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Royal Marines master ice in Arctic vertical assaults

7 March 2019
Royal Marines have been testing their ability to take the enemy by surprise on ice climbing exercises deep inside the Arctic Circle.

It’s the bread and butter for the Royal Marines’ Mountain Leader Cadre to lead commandos into the heat of the action in the freezer of the high north.

These winter warriors are experts in long range reconnaissance, arctic warfare and mountain climbing, but this was the first chance for Mountain Leaders’ most junior ranks to test themselves against the ice.

It’s a dangerous commitment to scale a sheer face of ice but it can lead to a huge tactical advantage. Mountain Leaders can take a company of men into the heart of combat over terrain the enemy might deem completely impossible to traverse.

It’s the Recce Troop’s bread and butter on how to ascend a cliff face. The fact that we did that on ice is quite a rare thing

Marine Dan Pettitt

It’s the element of surprise that is crucial and now the Mountain Leader Class 3 (ML3) commandos have had access to some of the planet’s best ice climbing in the famous Lyngen Alps, a compact range of peaks in northern Norway – close to the borders of Finland and Sweden – which attracts climbers from all over the world.

“In a tactical scenario, the enemy wouldn’t expect you to go up that route with a huge ice face in the way,” said Marine Dan Pettitt, an ML3 with 40 Commando’s Recce Troop. 

“You can use that to your advantage and take troops up that. It’s definitely a big skill. I do a lot of climbing back at home and it’s a very different technique for ice climbing. It’s a lot slower and methodical.

“The enemy wouldn’t think it would be possible for a convention force to ascend that feature. They would think it was impossible, so it can bring you a big advantage to take on a climb like this.

“Mountain Leaders can install fixed lines and get a whole company up an ascent up to around 50m.”

During this three-day climbing programme, the ML3s tackled a 10m ascent on a wall of ice, working on six-man vertical assaults in the extreme cold.

“It’s the Recce Troop’s bread and butter on how to ascend a cliff face. The fact that we did that on ice is quite a rare thing,” said Mne Pettitt.

The climbing training also taught the ML3s different techniques, including snow anchors – a way of using the snow and ice to support climbers as they make an ascent.

It is an essential skill, making the most of the natural environment without extra aides to make sure commandos can successfully make a climb.

The Mountain Leaders also developed their ability to install fixed ropes on to the ice, creating a more established path to move troops up and down an ice wall and into the action.

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