33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) was born out of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal companies, formed during the Second World War to deal with the mounting problem of unexploded German bombs. In 1973, 33 Engineer Regiment took over responsibility for UK explosive ordinance disposal and is now one of two specialist EOD and Advanced Search Regiments for the Corps of Royal Engineers.
33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) is a Hybrid unit, meaning that it contains both Regular and Army Reserve components. One of these Army Reserve elements is 350 (Sherwood Foresters) Field Squadron (EOD), based in Nottingham and Chesterfield.
The Leek training area is stunning at sunrise. Military training areas often are: unpolluted, uncompromised rolling hills of British countryside beauty. You could, after all, be on the sofa in the comfort of your living room, watching your latest box set… but we are the Army Reserve and Friday nights are not for chilling, but packing for an infantry and search weekend.
Deploying into the carcass of a farm building after midnight, to sleep on thin foam with the rest of the lads might be a turn off to some; but there are little blessings. We aren’t in a field, at least not this evening! The morning brings much adventure. Our wartime role is to find Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), which are usually placed by the enemy in the path of friendly forces for maximum destructive effect. The Engineers need to find these devices so the combat troops don’t have to worry about them. This weekend’s training is all about the IED supply chain. IED’s are rarely truly “improvised”, they are built in makeshift factories and have the same chain of suppliers and distributors that any other product has. Component parts of the IEDs have to come together before they are constructed and this weekend we are intercepting that supply chain before manufacture.
That’s why I find myself on the range road of Leek Training area, coordinating a vehicle check point. We’ve been tipped off that a vehicle is carrying contraband items, maybe IED components, and we need to find it. We intercept a blue Landrover Discovery and learn that the driver, (the wife of the Squadron Sergeant Major!) is somehow carrying explosive chemicals and a map of attack locations. The first piece of the puzzle!
The weekend evolves. We practice our search area theory, i.e. how to find things in a wide area with a small number of people. People don’t just hide stuff randomly: they always pick markers and reminders, so we learn how to spot these. We arrest a known activist and get more information from him. We find a cache of ammunition along a route. We conduct patrols to dominate ground and return back to base to share information and receive orders. The picture builds. We now know the names of insurgents and the missing component parts that we will need to find.
It is now Saturday night and our latest set of orders dictates that we are going tactical. A forestry block is now our new home. We move out onto the ground, covering 360 degrees in all round defence. I check the forestry block location with a supporting soldier, only to realise that “the enemy” has guessed our intentions and the training staff have sown the woods with trip-wire booby-traps attached to flares. Quite a wake up call! We are instructed to carry on and set up for the night, with a rolling sentry.
In the morning we conduct our final search. We move outside the training area onto public land and plan a route along a ridgeline. The sun creeps into the sky and bathes the hills in a bright orange hue. We can see for miles, appreciating the view as we patrol to the search area. The search is successful and we return to HQ for our final set of orders – an attack on an enemy strong hold. As a result of our exploits the enemy have collected in a set of buildings and we must destroy them. The infantry element of this weekend has begun!
Two section attacks are conducted on the enemy position. There is lots of smoke, mini flares and rifle fire, with commendable acting from the enemy. The troops get stuck in, getting lots of fire down and mutually supporting each other as they advance on the position. Weapons are flicked to automatic and we clear the position – but one of the team has been injured. Casualty evacuation drills kick in and the wounded soldier needs to be carried back up the hill. The section are tired but they push through.
It’s the end of the weekend. We wrap up, clear up and head home. By Sunday afternoon you’re exhausted but it’s worth it. I learn something new at every training event, whether improving my leadership ability or something wonderful about the other Reservists I serve with. It’s brilliant, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Capt Lara Small