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Soldiers in flames abandon burning tank

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Soldiers tell how torrent of burning petrol poured into their Warrior
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 22/09/2005)

In pics: troops under attack

The British soldiers caught in riots in Basra described yesterday how they had to abandon their vehicle after a torrent of blazing petrol poured in.

Horrifying pictures of the soldiers leaping out of the armoured Warrior with their clothes on fire were published around the world.

They said the driver had to open the hatches to see when the vehicle's periscope sights were damaged. A hail of petrol bombs hit the turret and burning fuel poured in, forcing the soldiers to leap out.

The situation in the city appeared to worsen considerably last night after the governor and town council announced an end to all co-operation with the Army until Britain apologised for storming a police station to rescue two SAS troopers.

The Warrior soldiers, from the Staffordshire Regiment, had been sent with a company of Coldstream Guards to form a cordon around the police station where the SAS men arrested by police were being held.

Sgt George Long, 29, the vehicle commander, was photographed in flames leaping from the hatch.

"One of the petrol bombs came on top of me and my gunnere," he said. "I had to get out and luckily someone put out the flames."

Despite his burns, he checked on the condition of the gunner, who had also bailed out, before returning to retrieve the burning vehicle.

The driver, Pte Ryon Burton, 20, said: "The first thing I heard was the gunner saying that his sights had been smashed. The second thing was a petrol bomb coming over my hatch and the platoon sergeant shouting that the bomb had gone in the turret as well.

"Once the bomb had gone into the turret it seeped down in the back with the troops in the back."

With fire raging on the top and behind, Pte Burton had to kick open his hatch, which had jammed. "I just jumped through the fire and got out," he said. "I couldn't breathe at all because of the fumes. I just needed to get out and was thinking about my life, basically."

L/Cpl Jo McCann, 19, described how he helped to rescue a colleague.

"The gunner was still rammed in the turret, so we went round the front, got him off and people put him out. We got hold of him and dragged him away to the medics."

Asked about damage to the Warrior, he said: "It looked a lot worse than it is. The Warrior's quite tough.

"All it was, basically, was petrol burning on top of armour. Apart from the one that went into the turret, nothing was wrong with the vehicle. It was hot to touch but it wasn't too bad."

Sgt Eddy Pickersgill, of the Coldstream Guards, said he had been hit in the face with a rock during the rioting.

Basra's provincial council voted unanimously "to stop dealing with the British forces in the city because of their "irresponsible aggression on a government facility".

The council demanded compensation for the families of five civilians they said had been killed in the violence.

"The British troops should stop these barbarous and illegal actions," Basra's governor, Mohammed al-Waili, said. "I support boycotting the troops and stopping all the co-operation until our demands are met."

Demonstrators in Basra, including police and civilians waving weapons, shouted "No to occupation" and carried banners condemning "British aggression".

They demanded that the freed SAS soldiers be tried in an Iraqi court as "terrorists."

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