Desert Storm Part 5: Prep for war

Capt Tim Purbrick 17th_21st Lancers

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.


17th September 1990

1 (BR) Corps was being stripped of its Challenger Mark IIIs – the latest variant. We had a few in Munster and they all went to the Irish Hussars. My own tank – 65 KG 39 – turned up on our tank park in Fallingbostel after Squadron PT on 17th September. A gift from The Queen’s Own Hussars (QOH). Thank you, QOH, for a tank with just 113km on the clock. It was in good nick and we ran it through its initial checks that afternoon.

We practiced in the GTS. New procedures had been introduced since I had been a Sabre Troop Leader more than a year before. Now the gunner could initiate their own fire orders so the tank commander was able to get on with something else or monitor the shoot. Sgt ‘Sausage’ or ‘Saus’ Ambrose had been my Troop Sergeant in 1st Troop A Squadron. Now he was Nick Cotton’s Troop Sergeant. We caught up that afternoon and discussed our four Troops not being in the same Squadron for mutual support, not that there was anything we could do about it. Capt Piers Hankinson was doing a good job of keeping us all up to speed.

Everyone is now lapping up anything that they can get hold of about the Gulf. For the first time in my short military career it is now OK to be seen reading War Studies documents in public. We all want to know as much as possible about the enemy and his environment.

18th September 1990

The next day we spent the morning taking over tools for the tank and sorting them out. It will take at least two days of servicing to bring them up to speed. I thought that we had a pretty average time in our GTS session but still a good effort considering that none of the three of us had been in a tank turret for the previous two years. The QOH Gunnery Instructor said that we were the best by far.  Simon Marriott, a former Major, in the Regiment, who had been decorated with the Omani equivalent of the DSO during the campaign in Dhofar, sent us a bunch of points about fighting in the desert which I read out to the Troop. I’m starting to work up a kit list. ‘Pack for war’ was the dramatic order that Col Robert had given me before I returned to the Regiment from Northern Ireland. 

19th September 1990

We were on the ranges shooting our Annual Personal Weapons Test (APWT) with a 9mm pistol. I could still not hit a barn door with it but somehow plugged the target with enough holes to pass. We marched back to camp from the ranges. General Charles Guthrie, now Commander-in-Chief BAOR was on base. I was impressed that he remembered me from our brief encounter on Soltau earlier in the year and that he also remembered that I had been Recce Troop Leader – that wasn’t just some sharp MA whispering into his ear, he really remembered. I brought up the point about press access to us. Gen Guthrie said that Corps had been kicking the idea around for a few days. By 8.00pm that night I was speaking to two journalists from Nottingham in the QRIH Mess. Another big tick for Gen Guthrie.

We didn’t seem to get as much done on the tanks as I would like to have done but, while I was away at a Squadron O Group, the guys carried out Mission Monthly servicing on the tanks.

20th September 1990

After a morning run in the rain the next day, we spent half a day working the tanks up for ranges by doing Armament Accuracy tests.

We had our first indication as to what we will be doing when we get to the Middle East. After two weeks acclimatisation in Oman we will travel on to the eastern seaboard of Saudi where we will come under command of a US Marines Division.

In between the training in Fallingbostel we managed to get weekends off. I headed down to Swinton Barracks in Munster or to stay with the Furstenbergs in Glandorf.

We trialed our NBC pack and achieved good over pressure inside the hull. The NBC pack sucks air from the atmosphere and filters it of all the bad stuff that could be out there. With the hatches closed down and locked, like a submarine hatch, the air coming into the tank was coming in quicker than it was escaping through any gaps, creating an over pressure in the vehicle which further ensured that no bad juju could come in through the gaps. It was a good confidence builder for the crew.

The Friday morning run was conducted in torrential rain with a 100mph cross-wind. Now we’ll all go down with pneumonia in Germany before we get heat stroke in the desert. We spent ten hours prepping the tanks for ranges tomorrow. Actually most of that ten hours, nine hours and forty five minutes, was spent waiting for spare parts and for the armament systems to be fixed by the REME. When that was all done it took just five minutes to run through the six point check. All good for tomorrow.

Col Robert and Maj Bill English, OC of A Sqn 17th/21st Lancers, visited their troops attached to QRIH BG. Col Robert was in good heart considering that he is now the CO of a Type 23 Hulk Regiment, with all the Challengers now expensive metal swimming pools as they have been stripped for parts. It was a cold day and we were pleased to be in our charcoal NBC suits – not often you can say that either – to help keep us warm. I ran through the TOGS and Gunnery orders with Urby who is not only a Gunner Mech – highly qualified gunnery operator – but also a Regimental Gunnery Instructor. I quite enjoyed it but I wonder what it will be like for real, in full NBC gear, closed down in a sand storm trying to kill enemy tanks.