Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Marines relish Arctic role teaching Army and Americans cold war skills

Marines relish Arctic role teaching Army and Americans cold war skills
21 February 2018
No tents. No cookers. No heaters and temperatures dropping to -23˚C. Just how Royal Marines like it. The Royal Navy’s elite Arctic warriors are honing and sharing their winter warfare skills in the unforgiving mountains of northern Norway.

Marines relish Arctic role teaching Army and Americans cold war skillsX-Ray Company from 45 Commando (Arbroath) and personnel from the Commando Logistics Regiment (Barnstaple), 50 warriors from the Army’s 3 Division (Salisbury Plain) and 250 members of the US Marine Corps converged on an old German airfield in Bardufoss, 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, for expert instruction from Royal Marine Mountain Leaders – the UK’s specialists in cold weather warfare – for what the Brits dubbed Exercise Cold Enabler… and the Americans called White Claymore.

The Royal Marines have decades of Arctic experience to call upon; during the Cold War, they would have been dispatched to Norway to protect NATO’s northern flank from a Soviet attack.

“If you can operate in this environment, you can operate in any environment,” said Maj Si Welch, the Royal Marine in charge of Cold Enabler.

The Arctic novices learned how to build makeshift shelters, build fires, gut fish and cook reindeer – the very basics of survival in northern Norway.

If you can operate in this environment, you can operate in any environment

Major Si Welch Royal Marines

The terrain around Bardufoss is peppered with lakes and rivers – all of which are frozen at this time of year.

Despite extensive training on measuring ice thickness and frozen lake and river crossing there is always the risk that a patch of ice might not support a person or vehicle.

To ensure everyone knows how to clamber back up should that happen, there’s the much-feared ice breaking drill: cut a hole in the ice, jump in, get out.

With the air temperature sitting at -23°C and the water constantly stirred to stop it refreezing, Royal Marine Mountain Leader 2 Cpl Alex Lockwood demonstrated how to enter the water.

ColdEach of the commandos and soldiers then conducted the drill in turn. Dressed in white camouflage and with a Bergen rucksack containing a full jerry can they approached the hole on skis with a safety line over their shoulder.

On entering the freezing water, they swim back to where they fell in – the last point of ice which supported their weight.

Next they jettison the Bergen (in a real scenario, retaining essential kit would be vital for rewarming) and, using the ski poles like daggers, the trainees haul themselves up onto the ice and report to the mountain leader with their name, rank and number before leaving the ice.

After rolling in the snow to remove excess moisture, everyone reported to Sgt Major Gavin Bage (Company Sergeant Major of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando) for a tot of rum and a toast to the Queen.

“Bardufoss tests every aspect of soldiering from surviving in the Arctic to avalanche drills and frozen lake crossing,” said Capt George Eatwell of 30 Commando IX Group.

“And everyone most go through the ice to ensure they know how to react if it happens for real. Training then progresses through a mobility and tactical phase where military skills are honed.” 

USMC platoon leader 2Lt Patrick Tabb said his men found the Arctic far more demanding than the desert or swamps around Camp Lejeune.

“It taxes every marine so much more. The temperatures are constantly sub-zero and there’s a nasty wind chill. It takes it out of the men. So as a commander you have to bear that in mind,” he said.

His marines spent two weeks in the hands of their British counterparts, learning how to move around on skis and ending with mock attacks firing blank rounds.

“The guys need to be at the top of their ‘A Game’ out here to be effective,” said C/Sgt Richard Jefferey, an instructor from 45 Commando.

“Once you’ve got over the daunting prospect of working in the cold, it instils in the guys that they can operate here.”

The British soldiers will take their experience and knowledge to eastern Europe as part of the international ‘Enhanced Force Presence’ in Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

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.