Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Below-zero heroes learn how to survive in the Arctic on CHF winter training

7 February 2018
Stop complaining about the cold and snow in the UK - it's nothing compared with the hardships sailors and Royal Marines are facing in the Arctic.

Personnel from the Commando Helicopter Force have been getting used to surviving in extreme cold (temperatures typically between -13˚C and -19˚C) in northern Norway.

Exercise Nordic Eagle is a mixture of training for CHF personnel - air and ground crew - the Mobile Air Operations Team, who set up makeshift landing sites for aircraft where no airfield exists, RAF Chinook teams, the Royal Marines and the US Marine Corps.

Before there could be any thought of working with the helicopters, Royal Marines Mountain Leaders - the UK's experts in living and fighting in a cold-weather environment - taught the basics of survival to personnel.

Survival is a key part of the training - from the basics of lighting fires and building snow shelters/holes in an emergency


By the time they've finished this winter, they'll have passed on their experience to around 300 men and women.

The syllabus is extensive, and comes thick and fast. The camp-based phase includes the use of personal clothing and equipment from state-of-the-art Carinthia Gore-Tex to sleeping bags, snowshoes to avalanche transceivers, as well as the fundamentals of putting up tents, using lamps and cookers and living on Arctic rations.

Then it's time to live in the field. A BV tracked vehicle drops the trainees two kilometres from their bivouac for the night.

They have to march or ski a couple of kilometres, then dig, put up and finally move into ten-man tents.

After food and topping up flasks, students conduct a snow pack analysis, determining local snow conditions before hands-on practice with the Arva avalanche transceivers.

The evening finishes with lessons on sound and light in the Arctic and astro-navigation, before cramming back into ten-man tents and settling in for the night.

The next morning instructors lead a snowshoe walk through the countryside around Bardufoss - a small town roughly half-way between Narvik and Tromsø which is home to a major air base - to get the blood pumping before switching to more operational training, living in four-man tents and creating a 'tactical harbour' hidden in the woods.

Survival is a key part of the training - from the basics of lighting fires and building snow shelters/holes in an emergency, to learning how to safely and effectively butcher a chicken or turkey.

The instruction ends with the dreaded 'ice breaking' drill - learning how to safely clamber out of a frozen lake should the ice shatter beneath you.

The instructors carve a suitably-sized hole in the ice, then encourage trainees to ski in, using their ski poles to help them out, before receiving a mandatory tot of rum to help them recovery from the shock and cold… and to toast the Queen.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.