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Royal Marines head for the frozen Arctic

17 January 2020
Royal Marines have deployed to the frozen Arctic in their largest numbers for many years for their annual cold weather workouts.

Arbroath-based 45 Commando are in the north of Norway learning to be winter warriors and have already completed the first phase of their Arctic survival training in bitterly cold temperatures.

The Green Berets are being put through their paces in the harsh conditions around 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, where the sun barely rises and temperatures plummet to below -30C.

As 3 Commando Brigade’s highest readiness unit, 45 Commando must be prepared to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. That includes the most extreme climes known to man, including Arctic, jungle and desert. 

More than a thousand marines have headed for Norway this time, with 47 Commando Raiding Group with their small boats and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group also in the region as well as a contingent from 40 Commando.

This is all in preparation for Exercise Cold Response – a large-scale, multinational war games led by Norway in late February and into March.

The deployment is all part of the UK’s commitment to the Arctic, which saw 800 marines deploy last year and this larger force head north this time around.

Firstly, commandos must take on the survival training before learning to move and fight in one of the planet’s most inhospitable regions on the Cold Weather Warfare Course.

Half the battle is managing the temperature, lack of daylight and the terrain. Snow storms can occur suddenly, so learning the basics of survival is key to operating in the Arctic conditions.

“Overcoming this demanding environment presents its own challenges,” said Lieutenant Alex Saunders, of 45 Commando.

“The survival phase of training includes learning how to construct snow shelters, navigating by the stars and how to trap animals in a survival situation.”

The initial phases on the Arctic training concludes with the infamous ice breaking drills. Commandos have to plunge into a hole in the ice and climb out of the water unassisted using their ski poles.

This brutal part of the training is designed to help Royal Marines recognise and reduce the risks of cold shock: a physical response to being immersed in cold water that can rapidly incapacitate and even kill.

It was my first-time doing ice breaking drills. It’s a marine’s rite of passage and so I’m really happy I got the opportunity to come to Norway and take part in this exercise.

Lance Corporal Angus McKenzie

Crossing a frozen lake or river can bring a tactical advantage but comes at huge risk, so ice breaking is about preparing for being suddenly dropped into bracing water.

After rewarming from their dip through the ice, those on the survival course head into the wilderness to live from survival shelters.

Lance Corporal Angus McKenzie said: “It was my first-time doing ice breaking drills. It’s a marine’s rite of passage and so I’m really happy I got the opportunity to come to Norway and take part in this exercise.

“I’m really looking forward to the rest of the training and seeing what Norway has to offer.”

The marines are deployed to Norway until March. The Cold Weather Warfare Course has three phases – survival, mobility and warfare, culminating in a final exercise that puts the newly-taught skills into practice.

Once that’s done, 45 Commando will begin Skills to Arms training, working with fellow Royal Marines units and a variety of NATO allies.

That includes commando raiding through the Norwegian fjords and working on the Future Commando Force concepts.

Future Commando Force is the evolution of the Royal Marines into a fighting force ready for a new era of operations.

It focuses on the traditional commando skill set in which small teams disrupt enemy infrastructure on raids from the sea and air – as well as equipping marines with new technology and kit designed to aid their missions.

This training will prepare the marines for Exercise Cold Response. These multinational war games will take place off the Norwegian coastline and see Royal Marines project their fire and fury onto the shoreline from ships in the Norwegian Sea.

Cold Response is a Norwegian-led exercise and will see 45 Commando build on the success of their Baltic Protector deployment last year.

The exercise is spread over several weeks, with 45 Commando’s Battle Group operating from different ships alongside NATO partners and allies.

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