WEEK 1: Skills. Strategy. And big explosions.

Our time at Catterick has been one of compliance, strategy & big explosions – and we’ve loved every moment of it! We started off with a quick drive down the A1 from Gateshead, with six members of 3 Troop at Wathgill Camp, on a cold Friday night in March. We were there to rendezvous with friends and colleagues, both old and new, from Hull and Wakefield, the two other Troops that make up 299 Parachute Squadron, an Army Reserve Unit that is part of 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, the dedicated Regular Army Engineer Regiment in 16 Air Assault Brigade..

The aim of the weekend was to refresh skills in live demolitions – skills that all Sappers in the Army Reserves are required to learn as part of their trade training to become a Combat Engineer.

Under the watchful eye of an experienced Squadron Staff Sergeant, sections of Sappers were tasked with ‘destroying’ various targets – ranging from logs to steel girders. This is an essential skill the Sappers need to master; it enables the Army to both fight and move on the battlefield – key components of what the Royal Engineers delivers to the Army.

Once the targets had been assigned, the Sappers set about laying the charges for demolition. This immersive opportunity allowed them to put theory into practice – with a range of techniques available to use. The demolitions range is a great opportunity to demonstrate everything you’ve learnt in a supervised environment.

As the charges were laid, the type of charge and the expected effect was then explained to the group as a whole. This ensured that we could all learn from the experience and apply those lessons in the future – with confidence and agility.

Having had a briefing on each target, those not in the firing party cleared the area and moved off the range to the prescribed safety distance. And for those staying behind in the firing party, it was time to gather their all knowledge and prepare for firing. With helmets and body armour on, they moved into the bunker.

We waited at the safety point in anticipation and it wasn’t long before the first flash and cloud of detonation could be seen. The crash of the explosion rolled quickly behind. We counted all the explosions – ensuring they were all detonated and there were no ‘blinds’, charges that failed to explode.

Once the ‘all clear’ was given by the experienced Senior NCOs, those of us at the safety point returned to the range to survey our handy work. Logs were cut in two and girders twisted and splintered. We walked amongst the debris and assessed the effect of our charges. This gave us the chance to see what worked as expected and what would need refinement in the future.

However, if you make the mess, you need to clean it up. Working together, we quickly assembled the scrap and shrapnel left behind and cleared the range, ready for the next user.

All that was left for us to do was a quick de-brief on the day. Then there was the declaration, where we all declare we have no explosive material or accessories on our person. This is done to ensure no material is removed from the range before we depart for the day.

After a successful day on the ranges conducting live demolitions training, we returned to Wathgill Camp for an excellent meal. This was all done before 3 Troop made the trek up the A1 back to Gateshead, with feelings of pride and satisfaction that we all had honed our skills and enjoyed a great training session.

2Lt Piers Routledge
Troop Officer, Royal Engineers
Quality Manager at Nationwide Building Society