A North of Scotland RAF Reserves has been to Norway to learn winter survival skills in the mountains following the footsteps of famous wartime raiders who stopped the Nazi atomic bomb programme.
24-year-old, James Macallister from Inverness, is a member of the RAF Reserves serving as a gunner in the RAF Regiment.
He joined 50 other reservists on Exercise Wintermarch to learn Nordic skiing, how to survive an avalanche and work with dog rescue teams and how to deal with extreme cold from members of the Norwegian military. Here they had to deal with temperatures as low as -25C.
The ex-Gordonstoun pupil said: “It has been an awesome experience – more than I could have expected. The skills I’ve learnt here will be really useful when I start training to be an officer in the regular, full-time RAF.
“The instructors have been fantastic and it’s not a pressurised teaching environment. They work well with everyone’s skill levels – it’s tailored to you.
“The avalanche training was really interesting and it was great to see Heera their rescue dog working. She was amazing.”
The airmen and women of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force were based at Rjukan, 100 miles north of the capital Oslo. The town is also the site of the wartime Telemark Raid which saw saboteurs dropped by the RAF destroy a factory making vital parts for the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb.
The students learned more about the operation with a talk from a close friend of one of the saboteurs and a visit to the museum built on the site of the raid.
The skills used by the saboteurs in cross-country skiing and winter survival are the same as those taught by the Norwegian instructors. Participants finished the gruelling week with a cross-country skiing race.
James, who serves with Number 2622 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth added: “I had an idea about the Telemark Operation but have learnt a lot more here. It’s fascinating to think they crossed this terrain using some of the skills we’ve been taught.”
For Norwegians the Telemark Raid holds a similar place as the Battle of Britain does here and represents their own ‘finest hour’.
The officer leading the expedition, Flight Lieutenant Rosie Gilmore said: “The RAF Reserves have been coming to Rjukan to train for many years and we’ve had a fantastic week here. The guys have got so much out of it. It’s hard work, but they all help each other and you can see that they’ve given their all but they’ve had a great time.”
The exercise comes at an important time for the RAF in its centenary year.
She added: “As the RAF celebrates its 100th year, it’s fitting that we’ve been here where the RAF has long and friendly relations and it’s been great to be here strengthening those bonds between the RAF and Norway.”
These bonds stretch back to the Second World War when, as well as supporting the Telemark raid, Norwegian airmen served in RAF squadrons as they fought alongside Britain to defeat Germany and free their homeland. Both the UK and Norway are founder members of NATO.