British Army shooting competition on Salisbury Plain
Stories

Salisbury Plain: Training Troops Since The 19th Century

The UK's largest military training area came to life in 1897...

British Army shooting competition on Salisbury Plain

It would be hard to find a British soldier who at some time during his or her service had not taken part in some form of activity on Salisbury Plain.

The Salisbury Plain Training Area, as it is officially designated, is the largest in the UK and is used by the regular army, reserve units, cadets and NATO allies.

It regularly plays host to Europe’s largest joint military drill, Exercise Joint Warrior.

The predecessor of the Ministry of Defence, the War Office, first began buying the land in 1897. The deserted, rolling landscape was perfect for large scale manoeuvres and with the coming of the First World War, it became the Army’s main training area. Over the years more and more land was purchased so that now nearly the whole of the Plain is owned by the MoD.

The training area stretches from Ludgershall and Tidworth in the east to Warminster and Westbury in the west. It is approximately 25 miles long and from six to eight miles wide containing some 94,000 acres. It occupies 11 per cent of the county of Wiltshire.

Challenger 2 tank and Chinook helicopter on Salisbury Plain

Facilities exist for all types of weapons training and includes live firing ranges for armoured vehicles, artillery and infantry units. Live firing exercises take place around 340 days a year. The airspace is also used by the Army, RAF and Royal Navy for day and night flying.

The deserted village of Imber in Salisbury Plain
Picture: Paul Townsend

Salisbury Plain also contains the village of Imber, which was requisitioned by the War Office and evacuated in 1943. It is still uninhabited, but the church is opened once a year to hold a service.

The Plain is also home to the purpose built village of Copehill Down, which is used for training troops to operate in urban environments.

Facilities at Salisbury Plain are set grow as plans are underway to relocate an extra 4,300 service personnel and their families to the area following the MoD’s commitment to bring back units from Germany by 2020.