Nov 4th 2015, By Lt Pier-Olivier Lessard-Godbout
It has been a busy October for 11 Field Squadron of 1 CER. The squadron left the comfort of their regiment and tackled two exercises simultaneously at CFB Wainwright between the 13th to the 28th of October 2015. One being a regimental exercise, Ex FORLORN HOPE, and the other attached to 3 PPCLI for Ex SPARTAN FORGE.
Troops had been training all summer long for these exercises and were eager to put this training into action. Embracing a back to the basics approach, they had refreshed themselves in a variety of engineer skills ranging from laying and breaching minefields to emplacing reserve bridge demolitions. The effort they had put in beforehand paid off well as they succeeded in accomplishing missions for both regimental and battalion HQs. Throughout the exercises troops emplaced and breached minefields and wire obstacles, created crater groups, denied road access with abatis’, laid point obstacles such as log cribs and hurdles and most impressively, emplaced a complex reserve demolition. The sappers of 11 Field Squadron did not let the cold temperatures or long work hours slow them down.
During the first few days of the exercise, the squadron began to develop SOPs on establishing hides and harbours in a tactical environment. After making a few adjustments and discussing different methods, everyone had a grasp of the key concepts and wellconcealed hides were being established.
On 15 October, the squadron joined 3 PPCLI for three days to provide engineer assistance in the battalion’s platoon level live fire ranges. Every day, engineer sections were attached to different infantry platoons to provide mobility support to a manoeuvring ground force. This helped the infantry breach obstacles on their objective and also exposed the engineers to infantry tactics. The teamwork and developing relationships between the two trades was clearly visible.
After the live fire ranges, the squadron rejoined the regiment to conduct a series of obstacles for the defensive portion of Ex FORLORN HOPE. At this point there were indications of a serious CBRN threat. This ultimately translated to the field troops having to accomplish their mission wearing CBRN suits, with gas masks at the ready. Although constraining in movement and very warm, morale was kept to a maximum while emplacing minefields and wire obstacles.
Upon completion of all obstacles it was then time for the main defensive battle. The field troops took to their dug-in positions and awaited the enemy, who were trying to make their way through the series of obstacles they had just emplaced. On order, the demolition of Cattalo Bridge (12 Fd Sqn) stopped the enemy advance and without any other feasible Battle River crossing sites the main defensive battle was over. With the regimental battle position successfully defended, the end of Ex FORLORN HOPE was called. It was now time for reflection and constructive critiquing to ensure lessons learned. As the regiment made their way back to Edmonton, 11 Field Squadron returned to 3 PPCLI to participate in the defensive portion of their exercise.
As part of 3 PPCLI for the conclusion of Ex SPARTAN FORGE, 11 Fd Sqn took its place in the battalion defensive plan; with two companies in front and the engineers in depth. Centralized around Cattalo Bridge once more, engineers were tasked with emplacing further obstacles to shape the enemy into designated killzones. They were also responsible for sighting their defensive positions and digging trenches to state 5 to protect themselves from the enemy’s weapon systems. Most importantly, the reserve demolition was emplaced on a bridge to deny its use by the enemy.
After a few more hard days of work, 3 PPCLI, with support from enablers, were ready for their defensive battle. The engineers had developed contingency plans to come to the aid of forward infantry companies if reinforcements were required. On the morning of 26 October, all troops were ready to fight. The reserve demolitions went off without a hitch allowing the infantry to successfully engage the enemy in the kill zone.
At the end of the battle, the troops conducted a tactical withdrawal to the B-Echelon lines. Engineers completed their withdrawal while avoiding roads, navigating through shrubs and open fields while always maintaining excellent tactical posture. They were able to exercise their formation drills at the squadron level as well as displaying the road crossing drills learnt at the Tp level.
In general, the time spent with the Regiment and 3 PPCLI taught 11 Field Squadron many new lessons in both engineering and infantry skills. The troops demonstrated great knowledge and effort in all tasks accomplished and adapted well to an austere environment.
11 Field Squadron, now back at the regiment, will begin to assimilate lessons learned and work to improve on their engineer and infantry skills over the next few months. Come 2016, they will be prepared to tackle further exercises, continuing down the road to high readiness and ready for whatever missions the army may ask of them.