View Full Version : Strapped to Apaches and dodging fire, how troops recovered fallen comrade

01-17-07, 07:16 AM
Strapped to Apaches and dodging fire, how troops recovered fallen comrade

Declan Walsh in Islamabad and Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday January 17, 2007
The Guardian

It was an extraordinary end to a tragic operation. When Lance Corporal Matthew Ford was shot during an assault on a Taliban fortress last Monday, his comrades mounted a dramatic rescue mission that saw soldiers being strapped to the wings of helicopter gunships as they crossed a river under heavy enemy fire.

The remarkable mission, dubbed "Flight of the Phoenix" by some, did not save the life of the 30-year-old marine who, it turned out, had died instantly from gunshot wounds. But it may gain four courageous marines an honoured place in British military history books.

The drama unfolded during a British assault on Jugroom fort, a Taliban base in Garmser, a district of southern Helmand racked by violence. The riverside fort - a high walled compound ringed by watchtowers - had been under surveillance for more than two months. Military intelligence believed key Taliban leaders were hiding inside and that it was the command headquarters for insurgent activity across Garmser.

On Sunday night a 200-strong British force, led by Royal Marines, launched an operation to flush the Taliban out of the heavily fortified position. They started by launching a diversionary attack on other enemy positions to the north. Then at about 2am, they turned their sights on the real target. B1 bombers and 155mm artillery attacked as a company of marines from 45 Commando gathered on the western bank of the river, across from the fort.

Ground assault

They attacked shortly after dawn, storming across the Helmand river in a convoy of Viking amphibious vehicles. Apache gunships, Scimitar armoured vehicles and 105mm artillery provided covering fire. The commandos raced towards the fort walls, tumbled out of the armoured track vehicles, and started the ground assault.

But the besieged Taliban fighters proved resilient, and sprayed the Z Company marines with gunfire. Within minutes the British force suffered four casualties, mostly gunshot wounds. The commandos leapt back into their Vikings and retreated to the far bank of the river.

Moments later, commanding officers realised that one of their number was missing - Lance Corporal Ford. Reconnaissance aircraft found him lying outside the walls of Jugroom fort, on the far side of the river. It was not clear if he was alive. The soldiers prepared to return in the Vikings - a gambit that would entail enormous risk.

The Apache pilots hovering overhead suggested a less perilous but highly unusual move - they would bring the rescue squad across the river. Two Apaches landed and four volunteer marines strapped themselves to the aircraft wings using harnesses.

Dodging Taliban gunfire - and with four marines lying across the wings in the manner of the heroes of the second world war film Flight of the Phoenix - the two Apaches sped across the river and landed outside the Taliban fort. The marines unstrapped themselves and searched for Lance Corporal Ford. Having recovered his body, they strapped it to one of the Apaches and safely crossed the river.

Defence sources described the rescue as an unprecedented operation. Apaches cannot carry passengers - the small fuselage is crammed with instruments and weapons systems and can barely accommodate two pilots. But there are attachments on the wings to which soldiers can harness themselves in an emergency.


The army did not publicise the spectacular retrieval of Lance Corporal Ford's body in an official account of Operation Glacier Jugroom released last night. "Our intention was to show the insurgents that they are not safe anywhere, that we are able to reach out to them and attack whenever and wherever we choose. To that end the mission was a success," said Lieutenant Colonel Rory Bruce.

The identity of the four marine rescuers remains unknown. But despite their heroism the mission was a failure - the Taliban were not expelled from Jugroom fort, and their defiance may be a harbinger of more hard fighting to come.

Following last year's surprise Taliban resurgence, Nato forces across the south are bracing for an expected spring offensive that may start as early as next month. Some of the toughest action can be expected in Helmand. Already the British military has suffered the first two western combat casualties of 2007. Last Saturday Royal Marine Thomas Curry, 21, was shot during close fighting near Kajaki, in northern Helmand.

Last night friends and comrades paid tribute to Lance Corporal Ford. His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Dewar, said: "Lance Corporal Ford was a popular and gregarious young Royal Marine whose professionalism, reliability, and selflessness as well as his sharp wit marked him out from the crowd."

The eldest of three brothers, he was brought up in Immingham, Lincolnshire. His mother, Joan, said: "We are all devastated by the news of Matthew's death. He was a larger than life character who lived his life to the full. His love for life and his ability to make everyone laugh will always be with us."


01-17-07, 01:25 PM
Rescue-bid marines earn political praise
Evening Standard

The bravery of four Royal Marines who strapped themselves to the wings of helicopter gunships in a dramatic bid to rescue a colleague was hailed in the Commons today.

Tory leader David Cameron said the daring mission was a reminder of the "incredible professionalism" of the UK's armed forces.

The four commandos flew into a fierce gunfight in southern Afghanistan on Monday clinging to the stabiliser wings of two Apache helicopters in a bid to rescue Lance Corporal Matthew Ford. L/Cpl Ford, of 45 Commando Royal Marines, had participated in a 200-soldier assault on a Taliban fort in Helmand province.

When the Marines fell back to regroup they realised the 30-year-old section commander was missing and hatched the dramatic rescue bid. Four soldiers were strapped to the small side "wings" of two Apaches - which have no room for passengers - while a third provided covering fire.

They found and retrieved the body of L/Cpl Ford who had been killed instantly by Taliban fire. He was the second British serviceman to die in the country in three days, after 21-year-old Royal Marine Thomas Curry, of 42 Commando, was killed during a battle to clear Taliban positions on Saturday.

At question time, Prime Minister Tony Blair led tributes to the soldiers.

"They were performing vital roles in working towards a safer and more secure world for this country and for the whole of the global community. We are very proud of them," he said. Mr Cameron added: "I would also congratulate the Royal Marines on the bravery of their operation to recover Lance Corporal Ford's body.

"It was a reminder of the incredible professionalism of our armed forces."


Andy O
01-17-07, 04:55 PM
It is what being a Royal Marine is all about. Always look after your oppos, even unto death.

Andy O.

01-19-07, 07:57 AM
Leave No Man Behind
Strategy Page

January 19, 2007: "Leave no man behind" is one of those rules infantry units try to live by. In southern Afghanistan recently, British Royal Marines went to some extreme lengths to rescue one of their own. On January 15th, after 200 marines had assaulted a Taliban stronghold, they discovered, after they had left the area, that one of their men had been left behind. Realizing that speed was needed to rescue him, as there might still be Taliban in the area, they utilized the only helicopters available, three AH-64 gunships, to carry four marines back to the area. The other gunship would be used to provide fire support against any Taliban in the area. Since AH-64s only have room inside for the two man crew, the marines improvised harnesses on the helicopters two stubby wings. Rockets and missiles are usually suspended from these wings, so they can support the weight of a marine and his gear. The three helicopters quickly reached the scene of the battle, the four marines dismounted from the helicopters, and found the man who was left behind. He had been killed in the battle, and his body was lashed to the wing of the third helicopter, and all three gunships returned to their base. The incident will join a long list of bold improvisations by the Royal Marines.


01-19-07, 02:41 PM
What the Royals done there is Nails!! Hats of to them all.


01-21-07, 07:34 AM
Heroes of Helmand: the first amazing pictures

It was a daring rescue mission - two soldiers strapped to the wing pods of a helicopter, determined to bring back the body of a fallen colleague. Mark Townsend reconstructs the remarkable flight to Jugroom Fort

Sunday January 21, 2007
The Observer

Robert Magowan gazed over the parched flatlands of Helmand and wondered what might lay ahead. The lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Marines knew his men were preparing for a trip into the unknown, a mercy mission that has already etched itself into contemporary military folklore.

He had been told they were missing a man following a firefight that forced British troops to retreat from a dawn raid against a Taliban fort nearly four miles beyond the horizon.

Now in a remarkable sequence of images, the bravery of the men involved in one of the most extraordinary, but ultimately tragic rescue operations carried out by the British army in Afghanistan can be revealed. Military photographers chronicle how, in a feat never previously attempted, four Royal Marines strapped themselves to the wing pods of two Apache gunships and flew back to heavily fortified Jugroom fort in an audacious attempt to recover Lance-Corporal Matthew Ford.

The men are shown clinging to the side of a gunship as it rumbles just 100ft above the desert landscape at speeds of 50mph, lower than normal to avoid the effects of wind-chill during the Afghan winter.

Earlier, hundreds of British troops led by the Royal Marines had retreated back over the Helmand river before word spread that Ford was missing. An unmanned probe was dispatched to Jugwood, a Taliban stronghold ringed by watchtowers, the command headquarters for insurgents' activity across the district. An alert RAF soldier noticed an unusual light blob, just outside the fort's imposing walls. It was Ford. Retrieving the stricken soldier with Viking amphibious vehicles might cost more men.

A 39-year-old helicopter pilot, known only as 'Tom', said that strapping soldiers to the helicopter would be the quickest way to rescue Ford.

When the request for volunteers rang out, everyone in the Helmand Operational Post at Garmsar stepped forward for a mission that carried echoes of Saving Private Ryan, the Hollywood film in which a battalion risk their lives to rescue a soldier behind enemy lines.

'He's a Royal Marine the same as me - there was no way we were ever going to leave him, or anyone else, on that battlefield,' said Plymouth-based Sergeant-Major Colin Hearn, 45, of the Royal Marines landing force command support group. His friend Gary Robinson from Rosyth, Fife, added: 'I just wanted to get him back.' Shortly afterwards, both were strapped to a gunship.

On the other Apache, signaller Chris Fraser-Perry, 19, from Southport, a member of the Royal Marines for just 14 months, added: 'I just wanted to be part of getting him back.' He would be hanging from the outside of an Apache with Royal Engineers' Captain Dave Rigg, 30, from Newton Ferrers, Devon.

Minutes later the four were sweeping low over the river towards the fortifications of Jugroom. It was only then that Robinson appreciated the difficulty of their rescue mission. Strapped to the gunship's small wings and clearly visible from the ground, the men had no protection when Taliban snipers opened fire . 'It only really dawned on me once we cleared the river and were just about to land and I saw some muzzle flashes,' said the 26-year-old.

As the Apaches landed in a hail of fire, pilot Tom recalled being blinded by furls of black smoke billowing from the fort. As the other Apache landed close to where Ford's prone body lay outside the compound's perimeter defences, Tom made the decision to land within the pock-marked walls of Jugroom, raising a wall of dust.

'I thought that we'd probably got about two to three minutes at most with the element of surprise before they [the Taliban] would realise what was happening, and it was after we'd been on the ground for about three minutes that we were engaged.'

Gunfire came from a building to Tom's right, forcing him to radio his helicopter gunner, who began targeting the enemy snipers. Moments after, Tom watched the second Apache rise above the outer walls. Under a withering stream of fire, Fraser-Perry and Rigg had managed to retrieve Ford, tie him to their Apache and strap themselves to its fuselage before taking off.

Hearn, Robinson and Tom escaped soon after. The pilot remembers being so exhausted 'I was too out of breath to speak into the radio'.

But it could have been worse. When the pilot landed at the British army's main Helmand base, Camp Bastion, he had enough fuel remaining to fly for just two more minutes. Later that afternoon the men heard that Ford had died from his injuries. Those who helped to reach him have admitted they could not sleep in the nights that followed.

'The first night I was thinking if we could have done anything quicker, but I've had a word with the surgeon and his wounds were fatal. There wasn't anything we could have done,' said Tom.

Robinson offered the soldier's typically sanguine response to acts of heroism: 'I don't think it was heroic or dangerous in any way. I personally knew him, I served with him, but in my position any one of my colleagues would do the same.'

A memorial service for Ford was held the following morning just after daybreak close to where the Apaches that tried to save the 30-year-old took off. Plymouth-based Hearn said: 'There was a 10-minute service with a couple of readings, then a two-minute silence and some prayers, which I think was closure for the men.'


01-21-07, 12:52 PM
I left the Royal Marines in 1984 after 26 years service and thought that I'd seen the full gamut of heroic inventiveness,this recent showing of spirit from Royal Marines and other services give me a great feeling of pride, mingled with sorrow at the continued giving of young lives.


Andy O
01-21-07, 01:17 PM
Throughout the history of the Royal Marines there have been many documented instances of bravery, this action will surely be added to that list. Let us not forget the brave actions of the army personnel involved in this recovery. Each and everyone brave men.

Andy O.

01-21-07, 01:33 PM
Here is a link to the video footage;


01-21-07, 06:08 PM


01-22-07, 08:01 AM
Dramatic helicopter rescue photos released
By Martin Beckford

Last Updated: 10:01am GMT 22/01/2007



01-22-07, 12:21 PM
Thanks for posting the stuff, Ellie. Condolences to Matt's family and beers for life for the three 45 cdo booties, the 59 cdo engineer and the AAC pilots.

02-17-07, 11:19 AM
Its great that the threads of loyalty and insanity still runs strongly in the Corps.
I read of the 'holiday camp' at ITCRM (?) and thought the Corps had gone soft. I'm glad to be proved wrong.