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MOGADISHU RECALLED
by Major General Peter Williams CMG OBE
formerly Coldstream Guards

The National Archives have recently released all the citations relating to awards in the New Year and Queen’s Birthday Honours lists from 1935 to 1990.  Contained in the WO-373 series files, they can be downloaded for free in digitised format and reveal a treasury of fascinating facts about the achievements of members of the Household Division.

About 1% of the citations were originally classified as SECRET, but all of them have now been declassified.  The Queen’s Birthday 1978 citations include those for Major Alastair Morrison MC of the Scots Guards, who was the Second-in-Command of 22 SAS, and for Sergeant Barry Davies of the Welsh Guards, who was a counter-terrorism expert in the Regiment.


Sergeant Barry Davies BEM


The Palestinian hijackers murdered the senior pilot

These citations relate specifically to their participation in the operation to end the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, a Boeing 737-230 which was seized on 13th October 1977 by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, acting in concert with the Red Army Faction (RAF) terror group in Germany.  The aircraft had been en route from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt and after refuelling stops in Rome, Larnaca and Bahrain it landed Dubai, where the SAS personnel first caught up with it.  It later flew on to Aden, where the terrorists murdered the senior pilot, Jürgen Schumann. 

The hijacking was finally ended on 16th October at Mogadishu airport by the West German GSG-9 counter-terrorist unit, assisted by Morrison and Davies.  The 86 passengers and four surviving crew members were released, although four had been injured.  Three of the four terrorists were killed during the storming of the aircraft; one female terrorist survived and was convicted by a Somali court and given a 20-year sentence.  None of the hijackers’ demands for the release of RAF terrorist detainees had been satisfied; three RAF convicted leaders committed suicide soon thereafter.


The SAS pair helping the German GSG-9 team to evacuate the passengers after the terrorists had been overwhelmed

Chancellor Helmut Schmidt congratulating
Colonel Ulrich Wegener who had led the assault
by GSG-9 on the hijacked aircraft

Davies’ death in 2016 was marked by a full obituary in the Daily Telegraph, but there was no such tribute to him in this magazine and so 40 years after the hijacking it seems appropriate to salute the death of a most remarkable Welsh Guardsman by quoting his BEM citation verbatim:

On the night of Friday, 14th October 1977 Sgt B Davies, an SNCO in the 22 SAS counter-terrorist team based at Hereford, was informed that he must join his Regimental 2IC at Heathrow Airport, immediately, to fly to Dubai to advise representatives of the W German counter-terrorism team on an aircraft hijack situation.  Within half an hour Sgt Davies had packed together technical equipment which he believed might prove useful.

On joining Major Morrison, he discovered that they were acting as the Prime Minister’s representatives in response to a request from the West German Chancellor for British advice on procedures for overcoming an unknown but highly dangerous group of terrorists which had hijacked a Lufthansa aircraft and was holding the passengers hostage against demands made on the W German government.

On arrival in Dubai, and in the absence of the full W German team, which could not obtain permission to land and operate against the terrorists, Sgt Davies was directed by Major Morrison to try to put together an ‘ad hoc’ emergency reaction team drawn from the Ruler of Dubai’s Royal Guard and some British contract officers.  With fluent Arabic and a detailed knowledge of getting the best from Arab soldiers - derived from operational service in Dhofar - Sgt Davies achieved what the Germans thought to be impossible.  Within 12 hours of planning, working, driving and cajoling he had welded together a team capable of carrying out the rescue of the Lufthansa passengers should the situation demand.

Sgt Davies’ technical expertise, his leadership capabilities and his fluency with the language and knowledge of the Arab character greatly impressed the Germans.  From the original situation which offered the Germans no options, the British pair recovered a situation to a position where the W Germans could negotiate from a position of strength.

The sudden departure of the terrorist controlled aircraft to Aden meant the abandoning of contingency plans for Dubai and preparation of fresh plans for a variety of other possibilities.

Sgt Davies was deeply involved with the W Germans in planning various options, advising and assisting the Regimental 2IC on technical/tactical aspects and explaining to the W German political and military representatives the merits of SAS concepts, equipment and ideas.  Major Morrison states that Sgt Davies was a source of inspiration and strength to him throughout, but especially in this planning and advice stage.

The onward move of the Lufthansa aircraft to Mogadishu meant that the British element finally met-up with the main body of the German team.  It was here that an instant rapport was established with the W German team.  Sgt Davies’ fluency in the German language and his briefings and training with the German team in the plan which was coordinated to the initial use of the British ‘flash-bang’ grenade led to the closest understanding.  Sgt Davies led the successful assault on to one side of the aircraft using the British grenades.

Sgt Davies’ conduct throughout this operation was in the highest traditions of the service.  His unflagging enthusiasm (he did not sleep for 40 hours), professionalism and acceptance of responsibility, far above his rank, was of immense value in his country’s cause.”

 

 

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