Friday, 1 November 2013

Pebble Island Raid

One of the 11 Pucara aircraft destroyed by the SAS

                    By the time the British troops were preparing to land at San Carlos Bay in East Falkland, the SAS were already on the ground, setting up their Observation Posts to gather intelligence. A recce team from D Squadron noticed an Argentine force working on the airstrip in the northern part of West Falkland called Pebble Island. The SAS team immediately reported this back to their base on HMS Hermes* followed by the information that 11 Pucara ground-attack aircraft were there, posing a threat to the incoming British troops at San Carlos. Here was a job for the SAS.

What distinguishes the SAS from the rest of the British Army is that they are a smaller but nimbler force. The RAF air-strike was not the best option in this case as the bombings could harm the civilian settlers on Pebble Island. The SAS's hit-and-run operation would achieve the result they wanted more efficiently. As the day for the British main landings approached, there was no time to waste - the SAS must eliminate the enemy threat without delay. 

The sensitivity of the timing was not only for the British ground troops, but also for the SAS themselves. During the day, the British ships stayed away from the Argentine air-attack range, but sailed closer to the Falklands during the night. That meant that the SAS raiding team must go in under the cover of darkness and finish the job before daylight, so that they could return to HMS Hermes when the ship was close enough for helicopters to bring back the SAS. With a limited amount of fuel, the helicopters could fly only a certain distance.

Peter Ratcliffe's D Squadron was assigned to the operation. 45 soldiers from Air, Mobile and Mountain troops** armed themselves with M16 assault rifles, GPMGs, motor bombs and anti-tank missiles. They were joined by a naval gunfire support team and Royal Artillery who were to direct the gunfire from the ships stationed off shore. As he smeared cam cream on his face, Sgt Ratcliffe felt a surge of adrenaline inside. On the night of the 14th of May, the raiding team boarded the Sea King helicopters for the argent mission on Pebble Island.  

      The SAS Raid on 14/15 May

      The British Main Landings on 21 May

It was going to be a classic SAS operation, attacking the enemy when & where they weren't expecting. However, it wasn't plain sailing from the start as the bad weather caused a delay in the helicopter landings on West Falkland. Furthermore, Peter Ratcliffe's Mobile troop fell behind the other troops as they got lost on the way to the target! Those days, they didn't have a high-tech navigation device, and unlike the other troops, his troop wasn't led by one of the recce team who were familiar with the local geography. 

My impression is that Mr Ratcliffe was upset about being late, not necessarily because he was worried about the time limit of the operation, but because his troop was relegated to a supporting role as a result. Instead of playing a leading role, blowing up the Argentine aircraft, Sgt Ratcliffe's troop was told over the radio that the other troops would go ahead with the raid without waiting for his troop. If you are an SAS, you would prefer to get your own hands dirty, rather than watching the others do the nasty work, wouldn't you? 

Once the SAS arrived in the target area, the members of Mountain troop ran to the airfield and placed PE (plastic explosives) on the Argentine aircraft, making sure that it wouldn't be easy to repair them. As Pucara is a tall plane, one SAS rode on another's shoulders to attach the explosives under the wings. A couple of Argentine soldiers bravely came out from their building, but it was too late. The SAS destroyed every one of the Argentine aircraft on Pebble Island without suffering casualties except for a few minor injuries from the impact of the blasts. 

Pebble Island is not only close to San Carlos where the British troops were going to land, but the SAS also suspected that the Argentine force were extending the airstrip and setting up a radar. The Battle of San Carlos took place between the 21st and the 25th of May when the British Task Force ships came under severe air-attacks by the Argentinians. The British ground troops managed to land nonetheless, and established a beachhead in East Falkland - the beginning of the end of General Galtieri's war.  

British Troops landing at San Carlos

You can read the full account of the SAS Pebble Island Raid in Peter Ratcliffe's Eye of the Storm

*A British aircraft carrier which was in service from 1959 to 1984. 

**Each Squadron of the SAS consists of 4 troops: air, boat, mobility and mountain. On Pebble Island, D Squadron's boat troop was doing recce. 

To read more about the Falklands War, go to BLOG ARCHIVE at the top right-side of the page and click on my following posts: 
The SAS and the Falklands War (September 2012)
Desperate in the Falklands (December 2012)

Friday, 6 September 2013

The SAS Spoof !

             It is not unheard of for people to claim that they served with the SAS when in fact, they have only been to a pub in Hereford. Peter Ratcliffe himself has met a man in London who claimed not only that he was an SAS, but even worse, introduced himself as RSM Peter Ratcliffe. The real RSM was naturally annoyed and left the place in indignation. As some of the British papers are reporting that Princess Diana was assassinated by the SAS hit squad, here is a better spoof I created. I hope you like it!


Nearly 16 years after he left the legendary regiment, the members of the SAS deployed alongside Peter Ratcliffe are now revealed to the public for the first time! 

Regimental Sergeant-Major
Peter 'Billy' Ratcliffe 

Successfully led a mobile patrol in the first Gulf War.

Commanding Officer
Lt Col Jimmy 'Barking' Bark
(Identity protected)

A disciplinarian who is known for the absolute loyalty to the Regiment.  

Quarter Master
Reggie 'Sneaky' Whisker

As his punched-up nose shows, he could have been a professional boxer

Squadron Sergeant-Major
Bob 'Killer' Mogg
(During training in Brecon Beacons)

Known for collecting insects he ruthlessly assassinated.

Troop Sergeant
Nigel 'Bone' Fetching

Sometimes hyper-active, and always ready to dare and win.  

Corporal  (Signaller)
Alan 'Geordie' Purr   

Proud of his Geordie accent when meowing.

Malcolm 'Angel' McDermott

Originally a joiner from Glasgow. 

According to a source, Major Ratcliffe had a great time drinking with his former colleagues somewhere in a jungle just like the old days. 

.... and one more thing...

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to have approved the SAS top-secret operation against a possible attack on the UK mainland by Godzilla!  


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Heroes of Woolwich

                   Yesterday, there was a brutal murder of a British soldier in the street of Woolwich in the south-east of London. As a Londoner, I would like to use this blog to express my deepest sympathy to his family and friends. In this most senseless incident, however, there were remarkable people who defied the unfathomable human stupidity and showed us the worth of human mind by their brave acts. One woman, a mother of two in her 40s, went to the soldier lying on the street to see if there was anything she could do to save him. As she realised that he was already dead, she began talking to the two men holding large knives in their bloodied hands. The men wanted to start a war in London. To which she calmly replied: "It's you versus many. You are going to lose." There were three women beside the dead soldier. They were guarding his body as well as his dignity despite the killers still hanging around with their hideous weapons. I don't know how these women managed to act as they did, but if asked, they may say - they did it because they are humans made of reason and compassion. 

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Classic Peter Ratcliffe

                  There are  many books in the form of 'memoirs' written by the former SAS men. It's not a straightforward job, however, for them to publish such books especially since the Ministry of Defence introduced a confidentiality clause in 1996, to which all the members of the SAS Regiment are required to adhere. Peter Ratcliffe was still in the SAS in 1996, but he didn't sign this agreement for a good reason.* It took him months to have Eye of the Storm published as a result, and when it was finally cleared by the MoD, its content was not fully the same as the original script. 

Obviously, Mr Ratcliffe, like the rest of the ex-SAS, had to be cautious about giving away any sensitive information. This sensitivity the Special Forces soldiers have to be aware of does not seem to be always for security reasons. I recently came across a story** which the readers of Eye of the Storm are deprived of thanks to the MoD's scrutiny. Personally, I do not believe it was much to do with the national security, but  more to do with a personal reputation. It's a little amusing story which perfectly fits the character of Peter Ratcliffe. I let you judge why it was removed from the book.

In September 1981, seven months before the Falklands War, Sergeant Peter Ratcliffe was in what was then called 'British Honduras', a strip of land situated to the north-east of Guatemala in Central America (see the map below). As the former British territory was to become an independent country now known as Belize, the SAS was deployed there to ensure that the handover of the sovereignty to the locals would take place safely. 

Ever since the southern Europeans sailed to this remote part of the globe and 'discovered' the new world at the end of the 15th century, the territorial disputes among the European nations and their migrant descendants still linger on to this day (as in the case of the Falklands). Guatemala, the former Spanish colony, was against the independence as they claimed that British Honduras was part of Guatemala. There was some opposition inside the territory as well, but the birth of a new country was the only realistic option. Belize has become an independent country without the consent of its neighbour, Guatemala. 

Sergeant Ratcliffe was a member of the SAS unit deployed there to protect Prince Michael of Kent. The cousin of the Queen joined Belize's independence celebration on behalf of the Queen as a representative of the British government. The prince was to give a speech at the handover ceremony which would take place at the stroke of midnight. As the hour approached, the weather turned nasty - the tropical downpour forced the people gathered for the event into a shelter. The prince, being put off by this, suggested his bodyguards that his speech should be delayed until it stopped raining. 

I reckon that the prince expected the Queen's subject to reply: "Certainly, Your Royal Highness. We cannot let you make a speech in this terrible weather." Unfortunately for the prince, his bodyguards included Peter Ratcliffe, a no-nonsense SAS who couldn't give a damn about the prince's physical sensitivities. Armed with a 9mm Browning pistol, Sergeant Ratcliffe bluntly replied: "I am under strict instruction from London. I have been told to get rid of this God-forsaken place once and for all. You are going on that podium at midnight, come hail, rain or snow. Do I make myself clear, Sir?"

What was fortunate for the prince was that the weather improved shortly before he was due to give a speech. He therefore managed to avoid getting soaked in the stormy rain while reading out the message from Her Majesty. The handover ceremony went ahead as scheduled to the relief of everyone concerned. I find nothing security-sensitive about the story even though it may portray Prince Michael of Kent in a slightly awkward manner. Sergeant Ratcliffe seemed to be telling the prince who's the boss, but in my view, he was only following his order. I guess even the weather was impressed by the loyalty this SAS showed to his job as it spared the prince the humiliation of obeying an SAS.



Prince Michael of Kent (on the left) and the Belize Prime Minister, George Price, on the Independence Day in 1981

   *Peter Ratcliffe was misrepresented in the books published by some of the former members of the SAS whom he commanded during the first Gulf War. He felt let down when the authorities didn't (or couldn't) intervene to rectify the misrepresentation. He therefore decided to publish his own memoir to 'put the record straight'. In his view, the loyalty should work both ways: if the SAS Regiment wanted him to be silent, they should have protected him from untruthful claims about him.   

   **The Daily Mail newspaper, October 2000

Classic Margaret Thatcher


Margaret Thatcher with the British troops in the Falklands after the war

The former Prime Minister of the UK (1979 - 1990), Margaret Thatcher, passed away today (Mon, 8th April 2013) at the age of 87. She was the daughter of a grocery shop owner in Lincolnshire in the north-east of England. She gained a science degree (Chemistry) at Oxford and went on to pursue a career in politics as an MP (member of the Parliament). She became the leader of the Conservative party and won the General Election in 1979 to become the first female prime minister of the country. She subsequently won the next two elections to be one of the longest-serving PMs. In the unmercifully competitive world of politics, she was a winner, not because she was brutal, but because she believed in the right and the wrong. In my modest opinion, she should be remembered as the woman who treated the British Disease to save the Sick Man of Europe. Even the Labour government which came in afterwards never reversed the reforms she had introduced in the 1980s. Her decision to send in the SAS to the Iranian Embassy to rescue the hostages catapulted the clandestine force of the British Army into the public spotlight. She again turned to the SAS when a hostage was taken in Peterhead Prison (As Squadron Sergeant-Major, Peter Ratcliffe took part in the operation.) For her, the SAS soldiers were 'her boys'.

Margaret Thatcher with the SAS

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Real and the Not-So-Real B20

                    When I wrote my very first blog post: The Man in the Eye of the Storm last August, I was yet to read Michael Asher's The Real Bravo Two Zero. Having been impressed by Peter Ratcliffe's Eye of the Storm, in which the author sheds a new light on the controversy of B20, it is natural for me to revisit the subject in more detailAlthough he is himself an ex-SAS soldier, Michael Asher is an outsider in the sense that he was not in the SAS at the time of the Gulf War. He is, however, fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Middle East. He therefore wrote with some understanding on the environment B20 had encountered. 

His initial motivation to write a book about B20 seems to have come from the doubts he had about the portrayal of the 2IC, Sgt Vince Phillips - both Andy McNab and Chris Ryan refer him as the weakest link in the patrol. With the help of the local Bedouin, The Real Bravo Two Zero retraces the events described in McNab's Bravo Two Zero and Ryan's The One that Got Away. The author actually meets some of the people who claim that they had a contact with B20. Having examined the authenticity of the stories told by the locals, he concludes that the Bedouin/Iraqi conspiracy is unlikely as their version of the events seems to make more sense than what he has read in the two best-sellers. 

I picked some of the differing versions of the events as below (the sentences in brown are what Asher has learnt himself in Iraq):
  1. B20 walked about 20 km from the DZ to the LUP. (McNab)
  2. B20 walked about 2 km from the DZ to the LUP.
  3. There were two military sites with surface-to-air missile launchers attended by a few dozens of Iraqi soldiers  near the LUP. (McNab)
  4. There was only one missile-launcher site attended by a couple of Iraqi soldiers near the LUP.
  5. B20 was compromised when a goatherd boy saw them in the LUP. Sgt Phillips saw the boy see him (Ryan); Sgt Phillips tried to capture the boy, but failed. (McNab)
  6. B20 was compromised by a Bedouin man driving a bulldozer, but he pretended not to notice them. A boy was looking after a flock of sheep nearby, but didn't see B20.
  7. B20 was forced to engage in a battle with heavily armed Iraqi troops in a tank and vehicles. B20 charged towards the Iraqis, killing many of them and leaving a mayhem behind. (McNab)
  8. B20 briefly exchanged fire with three Bedouin men with rifles - one of them was an old man in his 70s. No one was killed.
  9. A group of B20 hijacked a taxi from Iraqis, and McNab drove it until they came across a check point manned by Iraqi soldiers. B20 got off the car and fought their way out, shooting some Iraqis dead. (McNab)
  10. A group of B20 hijacked a taxi, and let the Iraqi driver drive until they came a few hundred metres from a police check point where they simply got off without any firefight (the driver refers McNab with his real first name).   

The technical as well as physical aspects of the claims are hard for me to judge (e.g. 1 - 4), but there is a pattern in the discrepancies between what mainly Andy McNab wrote and what Michael Asher learnt on the ground - namely, exaggerations (e.g. 1, 3, 7 - 10). It is not too difficult for the readers to assume that the story was embellished and dramatised in the two men's books especially as Mike Coburn and another patrol member called Mal* testified under oath in court that some of the accounts in their books are false. It is not unreasonable now to treat the both books with a large pinch of salt. After all, that's what Peter Ratcliffe argued in Eye of the Storm.

Embellishment of the events may make commercial sense, but when it comes to a blame game, the dispute opens up a different perspective. Apart from the fact that he cannot reply, I wonder why Sgt Phillips was thought to be personally relevant to B20's compromise by both McNab and Ryan (5). I almost despaired when I found that B20's 2IC was originally a member of A Squadron, but moved to B Squadron to fill the shortage of the personnel. If he had remained in A Squadron, he would have been in either of the two mobile patrols of A Squadron deployed inside Iraq - one of which was indeed Alpha One Zero commanded by Peter Ratcliffe.   

In the first Gulf War, A & D Squadrons and a half of B Squadron entered Iraq to search and sabotage Saddam's military infrastructures; the other half of B Squadron was on stand-by in the Gulf to protect the British interests in the friendly Arab countries; G Squadron stayed in the UK for any domestic incidents the SAS might have to deal with. Whatever some former members of Alpha One Zero say about their commander, Sgt Phillips would have come back alive from the mission if he had been under RSM Ratcliffe's command. According to Andy McNab, Sgt Phillips hurt his leg after the first enemy contact, but that wouldn't have been fatal if he had been with Alpha One Zero.

The map of Iraq

a    Euphrates River

a    Iraqi Main Supply Routes

X    Area of B20 activities

  A  The Allied Forces' FOBs 

I haven't read Chris Ryan's book myself, but he is said to be explicitly critical of Sgt Phillips. He also criticises Andy McNab for his incompetence as a patrol commander. Peter Ratcliffe points out though that McNab and Ryan were in agreement at the pre-deployment planning stage. By revealing that the shepherd boy never saw B20, Michael Asher's The Real Bravo Two Zero effectively exonerates Sgt Phillips from being responsible for the beginning of B20's demise. For Peter Ratcliffe, the demise of B20 began not by Sgt Phillips, but by their decision not to take vehicles despite the advice given to them by the CO and RSM Ratcliffe.  

Mike Coburn's book also seems to be an attempt to clear the 2IC's name. He turns his criticism to the SAS hierarchy instead, and his case was taken up by the BBC that B20 was abandoned by their bosses. In my view, Mike Coburn and the BBC should read out the following two statements together: 
a)  The B20 patrol was left to die by the SAS top command. 
b) The SAS top command launched two rescue attempts assisted by an American helicopter equipped for search & rescue operations. 
a) is the proposition put forward  in a BBC programme, and b) is a fact. I would like them to show how the two statements are compatible.

The BBC chose the line in support of Mike Coburn's argument that: a) Despite the problem of the radio signals, the SAS top command did receive a report of compromise from B20 on the second day (although this is nothing new as Andy McNab also mentions it in his book**). b) The SAS top command failed to send a helicopter back to the DZ in accordance with the lost communication procedure. The BBC is said to have the information that the SAS top command discussed what to do about the missing B20, but decided that it was "too premature" to send in a jet, for instance, to give them a protection during their escape. It was hence argued that B20 was betrayed and abandoned by the SAS hierarchy.

Whatever their rationale may have been at that time, the SAS top command's initial decision ironically turned out to be - in my view - a sound one as it is likely that B20 was compromised, not 20 km away from the DZ, but just 2 km from it (as Michael Asher calculates the time and distance on the ground with heavy loads the members of B20 are said to have carried - see 1. & 2. above). If a Chinook had been sent back to the DZ to pick up B20, they would have been at high risk of being shot down by the Iraqis' anti-aircraft missiles nearby. As Andy McNab acknowledges in Bravo Two Zero, a rescue operation puts rescuers' lives at risk. 

The BBC, however, typically went for sensationalism to provoke emotional responses. This is the same BBC who shed tears for the terrorists shot dead by the SAS at the Iranian Embassy. This is the same BBC who has written and broadcast a great deal about the inner workings of the SAS while challenging Peter Ratcliffe over the Confidentiality Clause he has never signed. If there was a sin committed by the SAS hierarchy, it was to trust B20's ability to make right decisions before and during the operation. I had my own view about the truth of B20, which seems to be supported not only by The Real Bravo Two Zero, but also by Mike Coburn and his comrade, Mal.  

When I first read Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero, I wasn't fully aware of the controversy about the book. Both Michael Asher and Peter Ratcliffe deal with the questions before and during the operation, but my doubts were raised when I read McNab's accounts during the captivity. I now feel somewhat vindicated as The Real Bravo Two Zero refers to Mal's statement that what McNab wrote about the tortures by the Iraqis is false. Also, I have recently come across a statement by the Red Cross that the British POWs were 'in good shape' when they were released from the Iraqi gaols. To me, the torture scene with an Iraqi dentist from hell was too comical to be believed.

In Eye of the Storm, Peter Ratcliffe mentions a D Squadron member called Major Barry who was shot and badly injured, but saved by an Iraqi doctor who had been medically trained in England. After he was captured, Mike Coburn was also operated on for his wounds by the Iraqis although he was beaten by some Iraqi soldiers when their officers weren't around. These facts don't seem to be quite consistent with the accounts of the brutal treatment by the Iraqis in Bravo Two Zero. In my view, the bruised faces of the two captured RAF men on TV screens helped the public believe Andy McNab's torture story, but if all the sustained violence had been true, I wouldn't expect them to be in 'good shape' when they came out of the Iraqi gaols.

According to Andy McNab, he suffered broken teeth, a nerve damage in his hands and a dislocated shoulder apart from cuts and bruises, but he also writes about taking a nail out of a wall while being hoisted by his two comrades in a cell. I find it hard to believe that a man with a dislocated shoulder could do that without screaming in pain! Obviously, they weren't treated like Saddam's personal friends in a 5-star hotel, but the biggest danger for them during the captivity must have been the poor hygiene, not a physical torture. I wasn't therefore surprised to read that one of the members had contracted hepatitis while being detained in a filthy cell. 

Peter Ratcliffe argues in Eye of the Storm that the embellishment of the reality will diminish the historical value of the books by Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. I would argue that it is very dangerous because it is misleading. If the British soldiers read Bravo Two Zero as a true story, they would believe how they would be treated if captured by the Iraqis. Michael Asher briefly mentions Bob Consiglio, one of the fallen members of B20, who fought to the end instead of surrendering. I agree with Asher's sentiment that although Bob Consiglio's act was nothing but brave, he would have been likely to be alive if he had chosen to be captured. Recently in Libya, a team of B Squadron chose to surrender rather than to fight the anti-Gaddafi insurgents when they were challenged. This news was treated as embarrassment by the British media, but in my view, it was a wise and professional act by the SAS. They were later all released unharmed.                            

  *He is referred to as 'Stan' in  Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero.

 **According to Andy McNab, the word 'compromise' reached the SAS base, but the message was garbled, causing a confusion as to the exact situation B20 was in. Due to the wrong radio frequencies, the SAS command couldn't establish communication with B20. When the SAS command launched a rescue operation over two days, they searched the south of the DZ towards Saudi Arabia, the agreed escape-route, but failed to find B20 as they chose to escape to the north of the DZ towards Syria. According to Peter Ratcliffe's Eye of the Storm, more than 20 SAS soldiers went missing inside Iraq at one time, but they managed to escape on their own initiative unlike B20 (Chris Ryan being an exception).        

  In 1993, 19 US soldiers and 2 allied forces' soldiers were killed in an operation to rescue the crews of two US Black Hawk helicopters shot down by the Somali militia and armed local fighters. What was planned to be an hour-long rescue operation ended up as an all-night battle, and the bodies of the US soldiers were mutilated and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. This incident is said to have made the then US President, Bill Clinton, very reluctant to take on the terrorists such as Al-Qaeda. This is an example of how dangerous a rescue operation can be.