That time 4 Royal Marines strapped themselves to attack helicopters and rode into a Taliban compound
In January 2007, a group of Royal Marines threw together a crazy mission to rescue a wounded Marine trapped inside the compound. To get him back, four Marines strapped themselves to the outside of Apache helicopters and rode back into the compound.
The situation arose after an attack on Jugroom Fort went sour quickly. The Brits assaulted in armored vehicles with artillery and Apache support, but the insurgents returned a heavy volume of fire when the Marines dismounted. Poor communication during the raid led to a friendly fire incident and another miscommunication led to the Marines withdrawing without Lance Cpl. Mathew Ford.
After rallying back up, the Marines quickly realized Ford was missing and one of the two Apaches on the battlefield spotted what appeared to be a human silhouette just inside the compound with his infrared sensors. The Royal Marines quickly devised the plan to strap two Marines each to two Apaches and have them land just outside the compound. They would recover Ford, who appeared to be severely wounded, and then ride back out.
The men called for nearby NATO assets to assist and American A-10s and a B-1 came in to help. The B-1 kicked off the assault by dropping four JDAMs onto the opposite side of the compound from Ford. According to a report published in War is Boring, the American pilots were shocked by what they saw during the mission.
“As I passed ahead of one Apache,” an unnamed pilot wrote, “I glanced high left to see a man, leaning over the stubby helicopter wing, unloading his rifle on the enemy. We matched with 30-millimeter and rockets.”
That’s right, the Marines were firing their rifles while strapped to the helicopters.
When the Apaches landed at the fort, there wasn’t enough space for both helicopters at the planned landing zone. So one Apache landed just outside the walls while the other landed inside the compound. The Marines quickly detached themselves and began searching for Ford. When one pair of Marines headed in the wrong direction, an Apache pilot jumped out of his bird to show them the way.
As the A-10s provided fierce covering fire, the Brits found Ford and carried him back to the helicopters. They managed it just in time. At three minutes after landing, the insurgents had recovered enough to begin firing on the parked Apaches. The Marines and pilots got away at five minutes without suffering further casualties.
The Apaches rushed Ford to medical aid before returning to base, barely making it before they ran out of gas. Unfortunately, Ford had died of his wounds sometime before the rescue attempt.
The men involved in the rescue attempt received awards for their valor. One of the pilots involved in the mission wrote a book, “Apache: Inside the Cockpit of the World’s Most Deadly Fighting Machine,” where he detailed his time in Afghanistan and the mission to rescue Lance Cpl. Ford.