Desert Storm Part 18: Downtime

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.


1st February 1991

The weather has brightened and was even a little hot today with a cooling breeze. The logistics are now getting sorted out and we’re back on fresh rations with so much water that we can now have bucket showers off the barrel again. We can also put our dhobi (laundry) in and get it back. All the home comforts are back on stream. We put on a towing demo for the Squadron today.

For the first time in four months Brad found out that he had been lugging around the wrong towing bar – as he’s a D&M Instructor it caused a lot of amusement! We’re a long way from the events in Khafghi and the ‘war effort’ as well. All we hear are aircraft overhead and the distant rumblings from the north which really must be bombing as the weather has cleared and it can’t be thunder. I have had a lot of letters about my appearance on TV following my interview with Martin Bell.

2nd February 1991

Major General Rupert Smith, the Commander of 1st (UK) Division, visited QRIH BG today at 1200hrs. He seems like a nice guy. I had a brief chat with him. He wound Col Arthur up by saying ‘Arthur, surely you can see the time has come to give up all these silly cavalry names and vulgar fractions and rename all the cavalry Regiments from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc’. Col Arthur went ballistic. I think that the General was just winding him up but it was funny to be an observer at the exchange. We have got an excellent team in place from DLB, through Gen Rupert, Brig Patrick, Col Arthur and Toby.

A pistol and magazine shoulder holster arrived in the mail today. It’s a bit Starsky and Hutch but it’s comfortable to wear.

We had a Regimental Church Service. It was a 20 minute walk away across the desert. It was good to see everyone. After church the wind blew up and it became one of those days to be inside. We zipped up the bivvy, read a book, listened to boogie boxes and zizzed. We were briefed on gallantry awards. VC is for 90-100% possibility of being killed and requires three independent witnesses. MC for gallant and distinguished action. We’ll get an 11-18% pay rise on 1st April.


3rd February 1991

We had a briefing from the Forward Interrogation Team. They’re in place to get tac int for Bde and to assess POWs for detailed interrogation. Preserve the shock of capture. Don’t use violence. Don’t show kindness. Don’t remove personal belongings. Let them keep their helmets and NBC kit. No handcuffs or blindfolds. Take maps and docs off them and bag them. Separate officers and men. The POWs will be relieved to be alive and wondering what happens next. You can recognize officers – better uniform, keep themselves at a distance from the riff-raff, they have underpants and pistols. If you are drinking they should be to. Keep them alive.

The Iraqis are making limited probing attacks into Saudi. 82nd Airborne had a 15 minute contact. The Iraqis withdrew. They are on int gathering missions for their arty. The Iraqis are worried about a second front from Turkey. They have moved troops out of the KTO to face this threat. A minefield extends 50km west of the tri-border area. Two Scuds were fired at Israel. Both dropped short. One was fired at Riyadh – taken out by Patriot? The Khafghi attack was led by the Iraqi’s 5th Div with a Bde forward. It was repulsed by the Saudi National Guard. 44 Iraqi tanks and 37 APCs were destroyed, 200 KIA and 600 POWs. No evidence that this was the precursor to a major offensive, just a probing attack.

To our west is US 18th Corps with an Airborne Div, two Heavy Divs, three Armoured Divs, 2nd Armoured Cav Div and the French. We’re in 7th Corps. Alongside 1st (UK) Div are 1st and 3rd US Divs, 1st Cav Div – a total of 1,500 tanks. To our east is Joint Force Command North with two Egyptian Divs, a Composite Div and a Syrian Div. Then the US Marines to the east of them. Then on the Saudi coast is Joint Force Command East.

O Group points. 4 Bde will lead through the breach. 7 Bde will take up the advance and destroy the enemy’s tac res of T-55 regiments. If you see white flags then wait until they are out of their trenches and out of their tanks with their hands up. Get Irish names onto the sides of out tanks – can we think of any Irish 17th Lancers? Someone called John Bond is wearing desert combats and is a Landrover. Detain. Bde reckon it will be a short war. Div are talking about 90 days. The General thinks that we will be here until June. We have 54 spare CR packs for the Div. In support of the Div we have nineteen regiments of M109, 40th Field Regt RA, 2nd Field Regt RA, eleven Batteries of MLRS – 66 launchers. 7 Bde is now going in ahead of 4 Bde. D Sqn will be the point Sqn for the Bde. It will be the biggest move of an Army. Paint inverted V on either side of tank as recognition marker.

The Gulf War (2 August 1990 Ð 28 February 1991), codenamed Operation Desert Shield (2 August 1990 Ð 17 January 1991) for operations leading to the buildup of troops and defense of Saudi Arabia and Operation Desert Storm (17 January 1991 Ð 28 February 1991) in its combat phase, was a war - in the Persian Gulf region - waged by coalition forces from 34 nations led by the United States against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The United Kingdom committed the largest contingent of any European state that participated in the war's combat operations. Operation Granby was the code name for the operations in the Persian Gulf. British Army regiments (mainly with the 1st Armoured Division), Royal Air Force squadrons and Royal Navy vessels were mobilized in the Persian Gulf. The Royal Air Force, using various aircraft, operated from airbases in Saudi Arabia. Almost 2,500 armored vehicles and 53,462 troops were shipped for action. Chief Royal Navy vessels deployed to the Persian Gulf included Broadsword-class frigates, and Sheffield-class destroyers, other R.N. and R.F.A. ships were also deployed. The light aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea. Special operations forces were deployed in the form of several SAS squadrons.

4th February 1991

We had an exercise planned for the evening that was brought forward to the afternoon so we had a rushed morning of tearing everything down and packing it all away to be ready in time. We made it. The exercise started and we just sat in a static convoy for pretty much the whole exercise. I used my Trimble to navigate. It’s fantastic. It tells you to steer left/right as you go along towards your target waypoint and even gives a bearing to the target.

Tim Buxton crushed his Mossberg shotgun in the traverse of his tank and he wants mine as soon as my mini Uzi machine pistol arrives. He can have it but only when I get the Uzi in my hands. We parked up next to Tim’s Troop and it was great for the blokes to get to see another Troop of 17th Lancers. All the rest of the time it is just us Troop Leaders who get to go to the conferences and see each other. Apparently the Mother of All Battles, as Saddam is calling it, is going rather better for us than for him. I’m surprised that he hasn’t folded yet from all the reports that we have been getting.


5th-6th February 1991

We have just spent the last 48 hours on an exercise with almost no sleep. I managed to have a short siesta this afternoon to catch up. The general situation does not seem to have changed. Everyday that the air war goes on the Iraqi ability to resist a ground war is being worn down, so we’re quite happy for it to go on for longer. The weather has improved. It’s quite warm in the day but still chilly at night. As we were standing around this afternoon we heard and then saw a Cruise missile being launched from a few miles away. It went off with a helluva roar and let’s hope it arrived with a helluva bang. I was loitering around the Squadron leaguer when a slow flying Cruise missile flew just 50 ft over our heads closely followed by a couple of A-10 Warthog tank busting aircraft. Target unknown but it was an incredible sight.


7th February 1991

The Bandmaster of the 17th/21st Lancers, Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Harrod, appeared in my Troop hide today. Every Regiment has a band whose war role is to be the Regimental medics. Our Regimental medics had been deployed with 4th Armoured Brigade. Mr Harrod had brought his violin case. It was very good to see him and we were not quite sure if he had come to see us to provide a single string orchestral recital or what.

We all gathered round. Mr Harrod opened his violin case. Inside, instead of his Stradivarius, there was a package wrapped in a hessian sandbag. He picked it up and handed it over to me. ‘Sir, I have brought this across from the Regiment for you. It comes from your father. I had a heck of a time getting it here. I tried to declare it at Brize Norton. I said to the RAF Police that they should have a look in my violin case but they told me to go away and get on the plane. They said that the day before an SAS Squadron had come through and when they asked them to empty their pockets on the counter they had been so horrified by what the SAS troops were taking on board they had told them to pack up and go away’.

I undid the hessian sack. Inside was a 9mm mini-Uzi machine pistol with four magazines, a cleaning kit, instruction manual and a shoulder sling. The ultimate boy’s toy. There was also a note from the company who I had bought it from saying ‘Let’s hope that you never have to use it in anger. Have fun!’ I indented for 500 rounds of 9mm ammunition from the SQMS. I immediately started stripping and assembling lessons. There was a lot of interest from the boys as to where it had come from but I am adopting an international man of mystery air.

The Mossberg and cartridges are on their way to Tim Buxton. I had a barrel shower, having heated the water on the cooker, standing on a piece of CARM (chemical resistant plastic sheeting), which we think stands for Chemical Agent Resistant Material, which provides a good shower flooring in the desert. There’s nothing more morale boosting than a shower and a change of clothes when you’re feeling grubby. Although there was a cold start to the day it warmed up considerably, albeit with that usual biting wind which kept me in my jersey and woolly hat. I got a Valentines card in the mail today. Absolutely no idea who it is from.