Massive Arctic exercise moves into top gear as amphibious raids begin

Topic: Operational activityTraining Storyline: HMS Albion

The largest military exercise in Norway in a generation shifts up a gear with UK Commando Forces spearheading amphibious raids in the icy fjords of the Arctic.

Landing and raiding craft, plus troop-carrying helicopters are putting elite Royal Marines and their equipment on the snow-covered shores of northern Norway as Exercise Cold Response moves into its ‘business end’.

Assault and command ship HMS Albion and amphibious ship RFA Mounts Bay are the springboards for the amphibious elements of the exercise.

Launching a Commando raiding force to attack a target ashore or achieve an objective on land is a complex manoeuvre involving multiple moving parts – made even more challenging when operating in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

Working with NATO allies – 30,000 personnel from 27 nations are demonstrating NATO’s collective Arctic war fighting capability – Royal Navy ships have been perfecting the delivery of Commandos from ship-to-shore, one of the first major physical steps in any potential military operation.

Against the stunning back-drop of the Norwegian Fjords which are frequently backlit by the Aurora Borealis, HMS Albion’s landing craft along with Commando Helicopter Force’s Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, have been transferring Royal Marines and equipment ashore.
Cold Response is the “capstone exercise” for HMS Albion after a long winter of training for the Plymouth-based ship, allowing the ship individually – and NATO collectively – to hone their skills in challenging weather and waters. 

“The UK has a long history of operating in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank,” explained Captain Simon Kelly, HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer.

“Integrating our amphibious expertise into a larger maritime task group is at the core of this exercise. It's this integration with NATO partners and the drawing together of our collective capabilities which really sharpens our fighting edge.”

“For some of the young sailors and Royal Marines on board, this will be the first time they have been to the Arctic, so the challenge we all face is understanding how to operate at our very best in this extremely harsh environment.

“However, operating so far north also brings its own delights. It’s an incredible part of the world, with spectacular views, wildlife and of course the Northern Lights.”

Among those novices is 19-year-old Marine Sutcliffe from 40 Commando near Taunton.

“Deploying to Norway for the first time has been a huge challenge,” the teenager said.

“This environment tests all of your basic soldiering skills, as well as your physical fitness and mental fortitude to the limit.

“I have enjoyed learning to ski for the first time and the unpredictable nature of Cold Weather Operations has kept training interesting and engaging.”

He’s one of several hundred Royal Marines – out of 2,000 British personnel participating in Cold Response – whose actions and movements are being directed by Brigadier Richard Cantrill RM, Commander of the UK Commando Force.

“British Commandos have been training and operating in the High North for more than five decades, with the Commando Force being the UK’s specialist mountain and cold weather formation,” he explained.

“Exercise Cold Response has been running for more than ten years, with UK Commandos as a constant component. What’s different for us this year is the opportunity to form a Littoral Strike Group for the first time – a combined Royal Navy and Royal Marines headquarters at sea, delivering Commando effect ashore that is more sophisticated, more lethal and more tactically dispersed.

“Acting as a servant to the joint and allied force, we will provide a strong offer to our NATO allies and strengthen our long standing relationships and ability to operate in the High North, particularly alongside our Norwegian partners.”

This environment tests all of your basic soldiering skills, as well as your physical fitness and mental fortitude to the limit.

Marine Sutcliffe