Gulf War

First Gulf War: What Was It Like Entering Iraq Days Before The Conflict's End?

More than 53,000 personnel from across the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force took part in Operation Granby – the UK's contribution during the First Gulf War.

The operation was in response to the then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

Lieutenant Colonel Danny Wild is now the Commanding Officer of the Germany Support Unit in Sennelager, but during the First Gulf War he was a Troop Sergeant in D Squadron 14th/20th King Hussars, which was part of the 4th Armoured Brigade.

"Little did I know that we would end up there playing a part, but I knew that the West would probably have to do more than just discuss," he told Forces News.

Lt Col Wild explained that at first the squadron received orders to "possibly police the borders of Kuwait if Saddam would have withdrawn".

However, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the German-based 7th and 4th Armoured Brigades were identified as the best prepared for a military operation.

Preparing for action

The Gulf War veteran recalls visiting the empty barracks at Fallingbostel before being deployed on Op Granby and preparing machinery and equipment for the operation in the desert.

"We actually were spraying all of our equipment into the desert colour and preparing all the modifications for the tanks and all the other equipment to be desert-modified, ready for when they came off the ships."

In December 1990, the 14th/20th King’s Hussars and the 4th Armoured Brigade flew to the Gulf.

Saddam Hussain had ignored a final ultimatum to withdraw from Kuwait, which led to coalition air attacks that had began by 17 January 1991.

Gulf War Challenger 1
British military hardware was sent to the Gulf months before the UK joined the battle (Picture: MOD).

"Aircraft don’t take ground, don’t move people on, they don’t move an enemy on," Lt Col Wild told Forces News.

"At some point, when that was finished, we would be expected to play our part in removing the people of the Iraqi Armed Forces who were on the ground along the Saudi Arabian border –  which they'd massed on – and also in Kuwait."

As preparations continued in Saudi Arabia for the ground war, the Royal Artillery started pounding positions across the border in Iraq.

"If it wasn’t night bombing, it was day bombing with the Allies all taking it in turns of flying backwards and forward.

"Although I could never identify who it was or what aircraft it was, the sky was full of aircraft," the then-Troop Sergeant said.

Nuclear, biological and chemical threat

The Scud missiles used by the Iraqi Army were notoriously inaccurate and they set off warning alarms at the British tank positions in the desert.

The tank crews' biggest fear was that nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons would be used against them.

Scud missile alerts were often set off and played out "screeching" noises to alert the troops on the ground.

"It was a detector that the NBC sentry would have and that was our first line of defence.

"When that went off, everybody was getting their gas mask on and getting... the NBC filters going."

Lt Col Wild told Forces News "everybody" took the threat of a potential NBC attack "very, very seriously".

"I personally thought that [Saddam Hussein] would give us some of his NBC arsenal."

While they waited to move into Iraq, personnel were asked to write final 'blueys' – letters to be sent home to their loved ones, should they be killed in action.

"If anything would have happened to any of us, this last bluey would have been presented to your family and your loved ones back in [the] UK."

First Gulf War tanks
(Picture MOD).

Entering Iraq

In the final week of February 1991, the 14th/20th King's Hussars tank crews learned they were about to move into the country.

"At that point then you know that it’s imminent," Lt Col Wild said.

As he was waiting for his group to enter Iraq, he remembers being frightened, but focusing on getting through and then what was "going to be there" to face them.

However, when Sergeant Wild's Challenger tank rolled into Iraq, there was little sign of the enemy.

The Iraqi Army was at that time the fifth largest in the world, but it offered only token resistance.

"That first morning in Iraq [is] when we saw lots and lots of destroyed tanks, logistical vehicles... that had been pounded for a month," he said.

"As we came up to enemy positions they were quite keen to jump out of the holes in the ground in the middle of the desert that had been their home for God knows how long and they had been permanently bombarded.

"They were just wanting to surrender. I think they'd lost the will to fight."

There were minor skirmishes, but the only real hold-up was having to stop and disarm hundreds of surrendering Iraqis.

The conflict's end

Four days after they had entered Iraq, the order was given to "stop firing" and the war was over.

Lt Col Wild remembers feeling "relief and surprise".

"Relief that, if this is it, we've come through pretty much unscathed, and surprise that it had been four days," he said.

Danny Wild returned to Iraq in 2003, when Saddam Hussein was overthrown, but he had also been back to visit Kuwait.

"It makes me, for my little part, feel good because [the people of Kuwait] will never forget what we did as a nation for them."

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