UK soldiers in Estonia for Exercise Winter Camp

British Troops Undertake 'Incredibly Important' Winter Exercise In Estonia

Exercise Winter Camp in Estonia saw more than 100 soldiers from A Company of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh battle it out with their NATO...

UK soldiers in Estonia for Exercise Winter Camp

Spanning nine days, Exercise Winter Camp in Estonia saw more than 100 soldiers from A Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh battle it out with their NATO Baltic State counterparts.

Undertaking a series of attack and defence manoeuvres against their Estonian allies, troops simulated conflict as they fired blanks at each other inside a military training zone just north-west of Tapa.

Speaking to the Press Association, Lieutenant Anthony Strain, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, said such exercises are "incredibly important":

"The reason we all join the Army is to run around in a forest and play soldiers rather than stay indoors - it is great to have an opportunity to do that."

Quizzed on how believable the exercise is for those taking part, Lt Strain said they know and are aware that it is not a life-or-death situation.

"But at the same time the same pressures are on, so over the radio when you are getting told to move to a certain position or come up with a certain idea, then the pressure there is quite real because you are trying to formulate a plan on the hoof.

"So in that sense it feels real, but of course you don't have the risk of someone unfortunately getting injured or hurt - a 50/50 I suppose."

Despite the plunging temperatures, which were often in double minus figures at night, the British soldiers slept outside in four-man tents nestled amongst their heavy beast-like machinery.

With temperatures dropping down to -19C at one point, Lt Strain said dealing with the cold has been a "massive challenge" as the British Army is used to windy, rainy and more temperate environments.

To counter the cold, the soldiers have been provided with a raft of winter kit, including overboots that cover their own so they do not freeze, specialist four-man tents so they can sleep outside, as well as sleeping bag and glove layering "systems".

"I have been quite shocked actually, I think we all have. When we left the UK for Estonia we didn't think that we would get a lot of the kit," said acting platoon sergeant Corporal Christian Long.

Describing the overboots, Cpl Long said:

"These have proved to be very, very effective out here ... these have been a really big game changer."

Following a cold weather operator course recently taught to them by the Royal Marines, Cpl Long said they have since used this information and adjusted their techniques to suit.

UK soldiers in Estonia for Exercise Winter Camp

Some of these tricks include taking the insoles out of their boots at night and putting them inside their sleeping bag, alongside other damp items of kit such as gloves and hats.

The Senior Major of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, Darren Hughes, said the skills his soldiers have gained from being deployed in Estonia and undertaking exercises such as Winter Camp, which came to an end on Tuesday, have so far been "invaluable".

Describing working in a winter environment as "just a new skill set to learn", he said the troops like the challenge presented by sub-zero temperatures and snow.

"It is a great opportunity to come out here because what soldiers want to do is to go abroad, they want to go to different countries, they get stale if they do the same thing."

"If you then say 'right as an armoured infantry battlegroup you are the guys who can become the experts in operating in cold weather' - they take that as a challenge not as a threat.

"They will go 'great, we will become the best in the Army for that and everyone will know that the first British battlegroup to go through that was the Royal Welsh', and they love that.

"The soldiers want their bragging rights."

Estonia exercise