Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
I recently attended a presentation by Air Chief Marshal Sir Bill Wratten on GW1. His distinguished career followed a typical route through rising through the echelons of Strike Command; he was Air Commander, British Forces Middle East in Desert Shield and Op Granby (GW1). In some aircrew quarters his reputation took a dive with his conduct of the BoI of the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash in 1995, two years before his retirement. It concluded in finding the aircrew guilty of gross negligence (a Lords Select Committee subsequently found that the BoI was not justified in reaching that conclusion). I digress.
Wratten gave an excellent presentation - he was in the perfect position to observe the prosecution of the campaign by the Americans. He reported to Sir Peter de la Billière in HQ British Forces Middle East, and established a good rapport with both him and the formidable General Schwarzkopf. The Americans’ air effort was led by Chuck Horner, pithily summarised by Wratten as “a man of few words and every other a blasphemy”!
Wratten set the scene with a map showing Britain’s air assets in the region. A multitude of squadrons spread across a variety of desert bases, with living conditions for air and ground crew varying from 4 star hotels to sweat holes in the desert. Quite an impressive military array, but sobering to think we could not put up anything like such a show of force these days. Quite impressive that is, until one saw the next slide – the US forces in the theatre. Extraordinary in their scale – there was not one but three carrier battle groups, for example. Britain provided less than 4% of the coalition’s fixed wing assets. At least we made much more of an effort than any other European nation. Maggie was particularly keen to participate in this expedition.
Sir Bill contrasted the energy and efficiency with which Horner ran his twice daily O groups with the lack of urgency back home at the MoD. Perhaps it was despite, rather than because of, Whitehall that quite a few aircraft mods were rushed through by teams from manufacturers and the RAF. An example was the need to develop laser designating capability for the Buccaneers after US F 15s were sidetracked on to the pressing Scud-hunting task – the Coalition being desperate to keep the Israelis from entering the conflict.