For those who may not be aware of his bravery in 2006 here is an article by the WO in typical modest tones about the situation (he was on a 2 year exchange tour with the USMC):
Royal In Fallujah
USMC small craft companies in Iraq make sure the waterways belong to the coalition and not the insurgents. Here is the view from a Royal Marine.
By Colour Sergeant M.R. Tomlinson
The following account is a very brief insight into my tour in Iraq with the Marines Small Craft Company (SCCo). Not only was it an honor to be asked to deploy with SCCo, it would also prove to be a greater honor as I soon found myself fighting alongside our brave brethrenthe USMC.
SCCo recently deployed with a new type of riverine craft in order to mount riverine patrols throughout the waterways of Iraq, namely the Euphrates and the Tigris. The Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC) is capable of carrying 18 troops in light order at a top speed of 40 knots; three gun mounts provide multi-purpose firing platforms for weapon systems such as GPMGs, MK19 grenade launchers, .50 caliber heavy machine gun (HMG) and the GAU 17 gatling gun that throws out 3,000 rounds per minute. All the above weapon systems were used on many occasions, providing both invaluable fire support to the ground combat element (GCE) and a direct weapon against attackers.
Iskandariyah would be my first introduction to riverine operations in Iraq. 4th Platoon had already been patrolling the waterways of the Euphrates and had several engagements with insurgents before myself, along with a section of 3rd Platoon and Captain Wittnam joined them. We would spend the next 10 days patrolling the Euphrates searching for insurgent activity on the water and conducting snap vehicle checkpoints, cordon and knocks, and searching houses for insurgents and weapon caches.
Although we were subject to regular mortar and rocket attacks, contact with the enemy was minimal, probably attributable to the amount of firepower these boats yield. The insurgents had only days before been on the receiving end of 6,000 rounds of return fire when they attempted to ambush the boats on a patrol. However, despite little activity, time on the ground proved invaluable to us. We would get our share of enemy contact sooner than we realized in Fallujah where we would spend two weeks operating at a forward operating base (FOB) not 400 meters from the Joan district during the November offensive.
Following lessons learned during the April offensive of Fallujah when the insurgents used the Euphrates as a main supply route, SCCo was tasked to establish two blocking positions around the southern boundary of the city. Our mission was to deny freedom of movement into and out of the area by the insurgents, prevent re-supply of weapons and ammunition, serve as a medevac platform, conduct land-side ground operations, and provide fire support to any other forces within our tactical area of responsibility (TAoR).
We deployed on the night of November 8, 2004 from our launch site and commenced our transit downriver toward Fallujah. Five SURCs and one Rigid Assault Craft (RAC) were used during this operation, with 53 Marines of SCCo spread between the craft as boat captains, coxswains, gunners, mechanics, my GCE of ten Marines and the medic. As with all other operations, the GCE would always be seated in the first two craft. Their task is mainly as a dismount section utilized for infantry tasking.
Within 20 minutes of launch we were at our limit of exploitation. The intelligence we had received, that insurgents were actively patrolling the riverbanks, proved accurate. No sooner had we arrived when the enemy engaged the front two boats from a range of 50 meters. A mix of HMG and small arms fire ripped overhead, some rounds striking the gunners Kevlar plates on the GPMG mounts, others passing directly through the open console of the craft. Immediately, we returned fire into the building and riverbank positions where the enemy had foolishly tried to take us on. The rear SURCS maneuvered forward and increased our return fire. The craft turned 180 degrees to enable the rear .50 caliber guns and MK19 to fully engage the attackers.
The craft then moved upstream 300 meters and established the FOB. Luckily we had survived what would prove to be the first of several ambushes.
The Fallujah offensive lasted approximately 19 days of which SCCo spent l5 days operating from the FOB. We took on multiple tasks and certainly proved an asset to the land force commanders. Each day we were subjected to mortar and rocket attacks, snipers, and heavy, medium and small arms fire.
Seven days into the operation, on November 15, at 1500 hours, we were tasked to search a compound for a suspected weapons cache in our TAoR. We decided to set a diversionary maneuver and patrol upriver past our intended target, with the intention of inserting the GCE further upstream. All was going according to plan, however, a well-prepared ambush lay in wait. The insurgents had actually dug in several fighting positions along the riverbank with good cover and concealment. Just as the two lead boats (with myself and GCE embarked) started to about turn, we came under sustained RPG, RPK and small arms fire. Rather than attempt to drive through the ambush the boats turned directly into the ambush. With GPMGs, MK19s, .50 cal and even the GAU 17 returning fire, we closed their position. No sooner had the two SURCs rammed into the riverbank than I disembarked with my two fire teams and the ever-enthusiastic Captain W and began assaulting the fire positions. Over the next 48 minutes we were in contact, fire and maneuvering across irrigation fields, closing with and destroying the enemy.
During this time the SURCs and crew were taking RPG and small arms fire, yet they still managed to provide us invaluable fire support. It seems that a local village not 400 meters from our position was accommodating a large number of insurgents that had obviously fled from Fallujah. It soon became apparent that we were nearly surrounded, as we started taking fire from left and right and to the rear. We were greatly outnumbered and running low on ammunition; with an ever-increasing number of insurgents pressuring our position, we decided to call in the SURCs to conduct a hot extraction. We finally broke contact after 68 minutes. The only casualty was a lance corporal.
The Fallujah offensive continued for another eight days, during which time we continued to engage pockets of insurgents both from the boats and on the ground. We were also subjected to several attacks involving extremely close air burst mortar fire, sometimes falling 10 meters from the boats.
Finally, we were stood down. The majority of insurgents had been killed, captured or fled. For the USMC, Fallujah had proven to be the biggest urban battle since the Tet offensive of Vietnam. For SCCo it had proven to be the first major riverine warfare involving U.S. forces, again, since the Vietnam War.
Upon our return to camp we were immediately stood up to convoy to Camp Iskandariyah. Our success in Fallujah was common word and suddenly SCCo was the asset all commanders wanted. We were to assist in several clearance operations with the resident 24th MEU and the British Black Watch. From here on out, SCCo would achieve every mission with outstanding success. My nine weeks with the company, however, had come to an end and I returned to Camp Lejeune. There, I assisted the other two platoons of SCCo with their preparations to deploy. Their success is attributable to the dedication, professionalism and motivation of the Marines. During my memorable time with SCCo in Iraq, I was able to advise and assist the company in many ways: I was able to see the sharpest edge of riverine warfare and see, firsthand, just how valuable a gun boat/fire support platform issomething I now passionately feel our Royal Marines need. O
Colour Sergeant Tomlinson is currently on a two-year LCI exchange program with the USMC at Camp Lejeune, NC. His billet serves as an amphibious/riverine instructor to Small Craft Company.
Colour Sergeant Matthew Tomlinson receives the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. Colour Sergeant Tomlinson was commanding a US Marine Corps assault force on the Euphrates River near Fallujah in November 2004 when they came under fire from a numerically superior and well-defended enemy position.
His decision to turn his lead craft towards the attack created an element of surprise, which unhinged the enemy. He was first on the river bank, engaging in close quarter battle, enabling his men to encircle the enemy.
When it became clear the insurgents were reinforcing, Colour Sergeant Tomlinson called for fire support on the enemy Rocket Propelled Grenade position. He then planned and led a decisive assault on the key enemy position.
On realising his force was running low on ammunition, Colour Sergeant Tomlinson executed a safe withdrawal to the river bank where he personally provided cover fire to ensure his men safely boarded the boats. He also marked his position so that air support could counter strike at the enemy force. The citation reads:
"Colour Sergeant Tomlinson's sure, aggressive and decisive actions throughout saved the lives of many in his US Marine Corps patrol. He displayed courage, determination, and remarkable presence of mind throughout and his actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Royal Marines."
Speaking about the incident, Colour Sergeant Tomlinson, 39, said:
"On the river there's really nowhere to hide, so I took the decision to move towards the enemy."
At the time of the incident Colour Sergeant Tomlinson, who has been in the Royal Marines for 17 years, was taking part in a two-year exchange programme with the US military:
"While I was there I was a boats advisor training the US Marines. I deployed to Iraq as part of the US Marines, I wore their uniform and worked alongside them as one of them."
So what did his American counterparts think of him?
"We got on pretty well. Everybody was pleased to see that it all worked well. They were a great bunch of lads and had a great Commanding officer. In Iraq we were mortared on a daily basis, as well as being fired on every day, so it was an interesting experience."