Desert Storm Part 24: Back to Germany

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

We were bussed back from Hanover to Fallingbostel where a large crowd was assembled on the Irish Hussars’ parade ground to welcome us home. Of course, they were all the wives of the pads (married officers and soldiers). Us ‘singlies’ had no one there to greet us. And, for the 17th Lancers, this was no longer our Regiment and Germany was no longer our home. Once everyone was squared away with flights back home to Tidworth, I fled to Munster.

Hetty flew out to Germany as I had to wait for my shiny, new, red Alfa Romeo to be ready for collection. Hetty hated the car from the start. She said that it was a complete waste of money and was chuffed to bits when I smashed it up in a crash a year or so later. We drove back to England. On the way into London, flashing blue lights suddenly blew up in my rear view mirror.

I was pulled over by Metropolitan Police Traffic cops. ‘Who do you think you are, sir, Nikki Lauda?’ Very bloody funny. ‘No, I have just got back from the Gulf War’, I said opening my boot to show them all my military gear. ‘Oh, very good, sir, very good. And here’s your ticket with some points.’ What a welcome home. I was fuming for the rest of the journey. That’s a grateful nation for you.

And that was my Gulf War.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, The Royal Lancers

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, The Royal Lancers

Every year we hold a dinner for the officers of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars Battlegroup on the Anniversary of the end of the war. To qualify for membership of the Basra Road Dining Club you have to be a member of the Battlegroup who was on the Basra Road at the end of the 100 Hours War. James Moseley is an honorary member – after all, he was sunk in a bunker somewhere to the west of the highway as the war ended!

Toby was awarded the Military Cross for his command of the action on our first night in Iraq. He left the Army to live in Africa where he farmed flowers. Col Arthur went on to become a Major General and ended his military career as the senior British officer in Cyprus. Maj Patrick Marriott became a Major General and the Commandant at Sandhurst before becoming the Colonel of The Queen’s Royal Lancers. Lt Col Robert Gordon became a Major General and ended his military service as the military head of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and the Sudan. Capt Alastair Todd retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and is now a Private Secretary in the Royal Household. Lt Mark Cann recovered from his broken collar bone and is now the CEO of the British Forces Foundation. Martin Bell went on to report in his white suit from many more war zones before becoming the MP for Tatton. Kate Adie is still on the BBC weekly with From Our Own Correspondent.

The rest of us left the Army over the years after the Gulf War, some staying for longer than others. Willy Wyatt into the City. Nick Cotton went into banking. Tim Buxton into property. Chris Franklyn-Jones has fallen off the edge of the world – Arthur (Daly) did see Gungy walking past the restaurant he was in during a business trip to Prague – but does any one know where he is? Capt Al Murdoch went into fast food. Lt Robin Murray-Brown is a headhunter. Capt Alex Paine went into banking. Ct David Webb went into marketing.

Ann Furstenberg married James Frost, an officer from 14th/20th Hussars, and they live with six sons on a Quinta in Portugal where James makes some truly excellent wines and they run holiday lets. Twice (Daly) runs Guardsman Cleaning in London. Maj Richard Shirreff went on to become a General, knighted and the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) before retiring. Gen Sir Charles Guthrie went on to become the Chief of the Defence Staff, the most senior officer in the Armed Forces. He was elevated to the House of Lords and became Tony Blair’s Pakistan emissary. The Government believed that they had abolished the five star rank of Field Marshal in the Armed Forces. That was until The Queen made General Lord Guthrie into Field Marshal Lord Guthrie.

Lance Corporal Bob Hawksley was tragically killed by artillery fire in a training accident at BATUS in Canada in June 1994.

A few are still serving. Capt Tom Beckett is a Lieutenant General. Capt Ed Smyth-Osbourne is a Major General. Capt Piers Hankinson is a Brigadier. Capt Andrew Cuthbert is a Colonel. Lt David Madden is a Colonel. Lt Chris Millet left the Army, went to an accountants and joined the Paras (V), before re-joining the Army in the Royal Army Medical Corps on the non-medical side. He now has more medals than Kenny Everett ever had. Lt Jonny Ormerod is now a Lieutenant Colonel. Capt Philip Napier was a Brigadier until he retired in mid-2015. Capt David Swann became a Colonel before retiring in 2015.

I served in the Regular Army until 1998 when I left for Civvy Street. I joined the Army Reserves as I left the Regular Army and have served as a Reservist ever since.

A couple of memories from the Gulf War have, perhaps, stuck out more than others over the last 25 years, probably because they are single events that I have been asked about over the years.

End of the cavalry charge.

End of the cavalry charge.

First, Gus’s 4,700m first round FIN kill. It was a supreme technical achievement for man and machine. 4,700m, a shade under 3 miles, is more than three times the 1,200m battle range of the Challenger. The shot is written up in books, sometimes incorrectly, with one book saying it was a Depleted Uranium (DU) round, it wasn’t, it was a normal service FIN round while another book said it was at longer range, it wasn’t, it was 4,700m. I believe that it is the longest range direct fire kinetic round kill ever achieved by a tank on the battlefield.

Second, the sheer exhilaration of leading the Squadron during the Charge of the Heavy Brigade on that last morning of the war. I believe that it is the longest and fastest cavalry charge in history.

If you have made it this far, thank you for travelling on this journey with me.

It was a privilege to serve in the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars Battlegroup for the Liberation of Kuwait. It was a greater privilege to serve alongside soldiers of the 17/21st Lancers. They were the best of the best and true to our Regimental motto, Death Or Glory.

 

Epilogue

After the 1991 Gulf War Lt Col Tim Purbrick went on to serve in the Regular Army until 1998 in appointments which included: the Army Spokesman in the Defence Press Office, the Army Freed-Kuwait_bookCombat Camera Team Commander, serving in Former Yugoslavia, and as a staff officer on the Digitisation Team.

On leaving the Regular Army Lt Col Purbrick joined the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) in the Army Reserves. During his time in the Group he served in Iraq in 2007 and, post his command of the Group, in Afghanistan in 2011. Today he does his ‘Army Reservist day a week for The Queen’ at Army HQ in Andover where he is a staff officer in the Concepts Branch responsible for Media, Information Warfare and Cyber Warfare.

Lt Col Purbrick is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group and leading the re-introduction of the ‘Monuments Men’ capability into the British Army.

Desert Storm Part 23: Victory

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

28th February 1991

The moment we stopped we were ordered not to get off the tanks in case there were anti-personnel mines. We soon got over that and we were off the tanks discovering a bit more about our new home. This seemed to be it. The war was over. President Bush was on the radio calling an end to it. It wasn’t long before we were jumping into the pathetic Iraqi trenches to see if there was any decent booty going.

Typically, soldiers look for Gucci-kit. Shiny stuff. Weapons, weapons sights, binoculars, badges, anything that could be removed. This gave rise to the next panic. Don’t go into the trenches, they could be booby trapped. Too late. We were already in them. Allied Psy Ops leaflets littered the ground here as they had done in southern Iraq. I collected a selection of them.

O Group points. 1330hrs, Thursday 28th February, just east of the Basra Road around 20km north of Kuwait City, Kuwait. RGFC was destroyed when it was sandwiched between 18th Corps units. From the Brig – delighted with everyone. QRIH movement from the FUP set the tone for the Div. All happened very quickly. Satisfied with the achievement. D Sqn led for most of the time. Make sure all get back. Watch out for booby traps and bomblets. Don’t go near them. Mark with a picket 10 ft away. They have proximity fuses so will go off if you go near. No rubbish. Sqn into a circle. Clear the whole area, 40-50m out from each vehicle. Everything happens inside the circle. Security – POW threat. No helmets anymore. Home in three weeks, possibly sooner. 4 Bde in VARSITY. 7 Bde in COBALT. SODIUM is the town to the south of us.

Now on 2 hours NTM (Notice To Move). As you get closer to the coast there are mines and booby traps. May have to drive all the way back to Staging Area 3 for transporters to al-Jubail or may have to drive all the way back. Handover programme being developed. Get tanks in as good as order as possible. Souvenirs for Messes and Sqn bars. No personal souvenirs but helmets and bayonets are OK. No weapons though.

Then we started to make ourselves more comfortable. Tank bivvys went up, camp cots set up and doss bags were laid out. Cookers came out of bins and were set up. Very soon we were happy with our set up. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, came on the radio to tell us that he wanted all the troops involved in the fighting to be back home within weeks. That sounded good after six months in the desert.

Advancing at walking pace as the war comes to its closing minutes. The pylons were intact in this photo but broken just beyond. Zero Delta is in the centre with the large Union Flag

Advancing at walking pace as the war comes to its closing minutes. The pylons were intact in this photo but broken just beyond. Zero Delta is in the centre with the large Union Flag.

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Desert Storm Part 22: Charge of the Heavy Brigade

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

26th February 1991

0100hrs. Objective ZINC, Iraq. Then suddenly….Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Holy f**king hell! We were under attack. I had my helmet on and was back in the turret within seconds, slamming the hatch behind me. ‘What the f**k is going on?’ ‘Where’s it coming from?’ ‘Are we the target?’ Everyone was using their episcopes and gun sights, looking around frantically for the source of the artillery or whatever it was. We weren’t being hit, at the moment anyway. I looked 360° through the commander’s episcopes – mini armoured glass periscopes fitted all the way around the commander’s crew position to offer a limited all round vision. Behind us. ‘It’s behind us.’ ‘What’s behind us?’ ‘Missile launches.’ They must be ours. I opened the hatch gingerly and looked about. As I did so the whole horizon to our east exploded in swirling red clouds of explosions.

Behind us I could see and feel the missile launches of a Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS). White streaks of light trailed the missiles as they exploded out of the rectangular boxes on the rear of their tracked launcher vehicles. The white lines arced in the sky above us and went out as they crossed above us before joining the explosive death at their target end. They must have been firing at their closest range as they did not appear to be parked far behind us and the missiles weren’t landing that far in front of us. The Grid Square Removal Company, as MLRS were known, had joined the battle. We all clambered out to enjoy the world’s most spectacular and dangerous fireworks display. It was awesome. Now I could see the tanks on either side of me, lit by the missile trails and explosions.

The line of tanks snaking away into the distance with the next Squadron lined up either side of us. To the north, in the light of the MLRS rocket fire, I saw recce cars moving from behind our lines and out to the east. They could have been our Recce Troop or it could have been a Squadron of Divisional Recce from 16th/5th Lancers, off to check out the enemy for tomorrow. Like all fireworks displays, this one came to an end and, with no spectacle to keep us in the open, we retreated from the rain back into our bunker.

 

Tape recording

(Popping sounds in background are MLRS missiles being launched). It’s now a quarter past one on the morning of the 26th. And we have just reached objective ZINC. We have been sitting here for the last two or three hours. And there’s an MLRS strike going in about two Ks to our front. Sounds like a f*****g great bang from behind us, we can see the rockets fly over the top and all to our front the horizon is lit up by the explosions, red, bright explosions of the MLRS rockets.

We have all pulled back to the west of the Three Zero easting and we are waiting while the strike goes in on area ZINC. And, out there, there are about four T-62 tank battalions. It’s still pissing with rain. It has been pissing with rain all f*****g night. Utterly f*****g miserable. And we just wait. Once the MLRS strike has gone in, I guess more artillery will go in and then the Staffords and the SCOTS DG will come in from the north to do their clear up. But it is quite phenomenal the power of the MLRS strike.

Attack_C

D Squadron advancing across the billiard table flat desert. Iraqi positions were widely dispersed. Continue reading

Desert Storm Part 21: And so to war.

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

24th February 1991

G Day. First O Group points. Phase Line IOWA has already been taken by 1st Inf Div, now ordered to withdraw. 0900hrs, Zero Delta has left for the Staging Area. 1000hrs Div O Gp, 1200hrs Bde orders. Egyptians advanced into southern Kuwait. 1200hrs, Div radio check. L Hr will be 1400hrs. M Hr will be the move from the Staging Area. We will move at 1445hrs to a Regimental concentration area. 10m between vehs. 25m between lanes. Routine – no cam, no shell scrapes, roving sentries, Troop radio stags on min power, 30 mins NTM.

Orders this afternoon. Move to Staging Area 3 will be on transporters. On arrival, same routine as for the Regimental Concentration Area. The move may possibly be on tracks. There is a map trace, don’t do the detail. The breach has been made in the Iraqi 48th Infantry Div area. It is the least capable of the Iraqi Divs in the Kuwait Theatre of Operations (KTO). 37 Bde beyond Phase Line SMASH, well dispersed, armour heavy, likely to be our objective. Assessment is that Saddam will use chemical weapons.

Squadron order commence just before the war.

Squadron orders commence just before the war.

The French launched the offensive at 0400hrs. 101st Airborne have a 60km wide front in Iraq. 82nd Airborne were put back to 0810hrs. 1 ACR are holding on the 40 Northing. The Big Red One (1st Inf Div) is at Phase Line MINNESOTA. The Marines are 20-30km into Kuwait. The Iraqis have a good Direction Finding (DF) capability but they are appalling at adjusting fire. All moves could be brought forward. Dead bodies. Unless there are lots of casulaties we will collect bodies at the Bde RV and take them back to Saudi for burial, then exhumation and send to England. I/d discs go with personal effects. Can use area behind Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) for stowage but not in front. Clear all rubbish. In enemy territory don’t huddle. In the Brigade Admin Area the RHF and KOSB Coys are providing local defence and POW handling. No targets on the Iraqi side of the border so the arty fire plan is being reduced.

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Desert Storm Part 20: Prepare to breach.

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

15th-16th February

We had a 48 hour exercise – so much for sitting still and doing nothing. At the first place we stopped there were a lot of Saudi soldiers around with bolt action Lee Enfield rifles – the rifle I used in the Combined Cadet Force at school – it had been the rifle of the British infantry soldier in the Second World War. They were guarding a huge 10ft deep hole in the ground. The Saudi soldier said it was a Scud B impact. Looking around us at miles and miles of bugger all it was hard to imagine what its target had been. It could have been shot down but we were miles from a target worth protecting by Patriot batteries. Most likely was a technical fault in the ancient guidance system which had thrown a wobbly and the missile had flown itself into the deck.

A US convoy started going past us at 0900hrs and it was still passing us when we left the area at 1500hrs. It may still be going. The exercise finished with a 40km route march to our new piece of desert. It looked much the same as the last piece of desert. Endlessly flat. We were told that the exercise, which seemed quite slow to us, had been a success. There was plenty of air activity above us. Maybe we’re back under one of the inbound/outbound routes into Iraq. Way up we saw through binos an RAF Tristar refueling two Tornados. While we were out on the exercise there was another peace initiative which we were all excited about until we heard that there were 40,000 conditions attached to it. There was relief, then frustration and then a feeling that once this war machine gets going there will be no stopping it.

We tuned into the US Forces update to the media in Riyadh which we could get on FM on our civvy radio. It was the most comprehensive update we had yet heard. 2,600 sorties flown. Two A-10s shot down over Republican Guard Force positions. We never hear any of this stuff. Very importantly we have had a parcel from my sister containing 9 rolls of loo paper. At least we’ll be okay in that respect. There is also a mountain of food on board that many people have generously sent over. We could do with a Challenger trailer to cart it all along.

O Group points. Apache missions started at 0001hrs today. Desert Storm continues. Desert Sabre is ready to be launched. A bunker in Baghdad was hit. Hotel with press in it in Baghdad is also a command post. In the Staging Area, live on the right hand side of the tank. Replens come on the left side. Dig a shallow shell scrape. Put CARM over crew positions. Wear helmets and flak jackets. Put out roving sentries.

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Desert Storm Part 19: The calm before the storm

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

9th February 1991

In the morning the wind really blew up and great clouds of fine desert sand got into every nook and cranny so that we, our stuff and the tank were covered in a very fine powder grit. There was a lot of air activity last night and quite a few missiles were launched from near where we are. We didn’t hear any of the explosions despite the Americans dropping Daisy Cutter bombs from Galaxy’s – a Daisy Cutter is a massive 15,000lbs lump of metal and explosives which, as the saying went, cut the daisies for a fair distance around the point of impact. Its effect is like an earthquake which explains the rumblings that we hear.

O Group points. Iraqi execution squads are on the hunt for deserters. Three Scuds were launched and all three were destroyed. Weapons to be loaded only in the guard trench and at stand to. Watch the bolts on the new armour – check tightness. Check fire extinguishers. The MOD are working on the assumption of 7-10 days of fighting, 3 to 6 to 8 weeks of sitting around after the war and then we will return. On return we’ll get a month’s leave, plus 14 days, plus all leave owed so far this year. No mags on weapons. An RE despatch rider was killed by his own SMG. An M109 artillery piece has blown up.

Additional_fuel_drums

A Challenger 1 sporting additional fuel drums; Crown Copyright.

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Desert Storm Part 18: Downtime

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st LancersIt is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).

Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.

The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.

 

1st February 1991

The weather has brightened and was even a little hot today with a cooling breeze. The logistics are now getting sorted out and we’re back on fresh rations with so much water that we can now have bucket showers off the barrel again. We can also put our dhobi (laundry) in and get it back. All the home comforts are back on stream. We put on a towing demo for the Squadron today.

For the first time in four months Brad found out that he had been lugging around the wrong towing bar – as he’s a D&M Instructor it caused a lot of amusement! We’re a long way from the events in Khafghi and the ‘war effort’ as well. All we hear are aircraft overhead and the distant rumblings from the north which really must be bombing as the weather has cleared and it can’t be thunder. I have had a lot of letters about my appearance on TV following my interview with Martin Bell.

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