Exercise Cambrian Patrol, ‘The Patrol’, – originally known as the Cambrian March – is the premier patrolling event of the British Army.
Where is it Held?
The Patrol is held in Wales and hosted by Headquarters 160th (Welsh) Brigade for Commander Land Forces (CLF), usually taking place in October each year.
The Brigade Commander, a Brigadier (OF-6), acts as the Exercise Director.
“In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, soldiers stepped into their newly issued British Army footwear known as Boots DMS. They picked up their weapons, packs, tentage and bedding and trudged their way on a marching competition from Hay-on-Wye to Maesteg – a route that covered 74 miles and many of the peaks of the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.” (British Army, 2019).
The Cambrian March began in 1959 when a group of Welsh Territorial Army soldiers designed a weekend training event, featuring long distance marching over the Cambrian Mountains, culminating in a shooting match on the Sennybridge Training Area (SENTA).
The Patrol has been running for over 60 years, beginning in 1959, and is the British Army’s principle All Arms exercise which is open to all three services (Regular and reserve) as well as international participants.
It is mission focussed and scenario based with role players used to enhance the training benefit.
It is not a competition, but team performance is assessed throughout.
Scores are awarded based on the conduct of the patrol, quality of patrol reports and actions at each stand.
“In 1985, General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who was then General Officer Commanding Wales, decided he wanted to re-tune the event and establish it as an exercise in order to test basic military skills.” (British Army, 2019a).
It is patrol based and tests basic military (MATT level) skills, robustness, leadership and navigations and any well led patrol from any arm or service should be able to successfully complete it.
Each phase lasts for 48 hours and in that time each team will cover approximately 50-60 kilometres, with an average climb and descent of over 1000 metres, carrying over 30 kg per person.
As the Army notes “It is deliberately arduous!”
What is the Purpose of The Patrol?
The purpose of The Patrol is to provide a challenging patrols exercise in order to enhance operational capability.
As such the Patrol support the development of war-fighting capability.
The Patrol has evolved into a cost effective, ready-made exercise that Commanding Officers can use to test the basic training standards of their soldiers, in preparation for future operations (British Army, 2020).
It is mission focused and scenario based with role players used to enhance the training benefit.
The British Army seek to encourage a wider participation from across all the arms and services and stress that the entry standards are not based on any specialist skills but on MATTs.
Who Can Enter?
There are separate but identical phases for Regular and Reserve units:
- The Reserve Phases:
- The Reserve event is run from a Friday to a Sunday and is open to patrols from the Army Reserves, Royal Marine Reserves, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, University Officer Training Corps and equivalent overseas Reserve units.
- Entry details are the same as for the Regular event.
- The Regular Phases:
- The Regular event is open to patrols from Regular units of the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force and foreign countries.
- Reserve Forces units may also enter on a fill-up basis if they can release personnel to participate mid-week.
No individual is allowed enter The Patrol more than twice in any one rank (not including Patrol Managers).
There are around 6-8 phases (depending on the total number attending), each lasting 3 days during the week or weekends (to enable reserves to attend). Teams attend one phase only.
“…the Australian Army runs an infantry skills competition called the Duke of Gloucester Cup. Their winning unit then gets to represent the country in Exercise Cambrian Patrol.” (British Army, 2019).
- In 2017, there were 139 patrols (aka teams), of which (British Army, 2017):
- 75 were Regular.
- 36 were Reserve and UOTC.
- 28 were International.
- In 2018, there were 137 patrols (British Army, 2018).
- Including six overseas armies taking part for the first time with soldiers from Nigeria, Macedonia, Cyprus, Belarus and Finland.
- In 2019, there were 130 patrols, of which 34 were international (British Army, 2019).
Each patrol is to have a non-participating Patrol Manager and two drivers (who may be reserves).
The composition of the patrol must include:
- Patrol Commander: Officer/WO/SNCO.
- Patrol 2IC: JNCO.
- 6 x Privates: This group may include no more than one x JNCO.
- This composition does not apply to University OTCs.
- Any other unit whose establishment makes adherence to these criteria exceptionally difficult can apply for dispensation.
What Does it Involve?
The Patrol is a mission and task orientated exercise, and the fundamental criteria used to assess the performance of the patrol is by determining whether or not the patrol completes the various tasks they encounter and achieve their overall mission. This is assessed by awarding marks for:
- Military skills (70%);
- Orders (15%); and
- The debrief (15%).
The military skills criteria are broken down into:
- Dismounted Close Combat Skills.
- Orders procedure.
- Obstacle crossing drills (e.g. river crossing).
- Battlefield Casualty Drills (BCD; aka first aid) and casualty evacuation (casevac) procedures.
- Recognition of aircraft, vehicles, weapons, mines, and other equipment.
- Can be combined with a ‘fires’ stand, e.g. calling in an artillery strike.
- Artillery Target Indication Procedures/Emergency Close Air Support (CAS) Procedures.
- Countering the Explosive Ordnance Threat (C-EO) – C-IED/Minefield awareness.
- Operational law and ethical behaviour.
- Patrol techniques.
- Captured Persons (CPERS) handling.
- Helicopter drills.
- Media handling.
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) drills.
- SERE skills.
- Patrol reporting and radio communications skills.
- Working with vehicles.
- Section attack (which may be combined with the CPERS).
Start times are staggered for the teams, some have an early start others later morning.
At some point, the team will encounter some warning signs related to CBRN (aka chemical warfare). At this point the team will be expected to don full CBRN PPE and, combined with steep terrain and a heavy bergen, makes for (perhaps) the most arduous component of the Patrol.
Over the two days the team is likely to get only 1-2 hours sleep. Teams will travel approximately 37 miles (60 kilometres) carrying full personal kit and equipment weighing approximately 45-50 lbs (British Army, 2019).
How Does the Patrol Start?
The patrol starts with a kit check whilst the IC (aka Team Captain) receives a set of orders.
Once this has been completed, the team must then traverse – perhaps in the pitch black with only paracord to guide them depending on the start time – to a clearing in the woods with a pre-dug model pit.
The team is then given one hour to build the model (used for the orders), produce a route card, and write a set of recce (reconnaissance) orders.
Route selection is extremely important for a variety of reasons, including:
- Travelling further than required;
- Encountering unexpected obstacles, such as fences or crossing rivers/streams; and
- The time impact of moving through, over or around these obstacles.
How Does it End?
The Patrol culminates with a debrief by two members of the directing staff (DS), lasting approximately one hour and consists of questioning on specific points and general information about the Patrol.
The level of award will depend on the patrol completing all aspects of the exercise, in particular the mission phase.
- Gold: 75% or more of the points available.
- Silver: 65-74% of the points available.
- Bronze: 55-64% of the points available.
- Certificate: Completed the exercise in the time allowed and scored less than 55% of the points available.
Certificates are awarded to all those that complete the Cambrian Patrol. However, patrols or individuals who withdraw will not be awarded a certificate (patrols that fall below 5 members will be withdrawn for safety reasons).
“On average, only five per cent of patrols gain the top award while about a third fail to finish, indicating just how arduous Exercise Cambrian Patrol is. Patrols find out how they have done at the presentation ceremonies, which take place daily at the Sennybridge Training Area camp.” (British Army, 2017).
British Army. (2017) Exercise Cambrian Patrol 2017. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2017/10/exercise-cambrian-patrol-2017/. [Accessed: 23 November, 2020].
British Army. (2018) Exercise Cambrian Patrol 2018. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2018/10/exercise-cambrian-patrol-2018/. [Accessed: 23 November, 2020].
British Army. (2019) World’s toughest patrolling test marks its 60th anniversary. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2019/10/world-s-toughest-patrolling-test-marks-its-60th-anniversary/. [Accessed: 23 November, 2020].
British Army. (2020) Exercise Cambrian Patrol 2020. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/events/2020/exercise-cambrian-patrol-2020/. [Accessed: 23 November, 2020].