Iraq 2003-09


In the early autumn of 2003, the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Division addressed the officers senior ranks on the developing situation in south-east Iraq. The regiment was to take over an area of operations that included north Basra and Maysan, a province north of the city about the size of Northern Ireland.

The battlegroup deployed at the end of September with, under command, ‘C’ Squadron and Recce Troop, merged and equipped with Land Rovers and tracked reconnaissance vehicles, ‘D’ Squadron in a light infantry role, but also with fourteen rarely to be used Challenger tanks, a company from 1st Battalion The Light Infantry and two companies from 1st Battalion Royal Scots. ‘B’ Squadron was deployed in Maysan as part of the Light Infantry battlegroup.

The Regiment’s mission was to provide security in the North Basra area of operations; this included about a third of Basra city and expanses of semi-urban and rural districts including the Shatt al Arab waterway.

Here the main threat came from Former Regime Extremists (FRE) their favourite weapon being the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), well known to those who had served in Northern Ireland.

Search-and-arrest operations for suspected terrorists took much of the time, interspersed with riot control, anti-looting operations and monitoring the distribution of food provided by the World Food Programme to upwards of 2 million Iraqis.

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‘D’ Squadron – “The Black Pigs”  were able to deploy two tanks to help quell a violent inter-tribal squabble, while ‘B’ Squadron with the Light Infantry in the wilds of Maysan patrolled widely from the base at Abu Naji, searching for weapons and terrorists.

In January serious rioting broke out in Al Amarah, Maysan’s first city, the squadron displayed a high degree of professionalism in facing this down, with one alert soldier shooting dead an Iraqi he spotted in the act of throwing a grenade.

The last few weeks of the six-month tour saw a change of role as the brigade commander chose the battlegroup to train and establish an effective Iraqi police service, border police; and criminal justice system in Basra and Maysan.

The QRH battlegroup’s composition now changed: the two infantry companies were replaced with a squadron of 9th/12th Lancers and in February ‘B’ Squadron returned. From December to April, teams of Security Sector Reform troops, made up of regimental personnel, created training facilities for the 20,000-strong police force, screened and tested them and conducted joint security operations.

Typically, a troop would be responsible for mentoring three or four police stations and, with little or no knowledge of how to train police to rely on their military to convert an Iraqi policeman, while Royal Military Police detachments were attached to teach technical policing.

Attacks on coalition troops reached a so far unprecedented level, delivered not only by small-arms fire but also by grenade launchers and machine guns. A team from ‘C’ Squadron was surrounded by a mob and had to be extracted by armoured vehicles. A Land Rover patrol, from ‘B’ Squadron, was ambushed, but the driver of the lead vehicle, although severely wounded, managed to drive out of the contact zone.

Lance Corporal Christopher Balmforth, the commander of the three-man crew, dismounted and, with covering fire from follow-up Land Rovers attacked the enemy on his own. The Iraqi ambush team disengaged, but not before Balmforth’s accurate fire had severely wounded four, all of whom later died of their wounds. For this, he was awarded the Military Cross.


The Regiment was deployed again to Iraq (Op TELIC 8) between April and November 2006 in both armoured and light roles. The QRH Battlegroup was initially based in Al Amarah, Maysan province where the main camp received 286 insurgent rocket attacks in four months.

The deployment to Iraq on Op Telic 8 dominated 2006, and once again the regiment had to reorganize into three squadrons, at the expense this time of the unfortunate ‘D’ Squadron – ‘The Black Pigs’, who provided troops to each of the other three.

The British element of the Multinational Force (MNF) was again 20 Armoured Brigade, and the Regiment arrived in station in April and May. RHQ, ‘C’ Squadron, Headquarter Squadron and two companies of infantry deployed to Camp Abu Naji near Al Amarah, while ‘A’ Squadron, as part of 1LI battlegroup, were in Basra, and ‘B’ were grouped with their old friends 1PWRR to provide the MNF reserve-based some 7 miles south-west of at AI Shaibah. ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadrons both had two troops worth of Challengers and all squadrons were equipped with heavy-duty-chassis wheeled snatch vehicles and more orthodox Land Rovers, neither of which provided protection for crews – and protection proved to be very much needed.

The security situation in Basra and the surrounding areas had markedly deteriorated since 2003. For the first four months ‘C’ Squadron’s home at Abu Naji was their base for patrolling by day and night in both tanks and wheeled vehicles, securing the airstrip so that re-supply flights could land, and guarding the camp.

Frequent long-range assaults on the base, mortar and rocket attacks occurring by day as well as night; during one such day over fifty missiles arrived within fifteen minutes, causing a number of injuries. In August the decision was made to hand the camp over to the Iraqis.

‘A’ Squadron in Basra had been disappointed to learn that they would have no tanks. Tasked with securing the 1LI battlegroup base at the Shatt al Arab Hotel in one of the lethally violent areas of the city, they were, however, remarkably successful in reducing the threat by patrolling aggressively and managing to damage from some of the most accomplished roadside bombing in the country.

After two months of intensive action, a review of troop levels in Iraq led to the squadron being relieved by infantry and moved to a tented camp at the logistics base at Al Shaibah.

At the airfield, ‘A’ Squadron had a number of tasks including guarding the 8-mile perimeter, manning the guard towers and providing a quick reaction force within the camp should it be attacked. They also provided convoy escorts to the supply vehicles travelling to and from Kuwait.

‘B’ Squadron was fortunate to occupy concrete-clad containers at Shaibah, and they too, were often on the road, deploying troops to Al Amarah to reinforce the regiment’s battlegroup, and even further afield to remote police stations.

Towards the end of the tour, both ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons were involved in Operation SINBAD, an attempt by the MNF to improve the living conditions of those civilians living in areas of Basra and the surrounding villages.

In November the regiment was back in Germany: casualties had been taken, some serious but none of them life-threatening.


A further deployment to Iraq (Op TELIC 13) from November 2008 to June 2009 was the last such operation in southern Iraq and was to see the draw-down of British troops in the country.

Around half of ‘A’ Squadron provided force protection for the US Army point-of-entry teams engaged in training Iraqis to take control of border crossings with Iran and was based at the Minden forward operating base at Shalamcheh, a main such crossing place.

The other half of the squadron began its tour manning the Challengers at the contingency Operating Base (COB) in Basra as part of a quick reaction force. In the event, no quick reaction was called upon.

‘B’ Squadron’s area of operations was the major port of Umm Qasr and the nearby town. After five and a half months and at the conclusion of a five-year presence, the squadron handed over its responsibilities to the 10th US Cavalry.

For ‘D’ Squadron the first four months were spent in providing military transition teams to mentor the headquarters and battalions of the Iraqi 51st Brigade in Basra and the nearby camp at Az Zubayr.

Along with ‘A’ Squadron, ‘D’ Squadron provided the escort and protection in heavily armed and armoured Mastiff six-wheeled vehicles and Snatch Land Rovers for the convoys as the British withdrawal to Kuwait got underway.

The thirteenth Op TELIC was complete and the regiment began its journey home.

Campaign Medal

The Iraq Medal is awarded to personnel who completed operational service in Iraq between 20 January 2003 and 22 May 2011.

Those personnel who completed 7 days of continuous service between 19 March 03 and 28 April 03, and served in Zone One were also awarded the clasp ’19 Mar to 28 April 03′.

Medal Clasps:

  • 19 Mar – 28 Apr 03
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