Mark Nicholas Gray

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Colonel Mark Gray MBE RM
Born Weymouth, Dorset
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Marines
Years of service 1984 – 2013
Rank Colonel Royal Marines
Unit 40 Commando
Commands held Zulu Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines
Royal Navy Counter-Piracy Task Group 2010
Battles/wars Operation Haven (Northern Iraq)
Operation Banner (Northern Ireland)
UNPROFOR (Former Yugoslavia)
Operation Tellar (Nicaragua)
Operation Highbrow (Beirut)
Operation Telic (Iraq)
Operation Capri (Somalia)
Operation Herrick (Afghanistan)
Awards MBE
Order of Duke Domagoj (Croatia)

Mark Nicholas Gray MBE is a former colonel in the British Royal Marines, as of 2014 running a floating armoury company in the ocean area subject to piracy based in Somalia and nearby countries.

As a UN observer he prevented a disaster at the Peruća hydroelectric dam in 1993 during the Croatian War of Independence. The Serbian military raised the level of the lake and placed 30 tons of explosives within the dam in their preparations for withdrawal; detonating the explosives was intended to destroy the dam, which would have released a huge surge of water which would have killed or made homeless 20,000 people. Gray, on his own initiative and exceeding his authority, opened the spillway gate and reduced the level of water in the lake by several metres; when the explosives were detonated the dam did not fail.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

Gray was educated at Bradfield College and Durham University, where he studied Russian. He joined the Royal Marines in 1984 and has seen service in Northern Ireland (Operation Banner), Northern Iraq (Operation Provide Comfort 1991), before being deployed to the former Yugoslavia through UNPROFOR.[4]

Peruća incident[edit]

In 1992 Gray, with the rank of major, opened a sluice gate on top of the Peruća dam in Croatia shortly before the occupying Serbs detonated explosives, protected by land mines and booby traps, deep inside it.[5] This action did not become known publicly until described to the Science Festival in 1995 by engineering Professor Paul Back from Oxford University. He described how Serbian militia had expelled UN observers from the 65-metre-high dam in January 1993, and set off huge explosives in a maintenance gallery that ran the dam's length at foundation level. "This was an attempt to use the 540 million cubic metres of stored water as a weapon of mass destruction to the downstream land and population, " said Professor Back. "Some 20,000 people would have been drowned or rendered homeless had the dam failed as intended. " Severe damage was caused to three points in the dam corresponding to where the saboteurs had placed their explosives. In the central section alone it was estimated that 15 tons of explosive material had been used. At each of these three points the top of the dam, made of rock fill with a clay core, sagged by two metres, said Professor Back, who was a member of a British team despatched by the Overseas Development Administration to inspect it and advise on repairs after the Croatians reoccupied it. "During the tenure of the UN observers, but while the dam was in Serb hands, Gray had visited the site and observed that the Serbs were holding the water level well above the correct full supply level, " he said. "On his own initiative, and exceeding his authority, he opened the surface spillway gate sufficiently to slowly reduce the water level. He managed to lower the water level by some metres by the time the attempt to destroy the dam took place. Had he not been able to reduce the level, there is no doubt that the dam would have failed as water would have poured over the slumped crest after the explosions." As it was, Professor Back said it was only a miracle that the dam had not failed. With fighting continuing in the surrounding hills, engineers had to race against time before the ongoing erosion of the dam's clay core caused a blow-through and total collapse. Professor Back said he learned later that Major Gray could have been disciplined for exceeding his authority. "I wrote to the Ministry of Defence and told him he should be given a medal instead." Items of Gray’s UN equipment are on display at the Royal Marines Museum.[6]

After UNPROFOR[edit]

In 1998, while in command of Z Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines he took part in Operation ‘’Tellar’’, providing relief in Nicaragua in the wake of Hurricane Mitch[7] and in 1999 an exercise in the United States.[8]

He saw service in Iraq (Operation Telic), Beirut (Operation Highbrow), and Somalia (Operation Capri) and Afghanistan (Operation Herrick).

He has had staff appointments at the Permanent Joint Headquarters, Navy Resources and Plans in the Ministry of Defence, the Headquarters of the Multi-National Force – Iraq in Baghdad and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in The Pentagon (as the deputy CDS liaison officer during the build up and conduct of the 2003 Iraq invasion), at the end of which he was accorded the privilege of addressing both US Houses of Congress, “one of the few Royal Marines to have entered the Capitol Building in uniform since his predecessors burned it down on 24 August 1814 ”.[4]

After Iraq[edit]

He taught at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham. On promotion to colonel he was appointed to the staff of Fleet Commander Operations, where he was the Head of Operational Policy.[9] He also attended the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College in 1997, graduating with distinction.[9]

He was appointed Commanding Officer Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines in July 2009.[10][11] In January 2010, the Unit received a counter-piracy award.[12][13] From September to December 2010 he commanded[14] the Operation Capri Naval Task Group, comprising the ships RFA Fort Victoria, HMS Northumberland and HMS Montrose, with boarding teams from FPGRM, conducting counter-piracy operations in Somali waters.[15][16] During this time the Task Group captured six pirate teams.[17][18][19][20]

In July 2011 he moved to HQ International Security Assistance Force as the Director, Combined Joint Operations Centre in Afghanistan,[21] where he was the Chief of Current Operations [22][23]

MNG Maritime[edit]

Upon leaving the Royal Marines in 2013, Gray and fellow Durham alumnus Nick Holtby began MNG Maritime,[24] a UK-based company that provides transfer services to private military and security companies (PMSCs). The company's operations are authorised by specifically issued UK Government trade control licences, covering floating armoury services.[25][26] It provides offshore storage facilities for weapons used by anti-piracy guards protecting vessels traversing the part of the Indian Ocean known as the "High Risk Area", infested by pirates based in Somalia and other places,[27] so that the weapons do not need to be carried into territorial waters, where being in possession of weapons would be illegal.


He is a qualified PADI scuba diving instructor.[4][9]

Honours and Awards[edit]

He was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2002,[28][29] for his part in planning the major UK Armed Forces exercise in Oman in 2001, Exercise Saif Sareea II. In 1995, he featured on the front page of The Times newspaper, being recognised for his role in the incident at the Peruća dam.[30]

On 27 January 2013, on the 20th anniversary of the Peruća incident, Gray was awarded Order of Duke Domagoj by the President of Croatia Ivo Josipović.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38] The award was gazetted on 29 March 2013.[39]

The Croatian Radiotelevision filmed a documentary on Gray's involvement in the Peruća Lake dam incident.[40][41]

Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.pngGeneral Service Medal 1962 BAR.svgUNPROFOR Medal bar.gif
Iraq Medal BAR.svgOSM for Afghanistan BAR.svgQueen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ribbon.pngQEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.png

Awards and Campaign Medals[edit]

Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
General Service Medal 1962 BAR.svg General Service Medal with “N. Iraq and S. Turkey” and “Northern Ireland” Clasps
UNPROFOR Medal bar.gif UNPROFOR Medal
Iraq Medal BAR.svg Iraq Medal
OSM for Afghanistan BAR.svg Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal

Awards and Campaign Medals, awarded but not authorised for wear[edit]

Ribbon of an Order of Duke Domagoj.png Order of Duke Domagoj
Joint Chiefs of Staff seal.svg Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge
NATO Medal AFRICA ribbon bar.svg NATO Non-Article V Medal with “Africa” Clasp
NATO Medal ribbon, ISAF.svg NATO Non-Article V Medal with “ISAF” Clasp


  1. ^ Tom Wilkie (16 September 1995). "Unsung army officer saved 20,000 lives". The Independent. Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  2. ^ Dangerous Forces: Dams, Dikes, and Nuclear Stations
  3. ^ Croatian Memorial Document Center of the Homeland War
  4. ^ a b c Commanding Officer, Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines
  5. ^ Alan MacDermid (16 September 1995). "Serb sabotage foiled by British officer. How unsung hero saved 20,000 from dam disaster". The Herald. 
  6. ^ Royal Marines Museum New Exhibition, 24 June 2011
  7. ^ Philippa Thomas (18 November 1998). "Mitch: Picking up the pieces". BBC. 
  8. ^ Betty Hayden Snider (18 September 1999). "Great Scot! Queen's Marines Land". The Free Lance–Star. 
  9. ^ a b c "Mark Gray MBE". LinkedIn. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Service Appointments: Navy, of 26 September 2008
  11. ^ Navy News June 2009, Assignments
  12. ^ Staff Reporter (22 January 2010). "Faslane Marines honoured for Piracy Fight". Shipping Times. 
  13. ^ Tina Kemp (29 January 2010). "Faslane Marines rewarded for piracy crackdown". Lennox Herald. 
  14. ^ The CNN Wire Staff (18 October 2010). "Vessel released from pirate control; suspected pirate ship destroyed". CNN. 
  15. ^ Suspected Pirate Boat Boarded and Destroyed – Combined Maritime Forces, 18 October 2010
  16. ^ Pirate Gang defeated by Nottingham commander-led Royal Marine team – CP World, 4 December 2010
  17. ^ Navy team boards and destroys Pirate Ship – MOD, 3 November 2010
  18. ^ RFA Fort Victoria thwarts another pirate attack – MOD, 1 December 2010
  19. ^ A Fort for Good – Navy News, January 2011
  20. ^ Deborah Linton (7 December 2010). "Marine swaps war with Taliban for catching pirates". Manchester Evening News. 
  21. ^ Appointments – Battlespace, Vol 13, Issue 2011
  22. ^ Gen Allen visits troops in Paktika – ISAF, 19 December 2011
  23. ^ Allen Checks Troop Outposts on Afghan Border – US DOD, 21 December 2010
  24. ^ MNG Maritime Web site
  25. ^ "MNG Maritime Ltd., LinkedIn page". Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  26. ^ "MNG Maritime". Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  27. ^ BBC News: Floating arsenals: The boats full of guns for hire against pirates, 18 December 2014
  28. ^ Military honours: Royal Navy – BBC, 14 June 2002
  29. ^ Commonwealth and Military Honours - The Guardian, 15 June 2002
  30. ^ Nuttall, Nick (16 September 1995). "Royal Marine saved 20,000 by foiling dambuster plot". The Times. London. pp. 1–2. 65,374. 
  31. ^ Slavica Vuković (27 January 2013). "Časnik Gray riskirao život, tajno pustio vodu i spasio dolinu Cetine" [Officer Gray risked his life secretly draining water and saving the Cetina River valley]. Večernji list (in Croatian). Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  32. ^ Toni Paštar (27 January 2013). "Nicholas Gray: Da nisam sačuvao Peruču, izginulo bi 20.000 ljudi" [Nicholas Gray: If I had not saved Peruča, 20,000 people would have been killed]. Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  33. ^ SM/HINA (27 January 2013). "Oslobađanje Peruče je nastavak operacije Maslenica '93" [The liberation of Peruča was a continuation of Operation Maslenica '93]. RTL Televizija (in Croatian). Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  34. ^ Toni Paštar (27 January 2013). "Josipović i Gotovina na obljetnici oslobođenja Peruče; Predsjednik odlikovao Britanca koji je spasio branu" [Josipović and Gotovina on the anniversary of liberation of Peruča; President decorated Briton who saved the dam]. Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  35. ^ "20th Anniversary of "Peruča" Action". Press Release. Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Croatia. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  36. ^ "British Officer Commemorated For Role In Croatian Homeland War". Croatia Week. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  37. ^ Gallagher, Brian (30 January 2013). "UK-Croatia relations: A number of developments". Croatia Business Report. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  38. ^ Anđela Juričić (27 January 2013). "20. godišnjica vojne akcije Peruča" [20th anniversary of the military action Peruča]. Narodni List (in Croatian). Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  39. ^ "Odluka o odlikovanju umirovljenog brigadira Marka Nicholasa Graya Redom kneza Domagoja s ogrlicom". Narodne Novine 2013/38/685 (in Croatian). Zagreb. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  40. ^ "Kraljevski marinac Mark Nicholas Gray" [Royal Marine Mark Nicholas Gray] (in Croatian). Croatian Radiotelevision. 20 May 2013. 
  41. ^ "Kraljevski marinac Mark Nicholas Gray" [Royal Marine Mark Nicholas Gray] (in Croatian). You Tube (Croatian Radiotelevision). 20 May 2013. 

See also[edit]

  • AdvanFort, a 2009 company similar to MNG MAritime