|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 German unexploded bombs. In 1973, 33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) took over responsibility for UK EOD and is now one of two specialist Explosive Ordnance Disposal and specialist Advanced Search Regiments for the Corps of Royal Engineers.
33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) is a Hybrid unit, meaning that it contains both Reserve and Regular Army components, one of these is 350 (Sherwood Foresters) Field Squadron (EOD).
The Leek training area is stunning at sunrise. Military training areas often are, un polluted, 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 a carcass of a farm building after midnight, to sleep on thin foam with the rest of the lads might be a turn off. But there are little blessings we aren’t in a field. At least not this evening! The morning brings much adventure as deployed members of 350 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, are conducting an Infantry and Search weekend. Our job in peace time and in conflict is to find Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), usually placed by the enemy in the path of friendly forces, for maximum destructive effect. So the Engineers need to find these devices. This weekend is all about the IED supply chain. Component parts of these IEDs have to come together and 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 and we need to find it. We intercept a blue Land Rover Discovery and discover that the driver, (the wife of the Squadron Sergeant Major) is 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. We arrest a known activist and get more information from him. We find a cache of ammunition along a route. We conduct ground dominating patrols 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.
Saturday night. Our latest set of orders dictates that we are going tactical. A wood block is now our new home. We step out onto the ground, covering 360-degree all-round defence. I move to the wood block with a supporting soldier, only to realise that its been compromised and the directing staff have filled it with trip 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 into public land and plan a route along a ridgeline. The sun creeps into the sky and bathes the land in a bright orange hue. We can see for miles, appreciating the view as we walk to the search area. We are successful and we return 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 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.
On Sunday afternoon you’re exhausted but its worth it. I learn something new at every training opportunity, whether improvements to my leadership ability or something wonderful about the other Reservists I serve with. Its brilliant and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Capt Lara Small