Exercise Northern Purple Endeavor was a ten-day skiing expedition undertaken in March by members from across 7 SCOTS. It retraced the route Norwegian Saboteurs took during Operation Gunnerside, a daring operation by a small team of Norwegians who sabotaged an important Nazi heavy water plant – which was vital to the German atomic weapon program.
Whilst the planning and preparation had been going on for a year prior, the teams first time training and getting to know one another was at a pre-expedition weekend in Aviemore in early February. Over the weekend the team familiarized themselves with their new kit and learnt about dealing with casualties in snowy environments. The team stayed in the Norwegian Lodge adventure training facility; named because it was built by Norwegian escapees during the Second World War. It was one of the facilities used by the British Special Operations Executive to help train the Norwegians to conduct covert operations against the Nazi occupation. It felt very appropriate that the beginning of the team’s expedition would be the same place where the saboteurs began theirs.
After they arrived in Norway in early March, the team spent four days training how to Nordic ski in preparation for their expedition. This included spending the day out in the nearby forests and alpine centre; then coming home at nights for lectures on snow safety and weather hazards.
On the first day of the expedition, the team set out early and spent the day travelling 24km across an iced over lake. At the end of the day the team stayed in a hutta, the Norwegian equivalent of a Scottish bothy, that had been used as an initial base of operations by the saboteurs a few months prior to the attack on the heavy water plant. After a surprisingly warm night’s sleep the team set off again to travel another 15km back along the iced over lake, before stopping to create their nights shelter. Snow conditions meant the team built a Quinzhees, a large hollow cone of compacted snow which kept the team safe from the minus twenty degrees Celsius weather outside. The third day of the expedition was a further 8.6km ski back to the lodge they had been staying in previously to pack up and prepare for the final days ski. The final day had the team receiving a talk from Torje Christiansen, who had known most of the saboteurs; he gave a very personal account of their characters as well as some more of the history of the operation. The team then followed the “Saboteurs Route” down a valley adjacent to the heavy water plant and received a tour of the inside of the Vemork heavy water plant – now a museum. Afterwards it was a long drive back to Oslo, and some well-deserved rest.
The team learnt a great deal about the challenging nature of working in such an austere environment and the difficulties extreme temperatures can have on even basic tasks. The expedition also developed leadership qualities; as the small team and adventure training environment meant everyone had a chance to step up the plate.
“Ex NPE taught me that leadership is not a fixed, it is contextual and situational. Being in very harsh conditions, with a small team conducting arduous trainings requires a different type of leadership. One more relaxed, but one that requires a lot more from each team member, ranging from input to drive to determination.”
Lt Angus Caddick
I would like to acknowledge the Ulysses Trust for their financial assistance in support of the expedition. This financial support was crucial in allowing us to plan and deliver this overseas expedition, which is key to developing our reservists’ in many ways, whilst improving the reserve offer.