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- Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke, was the third richest Briton – worth an estimated 9 billion
- He has suddenly died aged 64 at the Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire on Tuesday night
- It is understood the father-of-four had a heart attack at his shooting estate, Abbeystead House
- His son, Hugh Grosvenor, who is Prince George’s godfather will inherit the entire estate at the age of 25
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined members of the Royal Family in paying tribute to the Duke of Westminster, who died suddenly yesterday. In a statement through their Kensington Palace office William and Kate said: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were very sad to learn of the Duke of Westminster s passing yesterday. Their thoughts are very much with his family this morning. Billionaire duke, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor the third richest man in Britain who was worth an estimated 9 billion- is believed to have died of a heart attack at his grouse shooting estate, Abbeystead House in Lancashire at the age of just 64 on Tuesday afternoon.
The Duke of Westminster (pictured with the Queen in November 2004) became suddenly ill at Abbeystead House in Lancashire, his grouse shooting estate, on Tuesday and later died aged 64 at Royal Preston Hospital, also located in Lancashire
Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke, was described by friends as a shy man who was ‘rich but not grand’ and very much a product of his upbringing in rural Ireland. He is pictured here in 2015
The Duke’s death means that his son Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor (left, pictured with his mother, Natalia at a wedding in June 2013) will now inherit the entire estate at the age of just 25
The Duke And Duchess Of Westminster with their newborn son, Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, in 1991
The father-of-four, the 6th Duke, was the richest property developer in the UK, whose vast wealth comes from estates in Oxford, Cheshire, and Scotland as well as huge swathes of Mayfair and Belgravia. His tragic death means that his son Hugh will now inherit the entire estate, including the family seat in Cheshire, Eaton Hall, at the age of just 25. A spokesman for the family said last night: ‘It is with the greatest sadness that we can confirm that the Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor (64) died this afternoon at Royal Preston Hospital.
‘He was taken there from the Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire where he had suddenly been taken ill.
‘His family are all aware and they ask for privacy and understanding at this very difficult time.
The Duke (centre) as a young boy with his sisters, Lady Jane (left) and Lady Leonora (right)
The Duke and his new wife Natalia Phillips smile happily on their wedding day outside St Mary’s Church in Luton in 1979
The Duchess with the couple’s three eldest children, Lady Edwina, Lady Tamara and Hugh as they listen to a speech made by their father in 1992
Lady Tamara is married to one of Prince William’s best friends, Ed Van Cutsem. They are pictured on their wedding day in November 2004 with The Duke (next to the bride), the Duchess (second from right), Hugh (between his parents) and bridesmaid Lady Viola (front row, second from left)
Lady Tamara with her husband, Ed Van Cutsem emerge from Chester Cathedral following their wedding. Lady Edwina married television presenter, Dan Snow – the son of veteran broadcaster Peter Snow – in 2010
The Duke with his youngest daughter, Lady Viola, 23, at the funeral of Hugh Van Cutsem in Brentwood in 2013
‘No further comment will be made for the time being but further information will follow in due course.’
Gerald and his wife have three daughters as well as their son: Lady Tamara, who is married to one of Prince William’s best friends, Edward van Cutsem, 36; Lady Edwina, 34, married to television presenter and historian Dan Snow; and 23-year-old Lady Viola. A senior royal source told the Mail that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as other senior royals, had been informed. A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: ‘Her Majesty the Queen is aware of the news about the Duke of Westminster.
‘A private message of condolence is being sent from The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh to the family.’
A spokesman for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall said they had also been told of the death of their great friend.
‘Their Royal Highnesses are aware and are deeply shocked and greatly saddened.’
Lady Tamara’s wedding was attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and both William and Harry acted as ushers during the ceremony. The Duke of Westminster is pictured, right, with the members of the Royal family
It is understood the Duke, worth an estimated 9 billion, had a heart attack at Abbeystead House in Lancashire (pictured)
The Duke, pictured arriving at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in 2003, wasn’t meant to inherit the title he had always intended to be a beef farmer but after his uncle died without heirs, his father, Robert, inherited the title and his life was laid out before him
The Duke, with Prince Charles in 2011 in Newcastle, was a confidante and close friend of many senior royals. Prince Charles asked him to become a private mentor and guide to a young Prince William, who in turn asked Gerald’s son, Hugh, to be godfather to his own first born, Prince George
The Duke of Cambridge with the Duke of Cambridge enjoy lunch together during a conference on illegal wildlife trafficking at the World Bank headquarters in Washington in December 2014
The 6th Duke of Westminster was pictured with his wife Natalia and his older sister Lady Leonora Lichfield at St Paul’s Cathedral in June this year for a service to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday
A confidante and close friend of many senior royals, Prince Charles asked him to become a private mentor and guide to a young Prince William. His wife is also William s godmother. Following the birth of his own son, Prince George, in 2013, William asked Gerald s son Hugh to be one of his godfathers. William, Kate and Prince Harry are all regular visitors to Grosvenor properties, including their boar hunting lodge in Spain.
The Duke also frequently lent the family his private Cessna jet with William and Kate using it earlier this month to fly to France for their summer holiday.
He is pictured here with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, at the Royal Windsor Horse show on May 16, 2016
Gerald Grosvenor (pictured in September 2012) was passionate about helping those less fortunate than him, working for many years with young offenders and drug abusers as well as campaigning on rural issues
The Duke, pictured with actress Elizabeth Hurley at Chester Zoo in 2000, was an ‘introspective’ man, friends say, and one who was lonely in many ways
The Duke’s sprawling family seat, Eaton Hall in Cheshire, where his children were all brought up
Gerald was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order a personal gift of the Queen in 2012, in addition to being a Knight of Garter and a Companion of the Order of the Bath. He was also an executor of Princess Diana’s will. Yet friends have described the shy, chain-smoking Duke as being ‘rich but not grand’ and very much a product of his upbringing in rural Ireland. In fact he wasn’t meant to inherit the title he had always intended to be a beef farmer but after his uncle died without heirs, his father, Robert, inherited the title and his life was laid out before him.
MEET THE 25-YEAR-OLD NEW DUKE OF WESTMINSTER… AND HIS THREE SISTERS
Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, who was asked to be Prince George’s godfather by Prince William in 2013, will inherit his father’s entire 9billion estate
The 25-year-old son of the late Duke of Westminster is set to inherit his father’s entire 9billion estate. Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, who was asked to be Prince George’s godfather by Prince William in 2013, will also receive the family seat in Cheshire, Eaton Hall. The inheritance comes after his 64-year-old father Gerald tragically died at Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire on Tuesday.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that her Majesty the Queen was aware of the news about the Duke and will send a ‘private message of condolence’. And Hugh, who is now the 7th Duke of Westminster, will inherit his father’s wealth, which includes around 100 acres of Mayfair and 200 acres of Belgravia – two of the most expensive areas in the UK. The land is so costly that, in 2002, the Grosvenor Group sold a 65sq ft parking space in Mayfair for 65,000.
Unusually for the children of hereditary peers, Hugh and his three sisters, Tamara, Edwina and Viola, were educated at a state primary school on The Wirral, near their home before attending a private day school, Mostyn House. Hugh and his siblings were later pupils at co-educational Ellesmere College in Shropshire. The school costs up to 10,296-a-term to attend, with alumnae including rugby player Bill Beaumont and Michael Chapman, the former Archdeacon of Northampton.
He went on to study countryside management at Newcastle University, and later was a student at the University of Oxford. After graduating, Hugh worked in estate management for the Grosvenor Group before becoming an accounts manager at coffee recycling firm bio-bean, which collects waste coffee grounds and converts them into biofuels and biomass pellets. Speaking of his son in 1992, the Duke had told The Independent: ‘My main object will be to teach him self- discipline and a sense of duty. He’s been born with the longest silver spoon anyone can have, but he can’t go through life sucking on it. He has to put back what he has been given.’
Hugh is the 6th Duke of Westminster’s only son and although the young man has led a quiet life, he did celebrate his 21st birthday in style.
It was reported that his landmark bash cost 5million and featured an A-list guest list including Prince Harry. The Prince, 31, was among 800 guests who enjoyed entertainment from world-famous comedian Michael McIntyre and British hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks. The extravagant celebration was held in a marquee in the garden of the family’s 10,872-acre estate in Cheshire, and photographers and the media were barred from the occasion.
The Duchess of Westminster (second from left) with her children Lady Edwina (left), Hugh (third from right), Lady Tamara (second from right), and Lady Viola (right). Lady Edwina’s husband, Dan Snow is pictured next to the Duchess
Hugh will receive the family seat in Cheshire, Eaton Hall (pictured), which sits on a 10,872-acre estate, and is where the new Duke and his sisters grew up
‘It is the beginning of a new era in my life and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.’
The dress code for his birthday party was ‘black tie and neon’ and it was reported that the security was so tight that the doors of vehicles taking guests to the party had been sealed with tape to prevent gate-crashers. He gave a speech in which he joked about growing up with his three sisters and thanked his parents for their unconditional love. Vanity Fair described him as ‘baby-faced’ and ‘absurdly rich’, while the Tatler List declared: ‘Hughie’s a Newcastle graduate with his own wine collection who goes wild for girls in neon.’
Hugh’s eldest sister, Lady Tamara, 36, married one of Prince William’s closest friends Edward van Cutsem, at Chester Cathedral in 2004.
City banker Edward is Prince Charles’s godson, and the brother of George’s fellow godparent William van Cutsem. The wedding was attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and both William and Harry acted as ushers during the ceremony. However, Prince Charles did not attend, reportedly after learning that Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, had been assigned a seat several rows back.
The eldest of the Grosvenor siblings, Lady Tamara, 36, pictured left with her husband Edward Van Cutsem, and Lady Edwina, 34, (right) who is a keen campaigner for prison reform
Hugh, 25, pictured at Prince George’s christening in 2013, and the youngest of the four siblings, Lady Viola, 23
The couple have two sons, Jake, born in 2009, and Louis, who was born in 2012. Hugh’s second eldest sister, Lady Edwina, 34, married television presenter Dan Snow, the son on veteran broadcaster Peter Snow, in Bishop s Lodge in Woolton, Liverpool, in 2010, a far more low-key affair than Tamara’s.
The couple met in 2008 at the wedding of her cousin, Rosie Innes-Ker, and have a daughter, Zia, born in 2011, and a son, Wolf, who was born in 2014. Lady Edwina, whose godmother was Princess Diana, is a passionate prison reform campaigner, and helped set up The Clink chain of restaurants, which are located within prisons and staffed by inmates with a view to help them prepare for life after their release with a view to gaining employment. She studied sociology and criminology at Northumbria University and has said her interest in helping prisoners began at a young age, and has spoken about her father taking her to meet recovering addicts at a drug rehabilitation centre in her early teens.
Hugh also has a younger sister, Lady Viola, 23, who is an ambassador for the anti-bullying charity Kidscape, which described her as ‘extremely passionate about taking a hands-on approach to supporting vulnerable young people’. She has said she wants to train as an art therapist in the hope of setting up her own charity for children and young people. Hugh is likely to have to take on responsibility for the Westminster Foundation, the charitable body which manages the philanthropic activities of the Grosvenor family. It was set up in the 1970s and since then has awarded over 40 million in grants.
His mother Natalia, the Duchess of Westminster, is Prince William’s godmother and his father was extremely protective of his four children. He reportedly refused to send them to boarding school and enrolled them at a state primary before taking them to a private day school near the family home in Cheshire. Despite the fact Hugh will take the largest share of the family fortune, his sisters are also set to inherit considerable trust funds.
The Duke was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2008
‘It wasn’t until his teens that it began to dawn on him that he was heir to this unimaginable fortune,’ said one. He became the sixth Duke of Westminster at 27, but his legacy always weighed heavily on his shoulders. Friends described him as an ‘introspective’ man, one who was lonely in many ways, and, it has been reported, came close to a nervous breakdown in 1998, when he said the pressures of business and the great number of public appearances he was making overcame him.
HOW THE DUKE’S 8M CESSNA WAS THE ROYALS’ PRIVATE JET OF CHOICE
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge regularly borrowed the Duke of Westminster’s 8million Cessna jet for their private trips and holidays, including a visit to France last month.
Kate and William were also said to have used the aircraft, which would cost 12,000-a-day to hire, in March, when they took their children to the pretty village of Courchevel in the French Alps on their first family holiday.
At the time, royal officials declined to comment on whether the family took a commercial flight or a private plane although the timings and the fact that they weren t spotted at an airport suggested that they may well have taken a private jet.
Prince George also flew on the plane when he was just a few weeks old, travelling up to Scotland to visit his great-grandfather, Prince Philip. The couple also used it to fly to Balmoral last summer to see the Queen on her annual temporary residence. The Duke had previously insisted he wasn’t interested in his wealth, saying in a rare interview: ‘Not interested in material things. Honestly. It would drive me bonkers if I thought too deeply about it.’
Gerald Grosvenor was passionate about helping those less fortunate than him, working for many years with young offenders and drug abusers as well as campaigning on rural issues. During the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak he donated 500,000 to farmers affected by the crisis.
The Duke was President of disability charity Scope until 2006 and remained a passionate supporter of the cause. Its chief executive, Mark Atkinson, said today: We are very sad to hear the news that the Duke of Westminster has died.
During his time as Scope s President, the Duke was a passionate advocate of our work, supporting disabled people and their families across the country.
Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time. Another charity with which he was associated, the RNIB, said: We are deeply saddened by the news that our great friend and former President The Duke of Westminster has passed away.
His Grace made a tremendous contribution during his 25 years as Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) President. He steered us through some of the most significant times in RNIB s history, most notably becoming a membership organisation and ensuring we are driven by blind and partially sighted people; the redevelopment of a world class service for children with sight loss and complex needs RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning in Coventry; and the launch of a national helpline as a single point of contact for anyone in the UK enquiring about sight loss.
The enthusiasm and dedication His Grace showed over so many years was a real asset; it was our privilege to work with him as President until 2012 and to continue to benefit from his friendship and support as our Honorary Life President from that time forward. He will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.
Of his wealth the Duke once said: ‘Given the choice, I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up. I can’t sell. It doesn’t belong to me.’
In his early 20s, on becoming trustee of the estate, he had been forced to abandon his dream of a career in the Armed Forces, but later satisfied his love of all things Armyrats © military by serving in the Territorial Army. He was hugely impassioned about his work as head of the TA, having joined in 1970 as a trooper and moving up the ranks to be appointed a two star general in 2004. Paying tribute, the Soldiers’ Charity, which the duke supported, said he had been involved in the ‘championing of soldiers and veterans’ and ‘will be very fondly remembered’.
A security officer at the Duke’s sprawling Eaton estate, on the outskirts of Chester, refused to discuss the Duke’s death but said: ‘We are all in limbo, you will need to wait for our communications manager to ring you.’
The duke was on his Abbeystead Estate – described as an ‘area of outstanding beauty’ with ‘rolling hills’ by the Grosvenor Estate website – when he was taken unwell. A spokesman for North West Ambulance Service confirmed there had been an ‘incident’ but refused to confirm any more details. He said a statement was being prepared. A spokeswoman for Lancashire Police said officers were called at around 5pm on Tuesday and made aware of the death of a 64-year-old man at Royal Preston Hospital.
‘He was airlifted to hospital after he had been taken ill whilst walking in the Trough of Bowland. There are no suspicious circumstances and a file will be passed to the coroner,’ she added.
THE COUNTRY BOY WHO ONLY WANTED TO BE A BEEF FARMER
He had insisted he wasn’t interested in his wealth, saying in a rare interview: ‘Not interested in material things. Honestly. It would drive me bonkers if I thought too deeply about it’
As the 6th Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor was Britain’s richest property magnate, owning swathes of Mayfair and Belgravia and estates in Oxford, Cheshire and Scotland. The duke was a close friend of senior royals and Prince Charles asked him to mentor his son William, who in turn asked his son Hugh to be godfather to Prince George. He was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order a personal gift of the Queen in 2012, in addition to being a Knight of the Garter and a Companion of the Order of the Bath. He was an executor of Princess Diana’s will.
Brought up in a remote part of Northern Ireland in a simple, rural, unaffected and unspoilt way, it was not until he was in his teens that it began to dawn on him that he was heir to a huge fortune. The duke remembered his childhood on Ely island in the middle of Loch Erne as idyllic, frugal and isolated. Enniskillen, the nearest town, was seven miles away. He said: ‘Popping down to the corner shop to buy sweets was a bit of a safari. It was a wonderful foundation for life. I am a country person by birth and inclination.’
He hated his schooldays at Harrow, leaving with just two O-levels, and failed the entrance exam to the Royal Armyrats © Military Academy at Sandhurst.
He thought he would end up as a beef farmer in Northern Ireland. Then his uncle died and his father inherited.
‘We had never talked about it,’ the duke said. ‘The great thing was that my father allowed me to be a child without thinking that I was going to be a duke, or that I should be different from my next-door neighbour.’
Some believe he never really got over the fact that he was different. A friend remembers going up by train to visit him in Chester, thinking she would be picked up by chauffeured limousine. Instead, it was just Gerald in a battered Land Rover and baggy corduroys. Yet this was the man who owned 133,000 acres in Scotland, Lancashire and Cheshire.
He also controlled the most priceless land in central London 300 acres in Mayfair and Belgravia, on some of which the American embassy sits. He was said to be introspective and his riches stopped him having close friends. Acquaintances describe him as a ‘rather lonely man’. He was once photographed sitting alone on a bench in Trafalgar Square eating a sandwich.
The duke insisted money was not important, saying in a rare interview: ‘Not interested in material things. Honestly. It would drive me bonkers if I thought too deeply about it.’
The four passions in his life were his family, his businesses, his charities and the Territorial Army of which he became commanding officer and was especially proud. He joined in 1970 as a trooper and moved up the ranks to be appointed a two-star general in 2004. Close to a nervous breakdown some years ago, he cited his relative lack of personal achievement, and was desperate about failing to live up to the family motto ‘Virtue Not Ancestry’.
One day he woke up and found he simply could not get out of bed. He later recalled: ‘At that moment all my wealth counted for nothing.’ It was why the Territorials meant so much. ‘It is something that he himself earned. It had nothing to do with being a duke,’ said a friend. Yet four years ago, he abruptly quit after a failed attempt to overhaul the TA’s image. He wanted to change its name to Army Reserve, but was opposed.
The duke was also passionate about helping those less fortunate than him, working for many years with young offenders and drug abusers as well as campaigning on countryside issues.
The family business that started with a 17th century marriage and turned 300 acres of swamp, pasture and orchards into some of the world’s most desired property
By Abe Hawken
The multi-billion pound business owned by the Grosvenor family started 338 years ago when an ancestor of the 6th Duke of Westminster married a wealthy heiress. In 1677, Sir Thomas Grosvenor wed Mary Davies who had just inherited a medieval manor in Middlesex – now part of London – and 500 acres of swamp, pasture and orchards to the west of the capital. The land that she received remained relatively untouched until the Grosvenor family began developing the area in 1720.
Around 300 acres of the original land which Miss Davies inherited before she met her husband remain with the family today.
In 1677, Sir Thomas Grosvenor (left) wed Mary Davies (left) who had just inherited a medieval manor in Middlesex
It forms the Grosvenor’s London estate which contributed to Gerald Grosvenor’s 9billion fortune – which his only son Hugh, 25, has just inherited. The first development the family got involved in was in the early 18th century when they built on the northern part of their land in London – an area which is now known as Mayfair. The area was built as a fashionable residential district – centred on Grosvenor Square – and it has now become an exclusive part of the city’s West End.
It took its name from the fair held there each May until well into the 19th century and the unique character of the area continued to evolve through its redevelopment. The Grosvenor family’s second big development came around 100 years later and was another exclusive part of London – Belgravia. It is just one mile south west of Mayfair and was developed by the family after the end of Napoleonic Wars and the conversion of Buckingham Palace – which is just one mile east.
The Grosvenor family’s first development was in Mayfair, central London, in the early 18th century (pictured)
The family then went on to develop an area one mile south west of Mayfair, now known as Belgravia (pictured)
The area takes its name from one of the Duke’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave, and the village of Belgrave is just two miles from the Grosevnor’s family country seat in Cheshire. During the 1820s, Thomas Cundy, the family’s surveyor, created a masterplan for what was to become the lavish area in west London. Mr Cundy, together with builder Thomas Cubitt, oversaw the creation of the estate which overlooked the upmarket streets and private gardens.
And after developing the two parts of central London, the family business expanded on a global scale.
Colonel Gerald Hugh Grosvenor (left) was the 4th Duke of Westminster but died in 1967 aged 60. His brother, the 5th Duke of Westminster, Robert George Grosvenor (right), was replaced by his son Gerald Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster
WHY HUGH WILL INHERIT THE LOT, DESPITE HAVING TWO OLDER SISTERS
Primogeniture was also applied to the British monarchy until 2013 when the law was amended. As a result, Princess Charlotte will retain her place in the line of succession if her parents have another son
Although Hugh Grosvenor is the third of his father’s four children, he will inherit the Duke of Westminster’s title and his entire 9billion estate. This is because of primogeniture, the right of the firstborn male child to inherit the family estate, even if he has older sisters – as is the case with Hugh. The Normans introduced the common law to the UK in 1066, and it puts male children ahead of female children, irrespective of age.
Variations on primogeniture have since modified the right of the firstborn son to the entirety of a family’s inheritance. Ministers have also labelled the rules ‘discriminatory’, and called for further talks about changing the laws, while critics of primogeniture include Lady Kinvara Balfour, whose grandfather was the 17th Duke of Norfolk. She hit out at the ‘archaic, mad and bonkers’ law last year, after her mother, Lady Tessa, missed out on inheriting Arundel Castle in West Sussex.
Instead the property, which dates back 1,000 years to the reign of King Henry I, passed to her younger brother Edward. The tale of succession is supposed to have inspired Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, a close family friend, to write Lady Mary’s story in Downton Abbey, which sees Lady Mary denied the keys to the house, which passes to long-lost cousin Matthew Crawley. Primogeniture was also applied to the British monarchy until 2013, when, under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, the law was amended before the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child to ensure the throne would pass to them, whether it was a boy or a girl.
This only applies retrospectively to people born after October 28, 2011, so it did not affect the current immediate line of succession. The move brought the UK in line with most European monarchies, who had already established an equal law of succession. It also means Princess Charlotte, will not be usurped from fourth in line to the throne if her parents go on to have any more sons.
Now only Spain, Liechtenstein and Monaco are left with the old system. During the second half of the 20th century, the business expanded into the Americas and developed Annacis Island and Vancouver in Canada in the 1950s. The family business then moved into Australia during the 1960s before they started developing in Australia in the 1960s.
They then moved to Asia in the early 1990s and continental Europe just before the millennium. In April 2000, the firm moved into new London officers and the business was headed by the 6th Duke of Westminster, who was Chairman of the Trustees. The hugely-successful company remains privately owned.
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- Footage shows a team of UK Special Forces, believed to include the SAS, keeping watch in Syria for IS militants
- The troops are armed with heavy machine guns and are defending a Syrian rebel base from barbaric murderers
- It is a glimpse of the UK’s secret ground war inside the country and the force comprises around a dozen men
This is the first glimpse of Britain’s secret ground war deep inside Syria. Footage shows a team of UK Special Forces, believed to include the SAS, driving across the desert keeping watch for Islamic State militants. Armed with heavy machine guns, the elite troops are helping to defend a Syrian rebel base from the barbaric murderers.
The small but lethal force comprises about a dozen men, whose faces cannot be revealed for security reasons.
The pictures appears to show the elite British troops – armed with heavy machine guns – defend a rebel base in Syria
Footage shows a team of UK Special Forces driving across the desert keeping watch for Islamic State militants
The photos obtained by the BBC show the British Special Forces laden with weapons including sniper rifles and anti-tank machines. They are driving Al-Thalab long-range patrol vehicles, built for harsh terrain and favoured by elite troops. The Jordanian-built vehicles, which are based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, have a top speed of 87mph and a gross vehicle weight of 4,800kg – almost four tonnes heavier than the average car.
A 4.5 litre V8 turbo-charged intercooled engine can be added along with a five-speed manual gearbox. It has mounts for sniper systems, anti-tank weapons, a 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun, a 12.7mm Browning machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The Al-Thalab has a 3,400-pound payload, and can carry enough food, water, ammo, weapons, and fuel for a ten-day patrol.
The vehicles, which are based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, have a top speed of 87mph and a gross vehicle weight of 4,800kg – almost four tonnes heavier than the average car
The small force is made up of around 12 men – whose faces cannot be revealed for security reasons
The footage is the first glimpse of Britain’s secret ground war deep inside the war-torn country
And the never-before-seen photos also show the soldiers deployed in a defensive role next to Armyrats © military camp beds under cloths tied between two vehicles to shade them from the sun. In 2013 MPs rejected possible British Armyrats © military action in Syria in a blow to former prime minister David Cameron. But the deployment of Britain’s Special Forces does not require parliamentary approval, unlike the deployment of regular soldiers. There have been unconfirmed reports that the elite soldiers are operating inside the war-ravaged country but the footage is the first evidence that they are there.
It was obtained in June by the broadcaster, following an IS attack on the undisclosed base that killed around nine Syrian rebels. The Special Forces are fighting alongside moderate rebels in the New Syrian Army. The rebels are based at the Al-Tanaf base, which used to be held by IS; a fierce counter-offensive has been raging as they try to take it back. On several occasions, the British Special Forces have crossed the border from Jordan into Syria to provide support to the New Syrian Army.
A New Syrian Army spokesman refused to comment on the pictures of the Special Forces, but said: ‘We are receiving special forces training from our British and American partners. We’re also getting weapons and equipment from the Pentagon as well as complete air support.’
The photos emerged as Syrian regime forces and rebel factions sent hundreds of reinforcements to Aleppo yesterday as both sides braced for a crucial battle to control the country’s second city.
Footage was obtained in June by the BBC, following an IS attack on the undisclosed base that killed around nine Syrian rebels
There have been unconfirmed reports that the elite soldiers are operating inside the war-ravaged country but the footage is the first evidence that they are there
Fighting for Syria’s former economic powerhouse is intensifying after an opposition advance at the weekend broke through a three-week government siege of the city’s rebel-held east, dealing a major setback to regime troops. Rebel forces on Sunday announced a bid to capture all of Aleppo city, which if successful would mark the biggest opposition victory yet in Syria’s five-year civil war. But forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad are putting up a fierce fight and have begun pouring in reinforcements.
The main opposition coalition said yesterday it was only a matter of time before rebels take all of Aleppo, but the United States warned there would be no quick victory.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: ‘Both sides are amassing their fighters for the great battle of Aleppo.’
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Cut-off. Surrounded. Outnumbered. Just 88 British soldiers resigned to defeat after fighting off 500 Taliban for 54 days. Then, against all the odds,…
- The 88 men of Easy Company held out against Taliban for two months
- They defended Helmand outpost Musa Qala against 500 enemy troops
- Ministry of Defence previously banned details of conflict being revealed
- Channel 4 documentary will shed new light using the soldiers’ stories
Outgunned, outmanoeuvred, hopelessly outnumbered and besieged in the Afghan desert, a small band of British soldiers chose to save a final bullet for themselves rather than fall into Taliban hands. For nearly two months, the 88 men of Easy Company a mix of Paratroopers and the Royal Irish had faced the overwhelming force and firepower of up to 500 Taliban determined to over-run the remote Helmand outpost of Musa Qala. And their near miraculous survival has been described as a latter day Rorke s Drift, evocative of the 1879 siege in which 140 British soldiers held off a Zulu force of 3,000, later immortalised in the blockbuster film starring Michael Caine.
For 56 days in the autumn of 2006, the men at Musa Qala faced constant fire from fixed machine gun posts and mortars. Hugh Keir, left, and Jared Cleary, right, were two of the Easy Company snipers under constant attack for two months at the remote Helmand outpost Musa Qala
Hungry and frequently at the point of exhaustion, they were forced to somehow fend off 360-degree attacks from the Taliban, with little protection beyond a series of low mud walls. They used up a quarter of all the British Army s Afghan ammunition for that entire year.
Yet today their heroism remains little known, not least because the Ministry of Defence has never permitted the full story of what happened there ten years ago this month to be told. It has taken a Channel 4 documentary team to piece together fragments of testimony from survivors who have now left the Army, to reveal in devastating detail how close the 88 officers and men came to being massacred. They lost three men and saw 12 badly wounded before a ragged ceasefire was brokered by tribal elders, allowing them to evacuate their Helmand hell-hole. As with Rorke s Drift, the final, devastating assault somehow never came.
Their ordeal began almost immediately when, on August 23, Easy Company was dropped by Chinook to replace a mainly Danish Nato contingent struggling to bring stability and security to the remote region. It was a terrible start. The Taliban watched in satisfaction as the Danes took with them more than 40 armoured vehicles, eight heavy machine guns and a 12-strong medical team with armoured ambulances. Their British replacements had just two heavy machine guns, one doctor, two medics and a quad bike. When Taliban spies reported the huge reduction in armour and weaponry, the terror leaders scented an easy victory.
To make matters worse, the village was often too dangerous for helicopter support, and reinforcements although it is still not entirely clear why simply never came. The ‘miracle’ survival of the 88 soldiers has been compared to Rorke’s Drift, immortalised by the Michael Caine film Zulu, pictured, where 140 British soldiers held off 3,000 Zulu
Troop Staff Sergeant Ian Wornham listened with his Afghan translator to the enemy s radio communications. He recalled: They were talking about drinking tea in our headquarters by sunrise which meant they were going to kill anyone in their way. Or worse. There was, after all, the prospect of being taken alive, with beheadings later broadcast on YouTube.
Sniper Jared Cleary said: It came to a point I actually thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.
‘I swore I was going to get hit by a mortar bomb. I remember standing there, my legs shaking uncontrollably.
‘If you got caught, you d probably end up on YouTube having your head cut off. Everybody knew that the possibility of getting captured and executed was very real. Initially, Taliban tactics resembled scenes from Rorke s Drift as they tried to over-run the compound in a series of full frontal attacks. They came so close to breaking in that they were able to lob grenades over the walls of the compound.
Wornham, a veteran with 20 years experience, said: I d never encountered fighting like that. It was very intense and it wasn t just from one direction. They were attacking from all sides all the time. Sergeant Freddie Kruyer of 3 Para continued: You re returning fire but for every one that you re knocking down, you re thinking how many more are going to keep coming up?
You re not dealing with a conventional enemy. So I thought, well I ve got the bullet with my name on it that I m going to fire at myself if it comes to it. To be blunt, their chances seemed slim. We were totally alone. It would have been very easy to lose the entire compound with us in it, said commanding officer, Paratroop Major Adam Jowett.
Part of the reason for that was the parlous state of Easy Company s defences. They were based in a low-walled compound that Jowett says was not a defensive position in any sense at all . The former Grenadier Guard who d switched to the Paras and saw service in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, says: I d worked in compounds in the Middle East, in Africa and for the UN and I had a concept of what a compound is. Good walls, security there was very little of that in Musa Qala. A British mortar team are pictured in action trying to fend off Taliban attacks
With no help coming from headquarters, Easy Company s survival depended on the skill of the mortar team, led by Corporal Danny Groves, of the Royal Irish, who was ordered to aim for insurgents just over the walls while avoiding his brothers in arms defending nearby positions.
Because they were taking so many casualties thanks to the accuracy of Groves and his team s mortar fire, the Taliban changed tactics and began attacking at long range with mortars, rockets and sniper fire with deadly results. Easy Company s first fatality was 22-year-old Lance Corporal Jon Hetherington, a signaller with the Paras. On August 27, a Taliban bullet found the narrow gap between his body and his armour. He died instantly.
He was right next to me on the headquarters roof, said Jowett, who heard the desperate cry Man down and knew the Taliban had scored their first victory.
But there was no time to mourn. It was strange. We knew that he was dead but we knew that he was all right, if that makes sense, in that we would get him out of Musa Qala. We went straight back up on the building and continued the fight. Wornham says: You have that initial thought of: Why Jon? Why did he die? But you have to get on with it.
‘You can t stop and cower in a corner. You take the fight to them. It s what s instilled in you as a Paratrooper. Less than a week later, on September 1, the Taliban scored a second hit. Fijian-born Royal Irish Ranger Anare Draiva and his colleague Lance Corporal Paul Muirhead headed for observation duty on the rooftop of the building the men called the Alamo .
Just after they had taken up their position it took a direct hit from a mortar. Draiva died and Muirhead suffered devastating injuries. It was several hours before it was safe enough to call in a helicopter to evacuate him to British Army HQ Camp Bastion from where he was flown to hospital in Oman. He died five days later. Machine-gunner Paul Johnstone said: Every time you went in one of the observation posts it was highly likely you were going to get hit.
You had a high chance of getting injured and dying.
In the words of fellow Royal Irish Ranger Phillip Gillespie: It was ferocious fighting. It was death round every turn. You know you could have died at any moment. Food was running low, and the men prepared for the worst. Yet, against all odds, Easy Company continued to resist. The Taliban s response was a firestorm of rockets and mortars. Even in this tale of 88 heroes, the story of Cleary and his compatriot Hugh Keir, a platoon sergeant with experience in Northern Ireland and Iraq, is extraordinary.
They were the ones who had to stay on exposed rooftops closing down attacks.
We were the vulnerable ones, said Keir.
We were putting ourselves on the line but we also knew it was for a good reason. We d have a little ritual.
‘We d just look at each other and give an understanding nod. You ready? Yeah ready. Because it could be the last time we d go out and do this. When more ammunition and fresh reinforcements arrived for the Taliban on September 11, boosting the enemy s strength to 500, it looked like the battle would be lost. Yet what happened next took everyone by surprise. Both sides were preparing for the final, overwhelming attack.
Lance Corporal Jon Hetherington, pictured, was the first casualty of the Taliban attack
Yet it was an attack which never materialised. And for this, the troops could thank the local elders. Such had been the Taliban s losses that, having seen their town virtually destroyed, the elders persuaded the fighters to call a ceasefire. So it was, that on September 13 Jowett, a married man with two children, found himself leaving the compound to meet the enemy face to face not knowing if it was a trap. And we just thrashed it out in the middle of town with a growing crowd around us.
Easy Company remained in the compound for another month until, on October 14, the elders provided a convoy of cattle trucks to give them safe passage to a rendezvous with two Chinooks. The battle of Musa Qala was over. Yet while Rorke s Drift has been immortalised in film and resulted in 11 Victoria Crosses, Musa Qala has been reduced to a controversial footnote in the history of the Afghan conflict.
It does not serve Whitehall well for details of such a poorly resourced mission to be revealed. Steve Humphries, the award-winning producer who has painstakingly put the jigsaw of pieces together for broadcast a decade later, says: It s a shocking account of what was supposed to be a peaceful mission to help bring security and stability to the region.
The British Government underestimated the backlash that the arrival of British troops would bring.
Theirs is a story of extraordinary courage that has never been told in full. These ex-soldiers who fought at Musa Qala have come forward. They want the truth to be heard. Serving soldiers have been banned from participating and the Government has refused access to factual information.
In February this year the Taliban recaptured the dusty little town from Afghan army forces.
- Heroes of Helmand: The British Army s Great Escape, is on Channel 4 on August 16.