When commanding officer Major Adam Jowett faced the battle of a lifetime against a deadly force of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in the summer of 2006, it was the culmination of an ambition that was born 24 years earlier.
The Surrey schoolboy was just 11 years old when he saw television images of the ‘grimy, hard-looking men’ in maroon berets, the famous Paras who fought and won a tough campaign in the faraway Falkland Islands, and vowed that one day he would be a soldier and lead his own men into battle.
And when he stepped into the fray in Helmand province at the head of a hastily assembled and under-strength unit of Paras and Royal Irish rangers, Jowett was finally commanding a troop of his own… but against a ferocious, merciless enemy in one of the toughest places on Earth.
The man who had so relished the physical and mental challenges of officer training at Sandhurst College was about to face his sternest and most terrifying test yet in the notorious siege at Musa Qala, a town and district centre in the central western part of Helmand which would become the scene of a heroic struggle.
Twelve years after the heart-thumping events in that summer of 2006, Jowett brings us his raw, honest, hard-hitting, emotional and truly inspirational account of a fight for survival that has been labelled by former war reporter Martin Bell as ‘the Rorke’s Drift of our times.’
Describing in visceral and vivid detail what it was like to have responsibility for the lives of his men as they fought back bravely over 21 days and nights of relentless, nerve-shredding combat, Jowett takes us up close and personal to the heart of war – from the crumps, whumps and booms of attack to the sickening sight of a man down and the sheer exhaustion of almost non-stop fighting.
In charge of a new unit, which took the letter E and soon became known as ‘Easy Company,’ Jowett’s mission had been to hold the district centre at any cost but their base was a ramshackle compound and their defences were weak.
Cut off, outgunned and heavily outnumbered by the Taliban in the town, the British soldiers were a sitting target for their enemy who began launching wave after wave of brutal attacks, including crawling up the compound walls and having to be driven back with hand grenades.
Finally, as they came down to their last rounds and with 80 men left to face 500 of the enemy, death seemed to stare Easy Company in the face. The battlegroup did not have the resources to bring in more ammunition by convoy and the danger of flying in Chinook helicopters made that method of resupply too risky.
‘The statistics weren’t great on paper,’ writes Jowett, ‘but they didn’t take into account that my small number of British soldiers were amongst the best trained infantry in the world, and that they would fight like dogs.’
The night before what many knew could be their last day, Jowett like every other man in the company, marked out his last magazine. ‘When I was down to my last few rounds, I would make sure I died upright and fighting. Better that than the alternative of falling into the hands of the Taliban, which was far worse than death.
‘Tomorrow, our enemy would come and try to kill us, and it was my job – my duty – to see they died instead.’
Surrounded by the enemy and with their backs to the wall and no way out, no one in Easy Company could have foreseen that the siege was destined to take an extraordinary turn…
Gripping, emotionally charged and intensely powerful, No Way Out is a dramatic and yet straightforwardly honest first-hand account of war in all its grim reality; but it is also Jowett’s moving tribute to the gallant men of his unit.
Some were injured and some did not come home alive but it was ‘their courage, their grit, and their sheer unbreakable spirit’ which defied the greatest odds to beat back ‘an unrelentingly barbaric enemy’ and which will forever be a part of the man who led them.
Lest we forget…
(Sidgwick & Jackson, hardback, £18.99)