Exercise WINTER EXPRESS, held in North Norway from 21 February to 26 March 1966, was the culmination of over twelve months hard training and detailed preparation by all members of K Battery, Canada's only artillery component of the Allied Command Europe (Land) Mobile Force. As readers will recall from last year's "Gunner", K Battery, as part of the 1st Black Watch Battalion Group, spent most of 1965 conducting individual, sub-unit and unit training in air-portability climaxed by a battalion group exercise in Newfoundland in June and July called Exercise ACE HIGH.|
To prepare ourselves further for the large-scale exercise in Norway, the battalion spent most of January 1966 in Newfoundland on Exercise WHITE CARIBOU. This exercise was a dress rehearsal for WINTER EXPRESS as well as a test of our capability to operate efficiently with our new equipment under winter conditions. It was immediately followed by such pre-departure activities as mounting new radios, painting all vehicles white, repairing equipment that had been damaged in Newfoundland and, of course, getting our fair share of inoculations for the trip overseas. The most difficult and painstaking task was to devise, at short notice, new aircraft configuration diagrams. Although this information had been prepared long beforehand and was part of the Regimental SOP for air moves, a last minute cut-back in the number and types of aircraft available required a complete change in the number and type of vehicles and equipment which could be taken to Norway.
After spending long hours fitting scale models of vehicles into scale models of aircraft and of calculating and re-calculating centres of gravity, Capt FAW Jurgensen, the Unit Emplaning Officer, came up with a most efficient plan for loading the aircraft. With further study it was possible to re-arrange groups and parties to ensure that the battery could be employed in a tactically sound manner, notwithstanding the reduced number of men and vehicles which could be conveyed to Norway.
* The author was BC of K Bty from 1964-1966.
Exercise WINTER EXPRESS took place about 240 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It was divided into three main phases. Phase 1 consisted of the deployment of the force to Norway and was conducted during the period of 21 February to 5 March. Phase 2, from 6 March to 19 March, covered the period of the field exercise proper. Phase 3 consisted of the re-deployment to home bases and lasted from 20 March to 26 March 1966.
On 21 February the Battery Commander and his party left Petawawa for Uplands where they boarded a Hercules C130E and proceeded to Fredericton to join the remainder of the battalion advance party. The next morning, after a refueling stop in Iceland due to strong easterly winds, the group landed in Bardufoss, Norway. The advance party immediately set up camp just off the end of the runway and began to make preparations for setting up the main bivouac area for the battalion. The next few days were spent in ground and air reconnaissance of the general manoeuvre area.
Meanwhile, the battery moved out of Petawawa to the transit camp which was set up, as for Exercise ACE HIGH, at the Connaught Rifle Ranges. Considering the lack of facilities available there in the winter months, much credit must be given to M Battery for the efficient manner in which they set up and manned this camp during the fly-out.
The first chalks of the battery main party main party began to arrive in Bardufoss on 27 February. Upon arrival, after a 13 to 15 hour flight, they were permitted to stretch their legs and have a warm or cold beverage at the air terminal where they picked up their first few words of Norwegian and were able to exchange their money for krona and ore. Afterwards they moved to the other side of the airfield to the force logistics base, where, under the efficient supervision of the BK, Capt RV Carriere, they were given a fresh ration supplement and refueled their vehicles, lamps, and stoves. From there all groups moved to the main bivouac area which was set up near the small town of Oldsborg Moen.
The drive from the airport to the bivouac area is a most picturesque one and, with clear, crisp weather, all ranks agreed they were tremendously impressed by their first view of this wonderful country. It was not unlike Newfoundland to see all all the children waving and saying "Welcome" — in perfect English — to the troops as they drove through the small villages to the new area.
By 3 March the battery was complete in Oldsborg Moen. The next few days prior to the start of the exercise were very busy and interesting ones. The unit was camped near a modern Norwegian school and it was soon arranged with the principal to allow the students to view, as a group, the weapons and equipment of the battalion group which for this occasion were laid out in county-fair fashion. Also, the press corps from all the NATO countries participating in the exercise, together with military observers from many nations, flocked to the area to view our equipment and to ask scores of questions, especially regarding our winter clothing which everyone found to be first-rate.
At this time each company and K Battery in turn was given a 24-hour pass to visit the old city of Tromso, where Tirpitz was sunk and where the world's most northerly brewery is located. Comfortable modern buses were hired for the occasion and the troops were lodged overnight at the Norwegian leave centre. The OIC of this leave centre for the period involved was Capt DW Wellsman, who was congratulated by all for the manner in which he conducted this venture and for his tireless efforts in briefing the officers and men on the amenities available.
At Oldsborg. Moen all officers, TSMs and mortar detachment commanders were sent on individual recces throughout the area to familiarize them-selves with the terrain, road conditions, depth of snow, etc. It was during this period that the battery took part in a regimental signals exercise. Although the battery is part of the 1 RHC Battalion Group it is also the senior battery of the AMF(L) Multi-National Field Artillery Battalion. The other two batteries were the Alpini Suza (Italian) battery, equipped with 105mm pack howitzers, and a British battery from 19 Light Regiment, RA, similarly equipped. The Regimental Headquarters or Fire Co-coordinating Centre of the battalion is formed from the RHO of 19 Light Regiment. The Commanding Officer of the regiment together with his intelligence officer, the air liaison officer, and the naval gunfire liaison officer form the Fire Support Co-ordination Centre at Headquarters AMF(L). Although each battery is normally in direct support of its national contingent battalion, flexibility exists for the provision of fire support to other units as in a normal field regiment. During the exercise the deployments were controlled by the manoeuvre officer (2IC) and in some cases changes in affiliation were. made. However, due to incompatibility of radio sets, FOOs and OPs remained with their national battalions and passed fire missions through the FCC.
Although the battery had some experience in moving its mortars by PH-ID helicopters in summer -conditions, further experience was required should the need arise to deploy using the CH-113 Voyageur. To this end, two days were spent in training mortar detachments how to deploy by CH-113 using both internal and external loading.
In Phase 2 of the exercise 1 RHC, with K Battery under command, was given the task of defending, against sea and air landings, an extremely large area facing north-west, overlooking the many fjords which indent that part of the coast of Norway. Because of wide dispersion between companies, it was not possible for the battery to cover the whole front and therefore each of the three forward companies was given a troop in direct support, the third troop coming from the British battery. In this position B Troop OP was deployed on the top of a rather high feature (Swartarsen Mountain) by helicopter. Due to poor weather and unavailability of helicopters, re-supply was carried out on foot. Volunteers from B Troop will long remember that trek. GPOs took advantage of the excellent mortar positions available in this area and camouflage and local defence was of the highest order. The only action of any consequence in this position was the landing by helicopter of a ski-borne enemy force behind the battalion area. The enemy's aim was to destroy battalion headquarters after last light. Fortunately, B Troop air sentries spotted the enemy machines and in very short order the reserve company of the battalion carried out an air mobile assault of its own and destroyed the enemy. For this operation the mortars of B Troop, under 2Lt JP Davies, the GPO, were turned 180 degrees and the CPO, Lt BG Earl, accompanied the air assault as an airborne FOO.
Subsequently the whole force was redeployed facing east in the area of Oldsborg Moen. In this position the three batteries were deployed as a regiment. Regimental survey was provided and an ammunition dumping programme was carried out using H-33 Mojave helicopters (US). The area allotted the Canadian battalion was very mountainous without roads or tracks. Consequently the three forward companies including OP parties were all air-lifted at night to their new positions.
Very soon after we took up our positions, the enemy closed in and there followed a very spirited defensive battle.
A helicopter-borne patrol of 1 RHC which was sent out to catch a prisoner called for the first regimental target of the exercise (Force Fire Mission).
As the battle developed all OPs were busily engaged on all types of targets from troop to regimental, and in passing back valuable and accurate information. In concert with an armoured thrust along the only road leading west to the right of the battalion area, the enemy eventually landed an air mobile force behind the battalion to secure the only bridge which crossed the river to our rear. A counter attack by A Company of 1 RHC was rapidly mounted and Lt WJM Walsh, the GPO of A Troop was sent along as a FOO. The battalion commander and the battery commander controlled the attack from the air in a CH-113, the BC using the battalion net alternatively with the CO to engage enemy targets not visible from the ground.
At this juncture the exercise was halted for several hours and King Olav V visited the the battalion. The King gave the BSI, W02 Wade, a warm smile and paused to allow him to take a picture. Unfortunately the camera failed to function.
When the battle resumed, the AMF(L), having stopped the enemy, took to the offensive. Here ensued a long and difficult advance. In the Canadian sector, as stated earlier, there were no roads and the advance over deep snow, through high mountain passes, and over wind-swept lakes was difficult. The FOOs were especially hard pressed, as when one company passed through another at the end of a local attack the FOO carried on with the fresh company. In the meantime, because the mortars were now out of range, a change of affiliation took place and the British battery supported the Canadians together with the Italian battery when not committed to their own battalion. K Battery now supported the British battalion which was moving east along the main road to the right of our sector. To keep up with the advance both troops constantly leapfrogged to new positions. Whereas the gun batteries each required a bulldozer to clear gun positions, the mortars were speedily deployed using toboggans. The spirit and morale of the gunners were never higher than in this phase; with little sleep and the constant requirement to manhandle their equipment over deep snow they proved themselves superior to the task on all occasions.
At the end of the battle all national contingents returned to their initial bivouac area. There was, however, very little time to celebrate our victory as the following day Phase 3, the re-deployment, began. This phase was carried out expeditiously and all members of the battery were home by 26 March.
To ensure that as many people as possible receive the benefits of training with the AMF(L,), L Battery has assumed the AMP role from K Battery. -- Ed.
A MANNER OF SPEAKING
"Son of a gun". In the days when horse drawn trains of muzzle loading siege guns lumbered leisurely and slowly to and from the battle zones, they were administratively self-contained with ammunition, supplies, forage and camp followers of various types. Children were sometimes born on the line of march. The sobriquet "son of a gun" found its way into the language.
"...spike their guns". By far the simplest way to render useless the muzzle loading guns of an opposing force (provided one could first lay hands on them and work reasonably unmolested) was to drive a tight fitting metal spike into the vent at the rear of the barrel, thus blocking the flash passage by which the gunner ignited the propellent charge.
"For what we are about to receive...". In order to eliminate controversy and embarrassment stemming from the use of various prayers of grace at regimental dinners, a decision was taken that the grace to be used within the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery would consist only of the words "For what we are about to receive, thank God." It is set out at page 28 of the Standing Orders, and it is surprising how many people seem not to know of it.
Bdr J.G. Henshaw (on right of photo) with — from right to left — Gnrs Green, Maillet and Skidmore,
snowshoe their way to waiting helicopter