No, this was not a remake of Julius Caesar’s expedition in -54 BC but rather the annual Steel Sabre exercise which this year was organised by the British Army’s 1st Artillery Brigade between 29 February and 11 March at the Otterburn Training Area in northern England. The French Army, which has participated in Steel Sabre in the past, this time brought along some heavy weapons: a pair of 155mm Caesar self-propelled howitzers, “a great advert” for the exercise according to Major Nicholas Morton, chief of staff at 1 Artillery Brigade.
Interoperability is the name of the game in Steel Sabre. This year, apart from the French and the British, there were Danish, Estonian and Australian soldiers, joined by pilots from the United States Air Force who provided simulated air support.
During the two-week exercise, men from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery made the “call for fire” which the French then acted upon. Major Bertrand Maire of the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment (11e Régiment d’Artillerie de Marine, known as the 11e RAMa) remarked that “it has been interesting to do a live firing artillery manoeuvre with our friends in the British Army“. He added that “we have developed interoperability and improved our procedures by working together.”
French soldiers from 35th Parachute Artillery Regiment from Tarbes in south west France were also amongst the 1,400 troops taking part in the exercise.
The 11e RAMa has its roots in the “ordinary sea companies” created in 1622 by Cardinal Richelieu and has since been involved in almost every conflict. It was the only French artillery regiment in the second Gulf War and was the first to prove the Caesar in battle during the Afghan conflict.