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Bill O' Brien - Only RM DFM

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

O'BRIEN, William Christopher

Rank: Sergeant

Unit/Base:  3 Commando Bde. Air Squadron

Regiment/Corps: Royal Marines

Service number: PO30684R

O' Brien delivering ammunition to British troops on the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland in 1982

Sergeant William O'Brien was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his gallantry during operations on the Falkland Islands.


During the attack on Darwin and Goose Green Sergeant O'Brien piloted a Gazelle helicopter of M Flight, 3rd Commando Brigade Air Squadron. For two days his helicopter conducted supply and casualty evacuation operations, often under enemy fire. With his Flight Commander he also took part in 17 night flying sorties to evacuate wounded personnel and resupply vital ammunition. At times these sorties necessitated flying forward to company lines in the heat of battle and in appalling weather. The conspicuous gallantry and cool professionalism displayed on all these occasions was superb and Sergeant O'Brien made an outstanding contribution. His expertise and competence as a pilot has been widely admired and recognised.

Source: London Gazette 49134, page 12841.

He said afterwards: 'We flew a number of sorties mostly at night in an armed Gazelle, not that we ever used the rockets in anger.

'I am not sure how effective they would have been if we had - they had a fairly basic aiming system just a chinagraph cross on the aircraft windscreen.

'It was the early days of night vision devices.

'They were fairly rudimentary and we taught ourselves how to use them on the way down.' 

His DFM is unique because it was the only one awarded to a Royal Marine and was withdrawn in 1993 so will be the only one ever awarded.

The DFM was introduced in 1918 as the other ranks' equivalent to the DFC, which was awarded to commissioned and warrant officers.

After the Falklands, O'Brien qualified on the Lynx helicopter and in 1984 passed as a flying instructor, once again winning the best student award.

He then served in Turkey and Iraq in Operation Haven then became a flying instructor in the US.

In 2008 he was commissioned into the Royal Navy Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, and volunteered for Afghanistan, aged 54 he was the oldest pilot flying missions there.

O'Brien flying an Apache on pre-deployment training at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in Arizona, U.S. before deploying to Afghanistan

He said at the time: 'I was given an opportunity to deploy and felt obliged to take it, simply because I am still training Apache pilots and I need to see what they are expected to do when they come out of training school.' 

Asked about the differences between flying in Afghanistan and the Falklands, Lt Cdr O'Brien said: 'The intensity is more than I was expecting and is more than I recollect from the other place.

'It is full on all the time. I fly an Apache so I don't feel terribly threatened, although the flying environment is quite hard work sometimes.' 

Quotes and images extracted from Daily Mail Article

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