Desert Storm Part 12

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.


30th November 1990

On Saturday morning we were up at sparrow’s fart (early) to do some PT. Toby had an argument with the Camp’s PTI so we went for a jog under the auspices of the Squadron PTI. I picked up six months’ supply of razor blades and soap, an extra set of desert combats and a jumper. After doing a kit sort out I went off to the pool at US Camp 3 with Ed Smyth Osbourne, Alex Cormack and David Webb before heading back out to the desert.

Just as we arrived back we had 30 minute notice to move and we were straight into an exercise. The NBC alarms went off and we were in and out of NBC gear and respirators thereafter. It wasn’t helped by Saddam launching a test firing of 3 Scud Bs at an impact zone inside Iraq. The int says that two flew 520km to their impact area and the third malfunctioned and was destroyed in the air. Saddam is also developing the Al Abbas version of the rocket which will have extended range out to 800km and be explosive, chemical or nuclear capable – as if we weren’t in range already.


1st December 1990

All our NAIADs – chemical agent detection equipment – went off. Mass panic across Kuwait. The day turned out to be boiling hot and it started with cam nets up and down like a jack in the box as Squadron HQ brought us from 15 mins NTM to 5 mins and then back up to 15. At 15 mins NTM, cam nets are up. At 5 mins NTM they’re down. We were detached to B Squadron for the morning’s exercise but it was pretty slack and track mileage restrictions of 25km for a 48 hr exercise kept things fairly limited. These exercises seem to be more about testing the chain of command than they do us in the Squadrons and Troops.


5th December 1990

We had a Maint Day on Wednesday. We took our tank around to Tiffy to have a leaky radiator fixed and got another leaky radiator! I did weapons cleaning and some afternoon driving around for Ulster TV.


5th December 1990

Thursday was a Gunnery Day, so more servicing of the systems and a play with the On Tank Trainer (OTT) in the afternoon. It’s like a computer game for tank engagements but inside a real tank. Alex Paine has started giving me Italian lessons. It has been announced that there will be a General Service Medal (GSM) for this operation. That will be my second medal in not too long as I only qualified for the GSM with Northern Ireland clasp by a whisker for my time with 11 UDR.

The Brigadier also told the press that British troops were not getting the same level of public support that our US comrades were getting. As a result The Sun newspaper are giving us 18,000 Christmas puds.


6th December 1990

The Sun arrived at our position with the Brigadier and photographers to hand over the Christmas puds they were giving us. The Brigadier spoke to us. He was really quite outstanding. I was standing right in the middle of the group of soldiers he was addressing and there was a lot of eye contact. He spoke about his line on the lack of public support and how it had been an accident to say it but now that it had been said we must treat all gifts from home with graciousness and reply to as many as we could. He was very down to earth and seemed to really speak to us. He spoke about the problem of the main engine generator drive shafts not performing to spec but that the engines were performing above spec. It was strange to understand how our Brigade Commander appeared to know what we knew about our tanks.

The Brigadier said that we would have a Final Training Exercise (FTX) and a live firing range period before the end of January. The funniest moment was when he said that he hoped that the war would be a Brigade attack on a weak enemy Platoon position, a few of us would get some scars, win lots of medals and be able to sell our memoirs! He was brilliant, an outstanding communicator and all round nice bloke.

I met his Royal Military Police close protection Sergeant who had done SAS selection with Cpl Wang – Wanger and I had been in the Regimental Uphill Skiing Team a few years before. He was toting a Heckler & Koch MP5. I also met the Brigadier’s ADC, Capt Mark Shelford, who, like the Brigadier, is a Skin (5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards). Both he and the Brigadier were sporting their new desert berets.

Then it was on to The Sun’s promo photo shoot with snaps of us being handed their Christmas puddings. Four in a box. The only thing is they are about the size of a tiny Mr. Kipling cake. But, of course, the thought was there. They took loads of pictures for a double page spread. I pushed Gus forward to give them a quote. It was a great day. I spent the rest of it writing Christmas cards, playing volleyball and going for a run.


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