HUNDREDS of British troops were left stranded in Estonia after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace used their jet after his plane broke down before take-off.
The Fusiliers were due back after a six-month tour on the Russian front but had their homecoming delayed.
Wallace was flying to the Middle East to showcase British aerospace when his £150m Voyager jet was declared unfit to fly.
It is not clear why he didn’t take the RAF’s flagship Voyager, known as Vespina, which was recently repainted with a dazzling Union Jack livery for VIPs on foreign trips.
The plane was given a £1million refurb so that ministers and royals can “represent the UK across the globe”.
Wallace was initially assigned a standard grey Voyager from the RAF’s fleet of 12.
But engineers found the plane had a problem with its pressurization and the Fusiliers’ plane was retasked to take Wallace and his entourage.
The former Guards officer only learned about the plane swap when he landed in Oman.
Aides said the minister was “absolutely furious”.
A defence source said: “In order to cover up the fact that they had a broken aircraft they gave him one that was due to bring soldiers home.
“As a former soldier, Ben was livid when he found our troops had been delayed and he demanded the RAF send another plane ASAP.”
Writing before the fiasco, Wallace said the British aerospace industry was “at the forefront of our resilience”.
But the broken plane left him questioning the value of a £10billion PFI contract under which the RAF lease its Voyagers from private contractor Air Tanker.
As a former soldier, Ben was livid when he found our troops had been delayed
The source added: “There are now some difficult questions being asked about the availability of these planes and their expensive PFI contract.”
Under the terms of the PFI deal three of the RAF Voyagers are leased to holiday airlines in a bid to recover some costs.
The rest of the fleet – which provide air-to-air refuelling – were on missions in the Middle East, the Med and the Falklands, the RAF said.
A group of 130 Fusiliers were due home on Sunday night.
Defence officials said the troops were expected home by Wednesday.
An RAF spokesman said: “A technical fault with an RAF aircraft regretfully delayed the return of some UK service personnel from operations in Estonia.
“The prioritisation of aircraft is an operational level decision and the Secretary of State was not made aware of other taskings.
“Another plane has since been sent to collect the remaining troops.”
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