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Desert Shield/Desert Storm

A Closer Look

An F-14 Tomcat flies under a canopy of smoke from 600 burning oil wells on Liberation Day in Kuwait. Painting, acrylic on board; by Chip Beck; 1991; framed dimensions 29H X 35W. Catalog#: 91-159-AB.

When the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the United States deployed a major joint force as part of a multination coalition to stop President Saddam Hussein’s brutal aggression. The U.S. Navy provided sea control and maritime superiority, which paved the way for the introduction of U.S. and allied air and ground forces.

At the time of the invasion, the Navy was already on station in the region. The ships of Joint Task Force Middle East were immediately placed on alert. Battle groups led by USS Independence (CV-62) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) sped from the Indian Ocean and eastern Mediterranean to take up positions in the Gulf of Oman and Red Sea, at the ready to commence sustained combat operations.

When President George H.W. Bush ordered the deployment of troops and equipment to defend Saudi Arabia on 7 August, more than 240 ships carrying about 18.3 million pounds of equipment and supplies was facilitated. United Nations trade sanctions were immediately imposed against Iraq to sever the country’s economy. When U.S. Marines began arriving in Saudi Arabia, their supplies and equipment were in close proximity due to low-key military ties with friendly Arab states. More than 21,000 naval reservists were called to active duty in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Hussein's repeated rejection to abandon the invasion and leave Kuwait led to the commencement of combat operations on 18 January 1991. The subsequent bombardment by air assets and the effects of the economic embargo decimated Iraq's military infrastructure and morale, degraded communications and supplies, and devastated weapons arsenals. During the beginnings of the war, Navy ships launched salvos of Tomahawk cruise missiles against military targets in Iraq to “soften” the battlefield for ground troops. 

After the 38-day air campaign, ground troops began sweeping through Kuwait in blitzkrieg fashion. In a mere 100 hours, the Iraqi army was crushed. Iraqi soldiers surrendered by the thousands. Kuwait was free again.


Suggested Reading

Notable People

Navy Art Online Exhibit

Selected Imagery

AV-88 Harrier

AV-88 Harrier aircraft line the flight deck of a U.S. Navy ship during Operation Desert Shield, 1 September 1990. (National Archives identifier: 6466513)

Photo #: NH 97249-KN USS Suribachi (AE-21)

USS Suribachi (AE-21) transiting the Suez Canal, enroute to the Persian Gulf to support Operation Desert Shield, 8 August 1990. Photographed by PH3 Frank A. Marquart. Note ferry crossing, with waiting vehicles, in the center background. (NH 97249-KN)

USS Pittsburgh fires TLAM

A photograph snapped through USS Pittsburgh’s periscope captures the moment it fired a TLAM against the Iraqi forces, 19 January 1991. (National Archives identifier: 6466104)

USS Wisconsin

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) firing a broadside to port with her 16/50 and 5/38 guns, circa 1988-91. Official U.S. Navy photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. (Catalog #: NH 97207-KN)

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter lands at an airfield in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm at Hurghada, Egypt, 1 April 1991. (National Archives Identifier: 6469920)

USNS Mercy (T-AH-19)

The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) is docked in port at Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm, 1 February 1991. (National Archives Identifier: 6477713)

USS Missouri (BB-63)

The battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) lies at anchor in a Persian Gulf region port during Operation Desert Storm. (National Archives Identifier: 6468115)

Navy corpsmen treat Marine

Two Navy corpsmen treat a Marine gunnery sergeant suffering from the effects of smoke produced by the burning Kuwaiti oil fields during Operation Desert Storm, 1 February 1991. (National Archives identifier: 6469995)

Secretary of the Navy

Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett sports a Seabees cap as he visits a construction battalion camp during Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia, 1 January 1991. (Nationals Archives identifier: 6464561)

USS Missouri (BB-63) fires TLAM

A BGM-109 Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) is fired toward an Iraqi target from the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the start of Operation Desert Storm. Department of Defense. (DN-SN-91-09313)

F/A-18C Hornets

Two F/A-18C Hornet aircraft of Strike Fighter Squadron 74 fly above the Forrestal-class aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-60) making a hard turn to starboard during Desert Shield, 4 November 1990. (National Archives identifier: 6510996)

The national ensign

The national ensign flies from the stern of a U.S. Navy ship at anchor in the Persian Gulf region during Operation Desert Storm, 1 February 1991. (National Archives identifier: 6468113)

F-14A Tomcat over burning Kuwaiti oil wells

A U.S. Navy F-14A Tomcat, Fighter Squadron 211 (VF-211), Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia, in flight over burning Kuwaiti oil wells during Operation Desert Storm, 1 February 1991. (National Archives Identifier: 6640258)

U.S. Navy comander stands next to a destroyed Iraqi T-55 main battle tank

A U.S. Navy commander stands near an Iraqi T-55 main battle tank that was destroyed during Operation Desert Storm. The tank is lying in the desert outside of Kuwait City, 1 February 1991. (National Archives identifier: 6465076)

MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter

A Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15) MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter departs the flight deck of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), in the Persian Gulf region during Operation Desert Storm. (National Archives Identifier: 6468114)

National Victory Celebration

U.S. Navy personnel marching in the National Victory Celebration parade honoring the coalition forces from Desert Storm, Washington, D.C., 8 June 1991. (Nationals Archives identifier: 6481443)

Published: Thu Sep 21 12:00:16 EDT 2023