Ex Lionheart – When NATO Knew How to Throw a Party

As the British Army and the rest of NATO come to terms with getting back into the territorial defence business with an increase in planning and exercising I thought a quick trip back down memory lane might be fun.

Chieftain Ex Lionheart

LIONHEART comprised two interlinked exercises, FULL FLOW and SPEARPOINT, the former, a deployment through the Rear Combat Zone and the latter, the field training exercise for 1(BR) Corps.

Executed in 1984 that involved 131,565 UK personnel, regular, reserve and Territorial Army, the largest exercise since the end of WWII.

290 flights from the UK transported 32,000 personnel. This initial air movement was followed with 150 sailings across the North Sea and English Channel using civilian ferries. The sea routes carried 23,600 personnel with 14,000 vehicles and trailers.

Exercise Lionheart CVR W

750 Main Battle Tanks were involved and most crossings over the Rhine were conducted with combat bridging, making the assumption that all civilian bridges had been destroyed. 1(BR) Corps were deployed with 3th and 4th Armoured Divisions and 1st Infantry Division.

Exercise Lionheart

Providing the opposition (Orange forces) were 6,300 German (1 Panzergrenadier Brigade), 3,500 Dutch (41st Armoured Brigade), 3,400 American (1st Armoured Brigade)and 165 Commonwealth (from Australia, New Zealand and Canada) personnel. Lionheart was the first time US forces had operated in Europe with their new M1 Abrams MBT and M2 Bradley combat vehicles. The newly re-formed 5th Airborne Brigade also formed a second opposition group, joined by elements of the Life Guards and 10th Gurkha Rifles.


13,000 RAF personnel were involved, deploying Harrier and the newly introduced Tornado aircraft.

It was the first opportunity to conduct a major exercise with Challenger 1 Main Battle Tanks, Saxon and tracked Rapier. The still in early development Warrior Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle was also introduced.

Three soldiers died during the exercise and seven were seriously injured.

Do take the time to watch this series of videos, a great piece of nostalgia, yes, but also an illustration of just how times have changed.

[tabs] [tab title=”01″]

[/tab] [tab title=”02″]

[/tab] [tab title=”03″]

[/tab] [tab title=”04″]

[/tab] [tab title=”05″]

[/tab] [tab title=”06″]

[/tab] [tab title=”07″]

[/tab] [tab title=”08″]

[/tab] [tab title=”09″]

[/tab] [tab title=”10″]

[/tab] [/tabs]

And no TD post would be complete with the opportunity to get an ISO container in.

CVRT) Spartan being loaded into a container on Exercise Lionheart 1984
CVRT) Spartan being loaded into a container on Exercise Lionheart 1984

Now that is what you call deployability.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mr Snaplegs
Mr Snaplegs
March 25, 2016 4:04 pm

It’s the numbers that are staggering – and really show what a diminutive force we have become.

Add on to that the line in SDSR that putting a Division out of the door is our worse case scenario.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
March 25, 2016 6:12 pm

Missed CRUSADER because my unit did not have BAOR role. Apparently the war mobilisation plan was implemented for travel to Germany; we flew to Dusseldorf from Heathrow with SMG under the seat.

The story was that Turks had lodged complaint at NATO about using crusader as an exercise name. Which is why Lionheart was chosen.

Some one told the press it was the biggest exercise since D-Day to which the press responded that they had not realised D-Day was an exercise!!

Those BFBS news reports were the only way we knew what was going on. Used to watch during evening meal at 16 Signals Regimental Restaurant which provided meals for all ranks of lodger units.

Bought a souvenir lighter with the Lionheart Logo.

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2016 6:15 pm

Begs the question what the rest of the army is for. I mean in a best effort operation pretty much all of the RN and RAF would be given something important to do. What are all those brigades for they’re not for deployment….?

March 25, 2016 8:13 pm

‘I mean in a best effort operation pretty much all of the RN and RAF would be given something important to do’

I was under the assumption that in a best effort operation the army would be contributing a division, as per the planning assumption of of the recent SDSR.

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2016 8:25 pm

Exactly my point David Niven. A Division is what, 3 Brigades of 30,000 bodies tops..?

On top of that let’s say 16x and 3x remain uncommitted at readiness.

What are the other 40,000 warm bodies in ‘n’ undeployable brigade formations actually for…???

March 25, 2016 9:36 pm

By 2025 we will be able to deploy a force of around 50,000 drawn

Maritime Task Group of around 10-25 ships and 4,000 to 10,000

Army Division of 3 brigades and supporting functions of around
30,000 to 40,000 personnel

Air Group of around 4-9 combat aircraft squadrons, 6-20 surveil
lance platforms and 5-15 transport aircraft and 4,000 to 10,000

Joint Forces, including enablers and headquarters, of around 2,000
to 6,000 personnel.

Manpower by 2025
Royal Navy / Royal Marines
In an all out effort pretty every service will be committing about a third of its manpower and half of it’s kit except the RAF who could be deploying pretty much all of their combat aircraft squadrons.

March 26, 2016 1:39 am

Not forgetting that 3 Div provided the umpiring staff for the exercise. I seem to remember watching a para bttn jump in.

One of the Australians on the exercise, who I’d known as a platoon comd in SVN, was so appalled by the poor level of training of the TA infantry that he started conducting basic infantry training for those he was with.

March 26, 2016 6:31 am

Ah, the classic umpired exercises with their many-many “administrative halts” so everyone could figure out who was doing what – governed by the even more and dubious umpire lists (“Your unit is dead by arty fire that will occur in 1 hour from now”).
And the odd German farmer who politely asked if we could ‘accidentally’ ram his ancient barn so he could build a new one from the NATO/Ger compensation fund.


Peter Elliott
March 26, 2016 6:48 am

DN and what’s the other half of the army for…?

March 26, 2016 8:28 am


Probably the same reason for the other half of the RAF and Navy that won’t be deployed. Standing tasks etc.

March 26, 2016 8:58 am

Maybe they should inject more realism into it by firing live artillery shells? :)
Exercises can only go so far if you don’t want live casualties for real, and even this scripted one had a few deaths mentioned above.


As DN said, standing tasks, not to mention totally stripping your force to the bone is something that usually happens only in fiction for large units since your rear echelon is pushing supplies continuously to the front. You get a lot more effectiveness if your supplies guys are actually supplying the front line with fuel, food and ammo instead of being on the front line shooting bullets.

Peter Elliott
March 26, 2016 9:10 am

Except DN as you pointed out above all the RAF fast jet squadrons can go. And any that don’t have a security critical task operational task of QRA.

APATS has previously stated that about half the RN could be got together off Gibraltar good to go in about 7 Days. The rest are at longer readiness but they are also deployable and apart from those in dry dock could be got forward in a month or two.

My beef with the “back half” of the army is that it’s not deployable: not at strength, insufficient transport, insufficient CS, no CSS, not adequately supported by reserves. “Upstream engagement” and “homeland security” are ‘make work’ not standing tasks. And standing tasks can anyway be gapped if a unit has to deploy. But it can only deploy if it’s configured to be able to. And ours aren’t. But bluntly we have too many naked light infantry and not enough force troops.

My challenge to the MOD planners would be that an 82,000 man regular army plus RM be made able to deploy, in a best effort, two formed Divisions of land forces.

March 26, 2016 9:42 am

‘The rest are at longer readiness but they are also deployable and apart from those in dry dock could be got forward in a month or two.’

That’s the case for all three services, the RAF cannot pack up and deploy all their fast jets in 48 hrs. Every operation in the scales we are talking will have a period of build up, GW1, Kosovo and GW2 all had periods of build up and that is not going to change any time soon.

The Army has 6 Bde’s at the moment that are fully supported in terms of CS and CSS that are at differing stages of readiness and levels of armour. I would agree that at the moment the army is too light and would reduce some non mech light infantry btn’s further to free up manpower and funds for CS and CSS units along with investing heavily in a medium weight capability.

But that cost’s money and political will and neither is going to be forthcoming any time soon and the RM are included in the Navies manpower assumption of 10,000.

March 26, 2016 1:31 pm

“CVRT) Spartan being loaded into a container on Exercise Lionheart 1984”

I still believe there is a place for light tracked armour with a medium calibre weapon, that can fit within standard intermodal logistics, and is cheap and easily to maintain in the field.

March 28, 2016 2:22 am

“Begs the question what the rest of the army is for. I mean in a best effort operation pretty much all of the RN and RAF would be given something important to do. What are all those brigades for they’re not for deployment….?”

Who says they are not deployable? Answer – someone a tad underinformred. The various brigades that have a regional command role and regular units under command are deployable, it just takes longer. The individual units are also deployable when needed.

Peter Elliott
March 28, 2016 6:03 am

There’s a long and honourable tradition of chaotic last minte task org.

But why do we make it so difficult for ourselves? Why not organise and train in a viable formation?

March 31, 2016 7:29 am

“Begs the question what the rest of the army is for. I mean in a best effort operation pretty much all of the RN and RAF would be given something important to do. What are all those brigades for they’re not for deployment….?”

I suggest a visit to the MODUK website and a close examination of the Army pages, particularly those dealing with organisation. The point to bear in mind is ‘enduring commitments’, ie think about UK practice with regards tour length and the time between tours and the light will gradually dawn on how silly your comments are.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
March 31, 2016 12:06 pm

Suspect a dialogue of the deaf.

Crusader and Lionheart were about demonstrating the commitment to reinforcing the central front at short notice, ideally in time to slow the Third Shock Army on their way to the delights of Amsterdam by a day or two or the buckets of instant sunshine started.

Once the UK mobilised there would have been no reserves left, home defence was extremely limited with general service companies formed from recruits beyond some point in their training forming and some TA home defence battalions.

Such mobilisation is not currently envisaged, isn’t there a 10 year warning period to build up our forces to the Cold War level of readiness.

So as DN and Obsvr explain there is a part of the British Army that can be deployed at short notice and other elements that can be deployed to follow on at intervals. Seems reasonable to me.

* For example individual regulars employed in UK based posts had a mobilisation role in BAOR, the system was called RED RUM, though I forget what that stood for possibly – Redeployed Regular Manpower.

Oh, we drew our Pre-stocked Unit Equipment(PUE) for Ex Lionheart – it bore no resemblance to the AF G1098 and mainly consisted of deficiency chits except for ancient common user items like pistol holsters for 38 Pattern webbing (we had no pistols) and 4 enormous galvanised basins with a handle at each end and similar kit. On the other hand the SMGs we drew from Thacham worked without the usual problems with worn sears like the knackered ones held by units

April 1, 2016 12:00 pm

Apologies in advance for spinning dits on your blog. My Squadron were pulled from the Corps Recce role to be armoured umpires during Lionheart. It was certainly an interesting experience, we were often engaged by both sides even though our CVR(T)s were adorned with white crosses and flying white flags and mine tape. It was certainly interesting from a young soldiers perspective getting an insight into how much big exercises were actually ‘stage managed’ it was akin to discovering that World of Sport wrestling wasn’t actually real.

Highlights were umpiring the Bde bridgehead over the Wesser and spending an exercise without weapons, which felt really strange. Copious bottles of Herforder Pils were consumed of an evening, in moderation, and a dhobi run back to camp became particularly exiting when we found out that our barracks had a field hospital on the square and the NAAFI was full to bursting with TA nurses.

We had to umpire an imaginary chemical attack and were at a dressing station. I had wandered off just prior to the NBC alarm being sounded to give the chemical sentry the nod, feeling sorry for him in some sort of empathetic ‘we’ve all been there’ kind of way, when the Dressing Station OC came blustering out accusing me of distracting his sentry. A cry of GAS! GAS! GAS! rang out just at that very moment and the aforementioned OC was stood there sans respirator. I couldn’t help but smile and I rose in height two inches as I delivered the words “You’re dead Sir”

Whilst umpiring there was a lot of discussion regarding when the Blue or Red Forces would have gone ‘nuclear’ On that sobering note TD I think it would be interesting to perhaps explore the history, planned deployment and deployment of British Tactical nuclear weapons 1958 – 1992, as there were a good number deployed in BAOR. Lance missiles with the Royal Artillery and the ADM’s held by the Royal Engineers and maybe linking in to the deployment of Mark 101 nuclear depth bombs and the B-57 on Nimrod for the ASW role. (Dare I spill over onto the (very popular) A Cheeky Thought on Maritime Patrol blog)
Maybe add it to your Planned Projects/Blogs list?

April 3, 2016 7:43 am

Eh, actually no nuclear weapons were ‘held’ by any UK army units. All wpns for UK army use were US and held under their arrangements (570th US Army Artillery Group).

One other point, its appears the 3 Shock Army assessment was wrong, post Cold War it turned out the 20 Guards Tank Army was to be the one that drove over 1 (BR) Corps.

April 4, 2016 9:24 am

“Eh, actually no nuclear weapons were ‘held’ by any UK army units. All wpns for UK army use were US and held under their arrangements (570th US Army Artillery Group).”

Well, depends on your definition of “held” really. They were under dual-key arrangements. So the sunshine buckets were physically in British hands (apparently the RA had more of them than the RN and RAF combined at one point) but they couldn’t have been used without US assent.

April 4, 2016 1:28 pm

Not sure how it would have fit in with the dual key arrangement but up until 71′, the British had 48 Red Beard tactical nukes sitting underground in our airbase in the “Far East”. Not sure if those needed US permission to be used too. I doubt it. Those were pulled from service in 71′ and never got replaced IIRC.

Brian Black
Brian Black
April 5, 2016 10:15 am

If I can join you in pedantry corner for a moment, did anyone actually say the Royal Artillery held any nukes?

I believe that all the British Army’s nuclear artillery, including Lance, have been American weapons. Those weapons were controlled and secured by the Americans under the nuclear sharing agreement, and control would only pass to the British unit at the start of the supposed nuclear war.

Nuclear sharing is not the same as dual-key nukes. The context in which dual-key was used suggests a physical control input from both US and UK personnel to launch the thing, which I think in British experience only applied to a crappy American static-site ballistic missile the RAF operated for a while (Titan or Trojan, or something like that).

Lance units were all-RA, so once the RA had the nukes off the Americans, I don’t think there would be any American physical control input to enable launch; though some kind of dual-key control input would likely be needed to launch, as that is a basic nuclear safety mechanism.

As far as I know, all the RAF’s air-dropped nukes have been British weapons, so no physical bi-national dual-key arrangement would have been in place for Red Beard or anything similar.

April 5, 2016 12:06 pm

“Project E was the arrangement under which US-built nuclear weapons and/or warheads, kept in the UK and Germany under US custody in peacetime, were to be made available for use on RAF aircraft and missiles in the event of war. Perhaps originally referred to the subset of US weapons made available for use specifically by V-bombers in the strategic bombing role, but later used more widely, even to refer to similar arrangements for the Army. The arrangement was discussed as early as 1954 and became effective in 1958. Various US weapons were covered, beginning (for the RAF) with the Mk.5 atomic bomb and later extending to Mk.7, Mk.15/39, Mk.28 and Mk.43 bombs, Thor missile warheads and nuclear depth bombs; and (for the Army) Corporal, Honest John, Lance, atomic landmine and artillery warheads. Project E warheads were discussed for several other weapons without entering service. Project E weapons were replaced by Yellow Sun Mk.2 on V-bombers in the strategic bombing role in March 1962 but continued in use by the RAF in Germany until replaced by WE177 in 1969, and by RAF Nimrods and the Army until 1992”

An interesting document http://nuclear-weapons.info/Working_Paper_No_1.pdf

Surely a topic worthy of further in-depth further discussion?

April 5, 2016 12:11 pm

‘Dual key’ was a bit of a misnomer. The weapons were held in SAS (Special Ammo Storage) Sites. Only the US custodians had access to to them. When outloaded the weapons were on UK trucks and held in Field Storage Sites (FSS). The immediate security of the loaded trucks was by the US custodial detachments (of 570 USAAG). Outer security was by the UK artillery unit. When weapons were released they were transferred to UK custody. Noting that for 8 inch the weapons was held in pieces and had to be assembled to the required yield, this assembly could only be done by the US custodians (ftting the base multi-deck fuze was not part of this assembly and was part of the firing procedures by UK troops). 155mm only had one yield, Lance had a choice but it was ‘dial a yield’ on the warhead.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
April 5, 2016 12:12 pm

A well-driller told me, after the cold war was over, that the ADM’s were held by the Americans. All they knew was the depth and diameter of the hole.

April 17, 2016 8:32 pm

Why did you have to draw different SMGs? Why didn’t you just take the ones you had in the unit?

April 17, 2016 9:58 pm

Probably “warstock” where they were also testing out the unit’s ability to draw on reserves of equipment. We sort of have a similar system here where the unit armskote training weapons tend to be knackered while the ones in deep storage are almost brand new (they should be, considering how much oil we pour into those sealed plastic bags).

Brian Edgell
Brian Edgell
August 1, 2017 7:36 am

Remember it well I was close Reconnaissance with A Sqn QDG.