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, RLC - at home and around the world.
Since the Regiment's transformation and during 2014 it gained two further specialists squadrons – "Vehicle Specialists [142 (QOOH) Vehicle Squadron - Banbury]" with a full spectrum of licences to ensure the safe and efficient movement of vehicles in transit and "Operational Hygiene Specialists [710 (RBY) Operational Hygiene Specialists – Aylesbury]" to deliver essential showering and laundry services to units in the field and on operations around the world.
165 Port and Maritime Regiment was one of the first Army Reserve units to deploy during the Iraq Conflict. In 2003, elements of the Regiment deployed first to Cyprus and then onwards to Umm Qasr in Iraq where they served with distinction in getting stores and equipment ashore and forward to where it was needed. In 2013, a troop of 32 soldiers from 165 Regiment deployed for 6 months to Nicosia, Cyprus, in support of the UN Peacekeeping operations there. Currently, members of the Regiment have deployed or will deploy to Jordan, Canada, Germany, Norway, France, and Afghanistan.
As a background to where 165 Port and Maritime Regiment and 142 (QOOH) Vehicle Squadron fit into their roles within the British Armed Forces, I offer the following paragraphs taken from the Ministry of Defence series of British Maritime Defence Doctrine :-