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Sailors and marines prepare to coldly go for Arctic war games
16 February 2012

Sailors and marines are gearing up for winter exercises in Norway alongside a dozen other nations and 13,000 troops.

Around 2,000 Royal Navy personnel and the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark, among other ships, squadrons and units, are committed to Cold Response which begins next month in the Arctic Circle.

Royal Marines of 45 Commando leap out of a landing craft and on to a Norwegian beach during the 2010 Cold Response. Picture: PO(Phot) Nick Tryon

MORE than 15,000 troops from a dozen nations – including upwards of 2,000 Royal Navy personnel – will converge on northern Norway at the beginning of next month for demanding winter war games.

It’s the first time in two years Britain’s taken part en masse in Cold Response which tests the abilities of allied nations to fight in a particularly hostile environment (even in March temperatures regularly dip below -30˚C).

The Navy is sending its flagship, HMS Bulwark, plus helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, escorting destroyer HMS Liverpool, helicopters of Commando Helicopter Force and Culdrose-based Merlins and Royal Marines of Kilo Company, 42 Commando, from Bickleigh, near Plymouth.

In addition the British ships will serve as the springboard for operations by Dutch and US marines, and Norway’s Kystjegerkommandoen – an elite amphibious unit similar to the Royal Marines, but fewer than 100 strong.

Cold Response reaches its climax between March 10 and 22 and will be played out in the fjords between Harstad and Tromsø – nearly 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle – beginning with small-scale exercises and landings, building up to a larger scale ‘invasion’ to forge a beach head and push inland.

Royal Marines raiding craft approach the rocky shores of Norway during the 2010 Cold Response. Picture: PO(Phot) Bernie Henesy

From Britain’s point of view, Cold Response is intended to

  • test HMS Illustrious ability to serve as the nation’s on-call helicopter carrier now she’s taken over from HMS Ocean
  • test HMS Bulwark’s ability to serve as the nation’s on-call assault ship (and command/flagship) now she’s taken over from her sister Albion
  • test the ability of the staff Commander UK Task Group, based in Plymouth, to choreograph land, sea and air forces in the most challenging environment imaginable
  • renew the skills of sailors, air and ground crew and Royal Marines to fight in Arctic conditions
  • and hone the long-standing relations between the Royal and Dutch marines.

HMS Illustrious is loaded with ammunition by night at Glen Mallen on Loch Long ready for her participation in Cold Response. Picture: PO(Phot) Ray Jones

Of the Royal Navy’s participants in the winter exercises, the Commando Helicopter Force is acclimatising at Bardufoss air base 40 miles south of Tromsø, Bulwark is doing the same in the Baltic, Lusty is working with Apache gunships and CHF helicopters in the North Sea after ammunitioning in Scotland, and Liverpool has been keeping an eye on the Russian carrier Kuznetsov.

Cold Response is the second run-out for the UK Response Task Group, the naval force formed under the 2010 Defence Review and which proved its worth last year during operations off Libya.

“This exercise offers an excellent opportunity to operate alongside our Dutch colleagues – and strengthen the capability of the combined UK-Dutch amphibious forces in challenging conditions,” said Cdre Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, who visited the Netherlands earlier this year to fine-tune plans for Cold Response.

Once the war games are over the British units will return home briefly before sailing to north-west Scotland to take part in Joint Warrior, the twice-yearly international exercise run from Faslane Naval Base.