on 7 April 2008
You'd be suprised how many people still haven't read this book, yet everyone has heard of it - maybe due to the film starring Sean Bean released in 1999.
Bravo Two Zero was the call sign of an 8 man SAS team led by Andy McNab (not his real name) dropped deep behind enemy lines in Iraq during the first Gulf war. Their mission was to monitor and disturb the movement and deployment of Scud missiles being used by Saddam Hussein.
The mission goes badly wrong and the team find themselves extremely close to a large force of Iraqi military and a terrain and climate that they were largely unprepared for. They are soon discovered and pursued enormous distances day and night until most of the group have been either killed or captured. McNab was captured and the story recounts in gruesome detail the torture and psycological tecniques used to attempt to break the men down. It's gripping and exciting and you actually feel like you're there with him. These are some very tough guys.
However no review of the book would be complete without mention of the subsequent critisism levelled at McNab by other members of the patrol. Chris Ryan in his book 'The One that Got Away' says that McNab played up his own role and actually was largely responsible for the mission's early failure - Ryan clearly sees himself as the real hero of the mission, being the only member to survive the pursuit and flee to Syria.
Subsequently another surviving member of the expedition, Mike Coburn, released 'Soldier 5: The real truth behind the Bravo Two Zero mission' claiming that neither Ryan or McNab give an accurate portrayal of events and both dramatised the story for the purposes of publication (for example making up most of the major gun battles).
Believe it or not there is then a fourth book by former SAS soldier, Mike Asher, who travels the route of the escape and interviews Iraqi civilians who witnessed the flight of Bravo Two Zero patrol and gives his own view of the likelihood of the events taking place.
I had fun reading all four books and the differences in opinion didn't take anything away from McNab's original Bravo Two Zero.
Read Bravo Two Zero and enjoy it - but don't take it all as fact, and if you want to go further, check out the other books I've mentioned.
on 7 September 2015
After reading American Sniper I had a keen interest in military memoirs and really wanted to read more books from that genre. Being British, I wanted to see if there was a difference between the psyche of an American soldier and a British one. I knew that there are two really famous British army memoirs, one of which is The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Although I’d love to read this book, I wanted something a little more similar to American Sniper which left me with Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab. I’m not going to say too much about the book because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but be assured it is an infectious read with a lot of sad and gruesome parts!
As I said above, this book is immensely well known in the UK and was first published in 1991 and has being republished many times since then. The memoir follows SAS (Special Air Service) soldier Andy McNab as he leads his team into an undercover, behind enemy lines operation in the First Gulf War against Iraq in 1990. Their mission is to cut an important communication line between Baghdad and Eastern Iraq where Saddam holds most of his infamous SCUD missiles.
The mission is clinically planned as every SAS mission is but when unusual weather and a lot of bad luck occur the team are compromised and have to escape Iraq into Syria. Unfortunately, Andy doesn’t make it and is captured by the Iraqis along with two of his friends. What follows is weeks of brutal torture and mistreatment at the hands of the Iraqis before the end of the war. Their job is to break the British soldiers and make them reveal their secrets. But with rigorous training and a strong sense of will, how long can the British soldiers last before their nightmare becomes too much?
This was a vastly interesting book telling an awful but very inspirational story. It gives an insight into the very secretive SAS, Britain’s most highly trained and famous part of the army. I especially liked how honest McNab was about his ordeal and how he doesn’t let his torture define him. As he says, this is what he is paid to do and what he trains for and by putting his faith in that training gives him the will to him get through the weeks he spent in an Iraqi jail.
I did enjoy Bravo Two Zero more than American Sniper. I know most of you will say it’s biased because I’m British (and I guess I kind of am!) but the nature of the SAS means that even people who have left the force must remain anonymous which means McNab does not reveal too much about his personal life. Whereas in American Sniper I believe the publisher tried to make Chris Kyle a hero by not just revealing his deeds in Iraq, but by telling more of his personal story and making him the guy everyone would love to buy a beer and pat on the back.
Another great military memoir, the next one I read will definitely be Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor!
For more book reviews google adam-p-reviews
on 27 January 2001
Special Forces indeed
A definite page turner. I read it going to work, coming from work, and even at work (when no colleagues were watching). But my job, being a human-computer interaction specialist, is *very* boring compared to the work of the SAS, the British Special Forces. Although I don't think I would want to trade places.
The book cover of my version of Bravo Two Zero was somewhat misleading. It cited the British premier John Major saying it was the SAS who destroyed the SCUD missile sites in the Gulf War, and it cited the American General Norman Schwarzkopf saying that the SAS were the eyes of the allied forces deep in enemy territory. So I expected the book to show a very successful commando mission in Iraq. Other SAS missions were a great success, but in the Bravo Two Zero mission much went wrong...
That doesn't make the operation of the main team of 8 soldiers less heroic, not at all. The gun fights in which the team were heavily outnumbered but in which they still wreaked havoc, the distances they had to walk causing their feet almost to fall of, the hypothermia, hunger and thirst they suffered: all was very impressive. And, probably worst of all, the extensive torturing some had to go through when they were caught, but which they still survived, makes those British soldiers truly admirable men. It much surprised me that, at the same time, they remained very humane during their stay, not killing one single Iraqi civilian even when that might have significantly improved their chances of survival.
What did surprise me however, were the extremely shallow emotional lives these SAS commandos seemed to have. For McNab, the main character of the book, the army clearly had a higher priority than his wife and family, he killed without much afterthought, and he and his buddies almost constantly laughed in the face of death. At the beginning of the book I suspected this behaviour to be partly macho talk, but at the end of the book, especially after the surviving SAS members return to England and had their army psychologist conclude they did not sustain *any* psychological damage, I started to believe that maybe these guys are indeed of a special brand. Anyway, they should receive gratitude for risking their lives.
on 4 September 2007
Many books have a reputation which precedes them, some reputations might be a deterrent. Readers like myself may worry that if anyone sees you reading Bravo Two Zero they will think you're one of those pitiful 'chairbourne ranger' dreamers who fantasize about being part of the military elite: I've met more than a few of these in my time... Partly because of this kind of thing, I avoided this title for many years, but having now read the book I would heartily recommend it to anyone, even if only to be able to speak about it from experience.
The book raises many questions. For example, satellite photography technology has been around for many years now, so why was the patrol not provided with detailed images of the terrain? Why was the concentration of Iraqi forces in the drop-zone so badly underestimated? Why didn't the military have information on the weather conditions the patrol would encounter? According to other books such as "The Quiet Soldier", the cardinal rule taught during training for the SAS is "you must kill immediately". So why leave so many witnesses alive to compromise your location?
More pertinently, we have no idea how accurate the book is; by all accounts Chris Ryan's "The one that got away" presents a wholly different version of events. Most avid readers can't have failed to notice that both Andy McNab and Chris Ryan have since become surprisingly prolific authors and I'm sure their "true story" beginnings can have done no harm to their new careers. I for one do not begrudge them their post-military success, though had I realized that a military career could be such a useful passport to becoming a fiction author I might not have walked past the door to the army recruitment centre all those years ago.
So... is it fact, fiction or a blend of the two? None of us are going to know for sure. If it is mostly accurate then it is, as I have suggested in the title, a good 'warts & all' account of how even the best training still leaves you vulnerable to human fallibility; it therefore provides a refreshing antidote to the notion that our Special Forces are only one step removed from Marvel comic book heroes. On the other hand, if it is heavily fictionalized, then it's still a ripping good yarn. Either way I would recommend this book to anyone.
PS: I bought mine second hand and it "seems" to be signed by the author, surely Andy McNab didn't/doesn't do book signings? His face is always blacked out when he appears on TV.
on 18 June 2008
Although the book makes for a gripping read it needs to be taken with quite a pinch of salt. There is no mention of him being strongly advised before departure to take vehicles to make a quick escape if compromised, or of heavily overloading his patrol with kit. Ultimately, by failing to follow his own escape plan south towards friendly units "McNab" contributed to the death of 3 of his team and the capture of all but one of the rest by heading north towards the Euphrates and the most heavily populated area of Iraq. If you want to read what really happened to Bravo Two Zero I would recommend Peter "Billy" Ratcliffe's book Eye of The Storm for a far more down to earth and human, yet just as gripping read.
on 12 May 2003
I'm not sure that a five star recommendation is really suitable for this book and I find it hard to 'recommend' it to anyone. Stories of military forces in action have never really appealed to me but I came across this book and decided to read it, especially as it had been a bestseller. And I'm still not sure why it has been so popular. Anyway, a hundred pages in, when the SAS team are on the helicopter flight into unknown regions behind Iraqi enemy lines, and you're hooked. I could not put it down, even when I really wanted to. The first half of the book begins with a brief account of McNab's early life and his entry into the elite SAS squadron. This quickly moves into the team of eight's preparations for their mission into Iraq and then onto the beginning of the mission itself. Suffice it to say that things quickly go wrong, by which point I expect most readers' eyes were popping out of their heads, especially when reading about the firefight between the SAS team and the Iraqi soldiers.
From here on the book is almost unrelievedly TENSE. I felt sick reading it, especially as McNab makes sure that the book is written in such a way that you can't help but identify and empathise with the team, McNab especially. You REALLY don't want them to get caught, even though you read each page knowing that this is exactly what happens. To get caught when he does, and after such huge feats of endurance, stamina and bravery was just too cruel. Halfway through the inevitable occurs though, and this is where my 'problem' with the book begins. The last 150 pages consist pretty much of McNab getting dragged in and out of various interrogation rooms and getting tortured, mentally as well as physically, in the most harrowing, sickening manner imaginable. And it goes on and on, day after day, sometimes with only a few hours between 'beastings'. He's sat in a chair and beaten to a pulp; kicked; beaten with a wooden pole; burnt with a red-hot spoon pressed into running sores; has cigarettes stubbed out on his neck by laughing Iraqi soldiers; beaten again; kicked again with steel-capped boots in the head, face; his eardrums burst; teeth are smashed; he's forced to clear an Iraqi toilet out with his hands and then ordered to lick the excrement from his fingers. The litany of brutality seems never ending. I don't think I'm especially faint-hearted but I found reading McNab's account tough.
There is no 'pleasure' to be gained from the book. But still I could not put it down. The atmosphere and reality of intimidation, pain, utter brutality, fear, degradation, humiliation, physical injury, inhumane treatment and sheer cruelty is so vividly evoked that after I'd finished the book it left me feeling like I had a ball of metal in my stomach. I was glad to close the book, but part of me didn't want it to finish. An EXTRA-ordinary book relating an experience that no ordinary person is likely to ever encounter in their entire lives. I found it truly, genuinely shocking. By the time the torture starts you can't help but LIKE McNab, which makes what happens to him even harder to read about. Sometimes you find it hard to believe that such things actually happened because what DOES happen is beyond the experience of most people. It's hard to get your head around it. How could anyone suffer such prolonged attacks and beatings and survive? I've heard that there has been a conflicting account of this ill-fated mission from another Bravo Two Zero team member: Chris Ryan, but only McNab knows what went on in those interrogation rooms and so must be given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps part of me just doesn't want to admit that people are capable of actions of such sustained cruelty and barbarity.
In summary, this is an account of tremendous human courage and survival, but the two things that will stay with me the most are the tenacity of McNab's mental strength to mentally survive the experience and the bewildering horror of the torture he is subjected to. Don't read this lightly or take it with you on holiday to read on the beach. It deserves more respect. This book is harrowing but I thank McNab for sharing his experiences and demonstrating that the even though the body can be punished, the human spirit can remain indomitable. He certainly gets my admiration and respect, along with the other team members who made it back to Britain alive.
on 29 December 2015
I received a signed copy of this book as a present my wife had organised after writing to Andy McNab. So thank you very much for your generosity.
Having read all of McNabs fiction (which are also engaging and enjoyable to read) I finally read his first foray into writing, his non-fiction work.
There has been much discussion over the years how truthful this book is. That is for the reader to decide. I found this book a very good read. I believe that McNab gives an account of what happened from his perspective. Those who weren't there cannot judge. It details their appalling treatmemt at the hands of their captors and explains the reasons for the decisions made. Right or wrong. It contained the usual gallows humour that only comes from being in the military and the cameraderie between friends. What cannot be denied though is McNabs ability to draw in the reader with an engaging and fluid writing style.
I will be reading his other non-fiction work in the future and would recommend this book.
on 27 December 2011
I don't think I have anything really to add to praise for this book but I'd like to add a little something to the questions of it's veracity.
In Andy McNab's first account he states that in their initial contact with the enemy the eight man patrol was engaged by a full enemy company (100-120 men) and two armoured personnel carriers which they destroyed. In his version of events his fellow SAS soldier Chris Ryan states that they were initially fired upon by a pair of local militiamen who were then joined by about a dozen more in a truck. He also heard the machinegun of an armoured car which he did not personally see but Mike Coburn who was also in the patrol did. Lastly they were attacked by the soldiers at a nearby artillery position using their anti-aircraft guns in the ground to ground role. According to ex-SAS soldier Michael Asher who returned to Iraq and interviewed the local people the patrol was attacked by exactly 3 local militiamen who were all veterans of the Iran/Iraq conflict.
So who is telling the truth and who is lying?
In Chris Ryan's account he states the battle started when he waved to the militiamen in order to try to fool them that they were friendly troops but he made the mistake of using his left hand which no Arab would do (in Middle Eastern culture it would be considered an insulting gesture to wave or shake hands using the left). McNab never mentions this but it's possible he simply never saw it due to his position or that he was looking the other way at the time, covering his respective arc of fire on the flank whilst Ryan who first in line in the patrol would be always scanning ahead. The militiamen who Michael Asher interviewed, having never read Ryan's book, also mentioned this detail, giving impressive credence to their story. But if they are telling the truth it suggests that 3 men armed with assault rifles could take on and defeat 8 men armed with assault rifles, machineguns, grenade launchers and anti-tank rockets in a stand up fight which seems extremely unlikely. Also it rathers beggars belief that the hundreds of Iraqi soldiers at the nearby anti-aircraft positions which all accounts agree were there simply ignored this massive gunbattle occuring on their doorstep.
So is Andy McNab telling the truth or is Chris Ryan? Or Mike Coburn? Very possibly they all were, the men were hundreds of yards apart in the midst of a life or death firefight with loud explosions, gunfire, smoke and clouds of white phosphorous running hell for leather whilst trying to carry extremely heavy loads, Ryan saw things McNab and Coburn couldn't see and vice versa due to the terrain and their recall was of what was important to them at the time which obviously differed between the three. They both saw completely different bits of the same battle and described it accordingly, like the old fable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant by touch. McNab may never have been aware of the prescence of the local militiamen because Ryan was first in line and he was some ways behind him, by the time McNab was engaged in the running battle the soldiers at the anti-aircraft battery had joined in and they were the focus of his attention. Mike Coburn says he saw an armoured car firing a machine gun and two truckloads of Iraqis. Certainly the Iraqis at the artillery position would have needed some form of military vehicles to tow their anti-aircraft guns. Morever it would be weeks before any of the patrol could sit down and make a comprehensive written record of what had actually happened during which time McNab and Coburn were subject to a series of intense firefights, hypothermia, physical exhaustion, dehydration, capture, horrific torture and the death of three of their comrades. Meanwhile Ryan endured an arduous week long solo trek through the Iraqi desert (including inadvertently giving himself radiation poisoning from a contaminated spring and being forced to kill 2 men with his knife and bare hands) which left even a superfit and tough SAS trooper like himself a physical and emotional wreck. McNab and Coburn were also incarcerated for a considerable time with their fellow patrol members meaning that they would have swapped stories about what happened and influenced one another's recollection. Notably Mike Coburn also backs up McNab's story of hijacking a taxi which Asher pours a lot of doubt on.
My point is that numerous witnesses can see the same thing and describe it countless different ways, they're not necessarily lying. This tends to be what the public and press can never understand in court or inquires, they expect everyone to have perfect recall and to have all seen the same thing, when they don't people begin to see conspiracies where there are none (Oliver Stone I'm talking to you!).
Asher conducts his interview 10 years after the event with the Iraqi secret police looking over the shoulder of his interviewees. And frankly if I read in his book one more time how honourable the Bedouin are and how he understands them I'm going to scream! I just spent a 6 month tour in the middle east this year and actually I've found quite the reverse, especially when it comes to martial feats.
So I'm prepared to give the members of the patrol the benefit of the doubt, combine their three accounts and you probably get an accurate picture.
As for McNab's controversial decision not to take vehicles I'd point out that the other two patrols which did take vehicles had to abort their missions immediately whilst Bravo20 were able to remain undetected for up to two days.
The thing that differentiates Ryan's account from McNab's and Coburns is that he is a lot less charitable towards patrol member Vince Philips than the others. Also I dislike Ryan's attitude that they shouldn't have conducted the mission until everything was ideal, that's not the real world, if they'd have waited until everything was perfect they'd never have gone at all and the mission would be a failure before it started.
on 16 January 2014
I was very surprised to see that Andy McNab is, yet again, cashing in on this story, with a 20th Anniversary edition. I first read 'Bravo Two Zero' on its initial publication and thoroughly enjoyed this very 'Boys Own' story. Subsequent revelations, both by other members of the patrol and the excellent, in depth, investigation by Mike Asher, have shown that McNab's book is almost entirely fiction and this left me feeling somewhat cheated.
It is, undoubtedly, a very good read and was probably the first 'kiss and tell' of its kind. It raised the awareness of the SAS and spawned an avalanch of special forces books, most of which are equally entertaining and revealing. Without 'Bravo Two Zero', the whole genre may well have remained untapped and, for that, I could almost forgive McNab's dishonesty.
However, having been exposed for the fraud he undoubtedly is, I think McNab should have had the decency to quietly bury this book. Given his subsequent (and deserved) success as an 'honest' fiction writer, his perpetuation of Bravo Two Zero is all the more cynical. He hardly needs the income.
Does it matter? Well, yes, I think it does. At the very least, it perpetuates a myth which was offered as part of the historical record. When you read the well intentioned praise of the book, written by senior officers and Gulf Veterans such as John Nichol, you see a discredited lie still touted, unashamedly, as truth. Personally, I would not recommend it. It is untrue, self agrandising and there are lots of better, accurate, books in this genre.
on 26 August 2014
I have read this account of amazing courage and bravery three times in paperback and now this new edition in ebook, and I am still amazed at the human strength and perseverance of these guys. I have nothing but admiration for them all, the living and the dead. I only wish that one day I could meet the author and just merely shake the hand of a legend, I know this won't happen but if he ever reads any of these reviews I would like him to know that.
Many thanks Andy for giving me and many others this chance to share in yours and that of your comrades experience.