Royal Marines master survival skills in the Arctic

Royal Marines have completed the first intensive phase of their Arctic deployment after refreshing skills in surviving in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

Cold weather warfare specialists 45 Commando returned to northern Norway last month to refine their combat abilities in the stunning but brutal surroundings of the high north, where temperatures can plummet to -30°C and, during the early phases, the sun barely rises. 

Before sharpening their warfighting skills in the snow and ice, new generations of marines must be ready to survive in the Arctic wilds, where snow storms and the unforgiving terrain can easily take sap mental and physical powers without the proper training.

That is why the commandos – who are based at Arbroath in Scotland – learn to navigate by the stars, build snow shelters and how to live from the land. 

Marine Stuart Bryant, who is on his first Norway deployment, said: “I learnt a lot this week and I am actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It takes a while to get used to the cold, but keeping busy and active takes your mind off it.” 

Colour Sergeant Ian Freeman added: “All personnel operating in this environment must complete the Cold Weather Survival Course. It represents the bare minimum skill set required to stay alive in a very aggressive environment. The course will form the foundation for everything we do in Norway.”

I learnt a lot this week and I am actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It takes a while to get used to the cold, but keeping busy and active takes your mind off it.

Marine Stuart Bryant

Those on the course – which is led by the Arctic experts of the Royal Marines Mountain Leader Training Cadre – are also put through one of the rites of passage in Norway: the infamous ice-breaking drill.

That involves jumping through a hole in the ice into freezing water, where those in the water must answer a question and report their service number and name to their instructors before they can finally drag themselves out the water and pass. 

This brutal phase of training is designed to help Royal Marines recognise and reduce the risks of cold shock: a physical response to being immersed in cold water that can rapidly incapacitate and even kill.

Crossing a frozen landscape can bring a decisive tactical advantage, but marines must know what to do if worse came to worst and they are plunged into icy water.

As the high-readiness Lead Commando Group, 45 Commando must be ready to conduct operations anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, in all extremes of environment, from Arctic to desert and jungle.

After mastering survival skills, marines refresh their ability to move across the Arctic terrain – on skis and snow shoes, before honing tactics and combat abilities on the final fight stage of the deployment.

The unit have deployed to the Arctic alongside their comrades from 3 Commando Brigade, including 29 Commando Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Royal Engineers and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group.

Everyone deployed has gone through a rigorous ten-day quarantine period in line with the host nation’s Covid-19 guidelines.