Mit 350 Fahrzeugen

Wettiner Schwert: NATO battle group crosses Elbe river

Wettiner Schwert: NATO battle group crosses Elbe river

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Storkau near Tangermünde – normally a peaceful little village on the banks of the Elbe river. Not so on 2 April: Storkau is the strategic hub for the military bridging operation of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force ). For almost the entire day, soldiers are crossing the river with their combat vehicles. In total, 1000 troops with 350 vehicles, including battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, are passing the checkpoints on the near side and on the far side of the Elbe river in a continuous stream.

Numerous vehicles stand on a large square on a misty morning.

The 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise starts off with a combat march on which the soldiers will cross the Elbe with their tanks

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

"Next year, Germany will provide the 37 Armoured Infantry Brigade as the lead unit for the land components of the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force and have a coordinating role. What is important now is to merge all the elements in training, exercise and control", says Brigadier General Alexander Krone, adding that individual capabilities had to to come together as a whole. Krone has been commander of 37 Armoured Infantry Brigade "Freistaat Sachsen" since 2020. This exercise was preceded by two years of planning.

The objective is a successful certification

Numerous tanks stand on a square. A soldier looks out from a hatch.

A well prepared march: Crossing the river with approximately 350 vehicles and 1,000 soldiers by itself will take almost five hours

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

In the 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise, the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force troops are preparing for the challenges of being a very high readiness NATO battle group. The combat march marks the beginning of this exercise. Eighty kilometres need to be covered from the Klietz exercise area, across the Elbe river and on to the Army Combat Training Centre in Letzlinger Heide. "This is different from doing an exercise serial standing on a range and engaging targets there. The strains a march puts on each soldier are far heavier and last for hours," says one driver of a Leopard. The battle group will cross the Elbe river together with soldiers from Weißenfels-based Medical Regiment 1. In the next two weeks, the troops will be certified for their NATO mission.

Battle group practices river crossing skills

A medical vehicle moves along the banks of the Elbe river.

During the exercise, the battle group is linked in a network. The Medical Task Force of Medical Regiment 1 from Weißenfels is also participating.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Weißenborn, commander of 393 Tank Battalion from Bad Frankenhausen, who is leading this march of the battle group with his soldiers, says: "Our tank crews and the armoured infantry practice combat with their weapon systems almost every day. However, movements of such dimensions, especially if they include the crossing water obstacles, are particularly demanding for our drivers and crews. This is exactly what we are practicing here." He adds that organisation, coordination and time management were the determining factors.The march will be carried out with the more than 300 vehicles divided into 13 march units and setting off at different times.
To enable tank crews, armoured infantry troops, medics and the entire battle group to cross the Elbe river, Staff Sergeant Nikolaji Hildebrandt is posted at the crossing site. He is an engineer from the Minden-based German-British Amphibious Engineer Battalion 130. The engineers provide for the crossing of the Elbe river.

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The Leguan bridge layer has not been in service for a long time yet. For the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force , it can provide a crossing to all combat vehicles.

The Elbe river is made crossable

An armoured bridgelaying vehicle crosses the Elbe on a ferry.

The Leguan bridge layer has not been in service for a long time yet. For the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force , it can provide a crossing to all combat vehicles.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

In the conduct of combat operations, it is important to become independent of existing infrastructure such as bridges. Establishing own water crossings makes it more difficult for the enemy to disrupt movements. The engineers from Minden have set up the water crossing zone near Storkau for the crossing of the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force battle group. "We will take the battle group across the river with three amphibious ferries," says Staff Sergeant Nikolaji Hildebrandt. It is not obvious, but being in the water crossing zone is stressful to the crews of the combat vehicles. "It is absolutely essential that we synchronize the arriving vehicles with the shuttle intervals of the ferries. Having the battle group pile up in front of the crossing is just as bad as having ferries lie idle on the Elbe river," says Hildebrandt.
The engineers ferry the battle group across in small groups of two, sometimes three or four vehicles. It takes less than ten minutes for a crew to get to the opposite side of the Elbe. Within the water crossing zone, the engineers are responsible for ensuring the smooth crossing of the combat vehicles.

From the water crossing zone to the combat training centre

Several military vehicles move in single file on a country road.

Marches of such dimensions are a special challenge for the crews. It is only possible if routes, times, speed and the spaces between vehicles or units are strictly observed.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

After about five hours, the entire battle group has crossed the river, with the ferries of the engineers from Minden having shuttled across the Elbe numerous times. Behind the small village of Storkau, the water crossing zone ends. The small vehicle groups are forming into their large march columns again and the crews are preparing for the last stage of the march. There are still at least 50 kilometres to cover until they will reach the Army Combat Training Centre.
During the subsequent two-week exercise, the battle group will consolidate further, the Medical Task Force from Weißenfels will be integrated and the small convoys will combine into a large coherent whole. During that time, the objective will always be to obtain certification as a rapid response force for the NATO mission.

From one training area to another

  • A battle tank fires a round on the firing range

    Wettiner Schwert: After combat training at the Klietz training area, the tank crews embark on their march to the Army Combat Training Centre

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • A soldier attaches barrel covers to the battle tanks.

    The exercise demonstrates the importance of details. If a vehicle has to stop, even for just a minor fault, the entire march will be delayed.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • A tank moves on a country road, two soldiers look out of the hatches.

    The commander of 393 Tank Battalion from Bad Frankenhausen, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Weißenborn, leads this march across the Elbe river

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • A tank stands on a military ferry.

    Each of the engineers' ferries consists of four M3 Amphibious Rigs. Three ferries assembled in this way constantly shuttle back and forth to take the entire battle group across the river one group of vehicles after the other.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • An IFV drives ashore off a ferry.

    The 112 Armoured Infantry Battalion from Regen reinforces the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force with its Puma infantry fighting vehicles

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • Battle tanks move along a muddy sand track with their turrets turned sideways.

    Destination reached: In the evening hours of 2 April, the battle tanks, which started out from Klietz several hours earlier, roll across the training area of the Army Combat Training Centre in the Letzlinger Heide heathland.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
by René Hinz