Life in the Freezer

While 848 NAS were busy in the Alps (which you will have read about in the last issue of LZDZ), some of their CHF comrades were 1,500 miles to the north conducting cold weather training in northern Norway, well inside the Arctic Circle.

Royal Norwegian Air Force Base (RNoAF) Bardufoss is located some 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle at 69 degrees north and sits across the E6, the only road to run the length of Norway. The training cadre (known as JHC Clockwork) deploys each year to Bardufoss to conduct Mountain and Cold Weather Warfare training. The area provides excellent training areas for both aircraft and personnel and has effective logistic supply routes by road and sea.

With CHF’s enduring commitment to operations in Afghanistan such skills are even more essential as the techniques learnt in Norway (landing in snow – ‘white out’ conditions) are directly transferred to the desert (landing in dust/sand –‘brown out’ conditions). It also enhances CHF’s philosophy of ‘train hard – fight easy’.

This year Sea King helicopters from 845 NAS deployed to Norway to conduct arctic and mountain training. The aim is to teach both aircrew and support personnel the various techniques required to operate safely in an arctic and mountain environment. The current training programme consists of three elements – survival, military training and Arctic flying. The terrain around Bardufoss provides the ideal environment, providing not only the harsh Arctic settings with temperatures plummeting to as low as -35°C, but also a mountain flying area with peaks rising to 5,000ft along with sheer-sided valleys and low-level navigation areas.

Weather conditions can change rapidly over a short period of time; this can catch out those who are unwary, ill-prepared, or badly trained. For these reasons it is mandatory for all JHC personnel of all ranks to undertake the seven day Cold Weather Survival Course (CWSC) before they can deploy into an extreme cold weather (ECW) environment and operate and live safely in such arduous field conditions.

Taught by the elite Royal Marines Mountain Leader cadre; specialists in extreme cold weather environments, students spend the first two days of the course in the lecture room and familiarizing themselves with the vital and potentially life saving equipment they will be using in the field phase of training. Day one in the field students learn how to move and navigate across the Arctic terrain often having to find paths through deep snow drifts carrying full Bergens on snow shoes. The first evening is then spent in 10 man tents; this gives those individuals who have little or no field experience a chance to brush up on their personnel administration (looking after their personal cleanliness and kit) which is an essential part of CWSC.

Day two consists of navigation exercises, practical demonstrations on avalanche drills as well as learning how to construct and camouflage a four-man tent position which will be home for the second night. The survival side of training begins with day three spent building a snow shelter or ‘Quinzee’, a labour intensive job involving piling up to one and a half tonnes of snow into a mound before tunnelling an entrance and sleeping area into the centre. This becomes home for the evening bringing new meaning to words ‘life in the freezer’ although surprisingly at a cosy 0°C inside; this will be the warmest night spent outside. The fourth and final night is spent below the tree line in the woods surrounding the old German second world war airfield. Here, left only with the contents of their pockets and a survival knife, students learn to construct shelters from the trees in the form of a brushwood bivvy.

The final day brings the infamous and often dreaded ‘Ice Breaking Drills’, which involves each individual jumping into a snow hole cut into a frozen Norwegian lake fully clothed whilst carrying their Bergen, the students then have to dig deep using all their mental and physical strength to pull themselves clear of the icy water.

For the aviators, aircrew training consists of a series of lectures as well as around 25 flying hours per pilot and aircrewman dedicated to general Arctic-flying training. The course covers a full range of subjects including landing techniques in re-circulating snow, load lifting, embarkation and disembarkation of troops, landing on mountain peaks, navigation and formation flying in daytime and at night using NVGs.

Lt Cdr ‘Spidey’ Clarke the Snr TrgO at Bardufoss explained, “Operating in the Arctic winter is a matter of applying specific techniques to overcome a hostile environment, those undertaking flying training soon realise that what they experience at ‘Clockwork’ will probably be the most testing conditions they will ever encounter. If they can operate effectively here they can do so anywhere.”

The rigours of annual mountain and cold weather survival and combat flying/field training 200 miles within the Arctic Circle enable CHF aircrew and support personnel to work in complete unison with members of 3 Cdo Bde and to cope with exigencies of Commando flying operations, aircraft maintenance, self support and point defence in the field in extremes of climate and mountainous terrain, without cause to rely on a 3rd party for assistance. Once again ‘Clockwork’ provides a relevant and highly valuable training environment for those on current Ops and on standby for Contingent Operations.

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