Obituary: Brigadier Andrew Massey

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The Independent Culture
IN 1972 the Commanding Officer of 22 SAS, Lieut-Col Peter de la Billiere, asked one of his troop commanders, Captain Andrew Massey, to make a study of the regiment's role in counter-terrorism. Already an experienced soldier who had served with the Airborne Forces in Northern Ireland and the SAS in Oman, Massey concluded that what was needed was a self- contained assault force on permanent short-notice standby for deployment anywhere at any time. The plan was shelved.

That September, at the Olympic Games in Munich, a group of Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli team housed in the Olympic Village killing two and taking nine hostage. Attempts were made by the German authorities to negotiate but at Furstenwalde airport chaos ensued and a policeman, four terrorists and all nine hostages were killed.

It was plainly evident to Edward Heath's government that a well- organised terrorist unit could hit Britain. After "Bloody Sunday", internment and 450 deaths in Northern Ireland that year, it was possible that the IRA might strike on the mainland.

The Director of Military Operations sent for Massey's study and authority was given for 22 SAS to form a counter-terrorist team under the code name Pagoda. In 1980, after eight years of honing its skills in various covert actions and now named Special Projects (SP), the team burst upon the television screens of this country as it assaulted the Iranian Embassy in London. Andy Massey's clearly defined plans to counteract terrorism had finally come to fruition. The attack, ruthlessly executed, had however also raised the profile of the SAS.

Massey was born in Carlisle in 1943 and after Welbeck College and Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps in 1963. His first tour was with the transport squadron of 7th Artillery Brigade. After a year with the Royal Corps of Transport Movement (RCT) squadron he joined 63 Para Squadron (RCT) in February 1967. Two years later the squadron became the first airborne unit to reinforce the beleaguered troops in Northern Ireland. In Belfast they assumed an infantry role and Massey as a troop commander quickly learnt to deal with intense hatred and violence.

After this tour Massey's commanding officer realised he had the potential for greater things and advised him to go for selection to the SAS. He joined them in 1970. Several troops from his previous command also applied for selection.

He was soon in the Dhofar, a region of the Oman where the SAS were involved in the counter- insurgency campaign in aid of the Sultan's Armed Forces, whose overthrow was sought by the Dhofar Liberation Front. It was a tough campaign which Massey relished, for it illustrated what could be achieved by well-trained special forces. In all Massey had three tours in the area. Although the SAS were involved in some fierce fighting, their main objective, apart from repressing the rebels, was to win the "hearts and minds" of the local people, the Firquats, and to train them to fight their own battles.

In 1974 Massey rejoined the Airborne Forces as Staff Captain HQ 16 Para Brigade and had several tours of Northern Ireland before attending the Staff College at Camberley in 1975. Two years later he married Major Annabelle Cunningham and in 1979 they went together to Buckingham Palace where each were appointed MBE for services in Northern Ireland. From 1977 to 1979 he served as a Staff Officer in HQ in Northern Ireland.

Massey returned to the SAS in 1979 to command A Squadron, and among other places served in Northern Ireland and Oman. On promotion to Lieut-Col in 1981 he became an instructor at Camberley where he led the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Team.

On 2 April 1982 the Falkland Islands were invaded by the Argentinian Forces. D Squadron and half of G Squadron SAS were quickly despatched. Throughout the campaign that was to follow Massey was the Special Forces Liaison Officer at HQ Commander-in-Chief, Fleet at Northwood. Very much a man of action, he would have preferred to have been with his regiment, but his calm disposition and understanding of the regiment's strategy made him the ideal person for the situation.

In the initial operations by the SAS in South Georgia an SAS troop was inserted by helicopter on to the Fortuna Glazier. Severe weather forced them to evacuate by three helicopters, two of which crashed. The third picked up all the survivors. The island was later taken by seaborne assault. In an action reminiscent of Second World War actions in the Western Desert, the SAS carried out a daring raid on Pebble Island and destroyed 11 aircraft.

Misfortune was to follow when 18 SAS men were killed in a helicopter while changing ship prior to the main landing. This was a great loss to the regiment. Massey however knew that war was not just physical but psychological. He knew that those who had survived the crash would want to continue to fight. The surveillance and intelligence gathered by the SAS in many cases proved vital to the victory in the Falklands.

In 1984 Massey attended the US Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia where he won the Leadership Prize. That autumn he became the first Support Service officer to command 22 SAS. Always a highly principled and insightful soldier, during the next two and a half years Massey brought about profound changes to the regiment. He tackled hard questions and was not afraid to break with former traditions and old habits. A superb trainer of men, he wanted to revitalise the regiment's thinking, and enhance their already considerable efficiency.

His uncompromising attitude did not always sit comfortably within the regiment, nor with his peers. As one officer recalled, "I didn't always see eye to eye with what he was doing, but I respected him." He was not afraid to stand up to senior officers if they proposed impossible tasks or if the projected mission was built on the myth that the SAS could do anything.

He was a strict disciplinarian, and when an NCO whom he knew well stepped out of line, Massey severely reprimanded him. Asked later why he had been so hard, he replied, "because he was worth it". The NCO went on to achieve much within the regiment. Massey understood his soldiers well and they in turn held him in the highest regard. He seldom needed to raise his voice - a look spoke volumes. One soldier was heard to say of him "I think he must put his eyeballs in the fridge each night". It was a touch of wry humour but matched his own.

By the end of his command, the SAS was achieving considerable success in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and he had widened the horizons of the regiment. Many who had served under him felt he had done more for the regiment than any other commanding oFor his service he was appointed OBE.

In 1988 he went to the Ministry of Defence where he was responsible for UK Commitment in the Far East and Africa. It was a complex and delicate task which involved crisis management, regional assistance, liaison with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and as war looked more likely, the assembly of the UK Order for Operations in the Gulf.

In 1990 Massey became Deputy Director of Special Forces and when the Gulf War broke out, Operational Commander of the UK Special Forces for Operation Granby. In Command of the British Forces in the Middle East was his former Commanding Officer, General Peter de la Billiere.

Since its inception in North Africa in 1941, for the SAS, the desert has been both a battlefield and a home. During the short, but intense war, the SAS operated behind enemy lines for 43 days using armoured Land Rovers equipped with a powerful array of weapons and with motor cycles. Their prime task was to search out and destroy Scud missile sites, many of which were aimed at Israel.

In this hostile and harsh terrain the SAS called up 48 air strikes against military targets and Scud sites as well as destroying several themselves. On one occasion a mobile SAS column encountered the Scud convoy in the open. Using a hand-held Milan, a troop commander took out one of the scuds. The fire fight which followed lasted four and a half hours. Prior to this the Special Boat Squadron in a daring raid got within 60 miles of Baghdad and destroyed a substantial section of communications between the capital and neighbouring Jordan.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, who had previously not wanted to employ special forces, was delighted. Another valuable success was the capture of an Iraqi artillery officer with battle maps. One lessons of earlier desert campaigns was unfortunately forgotten when an eight-man patrol, Bravo Two Zero, was inserted by helicopter without vehicles to withdraw them if anything went wrong.

In 1992 Massey was promoted Brigadier and returned to his parent corps as Commandant of RCT Training Centre in Aldershot. He retired from the Army in 1993. After working with Defence Systems Limited for a short time he became Director of the Welsh TEC, an organisation that linked training colleges with employers.

After the Gulf War came a flood of books relating personal experiences. Massey, never afraid to break with tradition, felt compelled to give what he referred to as "an historic truth" of events. In 1996, in a BBC documentary, he related the role of the SAS at length with pride and spoke of several acts of courage by Special Forces in Iraq. "Our Gulf activities show what can be achieved by a few hundred highly committed, very determined men, who focus themselves on their responsibilities to other people." To go so public was a bold and courageous move and had been a difficult decision and one typical of Andy Massey. It earned the rancour of the regiment which he loved so much.

Massey had a lifetime interest in sport, particularly golf and football. As chairman of the Executive Committee of the Army Football Association he did much to regenerate inter-unit competition. Before leaving the Army he presented the Massey Trophy to be played for each season among the 10 corps. One of his proudest moments was recently watching a cricket match in which his 12-year-old son, Ian, scored 129 runs for his county.

Andy Massey was a devout Roman Catholic who delighted in his wife and family and was looking forward to spending more time with them.

Max Arthur

Andrew Christopher Massey, soldier: born Carlisle, Cumberland 18 April 1943; MBE 1979, OBE 1987; Commanding Officer, SAS 1984-87; Deputy Director, Special Forces 1990-91, Commandant, RCT Training Centre 1992-93; married 1977 Annabelle Cunningham (one son, one daughter); died Hereford 19 August 1998.