Nuclear guardians hone combat skills on Dutch ranges

The men and women who protect Britain’s ultimate weapon honed their skills fighting their way through a mock Dutch town.

For the second summer running, the marines of O and P Squadrons, 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group left the lochs and glens of western Scotland behind and headed to the lowlands of central Holland.

They were given free range of the training areas at Dutch Army’s infantry school at Harskamp, near Arnhem, for the fortnight-long Exercise Gelderland Strike – named after the region of the Netherlands.

Joining the commandos for the second iteration of the exercise were officers from the Ministry of Defence Police who work with 43 Commando to form the ring of steel around Britain’s nuclear deterrent 24/7, 365 days a year.

It is the mission of both to secure and defend the Royal Navy’s Vanguard-class submarines when they are in base at or sailing from/returning to Faslane, as well as the nearby ammunition facility at Coulport.

On land, that crucial mission means both commandos and police must work together seamlessly and above all master operating in a busy, complex and dangerous urban environment by day or night.

One of the highlights of the two-week training package was an attack on a mock village.

The replica European settlement of Oostdorp (literally ‘East Village’) comprises a cluster of houses, buildings, roads – named after streets in the nearby village of Oosterbeek, scene of heavy fighting during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 – and even cars, which the marines had to capture from an ‘enemy’.

The live shoot house was the highlight of the trip. It was a sobering moment when the first round was shot just a few feet away from you. After doing so much ‘dry’ training with blank rounds or simulated ammunition, using live rounds for the first time in that close quarter environment sparked the senses. In turn we all saw each other’s confidence grow and concentration levels had never been so high.

Marine ‘Robbie’ Roberts.

The facility was built specifically to train troops in the art of urban warfare – 43 Commando are specialists in fighting through complex urban environments, so the Dutch facility is the ideal place to train.

In addition, this year the commandos and police made use of the ‘live shoot house’ – a training facility which isn’t available in the UK.

After numerous ‘dry’ runs – where no ammunition is used – 43 Commando became the first foreign troops to clear the house of ‘foes’ using live ammunition.

Ministry of Defence Police Superintendent Sandy Stewart, senior officer at Faslane, said his men and women returned from the fortnight in the Netherlands as a well-oiled machine.

“Gelderland Strike gave our officers a great opportunity to enhance and develop their skills and tactics,” he added.

“As well as achieving individual training objectives, the police and Royal Marines were able to demonstrate and observe their respective methods.

“That creates greater understanding and supports a strong team ethos when they are working together to protect the Continuous At-Sea Deterrent back on the Clyde.”

With relationships strengthened and skills honed, the police and commandos have now returned home to resume their guardian duties.