WAR had started. We rapidly became swamped with
information and statistics – so many radars destroyed
there, so many aircraft hit by small arms fire, so many
sorties over Baghdad. Very little of it was verifiable
or attributable, and we fielded non-stop calls from the
UK which were just irritating; how many bombs have the
RAF dropped? How many US aircraft have been lost? The
truth was we didn’t have a bloody clue most of the time.
On the second night of the air war we had great
excitement. At about 0300 hrs we were notified of an
Iraqi missile launch against Israel. This in many ways
was the nightmare scenario because if Israel responded
there was a fear the Coalition’s togetherness might
itself not survive. We thought our Arab allies unlikely
to support an attack by their traditional enemy on one
of their own, albeit an unpopular and ostracised one.
After much scurrying to and fro and frantic phone calls
from the UK, we established that eight missiles had been
launched in all; three landed in Tel Aviv, two in Haifa,
two dropped short in Iraq and one was never accounted
for or confirmed.
These missile attacks had two fairly dramatic results.
The first was that in the HQ we got reports that there
might be some evidence of nerve agent at the points of
impact. This got us understandably twitchy (the news,
not the nerve agent). Our NBC officer was a relatively
junior Captain, but on his shoulders now fell the
decision whether or not we should start taking our
prophylactic medicine against nerve agent poisoning,
called NAPS.  With no time to refer to a higher
authority he quite rightly decided that we should start
taking our tablets straight away. The decision was
passed down to all 43,000 men and women of the British
contingent who also started on the treatment.
Meanwhile Israel had scrambled approximately 76 combat
and supporting aircraft to strike back immediately and,
unbelievably we thought, seemed to have secured
agreement to transit Syrian airspace to reach Iraq. The
Coalition and Israel then came to a speedy arrangement
over deconfliction of airspace over Iraq, and a line was
drawn down the chart in our Ops Room to show the
demarcation. Thankfully wiser counsel prevailed and the
Israelis never carried through with their attack, but it
was a close run thing for a moment or two.
The fourth night of the air war, that of 20/21 January,
was to be the most dramatic to date as far as we on the
night shift were concerned. As we arrived in the Ops
Room three SCUDs were fired by the Iraqis at Dhahran,
the main US port for disembarkation in Saudi Arabia, and
there were a few tense moments until we heard the US had
fired five of its Patriot missiles to intercept and that
they claimed that all the incoming missiles had been
All went quiet again until we went for our “lunch” at
midnight, taken as usual in the lean-to shack in the
back yard of the HQ. Word came of another missile alert
as we were savouring our sausage and chips (did we have
anything other than sausage and chips? I can’t remember
now), and then a cheerful clerk opened the back door of
the main building and told us that this time Riyadh was
the target. Quickly we scrambled into our noddy suits on
the spot as our food went cold, and then were treated to
the sight of three or four Patriot missiles being
launched to intercept by the US battery just up the road
at the airport.
Patriot missile launched to
attack a SCUD
boys went off and quickly broke through the sound
barrier with resultant sonic booms and then disappeared
into the clouds. It was a bit like Guy Fawkes Night for
a moment, and then we remembered that these SCUDs could
possibly have had chemical warheads so we masked up
quickly. At this point Richard A-F and I decided that
our proper place was in the Ops Room so we abandoned our
sausage ‘n’ chips and ran down the street towards the
As we did so, it appeared that an incoming missile was
intercepted and detonated directly over our heads - or
so it seemed – with a quite thunderous roar and flash of
red. It was a bit like being caught in the middle of a
severe thunderstorm, except the lightning flashes were
bright pink. I remember quite distinctly that the dust
in the street “bounced” at the point of detonation.
Awesome, as I would say if I were down wiv da kidz.
It became clear later on that the US missile expenditure
that first night had been enormously profligate and
extravagant; 35 Patriots fired to intercept just six
SCUDs launched at Riyadh by the bad guys. Command and
control of the Patriot units was apparently the problem.
There were three batteries of them around Riyadh at this
stage in the proceedings, but they were not yet
controlled centrally. The Patriot system was designed to
launch two missiles at each incoming unfriendly missile
to ensure a kill. Each of the three batteries tracked
the six SCUDs, and as there was no central fire control
system yet set up, each fired 12 missiles (one misfire)
at all six SCUDs.
The end result was a firework display which easily
surpassed the annual Firework Concert display at
Edinburgh Castle during the Festival, and which no doubt
eventually presented the Saudi government with a bill
far in excess of that justified by the actual threat.
According to the Washington Post , “A total of 158
missiles, which cost an estimated $1 million each, were
used to intercept the 47 rudimentary SCUD missiles
launched by Iraqi military…” during the course of the
war. Not all were targeted on Saudi Arabia of course,
with an estimated 24 Iraqi SCUDs aimed at Israeli
cities. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Funnily enough, this first raid on Riyadh gave a major
boost to those of us working in HQBFME. We all had been
a little bit ashamed of our cushy lifestyle whilst the
boys roughed it out in the desert. Now, however, we had
been the first to come under attack and, despite the
lack of any real danger, we could at least claim that we
had been fired at in anger. It may have gone some small
way to defuse some of the understandable resentment that
the front line troops felt.
For my part I lost no time in sending a signal back to
4RTR in Germany claiming to be the fist member of the
Regiment to have come under fire in the current
conflict, if indeed not since Korea. The message was
sent with my tongue firmly in my cheek and would have
been treated with the expected good-humoured derision
when received. We did feel, however, that we were now
really at war and that the conflict was no longer
something that we were seeing on CNN.
The following days and nights continued in a similar
vein. I got caught out again, this time on my own out in
the car, collecting a few personal things I had left in
the wrong place. As I drove back to the HQ the air raid
sirens started up again. All Hell was let loose on the
roads as Saudi drivers, never the most competent or
predictable at the best of times, went into a collective
blind panic. Ignoring all the road signs and traffic
lights – not to mention the speed limits – they drove at
breakneck speed with horns blaring in their unseemly
haste to get home or to the nearest shelter. In any
other circumstances it would have been mildly amusing,
but at the time it was all just a bit pathetic.
Later I calculated that up to that point the Iraqis
(pronounced “Eye-rack-ees”, by the way, with a south of
the Mason-Dixon Line twang if you’re a Gulf vet) had
fired 31 SCUD missiles and had killed one person; as a
military weapon in Iraqi hands the SCUD had proved to be
pretty poor, but they had considerable political impact
and an ever increasing amount of time and effort was
being committed to hunt them down. Their launches were
picked up immediately by US satellites because of their
firing signature, and the Hereford Hooligans (aka SAS)
were already deep inside Iraq trying to find them. But
still they came.
The air war had a way to run yet as the Coalition forces
continued to pour into the region for the by now
inevitable ground war. But more of that next time, plus
how I persuaded US General Norman Schwartzkopf that his
original plan was flawed and that I had a much better
idea of the strategic requirements.
To come in Part 24; more air war facts and figures, plus
my Grand Plan for toppling Saddam Hussein.
Agent Pre-Treatment Set.
 We were told informally that the Patriot missile
system had a kill rate of circa 70%, but in fact it was
probably closer to 17%!
 EFFECTIVENESS OF PATRIOT MISSILE QUESTIONED -
The Washington Post