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Mountain Leaders

Mountain Leaders are an elite cadre of Royal Marines who are experts in long range reconnaissance, arctic warfare and mountain climbing. As the The Mountain Leader Training Cadre (MLTC), their primary peacetime role is to teach their techniques to other Commando Troops and share their expertise with other military units. During wartime, the Mountain Leaders are able to provide an additional recce capability for 3 Commando Brigade, integrating with the Brigade Patrol Troop (BPT) Troop and each Commando's Recce Troop.

Mountain Leaders are not strictly-speaking Special Forces, even though their standards of selection and training are considered by some to be as hard, if not harder, than UKSF units. Mountain Leaders are under the control of 3 Commando Brigade, not UKSF.

Mountain Leaders History

The unit's history can be traced back to the Cliff Assault Wing formed in the 1950s, later to become the Cliff Assault Troop. These 'Cliff Leaders' were tasked with leading the Commando units up cliffs and operating in arctic conditions. The appropriate skills and techniques were developed and perfected and then passed on the rest of the Royal Marines. The Cliff Assault Troop was renamed to the Reconnaissance Leader Troop in 1965 until 1970 when it was renamed again to the Mountain & Arctic Warfare Cadre. The M&AWC helped prepare 3 Commando Brigade for its cold war role, protecting NATO's northern flank. Were war to break out, the M&AWC would provide long range arctic reconnaissance to 3 CDO BDE, operating on foot and on skis.

The Falklands

When Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, the M&AWC reconfigured from training to a war footing, raising patrols for 3 Commando Brigade. Following the main amphibious landings on May 21st, 4-man patrols were inserted onto the islands where they carried out recce missions, augmenting the SAS and SBS patrols already operating. Their war was not limited to reconnaissance, however. 10 days after the main landings, the M&AWC engaged in a fierce firefight with Argentine Special Forces at Top Malo House.

The 90s onwards

The Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) was raised in the early nineties to fill the need of a permanent medium recce force for 3 Cdo Bde. Mountain Leader NCOs were used to command these patrols, which eventually became known as the Brigade Patrol Troop. Other MLs remained in the training role, in the form of The Mountain Leader Training Cadre (MLTC).

Mountain Leader Training

The Mountain Leaders course is one of the hardest in the British military, as indicated by its 20% pass rate. To gain the Mountain Leaders (ML2) specialty, a Royal Marine must go through an eight-month training course, starting with a week-long selection. An extensive and challenging training regime follows which features:

  • climbing cliffs
  • free climbing (without ropes)
  • mountaineering
  • survival
  • resistance to interrogation (RTI) training
  • ice climbing
  • arctic survival
  • arctic navigation
  • long distance skiing

Once qualified, a Mountain Leader (ML2) will usually be integrated into the Commandos, often into the Reconnaissance Troops.

Mountain Leaders
A Mountain Leader with 3 Commando Brigade's Brigade Patrol Troop instructs British and American Marines during cross-training in California. Mountain Leaders are recognized world-wide as experts in their field.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ben J. Flores

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