The Zawisza Czarny Brigade versus the 17th Mechanized Brigade? The fratricidal battle took place during the Namejs-18 manoeuvres, one of the largest that has taken place in Latvia so far.
Adazi – a small town 30 km from Riga, the capital of Latvia. This is the location of the base where the 1st Mechanized Brigade, and, since June 2017, also the NATO Battalion Battle Group have been stationed. It is formed by soldiers of eight nationalities. The largest contingent has arrived in Latvia from Canada. There are also soldiers from Spain, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Albania. Poland is represented by a tank company from the 15th Giżycko Mechanized Brigade named after Zawisza Czarny [a famous, 14th/15th-century Polish knight]. According to the provisions of the 2016 NATO Summit, the international battalion is to cooperate with the Latvian armed forces and remain ready to start defending the state borders at any time.
“Each subdivision based in Latvia has different equipment and specialisation. The Slovenians are responsible for the reconnaissance, the Albanians brought a demining team, the Slovaks – a mechanized company, the Czechs – a support company and an anti-tank platoon, the Spanish – a tank platoon. The Canadian and Italian quotas are motorized infantry. There is also a tank company from Poland with us,” says Lieutenant Colonel Steven MacBeth, commander of the NATO Battalion Battle Group. “The diversity that characterises our battalion is its great asset. NATO has an excellent tool for many tasks,” MacBeth asserts.
What tasks? This was one of the things verified during “Namejs-18” exercises – the largest ones that so far took place in Latvia. The whole Latvian armed forces, the National Guard and allied armies of almost 6,000 soldiers were involved. In total, more than 10 thousand soldiers worked together throughout the country for two weeks.
Brace yourselves, Twardy tanks on the way
The main episode took place on the training ground, in Adazi. Its scenario was very simple – the opponent attacks! All soldiers stationed in the unit are put on standby. The reconnaissance units of the Latvian armed forces equipped with Scimitar light tanks and the Slovenes in their HMMWV leave the base immediately. Shortly afterwards, Canadian LAVs and Slovak BWP-2s step into action. They will lead the fight in the first line. The Spanish, equipped with Leopard 2E tanks, are responsible for manoeuvring defence, and the PT-91 Twardy tank company with the 15th Mechanized Brigade remains vigilant. The Zawisza Czarny Brigade is the one to play the final move – the offensive! “Our company is the largest subdivision of the NATO Battalion Battle Group equipped with tanks, so it is natural that we carried out the offensive. Admittedly, tanks from Spain are also stationed in Latvia, but there are only few of them. They would not have been able to carry out such an action on their own,” explains Major Arkadiusz Skórnóg, commander of the Polish Military Contingent in the Republic of Latvia.
Interestingly enough, the Zawisza Czarny soldiers are not the only Polish soldiers who were involved in the exercises. The role of OPFOR, or enemy forces, was played by a mechanized company from the 17th Brigade, equipped with Rosomak wheeled armoured transporters. “It was not an easy task because we did not know the details of the manoeuvres scenario and all our actions depended on those led by NATO troops”, says Lieutenant Tomasz Drążkiewicz, commander of the company. “But we treated it as a challenge; after all, the situation is always changing dynamically on the battlefield,” he emphasises.
To reach the training ground in Adazi, the mechanized travelled 1200 km. In Latvia, 700 km more, of which only 50 km within the training ground. This is because the manoeuvres also took place in towns and villages. “During this ‘Namejs-18’ stage, we worked together mainly with the National Guard. We practised carrying out an attack in agricultural areas, and played civilians who were to be evacuated from places threatened by the outbreak of conflict. Of course, everything in real conditions. It was a real tactical lesson,” stresses the commander of the company.
The manoeuvres lasted two weeks. The task of the Poles was to block the enemy’s forces and take responsibility for a given region. The Zawisza Czarny soldiers also supported the incoming Canadian troops and the defensive activities carried out by the Italians; with the Spanish, instead, they crossed minefields.
Doesn’t cooperation in an international environment cause issues? “We understand each other almost without words with the Slovaks and Czechs, but cooperation with, for example, the Spanish requires a little more effort from us. When we were looking for them on the training ground, they determined the longitude and latitude of their location. However, we are based on the UTM grid and we had to calculate the data quickly, but we managed to cope with this task,” says Lt. Radosław Bartuś, commander of the tank platoon. “The synchronisation of communication systems has also proved to be a major challenge, as each army has a different one, but one position has been established,” adds the junior operational officer, whose responsibilities include the coordination of the flow of information.
Soldiers of the National Support Element (NSE) from all contingents were stationed near training troops. Polish logisticians, whose core comes from the 1st Logistics Brigade, brought to the training ground, i.a., a repair workshop for wheeled and tracked vehicles, repair of weaponry and communications. “The equipment used by the practitioners is not unreliable, but it happened that we had to fit a track or lubricate some element of weaponry,” tells us Senior Staff Warrant Officer Krzysztof Chomiczewski, commander of the repair platoon. And do the soldiers also work together with the allies? “We sometimes helped our colleagues to repair equipment, delivered food rations, and even transported spare parts because not all quotas have the right vehicles for that purpose. I know that if we needed help, our allies would be able to repay the favour without hesitation,” he adds.
Medics also participated in Namejs-18. “We work together in an international group, so it is important that everyone knows what to do and how to do it. For this reason, we place great emphasis on the verification of our knowledge of procedures,” says Adam Boguski, a medical rescuer. “We were called to an accident, for example. The scenario assumed that several people were injured, and our task was to take care of the injured, help them and then transport them, depending on the injuries suffered, to a hospital in Katag or a field hospital,” he adds. But improving skills is not the only task that medical services had to face up to. The rescuers watched over the safety of the practising troops all the time.
“During our duty in the field hospital, one of our Spanish colleagues was transported to us. He was in a difficult condition – he had a very high temperature, was swollen and could barely speak,” Boguski reports. “But we managed the situation and the soldier began to recover. It turned out that he had a strong allergic reaction to an insect bite. If he had not been transported to us on time, this story could have had a tragic ending,” he stresses.
Time of summaries
The soldiers have been very well appraised by Major Skórnóg, commander of the Polish Military Contingent in the Republic of Latvia. “The exercises confirmed that the commanders of individual subdivisions are ready to organise and command activities in a multinational environment. According to the motto of the 15th Mechanized Brigade, ‘semper paratus’, we are always ready to act,” he stresses. The commanders of other nationalities second him. “These were very important manoeuvres for the Latvian armed forces, so also for us, because we acted as part of the 1st Mechanized Brigade. We learned a lot about ourselves, it is certainly the added value of these manoeuvres,” says the commander of the Spanish contingent, Lieutenant Colonel Jesus Angel Garrido Robres. “Participation in ‘Namejs-18’ was a big challenge, but it was worth to face it. We have proven that through commitment and cooperation we function as one organism,” adds Major Matjaz Zbogar from Slovenia. And does the commander of the NATO Battalion Battle Group have the same opinion about the exercises? “We passed this muster, but this does not mean that we will rest on our laurels. We will continue to train in tactics and fire control. We are already preparing for the next manoeuvres that will take place in October”, emphasises Lieutenant Colonel MacBeth.
Three questions to Colonel Ilmārs Atis Lejiņš
Sir, what was the aim of “Namejs-18” exercises?
Colonel Ilmārs Atis Lejiņš: Almost 10 thousand soldiers from 13 countries were involved in these exercises. The aim was to check the readiness of the Latvian armed forces and to provide a summary of their four-year training programme. Moreover, the 1st Brigade was integrating with the NATO Battalion Battle Group, and the eFP itself carried out certification. Thus, we can say that “Namejs-18” integrated several exercises.
And from the perspective of Latvian armed forces, is the presence of the Battalion Battle Group important?
The presence of NATO soldiers in Latvia is, above all, a manifesto that the North Atlantic Alliance is united. But it is also important from the perspective of defence. Admittedly, we are allocating 2% of GDP, but we need time to modernise the army. The NATO Battalion Battle Group is helping us to fill this gap.
Will you reveal how the cooperation with Polish soldiers is going on?
It is fantastic. We have a lot in common, such as history. Apart from that, Poles are in a very good condition, they also march excellently during parades. Well, maybe the hockey game is not your strongest suit, you still have to work on it.
Colonel Ilmārs Atis Lejiņš is the commander of the 1st Mechanized Brigade of Latvia, which cooperates with the NATO Battalion Battle Group.
Major Arkadiusz Skórnóg, commander of the Polish military contingent in the Republic of Latvia: “Cooperation with the allies is excellent – everyone has specific tasks and consistently performs them.”
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz