Commandos add sub-zero rescue missions to their toolkit after Iceland workout

Topic: Operational activityInternational partnership Storyline: 42 Commando

Royal Marines ‘fought’ over the barren landscape of Iceland as they practised rescuing pilots shot down behind enemy lines.

Fresh from the largest military exercise in Norway in 30 years, commandos remained in the cold north to join their American counterparts and the Icelandic Coast Guard in staging helicopter raids to ‘recover’ colleagues in the face of both a hostile environment – and ‘hostile’ forces.

Joint Personnel Recovery – rescuing downed aircrew, their passengers and, if necessary, their equipment from behind enemy lines – is a mission relatively new to the Royal Marines, brought about by the advent of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

A dedicated unit has been formed from 42 Commando based at Bickleigh near Plymouth specifically for the mission, a unit which has trained extensively around the world, frequently making use of the expertise of the US Marine Corps.

They’ve trained in Virginia and Guam and with the first foray by the new carriers into the Arctic Circle – HMS Prince of Wales has been operating both in the Atlantic and northern Norway over the past month – the commandos extended their skills and experience by practising similar rescue missions in an unforgiving, frozen landscape.

Iceland sits on the edge of the Arctic Circle with temperatures just below zero by night at this time of year… and barely above it by day.

It also hosts an annual exercise with the US military, Northern Viking. This year the invitation to participate was extended to the Royal Marines as well as other NATO allies including France, Germany, Norway, and Portugal.

The exercise is aimed at demonstrating the collective ability of allied nations to defend not just the land of fire and ice, but also the sea lanes across the Greenland-Iceland-UK ‘gaps’ in the North Atlantic, with individual phases focusing on operations as varied as amphibious landings, search and rescue, and delivering humanitarian aid.

Mike Company embarked in assault ship USS Arlington – similar to the Royal Navy’s HMS Albion and Bulwark – from where they flew into Iceland in Super Stallion helicopters (double the weight of the commandos’ Merlins and capable of carrying more than twice as many troops) to recover stranded personnel, ‘fighting’ shoulder-to-shoulder with their American counterparts.

“Conducting these exercises in Iceland proves the wider utility of our winter warfare training that we conduct in Norway,” said 23-year-old Captain Sam Gorton of Mike Company, 42 Commando. “And Northern Viking has been a great opportunity to deepen our strong relationships with our US Marine Corps cousins.

“We aspire to conduct Joint Personnel Recovery training in every challenging environment, from the jungle to the urban, and after a full winter’s training in Norway and now Iceland we can confidently contribute to the Royal Navy’s presence in the Arctic.”

Northern Viking has been a great opportunity to deepen our strong relationships with our US Marine Corps cousins.

Captain Sam Gorton, 42 Commando