Duke of Sussex to visit Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel in Norway

Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) have stuck themselves back in the deep freezer of the Arctic Circle and are now preparing to mark 50 years of operating in the extreme environment with a royal visit.

The thud and roar of CHF’s helicopters will once again be reverberating around the fjords and mountains of the high north for the next few months, as Naval Service aviators test their mettle in the frozen region on Exercise Clockwork.

The exercise first took place in 1969 and to mark the 50-year milestone, the Duke of Sussex, Captain General Royal Marines, will pay a visit to UK personnel who are in the ‘heat’ of the action at the Joint Helicopter Command facility at Royal Norwegian Air Force Station Bardufoss.

On 14 February, the Duke will be briefed on the history and context of Clockwork, before meeting Naval Service aviators and their Commando Merlin and Wildcat helicopters. 

He will watch outdoor ground training, taking in field tents, snow vehicles and a Quincey Shelter - a makeshift shelter used by elite forces.  

Every winter, around this time, CHF – known as the wings of the Royal Marines  leave their RNAS Yeovilton base and head to their second home at Bardufoss, from which they operate hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle.

These hardy aviators fly anywhere in the world, delivering the Royal Marines wherever they need to go. They deal with extremes in heat and cold and Clockwork is vital in readying the Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel that form CHF for the latter.

It was 1969 when the first Westland Wessex helicopters, of what is now CHF’s 845 Naval Air Squadron, arrived in Scandinavia and, living out of rudimentary shelters, conducted trials to show the UK’s commitment to defend NATO’s northern flank and see if they could support 3 Commando Brigade in the unforgiving environment. 

It turns out they are more than capable of lifting the Green Berets to the heart of the action, even when the temperatures sink well into their minus numbers. 

This year is no different and it is a fantastic opportunity for aircrew and engineers to practice operating in frozen surroundings. 

Following the royal visit, a Royal Navy Sea King MK4 will be presented as a gate guardian by the UK military to the Norwegian armed forces to mark the 50th anniversary.

Commando Helicopter Force fly anywhere in the world. They deal with extremes in heat and cold and Clockwork is vital in readying themselves for the latter.

    

The Sea King first deployed to Norway 40 years ago and every year since – up until its retirement from CHF duties in 2016 – and is an icon of the skies in the region.

Since being delivered from Westland in 1986, ZE427, the new gate guardian aircraft, has seen action in both Gulf War and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s – it was hit my nine machine-gun rounds while heading for Sarajevo in September 1994, damaging the fuel tanks, tail and main rotor blade.

After a spell at the home of naval engineering in Gosport, HMS Sultan, the Sea King was flown for the last time – slung beneath an RAF Chinook – the short distance to Marchwood Port in Southampton Water to be loaded on to a ship for transportation to Sørreisa, from where it completed its journey to Bardufoss on a low-loader.

In 50 years, more than 16,000 personnel have passed through Clockwork’s gruelling programme, teaching UK forces to survive, operate and fight in the extreme cold. 

In that time, British military aviators have flown more than 40,000 hours in the Norwegian mountains. This time around, Apache attack helicopters of 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, have joined CHF helicopters for the first time.

Already, 847 Naval Air Squadron’s Wildcat Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter has carried out underslung load training operations as Clockwork kicked off in earnest.

Soon, 847 will be joined by her CHF sister squadron, 845 NAS. Three Mk3A Merlin will be flown from Yeovilton through Europe over a three-day period to join in the action.

Once there, engineers will brave temperatures around -30°C out on the flight line to keep the aircraft functioning in an environment that takes its toll on people and machinery. 

Up in the icy skies, aircrew will be tested in a wide variety of tasking to qualify as competent operators in the Arctic Circle. 

Their tasks will involve night-time snow landings, mountain landings, troop drills and load lifting. 

Everyone who heads to Norway must complete the cold weather survival course, led by the Royal Marines Mountain Leader cadre, equipping them with the vital skills to survive if isolated in the Arctic. All of this builds up CHF’s Arctic experience and capability, readying personnel for duties in the region.