Today, as it is Remembrance Sunday, I am sharing my thoughts on SAS: Bravo Three Zero by Des Powell and Damien Lewis. My thanks go to Sophie Ransom and to publisher Quercus for the gifted copy of this truly fascinating book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
‘A must read. Honesty, integrity and real experience that puts you in the thick of the action.’ Billy Billingham
There were three patrols that fateful January 1991 morning: Bravo One Zero, Bravo Two Zero and Bravo Three Zero. It was the opening hours of the Gulf War and the SAS were flown deep behind enemy lines to hunt down Saddam’s Scud missiles, the use of which threatened a Third World War.
The men of Bravo One Zero stepped off the chopper, took one look at the flat desert devoid of any cover and decided no way were they deploying into all of that. But Andy NcNab’s famed Bravo Two Zero patrol did deploy, with fatal results – all bar one being captured or killed.
And then there was Bravo Three Zero. These men were different. Thought differently. Acted differently. Treating as gospel the SAS’s saying ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’, they deployed with vehicles, and while there was nowhere to hide they could make a dash for the border if desperate.
Even as warnings came in that McNab’s patrol was on the run, Bravo Three Zero remained undetected – the furthest Coalition forces behind Iraqi lines. Slipping through enemy positions, a string of targets were taken out. But with the desert turning bitter and snow starting to fall, they were forced to fight a running battle against the elements as much as the enemy.
Though overshadowed by the fate of Bravo Two Zero, the achievements of this highly-decorated patrol are the stuff of elite forces legend. Now, for the first time, SAS veteran Des Powell reveals their story in gritty, blow-by-blow detail. Written with acclaimed military author Damien Lewis, this is a tale of edge-of-the seat daring deep inside enemy lands. Brutal, savage, unrelenting – prepare to be blown away, in a tale that proves utterly the SAS motto – who dares wins.
It’s not often I read anything biographical, or, at least, not often that I review what I have read. It’s not as easy as talking about fiction – about the rhythm of the story, the pacing, the way in which you like or don’t like the all action hero or the evil, and the often exaggerated enemy. This is real life. Someone’s story where there is no right or wrong – just fact. In the case of SAS: Bravo Three Zero that story belongs to Des Powell, and his fellow soldiers from the SAS who formed one of the earliest Patrols to enter Iraq at the start of the Gulf war. Now people are probably far more aware of one of their fellow patrols, Bravo Two Zero, their story having been immortalised in the media and in print already, but the story of Bravo Three Zero is every bit as fascinating, and illuminating, and from the very start of this book I found myself drawn in and focused on every single page.
Told in first person in an almost conversational style, it was so easy to fall into step alongside Des Powell and his regiment as he navigates his way through that fateful, and almost fatal, mission into Iraq to hunt down the locations of Saddam Hussein’s scud missiles. As a unit who almost didn’t get deployed to Iraq, originally due to remain in the UK on counter terrorism duties, we join the Powell and his fellow soldiers as they learn of their impending deployment, as they engage on pre-mission training, much condensed, and as they make those first moves behind enemy lines. Interspersed with this story are some of the key moments in Des Powell’s career, from his initial attempt at selection for the SAS – which, aside from the intensive and gruelling exercises he needed to endure, ended in pretty grim fashion – through to some of the happier moments in his private life and the near miss moments in his career that make you wonder just how many cats he had to barter will to obtain some of their extra lives. It certainly seems as though he used a good number up without even making it into combat.
This is a very honest recounting of Bravo Three Zero’s mission into Iraq, not holding back on the moments of conflict that occured between the team as the tension, and the intensity, of their situation saw tempers flare, even as body temps plummeted. But it also stands as testament to that band of brothers mentality that is shared by those in the armed forces. The camaraderie, the slagging’ as they call it, and the naturally banter filled rivalry between the different sections of the Armed Forces. For what is undoubtedly clear from this first hand account is just what each of the people in Des Powell’s patrol had to endure as a result of their mission.
We often hear on the news about the lack or resource, the poor quality of the equipment that troops are deployed with, and how it affects them and their morale. Here we get a ringside seat as the implications of poor intelligence, unsuitable equipment and unreliable communications links become abundantly clear. Compared to their American counterparts, the SAS, despite being one of the UK’s elite units, seemed like they were being sent to a gunfight with a taser. A short range, low voltage one at that. And the result is quite shocking. The risk to life is greater that it needed to be and what comes to pass is almost inevitable really. Faced with an unexpected terrain, freak weather conditions and useless vehicles (although ones that would prove to be live saving in spite of initial misgivings) this is a troop, a team of men, who gave their all and just got on with the job at hand. In spite of all of the trials they faced, the far-too-near death experiences, the determination and focus of this group of men is really inspiring.
As second in command of the patrol, Des Powell is well placed to share this story, and he really brings all of the individuals, their traits and quirks, but most importantly their singular intent to complete their mission, to life. The more I learned of their fate, of what they endured in those seemingly short, although to them infinitesimally long, days in Iraq, the more wide eyed I felt I became. There was a point near the end, when I felt almost gobsmacked and yet, to a degree unsurprised, by a certain revelation that is made, almost casually, about the failed comms links. It beggars belief that if might occur, and yet it somehow also doesn’t.
The book is subtitled ‘The SAS Patrol that got away – The Explosive True Story’. And it truly is a remarkable story, one that extends and has meaning far beyond that particular theatre of war. This is a totally honest, sometimes harsh, but definitely inspiring tale of a unit who made a significant impact upon the course of the Gulf War. Paying tribute to their fallen colleagues, and showing the honesty and integrity of the men who fought for each other, and for the sake of so many others, if you are in any way interested in military history, or just want to read about a group of determined, honour driven men who put duty before all else, I’d definitely recommend this book.
About the Author
After serving in the Parachute Regiment, Sergeant Major Des Powell spent twenty years in the SAS at the heart of the Counter Terrorism and Special Projects teams. A former PT instructor in 1 PARA, he became the Unarmed Combat and Fitness instructor for B Squadron, and pioneered HALO, HAHO and other covert airborne entry techniques. He was the second-in command of the Bravo Three Zero patrol in 1991.
Damien Lewis, is a Sunday Times no 1 bestselling author whose books have been translated into forty languages worldwide. For twenty years Damien worked as a war and conflict reporter for the world’s major broadcasters, reporting across Africa, South America, the Middle East and Far East winning numerous awards. Several of his books are being made into feature films. SAS Bravo Three Zero continues Damien’s iconic elite forces series: Churchill’s Secret Warriors, The Nazi Hunters, Hunting The Nazi Bomb, SAS Ghost Patrol, SAS Italian Job, SAS Shadow Raiders, SAS Band of Brothers and SAS Great Escapes.