For U.S. Navy Operations during Desert Shield (August 1990–January 1991) please see H-grams 052, 053, 054, 055, and 056.
By the onset of Desert Storm hostilities on 17 January 1991, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), commanded by Vice Admiral Stanley R. Arthur, embarked on USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19), included 108 U.S. Navy ships: 34 in the Arabian Gulf, 35 in the North Arabian Sea/Gulf of Oman, 26 in the Red Sea and 13 in the Mediterranean. These included six aircraft carriers with over 400 aircraft, two battleships, 18 cruisers, and 35 amphibious ships. About 75 Coalition warships from 14 nations included 18 British, 14 French and 10 Italian navy ships. This was the largest naval force assembled since World War II. The Coalition ships also participated in the Maritime Interception Operations, commanded by Rear Admiral William M. Fogarty (CTF-152), embarked on USS Laalle (AGF-3), which by that time had conducted 6,913 intercepts, 823 boardings, and 36 diversions since late August 1990; the intercepts and boardings continued during the war (and long afterwards).
At 0130 17 January 1991 Persian Gulf time, the AEGIS cruiser San Jacinto (CG-56), operating in the Red Sea, launched the first U.S. Navy Tomahawk Land-Attack Cruise Missile (TLAM) fired in anger, with more to follow. Eleven minutes later, destroyer Paul F. Foster (DD-964) and Bunker Hill (CG-52) commenced launching from the Arabian Gulf (accounts vary as to which one launched first). Within minutes, the first salvo of 48 TLAMS (of 114 in three salvos the first night from nine ships) was enroute to targets in Iraq (these were the first of 297 TLAMs fired during the campaign). Battleships Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64) also launched TLAMs in the first salvo. Two, possibly as many as six, TLAMs were shot down by Iraqi air defenses (the third wave suffered the highest percentage of non-arrivals at the target). Roughly 80 percent of TLAMs reached their target, excellent performance considering the flat elevation of most of Iraq, which was challenging for the Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) and terminal Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator (DSMAC) guidance of TLAMs at the time. (TLAMs would also be the only weapons to strike the Iraqi capital of Baghdad during daylight hours).
At roughly the same time as the TLAMs were launching, U.S. Army Apache helicopters began destroying Iraqi early warning radar sites along the Iraqi-Saudi Arabia border, as special operations forces penetrated deep into Iraq to assist in destroying surface-to-surface ballistic missile sites and other targets. Following close behind the TLAMs were over 1,000 U.S. and Coalition aircraft, including 30 U.S. Air Force F-117 stealth fighters and 228 Navy sorties from four of the six aircraft carriers. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) was still racing around the Arabian Peninsula from Suez to join Battle Force Zulu (CTF 154). Commanded by Rear Admiral Daniel P. March, embarked on Midway (CV-41), CTF 154 was operating in the central Arabian Gulf and included just-arrived carrier Ranger (CV-61). Battle Force Yankee (CTF 155), commanded by RADM Riley D. Mixson, remained in the northern Red Sea with Saratoga (CV-60), John F. Kennedy (CV-67), and just-arrived America (CV-66), which did not participate for the first days due to prioritization of USAF tankers necessary to reach Iraq from the Red Sea. RADM Mixson also commanded CTG 150.9, the Mediterranean Strike Group, which included ships and a submarine launching TLAMs (eight) into Iraq several days later.
At 1900 16 January Eastern Standard Time (0300 17 January Gulf time), as airstrikes were reaching their targets in Iraq, the White House announced (followed two hours later by President George H.W. Bush on TV) that the “liberation of Kuwait has begun” under the operation code-named Desert Storm.
The first night strikes went very well as Coalition tactics saturated the Iraqi air defense system and Iraqi surface-to-air missiles went “stupid” thanks to improved Coalition (mostly U.S.). electronic warfare capability and High Speed Radiation Missiles (HARM), a weapon brought to the fight primarily by USN aircraft (see also H-Gram 056). However, the first Coalition aircraft shot down was an F/A-18 of Strike-Fighter Squadron (VFA-181), off Saratoga, flown by LCDR Michael “Scott” Speicher, probably by an Iraqi Mig-25 Foxbat in the only Iraqi air-to-air kill of USN aircraft during the war. (Speicher’s remains were not found and identified until 2009).
On the night of 17-18 January, two USN A-6 Intruders were shot down. One VA-35 A-6E off Saratoga was downed by Iraqi AAA during a low-altitude strike on H-3 airfield in western Iraq (LT Robert Wetzel and LT Jeffrey Zaun were captured), and another A-6E on that strike was badly damaged and made an emergency landing in Saudi Arabia, where it was deemed unrepairable. The same night an A-6E from VA-155 off Ranger was shot down during a low-altitude minelaying mission in the approaches to the Iraqi naval base at Umm Qasr, (both LT William Costen and LT Charles Turner were killed).
During a daylight strike on 18 January, F/A-18s of VFA-81 flown by LCDR (future VADM) Mark Fox and LT Nick Mongillo each shot down an Iraqi Mig-21 Fishbed fighter with a combination of AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles before the two F/A-18s continued with their mission and dropped bombs on Iraqi targets. (LCDR Fox and LT Mongillo would each be awarded a Silver Star). These were the only U.S. Navy air-to-air kills of fixed-wing aircraft during Desert Storm.
Despite the rapid destruction of Iraq’s fixed ballistic missile launch sites, Saddam Hussein was true to his threat, and on the second night of the war Iraqi began firing ballistic missiles at targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia using mobile launchers (Over 70 ballistic missiles, generically called “scuds,” were launched during the war. Not one mobile launcher was found and destroyed during the war).
Meanwhile on the night of 17-18 January, the guided missile frigate Nicholas (FFG-47), commanded by CDR (future RADM) Dennis Morral, commenced audacious operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf in company with Kuwaiti FPB-57 missile boat Istiqlal (P-5702) as the advance Search and Rescue group. (see also H-Gram 053 on Istiqlal). With two embarked Army OH-58D (AHIP) helicopters and her own HSL-44 SH-60B helicopters and embarked SEALS, Nicholas conducted the first combined helicopter and surface gunfire mission in the Northern Arabian Gulf, neutralizing nine of 11 Iraqi-occupied Kuwaiti oil platforms in the al-Dorrah oil field on the evening of 18 January (after the Iraqis fired a shoulder-launched SAM at U.S. helicopters), with the result of five Iraqis killed, three wounded, and 29 taken prisoner (including six by Istiqlal). CDR Morral would be awarded a Silver Star for this and additional operations. Nicholas was part of Surface Action Group (SAG) Alfa, under the command of Captain William Putnam (COMDESRON 35), embarked on Leftwich (DD-984), with Curts (FFG-38), Kuwaiti TNC-45 missile boat Al Sanbouk, and a self-propelled barge.
Also on 18 January, Marine AV-8B Harriers flew their first sea-based combat missions off Tarawa (LHA-1) and Nassau (LHA-4). The commander of the Amphibious Task Force (CTF-156) was RADM John B. LaPlante, embarked on Nassau.
By 19 January, the U.S. Navy had launched 216 TLAMs against Iraq, including the first TLAMs launched in combat from a submarine, Louisville (SSN-724), firing submerged from the Red Sea. A-6Es from John F. Kennedy launched two AGM-84E SLAM-Standoff Land Attack Missiles (developed from the Harpoon Antiship Missile) for the first time (before the weapon had even commenced formal operational testing), which were guided by A-7 Corsair II aircraft to a successful hit on their target in a heavily defended area.
On 21 January, a VF-103 F-14 off Saratoga was shot down over Iraq by a missile. (LT Devon Jones was rescued by Special Operations forces but LT Lawrence Slade was captured.) On 22 January, USN A-6s sank Iraq’s T-43 minesweeper (used as a minelayer) in the channel to Umm Qasr.
On 23 January a helicopter off Nicholas rescued a downed USAF F-16 pilot. The same day, a VA-115 A-6E off Midway bombed the Iraqi supertanker Amuriyah (157,00 DWT) near the Iraqi Mina al-Bakr offshore oil terminal, which caused considerable controversy, partly due to the communications logjam.
On 24 January A-6s possibly sank Spasilac, Iraq’s other primary minelayer. (British Lynx armed helos claimed to sink Spasilac on 29 January, which is actually more likely). The same day, VA-65 A-6s off Theodore Roosevelt disabled an Iraqi vessel reported as a “Yevgenya”-class minesweeper near Qurah Island (about 25 NM east of southern Kuwait). A similar Iraqi vessel coming to the aid of the stricken vessel struck an Iraqi mine and sank (accounts vary as to the order of events). Navy and Army helos off Curts strafed the “Yevgenya” causing the Iraqis to abandon ship. After a helo destroyed a floating mine near Curts, Curts sent a whaleboat with SEALS embarked to board the Yevgenya and take anything of Intelligence value, before Curts sank the vessel with 76mm gunfire and rescued 22 Iraqis. The skipper of Curts, CDR Glenn Montgomery, was awarded a Silver Star for this and other actions during the war. In the meantime, the Army OH-58Ds flying off Curts were fired on by the Iraqi garrison on Qurah Island. The Army helos returned fire, causing the Iraqis to surrender (the two Army OH-58Ds actually landed on the island and accepted the surrender). A composite SEAL platoon from Curts, Nicholas, and Leftwich then landed on the island and took 29 more Iraqi prisoners, officially liberating the first piece of Kuwaiti territory during the war. During this operation Curts passed unknowingly through the Iraqi outer moored contact minefield, twice.
Also on 24 January, two Iraqi Mirage F-1s (with either Exocet anti-ship missiles or incendiary bombs) flew down the Kuwait and Saudi shoreline, which exploited coordination challenges between the USAF and USN Air Defense Sectors. USN ships had difficulty tracking the Mirage F-1s due to coastal interference. Although cruiser Worden (CG-18) vectored USN fighters to intercept, the E-3A AWACS opted to bring in a Saudi F-15, which downed both F-1s.
By 25 January it became apparent that four Iraqi supertankers moored at Kuwait’s Mina al-Ahmadi oil refinery piers had been dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Arabian Gulf (along with open pipes from the facility and from the Iraqi Mina al-Bakr oil transshipment facility), threatening critical desalinization plants and causing an environmental disaster.
Also on 25 January, the Saudi missile boat Abu Obaidah was hit and damaged by a missile, probably a malfunctioning High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) jettisoned by a USAF F-4G “Wild Weasel,” which killed one Sailor and critically wounded two more. Commencing on 26 January, virtually every Iraqi aircraft that could fly fled from Iraq to Iran, about 137 by the end of the month. Due to short time of flight, the great majority made it to Iran before Coalition aircraft could react and shoot them down. Iran never gave any of the aircraft back and incorporated some into their own air force.
On 29 January, the Iraqis launched a spoiling attack across the border from Kuwait into Saudi Arabia into the coastal town of al Khafji, where they engaged Saudi troops and U.S. Marines. Although fighting was intense, the attack was beaten back with heavy losses to the Iraqis (at least 33 tanks and 28 armored personnel carriers destroyed, possibly as many as 90 armored vehicles total). The Marines suffered their first ground combat casualties, with 11 Marines killed, seven of them in a “friendly fire” incident when their light armored vehicle (LAV) was hit by a Maverick missile from a USAF A-10. A U.S. AC-130 gunship, responsible for destroying many Iraqi vehicles, was also shot down by an Iraqi shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile after it remained after daybreak responding to a Marine request for assistance; all 14 crewmen were killed.
Also on 29 January, U.S. Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit off Okinawa (LPH-3) captured Maradim Island, another Kuwaiti island occupied by the Iraqis (who had evacuated), in order to gather Intelligence on Iraqi minelaying activity, with partial success. The same day, destroyer Leftwich avoided a mine by a mere three feet.
Commencing on 30 January, the bulk of the Iraqi Navy attempted to emulate the Iraqi Air Force and flee to Iran. A few Iraqi missile boats had been picked off by that point, but most were lost in the “Battle of Bubiyan Island” (which later accounts have called the “Bubiyan Turkey-Shoot.”) In over 20 separate engagements, numerous Iraqi vessels were sunk by a gauntlet of U.S., British and Canadian aircraft, with the British Lynx helicopters with Sea Skua missiles being particularly effective. By the time it was over, all six of the Kuwait Exocet missile boats that the Iraqis captured on the opening night of the war, and almost all Iraqi OSA missile boats were destroyed. Two of three Polnocny landing ship medium (LSM) were sunk. Curts and Leftwich rescued 20 Iraqis from a sunken Polnocny. Three damaged Iraqi vessels made it to Iran; one OSA I missile boat, one Polnocny LSM, and one Bogomol large patrol boat.
By the end of January, both the Iraqi air force and navy had effectively ceased to exist. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command forces had flown over 3,500 sorties from six aircraft carriers (many flying suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) sorties without which the USAF F-117 Stealth fighters would not go into the heavily defended area around Baghdad). Over 260 TLAMs had been fired. About 46-60 Iraqi (and captured Kuwaiti) vessels of widely varying sizes (mostly very small) had been claimed destroyed. NAVCENT forces had captured 74 Iraqi prisoners (determining they were in poor condition with little will to fight) and had liberated two Kuwaiti Islands. Thirty-seven Iraqi mines (mostly drifters) had been located and destroyed to date.
U.S. Navy aircraft losses to that point included one F/A-18, 2 A-6E, and one F-14 shot down, with one aviator rescued and six missing (unknown at the time but three were dead and three captured). An additional badly damaged A-6 had crash-landed in Saudi Arabia on the way back to the carrier. One F/A-18 crashed by accident and the pilot was recovered safely.
At this point, VADM Arthur ordered America around from the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf and all four carriers in Battle Force Zulu into the Northern Arabian Gulf in preparation for shifting targeting emphasis from Air Force “strategic” targets to Iraqi Republican Guard and regular Army units in Kuwait in advance of the impending ground campaign. This action put the carriers at half the distance to Kuwait as the nearest USAF bases, resulted in greatly reduced USN reliance on scarce USAF big-wing tankers, and greatly increased USN bomb tonnage per sortie for around-the-clock bombing of Iraqi ground forces in “kill-boxes” in the Kuwaiti desert.
For more on Desert Storm, January 1991 please see attachment H-058-1.
The Korean War: Chinese Third Phase Offensive in January 1951
On 18 December 1950, the destroyer USS McKean (DD-784) sank a Soviet submarine off Sasebo, Japan, according to a number of accounts. What is certain is that over a two-day period, McKean dropped 88 depth charges on what was originally assessed as a moving submerged target with indications of sonar countermeasure capability. Destroyers Frank Knox (DDR-742), Taussig (DD-746), and destroyer-minelayer Endicott (DMS-35) added yet more depth charges, and an aircraft overhead sighted the wake of a possible torpedo. Divers subsequently identified the target as the Iona Maru, which had capsized and sank on 10 December 1950. Originally classified as top secret, the event was not publicly known until the book Blind Man’s Bluff came out in 1998, followed by more accounts claiming that two Soviet submarines were involved and one was sunk, and the “Iona Maru” was a cover story. I concur with the original assessment of the Pacific Fleet intelligence officer, Captain Edwin Layton, as “non-sub.” However, there was substantial evidence to the contrary, making this a great study in the extreme difficulty of conducting anti-submarine warfare. You can judge the evidence in attachment H058.2.
By late December 1950, U.S. Marine, Army, and South Korean forces in eastern North Korea had been successfully withdrawn by sea from Hungnam, while in western North Korea, the Chinese had driven the U.S. 8th Army and other United Nations forces all the way back to the 38th Parallel. The battle lines temporarily stabilized and the UN called for a cease-fire. However, against the advice of his senior military commanders, who warned that Chinese logistics lines were severely over-extended, Mao Tse-tung ordered a renewed offensive push (the Third Phase Offensive) that commenced New Year’s Eve. Meeting with initial success, the Chinese drove the UN forces out of the South Korean capital of Seoul on 4 January, and the city changed hands for the third time in the war.
As the Chinese attacked, U.S. Navy forces evacuated over 69,000 U.S. personnel and 64,000 Korean nationals from Inchon and blew the port facility before the Chinese took that city as well. For a time the situation appeared so dire that the Supreme UN and U.S. Commander, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, assessed that the Korean Peninsula could not be held without widening the war into China and using atomic weapons. Despite MacArthur’s grim assessment, the new commander of the 8th Army, Lieutenant General Mathew Ridgeway, rallied his forces, halted the Chinese advance (the Chinese running out of supplies was a big help) and began pushing the Chinese back to the north.
During this critical period, the U.S. Navy had four Essex-class fleet carriers (Valley Forge (CV-45), Philippine Sea (CV-47), Leyte (CV-32), and Princeton (CV-37)), a light carrier (USS Bataan (CVL-29)), two escort carriers with Marine aircraft (Sicily (CVE-118) and Badoeng Strait (CVE-116)), assisted by the British carrier Theseus, along with the battleship Missouri (BB-63) and other U.S. and British cruisers hammering Chinese troops and supply lines despite the atrocious weather conditions. As the USAF was forced to withdraw from airfields near Seoul, the carriers operated with virtual impunity, attacking targets whenever and wherever weather allowed.
Nevertheless, U.S. and UN ships took a pounding from the weather, and on 7 January the Thai frigate Prasae ran aground in a blinding snowstorm many miles behind Chinese lines on the east coast of Korea. U.S. ships provided gunfire support to keep the Chinese at bay during repeated but unsuccessful attempts to get Prasae off the beach. One U.S. helicopter crashed on board Prasae, while Thai crewmen in boats trying to pull the ship off were washed overboard, although most were saved. With boat transfer impossible, 118 Thai crewmen were evacuated off the ship in 40 helicopter sorties flown by Navy enlisted pilot Chief Duane Thorin over a three-day period under extreme weather conditions. (Thorin would make over 130 rescues behind enemy lines before he was captured, and was the inspiration for the rescue helicopter pilot in the book/movie, The Bridges at Toko-Ri.) The beached Prasae was then destroyed by gunfire from the U.S. ships (and later replaced by a transferred U.S. frigate).
During this period, patterns would develop that would largely persist for the rest of the war. Ashore, UN and Chinese forces would duke it out in bloody battles without either side gaining much ground. U.S. carrier forces would wage a protracted and hazardous air campaign against bridges and tunnels in the eastern half of North Korea. U.S. and UN surface ships would bombard targets along the North Korean coast. U.S. minesweepers worked along the coast to clear lanes for the gunfire ships, and on 2 February, the minesweeper Partridge (AMS-31) struck a mine and sank in ten minutes with the loss of ten aboard, including the commanding officer. In mid-February U.S. and UN naval forces commenced a blockade of the North Korean port and rail/road chokepoint of Wonsan, in what would become the longest naval blockade in modern history at over 800 days. Around Wonsan U.S. ships and enemy shore batteries conducted almost daily gunfire duels for the rest of the war. Numerous U.S. ships would be hit, but none sunk.
For more on U.S. naval action in the Korean War in January/February 1951 please see attachment H-058-2.
Passing of RDML Phillip F. McNall, SC, USN (Ret.)
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral (lower half) Phillip Freeman McNall, Supply Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 28 November 2020, at age 85. Phil entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1954 and served as a supply corps officer until his retirement in September 1988 as the commanding officer, Aviation Supply Office, Philadelphia. Among many assignments he served as the supply officer for USS New Orleans (LPH-11) for a Vietnam War deployment and USS Nimitz (CVAN-68), and as commanding officer of Naval Supply Center San Diego and Commander Naval Logistics Pacific.
After a year at Hamilton College, NY, Phil McNall gained an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, entering on 28 June 1954 with the class of 1958, earning a bachelor of science in Naval Science. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on 4 June 1958. His first assignment was aboard the amphibious command ship USS Estes (AGC-12) homeported in San Diego, deploying in 1959 for amphibious exercises in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and Borneo. Selected for the U.S. Navy Supply Corps, he reported in September 1960 to the Naval Supply Corps School, Athens, Georgia. In May 1961, Lieutenant (junior grade) McNall reported to the Naval Supply Center San Diego as Assistant to the Director, Control Department/Director Data Processing Department. Promoted to lieutenant in June 1962, he subsequently attended the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, California, in November 1964, graduating in October 1966 with a master’s degree in operations research, and where he was promoted to lieutenant commander in July 1966.
In October 1966, LCDR McNall commenced duty at the Naval Supply Systems Command in Washington D.C. In February 1969, he was selected to serve as aide to Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, the Navy Member of the Joint Logistics Review Board in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In July 1970, LCDR McNall assumed duty as supply officer aboard amphibious assault ship New Orleans for operations that included flagship for Commander FIRST Fleet, support to President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, recovery of the Apollo 14 Astronauts south of Samoa, and a Western Pacific deployment including operations off Vietnam. Promoted to commander in September 1971, he detached from New Orleans in July 1972 and reported to the Naval War College Newport, where he was the distinguished graduate in 1973.
In June 1973, CDR McNall reported to the Fleet Material Support Office, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, as Director, Supply System Evaluation Department. In March 1967, CDR McNall reported to recently-commissioned nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz as supply officer for Nimitz’s first deployment, to the Mediterranean in 1976-77. In July 1977, CDR McNall reported to the Aviation Supply Office (ASO,) Philadelphia, as planning and data systems officer, where he was promoted to captain in September 1977. In June 1979, CAPT McNall then became executive officer for the ASO.
In June 1980, CAPT McNall assumed command of the Naval Supply Center, San Diego. In June 1982, CAPT McNall assumed duty at the Naval Supply Systems Command headquarters in Washington D.C. In July 1983, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with the rank, reporting to Honolulu as Commander Naval Logistics Command Pacific and Force Supply Officer for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 July 1984 and designated a material professional in 1985. In August 1986, RDML McNall assumed command of the Aviation Supply Office, Philadelphia, where he served until his retirement in September 1988.
RDML McNall’s awards include the Legion of Merit (3 awards,) Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Battle Efficiency Ribbon (USS Nimitz), National Defense Service Medal (two awards), Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.
Following his retirement from the Navy, RDML McNall served as a consultant in the defense industry and as a golf teaching professional. With a passion for jazz music, he was a member of the Leaders’ Circle at SF Jazz, San Francisco. A service will be held at the Mount Albion Cemetery, Albion, New York, at a date to be determined.
RDML McNall served the U.S. Navy with extraordinary dedication and distinction, providing leadership by example for future generations of supply corps officers. He excelled in some of the toughest and most consequential positions in the Supply Corps at sea and afloat, in some of the best times and some of the leanest times in the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. He set the Supply Department on the new nuclear carrier Nimitz on the path to continued excellence during her very first deployment. As Commander of the Naval Supply Center San Diego and then Naval Logistics Command Pacific, he played a key leadership role in bringing the U.S. Navy out of the post-Vietnam doldrums and enabling audacious operations by the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which served to help bring about an end to the Cold War. As Commander of the Aviation Supply Office in Philadelphia, he played to major role in bringing naval aviation to new heights of readiness, the would shortly afterwards be demonstrated in Operation Desert Storm. It is leaders like RDML McNall that have enabled the Navy Supply Corps to provide the best logistics support of any Navy in the world. He will be truly missed, but his example and legacy will live on.
Rest in Peace Admiral McNall.