Royal Marines from the South West have completed six weeks of specialist Arctic training with an all-out assault exercised on one of the relics of Hitler’s vaunted ‘fortress Europe’.
The green berets of the Commando Logistic Regiment from Barnstaple, North Devon, and their supporting air power, the Commando Helicopter Force at Yeovilton, Somerset, and Arbroath-based 45 Commando staged a three-hour ‘attack’ on a wartime fortress in northern Norway – as the climax of the cold-weather training exercise.
The Marines left their UK bases to join Norwegian forces at the small port of Harstad, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There is no harsher environment in which to live, work and fight – deep snow, ice, temperatures fall regularly below -30˚C (and take it down another 20˚C with wind chill). Such conditions test men and machines to the limit.
Around 135 Marines from 45 Commando – currently the UK’s lead commando group, who are ready to deploy around the world at short notice should they be required – crossed the North Sea using the Norwegian Army camp at Åsegarden as their base.
Marine Tony Curtis, 19, of Newcastle, said: “It’s been good to put into practice the skills we’ve learned over the past month. This is my first time in Norway and fighting in the extreme cold is a totally different challenge entirely,”
Having mastered the arts of survival in the Arctic – living in snow holes (a man-made cave carved out of the snow), skiing, marching on snow shoes for five kilometres with 30kg (66lb) of kit on their backs, personal care (such as not touching exposed metal) – it was time to move on to the fighting element of the training.
The exercise reached its climax on the Trondes Peninsula on the northern side of Harstad harbour – and the site of the formidable relic of the Third Reich. Batterie Theo – today known as Trondesnes Fort – was part of the Atlantic Wall, the chain of defences built by the Germans from Biscay to the North Cape to prevent the Allies storming Fortress Europe and housed four mighty 40.6cm cannons which could hurl a 1,030kg shell up to 56 kilometres.
The Norwegian Army defended the fort against 45 Commando’s Yankee Company which staged a three-hour assault, launching simultaneous ‘attacks’ on three enemy positions.
The raid ended with the Royal Marines taking over, before three Norwegian helicopters and Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm ‘Jungly’ Sea Kings of Yeovilton-based 845 Naval Air Squadron swept up the fjord to extract the Royal Marines.
45 Commando are the UK’s experts in cold weather warfare. Based at RM Condor in Arbroath, their year-long stint as the on-call commando unit ends in May when the green berets of 42 Commando at Bickleigh, near Plymouth, take over the duty.