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Commando fliers thank Norwegian hosts with unusual supply mission

21 February 2024
The wings of the Royal Marines swapped guns, ammunition and supplies to help hikers in the frozen Norwegian Arctic.

As a ‘thank you’ to their hosts for permitting annual winter training (Operation Clockwork) deep inside the Arctic Circle, the commando aviators performed an unusual delivery mission – saving locals weeks of effort in brutal conditions.

The Commando Helicopter Force – based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset – makes extensive use of the fields around Bardufoss as crews practice ‘whiteout’ landings and take-offs, setting up makeshift refuelling points or camps to train personnel how to live, eat, survive in this harshest of environments.

The same terrain is also popular with winter hikers – the Royal Marines helped with the (thankfully successful) search for missing walkers last month – for whom refuge cabins are provided should the weather close in.

Several such huts pepper the remote Øvre Dividal National Park on the Norwegian-Swedish border – about 40 miles southeast of Bardufoss air base, the hub of the Commando Helicopter Force’s winter training.

Troms Turlag (The Norwegian Trekking Association) provides firewood for the cabins, which are all located more than 2,000ft above sea level – and there are no roads.

Instead, park authorities have relied on local volunteers riding snowmobiles through the wilderness for weeks to make the deliveries, potentially disturbing the local reindeer population and other wildlife.

Enter the Merlin Mk4s of 845 Naval Air Squadron, not only capable of carrying 24 Royal Marines into battle, but also supplies and equipment (including 105mm howitzers and BV tracked vehicles) slung beneath the aircraft.

From learning to maintain the aircraft in temperatures as low as -30 degrees, to landing in a snow cloud, this training is imperative to keep Junglie operators at the forefront of Great Britain’s Arctic capability.

Pilot Lieutenant Aaron Dempsey

With the help of the Mobile Air Operations Team, experts on the ground who establish makeshift forward bases and ensure safe load lifting, the wood was prepared for both loading aboard the Merlin’s rear cabin and in a giant sling net.

The aircraft flew through valleys before climbing the towering mountains of the national park to their drop off points near the cabins, delivering three tonnes of cargo in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

The delivery mission also serves as useful training for the commando fliers, safely transporting an awkward load to high ground blanketed in snow, far from any human habitation, in sub-zero temperatures, especially for some aircrew who had only recently earned qualifications to operate in the Arctic.

Pilot Lieutenant Aaron Dempsey said he and his predecessors had benefited from more than half a century of training in northern Norway.

“From learning to maintain the aircraft in temperatures as low as -30 degrees, to landing in a snow cloud, this training is imperative to keep Junglie operators at the forefront of Great Britain’s Arctic capability,” he added.

“It was humbling to be part of this year’s contribution to a long-established gesture of thanks to the Norwegian community.”

The Merlins are accompanied by the Commando Helicopter Force’s battlefield Wildcats of 847 Squadron at Bardufoss.

Once both squadrons have completed Clockwork, they will remain in northern Norway to support NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War, Steadfast Defender.
 

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