Two months after 9/11, the British military was braced to foil any terrorist attacks against the UK. When British intelligence uncovered such a plot—a cargo ship bound for the English Channel carrying a suspect deadly chemical weapon—they amassed an elite team of SBS (Special Boat Services) and SAS (Special Air Service) soldiers to assault the vessel before she could reach London.
It was a mission that would eventually take a crack band of British and American warriors into the greatest battle of the Afghan Civil War—the massive bloody uprising by hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners within the walls of the ancient fortress of Qala-i-Janghi, and the ensuing eight-day siege. When the fighting ended, over five hundred of the enemy lay dead, more terrorists killed than in any other single battle in Afghanistan.
As always, “Damien Lewis takes his readers into the heart of clandestine battles as no one else seems able” (Frederick Forsyth, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Day of the Jackal).
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||13 MB|
|Note:||This product may take a few minutes to download.|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was 22 December 2001, just over three months after the 9/11 terror attacks on America, and the ultimate nightmare scenario was unfolding before the eyes of Her Majesty's security services. A cargo ship believed to be carrying a massive chemical weapon was steaming its way towards London. For days now, British intelligence agents had been tracking the vessel as she made her way up the coast of Europe. They suspected that she was crewed by terrorists and on a mission to hit London. If the attack went ahead, thousands could be poisoned and a huge swathe of the city left a devastated wasteland. As the ship steamed into the English Channel only Britain's elite special forces were seen as being capable of stopping her. The men of the SBS (Special Boat Service) and SAS (Special Air Service) were about to be called into action yet again.
At 6.45 a.m. on that cold December morning the men of the SBS were rousing themselves from their beds in preparation for heading into their Poole base, on the Dorset coast. Or at least those who were still on active duty were. Having just spent two hard months in the hostile wild lands of Afghanistan hunting down al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, many of the SBS lads had already left Poole for a well-earned Christmas break and were still wrapped up warmly with their wives or girlfriends at home in their beds. Nothing could have been further from their minds than a terrorist strike on London. And few could have imagined that they were about to be thrust into action yet again — on a life-or-death mission.
Earlier that morning SBS Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Gav Tinker, had been woken by a surprise telephone call. It came from the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR), Britain's national crisis control centre in London, staffed by key ministers and top military officials.
The CSM had been given a 'gypsy warning', an officers-only alert to a potential SBS operation. Gav Tinker had immediately driven over to the SBS's deserted base and started working the phones. With few of the soldiers around, the CSM was deeply worried about who the hell he could call in to man the forthcoming mission.
By 8.30 those SBS lads still on duty were rolling up at their Poole base, a series of dull grey hangars and prefab buildings clustering along the shoreline of Poole harbour. They were pitifully few in numbers. For the first time ever in the SBS's long and quietly distinguished history, the regiment's headquarters element (its command and control structure) had been deployed overseas, to the war in Afghanistan. And two of the SBS's three combat squadrons — M and Z, each consisting of some sixty-odd men — were still operationally deployed there. Only a handful of the men from C Squadron — the on-call counter-terrorism force based in the UK — were still on duty at Poole.
CSM Gav Tinker's short-cropped grey hair betrayed his age, as he was pushing fifty. But his lean frame and quick movements reflected the fact that he kept himself very much in shape. A forceful leader, used to getting his own way, he still believed himself as tough as any of the younger boys. At around 8.45 a.m. he headed over to C Squadron's 'den', where he found SBS Trooper Mat Morrisey just firing up the tea urn to get a brew on. In his late twenties, Mat was a short, stocky tree trunk of a man, with a shock of unruly dark hair. Originally from Lancashire, he had a gruff, northern manner, and he also had a reputation as a maverick in the SBS, an unconventional soldier with a willingness to try anything in battle. Mat still carried the scars from the recent hell that he'd been through in Afghanistan, where he'd fought a series of battles that had all but cost him his life.
Mat had immense respect for Gav Tinker. Gav was one of the 'old and bold', a career soldier who'd seen action with the SBS all over the world. More importantly, as far as Mat and the rest of the lads were concerned, he was a conscientious leader who cared deeply for the men under his command. The CSM treated them as thinking individuals, all too often a neglected aspect of command in the British military these days. Mat would have followed Gav Tinker anywhere if ordered to do so, and had already done as much in Afghanistan (or 'the Stan', as the lads like to call it).
C Squadron's 'den'— a makeshift bar-cum-canteen — was a product of the CSM's concern for the well-being of his men. Gav Tinker had recently decided that each troop needed an on-site caff-boozer — somewhere informal where they could wind down and chew the fat at the end of training sessions or operations. So he'd found three old huts on the base that the lads could rip to shreds and refurnish and rename as they wished. In keeping with the maritime traditions of the SBS — who specialise in fighting over, on or under the water — C Squadron's den had been christened the Toad, M Squadron's, the Frog, and Z Squadron's, the Newt. As soon as Mat caught sight of the CSM on this bleak winter's morning he knew that something was up.
'Look like you've just seen a bloody ghost,' Mat remarked. 'What's eating you, mate?'
'Mat! Thank fuck you're 'ere at least,' the CSM said, as he closed the door to the Toad. 'See you've still got that sweet tooth then, lad,' he commented, pointing at the bag of doughnuts that Mat had picked up on his way into work. 'I've told you before to lay off the lard. You'll be turning into a tubby fucker. Fat lot of good you'll be to the girls then, knowing how partial you are to 'em an' all.'
It was typical of the CSM that when the going got tough, he'd start cracking the jokes. It was all part of the SBS's way of doing things — to remain cool and to keep your sense of humour under pressure.
'It's me breakfast, mate,' Mat shot back at him. 'Anyhow, what's wrong with you? You look like death. Your old lady forgotten it's Christmas or something?'
'Very funny, lad,' the CSM grunted in reply. 'Well, if you thought you'd had enough action in the Stan, you don't know the half of it. Get a bloody load of this. We've been warned off for an immediate DAA [direct action assault] against a terrorist target. Ship it is. Steaming up the bloody English Channel right now she is, and stuffed full of God only knows what nasty shite.'
'Holy fuck, you're taking the piss, aren't you, mate?' Mat replied, a doughnut frozen halfway to his mouth in amazement. 'I mean, three days before Christmas an' all. Is nowt sacred?'
''Fraid I'm serious, lad. Just got the call from Whitehall. Look, al-Qaeda ain't going to put a freeze on ops just cos of Christmas, are they? Santa Claus and sleigh bells don't mean bugger all to them, do they? More 'n likely to go for a festive bonus, aren't they? And from everything I've been told about this one, it'll make 9/11 look like a bloody picnic.'
The CSM paused for a moment to let his words sink in. 'I want you to get on the blower and get every man and his dog back into base,' he continued. 'I don't care who they are, where they are, whether they've been in admin or stores or whatever for the last five years — I don't care if they've forgotten how to fire a bloody weapon even — just get the fuckers in. Cos what've we got around Poole at the moment, lad? Me, you, the cleaner and the regimental cat. And we ain't going to stop al-Qaeda's terror ship with that, are we? So get on the blower, smartish. Wake 'em up, drag 'em out of their beds, haul 'em in from their holidays — I don't care how you do it. Just get 'em in here quickly — cos this one's more 'n likely going to kick off tonight.'
'Holy fuck, tonight? Tonight? How many blokes d'you reckon we'll need? I mean, how many do we need to stop the bastards?'
'Look, it's a container ship, MV Nisha, or some such half-arsed name, steaming up the Channel bound for London she is. She's got some sort of improvised chemical weapon on board. Evil. Crew of sixteen or so. You do the maths. We need to hit it with overwhelming firepower. Swamp the fuckers with enough men so they don't know what's hit them — and before they can wake up to us being on to them and detonate the bloody bomb. Reckon we need sixty to seventy of us, minimum. I've got twenty-three SAS lads promised from Hereford who'll soon be on their way down to us. That leaves forty-seven blokes to find our end. Minus me, you, the cat and the cleaner, that leaves forty-three. OK? So get to it, lad.'
'Twenty-three SAS lads, did you say? They'll be about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. I'll just finish me breakfast and then I'll get the real boys in. This is a job for us lot, and no mistake.'
'That's the spirit, lad. And while you're at it, I'll be breaking out the stores. We'll be needing some serious hardware if we're going to mallet this lot good an' proper.'
'What d'you reckon the chances are of it getting the green light, boss?' Mat asked, just as Gav Tinker was turning to leave.
'From what I've been hearing, I'd say we're 90 per cent on already. Make no mistake, lad — this one's going down.'
During Mat's seven years in the SBS they had done several phantom call-ins — where the men were rushed back to base for a mock counter-terrorism operation. So the mechanics of getting the lads in were well known. What made this different was the timing — three days before Christmas and with two-thirds of the SBS still deployed in Afghanistan. As he worked the phones, one half of Mat's brain was dealing with the requirements of the call-in, while the other half was drawing up a mental checklist of everything that would have to be done before they hit that ship.
At the same time, a thousand questions were running through his mind. From where would the mission be launched? Would they hit the ship by boat from the sea, or by air in the choppers? Exactly what sort of explosive device was on board? And how would the SAS lads going into action alongside them perform? The SAS were brilliant when it came to airborne and land-based missions, but seaborne assaults weren't their speciality. This was the SBS's terrain.
The SBS is arguably the most elite and the most secretive special forces unit in the world. In contrast to the SAS, their exploits receive little, if any, publicity. Their motto is 'By Strength and by Guile' and in contrast to the SAS the unit prefers to operate wholly in the shadows. They specialise in fighting over, on or under the water. While they are experts in water-borne operations, they are trained to operate in any conditions. Their combat record has caused a great deal of rivalry with the SAS. In spite of this the two units regularly train together, with practically every exercise having both SBS and SAS teams present. And they deploy together in joint combat missions.
The SBS and SAS train all the time for attacking an enemy vessel. Most of this training is done on HMS Rame Head, a ship anchored in Portsmouth harbour. The Rame Head was first built to serve as an escort ship during the Second World War. In recent years she was turned into a giant firing range, having a huge steel box resembling an aircraft hangar bolted on to her deck. This is where the SBS carry out their ship-assault exercises, using live bullets and explosives. They rehearse hostage-rescue scenarios, close-quarter battles (CQB), ladder ascents and anchor-chain climbs. They practise the explosive method of entry, where shaped charges are used to take off doors and windows, and they even blow entry holes through a ship's bulkheads.
While HMS Rame Head is perfect for practising assaults on a stationary target, it can't be used to rehearse a direct action assault on a moving target at sea. For this, the SBS run two main exercises every year, code named Exercise Bitter Fruit and Exercise Sea Harvest. These are carried out jointly with the SAS and are made as realistic and lifelike as possible. The exercise takes place on a fast, hydrofoil Seacat ferry when the ship is closed to passengers and has a minimum crew on board. The SBS and SAS use their helicopters and rigid inflatable boats to assault the ship from the sea and air. The exercise takes place just before Christmas, when the weather can be guaranteed to be at its most atrocious, so testing the men to their very limits.
But training apart, the men of the SBS and SAS had never carried out a DAA against a hostile ship in the whole history of British special forces. The MV Nisha operation was going to be a first — a baptism of fire for those mounting the attack.
By 5 p.m. on that grey December day a mixed squadron of SAS and SBS men had been assembled at the SBS's Poole base. Twenty-six were from the SAS and the rest were 'Shakyboats', as the SBS jokingly call themselves (SBS=Shaky Boat Service=Shakyboats). Normally, there would have been at least twenty-four hours put aside prior to launching an attack for assault planning, rehearsals and intelligence gathering. But with the MV Nisha making a steady sixteen knots she was now no more than two hundred miles away from her intended target. In less than thirteen hours the ship would be in London, primed to launch a catastrophic and deadly attack. The threat assessment was so severe that it was decided to take her out as soon as possible, before she had the chance to get any closer to the British coastline. And so the assault force was told that they would be hitting the vessel at dawn the following morning.
The SBS and SAS soldiers loaded their specialist assault kit, weapons, ammunition and boats on to twenty Mercedes-Benz vans, which were fitted with two-way radios and souped-up engines. With blue lights flashing they set off at top speed, a police escort leading the way. As the traffic was forced to the roadside, the convoy of elite special forces sped past. They made the forty-mile drive to RAF Yeovilton — a helicopter base from which they would launch their attack — in record time.
The convoy pulled into Yeovilton at 5.45 p.m., and the men began slinging their camp beds in one of the giant aircraft hangars. Scant information had been given out about the forthcoming mission but, somehow, word had got around about the basic nature of what they were up against. As the men waited for the mission briefings to begin, the atmosphere was electric, buzzing with excitement in anticipation of the coming assault. By now, the mission to take down the MV Nisha had been given its code name: Ocean Strike.
In the makeshift ops room the officers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) were establishing the nerve centre of the assault. Banks of computers, whiteboards and projector screens were being set up, and aerial photographs and sea charts pinned on to noticeboards. Experts from MI5 and MI6 were present, as this had by now become both a foreign and domestic terrorist incident. The SBS and SAS lads called these intelligence agents the 'Green Slime'. The Green Slime had managed to rustle up some ship's plans showing the layout of the MV Nisha, and these would be used to plan the ship assault.
The special forces soldiers would be operating in four-man units, called 'fire teams'. As the leader of his fire team, Mat set about checking over all the gear that they would need for the assault. Different levels of force are authorised before any SBS/SAS operation goes ahead. The normal method of entry is manual, using crowbars and sledgehammers to break down doors and windows. Very rarely is the explosive method of entry given the green light, but on this mission the men had been cleared to use every means available to them.
With the briefing still seeming a long way off, Mat set about making up the explosive charges that he'd need for the assault. Without Mat having had to say a word, the lads in his fire team had followed suit — each of them making up the half-dozen explosive charges that they'd need for the assault.
Mat glanced at his watch: it was 6.45 p.m. Surely the mission briefings would be starting soon? He was more than a little anxious to learn exactly what they were up against. He looked around at the men in his team. Whatever role they were given on the assault, it was a great bunch of guys to be going in with. They'd been together now for approaching two years, operating as a close-knit unit, an instinctive band of brothers.
Jamie 'Bomber' Bryan — in his late twenties and a gentle giant of a guy — was one of Mat's closest mates. Like Mat, he was a northerner and shared the same dour sense of humour. A six foot two, dark-haired Yorkshireman, Jamie had a quiet, almost shy manner. He rarely swore, and always thought about what he wanted to say before he opened his mouth. He had kind eyes ringed with laughter lines, and used his hands a lot when trying to explain things. Also like Mat, he had a massive capacity for beer drinking and was known to get all emotional when drunk. But underneath his quiet exterior Bomber Bryan was known to be an absolute killer when the red mist of combat went down. Jamie was Mat's right-hand man — the one person he would trust more than any other. If Mat ever had to choose someone to fight back to back with, Bomber was his man.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bloody Heroes"
Copyright © 2006 Damien Lewis.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Author’s Note
- A Note on Security
- 1: Surprise, Surprise
- 2: Ocean Strike
- 3: First into Action
- 4: In Harm’s Way
- 5: Death Valley
- 6: Village People
- 7: Mountain Inferno
- 8: No Surrender
- 9: Ultimate Betrayal
- 10: Mission Impossible
- 11: Two White Doves
- 12: Behind Enemy Lines
- 13: Dawn Awakening
- 14: Ten Men Down
- 15: Night Stalkers
- 16: Fire and Water
- 17: Fort of War
- 18: Endgame
- About the Author