Ski-mounted alpine troops have long been a facet of mountain warfare in Europe, with specialized units such as the French Chasseurs Alpins and Italian Alpini battalions dating as far back as the 19th Century. It was after just such an encounter with the French “Blue Devils” that sparked the formation of German mountain infantry in 1915, modeled after the Austrian Landwehr’s Gebirgstruppe (mountain troops) of the latter country’s Tyrolean region.
The Germans evolved their Gebirgsjäger units over the years until no less than 16 divisions were given the title during WWII– although many were not true “mountain” troops.
Today, Germany still fields a full three-battalion brigade of high-quality mountain infantry, Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23, which consists of about 5,300 soldiers trained to fight under extreme weather conditions.
And their annual winter training, to include the Polarfuchs (“Arctic Fox”) exercise– which everyone from enlisted to the commanding officer has to complete– and the smaller International Mountain Warfare Patrol, are pretty legit. Basically, take the Winter Olympics’ biathlon and add grenades, Heckler & Koch rifles, and snow camo.
More in my column at Guns.com.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Kirstin Merrimarahajara captured a Marine walking through Rukla Training Area, Lithuania during Exercise Iron Sword 16. The Marines, after all, have a history of fighting deep in the primordial forests of Europe despite their reputation as sea soldiers.
It reminds me of the words of Dr. Benjamin Rush:
“It would seem from this fact, that man is naturally a wild animal, and that when taken from the woods, he is never happy in his natural state, ’till he returns to them again.”
Speaking of Lithuanian forest dwellers, check out the below video that NATO published this week on the life of one of the 8,000 reservists in the Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces (the same size as the regular active duty Land Forces). Note both German HK G3s and G36s being used side by side.
Tiny Estonia, who share a long and increasingly tense border with Russia, uses a force of volunteer unpaid citizens– equipped with their own military arms– to hold the line.
The Estonian Defense League, a militia independent from the government, is made up of over 15,000 members, making it several times larger than the 6,500-member official Estonian Defense Forces.
Stationed in every part of the country the League is ready at a moment’s notice to sally out and repel possible invasion from unnamed neighbors. It’s the largest military force in the region and members vow to put up more of a fight than they did when the Soviet Union took over the county in 1940 and remained for decades.
Earlier this summer Vice News spent some time in-depth with not only the minutemen of the League but also those on both sides of Estonian politics and the above video shows some interesting footage of their training and doctrine.
The firepower shown is impressive, showing some sweet shots of donated German HK G3s and MG3s, old-school Chevy K5s that likely came from the U.S., a sweet 1950s-era Bofors Pvpj 1110 90 mm recoilless rifle, a smoking hot M240/FN Mag, some IMI Galils, a sprinkling of 84mm Carl Gustavs and at least one BTR-80 armored personnel carrier.
It seems Estonia is very down with the concept of civilian use of military-style arms.
Sure, Estonia has no illusions about stopping an all-out Russian incursion, but they just have to slow it down enough to allow fellow NATO members to apply action or rush reinforcements to the region and they plan to do so by putting a rifle behind every blade of grass.
“If Russia knows that attacking Estonia is not a walk in the park, maybe Russia will think twice,” says a commander.
Speaking of which, check out a recent NATO exercise with the League as part of Operation Hurricane in the video below.
With so much firepower at the hands of your everyday civilian, its hard to sell the prospect of being a member of the League because you want to hunt ducks.
But then again, back here in the states we know that Washington didn’t cross the Delaware to get to a duck blind.