Text: Hanne Marie Maugesten Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold Video: Torgeir Haugaard
A three-hour drive from Berlin you will find a city like no other. In this city there are no church bells. No one is standing at the check-in counter at the airport. The mosque is empty, there are no politicians in the city hall, and the underground is silent. This is the mock-up of a city, built solely to train soldiers on attacking and defending real cities. The facility is brand-new and the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.
This summer, soldiers from Norway's Telemark Battalion have been among the first to test the facility along with the rest of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).
It is early morning. An instructor looks at his watch and rushes between the brick buildings. It is time–consuming to unlock hundreds of doors in an empty city. And then: The very distinctive sound of fighting vehicles and tanks.
aliance within the alliance
VJTF is a part of NATO's Response Force and can deploy within days. The
commander of Telemark Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Ole Christian
Emaus, calls the VJTF an alliance within the alliance.
"This is the spearhead of NATO", says Emaus.
Germany and the Netherlands are some of the countries that will contribute
with soldiers and equipment to the force in 2019. Lately, the three
countries have worked closely together in operations and exercises.
have a long history of cooperation. And there are similarities between
us when it comes to military culture and equipment", he adds.
The hardest task
Today, the Norwegian soldiers are training urban warfare together with other NATO
soldiers in Germany. Urban warfare is – as the name indicates – war in
towns, cities and other populated areas. Modern warfare is often fought
in urban areas, and it is vital that our soldiers know how to attack or
defend a city.
The training can turn out to be very useful. Urban warfare is one of the hardest things a soldier will ever face, says commander Emaus.
"There are many places to hide, the situation is chaotic and the challenges are different than the ones in the woods."
Modern warfare very often takes place in urban areas
Emaus is pleased that his soldiers get to train urban warfare on such a large scale.
"Looking at today's conflicts, modern warfare very often takes place in urban areas."
|en_216_natovjtffirstonestod||en_40_natoexercise2018||/en/exercise-and-operations/exercises/nato-exercise-2018||/media/PubImages/DSC_4518_2.jpg||Trident Juncture 18||50,000 participants, 250 aircraft and 65 vessels from more than 30 nations – this is NATO's exercise Trident Juncture 18.||en_216_natovjtffirstonestod||http://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedPages/DispForm.aspx?ID=98|
leader for the battalion's 3rd Mechanised Infantry Company, Espen
Høilund, says that his soldiers appreciate the urban training. Today,
they are trained at all the worst-case scenarios.
their first task, they are moving from one side of the city to the
other. They have been told that the enemy is weakened, but this turns
out to be wrong. Surprised by the strong resistance, the soldiers must
handle a chaotic situation and multiple dilemmas at the same time. It is
a very demanding mission.
"They wanted to be tested at the most complicated and demanding tasks, so that is what we do", explains platoon leader Høilund.
The hiding places are many. The situation is chaotic.
All set for Trident Juncture
The soldiers in the fake German city are part of the Spearhead – the quickest reaction unit in the VJTF. In a crisis, the Spearhead will be the first to arrive, followed by more soldiers and materiel from the VJTF.
"Now we prepare for NATO's exercise Trident Juncture in Norway," says Spearhead commander Colonel Jan Østbø.
In addition to strengthening cooperation with the Dutch and the Germans, Emaus emphasises that the NATO training is a useful test for Telemark Battalion.
"The training shows us how Norway can contribute within a multi-national force. That includes everything from technical solutions and communication, to the command", he says.
You will hear them before you see them. A rhythmic but somewhat choppy sound of belts moving along the ground. 55 tonnes, moving at high speed. Two Norwegian tanks are heading for the fake city hall. Tough battles are being fought all around them. Two vehicles are hit, and the soldiers have to evacuate their wounded comrades. At the same time, there are battles in the front, middle and rear lines. The situation is intense.
It makes the training very realistic.
"In the first run-through, I was hit by fire right away. But throughout the day things went better," says Steinar Kristiansen, one of the soldiers who protected the city.
Back in Norway, he is a reconnaissance soldier in Telemark Battalion. But today he has to fill the roles as a combat medic and a sniper. He is overwhelmed by the size and the authenticity of the fake city in Germany.
"It makes the training very realistic. You can easily imagine what it would be like to roll into a city where the enemy is waiting," Kristiansen says.