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Royal Marines test skills in moving across Arctic battlefield

3 March 2021
Royal Marines perfected skills needed to move rapidly across the Arctic battlefield and wilderness on intensive training missions in northern Norway.

Marines from cold weather warfare specialists 45 Commando – based in Arbroath – must know how to master the deep snow and ice of the Arctic wilds to ensure they can gain the tactical upper hand on the frozen battlefield. 

That means they need to be able to move on skis efficiently while carrying kit weighing up to 75 pounds – no mean feat in undulating terrain. 

Basic skiing techniques are refreshed and challenging journeys across the snow are undertaken during this phase of the winter deployment – which shapes each commando into a complete winter warrior – to refine techniques and make sure each commando can move with weight safely. 

Training becomes increasingly more challenging – from skiing on slopes you might find on an alpine holiday, to more demanding terrain untouched by skis.

Corporal John Thornton, Mountain Leader 2, said: “The skills that were developed during the week are vital for being able to operate as a credible fighting force in this unforgiving environment. 

“Even comparatively benign routes can prove to be a considerable obstacle when the balance is thrown off with a heavy bergen – this is why we spent many hours on the slopes before venturing into more realistic off-piste routes.”

Marine Jonathan Griffin, X-Ray Company, added: “There was a mix of abilities in the group but everyone was challenged at some point and I think a lot of us were surprised by how much our skiing ability improved over the course of the week.”

The skills that were developed during the week are vital for being able to operate as a credible fighting force in this unforgiving environment.

Corporal John Thornton

More experienced Arctic operators were simultaneously training in more complex skills, qualifying them to teach future generations on their first deployment to Norway in coming years.

The Tent Group Commanders Course includes building snow caves for shelter, much longer cross-country ski marches (around 20km per day), alpine skiing and day and night skijoring – when a group of commandos are towed behind all-terrain vehicles on skis for rapid movement across the battlefield. 

Each commando must be able to yomp across snow and ice on snow shoes and skis, so they are self-sufficient, which can be the difference between life and death in the brutal Arctic and when looking to outwit the enemy.

This phase of training comes after mastering survival skills – including shelter building, navigating by the stars and the infamous ice breaking drills to test responses to cold shock. 

This training culminated in a move to a mountainous area, where commandos were exposed to punishing 40mph winds, giving them first-hand experience in the importance of their skills.

While being self-sufficient is important for commandos, they also give their vehicles a work out in the Arctic to ensure they are able to move quickly across the region to the areas they are needed most. 

Armoured Support Group carry out driver training on the ice and snow in their Viking armoured vehicles at the Setermoen training area.

The Vikings are used to quickly get marines to the front line and their crews must be well-drilled in the difficulties of Arctic manoeuvring.

Once they wrapped up the mobility phase of training, 45 Commando were issued orders and weapons before deploying on the final part of the cold weather warfare course, in which they study and experiment with Arctic battlefield tactics. 

The unit have deployed to the Arctic alongside their comrades from 3 Commando Brigade, including 29 Commando Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Royal Engineers, Commando Logistic Regiment and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group.

Everyone deployed has gone through a rigorous ten-day quarantine period in line with the host nation’s Covid-19 guidelines.


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