Close Quarter Battle was a book I first read back in about 2002 when I was thinking about joining the Royal Marines as a younger lad. There were a few that I read along with the usual titles but this one did stick out as a decent read.
There are bags of action and from different battles. When I came across it recently I jumped straight on it and started reading it again. It’s a well-written book, doesn’t drag out any boring parts and flows well.
Mike Curtis grew up in Wales. working as a coal miner, but he wanted to do more with his life and this led to him joining the Parachute Regiment. He dug out in training and finished with an excellent score, breaking records for P Company.
When the Falklands War kicked off Curtis was a member of 2 Para. After being dropped off as Sussex Mountain he played a major part in the Battle for Goose Green where the Paras were outnumbered in horrendous conditions.
Let’s head to the book as 2 Para make their way towards Goose Green;
There was an immense flash of light overhead as illuminating mortar rounds exploded, followed by a whirr of heavy ordnance and the crunch of explosions in front. I saw 4 and 6 Platoons directly in front of me, weapons in hand, helmets on and walking in an extended line – almost like a grainy First World War newsreel of soldiers advancing towards the enemy. Most of the lads had bayonets fixed on their rifles and, looking up and down the line, it was an awesome sight as they moved forward across the frozen mud and grass.
Conditions were terrible as they advanced on the enemy positions.
The artillery rounds screamed and screeched through the air like giant insects before crashing into the ground in front of us in massive explosions. Then, suddenly above us, more illuminating rounds erupted, turning night into day. This completely fucked everybody up because it screwed with your night vision. When the darkness descended again it appeared even blacker than before.
He heads over to search a trench after hearing possible Spanish accents;
I swung the gimpy into the trench and found a guy sitting down, facing me. He lifted his head and looked at me as though I’d interrupted his quiet time. He had a poncho around him and didn’t appear to have a weapon. The sight of him was so bizarre that Bob could have been a thousand miles away. I was totally engrossed by the man in the trench.
Encountering the Enemy
This was Curtis’ first encounter with the enemy;
I didn’t know what to do. For a split second, I hesitated. It was snowing. I was soaking wet, a million miles from home. I was looking at him; he was looking at me.
Then, as the illuminating rounds dimmed to nothing, there came a vicious spit of flame and a deadly rattle from the back of the trench. A second Argentinian, hidden beneath a stretched poncho, had opened up with an automatic. The rounds zipped past my head to the left and I thought, Fucking hell, I’ve killed Bob – my delay has cost a mate his life.
He opened up with his gimpy, but I will leave it to you to read the book to find out what happened here.
Despite swearing that he would leave the army after the Falklands War was over, Curtis instead stepped it up a level and went for SAS selection. He smashed the hills phase and got through his time in the jungle before getting to the Resistance to Interrogation phase where a load of Gurkhas chased them down.
He got to interrogation but failed it. What’s normally considered a formality broke him when the interrogators got too personal. He returned to complete it once again and passed.
The Gulf War was next up. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Curtis was a part of the British SAS patrols that went scud hunting deep behind enemy lines. There was one situation that was particularly hairy. The patrol had to cross the Main Supply Route (MSR) without the enemy seeing them.
They cut a hole in the fence and all the vehicles apart from Curtis’ went through. Their pinkie failed to start. It had had a few problems over the previous nights but it had been fine for a while until this moment. They started waving like madmen as the other three vehicles had crossed the MSR.
Curtis explains the situation;
We sat looking at each other. ‘They’ll have to come back sooner or later,’ I said. There hadn’t been any traffic on the motorway for days, but almost instinctively we scanned the road. A light mist had rolled in on another gloomy night.
Kiwi spotted it first – something moving towards us from the east.
At first, they thought it was the blokes in their Troop. Then it slowly dawned on them that it was an Iraqi convoy. Around twelve vehicles, quite a way off still, but travelling without lights. Deciding to stay and fight if needed instead of running and leaving the bigger weapons and kit was a joint decision.
Kiwi unlocked four 66 rockets ready to fire. I had the gimpy ready with 200 rounds. Billy put a bomb into his 203 and had a claymore bag full of spares. I figured that if we did have a contact, the rest of the Troop would turn up and whack them from the other side. It sounded good in theory, but for the moment we were on our own.
Spotted by the Enemy
The enemy convoy was now close enough for them to realise they were driving some APCs and BMPs. The convoy had slowed down to a walking pace, it had definitely spotted them.
Billy was dark-skinned and could possibly pass as an Arab. Kiwi and I both had shemags around our heads. I whispered, ‘Brass it out. Smile and wave. Smile and wave.’
Their motto is Who Dares Wins and they fucking dared right here. In a situation where most would have bolted, or not even have known what to do, the men sat on the edge of an MSR, deep behind enemy lines during a war and waved at an enemy convoy driving right past them.
My heart pounded. I lifted my hand and waved. Billy did the same. The driver of the lead vehicle waved back and sped up a little. The rest of the convoy followed, continuing down the motorway out of sight. I started laughing quietly and soon the three of us were rolling about. We couldn’t fucking believe our luck.
The rest of the Troop came back ten mins later and they carried on their actions behind enemy lines, spending a total of forty-two days conducting missions in Iraq.
Curtis went on to spend some time in Bosnia, guarding Heads of State which included visiting British Prime Minister John Major. A very interesting part was when he was trying to map the frontlines of the Croat/Muslim armies. They had to persuade both sides to let them get to the frontline and note all the trenches, weapons etc that were in the respective areas. They probably saved many lives by getting them to talk but also saw some real horrors. The book is a mix of everything I like in a military autobiography. It’s got the training, the action, the build ups, the humour and this is a book I will read for a third time at some point in the future.
The book is cheap. It’s a great read. Grab your copy here.