From the frontline with the 'oilbusters'

IPSWICH man Matt Ruddy played a key role in the British swoop to secure oilfields and prevent environmental disaster after surging into Iraq with the US Marines.

IPSWICH man Matt Ruddy played a key role in the British swoop to secure oilfields and prevent environmental disaster after surging into Iraq with the US Marines.

But he warned more bombs may have to be tackled back in the UK because of the outbreak of war.

The 23-year-old bomb disposal expert from Sunfield Close, who was among the first British troops to cross the border, used hi-tech radio gadgetry to throw an electronic umbrella over the gas and oil separation plants (GOSPs) to jam frequencies and stop Iraqi saboteurs blowing the rigs sky high with remote controlled bombs.

As US Marines engaged Iraqi defenders in the area in fierce firefights, Royal Engineers, led by another young soldier Lieutenant Toby Rider, 23, of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, swept through the installations which are responsible for more than half of Iraq's lucrative oil production, to ensure any booby-traps were made safe.


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Lance Corporal Ruddy and his four-man team from 11 EOD, Royal Logistics Corps, at one point had to dive for cover as a cache of ammunition and grenades exploded nearby.

Around 20 prisoners were taken although pockets of stiff resistance near the biggest GOSP, codenamed 3 Romeo, in southern Rumaila claimed the first allied casualties of war due to enemy fire, with one US Marine officer killed and several injured by deadly landmines which litter the area.

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It fell to men of the Royal Irish Regiment to carry out mop-up operations to bury the Iraqis responsible four days later.

Advancing coalition forces were too late, however, to stop retreating Iraqis detonating some of the oilheads at the string of 27 GOSPs which run north over a distance of 60km from the border with Kuwait.

Towers of 200ft high flames and choking black smoke continue to belch out of the exploded wellheads at nine locations, churning the desert sky into a dirty violet by day and by night dominating the landscape with an fixating glow which one soldier likened to watching the Lord of the Rings' Mordor.

The oilfields are a pivotal part of the US plan for Iraq after the war, bankrolling the rebuilding of the country and safeguarding the current UN programme of oil for food.

Commanders were keen to prevent environmental disaster of the scale that accompanied the closing stages of the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein's forces blew up oil wells in northern Kuwait.

Former St Albans High pupil L/Cpl Ruddy, who followed the Americans over the border, said that one of the toughest parts of the strike was driving through the breach into enemy territory by night in the early hours of Friday morning.

"I was driving the Land Rover behind the Marines' armoured tracked vehicles.

"Even though I had night vision goggles, there were clouds of dust and I could barely see anything. There was the constant threat of mines and enemy artillery fire."

He said that his section of explosive ordnance disposal experts, who specialise in destroying terrorist bombs using equipment including remote-controlled robots and high-powered radios, warned their skills may be required back in the UK because of conflict in Iraq.

"We came out three weeks ago. We were needed because of the threat of terrorist activity. We have been expecting to be busy once we get out of here."

Army fuel expert Warrant Officer Class 1 Steve Nicholls, 39, from Toton, whose job was to close down oil pumps before the massive pressure sent jets of crude oil shooting up into the air, described the scene as the first coalition troops pushed into Iraq.

"There was a lot of artillery fire. You could feel it in your chest cavity as the rounds went off. There were lots of explosions in the distance and quite a few prisoners were taken. We were very confident that the Americans would do what they had to do."

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