Royal Marines Zulu warriors in the Baltic

In searing summer heat close to the southern shore of the Gulf of Riga, Royal Marines in Jackal reconnaissance vehicles prepare to move off during this year's premier military exercise in the Baltic.

Over a fortnight in the woods and clearings at Adazi, 25 miles east of the Latvian capital Riga, the men of Zulu Company, 45 Commando, have 'fought' alongside troops from 18 nations in Sabre Strike, an annual US-led exercise designed to test the ability of Allied forces to work with four Baltic states: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The huge exercise stretches from Poznań in western Poland through the woods and lakes of Masuria to eastern Latvia, with the ground combat phase focused on the Latvian Army's exercise areas outside Riga.

The Arbroath-based commandos comprised a fraction of the 18,000 military personnel - 12,500 of them American - committed to the two-week exercise from 19 nations, forming an international 'Viking Battle Group', alongside counterparts from the US Marine Corps, US National Guard and Norwegian Army.

We have a long history with the USMC and this has strengthened our bonds further.

Lance Corporal Gibson

Adazi is a large sandy training area in the woods, where Zulu Company's close combat troops practised close quarters battle and section attack training, while the Fire Support Group integrated with their Michigan National Guard counterparts for off-road training and capability demonstrations.

The first stage of Sabre Strike concluded with the battle group advancing until it made contact with 'enemy' forces… before forming a convoy west across central Latvia to a site which was top secret throughout the Cold War.

The town of Skrunda used to be home to top secret radar installations when Latvia was occupied by the Red Army.

The radar was demolished when the Russians pulled out of the country 20 years ago, but they left much of the town - once home to more than 5,000 people - intact, complete with Soviet-era murals extolling the virtues of Leninism and the heroism of the Soviet soldier.

The site remained derelict until the Latvian Army took over part of it as a training ground - which is where Sabre Strike reaches its climax this week as the Viking battle group grapples with not one but two 'enemy' armoured forces from Denmark and Spain.

"It's been a great exercise. Working with the American Marines is always good - we have a long history with the USMC and this has strengthened our bonds further," said Lance Corporal 'Gibbo' Gibson of 45 Commando.

"This is the first time I have worked with the Norwegians but it has been a good experience and I hope to work with them again in the future."

Sabre Strike, now in its ninth year, is due to finish on Friday.