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Troops face frozen challenge on Exercise Winter Camp

From the top of a Challenger 2 tank as an icy wind howled around Tapa military camp in Estonia, the Commanding Officer of the King’s Royal Hussars thanked his troops.

Lieutenant Colonel Will Hodgkinson addressed the massed ranks of British, Danish, Estonian and French troops gathered on the military base’s runway with Challenger 2 and Leopard tanks lined up in perfect formation.

Soldiers from the NATO allies had just finished a demanding two-week exercise, "Winter Camp", which tested troops to the limit in the snowbound, frozen forests that make up the Tapa landscape.

Blank-firing exercises took place throughout the day and night as soldiers practised and perfected their skills on the simulated battlefield in the extreme weather conditions.

Exercise WINTER CAMP has been necessarily demanding and complex. It is the cementing of the eFP Battlegroup’s cold weather credentials. It is what they have been building up to since their arrival in Estonia in September. Colonel Dai Bevan, Operation Cabrit Commander

After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO adopted a series of measures designed both to reassure those allies who border Russia – like Estonia – and to deter any potential Russian military aggression against NATO allies.

In 2016 NATO agreed to set up an “enhanced Forward Presence” (eFP) in Poland and the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This takes the form of a multinational battlegroup in each country.

The UK leads the battlegroup in Estonia. Since 2017 the UK has deployed an armoured battlegroup equipped with Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, numbering around 800 to 900 personnel, on rotating six-month tours. The UK deployment is based in Tapa and is known as Operation Cabrit.

Colonel Dai Bevan, Operation Cabrit Commander, said,

“Exercise Winter Camp has been necessarily demanding and complex. It is the cementing of the eFP Battlegroup’s cold weather credentials. It is what they have been building up to since their arrival in Estonia in September.

“Reports on the Russian performance in Ukraine have highlighted complexity of combined arms operations and the need to invest in combined arms competence.

“Furthermore, the impact of winter on operations is profound – mobility is reduced and basic administration and maintenance in the field takes skill, effort and time.”

Denmark and France also contribute to the battlegroup, which is integrated with the Estonian 1st Infantry Brigade.

UK Armed Forces have a leading role in NATO’s eFP in the Baltic countries, enhancing security, reassuring our allies and deterring our enemies.

Estonian soldiers acted as enemy forces during Winter Camp which brought together the combined arms capabilities of the multinational eFP Battlegroup and the 1st Estonian Brigade.

Just before WINTER CAMP got underway, Estonian Defence League (EDL), French and UK troops carried out training with Chinook (CH47) helicopters, in preparation for the two-week exercise.

Troops learned how to safely embark and disembark the CH47 before doing this in a tactical environment on Winter Camp.

At the same time, British Army Challenger 2 tank crews conducted armoured training with EDL troops in anti-armour tactics.

Colonel Dai Bevan added,

“Exercise Winter Camp was designed by our Estonian hosts to put us through our paces in a force-on-force construct – ensuring our ability to fight in the most demanding conditions.

“Lessons are constantly identified and learned, drawing in the expertise of our Danish, French and Estonian partners.

“These range from the micro armoured tactics required for the region’s dense forests and bogs to how to communicate efficiently within a multinational force.

“It is exercises like Winter Camp that enable each rotation of the eFP to return to their home countries with exceptional regional, climatic and combined arms experience.

“As such we are building the corporate and individual knowledge, skills and experience to operate at pace in this strategic area.”

The King’s Royal Hussars (KRH) is an armoured regiment with an illustrious history and great cavalry traditions. Equipped with the Challenger 2 main battle tank, this regiment is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Lieutenant Colonel Will Hodgkinson MBE, Commanding Officer KRH, said,

“Exercise Winter Camp 23 was the culminating activity of Op CABRIT 11, acting as a complete Combined Arms Integration exercise with 1 Estonian Brigade.

“It has seen the eFP Battlegroup deploy at reach and in Combat Teams across a range of training areas, integrating first with the Royal Air Force Chinook surge force, then the Estonian Defence League, the US HIMARS Task Force and eFP Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.

“The exercise has drawn together the full range of NATO force elements deployed in Estonia and the B3P, organic and non-organic, to demonstrate the complete capability and commitment of NATO eFP to Estonian national defence. 

“This has succeeded in enabling the Battlegroup to become at once more agile, integrated, lethal and expeditionary.”

The KRH will shortly be replaced by the Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH) who will lead the eFP Battlegroup in Estonia. The QRH is the most senior armoured regiment in the British Army. Its soldiers also operate the Challenger 2 tank.