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Intelligence unit deployed to Afghanistan as movie about WWII predecessor hits the screens

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A new film about a World War Two mission by Royal Marines from 30 Commando to capture Nazi secrets is released in UK cinemas today as 30 Commando embark on their first operational tour since then.

In 1943, 30 Commando, an offensive naval intelligence unit, ventured into Norway to capture vital Nazi technology that helped the Allies win the Second World War.

‘Age of Heroes’, the new movie based on this true story and starring Sean Bean and Danny Dyer, is released in UK cinemas today, Friday 20 May 2011.

Despite their successes in World War Two, 30 Commando were disbanded during post-war demobilisation.

But last December the auspicious title was reintroduced when it was adopted by the United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group to better reflect the unit’s role and continued use of the skills, techniques and methodology learnt by their forebears during the Second World War.

And six weeks ago, 30 Commando deployed to Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 14, as part of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. The unit, made up predominantly of Royal Marines, also includes Royal Navy, RAF and Army personnel.

Their main job is to find information and understand the information to derive intelligence from it and thus enable operational decisions.

Members of 30 Commando Support Squadron engaged in an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan
Members of 30 Commando Support Squadron engaged in an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan [Picture: PO(Phot) Burke, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Lieutenant Colonel Matt Stovin-Bradford RM is the Commanding Officer of 30 Commando. He explained the significant role his men and women are playing in the fight against the insurgents:

30 Commando’s mission in Afghanistan is to gain information superiority on the battlefield and gain intelligence from the enemy to ensure the future success of British and Afghan forces.

While 30 Commando aren’t the only intelligence unit in Afghanistan, they are among the few who can trace their lineage back to World War Two, applying many of the same covert principles but with the most modern technology.

The modern day 30 Commando comprises four squadrons (Communications, Support, Logistics and Y Squadron), who are each at the forefront of obtaining and processing intelligence.

They have been augmented in Afghanistan by two Royal Artillery batteries who provide intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets and surveillance expertise.

On HERRICK 14, 30 Commando Support Squadron is the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) - an agile and flexible force able to go deep into enemy territory unsupported and for protracted periods of time.

Their Officer Commanding is Major Nick Foster RM:

Our job is to conduct intelligence-led operations, focused very much in the insurgents’ safe havens, operating well ahead of other coalition forces,” he said.

The BRF is independent on the battlefield and can find and identify insurgents, through basic soldiering methods to the most technical unmanned air vehicles, all the while maintaining the ability to attack the enemy where he feels safe.

Our activities frequently generate exploitable intelligence which we pass back to Headquarters Task Force Helmand.

Information and intelligence is also collected and analysed by Y Squadron and their attached Intelligence Corps specialists.

Y Squadron intercept enemy communications and fuse their findings with the thirty Company Intelligence Teams who pass information to commanders to make tactical decisions based on the very best, up-to-date assessments of what is going on.

Through a combination of these and many other skills, in the short time they have been deployed, 30 Commando have seized large quantities of opium, tens of thousands of US dollars used to purchase weapons and equipment on the black market, and been in close contact with the enemy in combat.

Film star Danny Dyer, who plays one of the Royal Marines from the 1940s iteration of 30 Commando in the new film Age of Heroes, was trained by real marines for the role. He said of meeting the marines:

It was very humbling. You think you’re a man’s man but you’re not until you meet people like that - so much respect for them.

Some of the stories they were telling us … there was one guy who had been looking at a map when he was in Afghanistan and a sniper shot him through the hand and there was a hole in his hand and it hit him in the jaw.

And he was telling me this story, but so matter of fact, and I was just so freaked out by this story, I thought ‘oh my god I’m just some poncy actor trying to pretend to be a commando’, and these boys go through it like you wouldn’t believe.

It was great to have them around us on set, and they took the p**s out of me a lot which was quite healthy.

A special charity preview screening of the movie took place nationwide at Cineworld cinemas last Sunday, with every penny raised donated to the ForceSelect Foundation - a specialist fundraiser that supports small-scale Armed Forces charities that aid former UK Service members.