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 Browning pistol, H&K 9mm 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 inch by inch 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’s Hyde Park as my mate initiates the explosion. Why? Because that device was the key explosion on the command “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 here 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.”
13 thoughts on “IRANIAN EMBASSY SIEGE, LONDON 5thMay 1980”
Written with your usual honesty and clarity Bob
Good timing for this article – just reading Rusty Firmin’s book. I was fascinated by that event. At 7 years old this was simply the goody’s taking on the baddy’s. I then had the excitement to learn that a relative was in the SAS but that was spoken about as “he’s away on business”, sometimes for long periods. Going to look at the Iranian Embassy became my request for our annual visit to London, Then I could write about it at school – would love to see how I interpreted it back then. Fast forward a number of years, and I’ve read a few books about this event. I was talking to my Dad about this earlier, How different would things be today? Would you have had that secrecy, or would someone from the public have blown the cover with a simple mobile phone? Some over excited reporter saying the wrong thing? As you say, could have been a very different outcome. Thankfully it wasn’t!
Absolutely Claire, even back then the BBC were filming it and commenting live at the Government’s (but not our) wishes!
What did you think of the film ‘6 Days’ Bob, did you like it, was it a good portrayal ?
Hi Simon, I haven’t watched the film mate, therefore I’m afraid that I can’t comment..
Well it’s on Netflix if you fancy it, wasn’t a bad film quite interesting on the side of the met police hostage negotiator Max Vernon. I remember the images of the assault going out on TV when I was a kid, incredible images, unforgettable really, of the black clad men ! Very much enjoyed your book ‘The Circuit’ by the way, top read 👍🏼
Thanks very much Simon, much appreciated.
Well well Mr Shepherd there’s s turn around….. very nice to read and as you say…. it was another life time….. I bet all of your friends and followers are chuffed to be reading your accounts on that historical day….. I know the boys from II and I include myself in saying… it is a privilege, pleasure and indeed an honour to know a great worrier … I guess we all hope there will be a few more snippets from a Hereford Holigan 😂
A honest and thoughtful comment Bob.
As many of us who have served. We all play our part, no matter how humble that would be. My mate drove the team down from Hereford to Regents Park (As attached RCT).
Im privileged to have also been with your guys in Belize ( Jungle phase ) and Belfast. Even though I had to get the brews in. Always treated as an equal.
Here is to the guys who didn’t beat the clock, And to the current and future generations of the Regiment.
All the best.
Big thanks for this Steve, cheers…means a lot.
Random question – are you referred to as Bob C in Rusty’s book The Regiment?
Hi Claire, no…that would be someone else. I haven’t read any SAS books, so I’ve no idea if I’m mentioned in any of them?