Ambush In Pheasant’s Wood

Department of Defence

It’s early on a chilly, misty Wednesday morning in the woods in the east of England. We are walking on the edge of a green crop just a foot high, and when the seemingly inevitable light rain falls from the heavy grey clouds above, we duck under the canopy of the neighbouring pine trees to save ourselves and our boots from getting wet through.

It’s quiet and peaceful in the forest, and our small group of Australians point out the many and varied unfamiliar features – the small muntjac deer we startle, the elegant pheasants, the mistletoe bushes and the moss-laden branches of 150-year-old oak trees.

But this is no ordinary walk in the English countryside. We are scheduled to rendezvous with a platoon of Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) soldiers and their ADF instructors.

The platoon is on a training exercise. They are hunting. Not deer, or pheasants. Not rabbits. They are hunting the enemy. And their camouflage combat gear disguises them well and we don’t see them until we are well upon them. We are signalled to get down. An ambush is about to ensue.

My guide, a training team commander from the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, 9th Brigade, from Adelaide, explains the situation.

It is day 17 of the section commander’s course. The section commander in training has been tasked to secure a vegetation belt, but he suspects an enemy assault is pending. They are about to perform their own surprise assault to regain the initiative and destroy the enemy.

The Ukrainian commander in training signals for the assault to begin. Simulated grenades are thrown and the silence of the woods is shattered. First come the explosions, followed by a hail of blanks from black AR-M9F Bulgarian rifles, shell casings flying high into the air. Orders are yelled to move forward.

But before long it is clear there has been a miscalculation and the orders come to withdraw. It’s too late for me, I’m in the thick of the fighting and would surely be a casualty in any real-world scenario.

Afterwards, our ADF guide explains that the scenario is a real-life tactic the Russians have been employing on the frontlines in Ukraine. They are sending one or two unlucky soldiers forward on often sacrificial reconnaissance missions to draw in the enemy. Once the forward scouts are eliminated, the advancing party encounters a platoon of enemy soldiers lying in wait. The black arts of war laid bare, horrifying in its brutal lethality.

The AFU soldiers, many in their 30s and some into their mid-50s, will practise this and other scenarios across conventional ‘green-role’, urban and trench environments. Scenarios can include ambushes, attacks and a ute of counter-explosive ordnance and counter-drone warfare.

They will practise over and over again because in just a couple of weeks’ time, they will be on the Ukrainian frontlines, face-to-face with the enemy, for real this time.

I’m told many of the AFU soldiers coming through training have been conscripted into this war. This war they never wanted, a war that came to them and now they have no choice but to take up arms and do the best they can. Some look like they are just out of high school, others look like they should be enjoying retirement with their grandchildren. But they are not. They are in the English woods preparing for a brutal and protracted war.

Our guide said he felt a great sense of responsibility to help the AFU soldiers be prepared for what lies ahead of them.

“We are showing them some different methods and tactics to help reinvigorate their thinking to help break the stalemate they find themselves in back home,” he said.

“We have to balance five weeks of intense content with physical training, but we need to send them back in a better physical and mental condition than when we received them because within days of returning to the Ukraine they will be back on the frontline fighting for their lives and the future of Ukraine.”

/Public Release. View in full here.