Royal Marines have been strengthening their connections with NATO ally Norway in the extreme cold of the fjords of the Arctic Circle.
Commandos from 1 Assault Group, the amphibious warfare specialists based at RM Tamar in Plymouth’s Devonport dockyard, are steadily increasing their work with the Norwegians while based at Gratangen Fjord, in northern Norway.
It started recently with joint beach reconnaissance exercises, with the Norwegian divers surveying under water while Royal Marines scouted the area for ‘enemy’ activity.
Once the beach was secured, the commandos from 539 Assault Squadron used their Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel – the largest of 1AGRM’s craft in the Arctic – to disembark Norwegian equipment and vehicles.
The green berets are living and working with the Norwegians at the dock area in Hellarbogen, at the side of Gratangen Fjord, and will be ramping up their work with them in the coming weeks, ensuring they are as closely aligned as possible.
“We have been in the early phases of working with the Norwegians, making sure we can communicate effectively with each other and that our kit is compatible,” said Captain Sam Moreton.
“We have been building it from there, moving on to more technical and challenging training.”
Working with the Norwegians is all part of the escalation of 539’s training, from survival to more tactical phases, in the Arctic, where they have been operating since January in temperatures as cold as -30°C.
It has been a seamless transition for 539 to this point and proof of the Royal Marines’ ability to work alongside allied forces.
“This phase of the deployment has been focused on our Skill to Arms (STA) training. STA is the application of Arctic warfare techniques (as taught by our Mountain Leaders) within our specialisation as Landing Craftsman,” said Capt Jack Denniss, Officer Commanding of 1 Troop.
“This has seen us performing beach reconnaissance and surface manoeuvre training with members of the Norwegian Army.
“Fortunately, the language skills of the Norwegian soldiers has allowed us to seamlessly integrate during missions involving both vehicle and personnel offload, both day and night.
“Combined planning, orders and execution has proven our ability to conduct operations side-by-side in a challenging environment.”
Soon 539 will head out as an entire squadron for the first time during their winter deployment.
They will be living in craft, conducting beach reconnaissance and riverine patrols and also running trials to assess how susceptible to thermal image detection they are.
The cold weather enhances the effectiveness of thermal imaging, so these trials will inform future equipment development.
Often the fjords are too deep to anchor, so the commandos’ primary challenge is selecting where to position the group overnight to establish a forward operating base.
“The plan is to position our FOB along the coast, concealed with camouflage netting and then have another craft scan search for us using thermal imaging,” added Capt Denniss.
“Where they identify hotspots we will look to develop our concealment for subsequent nights.”
A recent spell of weather above 0°C saw snow and ice melt in the mountains around the Gratangen Fjord, meaning huge amounts of fresh water was pushed down into the fjord.
Temperatures then dropped significantly, freezing the fjord over and providing the Royal Marines with the unique opportunity of cutting through ice and snow on their specialist raiding craft.
“We have to carefully assess the thickness of the ice to ensure we don’t risk damaging the craft,” said Capt Denniss.
“Thereafter, it’s a case of picking a line and pushing through, we try and put the larger craft through first to create a channel.”