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Royal Marines at the tip of the NATO spear on major Arctic exercise

14 March 2024
Royal Marines attacked vital ‘enemy’ infrastructure and carried out covert reconnaissance missions as they paved the way for large-scale NATO forces to move into the Nordic regions.

As part of the Royal Navy’s amphibious task group (known as Littoral Response Group (North)) designed to react to crises in northern Europe’s waterways and chokepoints, small teams of raiders from the UK’s elite Commando Forces landed ashore to conduct reconnaissance on key routes, towns and beaches to relay information back NATO headquarters to lay plans on where best to deploy the main punch of the alliance’s forces.

The Commandos, led by strike teams of Royal Marines of Arbroath-based 45 Commando, tracked down ‘enemy’ technology used to deny access to airspace and airwaves, creating favourable conditions for armour and aircraft to enter the region.

These missions were during Exercise Nordic Response as part of Steadfast Defender 24, NATO’s largest military drills in Europe in a generation, which test allies’ ability to reinforce the continent’s frontiers from North America and across the Atlantic in the face of an aggressor.

Nordic Response focused on amphibious landings on Norway’s complex northern coastline, bringing troops across the Arctic and into NATO’s newest members Sweden and Finland with HMS Prince of Wales and the UK Carrier Strike Group, including F-35B Lightning jets, part of a potent naval force. 

Royal Marines and the Commando Force play a crucial role in this giant jigsaw puzzle of NATO strength (some 20,000 troops from 12 nations took part in Nordic Response alone) firstly as the UK’s experts in Arctic warfare – deploying to Northern Norway every year to sharpen skills in surviving, moving and fighting in this inhospitable environment, but are also a specialist force able to strike along complex coastlines and open up strategically important zones. 

“This exercise was an excellent opportunity to work alongside NATO partners to deter Russia is the High North,” said Commanding Officer of 45 Commando, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Nixon.

“The exercise demonstrated the operational utility of Littoral Response Group (North), one of the Royal Navy’s amphibious task groups, in a warfighting context. 

“The Littoral Response Group enabled the United Kingdom’s Commando Forces, who are the UK’s leading experts in Arctic and mountainous environments, to find and destroy anti-access/area denial systems that allowed NATO to gain access to northern Norway. 

“The Royal Navy is learning lessons from Ukraine and is adapting and upgrading its forces to ensure they are as potent as possible.”

45 Commando’s Zulu Company landed ashore from RFA Mounts Bay in Burfjord, Northern Norway, gathering information on beach landing sites along the E6 road south to Sorstraumen. 

This allowed Italian forces to land at Badderen as the Dutch landed further northeast in the vicinity of Hammerfest.

Zulu worked closely with the French 9th Marine Infantry Brigade and US Marine Corps’ Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, which call in strikes from warships offshore.

Meanwhile, Yankee Company had been operating in the region for 11 days before Nordic Response began to gather information to shape the ground offensive.
Yankee deployed from Skibotn and carried out a covert 200km ride on snowmobiles deep into ‘enemy’ territory (known as a tactical insertion) to begin their reconnaissance work. 

The company worked with Norwegian Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol teams and other units associated with the Norwegian Military Intelligence Regiment.
As well as the UK Carrier Strike Group and Commando Forces, Nordic Response involved over 20,000 military personnel from 12 other NATO members, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the USA. 

The Littoral Response Group (North) is centred on 400 Royal Marines, Army and Navy Commandos and the amphibious ship RFA Mounts Bay.
Nordic Response comes off the back of a winter of operating closely with allies. 

Marines from 45 Commando completed the Dutch Arctic Movement & Survival Training – the equivalent of the Royal Marines’ own Cold Weather Warfare Course, which French and US Marines completed this year alongside the latest cohort of UK Commandos. 

DEALING WITH CHEMICAL ATTACKS

Close to where the amphibious landings took place in Burfjord, marines from 42 Commando – who spent much of Nordic Response playing the role of enemy troops – carried out some unique warfare training in responding to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks (known as CBRN).

It was the first time in many years that the Royal Navy instructors in CBRN warfare had deployed to the Arctic to carry out such training. 

The marines had to deal with attacks wearing protective kit, including gas masks, on top of the challenge of operating in deep snow and the extreme cold. 

“The importance of CBRN warfare has increased since the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022,” said training staff member Lieutenant Commander Dennis Murphy.

“CBRN warfare is amongst the most challenging aspects of modern warfare and combined with the difficulties of extreme cold it is down to the Royal Marines to lead UK Defence in developing this capability.

“Staff from the Defence CBRN Centre were on hand to learn lessons to pass onto the rest of UK Defence.”

“Working in Norway is tough and rewarding,” added 42 Commando’s Marine Jay White. “Operating in the High North using CBRN kit is an additional challenge, using this kit in this environment builds confidence and makes me eager to practice it more.”

Praising the overall success of Nordic Response is Vice Admiral Rune Andersen, the Commander of the Norwegian Headquarters. 
“The exercise sends a clear signal of unity and strength within the alliance,” he said. 

“It also demonstrates our ability to gather land, sea, and air forces from multiple countries and operate effectively together. 

“What sets Nordic Response apart from previous exercises is that we are training on integrated operations in the Nordic region, with exercise activities extending across the borders to our Nordic neighbours. 

Andersen added: “Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO marks a new era for defence cooperation in the north.

“We are well underway in revising our plans for various scenarios we must be prepared for. At the same time, it is necessary to maintain the close cooperation we have with our other close allies who have an interest and ability to contribute to security in the northern regions.”

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