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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



15 May 2015

A student's perspective of Exercise Hairspring 15, a cold weather exercise for the Royal Marines Reserve in Norway.

Cpl Capaldi's story:

“A challenging but rewarding exercise” is how Ex Hairspring15 had been advertised on orders and having completed the first part of the RMR Cold Weather Warfare Course (CWWC) in 2014 I was well aware of the challenge when I signed up to complete the second part – the course was not to disappoint in this respect.

The deployment began with the RMR centralising at Brize for the flight out and it was good to see many ranks from the previous year returning to complete the course. Arrival on Saturday at Asegarden Camp was followed by the usual whirlwind of kit issuing which this year included brand new Alico boots, new skis, and the new Higg suit system.  The pace was frantic for the dozen or so returners or “Part 2s” as we were to join the second week of the regular CWWC course being run by Sgt Cam Smith, 43 ML1, who were due to deploy for the “mobility week” on Monday.

Sunday saw the RMR part 2s formally handed over to the regular CWWC and we slotted in for a day of lectures, briefs, and preparation for the week ahead. We managed however to take a couple of hours off to for a quick excursion outside the camp to get our ski legs back, crucial for those of us like myself who had not seen a pair of planks since last year’s deployment. First impressions of the new ski system were very positive – the planks had edges! This raised the possibility of actually stopping and carrying out turns under control. The binding and boot system also seemed more robust and allowed for much more control than the old system.

The final brief for the week ahead came with a warning that “we were going to find it very hard” – not the words you want to hear spoken by an ML1 as he is about to take over your life. The mixed company of 43 and CLR ranks that made up the regular course had completed the “survival phase” the previous week. This consisted mainly of ski instruction and learning how to live and administer oneself in the arctic environment in various forms of shelters and had been the main focus of our part 1 course last year.  The next week would teach us how to move in the white shod environment carrying all our kit on our backs and introduce the tactical elements of the CWWC.

We deployed to the field on Monday with a short ski up to the high ground to dig in our first harbour. The course was now split up into tent groups consisting of two four-man tents each and the RMR made up the last two groups of the course. The  “tent rhinos” were quickly identified as we readjusted to life in the four man tents and the cratings started piling up fast from the start but we quickly got back into the rhythm of things. After pull pole the next morning we donned the dreaded “Pusser’s equalizer” - our full bergens and fighting order. The combined weight of one’s personal kit and all the tent stores means that even the most experienced skiers find it hard to maintain control and avoid a full on cream in at every stop and turn. The moves were very arduous with the company only covering about a kilometer an hour on average on the first few moves – mostly because at any one time half the lads were on the deck in what were sometimes hilarious heaps of limbs, skis, and Bergen straps. For the RMR lads at the back of the company snake things were particularly hard as the concertina effect took on epic proportions. It often took the last man over an hour to make it into the stops only to be welcomed by a two minute warning for the move off.  The tactical instruction stances were a welcome break from the daily moves. This included an introduction to section attacks and break contact drills on the snow and the digging in of tactical harbours. The skijoring lesson was the highlight of the second day with the BV drivers doing their best to turn it into an exercise in water skiing through the large slush puddles that dotted the route on the frozen lake. Wednesday saw the arrival of a Merlin from CHF and an intro to arctic helo drills – word soon spread that the tactical exercise the following week would include an extraction by helos. Needless to say, this was met by a good level of skepticism by the more seasoned ranks.

After six nights in the field Sgt Smith’s “tired little teddy bears” were ready for a couple of nights in camp and we skied down to the PUP through a wooded area which resulted in the inevitable carnage. Rest, however was still a few hours away as we went straight into ice breaker serials which all the RMR ranks were well versed in by now. The weekend was spent preparing for the tactical exercise and engaging in frantic hacking of cash machines to cover the exorbitant price of a run ashore in Harstad. During the brief for the exercise we learned that the company had been re-orbated and the two RMR corporals, including myself, were to pick up a section each. We were encouraged by this vote of confidence but with less than 12 hours to go before deployment the task of familiarizing ourselves with our respective sections and redistributing the tent stores kept us busy until the last few minutes.

The trip to the DOP for the exercise, late the following Monday evening, turned out to be a little more eventful than expected when a local decided to see what happens when you drive a VW Polo straight into the path of a TCV doing 50 mphs. You’ll be glad to know the TCV came out of it without a scratch although the same can’t be said for the Polo. However, having ascertained that the Polo driver was going to be OK, and with the local authorities having come out in force to clean up the mess we were told to ‘crack on’ with the insertion phase. Crack on we did, for the next 10 hours, as we attempted to reach the first harbour location in what turned out to be a fine lesson in how not to navigate around a mountain. Having finally reached the company location at first light we immediately started the process of digging in.  A series of recce patrols and an OP kept us busy for the next 24 hours as we located the enemy and formulated the plan for a deliberate attack to take place the following morning. Our troop was tasked with providing fire support as the rest of the company carried out the attack. The move to the FUP and on to our respective taskings went off without a glitch up until a few minutes before H hour when a snowstorm closed in causing white out conditions. With no visual of the enemy location we were forced to hold fire but despite the lack of fire support the rest of the company cracked on with the assault and cleared out the enemy position. After a quick reorg we continued onto a new harbour position and dug in. For the following 12 hours enemy forces harassed the company harbour and we defended the position until the final pull pole was called the following morning. The company then moved to the designated PUP for extraction where right on cue we heard the sound of two approaching Merlins and we jumped in for the short ride back to camp and a well-earned rest. I guess miracles do happen.

All in all Ex Hairspring15 was indeed a challenging but truly rewarding experience on many different levels. Everyone that completes the CWWC successfully gains a whole new perspective not only on their own individual soldiering skills but also on their ability to operate as part of a team in what has to be one of the most demanding environments we work in. It was very encouraging to see how the part 2 ranks integrated seamlessly into the regular course. It was great to take advantage of the additional tactical possibilities afforded by operating as part of a large course that can field a full company on exercises. From a personal perspective I am thoroughly hooked on the white shod environment and look forward to progressing onto the various instructor courses in coming years.