July 9, 2012
By Cpl. Jonathan Wright, 31st MEU
SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Queensland, Australia – As dawn approached the quiet town, a harsh voice cut through the silence. “Stand to!” it called, “Enemy sighted at 200 meters!”
After two weeks of preparing defenses inside the fortified town of Raspberry Creek, elements of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, were assaulted by the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade forces during Exercise Hamel 2012 here, July 5.
0550- Light armored vehicles were spotted approaching the town while the sounds of tank tracks rattled in the distant treeline. Minutes later, the Marines in the immediate area received “near impact” readings on their multiple integrated laser engagement system gear, signaling indirect fire artillery strikes.
2ndLt. Cory Moyer, platoon commander of 2nd platoon, Co. G., and officer-in-charge of the Marine forces in Raspberry Creek, was at an eyes-on position watching enemy movement, radioing in fires-for-effect of his own while the Marines prepared their fields of fire.
“The atmosphere is mostly excitement and anticipation of engagement after waiting in the defense for so long,” said Moyer. “The Marines have done an effective job of setting up security for the town, so we’re going to give 1st Brigade the best we have to offer.”
0712- Multiple M1A1 Abrams tanks made themselves visible from the treeline as three armored personnel carriers cautiously approached the town. The advance halted, however, as the Marine FGM-148 Javelin missile system team kept them at bay, destroying two APCs.
As the long-range battle continued, the Javelin team was deemed killed by the exercise umpires. The umpires are designated officials used to determine the outcome of skirmishes if the MILES gear becomes unreliable.
0901- Under the cover of smoke , the Australian forces pushed through simulated artillery and stopped behind buildings situated across the road from the town. Three fire teams of Marines kept the dismounted soldiers pinned down as they exited their APCs, but were eventually cleared by the superior firepower from following LAVs.
Freed to move by vehicle support, the dismounted Australian soldiers push their way into the buildings, exchanging fire with the Marines across the road in their own fortified buildings.
“The Australians just moved in to those buildings after dismounting, probably about 40 or so holed up now,” said Cpl. Justin Wilson, team leader with Co. G. “They haven’t pushed across yet, but with the suppression they’re providing from those buildings they’ll be coming over soon.”
1010- With the Australians being held to the buildings across the road, the rest of the mounted forces began to move towards the town. Three more APCs and LAVs unloaded their 12-troop passangers – into the waiting maw of a M240-G machine gun fire team.
“So far we’ve killed a little more than a platoon’s worth of troops with a loss of eight Marines,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Robbins, platoon sergeant for 3rd plt., Co. G. “They haven’t made it into buildings we occupy yet, just ones on the outskirts of the town. We’re only four hours in, though, and morale is high.”
For the next two hours, the battlefield became quiet, save for sporadic pop-shots from each side. The Australians were stalled by the aggressive defense of the Marines, and take some time to figure out how to push from the outer buildings to the inner core. The Marines, keeping a watchful eye on the enemy locations, used the time to conduct ammo counts and take in some food and water.
1220- Shortly after noon, the APCs and LAVs that dispatched Australian soldiers fell back after discovering the minefields that nearly encompassed the town. Using the tree line for cover, the armored element swung around to the opposite side of the town to provide covering fire for their advancing soldiers.
The Marines kept that advance at a standstill, further fortifying their individual buildings against the imminent infiltration while keeping egress routes open.
“We’ve been fighting for nearly seven hours now, and we’ve been doing a good job keeping them back as the smaller force,” said Lance Cpl. Erik Brasile, fire team leader with 3rd plt., Co. G. “We’ve accomplished our overall mission by holding them off until the third, which was two days ago, and now we’re going to delay their taking the town as long as possible.”
To do this, the Marines fortified each building by lining the alleyways with concertina wire, barring the insides of the doors, wiring and duct-taping the windows, and running c-wire inside the lower floors of the buildings. They also used guerrilla-style defenses such as trip-wire smoke grenade traps.
1324- Overcoming the minefields that surrounded the town, the Australians maneuvered a tank to provide a continual overwatch of the roofs. Marines sustained several casualties from this tank; but the majority took cover inside the buildings. The danger of civilian casualties forced the tank to cease fire after the Marines moved inside.
Confined to the indoors, Moyer was unable to call in further artillery strikes but continued to coordinate egress routes and where to focus fire.
“From here on out we have to be reactive to the Australian soldiers,” he said as fire came through the open windows. “It’s the Raspberry Creek Alamo now.”
1424- Impatience coursed through the ranks of the enemy. After more than six hours of fighting and two hours of a stalemate, the remaining Marines itched for more action, but were conscious of how the passing of time could work in their favor.
“They think fighting 50 Marines during the day was bad,” said Robbins. “Wait until they have to fight 18 during the night.”
Over the next few hours, intermittent fire-fights and minor Australian advances wore away at the Marines’ numbers, but the Australians continued to suffer a much higher casualty rate. At the 11-hour Mark, 12 Marines remained, prepared to fight to the very end.
1700- With an average of one kill every five minutes, Moyer, Robbins and four other Marines suppressed the Australians on the roofs and second stories of the surrounding buildings. Two additional fire teams remained in the town; one moving around to draw fire away from the Moyer’s team, while the other set up defenses in a building adjacent to Moyer’s.
With the sun now set, darkness was descending upon the town. The Australian soldiers donned night vision and made their advances, using the retreating light as concealment. However, the Marine fire team cloaked by darkness proved much deadlier than estimated.
1737- A team of soldiers broke through the first-floor barricades of the reinforced building. Standing between those soldiers and the building’s capture was Moyer, the three-war veteran Robbins, three Marines, and two machine guns trained on the staircase. With exceptional suppression and avoidance of simulated grenades, the Marines held their position for an additional 20 minutes, eventually being overrun and killed. Two of the Marines were deemed wounded in action and taken as prisoners of war.
“We fought to the last and held them off as long as possible,” said Cpl. Fritz Waechtler, machine gun team leader with Weapons plt., Co. G. “It was only a matter of time, but I think we did a lot better than the Australians expected.”
1833- The Aussies eventually made their way to the building where the final three Marines remained. With a SAW and two rifles, the last of Co. G. cut down a number of soldiers before being eliminated.
Later, coming up on 2000 hours, the Marine “casualties” assembled in one location as the Australians cleared all remaining areas, swept for additional mines and searched for improvised explosive devices. The battle was over for the Marines, the last of their rifles had been silenced.
While Exercise Hamel tests the operational capabilities of the Australian 1st Brigade, the Marines gained valuable lessons from the battle and honed their proficiency in urban combat.
“There was a lot of exceptional small-unit leadership shown during the day from the top right down to the fire team leaders,” said Moyer. “Every training opportunity is treated as a real scenario to build upon those skill sets. Overall, they’ve done an outstanding job.”
With the main operation of Exercise Hamel completed, a final assault on the Marine/Australian contingency headquarters remains, after which the multi-week war draws to a close.
“I’ve been in for nine years and all I know is Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Robbins. “To be attached to the 31st MEU and train with new foreign militaries is a great experience. We’ve definitely learned a lot from this deployment to Australia.”
Exercise Hamel 2012 is a multi-national training evolution between the U.S. Marine Corps, Australian Army and New Zealand Army, aimed at certifying the Australian 1st Brigade for operational deployment.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.