Authors: Dan Mills
'Their neighbourhood. Don't want foreign jundi in it.'
'OK, fine,' I said. 'Tell them they have nothing to worry about. We've only come to have a word with you and we'll be leaving now.'
But instead of passing on my message, the cops jumped on their motorbike and sped off.
It didn't take a brain surgeon to realize that things were obviously in danger of going Pete Tong. It was time to back off. We could argue the toss over our right to walk the public streets another day.
'Back to your vehicles lads, and mount up. Top cover first,' I ordered.
That's when H spotted the gunman in the top window.
As he shouted the warning, the four angries were already slamming the compound gate shut with them inside it. More likely than not, it was one of them who then chucked a grenade over the wall.
It exploded largely into Daz. That seemed to be the cue for the now five gunmen in the sinister-looking building to open fire in unison. Hot lead was everywhere. Daz struggled a few yards towards me, and then collapsed into the middle of the street.
Jesus, how the fuck had we got ourselves into this?
Rounds were pinging off the tarmac. But Ads and I somehow escaped them and hauled Daz into the back of the Snatch. The patrol's two trained medics jumped on top of him immediately and began slapping field dressings on his multiple leg wounds. The first batch instantly turned bright red, and had to be doubled up with a second lot immediately. Daz was in a shit state and there was no mistaking it. But I managed to get a half-smile out of him with a bad joke. That was a good sign. So I threw him the VHF radio handset and told him to send the contact report
back to the Ops Room. Staying occupied was the only thing that would keep him awake and take his mind off the pain.
Daz and the two blokes working on him were in the back of the Snatch, and the other six of us were sheltering behind it. We were getting our arses kicked, and it was my responsibility to do something about it. Sharpish.
I did a rapid 360 scan of our position. As chance would have it, my Snatch had parked up perpendicular to a long alleyway of two chest-high walls at right angles. It was about six feet wide, and there were courtyards and dwellings off it all the way down it. And it was just ten feet away.
'Everyone not helping Daz behind that alleyway wall. Now.'
Nobody needed to be told twice. And for a few seconds, it seemed to work. Once we were out of sight, the rate of fire from the building eased up. We were now about 80 metres away from it, with a large empty garden between us and them.
As the blokes got their breath back, I peeked up over the wall's edge with my SA80 at my shoulder to have a look at the building. It was a good job I did.
A gunman was busy climbing over the building's exterior compound wall. In his thirties, he was dressed in beige-coloured dish dash. He had a scruffy dark beard, beady eyes, and an AK47 in his left hand. Moving as stealthily as he could, he dropped down into the street and began creeping up towards my Snatch. It was obvious he thought he was about to steal a number on us. Sneak up on Daz and the medics and finish them off. I will always remember the exact expression on his face. It was one of complete and total intent.
Oh really? You think you're a right crafty little sod, do you? Well I'm not having any of that.
And that's when I knew that I was going to kill someone for the very first time.
I tracked him through my Susat sight to within 20 metres of the Snatch. Most of his body now filled the lens. It was far enough. On single shot mode, I squeezed the rifle's trigger three separate times: bang, bang, bang, soaking up the recoil comfortably into my shoulder. The three 5.56mm rounds tore straight into him, penetrating with dull thuds. His body soaked them up like a sponge. The first two went in just below the neck and the third right into the middle of his head. On the spot, he tumbled to the ground in an unnatural, lifeless heap.
Straight away, I raised my rifle and put a quick burst over the building's wall in case anyone else had the same idea.
To my right, Ken Tait had watched it all. Half in wonder, half in shock, he said: 'Jesus, his whole head has come apart.'
I felt an overwhelming need to shout. Only one thing came into my mind.
'Yes!' I screamed. 'Have some of that, you fucker.'
There was no chance to think about it. Even if I'd wanted to. After I opened fire all hell broke loose again. Gunmen in every available window in the building opened up on us for a second time. But this time, the boys had seen my lead.
Seeing one of the enemy go down liberated them. Everyone thought yes, get some of that. With their adrenalin soaring, they too all opened up in the direction of the building. Gunmen were crawling all over it now, at the windows, on the rooftops, on the top of the walls, and at the main gate. There were too many to count.
But the lads were on to them. The best training in the world had kicked in, and the battle was on. Coolly, seven
guns spotted for targets and engaged them with cold-blooded accuracy. With every SA80 banging and Minimis chattering along one long firing line down the alleyway wall, it made a deafening noise. The smell of cordite filled the air and burnt the nostrils. Every few seconds, a whizz of burning red phosphorus would zip through the air as a tracer round piled into the enemy's stronghold. Puffs of chalk and brick dust erupted off its walls around the windows as the lads honed their accuracy.
It was a good firing position. And after a small while, the targets started dropping. You knew when one of the lads had hit someone because they would let out a whoop in delight. It was too hard not to. Adrenalin, stress and fear were all working overtime at once.
Ads even managed to knock an enemy fighter straight off the roof with a direct hit in the chest from one of his UGL rounds. The grenade still exploded at the point where the bloke had been standing, but he was already long gone.
'Fucking 'ell, d'ya see that? Fucking awesome,' Ads shouted. He was sweating like an Eskimo in a sauna. We all were.
My mind was on a million things at once. As well as spotting for targets without showing too much of myself to the enemy, I was also trying to keep an eye out for the rest of the platoon and direct their fire when I could. Then there was keeping the Ops Room fully informed, and making sure Daz was still alive. And all the while, I had to scheme how the hell we were going to get out of there. I didn't have the time to be scared.
Ken scampered over to report what had just come over the VHF from the Ops Room. It explained a few things.
'Hey Danny, you know what that fucking building is? It's the OMS's headquarters. Some bonehead at Cimic has just
checked out our location with Abu Napa. Nice of 'em to tell us, eh?' he panted.
Jesus Christ. The OMS. Moqtada al-Sadr's pet loony tunes. We had unwittingly managed to put our heads right inside the lion's mouth at the very first available opportunity. No wonder they had taken exception to us snooping around on their doorstep. We must have looked like prize buffoons.
At that moment, two RPGs fizzed through the air in the direction of Daz's Snatch. It was still sitting outside the OMS's building about 60 metres away from us. The first missed and ploughed straight into some poor fucker's house instead and exploded. But the second was a direct hit. The explosion rocked it a foot into the air, before landing down on its wheels again. It set the Snatch on fire, and thick black smoke started billowing out from its engine casing.
Shit, another problem for us. We had some highly classified radio equipment in the back of it. We couldn't let it fall into the hands of the enemy. Somehow we had to get it back.
I made the short leap from the alleyway to my Snatch to check on Daz. His condition was worsening and he was drifting in and out of consciousness. Blood and discarded wrappers covered the floor and walls of the Snatch. The medics had done a good job. Field dressings had been tightly strapped all over his legs to keep pressure on the wounds, a jacket had been put over him to keep him warm, and a roll mat was under his neck for support. His eyeballs were all over the shop from the morphine. He would last a little bit longer like that, but not for ever. In terms of commanding the men, he was now clearly incapable.
I got on the PRR so everybody could hear it.
'Chris, you're now 2i/c.'
'Right. No problem mate, I'm right behind you.'
Chris knew what he had to do as second in command. He was a professional. Immediately, he starting scampering up and down the line to keep the boys' firing tempo up and help them spot for new targets.
But it wasn't just Daz I had to worry about in the Snatch. There was Sam too now. As its driver, it was Sam's job to stay with the vehicle and man the comms. But Sam was going down with shock.
The vehicle was totally exposed and presented a big target for the enemy. Bullets kept pinging off its armour. Sam had also seen what had happened to the other Snatch, and he didn't like it one little bit. His face had gone white as a sheet.
'Dan, I've got to get out of the fucking vehicle. I don't want to stay here.'
It's given the tag of armoured, but a Snatch is just a regular metal Land Rover base with a composite fibreglass shell bolted onto its back. The two rectangular driver and passengers' seats in the front give way on to a space like that of a small van in the back. In it are a couple of mini plastic seats, with double wooden doors that open outwards and two tiny windows at the rear, and a big square cut into its roof for the top covers.
The name comes from Northern Ireland which is where they were developed and used – to snatch the ringleaders of riots off the streets. They're liked because they are speedy, tough and reliable. But their downside is they're Spartan and pretty uncomfortable, and, worst of all, they won't protect you from anything more than a 7.62mm round. RPGs and shaped charges shred them.
Sam knew that too.
'No. I need you here, mate,' I replied, trying to keep my voice calm. 'Listen to me, I need you here for the following
reasons. You need to keep your eyes on Daz, you need to guard the vehicle so someone doesn't throw a grenade in the back, and I need you on that net.'
'Fucking hell, I've got to get out of this thing. Please Dan, let me go over to the wall with the others.'
'Sam, stay calm. Think about Daz.'
But he was too worked up to listen to reason. I tried to suggest a compromise.
'OK, mate, we'll do this. You get yourself out of the door on the right side in cover from the incoming, and sit down there behind the front wheel. I'll pass the handset out to you.'
He did it, and it seemed to calm him down.
'Good lad. Now shoot any fucker who comes near you.'
I ran back to the wall. We were still putting down good suppressing fire and they weren't getting anywhere near us. But we were also stuck. There were too many of us to get into the one remaining vehicle and we couldn't just leg it back to base through the streets
Black Hawk Down
-style. We had no idea what could have been waiting round every corner. And sooner or later, our bullets would run out.
Sergeant Ian Caldwell came on the VHF, so I leapt back over to the Snatch again to talk to him. He was the commander of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) tasked at Cimic to come and rescue us. A tall thin bloke like me but with a big nose, Ian was a good mate of mine. Also like me, he had a reputation for speaking his mind. He told me he was on his way in two Snatch Land Rovers. Good. We could certainly do with a bit of rapid help. I had already given the Ops Room the best roundabout route to get to us away from where I suspected there would be ambushes.
'You know the best way to come, Ian?'
'Yeah, yeah, the Ops Room told us. We'll be with you in five minutes.'
'Fucking brilliant. Do us a favour mate, put your foot down.'
Two minutes later, Chris was at the end of the firing line by my Snatch.
'Three Snatches, Danny. Just driven past our position.'
Blimey that was quick. And I thought Ian said he was only in two Snatches?
As they came up level with the OMS building, the vehicles drove into a fresh shower of bullets. The drivers immediately threw the vehicles around with a screech of tyres and they pulled up at the top of the alleyway.
'Cover them, lads.'
We had to put a lot of fire down onto the OMS to cover the Snatches' arrival. I slapped the rifle onto fully automatic and raked it with a full mag of rounds. That should get the fuckers' heads down.
As I turned round and ducked down to change the mag, a posh-looking bloke was crouching beside me. He was wearing just a T-shirt under his body armour, but no sign of any rank. I had been expecting Ian.
'Who the fuck are you?'
'Hello there. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Jonny Gray. I'm the Commanding Officer of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.'
'Oh, hello, sir. Erm, very nice to see you.'
'It looks like you're in a spot of bother. Can we help?' It was the sort of calm and convivial tone you'd use with someone who'd just got a flat tyre.
The colonel and his men were on their way back from training an Iraqi army battalion nearby. By total chance,
they'd just happened to drive straight into our fight. Now they were all clustered around the lip of the alleyway, watching us put the rounds down.
I gave him a quick sit rep, and asked him how many men and weapons he had.
'We're twelve chaps in three vehicles. You're in charge here, Sergeant, we're in your hands. Oh, we've also got a GPMG with us.'
This was gleaming news. I could do with a Gimpy. The General Purpose Machine Gun is a big old dragon that gives you some excellent fire power. Its 7.62mm rounds were going to punch much bigger holes into the screwballs we were up against than our SA80s.
'Right, bring that Gimpy over here and I'll place it, if you don't mind, sir.'
No sooner had the colonel scampered back to his men, than right round the corner came a dirty great big jock, well over six feet tall, with the machine gun in one hand and a big ammunition box of 800 rounds in the other.