A coroner will record his verdicts today on the deaths of ten servicemen killed when their RAF Hercules was shot down in Iraq.

Wiltshire coroner David Masters is expected to make a series of recommendations at today's hearing at Trowbridge Town hall.

He has already pledged to write to Defence Secretary John Hutton.

The two-month inquest has heard how the men's C130k aircraft, 47 Squadron Special Forces flight XV179, was flying at low-level (about 150ft) in daylight from Baghdad to Balad to receive further tasking orders when it was felled by insurgents.

A medium-calibre anti-aircraft round hit a fuel tank in the right wing causing the ullage, a highly-flammable fuel vapour/air mix created as the tank empties, to explode and blow off the wing. All ten men on board - nine RAF serviceman and a soldier - died on January 30, 2005.

Had the craft's wing tanks been fitted with explosion suppressant foam (ESF), which stops ullage explosions, the men would be alive today, former Hercules pilot Nigel Gilbert told the inquest.

American Hercules have had ESF since the 1960s and evidence heard at the inquest indicated concerns about in-flight ullage explosion had been troubling military commanders since the Second World War.

RAF commanders were warned in 2002 in a research report about this exact vulnerability on Hercules and were advised to fit ESF - but nothing was done, the inquest heard.

Neither did they order ESF to be fitted, or even tell Hercules crews of the danger they were in, which would at least have enabled them to alter their flying tactics.

Wing Commander John Reid, president of the military Board of Inquiry which investigated the tragedy, said this failure to tell the crews made him even more "cross" than the decision not to fit ESF.

But Mr Reid said an even more important blunder in lead-up to the tragedy was that of the "failure of intelligence."

XV197 went down within hours of two US Blackhawk helicopter crews coming under fire from an insurgent ambush site on the ground in exactly the same area.

The inquest heard that an emailed incident report containing details which could have saved the ten men's lives was left unopened by a British intelligence officer.

He said he did not open it because he had no idea XV179 was even in that area at the time.

This is because 47 Squadron fly Special Forces missions, often without the knowledge of the rest of their military colleagues.

The intelligence officer agreed that the "left hand had not known what the right hand was doing."

Wing Commander Reid said: "This was a known ambush site and tragically XV179 flew into (it)."

The coroner has said he will record narrative verdicts.

The inquest at Trowbridge town hall began in April before breaking over the summer and resuming at the end of September.

Families, witnesses, even lawyers and journalists - all were moved to tears during the final day's evidence at the inquest.

The cause of such emotion in the usually-staid confines of Wiltshire Coroner's Court was the evidence of the RAF officer who led the investigation into the tragedy.

Wing Commander John Reid, president of the military Board of Inquiry (BoI) into the crash, criticised senior RAF commanders' failure to tell crews of a known vulnerability affecting the plane in question - detailed explicitly in a military research document three years beforehand.

He then apologised to the dead men's families, many of whom wept openly.

Bernard Collaery, lawyer for mother-of-three Kellie Merritt, widow of Australian airman Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel, thanked Mr Reid for his "thorough" investigation.

His voice cracked as he said: "My client's children will read it (the BoI) and you will become part of their history."

Mr Collaery - who later said this was the first time in his career he had cried in court - added: "Mr Reid, you have been a breath of fresh air as far as this matter has been concerned."

XV179 Master Engineer Gary Nicholson's mother Margaret, who attended throughout the two-month hearing, then stood to offer her thanks.

"Your son was my best friend," Mr Reid replied with tears in his eyes.

At this Mrs Nicholson broke down, causing a ripple of emotion to sweep the courtroom, visibly affecting lawyers and at least three journalists.

Hercules XV179 went down during a low-level daylight flight between Baghdad and Balad on January 30 2005 when a medium-calibre anti-aircraft round hit one of its wing-located fuel tanks, causing the ullage, highly-flammable fuel vapour/air mix created as fuel is used, to explode and blow off the right wing.

The inquest heard how US helicopter crews were shot at by the enemy between Baghdad and Balad shortly before the stricken C130k flew through the air space at low level.

Due to a communication failure, an incident report never made it through to intelligence officers until it was too late.

This, according to Mr Reid, was of greater significance than the Hercules craft's well-publicised lack of ESF (explosion-suppressant foam), which stops wing-located fuel tanks exploding if hit by enemy fire. US Hercules have had ESF since the 1960s.

"Of greater significance with XV179 is the failure of intelligence. This was a known ambush site and tragically XV179 flew into the same ambush,"

said Mr Reid.

The inquest heard how a 2002 Tactical Analysis Team (TAT) report sent to senior RAF figures said Hercules' wing tanks were the most vulnerable part of the planes, liable to explode if hit by small arms fire, and that ESF would offer protection.

No action was taken. And the message about the wing tanks' vulnerability was not passed on to crews either.

Mr Reid said: "I'm not so much disappointed that the aircraft did not have ESF," Mr Reid told the inquest. "I'm more cross that the vulnerability was not known. Had the vulnerability been known then the crew would not have flown that profile (low level; about 150ft). Had the aircraft been hit at a higher level, it could have given the crew more time to sort something out."

Mr Reid said to the families they must think it "weird" that even after the publication of his 2005 BoI report, he still had limited knowledge of ESF - despite evidence of British military knowledge on this subject dating back to 1980.

"I apologise - I cannot explain it," he said.

Mr Masters also thanked Mr Reid, whose inquiry was central, he said, to persuading the MoD to fund the retro-fitting with ESF of all RAF Hercules.

The victims based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire were: RAF 47 Squadron's Flt Lt David Stead, the pilot, 35; Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, the co-pilot; Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42; Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34, Australian airman Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35 a navigator; and from Lyneham's Engineering Wing, Chief Technician Richard Brown, 40, an avionics specialist; Sergeant Robert O'Connor, 38, an engineering technician; and Corporal David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter, a passenger. Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, of Fareham, Hampshire, a Royal Signals soldier, was also part of the crew.

Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, from Strike Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe, was another passenger on the Hercules.