Vince Phillips Memorial – Bravo Two Zero
By 2004 I had already read many books written by ex-SAS soldiers including those by ‘Andy McNab’ and ‘Chris Ryan’ (pseudonyms – book details below) describing their experiences with the ill-fated Bravo Two Zero patrol’s mission behind enemy lines in Iraq during the First Gulf War of 1991. SAS soldiers were dropped into enemy territory to find and destroy Scud missile launchers, mobile platforms which were being used to launch missiles at Israel. At the time it was imperative to stop the attacks before Israel became drawn into the war and a greater conflagration was set off throughout the Middle East.
Bravo Two Zero, a patrol of eight men, got into conflict with enemy forces a short while after their arrival. Their presence became known to the enemy and they were being hunted down. The patrol had to deal with equipment failures such as radio and communication loss and allegedly other errors by those in command which meant the patrol lost contact completely with SAS officers at their home base.
Following a pre-planned Escape and Evasion route they attempted to reach safety in Syria, but due to circumstances the patrol became split into two groups, one of five men and the other of three men including Vince Phillips. The three-man group got into further difficulties during a freezing night when the desert was under a blanket of snow. Vince Phillips became separated from his two colleagues and disappeared; it was said afterwards that he had hypothermia, a condition in which people become disorientated, confused and want to sleep – a sleep which kills them. It was known that Vince was already suffering the effects of the extreme cold before he went missing.
Of his two colleagues ‘Mal’ was captured and ‘Chris Ryan’ escaped after an epic walk to freedom. Of the five-man group Bob Consiglio died in a firefight while helping his comrades evade the enemy and Steven Lane died of hypothermia after swimming across the Euphrates river. The remaining three men were captured.
After the war ended two patrol members, ‘McNab’ and ‘Ryan’, wrote books about the events. One book was turned into a film and the story of Bravo Two Zero gained a lot of publicity, but it also raised a storm of controversy. Some of the claims made by ‘McNab’ and ‘Ryan’ were disputed, particularly after the publication of Michael Asher’s book ‘The Real Bravo Two Zero’ (details below). Another member of the patrol, ‘Mike Coburn’, wanted to give his own account ‘to set the record straight’ but for five years the MoD sought to block publication of his book and he was involved in lengthy litigation. Eventually his book, ‘Soldier Five’, was published in 2004.
I never met or knew Vince Phillips; I knew about him only through books and through the media, although I was fortunate in being able to meet some members of his family. What struck me forcibly about the entire saga was the way in which Vince’s role in Bravo Two Zero was treated unfairly, and Vince was vilified afterwards. In some of the media he was labeled as a coward. Mike Coburn’s account did set the record straight and it exonerated Vince, but the Phillips family had paid a heavy price before the book was published. As Mike Coburn said in an interview in 2004:
“I wanted to portray events as they really happened,” he says. “You can’t have all this rubbish out there. All sorts of things happened to Vince’s family after Ryan’s book was published. They suffered emotionally and that has never really resolved itself; his father died a broken man over what had happened; and his children were teased at school by other kids who said their father was a coward.”
(I was told by a family member that Jim Phillips, Vince’s father, was spat at in the street by people denouncing his son.)
In 2004 I became a civilian member of the Allied Special Forces Association (and was a member until 2010) and broached the idea of a tribute to Vince in a further effort to bring some comfort to his family as there was no memorial to him in his home town at that time. Sergeant Vince Phillips was a career soldier and had been a member of two other regiments before joining the SAS. He was in the Parachute Regiment from 1972-76 and in the Royal Marine Commandos from 1976-83 then went on to spend nine years in 22 SAS before his death. As an ex-Special Forces soldier remarked to me, “You don’t spend all those years in those regiments, achieving those three berets, if you’re a coward”.
The Association kindly agreed to my request and in 2006 the following plaque was put on one of five tree seats in the Memorial Grove. The seat was named ‘The Vince Phillips Tree Seat’ in his honour.
The words and design were drawn up by the Association; I merely paid for the plaque to be made. In 2008 a second plaque was added commemorating the four SAS soldiers who lost their lives in the 1991 war: Vince Phillips, Bob Consiglio, Steven Lane and David Denbury. Bob Consiglio was killed in a firefight with hostile forces while providing cover so his colleagues could escape. He was awarded the Military Medal posthumously for his courage and ultimate sacrifice. David ‘Shug’ Denbury was one of the outriders for an A Squadron SAS patrol, doing forward reconnaissance when they came across a convoy which included a Scud missile launcher. The Iraqis spotted them and took off with the SAS after them. The outriders pulled in front of the convoy forcing it to stop. The rest of the SAS soldiers engaged the Iraqis in a firefight and the outriders were caught in the crossfire. One outrider was wounded and Corporal Denbury died. For his courage he was posthumously awarded the Military Medal. The plaque below was added to commemorate all of the four men who died.
Like the first plaque the words and design were created by the Association, I simply provided the funding. My purpose in funding both plaques was purely for the Phillips family and the families of those killed. I know the Phillips family have been very grateful to the Association for the tribute to Vince.
Books about Bravo Two Zero:
- Bravo Two Zero
Andy McNab, ex-SAS
Dealing with the Bravo Two Zero patrol. McNab is a famous author who has written many fiction books depicting characters in Special Forces.
- The Real Bravo Two Zero
Michael Asher, ex-Territorial Army SAS
Author of many books. This one cast doubt on McNab’s and Ryan’s accounts of the ill-fated Bravo Two Zero patrol (1991 First Gulf War).
- Soldier Five (about Bravo Two Zero)
Mike Coburn, ex-SAS
Another patrol member who put forward his own account of events drawn from his experience, and exonerated the memory of Vince Phillips.
(link to an interview with the Guardian newspaper in 2004)
- The One That Got Away
Chris Ryan, ex-SAS
Dealing with the Bravo Two Zero patrol. Ryan is a famous author who has written many fiction books depicting characters in Special Forces.