We all saw it at once. Half a dozen voices screamed 'Grenade!' simultaneously. Then everything went into slow motion. The grenade took an age to travel through its 20 metre arc. A dark, small oval-shaped package of misery the size of a peach ...
April 7TH 2004: a year to the day since the city had fallen. Saddam had been deposed. The Marines and the Paras were long gone and Southern Iraq rarely made it into the news. When Sgt Dan Mills and the rest of the 1st Batallion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment flew in, they were supposed to be winning hearts and minds. They were soon fighting for their lives.
Within hours of arriving in Iraq a grenade bounced off one of the battalion's landrovers, rolled underneath and detonated. The ambush marked the beginning of a full-scale firefight during which Mills killed a man with a round that removed his assailant's head. It was going to be a long tour.
Like some post-apocalyptic Mad Max nightmare, the place had gone to hell in a handcart. Temperatures on the ground often topped 50c, sewage systems that had long since packed up, the stench of cooking waste and piles of festering rubbish that grew wherever you looked. Throat-burning winds, blast bombs and well-trained, well-organised militias armed with AKs and RPGs and a limitless supply of mortar rounds were the icing on the cake.
If any of Mills's 18 man sniper platoon had thought that the people of Al Amarah were going to welcome them with open arms, they were forced to rapidly reconsider. For the next six months, isolated, besieged and under constant fire the battalion refused to give an inch. Cimic House, their HQ, may have been shit, but it was home. And its defence, the most intense the British army fought in 50 years, was a modern day Rorke's Drift.
Published by Michael Joseph