A fortress of snow

A fortress of snow

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The vehicles are loaded with camouflage nets, packs and entrenching tools. Aboard them, the soldiers move to an area in which, in just a few hours’ time, a system of fighting positions will have been carved into the fresh Norwegian snow. During Exercise Cold Response 20, the soldiers also train how to build systems of fighting positions under arctic conditions.

Two soldiers crouch in a covered position dug out of the snow. One of them observes the surroundings

During the exercise, the mountain infantry troops learn how to build fighting positions in the snow.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Mountain Infantry Battalion 232 of Bischofswiesen expects an enemy attack. Today, the Delta heavy platoon is to move into position with its four sections in order to engage the enemy, who is approaching from the south, from a system of fighting positions. This platoon is known as the heavy platoon because it carries the company’s heavy weapons, such as the MILAN antitank guided missile or the automatic grenade launcher. In combat, the four sections are deployed abreast to provide one another with support. Range estimates are made and prominent landmarks sketched for purposes of terrain familiarisation prior to the upcoming battle. Soldiers call this preparing range cards. 

Purpose-built positions

Two soldiers lie prone with a machine gun and binoculars in their covered position dug into the snow.

A machine gun team moves into the newly created positions and observes the forward area.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Soon after they arrive, the soldiers begin to carve out paths and positions from which to engage enemy riflemen. The difference: here in the snows of Norway, the soldiers dig down not through sand, but through metres of snow. But the positions still need to be built in line with the same infantry principles that apply in other climate conditions. Can I use my rifle from my position to engage the enemy within the sector of fire assigned to me? Does my position afford enough cover and is it camouflaged in a way that it will ideally not be observed right away? These are some of the criteria that mountain infantry troops need to consider when digging fighting positions.

Communication is the key

A soldier digs a trench in the snow. Snow is piled up behind her.

A mountain infantry trooper uses a shovel to construct a system of trenches in the snow. That way, fighting positions are connected to one another.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

The fighting positions are spaced throughout the area in a way that allows the soldiers to maintain communications with each other. Accordingly, the positions from which the soldiers fight are within sight of one another. Shoulder-wide trenches connect the fighting positions to allow soldiers to exchange ammunition during an engagement, for instance, or the platoon leader, who exercises command and control in combat, to be mobile. The narrow crawl trenches are deep enough so that soldiers can move without exposing themselves to enemy fires. The trenches are never dug all the way down to the forest floor, as they would otherwise be easy to observe from the air.

by Peter Müller