When British Challenger 2 tanks rolled into Estonian villages in recent weeks, they were greeted with open arms.
It didn't matter that soldiers were disrupting this usually sleepy town by parking their tanks in residents’ gardens and pilots landing Apache helicopters in makeshift paddocks: anything to deter an invasion by Vladimir Putin has been welcomed.
Estonians know all too well what life under Russian occupation is like, having lived through it from 1940 until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Families were subjected to mass deportations to Siberia, thousands of people were murdered and a culture and language stunted.
It is this harrowing recent history that has ensured Nato troops received a warm welcome as they came to town. Lt Col Steve Wilson, Commanding Officer of the Queen’s Royal Hussars, whose crew has been exercising with Challenger 2 tanks, told The Telegraph: “The support from the local people has been positive and quite impressive.
“I parked my tank in someone’s back garden, plus they had two Wildcat helicopters landing in the paddock next to their garden. They came out and were pretty curious, so the troops showed the family’s kids around the tank. They were receptive because they are acutely aware of the threat that sits on their eastern border.”
Of particular interest has been showcasing the Challenger 2 tank, 14 of which the UK gifted to Ukraine earlier this year, with a number taken from the QRH stockpiles. The tanks on exercise have additional armour on the sides, having been upgraded in order to show “we mean business”.
“We know that our adversary only respects strength,” Lt Col Wilson added. “We want to show the British army’s capabilities to its absolute strongest.”
Just recently, the Challenger 2 won an international tank competition in Latvia, beating the US main battle tank Abrams. “It shows our main battle tank is still current and reinforces the strategic narrative that we are sending that tank to Ukraine. It demonstrates that it is an incredible front line main battle tank,” he said.
L-Cpl Harry Bloomfield, a 23-year-old tank driver, added that the Challenger 2 was “famous for a reason”.
“It’s the best in the world, everybody knows it. It’s why we gave 14 to Ukraine,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what’s happening in Ukraine but as long as we keep giving the Estonian Army peace of mind to know they have Nato at their side, they know they aren’t alone living on the border with Russia. We are here to show that we’ve got the potential of helping Estonians out, that we have the force and overall capabilities of the battle group.”
With Tapa Camp just 160km from the Russian border, in years gone by troops have been forbidden from working with live fire because it “sent the wrong message”.
Lt Col Al Rivett, of 1st Army Air Corp, said “we were previously told not to do so because it would be seen as sabre rattling”.
However, today, with Russia a pariah state, Nato’s tune has changed. As Spring Storm nears its final section members of the RAF will carry out training exercises in reconnaissance and air-land integration, with the air exercises supported by four Wildcat and five Apache helicopters, as well as three RAF Typhoon fighter jets.
Lt Col Rivett added: “Now we are reinforcing the commitment to Estonia that they will always have air support and defence.”
UK Troops in Estonia on NATO Exercise Spring Storm are Welcomed by Locals
Never have I been this proud of being apart of NATO. Well done Putin.
Hopefully one day, Ukraine can feel the same comfort, protection and unity.Last edited by Ryuu96 - on 25 May 2023