Tom is back, here to talk about how Willia Apiata won his VC, which was the defining start for his NZSAS force for Armies of Afghanistan.
The Action that saw Bill Henry Apiata win his Victoria Cross happened while his troop was on patrol in rural Afghanistan. The NZSAS had been using Dumvees (stripped down Humvees- Ed) for long range patrolling, at times up to 6 weeks being resupplied by helicopter. This allowed the troop on patrol to move further and faster than the local Taliban could keep tabs on and so they were able to make contact and establish relationships with villages and settlements without Taliban interference.
On this particular occasion the NZSAS were 2 weeks into a patrol and had successfully kept ahead of any Taliban. They were beginning to gather some vital intelligence for the ISAF forces when the evening saw them approach a remote hamlet. The Troop Commander led a couple of vehicles from the patrol and made contact with the local elders and set up a meeting for the next day. The men who went to the village had heard this may be a Taliban friendly village, but otherwise were received in a friendly enough manner.
While contact was being made the rest of the troop were organising the Lay Up Position (defensive position for the night- Ed) and preparing for the night. The place they decided to rest up in was on a rise and split the troop between the two sides of the small ridgeline. Apiata’s dumvee Almighty was closest to the village and a watercourse that provided a covered approach for any attackers.
The night came, guards were set and the troop settled in to get some much needed rest. The first thing anyone new about the attack was that Apiata’s Dumvee exploded. Immediately the realisation was that it had been struck by an RPG. Then all hell broke loose as small arms opened up from the cover of the watercourse. Apiata who had been asleep on the bonnet woke unharmed but several feet from where he went to sleep and assessed the situation. His driver was badly wounded and the other trooper was clambering out of the Dumvee. Taking cover and checking his injured comrade Apiata realised the wound was extremely serious and unless he was attended to quickly it would be fatal.
Apiata’s dumvee was alight and being the only source of light became a bullet magnet for the Taliban. Incoming fire was relentless. As the rest of the troop (half of the patrol was still on the other side of the rise and not in a supporting position) started to return fire the decision was made and Apiata hoisted his comrade onto his back and the three of them made the 70m run up hill to the medic and the safety of the rest of the troop. There was no dodging or weaving – it was a flat out run under heavy enemy fire (serpentine is just for the movies kids -Ed). They made it and the medic got to work. Apiata got his hands on a GPMG and joined the return fire. By this time the .50s were up and running and the rest of the patrol was in position, and they lit up the sky. Accounts tell of the enemy fire dropping off quickly as they withdrew taking dead and wounded with them.
The medic worked miracles and saved the injured man. Help was still at least 3 hours away and the injuries were serious. The advanced training of the medic saved soldiers lives that night.
In the morning there was little left of the smouldering Dumvee. The potential for a disaster was there – but the men of the NZSAS were cool under fire, straight thinking and aggressive. The action lasted a little over 30 minutes and in that time the world gained a reluctant hero, Bill Henry Apiata VC.
And here is Tom's version of Willie, all painted up
Looking great Tom! Now we just need Almighty to turn up right? I know that the next thing on your painting table is going to be cool as, I look forward to seeing it!