On Battle Training with the Welsh Guards; LEADER: Military Action in Response to the US Atrocities Is Already under Way. It Is Possible Because Our Armed Forces Are Always Ready and This Ability Demands Constant Training. the Ist Battalion Welsh Guards Were Doing Their Bit in Canada Last Month Not Knowing That War Would Soon Be Declared. Phil Davies Reports

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

On Battle Training with the Welsh Guards; LEADER: Military Action in Response to the US Atrocities Is Already under Way. It Is Possible Because Our Armed Forces Are Always Ready and This Ability Demands Constant Training. the Ist Battalion Welsh Guards Were Doing Their Bit in Canada Last Month Not Knowing That War Would Soon Be Declared. Phil Davies Reports


Byline: Phil Davies

FOUR-fifteen in the morning is as good a time as any to marvel at the incredible Northern Lights.

Trouble is you can't hang around for more than a minute or so admiring such a famous sky show because it's happening above Alberta's Fort Wainwright.

Troops at this huge base are already up and about preparing for a dawn attack and some were out on to the plains in full battle kit by 3am.

The job in hand was to perform a full company assault, as if in a war, using live bullets and shells.

Such potentially dangerous exercises are designed to give a taste of real battle conditions that could face UK and American forces currently on standby around Afghanistan.

Unlike the real thing, the Canada exercises have no enemy firing back and no actual casualties - barring accidents caused by faulty kit or human error. Apart from that, it's highly convincing stuff.

Observers took half-an-hour or so to transport us, in darkness, to the battle site that covered a few square kilometres of small hillocks hiding enemy positions.

In the gloom it looked like parts of the Falkland Islands recaptured by UK forces in 1982 - treeless, hillocks and scrub-covered gulleys - without the mud and damp.

The Welsh Guards strike force, separated into various sections with specific tasks, were to be found waiting for dawn to break below the horizon of slightly rising ground facing the main attack area.

When the moment came, a barrage of artillery shells and mortar bombs from a long way away thumped viciously on to the first target area almost a mile distant.

It was so intensive and violent you wondered how, under the direct hits now being scored by the UK-US allies in bin Laden country, anything and anyone underneath could survive.

An "old dog" explained that defenders did indeed survive, if they were dug in well enough and that was why such spectacular fireworks are often not enough to wipe out enemy positions.

On a real stage and the training one, a pause in the aerial bombardment is the cue for ground troops to begin moving in.

Despite the real threat of death or injury, this is one of those moments when the infantryman comes into his own as the training exercise went on to show.

Under the guidance of skilled section leaders, an overall attack co-ordinator, support from heavy machine gun teams and more mortars if required, Welsh guardsmen went to war, so to speak.

On a signal, a small group of men called assault pioneers, one carrying what looked liked two ski sticks, scurried over the brow for the first on-the-ground job of blowing a way through barbed wire defences.

The sticks were Bangalore pipe explosives that are slipped under wire to blow it to pieces.

A thudding explosion left a long greyblack scorch mark on the ground and also opened up a gap through which sections of men poured before looking for cover and then seeking enemy contact.

They did not just move forward in a way that would have been morbidly reminiscent of World War I and its horrendous casualties.

The modern and much saner tactic is for one or more sections to move on enemy positions under cover of rapid fire throughout from supporting colleagues in safe positions.

This can appear chaotic with small units seemingly running aimlessly and sometimes backwards or sideways, in all directions, but chaos it isn't.

What the action comprises is a series of skirmishes co-ordinated expertly by an officer out there on the ground thinking and making decisions like a chess grand master.

He can send sections forward or side ways or he can order them to support another section making its move. All the time he is assessing a constant stream of information on progress via radio or soldiers' verbal reports.

In his ears is the unremitting thwack, thwack of heavy fire, to the right and sometimes to the left, of the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), a fearsome weapon that helped win the skirmishes and the war itself out in the Falklands. …

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On Battle Training with the Welsh Guards; LEADER: Military Action in Response to the US Atrocities Is Already under Way. It Is Possible Because Our Armed Forces Are Always Ready and This Ability Demands Constant Training. the Ist Battalion Welsh Guards Were Doing Their Bit in Canada Last Month Not Knowing That War Would Soon Be Declared. Phil Davies Reports
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