NEW LIFE FOR OLD TANK CHASSIS
Being the story of how the Royal Marines overcame Treasury parsimony.
As with all of the best reports that might have more than a sliver of truth.....are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin!
Once upon a time in an island off the coast of Europe, a little while ago, Her Majesty's Royal Marines were assigned a new task. Following several disturbing reports from the Baltic members of NATO, and the Swedish Government, the policy decision was made to task the Royal Marine Artillery Group with coastal defence. However, the Treasury in their infinite financial wisdom was not prepared to allocate extra funds for the tasking. Undeterred, the Marine artillerists went prowling around RAF MU's, army storage depots and the dimmest, darkest corners of Royal Navy dockyards.
Given that the "new equipment/capital expenditure" budget was nil, forays were made into the "maintenance of existing kit" moneys. The RN furnished Exocet and Harpoon launchers removed from recently decommissioned frigates, the army a number of redundant Challenger I chassis and the RAF a drone and launcher system that had been trialled and manufactured in small quantities but never used. The system that emerged was a two chassis weapons system, needing only two four ton trucks(one with a Hiab crane ) and a pair of Land Rovers to make it totally self sufficient. The tank chassis were given code names following UK procedure: following the "C" nomenclature rules, the units became the Chepstow and the Caerleon.......as previous experimental vehicles had been coded Conway and Caernarvon these names seemed appropriate.
The Chepstow was a triple missile launcher, crewed by two marines, a driver and an operator. The Caerleon was the radar unit crewed by three marines. Mid course target acquisition was handled by two marines in a Landrover using the drone. The two four ton trucks held a batch of missile
reloads and tents/food/personal kit. The final Land Rover was manned by a battery commander, a driver and a radio operator. This small group (11 marines, two NCOs and one officer) could get a useful coastal defence system anywhere in the UK within 48 hours. Twenty such Chepstow/Caerleon systems were operational within six months of the initial tasking, and regularly moved around the coast to protect anchorages and other "sites of significance"
The system has only brought to full alert status in the UK on one occasion to date, when a converted passenger ferry on its final voyage to a breakers yard was taken over by anti-nuclear protestors and sailed towards Sellafield on the Cumbrian coast. Chepstow/Caerleon units at the gunnery test range at Eskmeals and Drigg nature reserve monitored the vessel until it was boarded by a Royal Navy anti-piracy unit training in the Irish Sea.
It is known that four modified Chepstow/Caerleon units have exercised on West Falkland in 2013 and 2015. Armour had been removed from the tank chassis to reduce weight, giving a vehicle with a lower ground pressure per square foot than a man in boots. The transport element of the group was replaced by a third Challenger I chassis, equipped as a logistics vehicle and named a "Clydesdale" unit.
The sinking of the frigate Santiago del Estero in 2015 may possibly be associated with the deployment of Chepstow/Caerleon units. Irredentist groups in the Argentine armed forces are believed to have seized the frigate and two merchant vessels and sailed East from Puerto Madryn. The merchant vessels were intercepted by the Falklands guardship and returned peacefully with their crews and the armed men on board to Argentine Coastguard custody. All that is known for certain is that the Santiago suffered a catastrophic explosion at the waterline and sank immediately in deep water 20 miles off the West Falkland coast. Survivors claimed that they had sighted a small drone some minutes before the explosion, which took them totally unawares. Floating ordnance left over from the 1982 conflict was blamed. The site of the sinking has been declared a "prohibited area" by the Royal Navy, a statement being released to the effect that "as a courtesy to the Government and Armed Forces of Argentina, the site will be forever treated as if it were a war grave".
I would be fascinated to learn further details of these units, and their activities, or to see one of my compatriots on this site convert my report into a model or two.