Temperamental SAS squadron commander and kidnap response expert who won an MC after a hair-raising firefight
Seeking adventure during the six-week summer break from Sandhurst, Arish Turle acquired a Foreign Legion uniform in Paris and joined a draft destined for Algeria. Challenged by an officer who did not recognise him, Turle gave his name. When asked, “Any relation to Rear-Admiral Turle?” he replied: “Ah, oui, mon commandant, he is my father.” It turned out that the commandant had been torpedoed during the Second World War and rescued by a Royal Navy ship that Turle’s father had commanded. A celebratory drink concluded the matter.
When he returned to Sandhurst to complete his officer training, contemporaries thought Turle so confrontational that they were surprised when he survived the course.
Commissioned in 1959 into the Rifle Brigade, a regiment that welcomed strong-minded officers of talent, Turle then qualified for the Special Air Service and served first as adjutant of 21 SAS, one of the two Army Reserve units, before joining the regular 22 SAS.
Described by a comrade as having a “Cromwellian complex”, Turle was highly professional in his approach to soldiering. Yet, like Cromwell’s alleged amusement before winning the Battle of Naseby, Turle could be found laughing when facing a dangerous situation. Once, when Turle and one of his SAS troop leaders were pinned down in a shallow-fire scrape in the Dhofar mountains with “green trace coming at them from 180 and 90 degrees simultaneously”, Turle burst out laughing and muttered: “Maybe this is the end.”
He was confident and well-reasoned about anything he faced, yet would react hotly if challenged, a habit that contributed to a growing reputation as a temperamental subordinate. Attending the staff college in 1970-71 appeared uncharacteristic to his friends because it was an “establishment” sort of thing to do, an approach he ridiculed.
Recalled to 22 SAS before the end of the staff course, Turle took command of a squadron in Oman, where the regiment was engaged with the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in suppressing and eventually defeating the rebellion of the hill tribes in the southern Dhofar province. Armed and encouraged by the Marxist regime in adjacent South Yemen, the rebels had the advantage of a mountain range behind the coastal plain in which to take refuge.
The campaign appeared unwinnable until the adoption of a policy of persuading the rebels to change sides. The technique of persuasion began with digging wells for the hill tribes’ cattle and teaching animal husbandry. Progress was slow, but some groups switched allegiance and were formed into “firqats”, militia units that would defend the tribes against the Adoo, as the rebels were known.
Tribal rivalry and blood feuds occasionally led to confrontation between firqats. As the SAS squadron commander responsible for overseeing several of them, Turle once flew into the hills and stood between two firqats facing each other with safety catches off. He held them apart with calming words for two hours, when one stray shot would have unleashed mayhem.
The “green trace” incident occurred after Turle feigned a withdrawal of his forces to lure in the Adoo. He stayed behind with a small, concealed party to bring down mortar fire when the Adoo advanced. Unfortunately, the Adoo sent forward a patrol to where the party was concealed and a vicious firefight began in which Turle was critically outnumbered. By the sheer ferocity of his retaliation, Turle was able to hold the rebels off until air support, then ground troops, could be brought to his assistance. He was awarded the Military Cross for his fearless leadership.
Arish Richard Turle was the son of Rear-Admiral Charles and Jane Turle, who gave him the unusual name of Arish after the Arish Mell Gap, the striking hill feature close to the family farm in Dorset. In 1964 Turle met Sue de Witt Brown at a London party and, despite her resolution not to marry anyone in the armed forces because of the long separations involved, they wed two years later. They had a daughter, Serena, who owns and runs a chain of butcher’s shops, and a son, Edward, who works in the jewellery business. All survive him.
In 1974 Turle was posted to HQ Northern Ireland as an intelligence staff officer with special responsibility for liaising with local and more broadly-based intelligence agencies. This was a job ideally suited to his original way of thinking, but the potential for confrontation with colleagues was ever-present owing to the sensitive relationships between the various agencies pursuing much the same objective. Details of what happened towards the end of this assignment are obscure but led him to look for something better to do.
Turle left the army in 1977 to join Simon Adamsdale, his former Royal Green Jackets and SAS comrade, at Control Risks, a security consultancy company. At the time the company was owned by Hogg Robinson, a Lloyd’s of London insurance broker. Julian Radcliffe, a Hogg employee, suggested that a service could be supplied to kidnap victims who had taken out kidnap and ransom insurance from their syndicate.
The company responded to the kidnap of a US citizen in October 1976 in Bogota, Colombia, and Turle joined halfway through the case. The victim was released after seven months when a reduced ransom was paid. Control Risks co-operated with the authorities throughout the negotiations, but to safeguard the hostage it arranged payment of the ransom without police involvement. Something close to military law was in operation in Colombia and a military judge ordered that Turle, Adamsdale and Jim Raisbeck, a prominent lawyer in Bogota, be detained and charged them with breaching counter-kidnapping regulations. After 71 days in the Modelo prison they were released for the civil court to review their case. A further six weeks on bail followed before Control Risks employees were declared innocent, free to leave Colombia and welcome to return. The Hollywood film Proof of Life (2000), starring Russell Crowe as a former SAS officer, was based on these events.
Control Risks established an office in Bogota in 1985. During their time in Modelo, Turle and Adamsdale wrote the company’s standard operational procedures for responding to kidnap, devised new Control Risks services and drafted the outline of a book on Kidnap and Ransom: The Response published by Richard Clutterbuck, a noted authority on political risks and violence. They also decided to initiate a management buyout of Control Risks, which was completed in 1982. The company has been independent ever since.
Turle was the managing director of Control Risks from 1978 to 1987, before joining Kroll Security International, an intelligence advisory company. His work for the firm led him to be based in Hong Kong and New York. In 1997 he started the Risk Advisory Group in London, retiring as chairman in 2004.
He bought a 90-acre farm in Somerset and raised alpacas there until last year, when the farm was sold. Despite these varied and demanding commitments, he maintained a close connection with former regimental comrades. Early last month Turle called one of his former troop leaders from Dhofar to say: “The doctor has given me a week to live, so I am calling to say goodbye.”
Arish Turle, MC, special forces soldier, security operator and executive, was born on April 4, 1939. He died of cancer on December 13, 2019, aged 80.
Credited to The Times
Wed 8th Jan 2020