Given the length of time now passed since the siege (Operation Nimrod), and the fact that tactics, equipment and the overall modus operandi has evolved tremendously by “assault teams” world wide. Also given the books, magazine write ups and films on the subject, it’s time for me to take a moment of self pride and explain in brief form my wee part played.
I operated in the Regiment from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, almost 20 years. In that time I was honoured to have met the founder of our Regiment David Stirling, a good few of the originals from WW2, and many of my instructors and managers had served in Malaya, the Radfan and Borneo. Op Storm in Dhofar was still ongoing, and the “new kid on the block” so to speak was the extremely secretive anti terrorist team…still a world leader back then, even in it’s simplest form.
My first “team” had me wearing DMS boots, a black boiler suit (no body armour), NBC hood, S6 respirator, military aircrew gloves, 9mm pistol, H&K MP5 with a lamp post strapped on top of it for a light, a large personal radio, Scotland rugby jersey (under my boiler suit) and of course black underpants and socks. Over the coming years, the kit got better, the tactics continued to naturally evolve, mainly through learning from our own mistakes, and we continued to be the world leaders in explosive entry methods for some time despite the attention of other SF units from around the world.
On this day, 5th May 1980, I was a member of an assault team assigned to clear the top floor of the Iranian Embassy. In truth, I never seen an angry man, let alone an angry “Iranian terrorist.” My heart was thumping, my eyes streaming…due to the gas managing to eventually penetrate my respirator, we cleared the floor, and eventually worked our way down to contact the teams on the floor below.
Pretty boring and not really worth writing about, eh?
Well, not all the glory and self fulfillment comes through “slotting the enemy.”
My task prior to the STAND BY…STAND BY…GO was to place the charge (talked about by many others over the years) on the centre of the main skylight that sat above the grand spiral staircase and could be seen from the ground floor upwards. The skylight was in a rectangular concrete recess sunken to about 8 feet from the line of the roof.
The charge was basic and would be laughed at today. On one end of the charge was a good mate, initiator in hand ready to fire. The other end me…slowly lowering the charge from the rooftop while looking all the way through the skylight past the floors to the ground floor. My concerns…one of the terrorists looking up at the skylight and me being compromised…or someone else being compromised at an entry point while I’m slowly lowering down the explosive, which would mean GO being called early, and me being blown to pieces with my hands flying over West London as my mate initiates the explosion…why? Because that device was the key explosion on GO in order to cause everyone inside the Embassy to have the same immediate reaction and all look inwards allowing for valuable seconds at the mass entry points for the other teams to enter the building.
Thankfully neither happened, it all went to plan on my side…and the rest has been told by many forms as I mentioned earlier.
For weeks and months afterwards I would spend time just sitting down and looking at my precious hands.
I’m honoured to have had the chance to serve in 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, and at a time where I was privileged to have met the founder, the originals, and then myself becoming one of the pioneers of the day as a serving member. Just as the earlier pioneers did such a great job of passing their knowledge on to me. The Regiment continues with today’s serving members, the new pioneers….
A moments thought for some of my awesome mates who were with me that day, now over 38 years ago, but sadly no longer with us today.
“We are the Pilgrims, Master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.”