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People are just finding out that Britain accidentally 'invaded' Spain in 2002

Daisy Phillipson

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People are just finding out that Britain accidentally 'invaded' Spain in 2002

Twenty years ago, the UK accidentally 'invaded' Spain. And in true British fashion, it ended in a rather awkward exchange followed by some serious embarrassment.

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Although 2002 might not feel like that long ago, it's more than enough time for a lot of people to only just be finding out about this rather perplexing incident.

It all started when a group of Royal Marines were tasked with executing a landing exercise on Gibraltar amid an ongoing negotiation between the UK and Spain over the British territory.

When they reached their target, the soldiers stormed onto the beach in their amphibious vessel before leaping out with their assault rifles and mortars.

But as they made their way up the shore, they were met with a number of bemused fishermen including one who told the 30 commandoes: "I think you're at the wrong beach."

Instead of hitting their target, the Royal Marines had actually just charged up a beach in the quiet coastal town of La Linea... in Spain. Whoops.

The troops accidentally ended up in La Linea, Spain. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The troops accidentally ended up in La Linea, Spain. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Eventually a couple of police officers rocked up to explain to the troops that their target was just a little further down the coast.

After some red-faced apologies, they turned around and headed to their vessel for what must've been a rather awkward journey back.

When the news of the blunder broke, a British Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Reuters that the landing craft from HMS Ocean had accidentally entered Spanish territorial waters after experiencing bad weather.

They said: "In the course of the exercise, a landing craft meant to land in Gibraltar, but made it a few yards down the beach, on the Spanish side.

"There is much embarrassment, the error is regretted and lessons have been learned. They were informed of their error by local policemen and spent only about five minutes on the beach."

A group of bemused fishermen noticed the 30 commandos making their way up the beach. Credit: Operation 2021/Alamy Stock Photo
A group of bemused fishermen noticed the 30 commandos making their way up the beach. Credit: Operation 2021/Alamy Stock Photo

Just in case no one had realised at this point, the spokesperson added: "We were not trying to take Spain and have no plans to do so."

In 2017, Lord West – a former First Sea Lord and Commander in Chief in 2002 – went into more detail about the gaffe.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, he said: "It wasn't one of the best days in my time.

"I had a phone call from the military commander saying, 'Sir, I'm afraid something awful's happened.'

"I thought, 'Goodness me, what?' And he said, 'I'm afraid we've invaded Spain, but we don't think they've noticed.'

"I said, 'People always notice, tell me exactly what happened.'"

West continued: "They had been doing a little landing exercise which was meant to take place on a beach in Gibraltar, and they had got lost, and gone up on the wrong beach.

"They charged up the beach in the normal way, being Royal Marines – they're frightfully good soldiers of course, and jolly good at this sort of thing – and confronted a Spanish fisherman who sort of pointed out, 'I think you're on the wrong beach.'

Lord West said he was 'teased mercilessly' for the blunder. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Lord West said he was 'teased mercilessly' for the blunder. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

"And they all scrambled back in their boats and went away again. So I immediately had to get on to the Foreign Office and the governor of Gibraltar."

Thankfully the issue was quickly resolved, but not without a bit of banter from West's colleagues.

"I was teased mercilessly," he said. "I had a postcard from the head of the Army and Air Force which was a postcard of Gibraltar with an arrow pointing 'ours' and another arrow pointing 'theirs'."

He's managed to avoid getting taunted too much since then, although it might be a different story now people are learning about the hilarious cock-up.

Featured Image Credit: Robert Clayton/Sorin Colac/Alamy

Topics: UK News, Army, World News

Daisy Phillipson
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