Mountain, desert and jungle battalions

I found some interesting stuff in the Winter 2000 edition of the Royal Highland Fusiliers journal:

In August 1999 Dinf and CinC LAND directed that 12 lightroled
infantry battalions would take on 3 separate environmental
roles. The roles were: jungle, desert and mountain infantry. The
Fort George Battalion was one of four battalions to be given the
mountain infantry role. In March this year 1 RHF presented its
plan for role conversion from Armoured Infantry to Mountain
Infantry to its chain of command and HQInf. The plan was duly
endorsed by Dinf, and 1 RHF were tasked with running a pilot
conversion programme for the infantry.
There is a fair amount on 1 RHF's conversion to the mountain role in the journal, starting with this:

The start of the plan was training as many individuals as possible
on external courses. This included adventure training courses run
by JSMTC and courses at the Austrian Military Alpine Training
Centre. This would allow the Battalion to have its own core of
instructors available for running its own cadres and training.
These instructors would largely be posted to the High Mountain
Platoon (HMP) who would take over from the Recce Pl.
The conversion programme proper would start when the
Battalion arrived in Fort George. There were 4 distinct stages:
Stage 1: All ranks Battalion presentation.
Stage 2: Infantry Mountain Leader (IML) Cadre for 36 officers
and NCOs.
Stage 3: Officers and SNCOs study week.
Stage 4: Infantry Mountain Soldier (IMS) Cadres for all soldiers.
On completion of these four stages the Battalion would have
achieved a basic capability to operate in mountainous regions
which would be developed as training opportunities arose. The
first of these additional opportunities is in November and is a
training exercise for 130 soldiers from the Battalion at the
German Winter and Mountain Warfare Training School in
Mittenwald in the German Alps. Other opportunies include
exchanges with the French and Austrian Alpine Troops.
You can find a lot more in the journal which is available here:

Does anyone know if a) any other battalions started conversion to these environment-specific roles and b) when the project was abandoned?


Book Reviewer
The start of the plan was training as many individuals as possible on external courses. This included adventure training courses run by JSMTC
The name Silberhutte flashes through my memory, where I did a potholing course in 1981. Am I right in thinking this was JSMTC and is that still so?
Why were they planning to send people to Austria on courses when they could have gone on Royal's ML courses?
ML2 course too hard for them or wouldn't Royal entertain the idea of pongos treading on their toes?
Silberhutte was the AMTC during my time mainly for Langlauf and downhill ski-ing in the Harz Mountains and other courses during the summer. Also where we held a number of competitions for our "Commanders Cup". I seem to remember a small group of huts as well at Torfhaus where we could look across to the Brocken feature where the border IIRC was only de-lineated by marker posts.

Further back in my career (around 72/73) we also did adventure training centred on various ski-huts around Sonthofen in Southern Germany (a 10-12 hour drive by coach from Muenster).
Why were they planning to send people to Austria on courses when they could have gone on Royal's ML courses?
ML2 course too hard for them or wouldn't Royal entertain the idea of pongos treading on their toes?
The likelihood that Royal would allow any non-Commando personnel on the ML's course is fairly f*cking slim. I know that at one point the Mountain Troop Lads from 22 went on it, but I think that has gone away given the recent OpTempo issues.

The wider politics also have to be considered - RM involvement in M&AW kept them alive during the Cold War, and after, and I can't see there being much desire from their head sheds to allow Perce into the game. As much as I admire Royal, they have a massive tendency to believe their own bullsh*t, especially when it comes to comparisons to the Army; you only need to ask the Armoured Inf guys how they viewed the RM's use of protected mobility in HERRICK to understand that they can be unwilling to ask for help.

Also consider how the Career management issue would be dealt with - do you replicate ML1 & 2 within the Battalion, to provide the "train the trained" capability, or can that be dealt with centrally? It's a skillset that needs continual updating - by all accounts the recent Norway Ex was fairly emotional for lots of Bootnecks who have either never been to the arctic, or are well out of date....
I'll defer to Barbs' comments if he notices this thread, but I seem to remember that 1 RHF approached the Bootnecks and got short shrift - the response being that the RM were all about Arctic-based mountain warfare, or some other distinction. Obviously there was a large degree of overlap, but no real motive for the RMs to allow the line inf to encroach on their territory.

To put it in context, this was in the pre-2005 days when there was still much grumbling about a Two-Tier Army - conveniently forgetting that Mech and Armd battalions had done much of the legwork in Bosnia, and featured heavily in Kosovo too. But post SDR it was all about "go in early, go in hard, get out fast" a la Sierra Leone and lumbering line inf with 4 tonners or Saxons didn't look too glamarous or deployable in that context.

The concept - I think - was simply to give otherwise uncommitted light infantry battalions a training focus and a recruiting tool. Easier to dispel the image of the county regiments as being general dogsbodies if you could tell a potential recruit "your local battalion have been chosen as an elite arid warfare battalion" with the attendant photos. I seem to recall very little real extra resources being committed - jungle battalions took the usual Belize courses and exercises ( TROPICAL STORM I think? ), arid battalions went on Saffron Sands and the mountain battalions were allocated Wainwright in the winter. 1 RHF re-jigged their ORBAT, ran internal courses, exercised quite a bit in Kinlochleven, encouraged all and sundry to do RCP and RLT courses at Indefatigable and worked hard to build links with the Chasseurs Alpins and Boche equivalents. But while the training was imaginative and built to a decent quality it was all done at a relativley low-level, and very much the baby of the CO. ISTR that the Grenadier Guards were also allocated the mountain role, but did less with it, drill and other HDiv things being more interesting. Also their circumstances were different. One of - if not the main - key drivers for 1 RHF was the shocking retention rate of 1 BW at Fort George - the CO & his cabal of wizened LEs realised that they needed to keep the Bn fit and motivated between stints as Ops Coy in South Armagh. The Bn had also spent a long time in Germany in 7 Bde - going from that to a backwater posting in northern Scotland was a big downshift and was going to hurt morale.

It worked, although it lost pace by the end ( Alfred, you're right, the T3 aspect needs an ultra-keen cadre to run it, and needs to be rigorously maintained), and the Bn came out of Fort George having lost a good deal fewer Jocks despite having been extended in its arms-plot move. Was the Bn mega-fit and ready to fight in the mountain role... not really. As you can tell by the ORBAT and specialist kit the RMs and Chasseurs Alpins are scaled to, and degree they're ( or were? ) trained to, if you want to ruck in role you need to be really well prepared and audited either by battle or at least some intensive externally-supervised exercises. Cutting about with a standard ORBAT, 8 x SA80s and 2 x LSWs per section wasn't near the mark. Although Iraq showed that it wasn't much good for COIN either...

So the concept was a peacetime Good Idea which kept the line infantry busy until something big came along. Pleasing to see though, that the fears of "bog-standard infantry" which were around at its inception have been thoroughly dispelled by Iraq and Afghanistan since.



Book Reviewer
Yes, AMTC - I remember now. I am sure in 1978-79 15/19H and 16/5L shared a Snow Queen ski hut at Sonthofen. I'd forgotten that name until just now. Thanks.

Must have been 79, we were instructed to take a full set of combats as we had been volunteered totake a night off to be goons on an RAF escape & evasion course at Oberammergau. Usual rules: no speaking to the prisoners, escort them (drag them, if you will) to their next interrogation and wait behind a screen while a Green Slime interrogates them and try not to fall asleep, snore and ruin the moment. The only time we were allowed to speak was if he made a break for it we were to shout something along the lines of, "Don't slash your precious Crab hands on the razor wire."

That was about another four hours in the Bavarian snow from Sonthofen to Oberammergau. Pleased to report the trip back was by Wessex and took about ten minutes, quick change and get out on the piste.

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