IN May, the Echo was given an exclusive insight into one of the most notorious elements of the Royal Marines recruits training at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone.
Troop 164, then on week four of the 32 week training programme, were captured by Echo photographer Matt Austin and joined by reporter Fran McElhone for the Mud Run in the River Exe Estuary.
Now in week 20, around half the recruits in Troop 164 remain and the Echo was invited back to witness the Commandos-in-waiting complete the Battle Physical Training (BPT) test – the most important marker of their Royal Marines career so far.
Up to week nine, recruits focus on gym based fitness, after which training is focused on getting them through the test which is also known as the Bottom Field Assault Course Pass-out.
Once passed, the recruits embark on the final Commando Test phase ultimately leading to them being awarded the coveted Green Beret.
There are four elements to the BFT test – the first is a 30ft rope climb with 32lbs of weight including webbing and a rifle.
Once the rope climb is complete, the recruits take on the assault course which stretches over 400m blighted with massive obstacles including a six foot wall and monkey bars over a water tank. This must be completed within five minutes.
Now, it’s the 200m fireman’s carry, where recruits carry each other on their backs across the distance within 90 seconds.
Finally, the recruits complete the Regain which involves crawling across a rope suspended 10 feet above a water tank, then midway, hanging by their arms before propelling themselves round and continuing on.
“The fireman’s carry is the most important skill on the battlefield,” said Captain Mark Willison, troop commander. “This is something commandos have to do on operations in Afghanistan,” he added.
“It is about mental attitude as much as physical capability – lactic acid builds up almost immediately and it’s almost 90 seconds of solid anaerobic activity.
“We’re looking for guts and determination – this is what will get them through this.
“We tell them to imagine they are casevacing a casualty for real, because they wouldn’t give up then.
“BPT is more akin to the sort of movements the commandos do on the battlefield,” he continued. “The rope climb is really a hangover from the Second World War when the commando were involved in raids where they had to scale cliffs.
“The regain is also a hangover from the war when commandos were involved in bridging gaps between chasms.”
The rope climb, Capt Willison said has primarily been maintained to honour tradition, but there will be aspects of modern urban warfare that may require such a skill.
The regain and the ropes are the most common elements recruits fail-on, Capt Willison said, explaining that recruits fail the whole test if just one of the elements are failed.
The recruits have two re-attempts in the days following the original test, but naturally, become more fatigued with each go.
Those who fail are put into Hunter Company, a rehabilitation troop and will rejoin another troop when they prove themselves ready to take the test again.
To prepare them for the feat, in the build-up to test day the recruits will complete four to five sessions a week.
The troop’s physical training instructor devised the training programme which is designed to shock the recruits’ cardiovascular systems so their bodies which means test day is easier than the training, reflecting the philosophy, “train hard fight easy”.
“The test is hugely important,” affirmed Capt Willison.
“Everyone wants to pass out with their original troop. All the recruits talk about bottom field pass out.”
“The tests may seem daunting,” said Warrant Officer Richard White. “But in reality, the training is progressive in nature, so things that might appear impossible to any rational person can be achieved by building the recruits up to the right level of fitness.
“We can teach anyone to pass these tests,” he added. “They just need the individual determination to crack-on when the going gets tough – that’s why Royal Marines are among the best soldiers in the world.”