Saturday 17 September 2022

Guest Review: Tornado In The Eye of the Storm by John Nichol

 Former Tornado Navigator John Nichol tells the incredible story of the RAF Tornado force during the First Gulf War in 1991; the excitement and the danger, the fear and the losses. It is an extraordinary account of courage and fortitude.

‘We were doing about 620 miles-per-hour, 200 feet above the desert, in total darkness. Everything was running on rails as we approached the target. Then all hell broke loose. I remember the missile being fired at us; I broke left and shouted, “Chaff!”

 All I could see was a flame, like a very large firework, coming towards me. Then there was a huge white flash. I remember an enormous wind and then I was knocked unconscious. My last thoughts were that I was going to die.

In 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion and occupation of neighbouring Kuwait, setting in motion a chain of events that had unimaginable political, military and personal repercussions, which still reverberate around the globe today.

This is the story of the aircrew at the heart of Operation Desert Storm, almost none of whom had any prior experience of armed combat. It is the story of the Tornado’s missions, of those who did not return - and of the families who watched and waited as one of the most complex conflicts in recent history unfolded live on television. It is a story of untold fear and suffering, and astounding courage in the face of hitherto unimaginable adversity.

Review: In August 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. A coalition force was formed to implement United Nations resolutions to restore Kuwait’s sovereignty. The United Kingdom was a member of the coalition and, to this end, aircraft of the Royal Air Force (RAF), including the Tornado ground-attack aeroplane, were deployed to bases in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The author, John Nichol was a navigator in the Tornado force. He was captured along with his pilot by Iraqi forces when their aircraft was shot down during a bombing raid in January 1991. He has written previously about his experiences during this time, but this book is more about the Tornado and the people who flew and maintained the aeroplanes, together with their families, during and after the conflict.

The Tornado, designed as a low level bomber during the Cold War, entered operational service with the RAF during the 1980s. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it was feared that their army could press on into Saudi Arabia and take over their oil wells. The first part of the coalition’s operation, named Desert Shield was to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s defences, to ensure Iraq did not invade, allowing time to build up sufficient forces before liberating Kuwait. The second phase of the operation, named Desert Storm and beginning in January 1991, was the eviction of the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Prior to ground troops entering Kuwait, the coalition needed to ensure air superiority. The RAF Tornadoes, with their low level capability, were at the forefront of this campaign, attacking air bases in Iraq using their runway-busting munitions. However, these tactics made them vulnerable to ground fire and, during the initial stages of the campaign, a number of aircraft were lost. Once it was established that the threat from Iraq’s Air Force had diminished, the Tornadoes switched their attacks to medium level and later used laser guided bombs.

The book describes the development of the Tornado and its deployment during what is known as the First Gulf War. During the hostilities, six tornadoes were lost over Iraqi-controlled territory. Of their twelve aircrew, seven were captured, whilst five unfortunately did not survive the crashes. The treatment of the prisoners is described, along with the effects of the losses on their colleagues and families. In most cases, the fate of those missing in action was unknown until after the ceasefire. I found these parts of the book, along with the descriptions of the prisoners’ repatriation, very moving. I should also add that the descriptions of the prisoners’ interrogations are fairly harrowing. The book describes briefly what some of the airmen and their families did after the conflict, and also deals with subsequent missions of the Tornado until it was withdrawn from service with the RAF in 2019.

I found the book to be full of interesting detail, as may be expected from someone who was in the thick of the action. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions, from the excitement and fear of a bombing mission under enemy fire, to the devastation caused by armed conflict, and to the emotions experienced by the service personnel and their families.

To order your copy now just click the link: UK or US

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