(Ok, ok, I know I’m getting this shit posted inexcusably late this week. All I can say is sorry, I occasionally have unfunny, unbadass things happen in my life that make it tough for me to write funny things about badass people. But then I remember that all emotions other than rage and indifference are signs of weakness, crush a six pack of 10W-30, and inject myself with sixty ccs of dopamine, Mountain Dew and that shit the Little Sisters give you in Bioshock until I decide to stop writing around like a star soccer player with a one-goal lead in the final minutes of extra time and start spewing blood from my eyes and nose while shooting bees from my fingertips into a parked car with the windows up.)
It was an ungodly-hot afternoon on May 14, 2004, when a convoy of British FV-510 Warrior armored personnel carriers raced down the highway 150 miles north of Basrah, Iraq.
If it was a hundred ten degrees outside, it seemed double that inside the non-air-conditioned armored vehicles, where a squad of six British infantrymen from C Company, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment sat anxiously, rifles at the ready. On the radio came frantic calls from a platoon of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, pinned down by enemy forces in the city of Al-Amara not far away. The Argylls had been ambushed by over 80 fighters loyal to the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and it wasn’t going well. Every radio transmission made the men in the back of the Warrior IFV even more desperate to get there and assist.
Two warriors in Southern Iraq.
It had been a rough couple weeks for Lance Corporal Brian Wood. When the Allies announced they were going to have al-Sadr arrested for supporting Iraqi insurgency, the cleric came out with a call for vengeance against the West, and all hell had broken loose in a hurry. Wood and his squad were stationed at a vehicle checkpoint they’d nicknamed “Danny Boy”, located just a few miles out of the Al-Amara city limits, and over the last couple weeks they’d already been attacked several times by coordinated enemy troops who wanted nothing more than the complete destruction of anything even resembling a reference to a traditional Irish folk song.
And now this bullshit.
Wood was triple-checking his standard-issue British Army L85A2 assault rifle when suddenly the vehicle was rocked by a powerful blast that sent everyone inside reeling like they'd just hit the emergency stop on a roller coaster mid-corkscrew. Within seconds, the radio was alive – “RPG!” – and the Iraqi highway was quickly crowded by muffled screams and the unmistakable sounds of ripping automatic weapons fire ruining peoples' days.
Outside the coffin-like confines of the Warrior, it was pretty goddamn clear that the British convoy had rolled straight into a well-prepared ambush. Hardcore, dedicated, resilient Iraqi troops had staked out positions in front and to the right of the British convoy, taking cover behind roadside embankments and irrigation ditches, and the Brits had rolled into their trap like those cops in Con Air getting jacked by Cyrus the Virus. Over 100 warriors loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr fired down on the disoriented British forces with everything they had – rocket-propelled grenade launches, heavy machine guns, AK-47s and mortars. The lead Warrior had been rocked hard, setting it on fire and knocking out its primary gun and power systems, leaving it basically dead in the water in an exposed position where Iraqi RPG troops could rocket-hump it with high explosive warheads.
The driver of the Warrior turned to Wood, and grimly told him the situation – we’re fucked, the 30mm cannon has been disabled, and we’re one lucky shot away from becoming an over-microwaved TV dinner. Unload your squad see what you can do.
Lance Corporal Brian Wood of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, British Army kicked open the back hatch of the APC and gave the only order that could logically be given:
Let me say this for the record: The most badass invention in human military history isn’t some crazy piece of military aerospace technology that can craterize a concrete parking garage into rubble from the upper atmosphere while traveling at Mach fourteen. It’s not a nuclear warhead with a megatonnage yield capable of throwing the Earth off its axis and sending it careening into the sun and ending all life in the universe in one fell swoop. It isn’t a futuristic laser rifle, a large-caliber overcompensating-for-something handgun, or a tempered-steel sword with thousands of years of history and possibly even the remnants of a demon's soul.
It’s a fucking six-inch chunk of razor-sharp steel that you affix to the end of a machine gun and then ram into your opponent’s heart as hard as you fucking can until he is dead. It's cold steel, without style or flair or primadonna pretentiousness, and with the principle of the fact that sure, you can shoot the guy in the head with a thermal scope from a mile and a half away, but you want to do this shit the old-fashioned way and kill each other like Men.
On May 14, 2004, roughly three hundred years after the concept of the bayonet was actually a viable option for winning battles, Lance Corporal Brian Wood tried to save his convoy and his comrades by ordering six pissed-off British soldiers to launch a fucking bayonet charge across 200 yards of open ground towards a numerically superior force of hardened Iraqi troops who were firing AK-47 assault rifles at him from well-prepared elevated positions.
With bullets zipping past their heads and cracking by their ears, Wood and his Brits – who were, according to one of them, “proper angry”, (which is a very awesome and very British thing to say, particularly when referring to a 21st-century bayonet charge) – ran screaming towards the crapping-their-pants Iraqis, bayonets gleaming in the burning-hot Middle Eastern sun. Moving up in short bursts, Wood and his guys would race up ten meters, drop to the ground, fire a few bursts, then get up and sprint another short burst towards them. Covering almost two hundred yards in a little over a minute, Wood then ordered his men to “CHAAAARRRRRGE!!!!” (I assume) and ran 30 meters up a goddamn embankment while AK-47 bullets tore up the ground around him.
When they reached the top of the embankment, Wood and his five squadmates broke into three teams of two and leapt feet-first into the trench, bayonets at the ready, screaming with furious British blood rage.
They landed in a body-strewn trench with over a dozen Iraqi fighters, none of whom were really expecting to be goddamned involved in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy on the field of battle in the year 2004.
According to one of the guys who was there, “Basically it was short, sharp, and furious.”
"I wanted to put the fear of God into the enemy.
I could see some dead bodies and eight blokes, some scrambling for their weapons.
I’ve never seen such a look of fear in anyone’s eyes before.
I’m over six feet; I was covered in sweat, angry, red in the face,
charging in with a bayonet and screaming my head off.
You would be scared, too."
Although, I must confess, I pretty much exclusively think of it going down like this:
When the smoke cleared, three enemy were dead, four were wounded/captured, and the rest had run for it to take cover in another trench nearby. Not one of Wood’s men were injured, except one guy who got a mild blister on a finger of his non-stabbing hand.
Of course this was just the beginning. After leading a bayonet charge and having some up-close hand-to-hand with the enemy, Wood, jacked up out of his mind on enough adrenaline to power a Red Bull processing plant, then repositioned his men in the trench and directed fire on the main body of the Iraqi troops, who were taking cover behind another drainage ditch nearby. Those guys had obviously shifted their fire to the half-dozen stab-happy Brits at this point, but before long the APCs got their 30mm cannons up and running, and those beasts laid down a pounding covering fire while Wood and his squad moved up onto the next position.
Ffiring with their own rifles as well as AK-47s they’d picked up off dead enemy troops, Brian Wood and his guys cleared two more trenches over the course of the next four hours of straight-up combat. They took out over 30 enemy fighters, forced the surrender of nine more, called in a friggin' tank to blow the shit out of a concrete bunker full of explosives, and destroyed the Iraqis' well-prepared ambush without taking a single British casualty. One of the British APC drivers describes Wood’s actions better than I ever could:
“The Iraqis were hidden in little bends in these channels, and they kept jumping out with their rifles and every time Brian and Dave would put them down. Then another bunch of guys would stand up and the same thing would happen. And gradually, we got the upper hand and it all started to quieten down, until there was just sporadic fire.”
I picture this going down like Chuck Norris hosing down that mansion full of drug dealers at the end of Delta Force 2.
Through his daring actions, Lance Corporal Brian Wood turned the tide of the battle and saved his convoy, and in the process had ordered the first British bayonet charge in over 25 years (the Scots bayoneted some Argentinians during the Falklands War in 1982, but that’s a tale for another time). During his deployment, Wood would also be wounded in the face by an IED blast, survive countless face-to-face encounters with enemy forces, and once drove into a hardcore battle zone to recover a wounded buddy – Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry. Beharry is a future Badass of the Week article himself, a Grenadan who’d been hit with an RPG after himself driving into the ambush zone twice to save wounded men from certain death.
The next time the two men met, they were at Buckingham Palace having an audience with the Queen. Beharry was getting the Victoria Cross. Wood was receiving the Military Cross for Bravery.
Both were well deserved.
(Wood is on the far left)
Collins, Dan. In Foreign Fields. Monday Books, 2008.
Holmes, Richard. Dusty Warriors. HarperPress, 2006.