I was a soldier in the British military. I served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan with posting around the world in many countries. We have been shot at during a good few engagements especially out of our FOB in Helmand.
During our ongoing training as a unit we took part in NATO exercises in central Europe.
As the units NCO it was my responsibilities to make sure we all knew what was expected from us, the mission and what we were to expect.
Our briefing had been to deploy within a forest around a mountain range and guard the rear of our main battle group.
I will not mention the area as this is still used to date for NATO military exercises.
We were deployed gathered our kit and supplies and had a grid reference we had to get to and dig in before dark.
There was a small utility road which run through the forest which had been designated as a potential ambush point for an attacking force.
We dug in back off the road which had thick forest for several miles along the winding narrow track. With the trees being as thick and dense going back a good few miles the area became dark quick.
For total silence we run an old school camcord along our ambush point.
This is run from end to end through each soldiers fingers. The point being when the target passed the first soldier either end we would give a good tug on that end which let everyone know the target had entered the start of the ambush point.
We staggered the lads along the line and allowed half the men to rest for a time while the others sat watch.
We were all issued blank rounds with our muzzle guards in place.
The night become very dark, the first night had a chill in the air although uneventful we had switched guard with minimal noise and on full alert. Early radio chatter had informed the battle group that an attacking force would enter the area around the mountain and to be on full alert. The exercise had begun.
I had been in the military over ten years by this point and had the rank of sergeant at this point, this was my third NATO exercise and was as real a training experience as the lads could get. The mutual respect from the NATO countries involved went without saying although there was an amount of rivalry between our own forces and officers. If course we want the lads to do well.
The second night was overcast with minimal moonlight and a slight must had descend around the forest. Everything had been very quiet although the odd noise of passing wind caused a little hilarity, I had quickly put a stop to this pointing out if this had been a live situation the guys could lose half of us if there had been contact.
I had dug in back from the line with a small shell scraping with a fallen tree to my back. It was pitch black behind the tree as it darkened as the forest got darker as it went back further.
Around 3am I had my eyes closed and the corporal tapped my arm placing his other hand over my mouth, I pulled his hand away and whispered I’m awake, what’s up.
The corporal who we called Scottie although not his real name whispered we have contact Sarg and raising his hand in the general direction. We were set up with an L shaped fire line as to keep an eye on our flank. The immediate question Scotie asked was why would an attacking force send men in through dense trees. They wouldn’t unless they were sending out a recon to test our flank. This is only ever done if they had eyes on or had an idea of our general location.
There was defined noise some distance back from our line.
We seen nothing, I passed it along from man to man to get on the camcord for the ambush group and everyone to be on full alert, we had company.
There had been what I can only describe as deliberate noise made at a distance to bring our focus on an area. I started to get a very uneasy feeling. We were being watched. Scotie come back to my observation point back and slightly above the lads and said “Sarg, I’m getting a very uneasy feeling about this, something just isn’t right”. Yes I have that feeling. Keep them low corporal we are being watched. As I said this there was a noise behind me, from the dark of the forest.
I brought I’m SA80 up to bare between the dirt of the forest floor and the bottom of the fallen tree, there was a nice area to see through. Problem was I could see nothing.
The radio squaked in my ear, contact reported, on the other side of the mountain by foxtrot coy. If they had contact had the force split up?. Were we being attacked on several fronts.
All of a sudden it was passed back to me that there was someone entering to ambush line from the left. The first lad had tugged hard on the line. I made my way along leaving Scotie watching our rear. Did you see someone enter the kill group lad, yes Sarg the private replied. How many? There was two maybe more Sarg. Good lad, where are they now I asked. They past me low and proceeded right Sarg. Keep an eye for more lad, I then went along the line. Every four foot there was another soldier who said passed them going right.
As I got to what would be the middle there was a hushed conversation between two lads. The target passed my sight Sarg but then vanished. The two lads had seen them then didn’t see them and had now become a little bewildered and as one said, to be honest Sarg I’m scared, people just don’t vanish. Every soldier being taught the clockray method for arc of fire as to cross eachother giving a full kill area of overlapping fire, they both swore they had them in sights and lost them right in front of themselves.
Scotie come forward to me, I’ve pulled a few lads off to guard the rear Sarg, I hope that’s ok.
I pulled Scotie to the side. ” Bring every second man back from the road and set up on a circular defensive perimeter, do it now”. I went along the line and told every single soldier. Wait until the others set up then peel off one by one and find your place within the defensive position.
The lads quietly moved back, I moved forward and positioned myself near the narrow track, there was a small ditch which run along the track.
Still overcast with a most sitting just above the ground I watched, my stomach was in knots, the unease I had never felt before. Further up the track I seen legs in a crouched slow quiet walk pass over the track towards our position, he stopped at the side of the track and knelt down. Two other sets of legs crossed the track and all three entered the trees on my side. I waited for what seemed like an eon, there was noise further back over the track within the forest, it sounded like ten or more men and arms proceeding through the trees, there would be no attacking force made this much noise.
My thoughts were distraction, we are being flanked.
I made my way quietly back to the men answering a challenge quietly.
Scotie said the lads are all set, nothing is getting to us without contact. As he said this a branch fell from the trees above us landing just behind him. We both fell back and looking up from our backs weapons pointing up into the trees.
There’s nothing there Sarg, we then heard contact.
At this point all hell broke loose, the lads one one side started to fire. I crawled over.
The noise from the SA80s was piercing the quiet was deafening. Cease fire I called. Show me, who’s seen someone. A few hands raised and two pointed out there Sarg, I can see the face at the side of a tree. I seen nothing. As I said keep an eye out lads and get my attention if you see someone there again all hell broke loose on the other side. When I turned round Scotie had ejected his clip and was in the process of loading another, the lads still firing, there Sarg, he pointed shoot them Sarg. Cease fire I shouted. Can anyone show me a target. Right there, a soldier pointing. He turned back, they were there Sarg, honest.
Scotie looked bewildered. Sarg!! I seen them, I was first to fire, you know me, I wouldn’t. He stopped. Theres nobody there, where’s the attackers, Id have to have seen them fall, last time if you thought you were hit you lay down.
In my ear there rang out several TIC reports from other fire teams around the mountain.
Map I said, the map placed on the ground and lit with a coloured light marked out locations of the troops who called in contact.
This cant be right Scotie said.
Get everyone locked and cocked pass the word Scotie told a private.
You did see them didn’t you Sarg, it’s dark out there Scotie, stay here and keep down. Get confirmation, just use the PRR now I’ll be checking the lads.
Most of the lads said they were in contact with troops advancing, the rest opened fire when the others had.
Nearly all were more than confused.
As the most started to lift and light started to make things more actionable I called to two privates on me touching the top of my helmet. Scotie, Im doing a recon you hold here and keep an eye on the lads, he replied can I come, I know I seen those men, practice is if your hit you lay down until taken.
The two privates and I went out around our position, there was nobody in sight. No casings from the NATO issue blanks, no trace of anyone.
Checking the road I noticed our feetprints and tyre tracks in the wet mud, there were no prints crossing the road from the other side of the track.
What the hell I said.
When we returned Scottie come forward. Anything Sarg? Nothing!! Thing is Scottie it’s not just you, I seen three men cross the track last night. Only thing is there are no footprints. The only prints are this side where we left the vehicles. There’s no amo from any return fire. There is nothing.
Later that afternoon an officer drove up, we stepped forward to talk to him. Need your nightly report Sarg.
TIC durin the night sir. Ok any bodies captured he asked. None sir. So your telling me there was an advance on your position and you captured nobody. That’s right sir, I seen troops advancing and ordered fire after being fired upon. Is this your report he asked. Yes sir.
The officer stepping back into the vehicle turned, Sarg, yes sir, your not the only ones. There are several reports around this mountain and forest. Thing is the attacking force had been captured, they are on the other side of this mountain. WTF filled my head. The officer closed his door, popping his head out the window he said one last thing Sarg, do you know why we train in this area of Europe. No sir I replied. We use it to honour the soldiers who held off two German divisions during the second world war. He drove off with me scratching my head.
Did we see something we were not meant to see, was it officers playing a joke or did we experience something we will never understand.
At the end of the day, we have been shot at, I remember keeping my head down and laughing, we all thought that was funny, a fright but funny.
Nothing has ever given me the fear we had that night in the forest.
Forgive the crude way of telling this, half the night is missing, we were tested on several occasions, noise, voices and shadows. Nothing will ever remove this from my mind. It did turn out other units deployed that week had similar experiences over the time there. Most refuse to talk about it.
I left the military a year after this, Scotie is still serving, many men left the army after that night.
Turned out the dates were the same as the advance of the allies from one country as they fought their way into Germany.
Love the stories on your channel, please feel free to add anything you feel, I have skirted around quite a bit of those nights.
Happy new year, all the best wishes from Scotland.