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Royal Marines gear up for Arctic role in Scottish Highlands

5 January 2017
More than 400 British commandos endured snow and sub-zero temperatures in Scotland as they honed winter warfare skills ready for Arctic war games.

The green berets – who are Britain’s specialist cold weather warriors – prepared for the rigours of living and fighting in snow-blanketed mountains with 16 days in the Highlands.

Exercise Green Claymore is the annual ‘pre-Arctic’ taster for the Corps before it decamps to northern Norway for three months of hardcore winter warfare training.

In Scandinavia, the marines can expect temperatures as low as -30˚C (below that all training ceases as it’s deemed to be too dangerous); on the slopes of the Highlands, it was a ‘mere’ -12˚C.

For the past three years the package has been run from Cameron Barracks in Inverness, an excellent base for training in the North-West Highlands, where the changeable weather, isolation and rugged terrain make for a very challenging environment making for a valuable training experience.

Before any thought was given to tackling Britain’s tallest mountain, the 16-day training package – offered in three tranches of up to 180 troops apiece – begins with the basics.

After lectures and demonstrations, building physical fitness and strength on low-level route marches, the trainees headed out into the mountains for medium and high-level routes.

For those lucky enough to find a weather window, there was the chance to have a go at the 1,062m (3,484ft) An Teallach (Gaelic for ‘The Anvil’), located about six miles outside Ullapool. And for those unlucky enough... when temperatures dropped to 12˚C below zero and a layer of snow meant a crossing was impossible, there was snow and ice training on its slopes.

On the whole, the exercise ran smoothly, offering an excellent package overall and delivered in very challenging conditions.

Maj Paul Forrest

In addition, the groups spent a day exercising in a quarry at Ballachulish, near Glencoe, and carried out a river crossing in the frigid Scottish climate... all leading to a final four-day exercise where trainees had to practise all the skills they’d been taught during the preceding 12 days in a tactical environment.

‘Enjoying’ the experience alongside various companies from the RM’s three main fighting units, 40, 42 and 45 Commandos were marines from specialist intelligence unit 30 Commando, the amphibious warfare experts of 1st Assault Group, crews and engineers from the Viking armoured squadron and logistics support teams such as chefs and medics.

And Americans from 3/8 Marines were taking a brief break from their role as the Black Sea Rotational Force fancied a spot of cold weather training... although not all appreciated it.

“For some of them Green Claymore was a unique experience as many had never spent any time in the snow or the mountains,” said Maj Paul Forrest of Arbroath-based 45 Commando whose unit provided many of the experienced mountain leaders overseeing the training.

“They were without doubt the most vocal group on the hill, although a spell of exceptionally good weather did leave them wondering what all the fuss was about.”

On top of the 419 people successfully trained, the exercise was a useful workout for the 70 instructors and support staff.

“The success of this year’s exercise must go down to the enablers,” said Maj Forrest, “in particular the chefs, logisticians and drivers who kept everyone on the hill, fed and equipped, while dodging salt-licking deer on the roads in the process.

“On the whole, the exercise ran smoothly, offering an excellent package overall and delivered in very challenging conditions.”

Much of the Corps is now deploying inside Norway’s Arctic Circle for combined winter exercises with our allies, reaching its climax in early March with Joint Viking 17 involving British and Dutch marines and the Norwegian Army.

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