V: "THUNDER AND LIGHTNING"- THE WAR WITH IRAQ
"Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation DESERT STORM, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation's resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our Country." -- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, in a message to the command, 16 January 1991
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW. On 17 January, DESERT STORM began with a coordinated attack which included Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from cruisers, destroyers and battleships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The TLAM launches opened a carefully crafted joint strategic air campaign. The initial barrage of over 100 TLAMs took out heavily defended targets in the vicinity of Baghdad and made a critical contribution to eliminating Iraqi air defenses and command and control capabilities.
In all, 288 TLAMs were launched as part of the integrated air campaign. Launches were conducted from both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf from nine cruisers, five destroyers, two battleships and two nuclear powered attack submarines. The top shooter was the destroyer USS Fife (DD 991) which fired 58 missiles.
TLAM adds a dramatic new dimension to the offensive firepower of the United States Navy. Any future aggressor will have to contend with the demonstrated capability of U.S. forces to launch complex coordinated missile and air attacks from multiple axes. The TLAM and other precision-guided and high-tech munitions used by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force clearly produced a revolution in the art of warfare.
The joint air campaign was successful beyond the most optimistic expectations. As full partners in that campaign, Navy and Marine Corps aviators flew from carriers and amphibious ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, and from bases ashore, from the day hostilities began until the cease-fire was ordered. Navy aircraft struck targets up to 700 miles distant, with Red Sea sorties averaging 3.7 hours in length, and Persian Gulf sorties averaging 2.5 hours. As was also the case for their ground-based Air Force counterparts, many flights lasted as long as five hours, and virtually every flight required airborne refueling at both ends of the journey.
The four carrier battle groups operating in the Persian Gulf, together with the two additional battle groups in the Red Sea, complemented the striking power of land-based coalition air forces in Saudi Arabia and other coalition Gulf states, and the USAF units in eastern Turkey. This effectively surrounded Iraq with strike capability and demonstrated the mobility, flexibility and firepower which naval forces bring to the battlefield.
Critical to the success of all aviation missions was the role of electronic countermeasures, "jamming" or "defense suppression" aircraft. Navy EA-6B Prowlers determined threat location then jammed and destroyed enemy radars. Navy defense suppression aircraft supported all U.S. and coalition forces-- in fact, availability of the EA-6Bs was a go/no-go criterion for many strike missions. If Navy defense suppression wasn't available, the missions didn't fly.
The presence of U.S. naval forces on both flanks of coalition land and air forces ashore complemented and enhanced the airground campaign. It helped ensure the continued flow of logistics throughout the war and provided the "insurance" which allowed the Gulf states to confidently participate in the coalition without fear of retaliation.
Naval forces destroyed the Iraqi Navy and contributed directly to the liberation of Kuwait. They continued the maritime interception campaign throughout the war. They supported the ground campaign with air power and naval gunfire.
To fully appreciate the contribution of the Navy and Marine Corps to the campaign ashore, one need only consider the large scale models of Iraqi defenses discovered in Kuwait City. Those defenses were pointed seaward. Iraqi forces were committed to defend Kuwait against amphibious attack. This diversion of forces was a critical element in the overall campaign plan. It set the stage for coalition armored forces on the western flank to rapidly envelop the Iraqi forces facing seaward and southward towards the central thrust spearheaded by the Marines.
THE AIR WAR. Navy and Marine Corps pilots, aircrews and support personnel joined in the most powerful and successful air assault in the history of modern warfare. From "H-hour" on 17 January when the air campaign began, until the end of offensive combat operations 43 days later, Navy and Marine aviators destroyed key targets and helped ensure the United States military and its coalition partners owned the skies over Iraq and Kuwait.
Operating from six aircraft carriers, two large amphibious assault ships (LHAs), various other amphibious ships, plus ground bases and makeshift airstrips ashore, Navy and Marine fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft were an integral part of the coalition air campaign. Of more than 94,000 sorties flown by U..S. aircraft during the war, Navy and Marine aircraft flew close to 30,000. Sea-service pilots flew around 35 percent of the sorties, which was in dlrect proportion to their numbers in the U.S. air inventory.
More than 1,000 Navy and Marine Corps aircraft joined the U.S. Air Force, Army and coalition partners to knock out the Iraqi military machine. The air campaign was conducted in four phases. Phase I was to gain air superiority by destroying Iraq's strategic capabilities. That phase was accomplished within the first seven days. Phase II required the suppression of air defenses in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. During Phase III, the coalition airmen continued to service Phase I and II targets as needed, but also shifted emphasis to the field army in Kuwait. Finally, Phase IV entailed air support of ground operations.
At around 0300 (Persian Gulf time) 17 January, along with a blitz by more than 100 TLAMs, wave after wave of coalition aircraft --including those flown by Navy and Marine pilots -- began hammering strategic targets inside both Iraq and Kuwait, signaling the start of offensive combat operations. Throughout the war, air strikes were conducted from six aircraft carriers operating in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. USS America (CV 66) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departed Norfolk 28 December 1990, and arrived just in time for the beginning of DESERT STORM. They joined USS Midway (CV 41), USS Saratoga (CV 60), USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) and USS Ranger (CV 61) who were already on station.
After blinding the enemy's early warning systems with Navy EA-6B Prowlers and destroying critical radar sites with high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM) fired from Navy tactical aircraft and Air Force F-4 Wild Weasels, allied aircraft poured into Iraq and began bombing command and control centers, Scud missile launchers and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons facilities. The Navy/Marine Corps team launched more than 80% of the HARM missiles that paved the way for the coalition attack.
During those early hours of the war, Navy and Marine pilots contributed to the destruction of Iraq's air and naval forces, anti-air defenses, ballistic missile launchers, communications networks, electrical power and more. They joined their joint and allied partners in inflicting heavy military losses with precision bombing from high-tech aerial weaponry, while at the same time minimizing civilian casualties.
On "D-day," four Navy Hornets from VFA-81, embarked in Saratoga, were on a bombing mission targeted against an Iraqi airfield when they detected two Iraqi MiG-21s seven miles away. They switched their F/A18 strike-fighters from bombing profile to air-to-air, and downed both aircraft using Sidewinder missiles. They then continued their mission and scored direct hits on the enemy airfield. That encounter produced the Navy's only air-to-air kills, while taking the versatile Hornet through its dual-roled paces. All told, coalition aircraft scored 35 air-to-air fixed wing kills.
The Iraqi air force quickly went underground or flew to safe haven in neighboring Iran. Navy pilots from John F. Kennedy, flying a daytime mission over southwestern Iraq early in the offensive, said that a group of MiGs stayed 40 or 50 miles away, falling back and refusing to engage each time the U.S. planes advanced. It was a pattern repeated throughout the war. Each time Navy crews energized the powerful, long-range AWG-9 radar in the F-14, Iraqi pilots turned away. In the course of the war, more than 234 Iraqi aircraft were taken out of the fight: 90 were destroyed in combat operations, 122 flew to Iran, 16 were captured by ground forces and six were noncombat losses.
E-2C Hawkeyes operated around-theclock in concert with coalition AWACs to keep track of Iraq's air force and provide air traffic control. Navy and Marine aircraft flew continuous combat air patrols to protect sealift ships and airfields, provide reconnaissance and on-call anti-surface strike capability.
U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy airborne tankers played a crucial role. Without airborne tankers, coalition warplanes wouldn't have been able to hit targets deep in Iraq. The large, land-based Air Force KC-10 and KC-131 tankers carried the bulk of the load. Coordination of the airborne tanking effort was superb.
While Navy strike-fighters and bombers were doing their job, shore-based P-3C Orions and carrier-based S-3 Vikings continued to patrol the shipping lanes. Specially equipped EP-3Es provided electronic reconnaissance. While performing routine surface reconnaissance in the northern Persian Gulf on 20 February, an S-3B from VS-32, based aboard the carrier America, became the first aircraft of that type to engage and destroy a hostile vessel using bombs. Guided by the Aegis cruiser USS Valley Forge (CG 50), the S-3 searched the area with its forward-looking infrared system and inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR), pin-pointed the position of the high-speed, heavily-armed craft, and sank it.
The Navy also had a large helo contingent which employed a variety of rotary-wing aircraft for search and rescue, medical evacuation and logistics. DESERT STORM marked the first combat operations for the HH-60H Seahawk strike rescue helicopter. The Navy's newest helicopter can also perform medical evacuations, provide logistics support or deliver up to eight members of a special operations (SEAL) team.
Naval aviators made a major contribution to the destruction of the Iraqi navy. Within the first three weeks of the air campaign, Intruders and Hornets using Harpoon missiles, Skipper and Rockeye bombs, sank and disabled many of Iraq's missile gunboats, minesweepers, patrol craft and other small ships. Silkworm anti-ship missile sites and several armed hovercraft were also destroyed. During that same three week period, Navy and Marine Corps units contributed more than one-third of the total 42,000 sorties flown.
As the war progressed, the Navy-Marine team's mission changed from strategic and battlefield preparation to tactical targets and close-air support. Tanks, vehicles and artillery moved to the top of the target list, especially during the border incursions in and around the Saudi town of Khafji on 29 January, and following the start of the ground campaign on 24 February. Marine Harriers and Navy and Marine Intruders shifted from hitting pre-selected, stationary targets to striking roving quarry.
OV-10 Broncos and AH-l Cobra attack helicopters provided close-air support during these operations and helped clear the way for the fast-moving 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. Close-air support, with constant danger from small-arms fire, shoulder-fired missiles and possible "friendly fire," was not a new mission for the A-6 or the Cobra, both of which saw action in Vietnam.
The AV-8B, on the other hand, saw its first sea-based combat action. Flying from the amphibious assault ships USS Tarawa (LHA l) and USS Nassau (LHA 4) as well as from ground bases, the Harrier demonstrated the Navy/Marine team's versatility and effectiveness, as did the OV-10 ashore. Twelve Broncos transited the Atlantic aboard America and Theodore Roosevelt. As the carriers entered the Mediterranean, the Broncos flew off to finish their trip to Saudi Arabia.
DESERT STORM marked the first combat use of some of the Navy's newest aircraft including the F-14A+, the F/A-18C and the F/A-18D night-attack aircraft. The multi-mission F/A-18 Hornets of the Navy flew 4,435 sorties, while the Marines flew 5,047.sorties in the durable fighter-attack aircraft. Navy pilots flew 4,071 sorties in their battle-proven, all-weather A-6 Intruders, and Marine pilots flew 854 sorties in their Intruders.
Because a wide variety of ordnance was used to match speciflc weapons to specific targets, Navy/Marine tactical aviation units put the logistics system to the test. Not counting missiles, allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield. The heavy demand for repair parts was satisfied by the supply system as well. Navy squadrons maintained 85 to 95 percent of their aircraft at a fully mission-capable status throughout DESERT SHIELD/STORM.
On the last full day of war, Navy aviators of the six carrier battle groups flew 600 combat missions, reducing the remaining combat capability of Saddam Hussein's forces as the Iraqis fled from Kuwait. Over the course of the war, Navy pilots, crews and aviation support personnel helped give the United States and her coalition partners early and undisputed ownership of the airspace over Iraq and Kuwait. Launching up to 140 sorties a day from a single flight deck, the carriers and their battle groups contributed significantly to coalition air dominance and effectively eliminated Iraq's naval capability. The performance of the nearly 30,000 Navy men and nearly 500 aircraft aboard the carriers was unparalleled, and their mission statistics were impressive. At the end, Navy sorties, both fixed and rotary wing, totaled nearly 20,000.
THE WAR AT SEA. The war at sea was integral to the liberation of Kuwait. While continuing their high-tempo maritime interception mission, U.S. and coalition warships conducted a wide variety of contingency actions, from TLAM launches to naval gunfire support.
A multinational naval force of 115 U.S. and 50 allied warships had already severed Iraq's economic lifeline during the five-monthold maritime interception campaign when DESERT SHIELD turned into a STORM. The battleships USS Wisconsin (BB 64) and USS Missouri (BB 63) took up stations in the northern Persian Gulf ready to contribute the firepower of their 16-inch guns and Tomahawk cruise missiles to the ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The Aegis cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56) fired the first Tomahawk missile toward Iraq from her position in the Red Sea. USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) followed suit moments later from the Persian Gulf. It was an historic moment soon duplicated 100 times over aboard seven other Navy warships during the flrst day of DESERT STORM.
Wisconsin served as the TLAM strike commander for the Persian Gulf, directing the sequence of launches that marked the opening of DESERT STORM and firing a total of 24 TLAMs during the first two days of the campaign. Within sight of Wisconsin, missile after missile rose from other ships in the area, including her sister ship Missouri.
Navy surface forces made an impact early in DESERT STORM, when USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and the Kuwaiti fast attack craft Istiqlal (P 5702) conducted the first surface engagement of the war. Supporting combat search and rescue operations for the air campaign, Nicholas and her helicopters scouted the Dorrah oilfield, about 40 miles off the Kuwaiti coast. Nine of Dorrah's 11 oil platforms were occupied by Iraqi troops who were using them as observation posts to gather intelligence on U.S. and allied aircraft and ship movements.
In a daring night-time operation, well within range of Iraqi Silkworm missiles and near Iraqi combatant ships and aircraft armed with Exocet ship-killer missiles, Nicholas and Istiqlal attacked the enemy positions.
Nicholas crept to within a mile of the southernmost platforms under cover of darkness. Armed for air-to-surface combat, embarked Army AHIP helicopters, joined by Nicholas' own SH-60 Seahawk helicopter from HSL-44, headed north --toward the enemy's "back door." Once in range, the helicopters launched a volley of precision-guided missiles that destroyed enemy positions on the two northernmost platforms. Seconds later, as six Iraqi soldiers attempted to escape to a waiting small craft, ammunition stockpiled on the platforms exploded, illuminating the night sky.
Nicholas and her Kuwaiti counterpart came within range of their objectives. While Iraqis on the other platforms were staring at their neighbors' flaming fortifications, the two ships opened fire, quickly neutralizing the remaining platforms. No enemy troops had returned fire since the beginning of the lightning-fast operation.
An Arabic-speaking crewman called out over the ship's loudspeaker that anyone who wished to surrender should raise his hands. A monitor in Nicholas' combat information center displayed a flickering infrared image of an Iraqi waving weakly. Several hours later, the first 23 enemy prisoners of war (EPWs) were taken as teams boarded the platforms to destroy the remaining fortifications. Five Iraqis were killed during the engagement.
Searchers found caches of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles-- an unpleasant surprise for the Seahawk pilots who had flown near the platforms during the past two days. Navy demolition teams destroyed the remaining weapons and long-range radio equipment.
Nicholas' relatively low-tech victory contrasted vividly the high-tech hailstorm of sea-launched TLAMs during the opening days of DESERT STORM. The Navy's distributed firepower concept-- of which TLAM is one example --was further demonstrated on 19 January when a TLAM was fired by the attack submarine USS Louisville (SSN 724) submerged in the Red Sea. By the end of DESERT STORM's second day, Navy ships in the Middle East had launched 216 TLAMs while continuing to conduct maritime intercept and other sea control operations.
During DESERT SHIELD/STORM attack submarines not only fired TLAMs, but provided an array of multi-mission capabilities to battle group commanders. Prior to and during hostilities, eight SSNs were involved in surveillance and reconnaissance operations. They also provided indications and warning for the battle groups. After hostilities began, an additional five submarines bolstered Navy forces already on station.
As Navy A-6 Intruders pounded Iraqi minelayers on 22 January, Nicholas and her Seahawks were again busy in the northern Persian Gulf. As the northernmost allied ship, Nicholas launched her helicopters to attack Iraqi patrol boats operating less than a mile from the Kuwaiti coast. In the battle that followed, Seahawk gunners sank or heavily damaged all four enemy craft. The following day, A-6s hit the mark again, disabling an Iraqi tanker used to gather intelligence, an enemy hovercraft and another Iraqi patrol boat.
Navy air power struck again on 24 January, when A-6s destroyed an enemy minelayer, a minesweeper and another patrol boat. A second enemy minesweeper sunk after hitting one of its own mines while attempting to evade the A-6. Near Qurah Island, embarked Army helicopters from USS Curts (FFG 38) pulled 22 EPWs from the sea. As the helicopters assisted the survivors, Iraqi forces on Qurah fired at the airborne rescuers.
As Curts' helicopters returned the enemy fire, the ship maneuvered closer to the island and trained its guns ashore, commencing an intense six-hour struggle to retake the first parcel of Kuwaiti territory. When the enemy gunfire ceased, three Iraqis lay dead and 29 others knelt in surrender. Navy SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 landed on Qurah aboard helicopters from USS Leftwich (DDG 984). With Nichols and Curts keeping watch close by, the island was reclaimed, and 51 EPWs were taken into custody.
On 29 January, in the northern Persian Gulf, the five ships of Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) ALFA-- USS Okinawa (LPH 3), USS Ogden (LPD 5), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), USS Cayuga (LST 1186) and USS Durham (LKA 114) --with embarked Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (special operations capable) --steamed near the Kuwaiti island Umm al Maradim. The Marines assaulted the 300-meter by 400-meter island 12 miles off the Kuwaiti coast using embarked Marine helicopters, liberating the second Kuwaiti island. After destroying Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons and artillery stored on the island, which had been used as an early warning post by the enemy, the Marines raised the Kuwaiti flag over the second parcel of reclaimed territory.
Later that day, 20 Iraqi small craft fired upon Navy helos investigating reports of surrendering Iraqis on neighboring islands. The helos returned fire, sinking four boats and damaging twelve others. By 2 February all Iraqi craft capable of delivering missiles had been destroyed, and the Iraqi naval force was considered combat ineffective.
Curts, using advanced mine-avoidance sonar, led Missouri northward. Missouri gun crews sent 2,700-pound shells crashing into an Iraqi command and control bunker near the Saudi border. It marked the first time her 16-inch guns had been fired in combat since March 1953 off Korea. Missouri's gun crews returned to action 5 February, silencing an Iraqi artillery battery with another 10 rounds. Over a three-day period, Missouri bombarded Iraqi strongholds with 112 16-inch shells.
Wisconsin, escorted by Nicholas, relieved Missouri on the 6th, answering her first combat call for gunfire support since March 1952. The most recently recommissioned battleship sent 11 shells across 19 miles of space to destroy an Iraqi artillery battery in southern Kuwait. Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) as a spotter in combat for the first time, Wisconsin pounded Iraqi targets and Iraqi boats that had been used during raids along theSaudi coast. Wisconsin's turrets boomed again on 8 February, blasting bunkers and artillery sites near Khafji after the Iraqis were ousted from the city by Saudi and Qatari armor. The two battleships alternated positions on the gun line, using their 16-inch guns to destroy enemy targets and soften defenses along the Kuwait coastline for a possible amphibious assault.
Soon after the Iraqi invasion, it became clear that Iraq was laying mines in international waters. U.S. ships discovered and des'troyed six mines during December. The U.S. Mine Countermeasures Group (USMCMG) was established with the objective of cleanng a path to the beach for a possible amphibious landing and battleship gunflre support.
The minesweepers USS Adroit (MSO 509), USS Impervious (MSO 449), and USS Leader (MSO 490) along with the newly commissioned mine countermeasures ship USS Avenger (MCM 1 ) arrived in the Gulf aboard the heavy-lift ship Super Servant III. More than 20 Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams were also deployed to support the mine countermeasures force. Allied minesweepers from Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and Kuwait, and the MH-53 Super Stallions of Mine Countermeasures Helicopter Squadron 14 joined the MCM effort.
After months of training off Dubai, United Arab Emirates, USMCMG staff embarked in USS Tripoli (LPH 10) on 20 January, and proceeded to the northern Gulf waters to perform their mission. As flagship for the combined operation, Tripoli's flight deck was the base for the mine-sweeping helicopters. Six British minesweepers joined their U.S. counterparts, with British and U.S. warships providing air defense.
USMCMG began its work 60 miles east of the Kuwaiti coastline, working initially to clear a 15-mile long, 1,000-yard wide path. The mine-clearing task force spent the flrst few weeks of DESERT STORM pushing 24 miles to "Point FOXTROT," a 10-mile by 3.5-mile box which became the battleship gunfire support area south of Faylaka Island.
While sweeping further toward shore, the task group was targeted by Iraqi fire control radars associated with Silkworm missile sites inside Kuwait. Task force ships moved out of Silkworm range and worked to locate the radar site. During those maneuvers on 18 February, Iraqi mines found their mark. Within three hours of each other, Tripoli and USS Princeton (CG 59) were rocked by exploding mines. As damage control teams successfully overcame flres and flooding aboard Tripoli and Princeton, Impervious, Leader and Avenger searched for additional mines in the area. Adroit led the salvage tug USS Beaufort (ATS 2) toward Princeton to tow her to safety.
Tripoli was able to continue her mission for several days before she was relieved by USS La Salle (AGF 3) and USS New Orleans (LPH 11) and proceeded to Bahrain for repairs. New Orleans provided the helicopter deck while the mine group staff moved aboard La Salle to coordinate the operation. Princeton restored her TLAM strike and AEGIS anti-air warfare defense capabilities within fifteen minutes of the mine strike, whereupon she reassumed duties as local anti-air warfare coordinator and remained on station, providing defense for the mine countermeasures group for an additional 30 hours, until relieved.
Charts and intelligence captured from Iraq showed the mine field where Tripoli and Princeton were hit was one of six laid in a 150-mile arc from Faylaka Island to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Within that arc, there were four additional mine-lines --a total of more than 1,000 mines --laid over a five month period.
Three days later, the massive 31-ship amphibious task force moved north to assist in battlefield preparation as the deadline for the ground offensive neared. As Wisconsin and Missouri steamed in the vicinity of recently-cleared "Point FOXTROT," their gun crews continued to pound Iraqi targets. Marine AV-8B Harriers launched from the flight deck of Nassau conducted strikes ashore.
The night before the 24 February ground offensive began, Missouri trained her guns on Faylaka Island in a pyrotechnic display intended to convince Iraqi troops along the Kuwaiti coast that the sea-borne invasion was at hand. Wisconsin, accompanied by USS McInerney (FFG 8) moved in close to drive that point home.
Twenty-four hours into the ground campaign, Iraqis manning the Kuwait Silkworm missile sites fired two anti-ship missiles at Missouri. The first landed harmlessly between Missouri and USS Jarrett (FFG 33). The second, headed straight for Missouri, but was intercepted by two Sea Dart missiles from the British warship HMS Gloucester (D 96).
With the allied ground force plowing through Iraqi defenders, Iraqi forces on the Kuwaiti coastline prepared a counter-attack. To diffuse that possibility, Marine helicopters from USS Guam (LPH 9) and other ships of the amphibious task force conducted operations designed to keep the enemy wary of an amphibious assault. Guam's helicopters conducted early-morning strike missions on both Faylaka and Bubiyan Islands. Okinawa conducted a simulated helicopter assault against Kuwaiti beaches, turning back after drawing small arms and anti-aircraft artillery fire from the enemy's coastal bunkers. The maneuvers held the attention of 80,000 Iraqi coastal defense personnel as the coalition's "end run" swarrned around their flank. By the time the enemy realized an amphibious assault was not headed their way, it was too late. Coalition victory was less than 24 hours away.
Wisconsin's and Missouri's guns continued to fire. Both battleships passed the million-pound mark of ordnance delivered on Iraqi targets by the time President Bush ended hostilities on 28 February. With one last salvo from her big guns, Wisconsin fired the last naval gunfire support mission of the war.
Though the cease-fire ended ground hostilities, the Navy's mission didn't slow. Navy warships continued working with allied counterparts to enforce U.N. sanctions. Both battleships' UAVs combed the coastline and outlying islands in reconnaissance support for occupying allied forces. Over Faylaka Island, Missouri's UAV observed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers waving white flags following the battleship's pounding of their trenchlines-- the first-ever surrender of enemy troops to an unmanned aircraft.
The mine-clearing effort continued unabated. By the time the cease-fire was called, the job of reaching the Kuwaiti port of Al Shuaibah was nearly complete. Minesweepers and EOD teams from the U.S., Britain, Holland and Belgium continued to clear the path to Kuwait's main port.
La Salle arrived at Al Shuaibah on 12 March, after she assisted the British minesweeper HMS Cattistock (M 31) in escorting two tankers filled with fresh water and supplies through a channel to the newly-liberated Kuwait. USMCMG assets were busy sweeping channels into other ports north and south of Shuaibah and around Kuwait City.
"The Iraqis might have agreed to a ceasefire, but their mines have not yet surrendered," said RADM Raynor A. K. Taylor, USN, Middle East Force commander aboard La Salle. "There are lots of them out there." Further complicating the minesweeping operation was the huge oil slick Iraqi forces spilled into the Gulf, hampering mine-sighting efforts and complicating the work of EOD divers. By mid March, more than 220 mines had been destroyed by the coalition force.
On 27 February, Avenger, the Navy's newest mine countermeasures ship, detected, classified and marked a bottom-influence mine similar to the two that rocked Princeton nine days earlier. Divers from EOD Mobile Unit 6 placed neutralizing charges and detonated the mine-- the first bottom influence mine ever found intact during combat. During the week of 18 April, using her mine-hunting sonar and remote-controlled mine neutralization vehicle, Avenger located and destroyed five additional bottom-influence mines.
As of 14 March, the day Sheikh Jaber Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait's Emir, retumed to his home after a seven-month exile, more than 70 U.S. ships remained on station. Mine clearing and maritime intercepts continued, with USS Biddle (CG 34) completing the coalition's 1,000th boarding of a merchant vessel since the operation began in early August.
Battle damage repair crews from USS Jason (AR 8) completed six month's work in 30 days to enable Tripoli to return to the northern Gulf in the first week of April to relieve New Orleans as flagship for ongoing allied mine-clearing operations. Twenty-one minesweeping ships from six coalition countries continued to scour the Kuwait coastline and northern Persian Gulf for mines. By April 11, the day the U.N. Security Council declared the end of the Persian Gulf war following Iraq's acceptance of cease-fire terms, coalition divers and minesweeping forces had located and destroyed 553 of Iraq's 1,000-plus mines.
AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS. During the early days of DESERT SHIELD, a powerful 18,000-man amphibious task force steamed into the North Arabian Sea to add an important element to the allied arsenal. Within less than a month after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, more than 20 amphibious ships from Norfolk, Little Creek, and San Diego had completed the 10,000-mile trip to the Gulf of Oman, where nearly 8,000 Marines and 10,000 Sailors commenced full-scale preparations to "hit the beach" to eject Iraq's army from Kuwait.
The task force, with Marines from the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, included air, land and sea assets tailor-made for coastal assault-- Harrier attack jets and assault helicopters to provide air cover for infantry, and armor that would hit the beach aboard high-speed air-cushion landing craft (LCAC). The Task Force, quickly forged from several amphibious ready groups (ARGs), represented the largest amphibious assault force assembled in more than 30 years. It was also represented fastest deployment of an amphibious force of this magnitude. Load-out and departure were completed within 11 days.
During the transit and following arrival, "gator" Navy Sailors and fleet Marines underwent constant chemical weapons defense, cultural and intelligence training, just like their counterparts ashore. They also completed demanding shipboard drills and amphibious assault training on coalition beaches. That training grew more intense as the amphibious forces performed high-visibility exercises off the coast of Saudi Arabia to heighten the enemy wariness of an invasion from the sea.
Along with massive amphibious exercises, embarked Marines responded to calls for assistance from maritime interception force warships. Marines aboard the five ships of ARG ALFA were among the first combat troops placed aboard uncooperative Iraqi tankers during maritime intercepts in the early days of DESERT SHIELD. Along with Navy SEALs, fleet Marines backed up boarding and search teams composed of surface Sailors and Coast Guard law enforcement detachment personnel during hostile boardings.
Amphibious forces also played a major role in mine countermeasures operations. Helicopters performing airborne mine countermeasures used versatile amphibious flight decks inside the mine-infested waters off the Kuwaiti coast. USS Tripoli, La Salle, New Orleans and other amphibious ships acted as home base for the MH-53E mine sweeping helicopters. Marine AH-lW Cobras acted as armed escorts. The largest mine-clearing effort since World War II enabled the battleships to pummel Kuwait' s shoreline with naval gunfire.
The amphibious presence grew larger following President Bush's 8 November decision to nearly double U.S. forces in theater. The 13 ships of PHIBGRU THREE arrived from three West Coast ports with nearly 15,000 Marines of the 5th MEB embarked to join the amphibious task force.
As the ground war commenced, nearly 17,000 Marines stood ready aboard the largest combined amphibious assault force since since the Inchon landing in Korea. Only then did the Sailors and Marines of the amphibious force learn that their warfighting skills would not be immediately required as they had expected. But their preparation had not been in vain. It was at the core of the deceptive tactics which played a major role in the quick allied victory.
SUPPORT FOR THE TROOPS: THE GROUND WAR. During the weeks prior to "G-day," Marine units, including artillery, reconnaissance and combined arms task forces, were busy disrupting Iraqi defensive positions. Marine artillery and Army multiple-launch rocket systems, using Air Force airborne spotters as well as Marine forward and aerial observers and clandestine recon teams inside enemy territory, had enormous success with artillery raids and roving gun tactics. Coalition air forces pounded the enemy day and night. Naval gunfire from the battleships Missouri and Wisconsin provided the "Sunday punch" that helped soften up the future battlefield.
On the night of 23 February, Marine units all along the Kuwait border moved into final attack positions and waited for the order to commence the ground offensive. Real-time and near-real-time tactical reconnaissance were provided by Navy and Marine Corps UAVs and Navy F-14s equipped with the tactical air reconnaissance pod system (TARPS). The deadline set by President Bush for Iraq to get out of Kuwait had expired.
Iraq had no "eyes" over the battlefield with which to observe the allied strategy. While the United States and its coalition partners unleashed General Schwarzkopf's "Hail Mary" play, the Iraqis were convinced that the battle would be joined at the center of their defensive lines along the Saudi-Kuwait border, and by amphibious assault.
What the Iraqis could not realize was that the allies had secretly moved two entire corps of American forces (the Army's 7th and 18th), supported by British and French divisions, far to the west in one of the largest and swiftest battlefield troop movements in history. This giant "end run" by more than 250,000 soldiers spread over several hundred miles, moved deep into Iraqi territory from the Saudi border behind the Iraqi forces to deliver a fatal "left hook." The flanking maneuver not only cut off all avenues of retreat north and west of Kuwait, it fulfilled Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell's prediction that the coalition-- specifically the American military --were going to "cut off the head ... and kill" the Iraqi army.
The Marine Corps, with the support of Navy air power, was tasked with going for the jugular. Afte rperforming their own deception by shifting both Marine divisions some 40 to 50 miles northeast from their original staging area, the Marines stepped off into battle. The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, each more than 18,000 strong, and the U.S. Army 1st Brigade ("Tiger Brigade"), 2nd Armored Division, plunged into the attack. They were supported by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and thousands of combat service support staff from the 1st and 2nd Force Service Support Groups, and by Navy air forces.
On their way, the Marines had to cross two belts of minefields, 12-foot high sand berms, barbed-wire defenses, booby traps and fire trenches, all the while under sporadic attack by Iraqi artillery. These "impenetrable barriers" were quickly breached by the Marine teams. As the two Marine divisions advanced, two Saudi and Qatari task forces moved up Kuwait's east coast in a similar drive. The initial Marine advance was described by Schwarzkopf in his 27 February briefing as follows:
"It was a classic, absolutely classic military breaching of a very, very tough minefield, barbed wire, fire trench-type barrier. They went through the first barrier like it was water. Then they brought both divisions steaming through that breach. Absolutely superb operation -- a textbook, and I think it will be studied for many, many years to come as the way to do it."
Overhead, Cobras, Harriers and Intruders provided close-air support as the Marines pushed forward meetingoccasional resistance. Navy A-6 Intruders laid down heavy barrages. Marine aircraft attacked in waves as engineers continued to shoot line charges and drop bundles of plastic pipes near trenches so the blade tanks could form makeshift bridges. Even though the 1st Division Marines encountered artillery fire and a mechanized counter-attack, their attack proved unstoppable. Most Iraqis fought for only a few minutes before surrendering. Massive artillery and air support from Navy and Marine aircraft sparked a frenzy of surrender that, at times, slowed the progress of advancing Marine units.
The 2nd Marine Division enjoyed equal success. With the Army's Tiger Brigade on the west flank, the 8th Marine Regiment to the east, and the 6th Marine Regiment in the center, the division kicked off its attack. Within hours they too had breached both defensive belts. Facing enemy mortar and small arms fire, the 2nd Division drove into Kuwait and took more than 5,000 EPWs by the end of the first day.
As Marines continued their attack the sea-based arm of the Navy-Marine Corps team continued to provide support. The battleships continued rapid, responsive gunfire on targets designated by Navy and Marine spotters on the ground and in the air. The amphibious task force in the Persian Gulf continued to demand difficult decisions from the Iraqi generals. Because of the threat of an amphibious landing and the uncertainty of where and when it [word/words missing in text] to ten divisions, totaling 80,000 men, to the defense of the Kuwait coastline. In addition they garrisoned troops and equipment on Bubiyan and Faylaka Islands which command sea approaches to vital areas.
About 7,500 Marines from the 5th MEB were off-loaded from amphibious ships at Saudi Arabian ports at the beginning of the ground attack to serve as the 1st MEF reserve force. Marine AV-8B Harriers, AH-l Cobra helicopters and special operations units from the 4th MEB aided the Arab forces in the east coast drive. On the second day of the ground war, both Marine Divisions faced sporadic resistance as they pushed further into Kuwait. They fought some intense battles along the way, and by the time Kuwait's International Airport was secured on the fourth day of the ground war, the two Marine divisions had defeated an Iraqi force of 11 divisions.
At 0800, Persian Gulf time, 28 February, American forces ceased offensive combat operations by order of the President. In 100 hours of offensive combat, the Marines and one Army Brigade, supported by Navy, Marine and coalition aircraft, destroyed or damaged 1,060 tanks, 608 artillery pieces, five Frog launchers and two Scud launchers, and captured more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers.
THE WEAPONS OF WAR. The coalition attack on Iraq began early on 17 January when U.S. naval forces launched a barrage of Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (TLAMs) from the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea against strategic targets in Iraq and Kuwait. As Americans watched the evening news, we heard the the correspondents in Baghdad say, "I hear bombs but I don't see any planes." The reason they saw no planes was because the only systems sent to destroy the critical, but heavily defended targets in Baghdad were TLAMs and Air Force F-l 17 "stealth" fighter-bombers.
The initial TLAM attack was followed by nearly 600 coalition aircraft striking from desert bases and carrier flight decks. TLAM's outstanding performance and accuracy-about 85% of the 288 missiles fired during the war hit their targets-- helped neutralize Iraqi defenses and paved the war for coalition strike aircraft. While avoiding the necessity of risking the life of a pilot in attacking a heavily defended target, TLAM further minimized the loss of life on both sides by reducing unintended collateral damage to civilian targets and reducing or eliminating the threat to allied aircraft.
The success of TLAM validated the results of years of operational testing. "Tomahawk doesn't know the difference between war and peace," said one officer describing its baptism in combat. "It just does its job."
The TLAM uses an array of advanced technology to reach its target. Launched with a solid-rocket booster and propelled by turbofan engine, the missile follows complex guidance directions from its on-board computer. Skimming the ground at 100 to 300 feet, it literally reads the terrain to avoid enemy radar. Although the TLAM warhead is fairly small in comparison with some bomb payloads, it is highly accurate. It also has the advantage of being fast, hard to detect or shoot down and immune to human traits such as nervousness. More importantly, it can fly day or night, in all weather, to safely attack targets deemed too dangerous for human pilots.
The overland routes flown by Tomahawks are developed by theater mission planning centers at Atlantic and Pacific FleetHeadquarters with the help of the Defense Mapping Agency. Programming the missile' s flight from ship to shore is done aboard ship. Two types of Tomahawk were used during DESERT STORM; the conventional land-attack missile, TLAM-C, and a version equipped with submunitions, the TLAM-D. The TLAM-C accurately delivers a single 1,000 pound warhead. TLAM-D can dispense up to 166 bomblets in 24 packages. The submunitions can be armor-piercing, fragmentation or incendiary. TLAMs were used against chemical and nuclear weapons facilities, surface-to-air missile sites, command and control centers and Saddam's presidential palace.
Tomahawks were used in DESERT STORM to both destroy important targets and save allied aircraft by attacking defensive positions in advance of the air assault. "It costs a lot of money," said Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, "but when you look at the precious savings of lives, I think the dollars are well invested."
Anti-ship attacks were carried out using the smaller Harpoon cruise missile system, previously used against Iranian warships in 1988 after the mine attack on USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58). The Navy also recorded the first combat use of the stand-off landattack missile (SLAM). SLAM, a variant of the Harpoon, allows pilots to attack high-value targets from more than 50 miles away.
Deployed from carrier-based aircraft, SLAMs use targeting data loaded into the missile before take-off, Global Positioning System mid-course guidance assistance and video aimpoint control to provide a precision strike capability that minimizes collateral damage. SLAM's data link system allows the missile to be launched by one aircraft and be guided to the target by another aircraft, normally positioned out of danger more than 60 miles away from the target.
The high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) proved especially effective in the destruction and suppression of Iraqi electronic emitters, particularly those associated with radar sites used to direct anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles.
Another system dedicated to insuring the survival of Sailors and their ships is the AEGIS combat system. The system can defeat an extremely wide range of targets. One AEGIS cruiser even detected and tracked four Iraqi SCUD missiles fired at great ranges. AEGIS cruisers coordinate anti-air defense of the battle group in a multi-threat environment. This high-tech command and control system allows the battle group to concentrate on its offensive tasks by reducing the resources needed for its defense. The AEGIS ships themselves made a formidable contribution to offensivefirepower: more than 25% of theTLAMs fired during DESERT STORM were fired by seven of the nine AEGIS cruisers on station.
Among the other ways the Navy used "high-tech" weaponry to minimize the need to place American pilots in danger is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) as they are sometimes called. The UAV was another Gulf War success story. Several times larger than the remote control airplane a hobbyist might own, the UAV is equipped with a television camera that relays live battlefield pictures to the control site. Launched from ships, or from the ground, it can operate for several hours at a distance of more than 100 miles from the launch point. Information gained from the UAV is used to direct gunfire and gather other realtime information from behind enemy lines without risking the lives of airborne or ground-based forward spotters.
The "smart" weapons and laser-guided bombs used in the war with Iraq introduced a new age of weaponry to nearly everyone in America. Millions of people had a birds-eye view of enemy command and control centers enveloped in clouds of smoke and debris as television broadcast vivid images of the bombs hitting their mark. There were many success stories in DESERT STORM, including new weapons, previously fired only in testing, evaluation or training exercises. For the most part, they performed exactly as they were intended. The "old reliables" also proved to be just that. The ships, planes, bombs, and missiles all worked well. However, the ingredient which made it all work was the one cited by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney when he said, "Everybody talks about the wonder weapons, but the most impressive capability we have is our people."
THE POST WAR PERIOD. Regardless of when the majority of DESERT SHIELD/ STORM forces return home, the Navy will still be representing the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. Naval forces have transited the region since 1801, and the reasons behind our stationing a permanent naval presence in the Gulf since 1948 have been revalidated by this most recent conflict.
The President has announced that naval presence in the region will be beefed up, and we are busy working on how to best carry out that tasking. Naval forces will once again provide the primary United States presence in the region, perhaps supplemented by additional prepositioned equipment and a strengthened program of military exercises with our allies.
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