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Royal Marines work with Norwegian emergency services on avalanche rescue training

26 February 2024
Royal Marines worked with the Norwegian Air Ambulance to rescue two injured hikers in the wake of an avalanche during an intensive Arctic training scenario.

The eyes and ears of the UK’s Commando Force, 30 Commando’s Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron, are at the tip of the UK’s Arctic spear – designed to work ahead of the main thrust of allied forces to forge the way ahead, often deep behind enemy lines in the most inhospitable environments. 

As their name and role suggests, they also have notable skills in finding and helping casualties in a perilous position – they recently helped Norwegian authorities find two missing hikers lost in the remote Helligskogen region.

The avalanche rescue exercise tested the squadron’s reactions to a medical emergency following an avalanche and validated the UK’s Role 1 medical facility – which provides first aid, immediate life-saving treatment and triage – at Helligskogen base, near the border with Finland and Sweden. 

It also tested and validated the Norwegians’ emergency call centre.

The scenario saw two casualties – one with head trauma and another with a broken leg – expertly located by the squadron, working alongside the search and rescue helicopter from Tromso, which winched the casualties from danger. 

The training brough together specialists from the UK Commando Force and the Norwegian emergency services. 

Major Ric Cole, from the UK Commando Force, said: “As part of their ongoing Extreme Cold Weather training, members of the UK Commando Force, including Royal Marines, Royal Navy medical staff and Commando Sappers from the Royal Engineers, have been working alongside Norwegian emergency services. 

“This latest training serial was an avalanche rescue of two casualties, from search to pre-hospital treatment and onwards to a Role 3 medical facility by Air Ambulance. 

“It again demonstrates the range and utility of the Commandos, as they prepare for Ex Steadfast Defender 24 alongside our allies and partners.”

The commandos have returned to the Arctic this year as NATO limbers up for its most important exercise in a generation, known as Steadfast Defender.

That will test the alliance’s ability to defend its flanks from an aggressor, bringing troops from North America and other regions to defend Europe.

That’s a wider picture of more than 90,000 troops, 50 ships, 80 fighter jets, helicopters, drones and more than 1,000 vehicles, including tanks.

HMS Prince of Wales will be leading the UK’s Carrier Strike Group at sea, but inland the Commando Force are tasked alongside allies to defend the Cap of the North – the region of Norway, Sweden and Finland north of the Arctic Circle. 

Usually Norway hosts a bi-annual workout to operate with allies on defence of NATO’s northern flank, but with Finland’s membership and Sweden’s expected accession, the exercise – previously called Cold Response – now encompasses the wider region and has been renamed Nordic Response.

Royal Marines have been working up to this moment through the winter as new generations take on the Cold Weather Warfare Courses.

The Arctic warfare experts – the Royal Marines Mountain Leaders – are responsible for educating and instructing new commandos on what is required to survive, move and fight across the ice.

Course members learn to navigate by the stars, build shelters out of wood and snow, survive off the land and jump into freezing water – known as the ice-breaking drill – to test responses to cold shock. 

The commandos are also taught navigation skills before taking to skis and snow shoes to learn how to quickly get across the ice and out-manoeuvre adversaries carrying weapons and equipment across training areas in the mountainous Troms and Finnmark county in northern Norway.

Marines take part in a biathlon when deployed in the Arctic – a winter sport combining cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. 

The roots of the biathlon’s history sit heavily in Scandinavia and has developed as part of Norwegian military training. 

It’s the perfect cold weather challenge for the Commando Force across mountain roads and forests. It is a race of speed and accuracy, making it perfect for honing warfare skills.

The course ultimately produces a conveyor belt of Arctic commandos, ready to be melded together to the wider Commando Force and create a formidable extreme cold weather fighting force.

Marines of Zulu Company from Arbroath-based 45 Commando completed their course and are now working towards Nordic Response – bringing in specialists to attach to the company.

Mortars and signaller teams from within 45 Commando, engineers from 59 Squadron of 24 Commando Royal Engineers, a group of engineers from the French 9th Marine Infantry Brigade and a US Marine Corps Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company have all attached to Zulu for Nordic Response. 

Z Company and their new arrivals worked with Viking armoured vehicles, including the mortar and ambulance variants, as they build towards Nordic Response.
“There was also time to practice the dismounted skills learned during the course, including ski mobility, break contact drills, avalanche rescue, and medical training,” explained Captain James Temple, second in command of Zulu Coy.

“During the second week ranks conducted further ski navigation training and conducted live firing on skis. The integration package culminated with team lanes, enabling the teams to practice a series of tactical actions as previously taught and practiced.”

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