I read Bravo Two Zero yonks ago. I also saw the film aged about 15. I lapped it up. It was a tale of derring do. It was Boys’ OWn stuff. A handful of plucky Britishers deep behind enemy lines wreaking mayhem among the enemy. It was not so far fetched as to pretend that no one on the British side was captured or killed. He could not exactly do that since it was announced by the government that some of the SAS were killed or taken prisoner. What I find astonishing was that they could fight dozens of Iraqis in daylight on open ground. In one of those firefights not one Britisher was wounded and the SAS charged an Iraqi armoured personal character. However, in my naivete, I did not disbelieve it.
I even met Andy McNabb when he came to my school to give a talk. He was short, personable and as hard as nails.
I lately read a book about Bravo Two Zero. Another SAS man wrote a book about it in 2002. This was 11 years after the Bravo Two Zero mission. He exposed what an utter balls up it was right from the off. McNabb disregarded much expert advice. He took the wrong kit. There may be some blame on his superiors but he messed but a great deal.
The objective was to locate scud launchers. This was so the air force could destroy scud launchers and their communication systems. The SAS were not tasked with destroying the scud missile launchers unless the RAF could not do it. As McNabb himself said at Cambridge the SAS is not about killing the enemy. If they wanted to kill enemy soldiers they would call in a bombing raid. The SAS’s goal is to surveil a target. It is to gather intelligence in a way that only a human can do within binocular range. In some situations a spy satellite or listening device will not cut it. The SAS is not primarily there to kill people but sometimes it will kill people when that is unavoidable.
Despite McNabb saying the objective is not to kill people according to him they killed hundreds of Iraqis. ”The REAL Bravo Two Zero” exposes this to be a lie. The mission was a cluster fuck. To cover up the comprehensive failure some fantastical tales of outstanding triumphs were invented. McNabb talked up the hardhihood of his men. Yes, they were SAS and far more gallant than most. But what McNabb claimed they did was just impossible in terms of loads they carried over great distances in terrible weather.
The author travelled through Iraq. He interviewed many Iraqi witnesses. He visited sites mentione d in the book. He found none of the blown out vehicles that McNabb claimed they destroyed. Nobody would have collected a totalled and burnt out vehicle from deep in the desert. There is every reason to believe that if the SAS had destroyed an Iraqi APC it would still have been there 11 years later.
The author was not totally credulous. He wondered whether Mukhabarat had got to the witnesses first. The Iraqi secret police could have controlled it all. They could have ordered them to tell a certain tale on the very real threat of death. They would have been briefed on what account to give. This did not tally with the tale they told. It did not suit Saddamist propaganda. He suspected his witnesses of lying about some issues. They probably purloined gold coins of a dead Britisher.
This is not to be utterly demeaning about McNabb and his men. They still did well to survive at all. I would not have done a hundredth as well. They showed resourcefulness, valour and immense reserves of energy. All the same it was still a fiasco. The objective was not achieved. 7/8 of the SAS patrol became casualties. McNabb is derided by former members of the SAS and there is a reason why. He led his men to calamity and then shamelessly lied about it. He scapegoated his dead comrade instead of raking responsibility himself.
The public were eager to believe this story. McNabb gave them what they wanted. They wanted heroes and extraordinary achievements – the SAS winning against the odds.
Overall, it is a farrago of lies. It reminds me of that well known adage: in war the first casualty is truth.