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Going underground: Royal Engineers advance through the Yorkshire dark

Below the Leeds side streets, personnel from 21 Engineer Regiment slipped down into an array of tunnels to practice subterranean warfare on Exercise Hypogeal Bear this week.

In sweltering weather and low-light conditions, around 20 soldiers from the Ripon-based unit made their way through 2km of knee-high water for what is seen as one of the Army’s most innovative exercises of the training year.

Starting off from near the Royal Armouries Museum, and supported all the way by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the troops made their way through the winding underground route until they reached Harewood Barracks.

Sergeant Mottley, one of the masterminds behind the ambitious drills, said: “Today we are trialling subterranean tactics, techniques, and procedures in a real-world environment, with the aim to build a specialist engineering capability that can augment the infantry and civilian services."

“This is not a sterile training area! It is not easy-going underfoot, it is not easy to manoeuvre down. We are in the middle of Leeds and it is something completely different. The links that this has built with Leeds City Council and the Fire and Rescue Service have also been a big plus.”

The mission of the tunnellers was to move equipment for a mock aid post, manned by the unit doctor, with some of the kit heavy, unwieldy, and expensive.

With the expert assistance of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, who kept on eye on proceedings to ensure safe practices, 21 Engineer Regiment came up with innovative solutions, such as welding large wheels onto stretchers to reduce the lifting burden on individuals.

Some locals caught a glimpse of the action from bridges scattered throughout the city, but it was fleeting as the soldiers advanced on towards the objective.

Hypogeal Bear marks the culmination of much hard work by 21 Engineer Regiment and their parent formation, the Hampshire-based 8 Engineer Brigade, while plans have been helped along the way by the approval of Leeds City Council.

The Sappers will now look forward to Exercise Highrise Poacher later in the week, again taking place in Leeds, where they will put their new skills to the test when assaulting a building complex alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment.