WO 1 (RSM) HERBERT DOUGLAS (NOBBY) ARNOLD
First Service Number: 14458239
Second Service Number: 22813442
Born: 30th April 1927 60 Cordite Street, Woolwich
Nobby on leaving school became a garden boy which he carried out for 18 months when he lived in the village of Sway, in Hampshire. At 14 years he returned home as his father had died, and carried out a number of jobs including a window dresser, and a drivers mate. He was also a deck hand on a converted MTB in Sheerness. He joined the Army when he was 16 and transferred to PARA Regiment in Christmas 1944. He demobbed but failed to secure a future as a professional boxer, and re enlisted in 1945. He rejoined PARA Regiment and that is simply, how he ended up with two service numbers. The Parachute Regiment in those early days was heavily involved in Palestine, Egypt and the Canal Zone.
In 1959 Nobby was promoted to Sergeant and was posted to Sandhurst as a member of the directing staff, under RSM J.C. Lord another legend in the Regiment, who was Nobby's idol. Some say he styled himself totally on Lord and the fear that he passed to his subordinates.
Nobby enjoyed boxing and often represented The Parachute Regiment in the inter Army competitions with another stalwart WO2 Jack Crane.
He rose through the ranks fairly speedily after his spell at Sandhurst, and was promoted to WO2 Support Company, Anti Tank Platoon, 3 PARA and deployed to the Radfan in early 1964.
3 PARA IN THE RADFAN
The Radfan is located some 50 miles north of Aden, a mountainous area with extreme temperatures in the day and at night. The Radfanis recognised the Amir of Dhala as their tribal leader. They were a fiercely independent tribe who often fought amongst other tribes, as a way of life. Camel trains passing through the Radfan along the Dhala Road to the Yemen were forced to pay tribute to the tribe, and this was a constant source of friction between them. The Qutaibis, the main tribe of the Radfan, began to cause trouble on the Dhala road.
The British authorities decided it was time to intervene.
On April 30th 1964, 45 Royal Marine Commando was tasked to capture the high ground on the north side of the Dhanaba Basin and later the same night 'B' Company, 3 PARA, based in Aden, was to drop on the Wadi Taym while the Federal Regular Army advanced into the western part of the Dhanaba Basin in order to dominate the Rabwa Pass from the north.
In any event the enemy discovered the DZ marking party from 22 SAS and the drop had to be cancelled. The small 10 man SAS patrol was surrounded by 90 tribesmen and had to fight its way out, assisted by ground attack RAF Hawker Hunters. In the process they killed some 25 of the enemy but lost their commander and radio operator, whose bodies had to be left behind. These two men were decapitated and their heads displayed in the Yemen, having been stuck on spikes ,an incident that caused anger and shock throughout Britain at the time.
There was now no chance of a surprise drop and 'B' Company were brought up from Aden to Thurmier base by road party to start operations on foot. By 0400 hour on May 1st the Marines had secured their objectives.
'B' Company, 3 Para, advanced to the Wadi Taym, and came under heavy and accurate small arms fire from the forts and buildings of the village of El Naqil on the lower slopes of 'Cap Badge'.
The Company Commander at the time, Major Peter Walter, led the leading platoon to clear one fort while the rest of the Company assaulted the village, driving out the dissidents and killing several in the process. A determined group of the enemy managed to move in behind the leading troops and started a surprise attack. They were themselves then ambushed by the rear element of the Company under the Second-in-Command, Captain Barry Jewkes and all killed.
Enemy snipers from the slopes above the village now opened accurate and incessant fire causing several casualties within the Company. These snipers were in dead ground to the Marines above, who were unable to help and as a result, ground attack Hawker Hunters were called in to help again. Despite this, casualties continued to mount. Captain Jewkes was killed, and one his soldiers were also killed, and six seriously wounded. Ammunition and water began to run low with the Company, out of range for accurate fire support from artillery.
The RAF Hunters performed magnificently, strafing as close as 150 yards to the Company. Two Beavers of 653 Squadron ACC made re-supply sorties, dropping their loads accurately despite intense rebel fire.
Meanwhile the reserve Marine Company had been flown forward by helicopter to the top of 'Cap Badge'. The Marines now moved down to outflank the rebels from above. The enemy withdrew and the contact came to an end.
'B' Company then reorganized rapidly and after the casualties were flown out by Belvedere helicopters, they then began the steep climb to their original objectives on 'Cap Badge'. They had been in action for a continuous 30-hour period including an 11-hour march and a 10-hour battle, something to be repeated for them in the Falklands on Longdon.
They now now had total control of the Rabwa Pass and overlooked the Wadi Taym. Bakri Ridge was the next objective. This has a sheer cliff face running the length of its eastern flank, sloping gently up from Shab Tem, through Hajib, up and on to Arnolds Spur 5,000 feet high (Aptly named).
Below this the land drops 3,000 feet sheer to the Wadi Dhubsan, which was known to be the headquarters of the rebels. The Ridge is ten miles long and hard going.
The advance of the 3rd Battalion (less 'B' and 'D' Companies) was delayed awaiting the arrival of 815 Squadron RN, with its Wessex helicopters. Patrols, however, discovered that the ridge was not in fact held as strongly as supposed and better still discovered a route up on to it from Shab Tem.
The CO of 3 PARA at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel A.H. Farrar-Hockley, took advantage of this information turned one Company into fighting porters and advanced with the others.
In addition to their weapons the men carried some 5,500 lbs. between them, an average load of 90 lbs. per man. They advanced 10,000 yards during the night of May 18th. By dawn on the 19th they were well established on the Ridge.
The 'porters' dumped their stores and returned for further loads to the bottom of the hill a considerable feat of endurance. When the advance was continued on the evening of the 19th a forward patrol had a brush with a group of rebels and surprise was now lost.
The advance on the 20th was led by the anti-tank platoon under Company Sergeant Major 'Nobby' Arnold. They surprised a party of 12 rebels and captured three with their arms- the first time this had been achieved in the campaign so far and for recognition of his leadership the Ridge was promptly renamed 'Arnold's Spur'.
The advance was resumed on May 23, with 'C' Company clearing a number of villages. They were finally held up by accurate fire from the fortified village of Qudeishi. Some fifty tribesmen in strong positions, armed with several automatic weapons, now gave battle.
RAF Hunters were called in and demolished some of the forts that posed the initial threat 'A' Company outflanked their positions while 'C' Company stormed the village. By the 24th of May 24 both companies were in complete control of the whole Ridge and overlooked the Wadi Dhubsan.
It was believed that the rebels would bitterly oppose any invasion of the Wadi Dhubsan, which was regarded in the Radfan as an impregnable stronghold and had never been entered by Europeans. For this very reason it was decided to continue the operation and the CO was ordered to suppress enemy resistance, search the houses of leading dissidents for documents, destroy foodstuffs and arms and generally take over the Wadi for a limited period.
By first light on May 26th the 3rd Battalion and 'X' Company of 45 Commando had descended successfully into Wadi Dhubsan, achieving complete surprise. Rebel tribesmen were seen to be hurrying back from guarding the easy route, although too late to retrieve the situation and they had been completely caught out by this bold move.
The Jebel Haqla was firmly picketed and held, thus securing the right flank for the early stages of the advance and for the eventual withdrawal. For the first 1,500 yards there was no opposition then 40-50 enemy tribesmen fired upon the Company from the high ground.
SCOUT HELICOPTER SHOT DOWN
The fire was heavy and accurate and the Company Second-in-Command was killed and a Marine wounded. The CO went forward to reconnoitre in a Scout helicopter (picture below). They overshot the leading troops and were promptly shot down with 11 bullet holes later being counted in the machines fuselage. The pilot managed to bring the helicopter down safely and the occupants escaped back to the cover of the leading troops, though the Intelligence Officer was wounded. REME fitters were brought in, and working under most difficult conditions in the battle area made an excellent recovery job.
A full scale battle now developed with 'A' Company moving round to the higher ground on the left of 'X' Company while a platoon of 'C' Company did the same on the opposite side.
Fire support from medium artillery and the Battalion's 3-inch mortars was effectively employed. RAF Hunters performed incredible feats of flying in the narrow confines of the Wadi to add their support to the troops below.
The attack was pressed home and the rebels withdrew leaving six of their dead and 11 rifles in their positions. At a cost of one killed and seven wounded, an area of 200 square miles had been secured and the 'impregnable' stronghold had been taken, which was a serious blow to the morale of the Radfanis. The British troops were now in complete control.
On June 8, 'D' Company, 3 PARA, arrived in the Radfan to relieve the main body and from the 14th to the 18th carried out a reconnaissance in force down the Shaab Lashab in company with the Royal Scots.
Opposition was restricted to sniping and in the end the Company returned to Bahrain. It was the end of the Battalion's work in the Radfan, a tough couple of months which earned a hill in the Radfan its proper name............"ARNOLDS SPUR" a far off corner in a foreign land FOREVER ENGLAND.
What was sad about Nobby's exploits in the Radfan, is that he was not recognised for his heroism. Farrar-Hockley once told him, it was a lottery, and he had missed out on that occasion!
Nobby was an experienced all-rounder in training men and prided himself in ensuring the best techniques were always passed on. He was seconded to Special Branch in Malawi and worked in the same unit in the UK on his retirement for a further 14 years, where he became a real asset to HMG.
His standards set the benchmark for many units that followed in the BATT role.
UNDER A CLOUD
Stories surrounding Nobby's resignation from the Army abound, but the accurate account of this incident and others that led up to it as the icing on the cake, was where a civilian having played squash, walked across the parade square at Browning Barracks where he was the RSM (Picture above). The civilian made an official complaint to the then Colonel of the Depot, Roger Summers. After the usual justifications and requests for Nobby to apologise to the civilian by the Colonel to keep the peace, Nobby refused point blank. The whole incident was blown out of all proportion, and Nobby filed his resignation with the Colonel who duly accepted it.
If nothing else, Nobby was a man of principle and refused to back down!
Nobby was a real showman in his role as the RSM, and once put his pace stick on a charge for falling out of his clutches on the parade square, he also jailed his son in the Depot jail at one stage.
FUNERAL SERVICE ALDERSHOT
Nobby Arnold died peacefully at home of lung Cancer on the 1st July 2001.
At his funeral, on the 17th July 2001, at the Royal Garrison Church, in Aldershot, the honour and a true measure of the man, was made complete with the attendance of Field Marshal Rowland Gibb, Major General Chiswell, General Gilbert and Major General Farrar-Hockley. Major General Ward-Booth, Colonel Parker, Major Duffy ex RSM, Lt Colonel Mike Stratton.
Colonel Jack Thorpe read Nobby's eulogy, as one of his closest friends until his death.
After his death, Nobby Arnold's sword was presented to Westley Smart who now serves with 3 PARA, who was a close personal friend of Nobby and his family. The sword, I am sure will be treasured by him, in the knowledge, that a true Airborne Warrior once owned it.
Written and compiled by Gil Boyd B.E.M (Ex 2 PARA) July 2007
With grateful thanks to both Gary and Westley Smart and ex WO1 RSM Tom Foster (Ex 1 PARA)
Kindly donated by Gil Boyd BEM, Trustee of the Airborne Assault Museum.Read More