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Royal Marines share cold weather skills with Allies in wintry Poland

30 November 2018

Deep in the forests and lakes of eastern Poland, Royal Marines are teaching troops from four nations the art of surviving – and fighting – in winter.

Commandos from the UK’s Land Warfare Centre have been dispatched to the village of Bemowo Piskie, 130 miles north of Warsaw, to share their winter warfare expertise with Battle Group Poland – a multinational force of around 1,200 motorised/mechanised troops whose composition changes every six months: currently Americans, the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, and soldiers from Croatia and Romania.

The battle group is part of NATO’s increased presence in eastern Europe to provide reassurance and military support to Poland and the Baltic states to meet the rising challenge posed by Russia.

After spending so much time in warm weather environments, it’s good for soldiers to learn how to adapt and use this equipment to be able to go harder and longer in this cold weather.

Colour Sergeant Ron Taylor

In summer troops must contend with hot, humid conditions and plagues of mosquitoes, flies and other creepy crawlies.

And in winter, Masuria is one of the coldest parts of Poland, blanketed by snow, temperatures fall below zero, and an icy blast from the east adds an evil wind chill.

Even in late November, the Battle Group troops had to contend with temperatures down to -5C and freezing rain… which is where the UK’s cold weather warfare experts, the Royal Marines, come in.

They have decades of experience of training in Norway, living and fighting in temperatures as low as -30C, experience they shared with the rest of the battle.

“Preparation is key – I brief the soldiers on what to expect, which breeds confidence,” explained Colour Sergeant Ron Taylor, a RM instructor at the Land Warfare Centre.

“It was a great idea for the Army to cross train with the Royal Marines to share our knowledge and skills to be able to tackle cold weather climates.

“After spending so much time in warm weather environments, it’s good for soldiers to learn how to adapt and use this equipment to be able to go harder and longer in this cold weather. It’s important to make sure soldiers are properly equipped and professionally prepared.”

He and his comrades ran through the gamut of tests ‘winter soldiers’ face: living off the land, building shelters, navigation by day and night, spotting the signs of hypothermia and treating it, and the dreaded ice-breaking drill – falling through ice into a lake, then clambering out again with the aid of your skis.

“I had some reservations at the beginning of the course, because of the unfriendly weather,” said Romanian 1st Lt Catalin Staret, Deputy Commander of the Black Bats, Battle Group Poland’s Romanian Air Defence Detachment.

“But now I have to say that it was really great. It was a unique and demanding experience for me. In Romania, this kind of course takes place, but I have never had the opportunity to participate.

“It was very interesting, informative, and I learned many hands-on survival skills and tips. Working with the British was like working with my colleagues. They have been really professional, and have shown devotion and commitment in everything they do. I am glad that I have participated in this course and whenever I get the chance to work with them, I will do it.”

The training concluded not in the field, but the classroom: a written test, which covered cold weather medical care, principles of survival and navigation techniques.

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