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The Biggest British Army Exercise ... And Why It Probably Always Will Be

In 1984, more than 130,000 British soldiers all in Germany on one massive Cold War exercise ... what could go wrong?!

 

It was known as Exercise Lionheart and was the biggest ever British Army exercise and biggest mobilisation since the Second World War.  

In fact, Exercise Lionheart involved a massive 131,565 UK personnel - regular, reserve and Territorial Army. 

The MOD chartered civilian aircraft and ferries to move over 50,000 personnel into Germany.  

The total of 290 flights left the UK transporting 32,000 personnel. This was then followed up with 150 sailings across the North Sea and the English Channel using civilian ferries - these carried 23,600 personnel with 14,000 vehicles and trailers. 

The exercise also involved 13,000 Royal Air Force personnel. 

The RAF deployed Harriers into the field and operated the newly introduced Tornado aircraft – which only retired from active service this year. 

Providing the opposition, there was a force of more than 10,000 – made up of German, Dutch, American and Commonwealth personnel.  

The logistics were unlike anything seen today from the British Military.  

It was the same size as if the entire population of Gloucester packed their bags and decided to invade Europe.  

And, as you can imagine, with anything of this scale, accidents did happen, three British soldiers died and seven were seriously injured.  

exercise lionheart plane

Comparison - Does Size Matter?  

 The British Armed Forces don’t have the numbers to replicate something on this scale today.  

With around 50,000 personnel deployable at any one time, it looks increasingly like Exercise Lionheart might be the last time the British Army ever trains on such scale.  

However, an exercise of this scale and size can be replicated by NATO Forces.  

NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps - funnily enough, based just outside Gloucester - have carried these skills into the modern day.  

The difference being that today mass exercises are made up of a multinational force.  

For example, NATO ARRC might call upon the M3 Rig in Germany, NBC specialists in the Czech Republic and American Armour.  

And although NATO does not train in the numbers of Exercise Lionheart, it does carry out road moves and logistics when member nations come together for exercises. Like Exercise Trident Juncture in Norway last year. 

Exercise Trident Juncture was NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.  

It saw around 50,000 participants from 31 NATO and partner countries. With around 250 aircraft, 65 vessels and up to 10,000 vehicles. 

Still not the size of Exercise Lionheart but a large-scale logistical road move nonetheless.  

Last year saw Russia’s largest post-Cold War exercise too. Vostok-2018 involved 297,000 service personnel, more than 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 vehicles plus 80 warships.

Troops from China and Mongolia were also involved.  

Vostok, meaning east in Russian, it looks like large-scale military exercises have seen their last days in the west.