Wednesday, September 30, 2009



Russia and China could not help but have been worried in the wake of Operation Desert Storm. During that war, the Coalition led by the United States shot down 42 aircraft – including four MiG-29s.

With the F-22 prototype taking its first flight in late 1990, the two countries found themselves facing a technologically superior foe that could conceivably trash their best fighters if a shooting war broke out anywhere in the world.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the MiG-29 and, more notably, the Su-27/30 Flanker family began to be widely exported. The Russians were selling anything for hard currency in the 1990s. With the deployment of the F-22, the Russians and Chinese began efforts to develop a contemporary to the American superfighter.


The Russians have three potential counters to the F-22. Perhaps the furthest along is the Su-47 Berkut – which features a forward-swept wing similar to the Northrop X-29 on an airframe similar to that of the Su-

27/30/35 Flanker family.

The Mikoyan design bureau, the descendant of the famous Mikoyan–Gurevich design bureau that produced the MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21s that American pilots faced in Korea and Vietnam, developed the MiG 1.44, code-named the “Flatpack” by NATO.

While neither project went into production, information from the research into these prototypes would be combined into the Sukhoi PAK FA, which is slated to take its first flight in 2009.

But Russia is not alone in trying to develop a fifth-generation fighter.


China is also pursuing fifth-generation fighters – with reports centering around three designs in a J-XX project: the J-12, J-13, and J-14. The J-12 is reportedly being developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Company, which builds the J-11 Flanker (a license-built Su-27).

However, another source claims that the J-12 is design from Chengdu, with the J-13 being a Shenyang design. The reference site sinodefense. com also reported that Chengdu and Shenyang are submitting competing designs for the J-XX program.

While both the Chinese and Russian programs remain shrouded in secrecy and the uncertainties of research and development, one thing is clear: Both of these countries are looking to match the F-22.



“If you want to see guts, this is the place to see it.”

In the summer of 2006, I found myself working in Northern Iraq for a British contracting company. I was one of thousands of British former servicemen enticed to the region by big bucks.

Every American soldier I met when I worked alongside the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army was an ambassador for the U.S. military and a testament to the country they served.

My journey into Iraq was a three-day whirlwind, beginning with an interview in the Channel Islands off the coast of mainland England. Within twelve hours I was told that I was hired, another twelve and I was dropped on the tarmac at Kuwait International Airport.

Walking out onto the tarmac, I saw our transport, a twin-engine turboprop and I had my doubts as to its airworthiness. Luckily, the blinding sun meant that I couldn’t get a good look at the overall state of what the CRG recruiter had described as a “corporate jet.” Inside, the seats were ordinary chairs bolted to the floor. There was a Russian crew of five to fly the aircraft and during the flight, it appeared that all five were needed; indeed it appeared that five was a skeleton crew and that another four would have been appreciated. I made sure not to mention that I was a qualified commercial pilot for fear of being pressed into service.


The takeoff was about as uneventful as I would expect, a little too much shouting for my liking. In the air, we were informed that prior to Kirkuk, we would be landing in Basra and then Tikrit. A week previously, a British army helicopter had been shot down in Basra by a surface-to-air missile; Tikrit had its own reputation, too. After an hour of flying, the throttles were pulled back and we began to drop. I say drop and not descend because a descent would suggest a controlled speed. A siren wailed that I knew to be the overspeed horn; this meant that the structure of the aircraft (namely the wings) was being exposed to pressure that could be described as a load. Once the load reaches a critical level, the overspeed horn sounds. The dreaded warning sound was designed to warn that the wings would probably fall off.

The pilot continued to keep the nose down and went into a spiraling dive, much to my horror, as now I was absolutely certain that we were flying outside the envelope of the aircraft’s known capabilities.


In a rapid spiral descent, a surface-to-air missile would be more challenged to home in on the plane. As we dropped, the temperature increased until, as the pilot pulled the nose up to the angle where the plane was about to stall (now the stall warning siren wailed), he deployed full flaps and we slid onto the baking runway. The passengers were all drenched in sweat; mine was a cold sweat but soon warmed up. The doors dropped onto Basra runway and I felt like I had opened the oven door with my face too close.

We didn’t spend long at Basra, took on some supplies and made off again at greater speed than from Kuwait to avoid the unseen SAMs. We repeated the process at Tikrit and then again at Kirkuk, but this time we stayed on the ground.

Two vehicles were waiting for us in Kirkuk—one was a minibus, the other a GMC pickup with some welcome bottles of water, although they were as hot as a cup of coffee. This was Forward Operating Base Warrior in summer.

Inside the air-conditioned minibus, there was a euphoria that one would not expect of those arriving in a war zone. We had survived the lunatic pilots.


I was astounded at the size of FOB Warrior base and the facilities on offer; it had its own Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway. There was even a bus service to get from one end of the camp to another. We were taken to the CRG accommodations, where we were assigned our own air-conditioned portacabins and allowed to get some rest.

The next few days we ran through weapons training on the variety of small arms that we were issued: the Sig 552 Commando Assault rifle, the Glock 17 and the Minimi Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).

We practiced vehicle and foot contact drills, and “crossdecking,” which is the practice of moving wounded colleagues and clients from a stricken vehicle to a serviceable one under fire.

Our brief was simple; we would provide close protection for Georgian oil pipeline repair workers working on a two-mile stretch of pipeline that, if fixed, could pump millions of barrels of crude oil every week. The revenue from this oil was to be used toward reconstructing Iraq, defeating the insurgents and restoring some sort of normality to the region.

At the briefing I hooked up with a former colleague, Mark. Six of us convoyed in an armoured white Toyota landcruiser crammed with supplies. Half an hour later, we had crossed the massive base, where at the front gate, the USAF soldier hauled up the barrier and we set off for our destination some twenty kilometers away down Route Cherry.


Exiting a protective US military base instantly identifies you as fair game for insurgents. The frontline follows you around. We speed along, never coming to a complete stop and never letting our concentration waver for a moment. We crossed the occasional Iraqi police checkpoint with a watchful eye, weapons cocked on the police, who were known to liaise with the insurgents.

We drove past craters in the road where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had detonated, the wrecked remains of vehicles littered Route Cherry, serving as a reminder to remain vigilant.

Over the radio, the lead vehicle called “MNFI, MNFI!” The entire convoy braked and lurched off the road, as through the heat haze ahead a Humvee approached.

Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNFI) were, generally speaking, Americans, although the name implied an international presence.

As the Humvee drew closer, my eyes flashed toward the Union Jack in the windscreen. We kept our hands in full view and smiled and nodded at the driver and gunner perched on top manning the .50 Browning machine gun. Behind the Humvee were three more, all on patrol.

We had all cleared the road because we did not want the MNFI troops to open fire on us. This may sound incredulous, but in Iraq, a vehicle speeding toward your Hummer generally means either a suicide bomber or a suicidal driver. Either way, the sensible thing for any soldier to do is not wait to find out. Opening fire and killing the driver and occupants is the accepted practice.

If you find this savage or uncivilized, don’t blame the soldiers; nobody likes a tailgater. Satisfied that we were the biggest fans of the USA on Route Cherry, the Hummers trundled off behind us and we took to the road again.

Eventually, the view of the endless desert to our right was broken by a two-kilometre line of Hesco bastion defences, huge wire baskets that measure about six feet by eight feet containing a sleeve of toughened cardboard into which dirt is poured.

They provide effective ballistic protection from mere bullets all the way up to a 120mm rocket. I found that out to be true by unwanted personal experience. When the Hescos ran out, we turned off Cherry and drove alongside a new row of Hescos before coming across the welcome sight of a Humvee guarding the entrance whose crew waved us into what would be our home for the next six weeks.


The canals were hardly comparable to those of Venice; they were in reality waterlogged ditches in the centre of the huge rectangle of Hesco defences. A few hundred metres away was an enclave of Hescos of twenty meters square. We parked up outside the square and stepped out of the vehicles, stretching and making our weapons safe but still loaded, just not cocked.

Grabbing our bags, Mark and I entered the enclave to examine our new home. Our new home was built out of three canvas US Army issue tents with plywood floors The platoon of troops guarding the perimeter had been working hard for us.

We crammed 20 men in the makeshift tents designed for ten. The resident platoon had worked hard in anticipation of our arrival, erecting a shower tent outside the enclave and sealing off the Hesco cul de sac with the narrow end of two large steel portacabins. From one of the portacabins, the platoon leader (sometimes a lieutenant but usually a senior sergeant) maintained communications with headquarters and coordinated the perimeter defense. Fifty metres outside the Hesco enclave, they had situated a mortar pit with two 81mm mortars permanently kept in readiness, ammunition stockpiled neatly in a trench.

Littered about the larger perimeter were U-shaped reinforced-concrete structures, turned upside down and laid next to one another, serving as a crude shelter in the event of an attack.

For food, we were directed outside the enclave near the latrines where there were several pallets holding hundreds of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).


As I ate my first MRE, the sergeant left his command “bunker” carrying his M4 rifle and came over to talk. He introduced himself as “Jimmy” rather than by rank which was a good sign.

I noticed that Jimmy, like the others, wore the famous “Screaming Eagle” patch on his right shoulder but also wore the “Ranger” patch on his left shoulder.

Jimmy plugged some chewing tobacco into his mouth.

“So, y’all boys are mercenaries, huh?”

There was a brief stunned silence, we exchanged looks.

Mark began to answer “Well, I wouldn’t say…”

“Man, I’m just messing with y’all!” Jimmy cut in, grinning.

The three of us laughed politely, but relieved not only that the senior military man present didn’t think of us as mercenaries but more importantly, had a sense of humor.

“How long have you been out in Iraq, Jimmy?” I asked, eager to switch the focus of the conversation away from job titles.

“Me and my boys been here eighteen months come September.” September was four months away. The average British Army tour was just six months, and not without good reason either. Eighteen months is a long time to spend on dangerous operations with just a brief period of leave thrown in.

Most of Jimmy’s platoon seemed to be in their early twenties and younger.

Jimmy continued “We ain’t based in Warrior, we run out of a smaller firebase couple miles away. We’re out on patrol duty every day, worked six weeks straight without a day off so far. You’d think there’s only the twenty of us in the Army!” He spat some tobacco onto the ground where the sand absorbed it instantly and seemed to gaze off into the distance.

A head popped out of the portacabin and called Jimmy.

“Sergeant Hill’s here, Sarge” one of his troops called.

“Well, here comes the night team. I’ll catch you boys later,” Jimmy declared and traipsed back to the portacabin.


The day team provided perimeter security. It was relieved by the night team, run by Sergeant Hall, a fierce looking black Ranger-trained NCO who managed his men strictly by the book and was quick to punish those who deviated from his script. All Hall’s men wore all their body armour and their helmets all the time.

Jimmy’s’ troops wore T-shirts. Hall was striding purposefully toward us. His troops had obviously been told exactly what to do when they arrived and busied themselves behind him getting ready for the night. Brian, the operations manager for the project, emerged from the tent and intercepted Hall to talk business.

Brian had been busy; so had nearly every truck driver in northern Iraq. Apparently in Warrior were over a hundred trucks, all loaded with pipeline repair equipment. As soon as darkness had fallen over Kirkuk, the first trucks had begun their journey to the canals.

That night, while I was on duty with Mark, dozens of trucks came into the compound that was floodlit for the occasion.

We watched in awe as the trucks were speedily unloaded, left and were replaced by more trucks and the process repeated. A constant stream of trucks of all shapes and sizes was pouring in and out. Route Cherry was backed up for miles.

In the darkness behind us an American voice quietly remarked “Haji’s gonna notice all this going on. He’s gonna see what you boys are up to and he’s gonna fix you for messing with his oil.” There was no malice in the voice, no emotion whatsoever.

We might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for the sixty-foot crane that was trundled into place sometime during the night; come the morning, the biggest aiming marker in northern Iraq towered above our heads.


The following evening, just as darkness had settled, I sat outside the tent shooting the breeze with one of the other Brits when a rocket screamed no more than ten feet overhead, its orange tail flame burned into my retinas and ruined my night vision. The explosion seemed to take forever.

Although I was prepared for the explosion, I was taken aback by its ferocity and my ears were left ringing. Luckily the rocket had just cleared the Hesco on its downward trajectory and slammed into a nearby berm. It struck with such force that there was no tailfin by which to identify it. I ran into the Georgians’ tent and began herding them into the shelters. Once inside, a quick head count satisfied us that they were all alive and well. After a few minutes we heard another rocket, but this one was hundreds of feet above us and didn’t land within a kilometre. Whoever was firing had lost his nerve after having exposed himself firing the first one. We returned to our tents and went to sleep.

The following evening at nearly the same time we were attacked by mortar fire. I was in my tent when the first of the blasts struck the top of the Hescos. The instant we heard the explosion we ran to the Georgians and once again corralled them into the shelter. As we waited inside, further explosions sounded outside. Somebody was operating a fair sized mortar tube to good effect, I would have guessed 81mm or thereabouts. I could hear the distant thud of the launch followed by the explosion. When it all stopped, we returned the Georgians to their tent and once again dozed off to sleep.

The morning light filtered through the shrapnel-torn tent that had been raked by the first mortar bomb without anyone being aware of it.


For the next five weeks while we lived under the shadow of the crane, we were attacked again and again, never more than a few rockets or mortars so that the firing point was hard to locate and return fire to.

As the weeks passed, we became admirers of the troops that were protecting us. They brought us fresh rations when they didn’t have to and every day they travelled along some of the deadliest roads in the world to protect us.

I witnessed one 101st soldier reading a comic, sitting on a chair in a portacabin, seconds before a rocket smashed into the ground nearby. The blast sent a piece of shrapnel the size of a quarter through the metal wall behind him and through the gap between his legs. He barely put down his comic.

Miraculously, we managed to avoid one single casualty. I can’t think how because everything around of any size had been hit by shrapnel; tents, cars and trucks were equally peppered.

Eventually we finished work on our section of pipeline and moved a couple of kilometres farther down the road to carry out a relatively quick repair job on a smaller pipeline near the village of Riyadh. This repair job lasted two weeks and passed without any more near misses. The mortar fire had become less accurate since the crane had been collapsed. It seemed as if we were on the home stretch.


Helicopters were arranged to take us back to FOB Warrior, as our vehicles were needed down south for a new project. We were all happy to be travelling by air rather than trundling along Route Cherry.

“Chalks” were compiled which detailed who would be on what flight.

Two choppers would land and eighteen of us were to be taken away in this first lift before the choppers returned for the rest.

The lucky eighteen took positions next to an improvised LZ and watched the skies, listening out for the much awaited extraction. Sergeant Hall stood with us, relaying on the radio that the choppers were delayed slightly due to an ongoing operation.

We didn’t mind and waited happily, looking toward Hall for any news.

After a few minutes, Hall said “Controlled explosion, four minutes.”

This referred to a bomb disposal team that had joined us earlier that day and were sweeping the area for unexploded ordnance and had apparently enjoyed some success.

After about twenty seconds the explosion sounded and I looked at my watch, thinking “That was early”

I remember looking at my left arm and seeing my bicep suddenly distort and ripple before I heard a metallic clang. Then my hearing was gone and I fell over.

Every one was lying on the ground and there was a little dust in the air and I remember thinking “This is not good.”

Sergeant Hall was lying down clutching his left leg and I could see a huge lump of metal like a ball of aluminium foil sticking through his pants. As I looked over the rest of the eighteen it dawned on me that most people had been hit.

I looked toward a colleague nearest me and saw him clutching what appeared to be a broken leg. I unpacked a sterile field dressing and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t keep the dressing on and my colleague said “Lie down, you’re hit too!” I looked down toward my arm and saw that there was a neat hole running through my bicep from one end to the other. I checked the rest of my body out and found that my left leg had taken some shrapnel. I couldn’t stand or kneel.

Before I knew it, my colleagues had rushed out and were working in perfect unison with 101st troops to get us out of the open. A medic appeared from nowhere, no more than 22 years old, and was running a triage centre, prioritizing injuries and deciding who needed medical treatment first.

In what seemed like minutes after that, Jimmy’s boys came roaring into the base and helped as many casualties as they could into their Hummers before taking us back to their firebase.

Emergency medical staff were waiting for us there and put me on a drip. My colleague with the broken leg, Sergeant Hall and I were loaded into a medical Blackhawk and lifted back to FOB Warrior.

A few of the Georgians needed minor operations, but on the whole we had been lucky again. An airburst mortar had landed smack in the middle of us and claimed 15 casualties. We were all seen and treated by the men and women of 506 Emergency Medical Squadron, who did a superb job of patching us up and sending us on our way.


The next day, as I was being driven to lunch, we came upon the lone figure of Sergeant Hall limping determinedly to the same destination. We gave him a lift which he reluctantly accepted and he ate with us. I remember watching him digging into a T-bone steak and thinking “That’s a tough bastard.”



It’s not easy to hit a small target bobbing along in the current as your helicopter shudders around you, 200 feet in the air. Add the pressure of international competition and things can get really difficult.

Two snipers from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s sniper platoon recently participated in, and won, a sharpshooting competition against two British Royal Marine Commando snipers while aboard USS San Antonio. Both forces were in the Gulf of Aden supporting anti-piracy operations when they took the opportunity for this good-natured professional contest.


It is unclear whose idea it was to have the competition—the U.S. Marines or the British Royal Marine Commandos, but both groups were more than willing to participate, said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Benkie, sniper platoon sergeant.

“There’s two stories to it,” he explained, “One is the Brits challenged us and then the other story is the Admiral challenged the Brits. So, I never was able to get a solid answer on that one.”


The shooters fired on several different targets from a helicopter, each target floating at least 200 yards away and 200 feet below in the current. “The size of the target was probably about a five-gallon paint jug,” Benkei said.

Each shooter had 25 rounds, Benkie continued, which they could fire from a weapon of their choosing, and the shooters could use any position or support they wanted to while inside the helicopter. Shooters earned two points if the round struck within a foot of the target, five points for a hit and 20 points if that hit sank the target.

“It’s a little different shooting out of a helo than it is shooting on the ground,” explained Cpl. James Gosney, the Marine spotter during the competition, “because you’ve also got the rotor wash to take into consideration. Nobody really knows what effect that has. So you have to make your corrections based off the first shot.”


Gosney and his teammate, Marine sniper Cpl. Adam J. Harb, came out on top 38 to 30. Benkie explained that after the shooters were done firing they got a chance to meet their challengers when the British Royal Marines landed on the San Antonio for a brief meeting and congratulatory handshake.

Gosney said his favorite part of the event was after the actual shoot, when he had the opportunity to meet up and compare weapons and ideas with the British snipers.


“We landed after the shoot and talked for about 10 or 15 minutes, and that was the best part of the shoot,” said Gosney. “You know, in our work situation, we don’t have a whole lot of chances to talk to people from other countries on our level, and especially other snipers.”

“I think they learned a few things from us and we definitely learned a few things from them,” Gosney said. “That was really worthwhile – [they’re] really good guys,” Benkie added. “It was very informal, but very educational at the same time.”



Part of David Baez’s story is All American – high school in San Francisco, a hippie commune in New Jersey, a blonde, blue-eyed wife and a dog, the U.S. Army’s Green Berets and a tryout for Delta Force, America’s premier military unit.

Then there’s the murkier side of the Nicaraguan-born Baez’s life – a captain in Marxist-led Nicaragua’s Sandinista army as it fought CIA-backed rebels in the 1980s, and his death in 1983 as a member of a Cuban-trained guerrilla column in the jungles of Honduras.

Was Baez a U.S. agent sent to spy on the Sandinistas, as some of his relatives and former Green Beret brothers speculate? Or was he a true Sandinista, indeed sent into Honduras to kill some of his former SF friends. Was he killed in combat, as some reports have it? Or, as several of his SF brothers now say, was he captured and executed by the Honduran army?

More than 25 years after his death, some of those brothers now would like, if they can’t solve the riddle of Baez’s life, to at least find his grave. “I am hoping that we can bring some closure to David’s death and give him a decent burial in his home country or here in the USA,” said Walter Cargile, a retired SF master sergeant who knew Baez in the 1970s.

That will be difficult. Veterans of the Honduran army contacted for this story said they either don’t know where he’s buried or don’t want to dredge up those turbulent days. The Sandinistas were supporting leftist guerrillas in neighboring Honduras and El Salvador, Washington was arming the anti-Sandinista “contras,” and security forces in Honduras and El Salvador were waging an often murderous campaign against their domestic foes. “Horrible things happened those days,” said one retired Honduran army officer. “I don’t think anyone wants to talk about that story now.”


That story began in 1954 when Baez was just two years old and his father Adolfo, a former Nicaraguan National Guard lieutenant, and 17 others, launched a failed coup against the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship. All were tortured and executed, their bodies burned and buried in a secret mass grave. Friends later recovered the burned remains and turned them over to relatives.

David Baez grew up in his grandmother’s home, hearing stories of his father’s heroism and the Somozas’ brutality – and sleeping in the room where the closet held his father’s remains in a wooden trunk, said his younger brother, Eduardo. The bones were eventually buried, but not Baez’s hatred for the Somozas. “He grew up with this thing about his papa,” said Eduardo. Added his mother Lillian, in an interview before her death in 2008, “He always had something in his head about avenging his father.”


By the time he was a junior in high school, Baez had become so active in anti-Somoza protests that his mother feared for his life and shipped him off to live with an aunt in San Francisco. And in California, his American life began.

He finished high school and joined the U.S. Army, but left after two years and lived for a time with an older brother in New Jersey. He became a U.S. citizen and joined a hippie commune in New Jersey, where some relatives recall vague stories about a frequent visitor by the name of Bob Dylan. He grew hair down to his shoulders and added a bushy mustache. In 1973 he married a skinny American blonde that his family jokingly called Olive Oyl, after Popeye’s girl.

By his mid-20s, now a broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped young man, he rejoined the Army and eventually the elite Special Forces, better known as Green Berets. Largely because of his fluent Spanish, he was assigned to the 3rd Bn,

7th SF (3/7 SF) and was deployed to Ft. Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. At one point he volunteered for Delta Force tryouts, but washed out because of an injury.

“He was like a blood brother to me, and we talked lots about Nicaragua,” said Cargile, who was Baez’s roommate in Panama in 1970–1971 in the 8th Special Forces. But Baez never lost touch with Nicaragua, often visiting his relatives there and following developments closely – especially in the last half of the 1970s, as the Sandinista Front

for National Liberation, boosted with Cuban weapons and advisors, launched a series of offensives against the increasingly repressive Somozas.

Eduardo recalled that Baez constantly complained he was missing the war, and at one points grumbled, “Here I am,

with the Gringos, when I should be there firing bullets against Somoza,” Virtually the entire Baez family was supporting the Sandinistas at the time, Eduardo added, largely out of hatred for Somoza and his execution of the pater familias.

Eduardo himself joined the Sandinista guerrillas in the mountains.


Somoza held out until mid-1979, when he fled the country and the Sandinistas seized power. But the peace did not last long, as the Sandinistas forged closer alliances with Cuba and the Soviet Union and drew stiff opposition – first from armed peasants opposed to their forced cooperatives, later from remnants of the National Guard based in Honduras, and still later from U.S.-backed “contra” guerrillas.

This is where David Baez’s tale begins to turn murky.

Eduardo and one of his Green Beret friends say Baez swallowed the Sandinistas’ revolutionary line. “From that time on, David talked a lot about returning to integrate himself into the revolution, and I of course was urging him on to do that,” said Eduardo, who like most Nicaraguans lost his taste for the Sandinistas in the 1980s.

“David genuinely switched to the Sandinistas. I talked to him a lot, and he imagined himself as a Che Guevara-type guerrilla leader,” Leamon Ratterree, a friend and retired Green Beret master sergeant, wrote in an e-mail to the author.

Trying to win an early out from the U.S. Army, Baez told different stories to his SF brothers. To some, he said the Sandinistas were threatening to seize his family’s farm, and that he was the only one who could save it. He gave another version to Art Zieske, a retired SF lieutenant colonel who knew David when he served as S-3 and later XO of the 3/7 in Panama.

“He told us in confidence that he was preparing to separate from the Army, as he had received word from the Nicaraguan government that if he did not return to Nicaragua, his family would be in grave danger,” Zieske said in an email. “The Nicaraguan army wanted Dave back so he would serve in their army.”

There’s a third possibility. “My personal opinion is that Dave was in the employment of a US national intelligence agency, and was sent to infiltrate the Sandinistas,” said Pete Peterson, another SF friend. “I just can’t see Dave joining the Sandinistas for any reason. They were the real source of Dave’s problems to begin with.”

In fact, Baez was concerned the Sandinistas would suspect him of being a U.S. spy. Even relatives admitted years later they had their suspicions. “It was clear that he was coming with a Gringo stain, so he needed an endorsement,” Eduardo recalled. That eventually came from cousin Luis Carrion, then deputy interior minister and one of the nine Sandinista comandantes who ruled the country.


In late 1979 or early 1980 Baez left the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant and arrived in Managua – minus his wife, who thought that moving to a country just recovering from one war and entering another was not a smart idea. He joined the Sandinista army with the rank of lieutenant, made many friends, fathered two boys and a girl with two wives, and was promoted to captain while training regular army units.

“But he was unhappy. He wanted combat … and he felt he had a debt to pay,” said Eduardo. So he transferred to the intelligence directorate, where he joined a group of Cubans training Nicaragua’s first army commando unit. “From arrival to departure,I never did see him so happy.”

Around early 1983, Baez entered the final and most opaque part of his life—helping the Cubans and Sandinistas to train a group of leftist Honduran guerrillas plotting to spread the revolution to their home country. They called themselves the Central American Revolutionary Workers’ Party, or PRTC, and were led by Jose Maria Reyes Mata, a Marxist physician.

But its members were a hodgepodge of university students, labor activists and others. Some were virtually shanghaied, told they were being sent to Cuba to be trained as car mechanics. But they wound up in P-11 and P-13, two of the bases in Cuba’s western Pinar del Rio province where Havana’s elite Tropas Especiales trained would-be-guerrillas from around the world, according to one former U.S. military officer who later helped debrief some of Reyes Mata’s men. “Their quality was very poor, and some of them had to do three training cycles,” he added.

The group also included the Rev. James Carney, a Jesuit from St. Louis who had been kicked out of Honduras for his work on behalf of that country’s poor. He signed on as the guerrillas’ “chaplain.”


In April of 1983, Baez brought home a bunch of his Honduran friends to meet his brother and mother. The next month, he told Eduardo that he was leaving on a “delicadisimiamission but would try to contact him using the code ADOLFO – their fathers’ name. In a farewell letter he left behind for his unborn son, he wrote that he was fighting for “anti-imperialism … and the liberation of all the oppressed countries in AMERICA!” He was 32 years old.

On 19 July, 1983, the column of about 96 PRTC men slipped into Honduras’ Olancho province, perhaps the most inhospitable jungle in the region, with few peasants who could guide or feed them, swarms of insects and lots of venomous snakes. They planned to split up into four separate columns, according to the U.S. Army officer. But everything fell apart, quickly and disastrously.


Short of food, 17 fighters quickly defected and gave up everything they knew to Honduran and U.S. intelligence officers, including the presence within the column of the “Gringo Green Beret” and Carney. Zieske, then deputy commander of the SF element at the Honduran army’s Regional Military Training Center in the northeastern town of

La Venta, said he received reports that a small unit of about 50 guerrillas “was on its way from Nicaragua to the RMTC with the mission of killing the U.S. SF commander.”

The Honduran military mobilized immediately. Half the men in the 1st Special Forces Battalion, then training under Delta Force tutelage to counter airplane hijackings, were deployed to Nueva Palestina in Olancho. The regular Olancho garrison threw in some of its ill-trained troops to “make a lot of noise and drive the guerrillas toward the commando forces,” said one former Honduran officer who served at the Nueva Palestina HQ at the time.

Slowly, and not without difficulties, the Honduran Special Forces kept the PRTC on the run and eroded its ranks. “That was the worst terrain I’ve ever seen, all steep mountains, thick jungle. It was hard just to survive, never mind to fight,” the Honduran added. The U.S. military provided the Hondurans with intelligence and logistical support. By the end of August, the PRTC column had been wiped out. Many were killed in combat, but a 1997 report by the

CIA’s Inspector General said up to 40 rebels were captured, tortured and executed.


Retired Delta Force member Erick Haney lifted a corner of the veil surrounding the Baez tale in his 2003 autobiography, Inside Delta Force. He claimed to have been advising the Honduran army unit that chased down Baez’s group, and to have personally shot him to death in combat.

Haney was indeed deployed in Honduras at the time, several U.S. officials confirmed. But no U.S. military personnel took direct part in combat with the PRTC, according to U.S. and Honduran veterans of the event.

More recently, several of Baez’s Green Beret friends who were deployed in Central America during the early 1980s have come forth with testimony that he was captured alive and executed by Honduran army officers.

Bob S. Senseney, a retired Green Beret who knew Baez, said he was told that version by an officer in the Honduran Special Forces. Angel Chamizo, a retired master sergeant, said he got the same version in 1983 from two Honduran officers he ran into at the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador, El Salvador.

“They told me that Dave Baez was captured and then executed. I specifically recall them telling me that the execution order came from higher,” Chamizo wrote in an email to the author. “Word about Dave Baez being killed was already going around SF circles. However the particular knowledge that the Honduran officers had about Baez surprised me … and they spoke in a manner that seemed like they had first-hand knowledge.”

Don Kelly, another retired Green Beret then stationed in El Salvador, recalls hearing from another SF member who was in the area when Baez was killed and had talked to one of the Honduran unit commanders. The Honduran said that Baez had been captured along with seven others, all “very skinny … as if they had not eaten in days.” Under questioning, Baez remained silent at first but eventually acknowledged that he had been a Green Beret. The Honduran officer called his commanders and was told, “If you don’t want to bring embarrassment, you know what you have to do.”

Zieske said that several days after receiving the warning of the rebels’ plan to kill the RMTC commander, he was visited by another SF buddy who stopped by on this way back to Ft. Bragg. This friend wanted to personally notify him of what he understood had happened to Baez.

“Dave was ordered to lead the Nicaraguan element, as the Nicaraguans knew he knew some of us at the RMTC. Of course, this was all under the threat of the death of his family members,” Zieske recalled.

“The Nicaraguan personnel were all killed, wounded or captured. Dave was captured. He was being interrogated by a Honduran army major in the presence of a U.S. Army major. The latter was called out of the room to ‘receive a message.’ The major heard a shot and when he re-entered the room, Dave was dead. Our major was angered, as he was to be the next person to interrogate Dave.”

The versions of Baez’s capture and execution have some credibility. The CIA Inspector General report, commissioned because of complaints that the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa had not properly reported human rights abuses, mentions a single report that a Nicaraguan advisor to the PRTC – not further identified – had been killed in action, and two reports that he had been captured and executed. Similarly, the IG report said Carney was variously reported to have died from starvation, under torture or by execution.


Brother Eduardo says the family only heard that Baez had died, but no details, from Carrion in 1984. But not until 1997 did they start asking more questions, afraid of sparking the ire of the Sandinistas, by then out of power yet still powerful. “We always had the suspicion the Sandinistas had him killed because they did not trust him,” said one relative. Capture and execution also was the predominant version the family received from former Sandinista army officers over the years, Eduardo added.

There’s one final bizarre twist to the Baez tale. About a month before he was killed, Cargile said, Baez phoned a mutual friend at Ft. Bragg “and told him he had to get out of Nicaragua because they did not trust him any more, and he had $200,000, and the phone went dead.” Did Baez have another change of heart, this time against the Sandinistas?

The bodies of Baez and Carney were never recovered, though Haney wrote that he had seen them at the military airport in Tegucigalpa. The retired Honduran army officer said he strongly believes all the dead were buried where they fell, because of the difficulty of the terrain.

So the mysteries remain, and Baez’s SF brothers are willing to let some of them be. But not all.

“If the full truth cannot be known for whatever reason,’’ wrote Pete Peterson, “I would be satisfied with bringing his remains back to the U.S. I firmly believe that Dave was never a traitor to his SF brothers or the United States, a country he loved and served with honor.”


The Falklands War of 1982 was one of the defining conflicts of the decade. The United Kingdom fought a war practically on its own thousands of miles from home. However, the conflict spread wider – and included the island of South Georgia, where Royal Marine Section Commander George Thomsen would become a legend. Part II continues with the bloody battle.


All the while, the Guerrico had been constantly on the move. Slowly her razor bow had turned in the pool of the deep harbour, circling out toward Brown Mountain, as far away from our puny weapons as she could sail. First port side on to the rusting dockside, before facing us head on, showing her sleek predator lines, until her port side had swung obliquely into view and she was facing the channel once again.

She was in clear view now, maybe 750 yards away. But would she stay or try to leave? If it was the latter, then she would need to pass King Edward Point, which would once again hide her briefly behind the jumble of tin sheds, before she came into full view again in the narrow deep channel, close in to our positions. It was the route she must take to reach the cover of the rocks once more at Hope Point – her only way out.

But she appeared to have stopped dead. She was stationary in the water – not a sign of movement. So what the hell would she do now? Everyone around me watched and waited.

Minutes ticked slowly by, then came a white ribbon of movement in the water at her bows and it was clear to us that the captain had made his decision. The warship was beginning to move in our direction. She was off...

Black smoke belched from her funnel. The captain either had balls, or was a bloody idiot, but he had made his decision. The Guerrico would run our gantlet.


Feet pounded behind me. Pete Leach’s broad back melted into the shadow of the long green house. Ammunition mags rattled and snapped through the grass.

The Guerrico’s captain gave her full clog. White foam boiled. Her stern dropped and the bow began to eat water. On she came, into our maelstrom of lead. Every “small arm” on the northwest ridge hammered out a renewed hail of lead, peppering her hull and superstructure with a thousand lacerations as she powered toward us.

Behind and above me, Pete Leach had taken position with his sniper rifle, just inside the glassless corner window of the house. Above the thunder of our weapons came the sound of his L42’s free-floating barrel, barking its deadly song. The front port window of the fleeing warship disappeared, the sound of smashing glass penetrating the roar of our onslaught.

Crack! Followed by the thump of impact! Death left the barrel again. The next window flew inward like the last. Pete could put a hole in the centre of a man’s forehead at 1000 yards. Inside the bridge would be carnage.

Her bow sliced behind the tin huts of the point. She was doing thirty, spewing great clouds of diesel smoke, laying it behind like a cloak. White water, spraying high in rainbow droplets, leapt from her forward plates.


For a few seconds she was almost completely obscured from view. Then the high bow wave reappeared from behind the tin shacks, flat out, going for broke, into the channel between the two points and she was alongside once more. Belching black fury, her diesels were screaming like a wounded sea monster, screws torturing the frozen brine in a bubbling storm of panic.

My shoulder pumped with the action of my SLR emptying the chamber into her flank.Another mag – where the hell is it? – slammed in.

Whack, whack. More lead through the bridge side window.

Above the thunderstorm of flying lead, the rivet gun noise had kicked back in with a vengeance. Like a hundred hammers beating out a tuneless tattoo, the noise of striking bullets and shattered glass came back to us through the murderous din.

Thump. Crash. Another pane fell from the house behind us. The L42 barked again. Nearer. Pete had moved position.

We poured in more lead.

The Guerrico bellowed on, the stench of cordite hanging low, choking.

I dragged a sleeve across my eyes and caught a familiar movement across the track. There, through the smoke, blinding flashes and puffs of ejector gas, was Combes – as cool as before, Carl Gustav rock solid on his shoulder, our last killer punch in the tube.


The drainpipe barrel bucked into the haze.

Flame shot from the venturi, past Stonestreet’s left shoulder. The thunderbolt left the tube in a roar of smoke and sparks. Transcending the noise of our puny weapons, the Carl Gustav 84mm savaged the air like an avenging Valkyrie, winging across the sky in relentless pursuit.

The Guerrico was going like an express train. But there was no escape. The armour-piercing rocket slammed into the sinister twin Exocet launcher, abaft the funnel, exploding in a flash of white light and a noise like rolling thunder.

“YES!” She bucked and shuddered like a live animal.

Bloodlust was up. Neat adrenalin hammered through my veins. Banshee shouts and Red Indian war cries filled the choking air. But still the Guerrico hammered on, listing to starboard. Grey smoke curled and licked down her side, then trailed behind with her belching diesel exhaust, mixing and swirling into the great valley of her foaming wake.

Below me, amongst the sheds, pinpoints of automatic fire and telltale flashes of ejector gas drummed out a warning. Lead zipped past, rattling the timber thirty feet behind me like a demented woodpecker.

A GPMG from the farthest trench hammered back, cutting a swathe of death through the nearest hut. Glass, tin and splinters, filled the air. A cloud of dust rose like smoke, hiding the alleyways and drifting into the shadows.

Clip empty, I dropped the gritty timber stock from my cheek and snatched up a replacement. Air rushed above my beret. A line of bullet holes ripped into the house, zip fastener straight, running up the wall at a 45-degree angle.

A boot hit a window just feet away from the new scar. The pane flew out, seemed to hang in the air, flashed in the sun, dropped, and shattered on the glass-littered shale path beneath. The noise of impact joined the firestorm – Pete Leach was following the ship in her path of flight.

Snap, clip in, I brought the rifle back to the side of my face.

The Guerrico’s speed was terrific. She was closing fast now on the shelter of Hope Point rocks.

Two more shots in quick succession sang out from the upper floor of the house.

Then, flank full onto the monument ridge, Chubby and Parsons had her once more full in their sights. Armour piercing tracer poured into her hide, joining our ribbons of stars, hosing through the acrid smoke that was belching and obscuring her foaming stern.

Still she motored on. The great curl of her bow wave finally reached the crag and slid like a scimitar behind the steel grey cliff face.

In seconds the rest of her had dragged itself in and behind, and all we were left with was the foul smell of diesel exhaust, the crash of her wake on the shore, and the cloud of her passage settling low onto the icy pool of Grytviken harbour.


I reached into my webbing, found my flask, took a pull, swilled round and spat out. The Guerrico had come in roaring like a lion, a complete modern warship, with enough hardware to take out a town. She was now no more than a floating wreck.

I pulled back from the parapet of the ridge, away from the trajectory of intermittent enemy fire still dribbling up from the sheds, and jinked through the tough grass to the edge of the trench. The quiet between the pops and cracks of small arms whined its tinnitus whistle loud in my ears.

On my right, guys were moving about urgently on the main ridge. I dropped down next to the damp pit.

“Don’t knock then.” Jesse looked up, running his sleeve along the black plastic stock of his rifle.

“Bugger off. Everyone alright?” I scanned around. I could see they were.

Jesse licked his thumb and forefinger and began to carefully clean his front sight.

Brasso grinned, pulling up the great axe from under a thick pile of spent cartridges, some still smoking.

Brum squinted up from the machine gun, eased his neck, looked across at me and nodded. “Yeah, we’re OK, Nige Peters ain’t though, old son.”

“Damn.” I dropped my grin. “Bad?”


“Bad enough. Word came across the track just now. He only stood up with that bleeding 66mm rocket launcher, just after Combesy whacked the bastard. Belgian automatic they reckon. He took two through his upper arm. Smashed to bloody bits.”

“Blast it!”


I narrowed my eyes at him. “Morphine?”

“Keep him going for a bit won’t it?” He shook his head.

“Aye. That’s about all.”

Field dressings, morphine, a rudimentary understanding of first aid, and that was it. I pictured our escape route. It would be torture for him.

“ If it’s as bad as you say, the poor sod needs a doc’ quick.”

Eight thousand miles from home – fat chance.


“Tell me about it.” It was Brasso. “If he don’t get it, and we make a run for it, he won’t last more than a few days.” He wiped his chin with the back of his hand.

“When the morphine runs out the pain’ll bloody kill him.”

Nobody spoke for a few seconds.

“If that don’t... the bloody gangrene will,” Jesse said quietly, looking up from his work. He wasn’t smiling.

Didn’t have to spell it out. The festering wound wouldn’t go away without medical care. We all knew it. Gangrene was a bastard way to die.

There was still not even a breeze to stir the stalks around us, or to brush the surface of the harbour waters. In no time the deep pool had slipped back to its impersonation of an azure blue mirror, as though the ship had been no more than a nightmare mirage.

Even the stench of her exhaust had begun to settle, seeping like a ghost into the grit and the rock. The smell of the sea and kelp began to faintly permeate back through the grasses again, a backdrop scent – and a welcome one – to the stench of cordite and ejector gas.

The scene flickered in my peripheral vision, bringing my focus up and across to the far side of the harbour waters. Skimming along the line of Brown Mountain Ridge, another chopper appeared, the sound of her rotors echoing faintly in and out of earshot across the bay.

It was another drop. Throughout the conflict they had been scurrying back and forth, dropping off heavily armed assault troops, like extras in a crowd scene, playing second fiddle to the main event. Indistinct shouting drifted from the right hand trenches.


The Alouette was making for the same spot – the cemetery again. She slowed and put down.

A cry sang out from my right. Men dropped from the chopper and a barrage of rifle fire from the trenches on the main ridge split the air like crackling thunder.

I lowered my SLR and followed suit, aiming high and a few feet in front of the darting figures. They had to be fifteen hundred yards away, but in the absence of any other targets it would have to do. ‘If we can just pin them down ’til nightfall’ ran in my head over and over like a scratched record.

Whatever the plan, no way were they going to attempt to storm the thousand yards of exposed path running along the side of the bay, between our positions and the capital. For that matter neither were we.

No. For now, keep them holed up in the ruins of the town and deal with the events as they unfold. However, one thing we could be fairly sure of was that it was unlikely that they would be coming for us now, either by air or by sea.

Narrowing my eyes, I scanned across the body-littered foreshore, to the smoking pile of the helicopter gunship on the far bank, then out through the mouth of the bay toward the Guerrico. She had reappeared from behind the rocks of Hope Point, listing to starboard and about half a mile out to sea.

A mile behind her and to one side, the Bahia Paraiso still lay watching, as she had throughout the conflict. The Alouette, having left the ridge, was now a tiny dot and closing in on her fast. I looked away and turned my attention back to the tell tale ghosts of smoke emitting from the deep shadows between the distant rusting buildings. I raised my sights, took careful aim, then the thunderbolt struck.

The express train was back. Ripping the air asunder, a shell roared overhead, smashing into the mountain wall, high up with ear-splitting fury, echoing and crackling back from the white crags enclosing the bay. Blinding light, debris and smoke rumbled down the edifice.

Cries and shouts of “COVER!” drifted through deafened ears. I found it hard to focus.

Shouts mingled as one. Jesse tugged my sleeve and pointed.

Out to sea, a pinprick of light and smoke illuminated the Guerrico’s crippled front gun.


She’s bleeding shelling us! I thought we’d banjaxed the bastard!”

Howling demons rent the air. Lower. Four high explosive shells jack-hammered deep into the rock face. Stone rained down, clattering onto the roof of the big house, grit landing amongst us like hail.

“But the bleeding gun’s jammed.” Brum raised his eyes above the parapet.

“Yeah,” Jesse spat out, “but look at the bastards. Look what they’re bloody doing.”


The Guerrico was on the move. Her stern boiling white water as she dragged herself farther out to sea.

“They’re going to shunt the wreck around till they’ve got our range, ain’t they?” Jesse’s face wore a grim smile.

“Those first shots will give them a bearing, I reckon. Then once they get it right,” he squinted across the sunlit water at the manoeuvring warship, “they’ll be dropping em’ bloody right on top of us.”

Minutes went by, punctuated by the crack of small arms from the point and the whirr of the distant Alouette, once again on its way back along the snow capped ridge.

The Guerrico had stopped dead in the frozen water again.

I watched, fascinated. Jesse had guessed her intentions. The bastards were determined. Bright flashes of light left her forward gun.


Armour-piercing shells tortured the air. They hammered overhead at arm’s reach, above the ridge, missed the house and struck home into the solid wall of rock, four in a row, twenty feet lower than the first shells. Adrenalin pumped – thump thump in my ears – to the violence of the multiple thunderclap. Sound drifted away to silence, then came clamouring back, screaming through my head, like a thousand alarm bells. Smoke and dust choked the air.


In slow motion, the ringing in my head dissipated and the atmosphere began to clear around us. Through the haze, I watched the crippled ship as she yawed, ultra-slowly across to port, white water boiling from her props, then carefully began to ease about. Her movements were calculated, purposeful and sinister. Whoever was now in command was taking his time, making ready for another salvo.

Indistinct shouting sounded from the grasses thirty feet behind the trench. Someone was trying to call a message up to Pete Leach. The Sergeant Major’s voice came back through the shattered building behind me, then seconds later a door crashed open and his parade ground yell sounded from the porch.

“COVERING FIRE!” bellowed above the rattle of an enemy automatic. Keeping low, the heavy L42 in his fist, Pete jinked across the track toward Mills’ trench. Brum’s machine gun kicked eagerly. Lead spat from every weapon on both ridges. This would be it then. Mills must need to discuss our next move.

Four more shells hurtled overhead.

“Right Jesse lad!” I shouted over the din. “I reckon it’s time we put some mortars in.” I nodded down to the cluster of buildings nearest the jetty.

Muzzle flashes from Belgian automatics had been getting closer, steadily moving up through the sheds. They were close enough now, hopefully, all in the vicinity of the nearest buildings. A mortar amongst them should achieve maximum damage with one salvo.

I heaved the short black tube up from where it lay besides its casing in the wet grass, ran a finger round the inside of the rim and calculated the trajectory. The ‘2-inch’ had a maximum killing range of around 300 yards. But the sheds were less than half that distance.

The sound of boots thumped through the grass behind me, and I turned from setting up the directory of the tube to see Pete hammering back towards the porch.

Jesse piled out a couple of 900-gram smoke and a pile of heavier high explosive bombs. Smoke would get us our range, then onto rapid fire – we could sling them down at eight rounds a minute.

“READY!” I shouted. Automatic fire zipped overhead, smashing splinters from the corner of the house. Jesse raised his head again, jaw clamped shut, and grinned evilly across.


Kneeling, with the tube dug in and angled just off the vertical toward the point, and with left-hand fingers wrapped around the black steel, I lifted the smoke canister and brought it up to the tube, then stopped.

“WHOA!” Came a shout from behind me. I spun round.

“You’ll hit Mills!” Pete Leach was at the corner window of the house, face smudged with dirt, red with exertion. Then more shouting came to my ears, drifting across from the main ridge, and all around us the sound of gunfire abruptly ceased.

“What?” I dropped my arm and rested the base of the smoke bomb on a patch of shale between the tussocks. What the hell was going on? “Where is he, then?”

“Down there.” The big man angled his head toward the slope below us. My eyes traversed the battleground and caught a movement to the right. Mills, SMG strapped across his back, came into view, walking purposefully, dead centre down the puddled track past the bungalow-shaped building nearest our ridge.

“What the hell!” He left the cover, stepped out into the open killing ground at a steady pace, and kept walking.

Every head on the plateau turned toward the lone figure. No sound of movement left the trenches; not even a breeze rustled the tall grass. The silence dropped down around us under a heavy cloak of unreality. Seconds crawled past.

The diminishing figure came level with the helipad. He walked on without a glance, passing its crumbling sheet of concrete, and stepped on into the final hundred yards of stony outcrop that separated him from the deadly cluster of sheds on the point.

He couldn’t have.


I looked round at Pete. Shook my head. “Tell me he hasn’t?”

“He bloody has!” Leach’s eyes shone down from the gaping hole of the window, like angry black coals. “He’s only gone and bleeding jacked it in already.”

I felt my mouth hanging open and clamped it shut. Realisation of Pete’s reply hit home, like a physical blow. “Bollocks. We’re six nil up! Winning hands down, man.” The distant figure of Lieutenant Mills disappeared amongst the clutter of sheds.

Pete nodded, his eyes drilling me across the gap, a slit of a smile above his powerful jaw. “I know. But he’s the boss, George. His decision. We go along with it.” Shifting his big frame from the opening, he moved back into the shadow of the room and disappeared once more into the darkness of the pockmarked house.

A string of expletives erupted from the trench. Adrenalin still flowed like blood. The warrior spirit was up. To end it now seemed like a betrayal.

I laid the tube of the mortar back down in the grass, next to its gaping case, and handed Jesse the smoke bomb. He took it with a wry smile, shaking his head, breathing heavily down his nose. Fragmented emotions banged around in my skull.


Five minutes clawed by, lead-heavy with silence, before Mills reappeared, surrounded by Argies. He stood in the open, away from the deep shadows between the sheds, surreal in the sunshine, signaling with both arms for us to come down.

Stunned seconds ticked... The message kicked in – he’d done it.

“Is that poxing it then!?” Brum spat the words.

Jesse and Brasso scowled down the track, cursing.

“Bloody looks like it,” I nodded, anger and resentment boiling. “Best head off. Get yourselves down there.”

I tried to focus on what we were being ordered to do. A feeling of unreality swam around in my senses. This couldn’t be happening. Some of our guys were already on the gravel track, closing in on the nearest building. Jock walked by shaking his head. Jesse and Brum, grim faced, clambered out of the pit and followed.

Brasso was the last to leave. “See you down there George.” There was no grin. He heaved himself up to ground level, his Arctic windproof hanging open. Two hand axes flashed from his webbing like a sharp-shooter’s handguns. He’d meant what he said... I‘d never doubted him.


I peered down into the shadow of the trench wall. The giant fire axe reclined in the sharp front corner by the spent ammo boxes. There was no sign of the wet peat forming its floor. Just a carpet of empty brass shells.

Porter, Church and Daniels joined the thin speckled line, dropping down the curved slope toward the level ground of the foreshore. Their shadows marched before them. Twice their height in the early low sun, pointing like dark accusing fingers, arrow straight toward the ruined capital, Grytviken.

“Oi! Anything been happening while we’ve been away?” The unmistakeable sound of Chubb’s voice broke into my thoughts. He was walking past the house with Steve Parsons, running his fingers over the craters and bullet holes.

“Not a lot.”

“Typical. We’ve been fighting a bloody war up there, while you dozy lot have been day-dreaming.”

“Wondered what the noise was.” I tried to force a grin, but my face would have cracked.

The trademark low laugh drifted down. “Course you did. Can’t stop. Got to run. Shall I tell our new friends to expect you?” He inclined his head and spat toward the foreshore, where dozens of Argentine special assault troops were lining up the men.

“Yeah.” My eyes dragged back to the beach, still unable to believe what was happening. “Buggers. Get the beer on ice, man.”

Boots scrunching on the glass and loose shale, the two Marines headed for the track.

The door of the dark green house opened and closed, clicking heavily on its weatherproof catch. The noise drew me round to peer into the darkness of the porch. With Chubb and Parsons gone I’d thought I was alone, but a shadow moved and Pete Leach walked out into the sunshine.

“All gone, George?” Tiger bright eyes glared past me at the line of Royal Marines gathering on the beach.

“Aye. Chubb and Parsons have just gan’ down.” Their heads disappeared below the level of the plateau as they dropped down the steep incline toward the level track.

“Well, best we make a move then, get it over with.” He forced the corners of his mouth up, then pulled a bottle of spirits from each of his side pockets. “Come on, things are never that bad.” He continued, “time to go home.”

I watched his broad back as he crunched off across the shattered window panes, leaving me alone on the ridge.

Then a movement caught my eye. It was the bow wave from a landing craft, flashing in the sunshine as it ploughed through the frozen water, rounding Hope Point. Black Argy helmets showed above the high sides. The boat then turned and began to close on our spit of land. With the ceasefire in operation the reinforcements in the troop carrier would be heading toward the easiest place to disembark – and that would be the low square jetty.


I left it to its steady approach and lowered my eyes to the promontory of land spread out below me. On the landward side of the jetty, Argentine troops, dropped by chopper during the battle, appeared from the tight cluster of sheds and began to mass on the foreshore of the stony beach.


On cue, a new chill breeze stirred from nowhere and began to pick at the long grass. I swore, pulled up my collar and made to leave. Then another movement dragged my eyes down.

In front of me, two feet below the parapet of the trench, hung the white plastic double light switch. Suspended by its tangle of coloured wires, it was swinging... gently, enticingly, a hair’s breadth from the blood-red handle of the great axe.

The switch held the power of life and death. One flick and the deadly payload of harpoon heads and scrap iron, wrapped around our hidden mines, would blow the landing craft out of the water and cut down the enemy on the beach, like a scythe through corn.

Damn it!

If I used it now, there would be indiscriminate carnage. Our guys were down there too.A cold blast buffeted in, chucking a cloud across the sun’s face. The colour drained from the land. I laid my rifle down in the tall grass and began the long walk down.

Too Few, Too Far is available from Casemate Publishing,, 159 pp., $34.95, ISBN 978-1848680968