By road, rail, sea, and air, the British Army’s global response force has deployed to a major multinational exercise in the Balkans.
Some 2,000 troops and more than 500 vehicles have travelled across Europe to take part in Exercise Swift Response in North Macedonia. The training will see a force of more than 3,000 soldiers from eight NATO countries working together under the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team to practice how they can respond together to international crises.
Getting the force to the exercise’s start line has been a major logistical effort, with British troops and vehicles travelling by road, rail, sea, and air. In North Macedonia, which joined NATO in 2020 as the alliance’s newest member, dedicated camps have had to be built with specialist fuel and ammunition storage facilities.
The deployment has been overseen by Lieutenant Colonel Jack Crossley, commanding officer of 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment. “It’s a military cliche that ‘amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics’ and this has been a real test of our expeditionary logistics,” he said. “Planning how to move the force and sustain it along the way, and then executing that efficiently, is vital so that troops, vehicles and equipment arrive on time, ready and rested for the main event.
“Using different methods of transport has given us experience and knowledge of all the available options if we have to deploy into Europe in support of our allies.”
Most troops are from the 2 PARA Battlegroup, built around the airborne infantry of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment supported by artillery, engineers, logisticians, medics, and signallers from 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team.
Starting from Merville Barracks in Colchester, some 220 vehicles – from ambulances to RWMIK patrol vehicles - set off for the 2,000km drive to North Macedonia. The journey took six days, passing through five overnight camps set up on the way in different countries.
“It was a long and tiring drive, but it has to be done to get the stores and equipment that our Apaches need to fly to the right place,” he said. “I was in the cab with a mate, so there was a lot of chat and banter to pass the time, and we had an evening in Lyon and Milan on the way so got to do some sightseeing.”
The train took the strain for some 75 vehicles and 240 vehicles sailed on MV Eddystone to Thessaloniki in Greece, completing their journey by road.
The majority of soldiers flew out from RAF Brize Norton, while Apache attack helicopters of 4 Regiment AAC and Chinook support helicopters from the RAF’s 18 Squadron took off from Wattisham Flying Station and RAF Odiham respectively to make the journey.
US, Greek, Italian, French, Albanian and Montenegrin troops have also been converging on North Macedonia for the exercise. An initial period of preparatory training will build the joint force’s skills and relationships before it deploys by parachute and helicopter to practice offensive and defensive operations.
The manoeuvres in North Macedonia are one element of Exercise Swift Response, which will see multinational forces under the direction of US Army Europe and Africa conducting simultaneous training across Europe – from the High North to the Balkans – to practice how airborne units can rapidly project force in response to developing crises.