British soldiers injured when an American “tankbuster” aircraft attacked their convoy, killing one of them on Monday complained about the “cowboy” pilot.
Troops wounded in Friday’s attack accused the A-10 Thunderbolt pilot of “incompetence and negligence,” while others privately called for a manslaughter prosecution. The comments came as America’s most senior military officer, General Richard Myers, vowed to make it his quest to stop future friendly fire tragedies.
Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologised for the deadly error by the A-10 in southern Iraq. He told BBC1’s Breakfast With Frost: “It’s the absolute saddest tragedy that any of us can experience.
“I don’t think we have to live with situations like that, and one of my jobs has to be to ensure that we get the resources and the technical means to ensure that in the future this never, never happens again. And that will be my quest.” But the crew of the two British forward reconnaissance Scimitars which were attacked by the A-10 could not contain their anger.
Lance Corporal of Horse Steven Gerrard, speaking from his bed on the RFA Argus in the Gulf, said: “I can command my vehicle. I can keep it from being attacked. What I have not been trained to do is look over my shoulder to see whether an American is shooting at me.”
LCoH Gerrard, the commander of the leading vehicle, described to Patrick Barkham of The Times how the deadly A-10 attack began. The pilot made two swoops. “I will never forget that noise as long as I live. It is a noise I never want to hear again,” he said. “There was no gap between the bullets. I heard it and I froze. The next thing I knew the turret was erupting with white light everywhere, heat and smoke.”
He added: “I’ll never forget that A-10. He was about 50 metres off the ground. He circled, because he can turn on a 10-pence. “He came back around. He was no more than 1,000 metres away when he started his attack run. He was about 500 metres away when he started firing.” On the back of one of the engineers’ vehicles there was a Union Jack.
“It’s about 18 inches wide by about 12 inches. For him to fire his weapons I believe he had to look through his magnified optics. How he could not see that Union Jack I don’t know.” Packed with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades, rifle rounds and flammable diesel fuel tanks, the front two Scimitars exploded into flames. One of their comrades, Lance Corporal of Horse, Matty Hull, 25, was killed. LCoH Gerrard also criticised the A-10 for shooting when there were civilians close by.
He said: “There was a boy of about 12 years old. He was no more than 20 metres away when the Yank opened up. “He had absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy. There were four or five that I noticed earlier and this one had broken off and was on his own when he attacked us. He’d just gone out on a jolly.”
He added: “I’m curious about what’s going to happen to the pilot. “He’s killed one of my friends and he’s killed him on the second run.” Trooper Chris Finney, 18, added: “All the wagons have markings to say they are Coalition. I don’t know why he shot a second time, he was that close.
“To be honest, I think they are just ignorant. I don’t know if they haven’t been trained or are just trigger happy.” Another of the injured, Lieutenant Alex MacEwen, 25, added: “A mistake has happened but too many things suggest it was down to pure incompetence and negligence.” Trooper Joe Woodgate, 19, the driver of the Scimitar in which gunner LCoH Hull was killed walked away with holes in his bullet-proof vest and torn clothes.
He told Audrey Gillan of The Guardian: “I don’t suppose they have learned much from the first war. I can tell what an American tank looks like from every direction.
“It was the most irresponsible thing in the world. They didn’t know what was going on. We were just getting on with our mission and they were messing around in the skies and saw us and said ‘let’s get ourselves a couple of wagons, that’ll be one to tell the lads when we get back to the base’.
“How come somebody who is a top-notch Thunderbolt pilot can’t tell what a British tank looks like. I think someone in the Pentagon or somewhere needs to sort something out there.” The reporter said some soldiers were also calling for the pilot to be prosecuted for manslaughter.
“I had a lot of time for Matty,” said Trooper Woodgate. “I respected him a lot and thought he was an awesome bloke. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. So far five British servicemen have been killed by friendly fire and four in combat with Iraqi forces.
On March 23 a Tornado aircraft was shot down by a US Patriot missile battery near the Kuwaiti border. Another two British soldiers were killed when their Challenger 2 Main Battle tank was engaged by another British tank west of Basra.
‘He was doing the job he believed in when he died’ By Lesley Richardson The widow of Lance Corporal-of-Horse Matty Hull has told of her devastation at his loss.
“It is not easy to come to terms with the fact that someone who was so full of life has had his so cruelly cut short, just three days before his 26th birthday, but come to terms with it we must,” his widow, Susan, said. L/Cpl Hull, 25, of the Blues and Royals, Household Cavalry Regiment, was killed when light armoured vehicles of D Squadron were hit by an American A-10 “tankbuster” aircraft firing depleted uranium shells at two armoured vehicles.
“He had rightly earned the utmost respect from everyone he worked with, and this makes it that much harder to accept this accidental death,” Ms Hull said. “Matty was fully committed to his role, in the army as a whole, and both his regiment and squadron. I know that he was where he wanted to be, doing the job he believed in when he died.”
Ms Hull also expressed her gratitude to the regiment for its support and added: “I pray that this war will be over swiftly with no more such tragic deaths. Matty always strived for a challenge and Iraq has proved his ultimate test.” L/Cpl Hull was based in Windsor.