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Commandos on Cold War battleground for climax of major war games in Latvia

15 June 2018
Two weeks of action-packed training for Royal Marines in Latvia ended in explosive fashion in a former Cold War secret town.

For decades Skrunda-1 was off limits to all but the 5,000 Russian military personnel stationed, manning once top-secret radar installations.

Nearly 30 years on and the abandoned town provided the perfect setting for the climax of Sabre Strike 18, a massive international exercise involving 18,000 personnel from 19 NATO nations

Flying the flag for the Royal Navy throughout the fortnight-long exercise, which was spread across Poland and Latvia from Poznań in the west to the Latvian Army’s ranges just east of Riga, were the men of Zulu Company, 45 Commando, normally based in Arbroath on the Scottish east coast.

The highlight of the event was a simulated shoulder-mounted rocket launch, which wowed the 200 watching visitors and press.


For the final strand of Sabre Strike, played out before dignitaries from across NATO, including the deputy commander of NATO’s air and ground forces in central Europe, Spain’s Lt Gen Juan Campins of Joint Force Brunssum, and Latvia’s Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis.

They saw 45 Commando’s assault engineers come to the fore on the final day of ‘fighting’ in Skrunda-1, 90 miles west of Riga.

It’s become a centre for urban combat training – and an eerie relic of Soviet rule; faded murals extolling the virtues of Communism, kitsch portraits of Lenin, litter, crumbling bricks and walls pockmarked from previous training exercises.

The assault engineers provided some of the biggest bangs as they demonstrated not only how they might force their way inside the derelict apartment blocks of Skrunda such as explosive door entry, but also simulated mortar and artillery fire and air strikes.

The highlight of the event was a simulated shoulder-mounted rocket launch, which wowed the 200 watching visitors and press.

The bangs, flames and flashes were part of the wider ‘liberation’ of Skrunda-1 from heavily-armed forces by Latvian and Norwegian troops, who fought their way through the run-down town, supported by armoured vehicles and American jets.

Running since 2010, the US-led exercise (Americans comprised two thirds of the personnel involved) is aimed at demonstrating NATO forces can work side-by-side with their comrades from Poland and the Baltic States.

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