The SAS’s 50th anniversary once again bought the regiment back to the desert; Lieutenant General Peter de la Billiere was promoted to commander of the British ground forces in the Gulf. Billiere, himself vastly experienced in desert warfare convinced General Schwartcoff that the involvement of the SAS in the land campaign was essential to the success of the Gulf and within hours of the Iraqi invasion the SAS arrived in the Gulf.
2nd August, 1990 Sadam Hussein sent 100,000 men into the oil rich state of Kuwait, however, Saddam had badly miscalculated the reaction from the rest of the world and he was soon faced by a United Nations coalition force.
Commander-in-Chief was the much respected General, Stromin Norman, the job of commander of the British forces was given to one of the most decorated men in the British army, Lieutenant General Peter del la Billiere, ex commanding officer of 22 squadron SAS.
Schwartcoff was quite well known as not being in favour of Special Forces, however Billiere called on Schwartcoff to use the SAS for strategic and intelligence gathering missions.
The Big Problem
Saddam Hussein produced his most lethal threat, the SCUD missile, the threat was not so much from the destruction capability of these weapons but in the fact that he was firing them at Israel and bombing Tel Aviv. This was part of a ploy to deliberately provoke Israel into the war in retaliation, which would then cause the rest of the Arab world to support Iraq.
Co-operating closely with U.S. Special Forces they were inserted, usually by Schinook helicopter, deep behind Iraqi lines tasked with finding the hidden locations of the launches and destroying the missiles on the ground, they were deployed in three waves. The first was deployed to watch SCUD movements, these ‘road watch patrols’ set up concealed observation posts along key supply routes, deep into enemy territory, they would log enemy movements and call down allied air strikes to destroy the vehicles. The second wave were ‘desert fighting columns’, these were Land Rover columns that would stalk the Iraqi territories, carrying out search and destroy missions on key targets and SCUD convoys. The third wave was to deploy 8 man teams to cut concealed communication lines in order to stop orders from Bagdad reaching the SCUD launches – one of these missions was the infamous Bravo Two Zero mission.
They destroyed them either by ‘illuminating’ the SCUD’s with lasers for attack aircraft to come and destroy or actually going in with satchel charges or even sledge hammers to destroy the fixed launcher sites.
First Shot Fired
This is about the first shot fired in anger in the Gulf war, white eyed and up-close.
There was limited intelligence on the number of enemy ground troops in the area of operations, the SAS went out there confident in the knowledge that they were better soldiers than any they would come across. The terrain was rugged and flat; this 8-man patrol had driven all night and was dug into their lay up point (LUP) for the day, the LUP was in a depression in the ground for maximum concealment and centuries had been posted to identify anything coming towards them and camouflaged the vehicles by putting camo nets over the vehicles and then getting on with their personal administration. The weather was horrific, guys that had been to Norway said they had never been so cold, yet, due to poor intelligence; they didn’t have the equipment to keep themselves warm.
At about 3 O’clock that afternoon one of the centuries that was up on high ground started pointing out to a vehicle that was passing on a nearby road, suddenly the jeep turned sharply and started driving straight towards the LUP (Lay Up Point). Because of the shock of this vehicle suddenly coming towards them there was an initial flap as the men tried to ready themselves for the approaching Iraqis, the jeep drove right up to the LUP and stopped to within about 30 metres of them, there were four men in the jeep, a commander and three others, when the jeep stopped the commander got out and started to approach the LUP, the driver got out to check the engine, with the other two still in the back of the jeep, they were obviously unaware that these were in fact Western troops. The troops were still concealed under the camo net, getting ready to open fire when one of the patrol went out to ‘great’ the commander with his M16 hidden behind him. As the trooper drew his weapon he had a stoppage, so darting out of the line of fire the rest of the patrol opened fire on the commander and the jeep. The commander went down and within seconds the patrol were out of their position and were all over the jeep, they’d killed the commander, the driver and one of the passengers, leaving one man alive. As a trooper pulled out the dead passenger a jet of blood spurted out over him, the memory of which still lives with the trooper telling this story. They took the prisoner out of the car and searched the vehicle and the other men for intelligence; they learnt that this was a reconnaissance patrol for a very large artillery division operating in their area and the information they had on them later told the allies all kinds of details regarding the Iraqi movements, it wasn’t until the patrol returned that they discovered the artillery division was a huge 30,000 strong force.
The patrol then had to deal with the bodies and the jeep, they couldn’t bury them because they could only dig shallow graves that would surely be discovered by the Iraqis and reveal the presence of Western troops on the ground, they also had a POW and the jeep to deal with. They had no choice but to put the bodies back in the jeep and take them with them, keeping the POW under guard on one of the LSV’s, one of the troopers volunteered to drive the van and they ‘bugged out’ driving in the opposite direction to where the jeep had come from and ready to meet a helicopter that would come in and pick up the jeep and the POW.
When they rendezvoused with the RAF helicopter however the loadmaster refused to take the jeep with them, so taking the POW they left the SAS to it, they were still stuck with an Iraqi vehicle with three dead bodies in it. Worried that if they were captured the Iraqis wouldn’t take kindly to these troops driving around with their dead comrades, they needed to dispose of the bodies fast. So they found a small depression in the ground, drove the jeep into it with the bodies in the back, and dowsed it in petrol and diesel. They put the spare canisters underneath the jeep along with two anti tank mines that they had with them, they set a timer to go off at approximately 5am and they tried to put as much distance between them and the jeep as was possible. At around 5am that morning they didn’t hear it, but they saw a flash on the horizon that began to die down as dawn broke.
Victor Two, an Iraqi military instillation responsible for communications and the guiding of mobile SCUD’s, heavily defended this would be a classic SAS hit and run night raid that echoed the days of World War II.
Every night the patrol would get situation reports of the latest developments in the gulf, an intelligence report came in informing the patrol that there was a big microwave instillation that HQ wanted them to recon and destroy if possible. What the patrol found was basically a square building, with a massive antenna in it and microwave dishes all the way around it; it was also surrounded by a number of different vehicles, buildings and portacabins.
They were tasked with going in with a big bag of explosives attached to a safety fuse, that would give them approximately 1.30mins to get back out, the theory was that they may be fighting their way in and out because they had no intelligence on the number of troops guarding the base – pace through superior firepower.
As they approached the buildings, using nightvision goggles to see in the total darkness, they encountered two big vehicles very close to the objective; two men were tasked with covering those vehicles; everything was very, very quiet. The mission was going without a hitch; the patrol went in and set the explosives without encountering any enemy soldiers, but then the two men left outside heard movement in one of the vehicles, as they opened the door to one of the vans they encountered a soldier, one of the troopers emptied a magazine into him and the whole place erupted – the patrol was compromised.
Heavy fire came racing down from the right of the patrol as they made their escape; tracer rounds went whizzing past them and the patrol moved back towards their vehicles, unleashing a huge amount of fire on the Iraqi troops. All the troopers made it back to their vehicles and miraculously none were injured, on returning home they discovered that there were in excess of 300 Iraqi troops at the installation.
Bravo Two Zero
This is merely a brief overview of the mission.
On the evening of 22 January 1991, eight members of a patrol with the call sign, “Bravo Two Zero”, were infiltrated by Chinook helicopter, into Iraq. Their task was to observe the main supply route and to sever underground communications cables, which ran between Baghdad and Jordan. In addition, they were to seek and destroy any Scud missiles in the area. Each member of the patrol was overloaded with stores and equipment for the stay, and once landed, the patrol moved some 20km, to where they found a small cave, in which, they chose to hide.
The Patrol was led by Sergeant Andy McNab (an Alias) who soon realized, their radio was not working, this meant returning to the landing zone, and meeting a helicopter to obtain a new radio. The patrol soon found themselves in a difficult position, and decided to move, during which time, they made contact with the enemy. A vicious firefight ensued, and the patrol was forced to withdraw, heading for the Syrian border some 120km west. The journey was hard and dangerous, and the area was experiencing the worst weather in its history.
Through hypothermia and injury, the patrol became separated, and as a result, three died, 4 were captured, and one, managed to escape (Chris Ryan). Those that were captured by the Iraqis, faced weeks of beatings, and horrendous torture. In the end, they were released with the other POW’s and returned to the regiment, their captors never knew who they really were.