31 Armoured Engineer Squadron (31 AES), 32 Engineer Regiment, normally based in Hohne in northern Germany, are currently part of the Task Force Helmand Engineer Group.
They are the leading route proving and clearance squadron and their job is to travel across the UK’s area of operations in their Mastiff armoured vehicles to make sure routes are safe from IEDs and bombs.
On one of their many patrols recently, the team were clearing one of the main routes through Helmand when their vehicle struck an IED. Sapper Gareth Addy said immediately they knew what it was:
There was a massive explosion that seriously rocked the vehicle. It was the biggest I’ve ever experienced. Immediately afterwards it went very quiet and then you start to realise what’s happened and worry if everyone is OK.
The team quickly began their drills to assess the situation and check whether there were any injuries. Despite the size of the bomb and the force of the blast, none of the people in the Mastiff were hurt.
The vehicle sustained some damage, but, thanks to the armour and design of the Mastiff, it was only minor, and after a further assessment by the team of the route, the patrol continued with their journey.
Sapper Addy, aged 31 from Bridlington, who is a Mastiff driver and gunner, said it was only when they returned to Camp Bastion some hours later they realised how lucky they had been:
The vehicles we use really do work and everyone now knows that, should the worst happen, they will do a good job of protecting us. In a strange way, that incident increased everyone’s morale and confidence for the remainder of the tour.
The Mastiff is a heavily armoured, 6x6 wheel-drive protected patrol vehicle which carries eight people, plus two crew. It is used in Afghanistan to transport troops and protect large convoys as well as directly engaging the Taliban with its advanced weapons systems.
Although heavily armoured, these wheeled patrol vehicles have a less intimidating profile than tracked vehicles and give commanders on the ground in Afghanistan more options to deal with the threats they are facing.
Part of the Mastiff’s resilience towards mine explosions comes from the fact that its hull is V-shaped, as opposed to flat, which pushes the force of any explosion outwards.
During Operation HERRICK 14, the engineers from 31 AES have played an important part in enabling both troops and locals to move more freely from one area to another and with greater confidence in their security.
31 AES is part of the Task Force Helmand Engineer Group, made up of Royal Engineers from both 32 Engineer Regiment based in Hohne, Germany, and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment based in Barnstaple, North Devon.