UK — Army Apache crew members honoured for actions over Libya

Mem­bers of the team that con­trolled and flew Army Apache heli­copters dur­ing Oper­a­tion ELLAMY over Libya have been hon­oured for their actions.

An Apache attack heli­copter of 656 Squadron Army Air Corps is pic­tured fir­ing a Hell­fire mis­sile dur­ing an exer­cise con­duct­ed from HMS Ocean [Pic­ture: Lead­ing Air­man (Pho­tog­ra­ph­er) Guy Pool, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Usu­al­ly based at Wat­tisham Air­field in Suf­folk, Major Mike Neville received a Queen’s Com­men­da­tion for Valu­able Ser­vice for his lead­er­ship and brav­ery under attack in Libya while War­rant Offi­cer First Class 1 Jonathan Lane, a front seat Apache com­man­der received a Men­tion In Dis­patch­es, the old­est form of recog­ni­tion of gal­lantry with­in the UK Armed Forces. 

Both men are mem­bers of 656 Squadron, of 4 Reg­i­ment Army Air Corps, who had been on HMS Ocean in the Mediter­ranean learn­ing to oper­ate the Apache off Roy­al Navy ships when they were retasked to take part in oper­a­tions over Libya as part of NATO’s Oper­a­tion UNIFIED PROTECTOR

Apache fly slow­er and low­er than any UK air­craft in the­atre and are con­sis­tent­ly with­in a two-kilo­me­tre range of the enemy. 

Despite the risk, Major Neville encour­aged and com­mand­ed his air­crews to attack a well-equipped ene­my armed with more than 20,000 man-portable sur­face-to-air mis­siles and in excess of 1,000 anti-air­craft artillery (AAA) pieces. 

On 22 mis­sions the Apach­es com­mand­ed by Major Neville hit more than 100 tar­gets, fir­ing 99 Hell­fire mis­siles and 4,800 30mm can­non rounds. 

Major Neville flew on ten of these oper­a­tions and his Apache was rou­tine­ly tar­get­ed by small arms fire as well as SA-24 mis­siles. In one of these attacks he was tar­get­ed as he was engag­ing an ene­my com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work, but con­tin­ued to see his task through while mak­ing sure there were no civil­ian casualties. 

On anoth­er occa­sion 30 miles inland — and there­fore with very lit­tle chance of a quick res­cue if he was shot down — his heli­copter came under anti-air­craft fire. Again Major Neville con­tin­ued on with his task, and only returned to HMS Ocean when he had achieved his mission. 

The threat to Major Neville and his crew was unprece­dent­ed and his actions set the stan­dard for oth­er Apache crews through­out the tour. 

The cita­tion states: 

“It is his out­stand­ing brav­ery in com­mand, while under­stand­ing the risk he takes on every mis­sion, that make him a remark­able offi­cer and wor­thy of recognition.” 

Major Neville said: 

“I am immense­ly proud to receive this hon­our. It is about recog­nis­ing 18 months of work to build a team to achieve a chal­leng­ing task that I nev­er expect­ed to be putting into action myself. The air and ground crews under my com­mand faced unprece­dent­ed pro­fes­sion­al demands but achieved all that was asked of them. 

“We were oper­at­ing in a high-threat envi­ron­ment and fly­ing low, fast and at night to mit­i­gate the risks. Despite these chal­lenges, we hit all the tar­gets giv­en to us with­out any of our heli­copters being dam­aged or any injuries to our crews. 

“For the engi­neers, work­ing on a ship presents dif­fi­cul­ties of space and the vol­ume of spares and equip­ment that can be car­ried. But through their hard work, air­craft were avail­able for every mis­sion and they all took off with all sys­tems work­ing perfectly.” 

In the event for which WO1 Lane was award­ed his Men­tion in Dis­patch­es, he was a front seat air­craft com­man­der in the sec­ond pair of Apache heli­copters direct­ed to tar­get an ene­my com­mand and con­trol cen­tre between Mis­ura­ta and Zlitan. 

As the heli­copter began its attack run, WO1 Lane was engaged by an SA-24 Sur­face to Air mis­sile. Hold­ing his nerve as the mis­sile soared towards him, he was able to iden­ti­fy its fir­ing point before using the aircraft’s flares to decoy the mis­sile and return fire. 

WO1 Lane does not mind admit­ting to being gen­uine­ly in fear of nev­er see­ing them again in the sec­onds before the flare drew the mis­sile away from the Apache. 

He said: 

“It all hap­pened real­ly quick­ly, prob­a­bly about five to six sec­onds, but as I saw the mis­sile head­ing for us, I did think this could be it. 

“Although I had come under small arms fire and anti-air­craft artillery attack before, this was the first time I had expe­ri­enced a sur­face to air mis­sile and, despite going through that sce­nario in a sim­u­la­tor, it was a real shock. 

“The flare was deployed and I watched as the mis­sile swerved at the last sec­ond. The adren­a­line was pump­ing, my heart was thump­ing out of my chest. 

“There was a sense of tremen­dous relief, fol­lowed by the real­i­sa­tion that it could hap­pen again so we broke away from that zone but still had anoth­er air­craft engag­ing the tar­get in that area.” 

WO1 Lane had to make the deci­sion to go back, iden­ti­fy the ene­my, and neu­tralise the threat: 

“It was very fright­en­ing,” he said. “We had got away with it once. We did not know what else was there but knew the assets the ene­my had access to. 

“But because of the kit on the air­craft, we had been able to pin­point the ene­my posi­tion quick­ly after they fired on us. We found a rock­et launch­er which had been used to shoot at ships off the coast and destroyed it.” 

His actions allowed the heli­copters to car­ry on with their orig­i­nal mis­sion before return­ing to the mis­sile fir­ing point to destroy its capabilities. 

WO1 Lane is no stranger to ene­my fire hav­ing served two tours in Afghanistan and six in Iraq. His air­craft have been hit three times by small arms fire. On one occa­sion a bul­let flew into the cock­pit, went through his visor and out through his hel­met, mirac­u­lous­ly leav­ing him with just a shrap­nel wound. 

As a result, this is WO1 Lane’s sec­ond Men­tion In Dis­patch­es and he also has a Queen’s Com­men­da­tion For Bravery. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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