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The rockets were still too high and fading fast to a pinpoint glow.

‘Engaging,’ Jon called, for the benefit of the boss back at Camp Bastion.


They began to drop down the screen, but far too slowly for my liking. Then they disappeared entirely.

What the fuck…?


Two huge dust clouds blossomed right under my crosshair.

My focus shot up the screen; Jake’s rockets had also landed bang on the button.

‘Get in…’ I punched in T11.

Both sets of rockets had landed safely.

The TADS jumped right in front of the 100 metre tree line. I deslaved the lock because the rockets were so accurate. I moved the crosshair to a gnat’s knacker away from the foliage and called to Simon to match and shoot again.

A gentle right bank followed by a roll out, then another set of rockets rippled off our gunship and landed with pinpoint accuracy. They too disappeared just before impact as their thermal signature matched the surroundings. A confirmatory glance told me Jake had matched us shot for shot. Simon and Jon were doing a storming job.

‘Hardwoods have about a klick to run,’ Simon said.

‘Switch to guns,’ Jake responded.

I had already slaved the TADS to T12.

I pushed up the weapon select button and the rocket symbology on my MPD was replaced by 300 rounds of cannon.

With the crosshair twenty metres in front of Macy House I let rip with a ranging burst. Ten white hot pins of light dropped down the screen. My heart started to pound as they passed through my aiming mark and headed towards the building. They ploughed into the ground with a metre to go, kicking up a column of earth and dust fifty metres high – enough to screen the LS from the sniper’s positions.

‘Fuck… that was close…’ I changed the burst limit to twenty.

‘Not close enough for my liking, but I’d still aim off a bit if I were you,’ Simon replied before updating us on the secure radio. ‘Hardwoods are about to cross the river and come into view of the Taliban.’

I deslaved the TADS from T12, adjusted the sight, lased and fired a twenty-round burst. I felt every one of them through my calf muscles as they poured off the gunship like steel rain.

I switched to the field south of the LS and ripped up the ground in front of the trees with a series of twenty-round bursts of HEDP bullets.

‘They’re over the river,’ Simon called.

It was getting lighter by the second. I could now see that the south was well and truly blocked from view.

I switched my fire to the right, next to the canal bank.

Jake switched his left, further up the tree line.

We opened up in unison, providing a clear avenue for the Chinooks. Cannon rounds stitched their way along the edge of their approach path as they flared to land. The dust rolled south as the monstrous machines hit the ground. I fired fifty metres to their south-east and Jake did the same to their south-west – far closer than we had considered safe twenty-four hours ago.

No sooner were they down than they had lifted again.

We kept on ploughing up the LS until they were over the river and in the sanctuary of the open desert.

‘Checkfire,’ Jake ordered.

I stowed the M230 cannon.

The entire field was a dustbowl with a lone building in the north-east corner. A succession of Paras made their way over the bridge like ants in the pale dawn light. As the dust cloud drifted further south the last of them crossed into the DC.

‘Wildman this is Widow. That’s us all across safely and not a single shot fired.’

‘End of firemission. You’re clear back to Bastion. Thanks for the support – and stay on this freq for a Taliban update.’

We were only a mile from Sangin when he called back to explain what he’d meant. One of his interpreters with a radio scanner had heard a senior Taliban commander asking why they’d failed to shoot down the cows and the mosquitoes.

Their reply said it alclass="underline" ‘The mosquitoes were firing at us and we couldn’t shoot…’

‘Wildman copied,’ I said. ‘I don’t think we’ll get away with that twice…’



Aldershot, England

The echo of voices…

The whisper of tyres on wet tarmac…

A burst of blinding sunlight…

The Royal Artillery (RA) instructor stood with his hands on his hips. A hint of a smile suggested he knew something we didn’t. ‘To be an effective anti-aircraft gunner, you have to be a very good judge of speed and distance.’ He paced up and down in front of us like he was Captain Mainwaring. ‘You cannot afford to waste shots. If you miss first time and adjust quickly, you may, if you’re lucky, get a second chance, but only if the pilot’s below par. If he’s not, if he can fly half decently, like some of the Argies in the Falklands, he’ll manoeuvre unpredictably and then it’s spray-and-pray time. Spray, because that guy’s jinking all over the sky and you’ll never hit him in a month of fucking Sundays; pray, because by now he’s seen your tracer and he knows where you and your little pop-gun are hiding.’

He tapped one of the four pintle-mounted general purpose machine guns (GPMGs). ‘Now which of you sad, sorry bastards is first up?’ He rubbed his hands and blew on them.

I pulled myself to my feet and squinted against the cloudless sky. Behind me, my 2 Para mates gave me some low grunts of encouragement. Behind them, I swore I could hear the sniggers of the RA captain’s support team, but I didn’t let that put me off. I expected nothing less. In the eyes of a young Para the British Army was divided between those wearing the coveted red beret and the rest – the crap-hats.

I’d been given a fifty-round belt of 7.62 and told to fire twenty-to twenty-five-round bursts at the bright red remote-controlled drone that would appear over the frost-bitten ridgeline any second now. Two posts set ten feet away at eleven and one o’clock determined my arc of fire. Outside them, my rounds would land in the nearby village. As a Para marksman, regimental honour weighed heavily on my shoulders, but how difficult could it be? The propellerpowered drone had a wingspan of a metre and a half; at this range it would be the size of a barn door.

The drone would be flying right to left, straight and level. Bang, bang; I’d collect my prize and we could all go home.

I heard a sound like a buzz-saw and pulled the butt of the GPMG hard into my shoulder. There. A bright red cross, its bulbous engine glinting in the sunlight, a hundred feet or so off the deck.

‘Air Attack, Air Attack,’ Mainwaring screamed at the top of his voice.

I placed the drone squarely in the centre of the sights.

Three, two, one… It passed the right-hand post and I gave it a sustained burst. The drone beetled on and disappeared over the ridgeline. I couldn’t believe it. There was a chorus of wolf-whistles from the crap-hats as I breathed in the smell of burnt gun oil. I flushed with embarrassment.

Captain Mainwaring was in my face quick as a wink. ‘Not so easy is it, son? Trouble is, you can’t actually see where your rounds are going, can you? So this time, we’re going to help you.’

A RA bombardier gave me a fresh belt of ammo.

‘We’re loading you up with 1BIT; now you’ll be able to see where your rounds are going.’

(1BIT: one standard 7.62 mm ball round for every one tracer round (1Ball1Tracer = 1BIT).)

I’d be able to adjust my aim and walk the bullets onto the target.

The drone appeared again, nice and steady. With the belt of ammo draped over my left forearm I tracked it and pulled the trigger, spitting out red streaks the very moment it crossed the right-hand post.