Gulf War

First Gulf War: Veteran Army Commander Recalls Conflict's 'Apocalyptic' End

A former British Army officer who served during the First Gulf War has recalled the "apocalyptic" scenes he witnessed at the conflict's end.

Operation Granby encompassed the British contribution to the First Gulf War and saw fighting conditions unfamiliar to many in the Armed Forces.

Now, 30 years on, an Army commander has spoken to Forces News to share his memories of the war which followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

The then-Brigadier Patrick Cordingley commanded 7th Armoured Brigade during Britain's biggest armoured deployment since D-Day.

More than 30 nations took part in the US-led mission against Iraq in 1991, with fears growing that President Saddam Hussein may use chemical weapons against the coalition troops.

"Chemical warfare was not unknown to us because we had done NBC [nuclear, biological, and chemical] training through all our military careers," he told Forces News three decades on.

"But, suddenly, when it was for real, it became rather frightening."

The unique threat of anthrax and other non-conventional weapon stockpiles meant vaccinations for many troops on Op Granby.

Meanwhile, personnel had been unprepared for life and war in the desert.

Mr Cordingley said: "When we were sent out there we didn't have the right kit at all.

"We didn't have the right uniform, the right sort of boots, and even our tanks didn't have the right equipment inside those, as well, to cope with all the dust."

UK Government and business swiftly set about addressing many of these technical challenges

The veteran commander recalls how had been warned of dangerous elements with the tanks used by his troops.

He was asked to ensuring volatile ammunition "bag charges" were separated by spacing them out within the vehicles to avoid disaster, without telling his personnel why he was giving that order.

Tanks deployed on Operation Granby in the First Gulf War (Picture: MOD).
Tanks deployed on Operation Granby in the First Gulf War (Picture: MOD).

"Tank soldiers are not stupid and they would know something was up," he reflected.

He refused to give the order, but it meant live-fire training took on an entirely different weight in Mr Cordingley's mind, with him fearing a collision between the tanks could result in an "appalling" explosion.

Such disaster did not unfold, and the British contingent on Op Granby increased.

After three months' training alongside the US Marines, 7th Armoured Brigade was withdrawn from the combined force, to the dissatisfaction of Mr Cordingley.

"I said 'Look, we've trained with these people for three months and now you're pulling us away. Is that really a sensible thing for us to do?'.

"To be honest, I was just told to shut up and get on with it."

Air attacks on Iraq and Kuwait began the war in mid-January 1991, while the ground offensive got under way the following month.

Supporting coalition efforts to destroy the well-prepared Republican Guard, the second line of enemy defence, UK troops protected the right flank of the US VII Corps before going through the breaching themselves, travelling through a cleared minefield.

Having waited for six months in the desert, the intention was now to fight into Kuwait and box in the Iraqi opposition.

"We didn't face much resistance in the first 24 hours," Mr Cordingley said, adding that superior tank power had contributed to a loss of Iraqi "will".

The British forces defeated the equivalent of three Iraqi armoured divisions in about 66 hours, capturing more than 7,000 prisoners.

Personnel then had to rush to cut the road between Kuwait and the Iraqi city of Basra to prompt a ceasefire.

They were met with an "apocalyptic" scene of thick smoke from oil wells that had been set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces as they left the country.

Having helped to drive out a military that had occupied Kuwait illegally, Mr Cordingley described an "honourable moment to stop" on the 28 February 1991.

"I think we all felt enough was enough, and let the politicians' diplomacy sort out what's going to happen next."

Major General Patrick Cordingley was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery and leadership during the First Gulf War, and now describes his memories from 30 years ago as "incredibly vivid".

"I went back to Kuwait a year ago and went up to where we ended up and it all came flooding back.

"It was just an extraordinary experience where a bunch of people got together and, I'm sure any soldier would tell you this, that sense of camaraderie, the sense of what we'd all done together, the pride in what we'd all done, and just... it was a success."

Listen to the story of the First Gulf War, told by those who were there. Decision-makers, military commanders, soldiers, sailors and air personnel reflect on their roles in the conflict, 30 years on.

'GRANBY: The Storm in the Desert' is available from Friday 15 January, wherever you get your podcasts and on

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