By Daz Morris
Seaking Crew: Lt Cdr Peter, 'Bong' Nelson (Royal Australian Navy), Lt David Westley RN, Leading Aircrewman Darryl Morris and Cpl, Darren Sheffield RAF medic.
Background: During Operation Granby, (AKA Desert Storm), the Support helicopter force, middle East, (SHFME), comprised Chinooks and Pumas of the RAF, Ground attack lynx and Gazelle of the AAC and twelve Seakings of the Royal Navy made into two 6 helicopter squadrons, 845 and 848, (846 was on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Argus sailing in the Arabian Gulf as a hospital ship).
848 was a war squadron at the time, made up for the conflict and comprised personnel from across the fleet.
The RN squadrons, known as the Junglies, normally supported the Royal Marines and were an integral part of 3 Commando Brigade RM.
When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990, the naval helicopter force seemed to be overlooked until just before Christmas that year. 845 were given the movement order to fly out on the morning of Jan 4th 1991 with 848 following up the next day. We arrived at the main airport at Al Jubayl and then sent by bus to the cargo sheds at the port to be processed as 'in theatre', and then we were dispatched to 'the Rezeyat,' a hotel complex that used to house the foreign oil workers. We spent a fairly mundane few weeks there until sent north to King Khalid Military City, (KKMC).
For the next few weeks we carried out training missions with the tank troops, the medical teams and did medevac cover for the artillery fire missions immediately before the ground offensive.
It was during a Casevac cover that this story is about:
Main: On the night of 24th Feb, 1991, two Seakings and crews moved to a FOB to cover two fire missions, immediately before the 7th and 4th armoured divisions rolled forward over the 'berm.' We were at LS Spectre, west of Hafar-al-Batin, where the Ghurkha Logs Regt. a small medical unit and an operations team from the support helicopter units were located.
The helicopters were positioned away from the tents to avoid sending the lot across the desert when we took off; this afforded us a clear view of the MLRS strike followed by the heavy artillery. The fire missions started at midnight, which left us in awe at the fire power being wrought against the Iraqi ground troops. You couldn't help feeling a mixture of sorrow and fright at the sight of these huge missiles as they left the vehicles and streaked out over the desert. The strike went on for about 30 minutes and then broke for a short time before starting again for a shorter time. There was a break then for about 20 minutes and then the heavy artillery opened up. The guns were situated about 4 miles east of us, but felt closer as the ground shook and the noise reached us. For three ten minute periods the guns fired and then all was silent.
At this point we thought our job was over, so we lay down in the back of the cab, (helicopter), and tried to rest. At about 3:30 in the morning, the matel phone rang and summoned the boss, Lt Cdr Nelson to the briefing tent for a mission. Only the boss went to the tent while the rest of us, readied the aircraft and started the engines.
The boss returned with the mission which we quickly went over before getting off. We were to carry out a casevac to a Regimental Aid Post, (RAP) at a forward position. It appeared that as the army went over the berm, there was none or very little resistance to the initial advance. This meant that the troops had pushed forward a lot further and objectives were achieved quickly. The Brit units, encountering little return fire, turned right across the Wadi-al-Batin to their new objectives and entered mid western Kuwait and it was there they started taking more return fire.
We got airborne in a clear night and headed north following the logs train behind the front line troops. Not very far north the sky started to get black and it became very hard to see much further ahead. The smoke from the oil fires to the east of us was severely restricting our forward vision and obstructing any ambient light to allow the night vision goggles to work properly. At that time the Seaking helicopters were not fitted with a good infra red forward focusing light sufficient for us to see well enough. It was almost as if a thick black bag had been folded around the aircraft and we were flying blind.
The GPS computer that we had fitted was a brand new retrofit with which we had been experiencing many glitches. This started to pose problems and dead reckoning navigation was relied on heavily. We reached the first turning point and turned east to cross the Wadi into Kuwait. To our one o'clock there was a battle raging and several explosions were observed. The cloud base lifted here and ambient light from the oil fires and various vehicles provided us enough light to speed up.
The RAP was only 15nms inside the Kuwaiti border and to say we just happened upon it was almost correct. As the cloud base lifted, the GPS corrected itself and the dead reckoning put us in the locale we needed. The tents and vehicles of the RAP appeared; obvious because of the big Red Cross on the side of the FV432's used by the medics.
We landed as close to the tents as we could without blowing them away and then I went out to see how many casualties we had. Two from the Staffordshire regt, one with a sucking chest wound caused by shrapnel and one with upper body shrapnel wounds, not serious. We also had an Iraqi who had received serious shrapnel to his buttocks and had to lie face down on the stretcher.
There was a short delay as the casualties were still receiving attention and then loaded onto the aircraft. Drips were quickly strung up and we took off to reverse our course. Because we didn't know too much about the condition of the Staffs guy with the chest wound a quick decision was made to try and speed things up by taking a short cut. The boss asked for the directions to the Wadi where we'd decided to drop into and fly low level back to the Field hospital to the east of Hafar-al-batin. I shouted that the Wadi was now 11 miles in his 2 o'clock and to head 250. the time was now about 5:30 and the sun was still of no use to us and this time going away from the oil fires etc we had no light clues to go by, just an oily blackness to fly into.
At only five miles to go to the Wadi the sky opened up with tracer arcing towards us. There were multiple weapons being used but due to the blackness of the night and us having no lights to show where we were, the shooters were firing at sounds. The boss made a quick direction change to close the Wadi at 90 degrees and we dipped out of sight, (or sound) of the shooters. Several shots were seen to go over us, but we were now in the relative safety of the Wadi.
As we flew south, south west, we encountered several Iraqi units that seemed to be packing up shop and at least two that were holding hands in the air as though to surrender to the aircraft.
We arrived at the Field hospital in the early hours of 25th Feb and discharged our patients to them.
After returning to LS Spectre we debriefed and had breakfast. The story is fairly plain with regards to action, but to fly like we did with extremely poor vision was amazing and very bad on stretched nerves as the crew all constantly monitored timings, navigation and more importantly the instrument panel for height above ground.
The boss was awarded the Air Force Cross for his flying and was really deserved.