We cheated death after mine strike

Soldiers from a Norfolk-based regiment have described the terror of suffering their squadron's first mine strike in Afghanistan. As part of recent operations in the Upper Sangin Valley, the 100-strong B Squadron from the Light Dragoons based at Swanton Morley, near Dereham, were tasked with putting up a screen against the Taliban to the north of the River Helmand when the mine strike on a Scimitar vehicle happened.

Soldiers from a Norfolk-based regiment have described the terror of suffering their squadron's first mine strike in Afghanistan.

As part of recent operations in the Upper Sangin Valley, the 100-strong B Squadron from the Light Dragoons based at Swanton Morley, near Dereham, were tasked with putting up a screen against the Taliban to the north of the River Helmand when the mine strike on a Scimitar vehicle happened.

While the three men in the vehicle were unscathed, it was sobering reminder of the dangers the soldiers face every day.

“We were blown about three foot in the air and the vehicle came to a standstill 50 metres away. It was the single most terrifying moment of my life. I was convinced that I was going to die and even worse I thought my crew were all dead,” said Second Lieutenant Merlin Hanbury Tenison, 22.

“Nothing can prepare you for driving over mines but my friends and colleagues have been very supportive and I can only equate this to falling off a bicycle and getting back on again. Banter between the men makes life bearable over here and even cheating death can be joked about.”

Trooper Lee Dobbs, 20, who was driving the Scimitar, said: “One minute we were talking on the intercom about how great this patrol was driving over mountain dunes, the next minute there was a big explosion and silence. I turned around screaming for my troop leader and my friend Axel. I was so relieved when both their heads popped up out of the gun turret.”

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The soldiers were part of a classic formation reconnaissance task which saw them outflanking known and suspected Taliban defensive positions to the north of Sangin by crossing the dominating Musa-qaleh wadi at the base of the province's northern mountain range.

Once in position the squadron was surrounded by known enemy strongholds and natural obstacles, and their presence, along with help from an Afghan National Army recce section, prevented Taliban soldiers crossing the River Helmand and into the complex and mountainous terrain where they excel at hiding from Coalition Forces.

On the seventh day of the patrol the squadron began their dangerous trip back to Camp Bastion. They changed their route to confuse the enemy and were helped by a nearby US Marine company, but they still had to face the dangers of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) put across their path by the enemy.

As the enemy realised their plan they manoeuvred to engage the squadron but the US Marines engaged with mortars and directed two F15 Strike Eagles in 20 mm gun runs against the enemy allowing them to get safely back to Camp Bastion, having travelled more than 380km.

The squadron's unsung heroes are the 12-man Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Fitter Section. While the vehicle crews snatch a few hours rest each night the REME soldiers do whatever it takes to fix a broken down vehicle - at one point during the patrol Corporal John Ford, a vehicle mechanic, working tirelessly with a Spartan vehicle crew for 12 hours throughout the night using a tiny light source to fix a broken down vehicle.

Squadron commander Major John Godfrey said: “Afghanistan is a theatre of operations in which British soldiers put the theoretical tactics and ideas taught at its training schools like Brecon and Warminster into actual practise on a daily basis.

“The enthusiasm shown by the soldiers and their determination to take the fight to the enemy is unstinting. The sense of achievement that we all share at the end of a patrol is something that I have never previously experienced on an operational tour.”

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