Five tanks were transported through the Channel Tunnel for the first time on Wednesday morning in a British Army drill testing how quickly heavy armoured vehicles can be deployed to eastern Europe in the event of a crisis with Russia.
The exercise, carried out shortly after midnight, involved tanks being loaded onto wagons sent to France from Folkestone.
The 40-minute return journey was completed a few hours later.
A British Army spokesman said the exercise was an “administrative move” and “not like an act of war”.
The decision to share the information was prompted by concerns that a trainspotter might see the tanks travelling from Britain to mainland Europe and become worried, HuffPost was told.
The drill came as the army looks for new ways to deploy equipment from the UK after British bases are closed in Germany by 2021.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) often transports goods through the Channel Tunnel, but rarely armoured vehicles.
A Warrior armoured fighting vehicle was loaded at Ludgershall, Wiltshire and a Warrior recovery vehicle along with a Challenger tank, matching recovery vehicle and a reconnaissance vehicle was loaded at Folkestone, Kent.
Reactions to the drill were mixed, with some being suspicious of the timing of the incident:
While others saw the lighter side of the exercise, urging the MOD not to use Southern Rail for any future transportation needs:
Plans for the exercise had been in place for a while, a British Army spokesman said.
The exercise comes as Britain prepares to send 800 soldiers to Estonia in a Nato effort to reassure the Baltic states over Russian aggression.
An MOD spokesperson said: “The Army successfully conducted an exercise to test the viability of using the Channel Tunnel to move vehicles and equipment to mainland Europe, adding to the existing range of options available and increasing the agility of our Armed Forces.”