Gulf War

'It Became Very Real': Serving On RFA Argus During The First Gulf War

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 invading Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

By 17 January 1991, Op Granby had been launched, following a United Nations mandate.

In 1990, Commander Nobby Hall was "awaiting an appointment" to his first ship as PWO (Principal Warfare Officer).

He had just celebrated Trafalgar Night at HMS Dryad in Hampshire, before a sudden call meant he was offered a role as PWO/Ops Officer on Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus going out to the Persian Gulf.

"Yeah, I can do that," he recalls saying when he was told about it.

A quick flight to Gibraltar followed before Commander Hall joined RFA Argus as the ship journeyed East.

He told Forces News personnel on board were made up of a "very mixed bunch".

"Because Argus was going out in her role as principal casualty receiving ship, rather than her normal role of aviation training ship, we had a complete hospital unit embarked, so there were lots and lots of doctors, nurses, medical technicians," he remembered.

RFA Argus on Op Granby.
RFA Argus was deployed as a casualty receiving ship during Op Granby.

Cdr Hall recalled that they also had on board a Naval Commando Air Squadron, elements of Special Forces, the Royal Marine Band, a naval party "which I was the Ops Officer for", and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary crew.

In total, they were "about 500 people, all up" of "very mixed backgrounds".

As the ship travelled towards the Gulf, Commander Hall sensed "a lot of nervousness" among what he referred to as the "non-fighting arms on board".

After serving in the Falklands War, he decided to use his experience to help his new ship.

"I got everybody together in various groups and gave them a presentation on what the upcoming threats were likely to be, how we would handle them, what we were going to do in the case of an emergency, what we would do in the case of coming under attack [and] what we would do if we actually got hit," Cdr Hall said.

He said they "all took that in very well" and he felt he was "able to reassure them".

On arriving in the Gulf, he recalls watching as the American airstrikes started, with the planes flying overhead, and as "we got closer to where the actual action was happening you could see the flak going up".

"The Iraqis started firing their Scud missiles and we could watch them go flying overhead as well, so all of a sudden it became very real," he said.

In the end, three casualties needed treatment on RFA Argus, but they had been prepared for more.

Cdr Hall added: "When it started, exactly the same as the Falklands, everybody got on with it, everybody was calm, everybody was professional and the training kicked in.

"I was very proud of my team, at the end of the war, for what we'd actually achieved."

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, wherever you get your podcasts and here

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