42 was my old mob
before yah get too silly read on.
Juliet company â 42Commando RM
By Cpl Cowe
Patrols in the form of Mobile Operations Group (MOG) East,. have seen J Coy Gp operating the length of the Saigen Valley for periods of five to ten days at a time.
The Task: Conduct a Combat Recce of additional checkpoints to the east of Gereshk in the vicinity of Habibollah Kalay, an area renowned as a Taliban stronghold and the scene of bitter resistance in previous actions. You will not find the term Combat Recce Patrol in any pamphlet and it is not taught at Lympstone; what it basically entails is tipping up in the back yard of the enemy and waiting for a reaction.
The Plan: J Coy Gp, including 2 x 105mm guns from E Tp 79 Bty were split into a Northern and Southern group; the Northern group consisting of 1 Tp, 2 Tp and Coy Tac HQ, mounted in VIKING and two WMIKs. (Long wheel based Landrover with Weapon Mounting Installation Kit) were to patrol along the Nahr-E-Boghra Canal, whilst the Southern group were to establish a gun line to the South West of Gereshk and 3 Tp (Fire Support Group) were tasked to provide overwatch of the target area and preventreinforcements coming from the infamous area of Zumbelay to the East. At the time this was the most ambitious operation carried out by the Company and the only time a deliberate action had been conducted in a known hostile area of the 'green belt'.
Preparation: The OC warned us all about maintaining our professionalism, but we did not need telling twice as the Company carried out its battle preparation in its quiet manner. At the Company parade the Troop Sergeants checked the flap sheets and a communication check was carried out as normal; the final checks on ammunition and weapons were done and the OC was ready to move. The normal banter between the section commanders had now stopped, somehow we all felt and knew that something was going to happen that day. However, nobody could have guessed what actually lay ahead.
The Move In: The day started badly for Sgt Willie Whitefield. In an unforeseen incident the bar armour protecting his side of the VIKING cab was ripped off, and now lay in the sand, a mangled heap; shaking his head he remounted his wounded steed, and set off.
Those who know Gereshk understand that anything can happen east of the dam, so it was no great surprise to find a body lying in the road close to the release point; this later turned out to be a missing civilian contractor, executed by the Taliban. 3 Tp were set in overwatch with Cpl Coles' WMIK providing arcs over the dam to the North and Cpl Bailey's WMIK facing East, silhouetted as the sun rose over the sleepy compounds and signs of life began to appear.
A thrown VIKING track delayed the move in by 20 minutes; however, as dawn was breaking and a layer of mist blanketed the ground, the Northern group continued its move along the canal to the target area.
Contact Wait Out... At 0647hrs, the Company, with Cpl Thompson's WMIK leading, was engaged on three sides from numerous firing points by a heavy weight of accurate Mortars, RPG and small arms fire.
The reality of what actually was happening started to sink in; the Company had not only had a contact but were stuck on a single track in a Taliban ambush! Small arms and RPG fire tore into the areas around 1 Tp's location. Cpl 'Tug' Wilson fell out of the VIKING cab into a ditch, as an RPG exploded on his vehicle. He spent the next hour and a half bare headed, shouting at a very busy VIKING Commander to throw him his helmet, the VIKING Commander screaming back at him to 'shut the bleeding door properly'.
On the main canal track 2 Tp had neutralised one RPG firing point and pushed forward to engage the enemy on 1 Tp's right flank, having moved about 200m they were engaged by a further two firing points. This stage of the fight was to last about two hours, winning the firefight alone took 25 minutes. Quoting an observer from 3 Tp, it was 'an awesome display of fire power, and utter carnage within a grid square, everyone was firing'.
The Battle: The cliche 'be careful what you wish for' has become commonplace during the frequent dinner table discussions and exaggerations of previous contacts, but in this case it was very true for the young 3 Troop Commander, 2Lt 'Pickles' Law RM, who was looking on in awe at the amazing spectacle of tracer rounds, mortar and artillery fire that filled the sky. Any feeling of guilt about not being in the thick of it along the canal was soon far from his mind as an RPG whistled a few feet over his VIKING and one of his WMIKs reported 10-15 enemy 200m to the East reinforcing a well defended trench, and engaging with RPG and small arms fire.
Soon there was a hellish rate of fire let loose by both sides with enemy rounds striking the steering block and gun mount of Cpl Coles' WMIK and RPGs whistling past Cpl Bailey's head as he gave target indications to his gunner. All three Tps were now in contact and fighting separate Taliban positions. With direct fire from the 0.5cal not successfully destroying the enemy engaging 3 Tp, Mne Talbot with Mne Moncaster leopard crawled out of cover to fire a Javelin missile at the trench, calmly locking on to heat sources as enemy fire landed between them. With the trench system neutralised, the Javelin team crawled back into cover and there was a brief respite in the contact.
Along the canal the fighting was intense; Cpl Thompson's WMIK crew were all smoking, they were down to 20% ammo, Mne Beagles was firing the Minimi from the drivers seat and Mne 'Afghan' Steve Davies was cutting down a building with the 50 Cal. Tommo was deaf, he had burst an eardrum.
Cpl Mick Cowe gave an impeccable fire control order to LCpl Coe, 'Bang the ILAW down there John'. Grenade rounds were fired into compounds and irrigation ditches to suppress enemy firing points. Sgt Whitefield (smiling now), and Mne Sam Vocea, unleashed salvos of 51mm mortars.
The VIKING and WMIK crews provided devastating covering fire and were re-supplied by the troops as they used ammunition at a rapid rate. Cpl Ads Lison while seen stretching to reach his GPMG, the little fella was heard shouting 'I've done five grand already'. An RPG exploded next to Cpl 'Kibbler' Matthews and his section, shrapnel hitting him in the arm; later at FOB Price it would require Savlon and a plaster! Mne Tatboy' Fair, bringing up extra link, said 'I hope we aren't pinned down here much longer, that canal looks ******** cold'. All this time the OC Major Ewen 'Col Kurtz' Murchison RM, his VIKING also hit by a RPG, was bringing in death from above using mortars, artillery and air. All of these assets throughout were excellent, with artillery fire at one point hitting targets between the two Close Combat Troops. Well done guns! Every time a target was neutralised another popped up. At Company Main, CSM Marty Pelling RM was organising the ammo re-supply whilst LMA Al McNeil and Mne Coleman put on their gloves and had the crash bag ready.
Exploitation: It was now daylight and attack helicopters were circling the area. Dozens of empty ammo liners littered the area. The trees to our front were virtually cut down with compounds and fields smouldering. 1 Tp had now fought their way out of the initial contact point and were getting Quick Battle Orders (QBOs) to assault an enemy compound from 2Lt 'Pig Man' Hughes. Looking at Tug Wilson, Mick Cowe pointed out that he might want his helmet for this. Under a heavy weight of suppressing fire, 1 Tp advanced and conducted a 'hard knock' clearance of a number of compounds with HE and Phos grenades. On being asked if it was okay to have a grenade to lob into a compound, the wise Corporal replied, like Jedi Master to pupil, 'Here you go mate, use two'. The last compound contained a substantial weapons cache and IED factory.
This had definitely been a high priority Taliban hideout; the weapons, ammo and equipment were recovered to FOB Price for exploitation by the Weapons Intelligence Section. Concurrently 2 Tp were ordered to push on to the sluice gate which channels the Helmand River into the canal, and is also a known Taliban firing point.
The Troop pushed further east and were suddenly engaged by numerous firing points to the north, east and south, including one on the sluice itself. 2Lt 'Dickie' Sharp's chosen men pushed into alleyways and compounds and returned fire. Supported by Apache gunships firing Chain gun and Hellfire, 2 Tp engaged multiple positions. Now everyone had had a near miss, or a surreal experience; Cpl Nobby Hall's section witnessed a dead Taliban stand up after being shot and Mne Steve Dounias fell off an assault ladder as an RPG detonated on the supporting wall. After a heavy exchange of fire, Sgt Nige Quarman commented that he thought 'we may have wound them up a bit!' 2 Troop surrounded on three sides, but still winning, were given the word to withdraw.
The Royal Engineer, attached to the Tp to assess potential checkpoint sites, said that we were not worry that he didnât get to the target: he would write the report stating it unsuitable due to excessive incoming! On 3 Tp's position the enemy were trying to use dead ground to crawl closer to friendly call signs firing a heavy weight of RPGs and small arms. Enough was now enough, the enemy were clearly not playing the game and so inorganic weapon systems were brought into play. Cpl Heath, who remained exposed throughout the contact accurately calculating target grids, successfully brought 81mm and 105mm onto the enemy trench and compounds.
The Bl bomber had the final word. JTAC Cpl Larry Lamb coordinated the dropping of a range of ordinance, including a dramatic finale of 3 x 2000 lb bombs in a 'stick' onto the stubborn enemy; the trench was finally silenced. To quote Larry... 'Nasty... but problem solved.' The Company withdrew on foot clearing compounds on the route back. The VIKING providing intimate fire support, when they reached a safe distance artillery fell on the positions that were still firing at them.
The Aftermath: A lot of different emotions came out during the first few hours. No one showed fear at the time. The funniest thing was that even at the height of battle, everyone was shouting at each other saying how hoofing it was, laughing, giggling and making a joke of the situation. You may as well laugh when things get tough, you will only cry if you do not. Bootnecks are good at that and it is a great pressure relief.
The bond within Juliet Company yet again shone through. The noise of battle is the one thing everyone will remember; you cannot hear anything, especially on the net, but something inside your body kicks in and you get on with the job in hand; everyone switches to autopilot and the training takes over.
During the course of the four-hour battle, there were many individual acts of bravery. Everyone performed to the highest standards; those in command made the correct decisions; those who followed instructions did so impeccably. It is not about winning medals, for you must be alive to wear them. 'We are what we do' is about holding your head up high and looking after each other. Once again the men of our Company, Juliet Company, returned unscathed
All arms commando course? If they read this they would be there in droves.