The British Army is beginning to restore traditional skills to its units as the U.K. winds down its 11-year involvement in Afghanistan.
For some time, there have been concerns that concentrating on counter-insurgency operations has skewed the Army’s focus to the detriment of other capabilities. To remedy this, Army units are returning to Germany to polish rusty tactics.
A major exercise, Bavarian Charger, ran from May 12 to June 8 and saw some 2,500 troops and 750 vehicles from 20th Armoured Brigade preparing for contingency operations likely to be faced in future conflicts. It was the Brigade’s first major exercise since returning from Afghanistan last year.
British forces in Germany typically exercise in the north of the country, where they have been based since the end of World War II. But Bavarian Charger provided a welcome element of unfamiliarity with the terrain as troops moved south to the U.S. Army’s training grounds at Grafenwoehr for live-fire exercises and Hohenfels for maneuver training.
Bavarian Charger was the culmination of several months’ training within the brigade’s battle groups, which are battalions with support units. Troops undertook incremental exercises at platoon and later company level.
The exercise focused on how the brigade would defend against or attack an equally-sized and equipped enemy integrating the all-arms concept with aviation assets. It also addressed moving from offensive operations into security mode, where troops would be required to protect and reassure a local population.
The exercise was divided into three phases. The first was a two-week live firing session on the Grafenwoehr ranges that culminated with a series of attacks combining Challenger tanks, Warrior fighting vehicles, Apache attack helicopters, infantry, and artillery.
The brigade then traveled to the Hohenfels training area, 100 kilometers farther south, in a move through open German countryside designed to simulate the problems facing the force when moving through a hostile environment. It also provided an opportunity to test the skills of 1 Logistic Support Regiment, which was coordinating the move.
The final phase was carried out in the heavily wooded and hilly terrain of Hohenfels, focusing on the planning and execution of operations at battle group and company level.
The 5th Battalion The Rifles and Queen’s Dragoon Guards Battle Groups were tested on tactics that involved sweeping across the battlefield in an armored thrust before switching to peace-support operations that required a more subtle approach.
Besides the demands of the exercise itself, a further challenge came in the form of the miserable weather that has plagued much of Western Europe this spring. Troops had to survive in record rainfalls that caused severe flooding in southern Germany and made life particularly difficult for the infantry, who were exposed to persistent, torrential rain during the digging-in phase.
“Bavarian Charger tested us in operating in complex, wooded terrain in our armoured vehicles and on foot,” said Lt. Col. Charles Collins, commanding officer of the 5th Battalion The Rifles. “We rarely encounter such close country in our usual training areas, so many lessons were learnt. The weather was certainly testing but the challenge the soldiers relished the most was the American OPFOR [opposing forces]; they certainly gave us a run for money and really heightened the training experience.”