Wildcat over Bardufoss

Exercise Clockwork: Taking To The Skies Over The Arctic Circle

Wildcat over Bardufoss

Eight hundred Royal Marines are in Norway as Britain looks to strengthen its Arctic capability.

The Defence Secretary has previously accused Russia of staking a claim in the region, militarising its frozen expanses as rising sea temperatures make accessibility easier.

Russia has its own military base in the Arctic Circle but has said the region has "no potential for conflict".

Norway is on the Arctic frontier with Russia, sharing a 122-mile border with its neighbours.

British personnel are currently undergoing extreme weather training as part of Exercise Clockwork at Bardufoss in Norway, where temperatures can fall to lows of -30°c.

The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) and Joint Helicopter Command have been deploying there for 50 years.


As part of the deployment to the Royal Norwegian Air Force Station in Bardufoss, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps (4 Regt AAC) has deployed three Apache attack helicopters to the Arctic Circle for the first time.

It is also only the second time Commando Wildcat battlefield reconnaissance helicopters have been sent to the region.

The two helicopters worked together on an exercise in the UK last November, called Talon Python.

The Army Air Corps Apaches of 656 Squadron support the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade, who are the UK military's extreme cold weather warfare specialists.

Prince Harry will visit personnel deployed on Clockwork on Valentine's Day, to get a flavour of what the exercise consists of.

Royal Norwegian Air Force Station Bardufoss

Major Tim Pittaway from 656 Squadron 4 Regt AAC said the training as part of Exercise Clockwork will include night and day landings, as part of the unit's environmental training in Norway:

"The Army Air Corp's operated out here for a long time - but we're looking to develop a basic day and night capability," he says.

Major Huw Raikes, Officer Commanding, 656 Squadron believes the extreme cold weather training during Clockwork will enhance the capability of the helicopter attack squadron. 

"We can now support 3 Commando Brigade on future exercises up in the extreme north and in future environments."

The extreme conditions have highlighted issues the unit's personnel need to deal with, but there are now ambitions for Arctic training to become a regular event for the helicopters.

Wildcat Norway Exercise Clockwork Credit BFBS

It is half a century since the CHF has been testing its aircraft and crew in one of the world's harshest environments.

The force returns to northern Norway each year from its home at RNAS Yeovilton to take part in Clockwork.

This year it is 847 Naval Air Squadron who have been on the northern flank.

The Officer Commanding Exercise Clockwork, Lieutenant Colonel Dave West of the Royal Marines, said the training in cold weathers helps make "better aviators".

"It is always challenging but then part of the experience here is to operate in all weathers whenever possible."

"Flying in bad weather is good training for our pilots and aircrew.

"If they've flown in these conditions, they go back as better aviators than when they arrived," Lt Col West added.

Apache attack helicopters on Exercise Clockwork in Norway
The Army Air Corps supporting 3 Commando Brigade during cold weather training in Norway (Picture: PO Des Wade).

Maj Raikes says 656 Squadron are keen to start testing some of the Apache's weapons ahead of the next deployment.

"All things going well we should be out again next year in 2020 to support 3 Commando Brigade on Exercise Cold Response."

The squadron will return to the UK after completing a live firing exercise, while the Commando Wildcats will go back to RNAS Yeovilton in March.

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