Bravo Two Zero was the call sign of an eight-man British Special Air Service (SAS) patrol deployed into Iraq during the First Gulf War in January 1991. According to one patrol member’s account, the patrol was tasked to “gather intelligence; find a good LUP (lying up position) and set up an observation post (OP)” on the main supply route (MSR) between Baghdad and North-Western Iraq. According to another, the task was to find and destroy Scud (missile launchers) along a 250 km (160 mi) stretch of the MSR.
The patrol was the subject of several books, firstly patrol commander Andy McNab’s “Bravo Two Zero” (1993) followed by Chris Ryan’s “The One That Got Away” (1995). Accounts in both these books, as well as the account by the SAS’s RSM at the time of the patrol, Peter Ratcliffe (Eye of the Storm, 2000), did not always correspond, leading to accusations of lying from the media, the investigative novel “The Real Bravo Two Zero” (2002) by Michael Asher and a subsequent novel, “Soldier Five” by patrol member Mike Coburn in 2004.
For McNab’s conduct during the patrol he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, while Ryan, and two other patrol members (Steven Lane and Robert Consiglio) were awarded the Military Medal.
- Andy McNab (pseudonym), DCM, MM, patrol commander, former Royal Green Jackets. Captured by the enemy later released. Author of Bravo Two Zero (1993).
- Vincent (Vince) David Phillips, patrol 2IC, former Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Died of hypothermia during action, 25 Janaury 1991.
- Chris “Geordie” Ryan (pseudonym), MM, former 23(R) SAS. The only member of the patrol to escape capture. Author of The One That Got Away (1995).
- Ian Robert “Dinger” Pring, former Parachute Regiment. Captured by the enemy, later released.
- Robert “Bob” Gaspare Consiglio, MM (posthumous), former Royal Marine or Parachute Regiment. Killed in action, 27 January 1991.
- Steven John “Legs” Lane, MM (posthumous), former Lance Corporal of 9 Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers and former Parachute Regiment. Died of hypothermia during action, 27 January1991.
- Malcolm “Mal” Graham MacGown, BDSc, former Australian 1st Commando Regiment. Captured by the enemy, later released. Referred to as ‘Stan’ in the novels.
- Mike “Kiwi” Coburn (pseudonym) former NZSAS. Captured by the enemy, later released. Author of Soldier Five (2004). Referred to as ‘Mark the Kiwi’ in the novels.
In January 1991, during the prelude to the Coalition ground invasion of Iraq, B Squadron 22 SAS were stationed at a forward operating base in Saudi Arabia. The Squadron provided a number of long-range, similarly tasked teams deep into Iraq, including three eight man patrols; Bravo One Zero, Bravo Two Zero, and Bravo Three Zero. Asher lists one of the three patrols as Bravo One Niner, though it is not clear whether this is one of the same three listed by Ryan. This article refers to the Bravo Two Zero patrol.
On the night of 22/23rd January , the patrol was transported into Iraqi airspace by an RAF Chinook helicopter, along with Bravo One Zero and their Land Rover 110 vehicles. Unlike Bravo One Zero, the patrol had decided not to take vehicles. According to McNab’s account, the patrol walked 20 km (12 mi) during the first night to the proposed location of the observation post; however, both Ryan’s and Coburn’s accounts put the distance at 2 km (1.2 mi). Eye-witness accounts of Bedouin tribesmen, and Asher’s re-creation support the Ryan/Coburn estimate of 2 km (1.2 mi). While Ryan states the patrol was intentionally dropped only 2 km (1.2 mi) from the OP because of heavy pack weights, Coburn’s account suggests that the patrol was dropped closer than intended to the OP, due to a navigational error made by the Royal Air Force. This could account for the differences in the patrol members’ estimates.
According to both Ryan and McNab, the weight of their equipment required the patrol to ‘shuttle’ the equipment to the OP. Four members would walk approximately 300m, then drop their Bergens and wait. The next four would move up and drop their Bergens, and then the first four would return for their jerry cans of water and bring them back to the group followed by the second four doing the same. In this manner, each member of the patrol covered three times the distance from the drop off to the observation post.
Soon after the patrol landed on Iraqi soil, Lane discovered that they had communication problems and could not receive messages on the patrol’s radio. McNab later claimed that the patrol had been issued with incorrect radio frequencies; however a 2002 BBC report discovered that there was no error with the frequencies because the patrol’s transmissions had been noted in the SAS daily record log. Ratcliffe lays the blame for the faulty radios on McNab, since he was the patrol commander it was his job to make sure the patrol’s equipment was working.
In the late afternoon of 24 January, the patrol was stumbled upon by a herd of sheep and a young shepherd. Believing themselves compromised, the patrol decided to withdraw, leaving behind excess equipment. As they were preparing to leave, they heard what they thought to be a tank approaching their position. The patrol took up defensive positions, prepared their LAW rockets, and waited for the ‘tank’ to come into sight. The ‘tank’ turned out to be a bulldozer, which reversed rapidly after seeing the patrol. Realizing that they had now definitely been compromised the patrol withdrew from their position. Shortly afterwards, as they were exfiltrating (according to McNab’s and Ryan’s accounts) a firefight with Iraqi Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and other forces developed.
In 2001, Asher interviewed the Bedouin family who discovered the patrol. The family stated the patrol was spotted by the driver of the bulldozer, and not the young shepherd. According to the family, they were not sure of who the men were and followed them a short distance, eventually firing several warning shots, causing the patrol returned fire and moved away. Asher’s investigation into the events, the terrain and position of the Iraqi Army did not support McNab’s version of events, and excludes an attack by Iraqi soldiers and APC’s. Coburn’s version, Soldier Five, partially supports McNab’s version of events (specifically the presence of one Armored personnel carrier) and describes being fired upon by a 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun and numerous Iraqi soldiers. In Ryan’s version, “[MacGown] also saw an armored car carrying a .50 machine gun pull up. Somehow, I never saw that.” Ryan later estimated that he fired 70 rounds during the incident.
The British standard operating procedures (SOP) state that in the case of an emergency or no radio contact the patrol should return to their original infiltration point, and a helicopter would land briefly every 24 hours. This plan was complicated by the incorrect location of the initial landing site. The patrol reached the designated emergency pickup point, but the helicopter never appeared. Ratcliffe later revealed that this was due to an illness suffered by the pilot while en route.
Because of a malfunctioning emergency radio that allowed them only to send messages and not receive them, the patrol did not realize that while trying to reach overhead allied jets, they had in fact been heard. The jet pilots were aware of the patrol’s problems, but were unable to raise them. Many sorties were flown to the team’s last known position and their expected exfiltration route in attempt to locate them and to hinder attempts by Iraqi troops trying to capture them.
Standard operating procedures mandate that before an infiltration of any team behind enemy lines, an exfiltration route should be planned so that members of the patrol know where to go if they get separated or something goes wrong. The plans of the patrol indicated a southern exfiltration route towards Saudi Arabia. According to the SAS daily record log kept during at the time, a TACBE transmission from the patrol was received on 24 January. The log read “Bravo Two Zero made TACBE contact again, it was reasonable to assume that they were moving south.” However, the patrol headed north-west towards the Syrian border. C oburn’s account suggests that during the planning phase of the mission, Syria had been the agreed destination should an escape plan need to be implemented. He also suggests that this was on the advice of the Officer Commanding B Squadron at that time.
According to Ratcliffe, the change in plan nullified all efforts over the following days by allied forces to locate and rescue the team. McNab has also been criticized for refusing advice from superiors to include vehicles in the mission (to be left at an emergency pickup point) which would have facilitated an easier exfiltration. Another SAS team successfully employed Land Rovers in this role when they also had to abandon a similar mission. However, it is also suggested that the patrol jointly agreed not to take vehicles because they felt they were too few in number and too small (only short-wheel base Land Rovers were available) to be of use and were ill-suited to a mission that was intended to be conducted from a fixed observation post.
During the night of 24/25 January, while McNab was trying to contact a passing Coalition aircraft using a TACBE communicator, the patrol inadvertently became separated into two groups. While the others waited for a response on the TACBE, Phillips, Ryan and MacGown continued to move through the darkness. Neither of the two resultant groups followed the standard emergency rendezvous (ERV) procedure they had been trained to follow and had previously followed the night before. Instead, both groups independently continued north towards the Syrian border.
After the separation, Phillips, Ryan, and MacGown were equipped with two M16/M203 assault rifles and a Browning Hi-Power pistol between them, as well as at least one TACBE, and the night sight around Ryan’s neck. McNab, Pring, Lane, Consiglio, and Coburn were equipped with their original weapons (three Minimis and two M16/M203s between them), as well as MacGown’s Minimi (which MacNab was carrying, but soon discarded). The larger group carried at least one TACBE, and the Magellan GPS.
According to Ryan, he was also carrying a 66 mm LAW rocket which he had struggled to free from his Bergen during the initial contact. However, according to McNab, the only item removed by Ryan from his Bergan was a silver hipflask, and it was McNab who was the only member still carrying a LAW rocket after the initial contact. Despite conflicting accounts, it is possible that Ryan may have in fact eventually ended up with McNab’s LAW rocket, which Ryan later claimed to have used against an Iraqi ‘Land-Rover type’ vehicle, though this event is discounted by Ratcliffe who states that at the Regimental debrief, “[Ryan] made no mention at all of encountering enemy troops on his trek.”
Death of Phillips
In the evening of 25 January, Ryan, MacGown, and Phillips left the muddy vehicle track they had stayed in during the day and headed North. Phillips was already suffering from hypothermia, and could not hold his M16/M203, which was handed to MacGown. As they continued, Phillips’ condition worsened to the point where he mistook his black gloves for the colour of his own hands, and began yelling out loud. Eventually, Phillips’ lost contact with the other two around 2000 hrs, and died a short time later. According to Ryan and MacGown, they both searched for Phillips for about twenty minutes before deciding to continue without him, while according to Peter de la Billière, only Ryan searched while MacGown waited. Ryan also indicated that he didn’t know Phillips was necessarily dead when he wrote: “I hoped to God that [Phillips] was doing the same. That he would find his way down…” and later “there were still five to account for”, though MacGown admitted he knew Phillips was dead at the time. Sergeant Vince Phillips, a nineteen year veteran of the British Armed Forces, and eight year veteran of the Special Air Service, was 36 when he died of hypothermia in the evening of 25 January 1991 in North Western Iraq.
At about midday on January 26, Ryan and MacGown were stumbled upon by an ‘old’ (according to MacGown) goat herder tending a flock of goats. After discussions involving killing the man, MacGown decided to go with him to locate a vehicle, while Ryan decided it was not safe to do so and remained where he was under the agreement that MacGown would return by 1830hrs. MacGown took with him Phillips’ M16/M203, but left his belt kit in order to not “cut such an aggressive figure.” MacGown walked with the goat herder for about four hours before encountering a group of men with a Toyota Landcruiser vehicle. According to Ryan, McGown shot and killed an unarmed Arab as he ran towards the vehicle, followed by two more armed with AK-47s. Without his belt kit, he had run out of ammunition and was captured as he attempted to take the vehicle. According to McNab’s account, the old goat herder left MacGown with directions to a hut, where he found two vehicles. After killing a uniformed Iraqi soldier attempting to reach one of the vehicles, “six or seven” more came from the hut, three of which were killed before MacGown’s M16/M203 jammed and was captured. A ccording to an interview given by MacGown in 2002, he came across the first soldier near a vehicle:”I brought up my trump card which was “mohaba” and he said nothing, and I carried on talking and he then made a dash for the vehicle. I shot him in the head. A single shot.” As more soldiers came out of the hut, MacGown aimed his rifle and fired but heard a click, indicating he was out of ammunition. It was apparent that Phillips never reloaded the weapon after the initial contact on 24 January. For reasons unknown to MacGown, the soldiers did not return fire, but instead took him captive.
Hijack of Vehicle by McNab’s Group
During the evening of 26 January, McNab’s group of five commandeered a taxi by having Consiglio pretend to be wounded while lying on the side of a road. When the car approached, Pring, Lane, and Coburn came up from behind cover and surrounded the vehicle. According to McNab’s account, the group evicted all occupants from the taxi and drove until they reached a check point, where Lane shot and killed one soldier, while the others in the group killed two more. According to Ryan’s second-hand account (presumably taken from the Regimental debrief), the group were driven to the checkpoint by one of the Iraqi occupants of the taxi. They exited the vehicle with plans to rendezvous on the other side of the checkpoint, but the driver alerted the Police, and the group were forced to continue on foot. Asher’s investigation supported Ryan’s version of events with no reported armed contact and no reported Iraqi casualties.
Capture of McNab’s Group
In the early morning of 27 January, McNab’s group of five came into contact with local civilians and Police. Consiglio was shot and killed by armed civilians at approximately 0200hrs. Lane died of hypothermia later that same morning after swimming the Euphrates with Pring, who along with McNab and Coburn, was subsequently captured. During an exchange of gun fire prior to capture, Coburn was shot in both the arm and ankle.
According to McNab, the four captured patrol members (McNab, Pring, MacGown, and the wounded Coburn) were moved numerous times, enduring torture and interrogation at each successive location. According to MacGown, however, “incidents such as teeth extraction and burning with a heated spoon did not happen. It is inconceivable that any such incidents could have occurred without them being discussed or being physically obvious.” News footage of MacGown and Pring taken at the time of their release on March 5, showed no evidence of any facial injuries and the members were described as ‘in good shape’ by a Red Cross representation.
They were last held at Abu Ghraib Prison before their release.
Ryan’s Escape to Syria
Ryan made SAS history with the “longest escape and evasion by an SAS trooper or any other soldier”, to make it to Syria, covering 100 miles (160 km) more than SAS trooper, Jack Sillito, had in the Sahara Desert in 1942.