It 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.
The next few weeks were a chaos of training, briefings and pre-deployment administration.
In Munster I was getting to know my new Troop and doing the required administration to enable us to be transferred to the QRIH who were based at Fallingbostel, two hours to the north of Munster.
My Troop Sergeant was Brad Nicholls. Brad was one of the finest soldiers I have had the privilege to serve alongside. He had years more experience on tanks than I did. He was tough, resilient, utterly professional and exacting. He was a Driving & Maintenance (D&M) instructor. He provided a powerful role model for all of us to look to. My Troop Corporal was Cpl ‘Urby’ Urbacz – another professional tanker, this time a gunnery expert. The rest of the Troop had been selected from across the Regiment. It was a composite Troop of volunteers, some of whom I knew from my previous two years service and others I quickly got to know.
Very soon after we were sent to Fallingbostel to start the integration process with the Irish Hussars.
Our new Commanding Officer was Lt Col Arthur Denaro. He was a forceful, dominating personality for whom sucking up a full Squadron of another Regiment cannot have been easy. The Irish Hussars were 25% under-manned following a return to Germany from Catterick – many of their soldiers had either left the Army or transferred to other Regiments, preferring not to go back to Germany. They had nothing like the depth and longevity of training, experience and time on tanks that we had from our more than decade in Munster. As painful as it must have been for Col Robert to send us away, it must have been as painful for Col Arthur to accept what was, we felt, the finest Squadron of cavalry soldiers that 1st British Corps could muster. We were as proud of our Regiment as Col Arthur was of his. We also had the motto on blue berets while the Irish Hussars wore the Irish harp on green berets and their officers often wore what was know as their Thunderbids cap, a fore and aft, green and gold braid cap.
We had hoped that Col Arthur would keep us together as a Squadron. Soldiering is a brotherhood where, when it comes down to action, we fight for each other and for our Regiments not for some political ambition. But, the decision was taken to split us amongst the four Irish Hussar Squadrons. It was the right call. Col Arthur had to work with his recently returned (to BAOR) unit, integrate 25% of foreign blood (us 17th/21st Lancers) and get as much training and ranges time into us as he possibly could do to coalesce us into a cohesive fighting unit that could, in a short time, meet and beat Saddam’s the battle experienced Republic Guard Force. We 17th/21st Lancers like to think that we were able to cascade of knowledge, skills and experience into the balance of our Squadrons helping to raise standards across the board in a way that would not have been possible if we had been formed into one Squadron.
I became 4th Troop Leader in D Squadron. All the other 17th/21st Lancers provided the 4th Troop in each of the other Irish Hussar Squadrons. My Squadron Leader was Major Toby Maddison. Luckily, Toby was the CO’s blue eyed boy and not much older than I was. The Squadron Second in Command was Capt Philip Napier, an officer of the Royal Regiment of Wales who was on a cavalry attachment from his Infantry Battalion. Never was an attachment better timed.
The Irish Hussars were very welcoming. We Captains and Subalterns from 17th/21st Lancers were soon joined by officers from many other cap badges to bring the Regiment up to its war fighting strength and then turn it from a Regiment into a Battlegroup – an all arms grouping to include artillery, engineers and other supporting elements.
With my sister, Amanda, at the Furstenberg’s house shortly before leaving for the Gulf.
In the Officers Mess we wondered if our predecessors had felt the same way we felt now. Excitement and apprehension in equal measure. We wound each other up. Would it be over by Christmas?
The most senior attached 17th/21st Lancer was Captain Piers Hankinson. Although we were the same rank, Piers was senior to me and had been in the Regiment for several years longer than I had. But, he didn’t have the privilege of commanding a Troop. He was in Battlegroup headquarters as a staff officer, assisting Capt Tom Beckett, the QRIH Ops Officer, with planning and training. Other 17th/21st Lancer officers were, in A Squadron, Lt Nick Cotton who had joined A Squadron 17th/21st Lancers shortly after me. B Squadron was Lt Tim Buxton, a tall, blonde twin. In C Squadron, Lt Will Wyatt, who at 6ft 3in must have found it cripplingly uncomfortable to be in a tank commander’s crew position for long. A Wyatt, a Buxton and a Purbrick – all sons and nephews of previous generations who had served in the Regiment.
I had already been a Sabre Troop Leader, spent a year as Recce Troop Leader and had just been short toured from Platoon Command on operations in Northern Ireland and I was a Captain. I was lucky to have caught Col Robert eye and been selected as one of the Troop Leaders. I love tanks and it was fabulous to be back as a panzer commander, leading such an outstanding Troop of cavalry and knowing that, at long last, after years of Cold War exercises, we were actually going to go on operations in, relative to the complex terrain of Germany, the uncomplicated terrain of the desert for which the Challenger Main Battle Tank had been designed.