Iraq’s illegal occupation of Kuwait in August 1990 caused the leading Western powers, with widespread assistance from Middle Eastern states, to mount a major operation, launched from bases in Saudi Arabia, to expel the Iraqi invaders and restore the legitimate Kuwaiti government. Among the forces engaged were elements of the British Special Air Service Regiment, which operated largely behind Iraqi lines. Sergeant Andy McNab (a pseudonym) was one of the most enterprising SAS soldiers in the campaign. Here he describes an engagement with Iraqi troops inside enemy lines.
People put down a fearsome amount of covering fire. You don’t fire on the move. It slows you up. All you have to do is get forward, get down and get firing so that the others can move up. As soon as you get down on the ground your lungs are heaving and your torso is moving up and down, you’re looking around for the enemy but you’ve got sweat in your eyes. You wipe it away, your rifle is moving up and down in your shoulder. You want to get down in a nice firing position like you do on the range, but it isn’t happening that way. You’re trying to calm yourself down to see what you’re doing, but you want to do everything at once. You want to stop this heavy breathing so you can hold the weapon properly and bring it to bear. You want to get rid of the sweat so you can see your targets, but you don’t want to move your arm to rub your eye because you’ve got it in the fire position and you want to be firing to cover the move of the others as they come forward.
I jumped up and ran forward another 15 metres — a far longer bound than the textbooks say you should. The longer you are up the longer you are a target. However, it is quite hard to hit a fast-moving man and we were pumped up on adrenalin. You’re immersed in your own little world. Me and Chris running forward, Stan and Mark backing us up with the Minimi [light machine-gun]. Fire and manoeuvre. The others were doing the same, legging it forward. The rag-heads [Iraqis] must have thought we were crazy but they had put us in the situation and this was the only way out.
You could watch the tracer coming at you. You heard the burning, hissing sound as the rounds shot past or hit the ground and spun off into the air. It was scary stuff. There’s nothing you can do but jump up, run, get down; jump up, run, get down. Then lie there panting, sweating, fighting for breath, firing, looking for new targets, trying to save ammo ...
Once I had moved forward and started firing the Minimis stopped and they, too, bounded forward. The sooner they were up ahead the better, because of their superior fire-power.
The closer we got the more the Iraqis were flapping. It must have been the last thing they expected us to do. They probably didn’t realize it was the last thing we wanted to do.
You’re supposed to count your rounds as you’re firing, but in practice it’s hard to do. At any moment when you need to fire you should know how many are left, and change mags if you have to. Lose count and you’ll hear a ‘dead man click’. You pull the trigger and the firing pin goes forward but nothing happens. In practice, counting to thirty is unrealistic. What you actually do is wait for your weapon to stop firing, then press the button and let the mag fall, slap another straight on and off you go. If you are well drilled in this it’s second nature and requires no mental action. It just happens. The Armalite [automatic rifle] is designed so that when you’ve stopped firing the working parts are to the rear, so you can slap another mag on and let the working parts go forward so that a round is taken into the breech. Then you fire again, at anything that moves.
We had got up to within 50 metres of them. The APC [armoured personnel carrier] nearest me started to retreat, gun still firing. Our rate of fire slowed. We had to husband the rounds.
The [Iraqi] truck was on fire. I didn’t know if any of us was hit. There wouldn’t have been a lot we could do about it anyway.
I couldn’t believe that the APC was backing off. Obviously it was worried about the anti-armour rockets and knew the other one had been hit, but for it to withdraw was absolutely incredible. Some of the infantry ran with it, jumping into the back. They were running, turning, giving it good bursts, but it was a splendid sight. I fancied a cabby myself with my 66 [portable anti-tank rocket, shoulder-launched from a tube], and discovered that in the adrenalin rush I’d left it with my bergen [pack]. Wanker!
At the other end, Vince was up with Legs and still going forward. They were shouting to psych each other up. The rest of us put down covering fire.
Mark and Dinger stood up and ran forwards. They were concentrating on the APC ahead of them that they had hit with their 66s. They’d scored a ‘mobility kill’ — its tracks couldn’t move, though it could still use its gun. They were putting in rounds hoping to shatter the gunner’s prism. If I’d been in his boots I would have got out of the wagon and legged it, but then, he didn’t know who he had pursuing him. They got up to the APC and found the rear doors still open. The Iraqis hadn’t battened themselves down. An L2grenade was lobbed in and exploded with its characteristic dull thud. The occupants were killed instantly.
We kept going forwards into the area of the trucks in four groups of two, each involved in its own little drama. Everybody was bobbing and moving with Sebastian Coe legs on. We’d fire a couple of rounds, then dash and get out of the way, then start again. We tried to fire aimed shots. You pick on one body and fire until he drops. Sometimes it can take as many as ten rounds.
There is a set of sights on the 203 [grenade launcher] but you don’t always have time to set it up and fire. It was a case of just take a quick aim and get it off. The weapon ‘pops’ as it fires. I watched the bomb going through the air. There was a loud bang and showers of dirt. I heard screaming. Good. It meant they were bleeding, not shooting — and they’d become casualties that others now had to attend to.
We found ourselves on top of the position. Everybody who could do so had run away. A truck was blazing furiously ahead of us. A burnt-out APC smoked at the far-left extreme. Bodies were scattered over a wide area. Fifteen dead maybe, many more wounded. We disregarded them and carried on through. I felt an enormous sense of relief at getting the contact over with, but was still scared. There would be more to come. Anybody who says he’s not scared is either a liar or mentally deficient.