Royal Marines lit up Arctic fjords and valleys as they laid down mortar rounds in the dark during winter training in Norway.
Illumination shells bathed the striking mountainscape around the small town of Bardufoss – roughly half way between Tromsø and Narvik – in an eerie light as the men of 40 Commando’s Mortar Troop conducted their fire missions.
The live firing is the latest chapter of a winter deployment inside the Arctic Circle for the Royal Marines, the UK’s elite amphibious troops.
The exercise, named Aquila 19, sees all aspects of the commando’s abilities – in the air, on the water and on the ground – tested so they remain ready to react should Britain need to call upon her specialist cold weather warriors in times of crisis.
“It has been an excellent opportunity to fire the 81mm mortars in the Arctic,” said 27-year-old Captain Nate Brown from Coventry who oversaw one of the shoots.
“It is brilliant to embrace an environment where the Royal Marines are known as experts globally. It is a challenging place; one like no other. If we can function and excel the harshest places it maintains our ability to operate as specialists anywhere on the planet.”
In mid-February this far north there are only eight hours of daylight. This means handling and firing mortars is extremely difficult with temperatures and wind chill as low as -35°C.
The sections conducted several co-ordinated illumination fire missions, exercising the tactical ability of both the mortar section and mortar fire controls in the Arctic.
Under normal circumstances a two-man mortar team can ‘drop’ up to 30 rounds of 81mm mortar shells on enemy positions up to three miles away every minute. The weapons are carried into action on trailers attached to the marines’ all-weather, all-terrain BV tracked vehicles.
During their time in the Arctic, 40 Commando – usually based at Norton Manor camp near Taunton – have hosted Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who says the Arctic will assume ever growing importance in coming years and who took the opportunity to explain the Ministry of Defence’s forthcoming Arctic Strategy.
The Duke of Sussex also spent part of Valentine’s Day visiting Naval Service personnel in the region.
The Royal Marines have committed to a ten-year training programme with their Norwegian counterparts, which will see around 1,000 Marines travelling each year.