Desert Storm Part 14: Five days from 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.


27th December 1990

We were back to work on Thursday. All decorations came down and were packed away. We did our Annual Service on the tank which involved a pack lift. I climbed into the empty engine bay and de-gunged it with a tank shovel. A filthy, oily, dust encrusted mess. It was the coldest day in Saudi so far. I didn’t take my jumper off all day and, in fact, I put a second one on in the afternoon. That night was the coldest one so far with a crisp north wind blowing down from Iraq. Even in my doss bag and bivvy bag I was freezing. It wasn’t helped by having really bad cramp in my left leg.

28th December 1990

I had a Soltau strip wash on Friday morning – not a proper wash just a run around with a tepid flannel. It was too damn cold to do any more. We split the tracks and had the running gear checked out. We put it all back together and then went back under the cam net. There was a Yellow Alert as Saddam launched three Scud missiles into one of his testing grounds. We went up to NBC dress state 2 – NBC kit on with respirators to hand. It was the first time in Saudi we had been happy to wear the gear as the big chill continued. We played baseball in the afternoon after which I had a tepid shower.

O Group points. The British Division is the most powerful Coalition Division with 30,000 troops. We will be the point of main effort, the spearhead Div. We are ‘signature equipment’ ie spot us and you know which way the Coalition attack is going to be coming from. Nomex coveralls, anti-flash masks and hoods are coming. We’ll look like we’re at work in the ops room of a Royal Navy warship.


29th December 1990

We went up the small arms range on Saturday morning where I used the Mossberg combat shotgun with standard cartridges. It was a lot of fun. Sadly there have been no rats around.

O Group points. We’re having a biological inoculation against anthrax. Nomex flame resistant overalls were issued. They’re made of the same material as Formula 1 drivers wear. Saddam fired a Scud missile from Basra today. It launched at 11.01 and impacted on the range at 11.07 having flown 500kms.


30th December 1990

Sunday was a Gunnery Servicing day. Just about everything we touched messed up. TOGS door, TOGS, Gunnery Control Equipment (GCE), the whole lot. It all seemed to sort itself out in the end. It was minus 4°C this morning but it quickly got up into the 30s. Even so it felt pretty cold all day. I wrote to Tin Furstenberg saying that all that I wanted to do when I got home was get married and live in a remote cottage next to a stream writing, painting and making music – a bit of a romantic ideal to say the least. After last light there was a muckabout as we had to throw cam nets up in the dark. But, as it turned out to be our best cam net yet, it wasn’t so bad. I had a good wash and a change of clothes.

Desert Storm Part 13A

Captain Tim Purbrick, 17th/21st Lancers, sporting charity haircut.

31st December 1990

New Year’s Eve 1990. We spent the day doing Armament Accuracy checks and then moved to A2 to park up before a run into Camp 4. I drank Alexia Allhusen’s health with the wine that she had sent out to me.

O Group points. Carry full IPE and helmet with you if you are going anywhere.


1st January 1991

New Year’s Day 1991. Back into Camp 4. I have heard that Capt Alex Tucker has managed to get out here. He’s the EME for 17th/21st Lancers – the Regiment’s senior Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer. He’s somewhere in the Forward Maintenance Area (FMA). Alex very kindly sorted Ann out to use my left hand drive Golf GTI while I am out here – quite a bit of paperwork.

There are a considerable number of ex-pats living around al-Jubail. Many of them very generously offered to put us up for a night. Alex Cormack, David Webb, Chris Millet and I went to stay with Peter, an Irishman who is working in one of the hospitals. We watched a couple of videos and hit the sack at about half one.


2nd-3rd January 1991

I spent the next couple of days in Camp 4 blagging another set of desert combats and making calls home. Dad, who was doing some business in Saudi, had put me in touch with Mr Othman, a consummate and very well connected fixer in Saudi. I called him and he generously gave me all his contact numbers and said that should I ever need anything I was to call him at any time. He also invited me to Riyadh.

Back to the desert, it was cold and miserable. 4th Troop, D Squadron and Recce Troop are the only ones left here as the rest of the Regiment has moved up to the ranges. Morale was high as those of the Troop who had been down to Bahrain for the last few days rejoined us.

O Group points. 163 ships have arrived with supplies since the start of OP GRANBY. We are getting laser goggles for use during the war. These will prevent eye damage should we be looking through our own sights as an enemy tank lases us.


4th January 1991

The tank transporters gave us a 40km lift from the Brigade area up to the Devil Dog Dragoon Range. They stopped for lunch leaving us sitting in our tanks on the back of the flatbeds. A load of trucks full of 155mm artillery ammunition drove north past us. On Concrete Ridge, a feature to the north of al-Jubail, there were a number of Rapier anti-aircraft positions. We joined the Squadron in time to have some anti-biological warfare injections. Apparently we won’t be able to tell when we’re under a biological warfare attack so just as well to have the jab. We should be immune from everything by the time we’re finished here. Let’s hope the jabs don’t screw us up too much. New combo pens are being issued – these are for jabs post a nerve agent attack.


5th January 1991

On Saturday we did Gunnery checks and then had a ‘teach-in’ at Battlegroup HQ. The CO talked about a scenario along the Wadi al-Batin which marks the border between south eastern Iraq and western Kuwait, where we could break through Iraqi counter-penetration positions. This was followed by a range brief for tomorrow. We debombed some of our FIN ammunition to make space for training ammunition. It was a bloody cold day and an even chillier evening with overcast skies, some rain and the ever constant wind.

At the O Group I was given a note. It was a signal from the MOD in London to QRIH Main sent on Christmas Eve. It read: ‘For 17/21L Capt Hankinson and all Offrs and Ranks from Col in Chief, I am thinking of all quite particularly this Christmas, and I send my warmest wishes to you. Signed Alexandra Col in Chief’.


Our zeroing target during the range period. Pretty good shooting and confidence building.

6th January 1991

We moved very early up to Range Charlie. Reveille was 0230hrs on Sunday. Cam down at 0315hrs. Start up 0345hrs. The whole Regiment did a recce of the range. We thought that it would be a simple bimble but the CO turned it into a full blown Regimental attack. We did it live firing in the afternoon. We only had a few DST and SH/PRAC (practice HESH rounds) but we felt the shooting went well. We were working with A Company of the Staffords commanded by yet another SAS man. He sounded good on the air. One of the Staffords got a shoulder wound from a grenade splinter. That night we did a shoot, watched an artillery airburst and saw a Giant Viper breach fired off, the second of the day. After that practice we had to find our way back to the hide and run through a replen to rebomb the FIN and pick up oils. It was around 26 hours with no sleep and we eventually crawled into our doss bags at 0300hrs.


7th January 1991

I slept very deeply for an hour and a half and then we were up again loading the tanks onto the transporters for a lift up to the zeroing range. We boresighted, cleared guns and got sorted out, washed and rested from the exercise. The day started very chilly and then climbed into the 30s as it was windless. There were two 17th/21st Lancers on the ranges, running it. SSgt Mally Davis and SSgt ‘DZ’ Dzierionski, both of whom I hadn’t seen for a year. These Gunnery Gods were here to ensure that all the tanks in the Division were shooting straight. We didn’t want to miss a T-72 and give it the chance to shoot us. We fired 1 DST and 6 FIN rounds. Gus got one round through the centre, two rounds either side and three rounds within a 1.5 ft. Really excellent shooting. We’re all very happy with the gun.

Not so good for Zero Bravo (Toby) and Zero Charlie (Philip) whose FIN rounds entirely missed the targetry. I talked to Mally and DZ about the L26 DU (Depleted Uranium) round. There are 36 per tank in theatre and we’ll probably get them in batches of 12. We’re to keep them for T-72. They should be good out to 3,000m. When we hit a tank with DU don’t go near it for 12 hours unless wearing full IPE. I found one of the petals of a Jericho round on the desert. It had holes in it, perhaps for some ballistic reason. DZ told me that when he and Mally went down to the target end 12 hours after firing DU, their watches stopped.


8th January 1991

We had an admin day following the range package. We scrubbed the barrel to clean it after firing on the ranges yesterday. Brew cleaned the Commander’s gympy. My cousin Katrina’s boyfriend, Philip, sent me an Iraqi calendar for 1991. It stopped on 15th January, that’s the date for the expiry of the UN deadline for the Iraqis to pull out of Kuwait. It rained, then got hot and then rained again. Thank goodness for Garry Gortex (a green camouflage waterproof that I had bought when I was at Sandhurst).

O Group points. There are reports that 6,000 Iraqis have defected including six helicopters. Although war seems like a long way off, there’s only a week until the UN deadline. We think that the forthcoming round of talks in Geneva will be used to tell the Iraqis what’s going to happen when they don’t withdraw. The latest that we have heard is that they’re digging in even further.

The 14th/20th are up on the ranges too. They seem quite swept up. They’ve got shower units already in position and they’ve only just arrived.


10th January 1991

Thursday was a stand down day. We did some stowing on the tank and added a few more bins for stowing gear. We had a couple of O Groups at which we were told that we were going to go in along the Wadi al Batin to hit the Republican Guard Force in their counter-pen positions.

O Group points. Someone at home announced that ‘OP GRANBY has not diminished the Army’s operational effectiveness in other theatres. We’re expecting body armour to be issued in the next few days. Sat nav is to be issued to all Troop Leaders’ tanks. The Geneva talks collapsed after 6 hours.

The Iraqis are placing large chicken wire screens in front of their tanks to disrupt our shots. Use HESH (High Explosive Squashed Head) to blow the screens out of the way and then a FIN round to kill the tank. The US has announced that there will be no further peace initiatives and that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Iraq. Don’t sleep on guard, it will cost 28 day’s pay as will a Negligent Discharge (ND) – firing your weapon unintentionally.