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Border force

Riflemen spill the beans on their Baltic mission

FREEZING temperatures, dense forest and a seemingly-endless stream of visiting VIPs – it sounds like the perfect storm of training exercise scenarios but for anyone deploying to Estonia in the near future it is just the start of the challenges they will face.

After a nine-month stint leading Nato’s enhanced forward presence to protect the country’s border with Russia, members of 5th Battalion, The Rifles have returned to UK soil.

And as they explained to Soldier at their homecoming parade, being one of the most battle-hardened units of the British Army didn’t mean Operation Cabrit came without its fair share of tactical demands.

Located in the small town of Tapa, the armoured infantry battalion deployed in two phases, undertaking numerous training packages under an Estonian brigade while exposing their Warrior vehicles to a very different type of terrain.

“It’s been a really good experience but a steep learning curve,” admitted Maj John Mabb, officer commanding Fire Support Company. “The soldier in Estonia needs to be a Brecon tactics kind-of-bloke.
“He needs to be able to operate in close wooded country in his armoured vehicle, and deal with an Arctic environment too – we saw temperatures get down to -17 degrees Celsius.

“Fighting in woods and forests in armour is something we had to think long and hard about.”
For platoon sergeant Sjt James Hopkins, it was a happy coincidence that some of his soldiers had been on a jungle warfare package shortly before deploying.

“People associate Estonia with Eastern Europe, but it is 70 per cent forest,” he explained.
“I had never operated in that sort of environment before, but having served for 13 years I thought, ‘I’ve soldiered pretty much everywhere else so I’ll be fine’.

“But it’s different when you’re on the ground and fighting through it. We learnt a lot of incredibly valuable lessons.

“The kind of tactics you would deploy in the jungle work just as well in Estonia – there’s times when you’re in swamps up to your waist.

“Movement from A to B is also a lot more complex than somewhere like Salisbury Plain.
“The Estonians were very good at camouflage, which is something we don’t have as much experience of.”

Read the full story in the December issue…

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