Desert Storm Part 11

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.


23rd November 1990

At 0350hrs on Friday morning we went on a night march. It was just 3,000 metres! Track mileage restrictions have started to bite. We then did an advance to contact at dawn during which my tank was ‘taken out’ (notionally destroyed) so we had breakfast to celebrate.

We moved off to Camp St Patrick which is a sort of semi-R&R camp in the desert. We went into a huge laager of tanks which is far too spread out for admin and we’re right next to Battlegroup HQ. Margaret Thatcher has resigned as PM. The speculation is that we will fight a two-week battle in February or March, clear up and then back to Blighty. That’s probably what they said before the Great War. Even the Falklands War took a couple of months. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, the Commander British Forces Middle East, reckons we will take 30% casualties – dead or injured? – and we’ll lose 20 tanks. I wonder how they make these guesses. We had a very detailed intelligence brief on the disposition, identities and capabilities of Iraqi Forces in the Kuwait Theatre of Operations (KTO). Now we’re told that the S10 respirator is no good for dealing with hydrogen sulphide, the chemical coming off the oil filled trenches. Iraqis have already been seen making white flags in their trenches – many of them are conscripts who don’t want to be there, have poor food, little water and no interest.


24th November 1990

Dawn woke us with a heavy dew and fog over the desert. Water was dripping off the cam net onto my bivvy bag and it was absolutely freezing. This wasn’t desert weather. We set off for morning PT and then had a centralized breakfast. I taught some of the blokes Map Reading 2 in the central tent at the Camp which was fairly laid back. We have been told that 7th Armoured Bde are too powerful a formation to stay with the US Marines. The plan is to go through Iraq and into Kuwait. We will move 200km to the west and be OPCON of the US Army.


25th November 1990

Father Sean took a church service on Sunday morning. The weather was quite a bit better which made us feel better. Father Sean gave a sermon on giving and comradeship. On the Day of Judgement we would be judged on how much we had loved. I stayed on for communion. It was Catholic – well, it is an Irish Regiment – and it was much like the Church of England service. The rest of Sunday was spent on our 857s – equipment checks. They went well which shouldn’t be surprising as every day we are putting demands in to ensure that the tanks are in top condition. TV-AM turned up to do some filming and, even better, the Mobile Shower Unit came around in the afternoon. It is a set of green Army tents with plastic matting for a floor and shower heads dotted in two lines down either side of the tent with a large water bowser and a heater. You go in at one end, get your kit off and then totter through into the second tent. Have a shower and then reverse out. It was complete luxury to have a properly hot shower instead of a tepid strip wash beside the tank at night, and a new change of clean kit.

 Maintenance Day

A typical maintenance day in the desert. The back decks are off and the radiators raised.

26th November 1990

On Monday morning there was an Engineer Open Day for the press. The Engineers had set up an obstacle belt of berms, tank ditches and pipelines against which they were going to demonstrate how they were going to crack them all in minutes. It all went well until the second tank through crushed the bridge over the pipeline and that was the end of it. Sky News were there too and I gave them a message for Hetty Nevill. ‘Hetty?’, they said, ‘we don’t know a Hetty. Oh, Henrietta, small and skinny?’ Yes that’s her.

At the evening O Group we were told that we could move 250km to the north-west so that we hit the Iraqis in the flank by coming in from the west. But the int guy did say that there was a shed load of sabkha – slow to no-go areas of desert caused by soft sand – that way, which is not good for tanks. Gen Sir Michael Wilkes, Commander-in-Chief of the UK Field Army came to see us. He’s another SAS officer. He sat down and chatted with us for twenty minutes. He said that it was very nice to see Lancers here as he had commanded 3rd Armoured Division. He gave us a lot of confidence as well as, we took it, confirming that we would be going in (ie into Iraq/Kuwait) next February or March.


28th November 1990

We drove the tanks up to A1 – the Regimental 1st line of Echelon support after our own SQMS support – on Monday. It was on top of a hill. Vickers technicians were there to help us out with the wagons. They immediately sorted out the gun kit problem we had been having since we arrived – bingo! It was quite strange to have civvy experts in the field. We’re getting really good support. The Vickers guys told us about a depleted uranium round that we would probably be getting in the near future. Apparently it can go through three T-72s if they were parked in a line! There is also a new TOGS programme being written so we should get a software update for this too. I asked them whether they would be sending Challenger 2 out. That was a no. But 10 CRAAVs were being sent out for the REME. The Forward Observation Officer (FOO) is getting a vehicle called a Warlord – a Warrior variant, I guess – early next month.


29th November 1990

After a windy and cold night on top of the exposed hill we moved the tanks into a hide and then went into Camp 4. People can head off to the beach, the US camp or to a recreation centre. I saw Sgt Reddy (17/21L) who is running the Battle Casualty Reserve (BCR) element. The BCR drivers are only Chieftan trained – not much good when Challenger is the tank that they will be driving – and the loggies are using the War Maintenance Reserve (WMR) tanks to give rides to the nurses. It was nice to have a taste of home comforts – hot shower, 36 hour dhobi turnaround, a proper loo instead of an oil can without a top or bottom.