My last RAF tour on 5 Squadron with the F3 Tornado
Twenty years ago at the begining of August Iraq rumbled into Kuwait and the World stood back to see
what would happen next ? At that time I was at RAF Coningsby flying the Tornado F3 fighter, Monday
to Friday and then at the weekends up, up and away on the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial
Flight to all the summer airshows.
Personal plans were for me to start work as a Flying Instructor for the Royal Saudi Air Force in
September and prior to that I was going out to Cyprus for a couple of weeks doing Air to Air gunnery
and then come back in time to have my swan song with BBMF on our annual end of season jaunt to
the Channel Islands.
So I’m at BBMF looking at the details of this last trip when I bump into the Station Commander who is
also on the Jersey trip with me. I asked him if he had any word on the Kuwait Invasion as from a
personal experience I had been involved in a near full scale attack on Iraq back in the 60’s when an
Iraqi platoon had crossed the Kuwait border. The UK has always had a treaty with Kuwait so I was
surprised that we were as yet uninvolved. Thinking back to the horrors of what might have been in the
60’s certainly put a little chill down the spine.
Early one morning in Cyprus the sirens start wailing and very soon the station is ablaze with lights as everyone is up and getting to their place of duty as quickly as possible for what we are all expecting is
just another NATO exercise. Arriving at the Squadron things are not quite the same and I can see
armourers loading full pods of rockets and conventional bombs instead of the nuclear monsters which required jacking the aircraft up to get the nuke in the bomb bay. All very strange!
RAF Akrotiri Strike Wing Canberra in Cyprus
A little while later all four of the bomber squadrons are addressed by the Wing Commander who tells
us the big picture. Being a very junior member of the squadron, and knowing roughly how many
serviceable aircraft we could muster I’m pretty confident that I won’t be going anywhere but that all
changes in a flash when the running order is put up! Each squadron has 10 aircraft and allowing for
those in servicing and deep rectification I can’t see us fielding more than about 30. The plan is 5 flights
of 6 aircraft with one of my mentors, Brian Stokes, leading the first wave. The Wing Commander is in
full flow when Brian interrupts him and says one of the crews on his flight is currently in the UK so he
is one crew short……… “Well, take Down then”…………GGGGuuulp!!
Back to quarters and pack a few things, write a quick note to Mum and Dad, and a lot of thoughts of
“Why Me?” and of course a large number of ramblings on would I still be alive at lunchtime? At 0550
out on the runway and last minute arming of the bombs and rocket pods when a landrover comes
roaring down the runway lights flashing and arms waving ……… several bodies leap out and heads
poke in the doors and tell us the good news……… “It’s all over lads, they have apologized !”
The B15 Canberra in 32 Squadron markings with the AS30 missile
Sometime before 0700 the Officer’s Mess bar is opened and the duty free flows freely and apparently
I was still alive at lunchtime as the party and carnage went on all day !
August 7th 1990 and still no word on anything so at 0400 on my birthday morning I’m airborne
en-route to Cyprus for the planned Air to Air. Usual first night arrival party and meet up with our sister squadron who are flying back to the UK tomorrow with the tankers that have just brought us in. 2100
and everyone is in a jovial mood when the two Squadron Bosses arrive looking very grim faced.
Seems 29 Sqn aren’t going home tomorrow and we will all be leaving on Saturday for Saudi Arabia.
5 Squadron en-route to Dhahran
Saturday and we arrive in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Sunday morning we are flying up on the Saudi
– Iraqi border. For the next month the military build up is unbelieveable as the might of the USA and
UK forces arrive. Our F3 fighters join the Saudi F3 outfit, also called 29 Squadron, and this is the
Squadron I’m due to join in September.
Dhahran arrival……. so this is it, my home for the next 4 years
29 Squadron RSAF Tornado F3’s ready to go
September arrives and now I need to get back to the UK to go to Britsh Aerospace at Warton in
Lancashire to get all my documemtation done including a Saudi visa in my passport. The only way
out, as I don’t have a passport, is to fly military so still fully armed with my PPK and two clips of ammo
its a Hercules flight back through Cyprus and then on to RAF Leeming in Yorkshire.
Armed and dangerous in Yorkshire
Having worn a shoulder holster for the last month it tends to become part of you so on arrival in the
UK I’m wondering what everybody is staring at everywhere I go. A car ferries me back to my old base
at Coningsby and I now need to hand in all my RAF flying kit and anything else I’ve acquired in 30
years of service…… Socks, aircrew, green and many other military descriptions are reeled off as we
diligently go through my loan card until I’m left with the weapon and ammo. I was issued with this in
Cyprus before leaving for Dhahran but the paper trail hasn’t caught up with my loan card so they have
no record of it and won’t take it back. Eventually get someone in charge to accept it and I’m weapons
free at last ! Another amusing finish to 30 years of loyal service to Queen and Country is that when you
leave the “Company” YOU get to give THEM a WATCH !! ……. yes, they want your aircrew watch back !
After 30 years service you give THEM a watch !
A week later, now with a Saudi visa in my passport, I’m back in Dhahran and join 29 Squadron RSAF.
Operation Desert Sheild is now gaining momemtum and more and more forces arrive including the
French who we have to explain to that their only use in this phase will be to fly as targets for us as they
are flying the same aircraft that they sold to the Iraqis ! Needless to say they didn’t take part in the
conflict that was to come.
Patriot missiles…….. the noise they made was horrific!
Very soon Christmas looms on the horizon and I’m looking forward to be going home and enjoying
the festivities and some great winter pheasant shooting. I also have to complete my RAF service
retirement documentation as I’m retiring on January 1st and will now be a civilian flying instructor
doing exactly the same job, and on the same salary, but will also get my RAF pension as well.
Clearly Saddam isn’t backing down, so a conflict is in the offing but now we have a different scene.
When I was in the RAF you just went where you were told, flew the missions as required and that was
that as it was what you had signed up to do. As a civilian there is NOTHING in my contract about
conflicts or going to war with anyone on their behalf ! Likewise all the groundcrew for all the Saudi
Squadrons are all ex military and also civilians. Therefore we all make some SERIOUS inquiries as
to what flight we are ALL booked on as when the war starts the civilian part of the airfield will be
Last flight out on Saudia……. when are you leaving ?
Upper management, also civilian, make some rapid phone calls as they realise what we are saying
means the entire might of the Saudi Armed Forces will come to a grinding halt !! The answer comes
back equally quickly…….. “How would it be if we TREBLED your SALARY ???” …….. we replied that
“That” just might crack it ! For once it seemed I had made the correct decision as my brothers in arms
who were still serving did not enjoy our pay rise as mercenaries.
The war, Desert Storm, comes and goes, we are bombarded with nightly news from CNN which
must have given away secrets on both sides as some of the reporting was too close to the truth.
Reporters from Baghdad, a drunk on the rooftop of the Hilton in Jerusalem, and our local clown in
Dhahran at the airport hotel…..”There are fighters overhead and we don’t know whose they are ???”
Nightly reports from Christiane Annnnannaaapooour or whatever her
We did have a few Scuds flying by and bits of one fell in the swimming pool outside my front door and
the only one that did any damage landed about a mile away. Prior to the conflict we did not expect our
Saudi hosts to take part but by now having gotten to know them there were several reasons they
fought and fought very well they did.
“Feeling lucky punk ? ……… go ahead make my Day !”
For those not in the know prior to the invasion of Kuwait Iraq had been at war with Iran for eight years!
As both Iraq and Saudi are Sunny muslims Saudi Arabia had funded Iraq for this conflict as they were certainly not fond of what they viewed as a menace just across the sea. Saudi had given Iraq enough financial support to equip everyone of their own armed forces with a personal M1 Abrahams tank.
Quite rightly they were less than impressed when they saw all the Iraqi hardware lined up on their
border and posing a huge threat to their oil. Saudi paid for the Gulf War by increasing the flow on their
main pipeline from 1/2 to 5/8. WE never quite understood Saddam’s logic of flying nearly all of his
best aircraft into Iran seeking sanctuary……. “the Mother of all dumb moves!” did he really think they
would give them back ?
Of course we can report all wars any way we wish and of course we are always right as WE have
God on our side but perhaps we should give this some thought……….. If you have a tiny nation and
pave the streets with gold through your oil revenue what happens when your little bucket of oil dries
up ? Well by the 1980’s we don’t have to drill straight down and if your neighbor has an even bigger
bucket you can drill down deep enough then drill sideways until you strike it rich……….. but what do I
know, I was only there, and if nothing else the TREBLE pay was well used on a very nice new kitchen,
and some rather expensive days pheasant shooting. Of course I got TWO of these, one as Squadron
Leader, and the other as Mr ! I guess the paperwork was a bit slow catching up with my retirement.
I got two of these, one for the Squadron Leader, and another for Mr Down
Santa, please can I have another can of World Peace ?