• Chapter 23: Saddam Strikes Back

    January 18, 2016
  • Understanding a Misunderstanding

    During the times that President Bush and Secretary Baker tried using diplomatic solutions with Iraq to resolve the situation peacefully, they tried to make it clear that Iraq did not understand what the U.S. military was capable of. But Iraq's Foreign Minister stated that they understood completely and that Iraq would not only win this war, but humiliate the U.S. with a complete Coalition defeat.

    However, the understanding that the Iraqi's had was based on their recent war with Iran that lasted eight years. This war was mostly fought on the ground and with the use of artillery. Someone should have told Saddam that the U.S. had a far superior technological advantage with advanced weaponry.

    Saddam lacked the knowledge and experience that he needed to face such a military giant. He had to have believed that his supreme air defense system and early warning systems would aid in shooting down many war planes causing the air campaign to be a bloody and useless tactic. He would then rely heavily on his well trained and well experienced artillery units to inflict further damage and hundreds of U.S. casualties. He would then hurl tens of thousands of ground soldiers at us in an attempt to overwhelm us. Saddam banked on the war being a long and bloody stalemate in which the American people would not tolerate and demand an immediate end. This is why he threatened to make this war another Vietnam. It worked then, why not now?

    After the bombing of Baghdad started, the Iraqi's began to fight back. The Iraqis fired seven Scud missiles at Israel. Israelis were awaiting the Scuds with gas masks on, thanks to Saddam's previous threats to burn half of Israel with chemical weapons. As it turned out, the Scuds bore only conventional warheads, but their terror value was high. To avoid a wider war, U.S. officials pleaded with Israeli officials to not respond to the Scud attacks. The Israelis agreed because the Americans promised to target all Scud missile sites and knock them out.

    Scud missiles (pictured here) were first deployed by the Soviets in the mid-1960s. The missile was originally designed to carry a 100-kiloton nuclear warhead or a 2,000 pound conventional warhead, with ranges from 100 to 180 miles. Its principal threat was its warhead potential to hold chemical or biological agents.

    The Iraqis modified Scuds for greater range. They had four versions: Scud B, the Al-Hijarah, Al Hussein, and the longest range Scud, Al Abbas. Al Abbas could be fired only from static launchers; all of the others could be fired from mobile or static sites. Only the original Scud and the minimally modified version were particularly successful.

    Why did Saddam attack Israel? Simple, he knew that if he could draw Israel into the war, the U.S. lead coalition, which consisted of many Muslim nations, would break apart. This would include nations such as Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Oman, United Arab Emirate, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, whose land we were in. But the U.S. talked Israel into not retaliating and promised to send Patriot Missile launchers to defend Israel.

  • Harriers to the Rescue

    Other than the Scud missile attacks, the Iraqis made attempts to fight back with artillery barrages. At 0500, Iraqi artillery fired on the Saudi Arabian town of Khafji with 155mm Howitzers and rockets. Khafji is located along the Gulf coast, about ten miles south of the Kuwaiti border. The town of twenty thousand had been evacuated prior to the start of hostilities. The strategic target was the oil refinery. A Navy Corpsman and two Marines among Task Force Ripper were injured. The Marines called in four Marine Cobra attack helicopters and four Marine AV-8b Harriers (pictured here) for support. The Cobras destroyed an Iraqi Observation Post and the Harriers dropped eight 500 lb. bombs on the Iraqi artillery, damaging or destroying all six guns.

    At 0700, more Iraqi artillery opened up on the Marine Command Post. It lasted two and a half hours with increasing accuracy. Marine Harriers were once again put into action dropping over a dozen bombs. Eventually, eleven Iraqi soldiers, bleeding from the nose and ears, surrendered. They confirmed that all of their guns were destroyed and that their commanding officer was killed.

    From the Iraqi Lieutenant's Diary:

    "Heavy enemy bombing continues. The bombing and raids kept up all last night."

  • Second Wave

    During the very early morning hours of the 18th, a second wave of B-52s arrived over their targets. Captain David Ross flew over mountainous terrain, only three to five hundred feet above the ground to avoid radar detection. When he reached his target, he conducted a low-level bombing run on an enemy airfield nestled in a valley while dodging AAA the whole time.

    At 0230, eight Italian Tornados took off on their first attack mission of the war. One aircraft turned back with technical problems; six others were unable to complete midair refueling with an American Air Force KC-135 so they too turned back. Lieutenant Colonel Gianmarco Bellini and Captain Maurizio Cocciolone pressed on alone in the remaining plane. They were shot down by AAA over Kuwait. Both crewmen ejected and were captured.

    At 0300, The Iraqi's launched Scud missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia. By 0700, a total of seven Scuds were launched into Israel and six into Saudi Arabia towards Riyadh and Dhahran. In the "fog of war," there were erroneous reports of chemical attacks and once again, we were given the order to don our gas masks. After the attacks were over, it became clear that many of the Scuds launched at us missed their targets completely, falling harmlessly into the open desert. One Scud was intercepted and destroyed by a Patriot missile (launcher pictured here) fired from A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery. At least one Scud hit a building in Riyadh.

  • Attacks from the Air, Land, & Sea

    The Coalition assault was not limited to air attacks. At 0042 on the 18th, the 6th Battalion, 26th Field Artillery (Multiple Launch Rocket System) fired an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) into an Iraqi Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) site southwest of Kuwait City. At 0530 two more were fired, dropping hundreds of tiny bomblets on the enemy. This is like having hundreds of grenades launched deep into enemy territory onto their targets. Reconnaissance revealed that both intended targets were completely destroyed.

    The U.S. Navy Frigate U.S.S. Nicholas (FFG-47) supported by Army helicopters and a Kuwaiti patrol boat attacked eleven oil platforms, forty miles off the Kuwaiti coast. The Iraqis were using these platforms as observation posts and air defense sites. Navy and Marine pilots had reported that shoulder-launched SAM missiles were being fired at their planes from the platforms. Helicopters first fired precision-guided rockets at the platforms, and then the Nicholas opened fire with its 76mm gun. Twenty three High Explosive rounds were fired at each platform before the Captain of the Nicholas directed a cease-fire. A few Iraqis tried to escape in a small boat and the remainder immediately surrendered. Twenty three Iraqis were taken prisoner, five were killed and three were wounded.

    As the air war continued, Lieutenant Commander Mark Fox and Lieutenant Nick Morgillo flew the Navy's newest aircraft into battle from the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of the day's two thousand Allied sorties. The Hornet (pictured here) was rapidly becoming the Navy's workhorse. They were so small, fast and agile that they could also be used in the fighter role. Morgillo and Fox demonstrated the versatility of the Hornet when they encountered two Iraqi MIG-21s while flying a ground strike mission. Both pilots immediately switched to air-to-air mode and each shot down a MIG, then returned to air-to-ground mode, rolled in on their targets, and completed their bombing mission.

  • The Marine's Flying Bronco

    At 0545 on the 18th, Lieutenant Colonel Clifford Acree and Chief Warrant Officer Guy Hunter, Jr., took to the air on their second mission of the war. Their aircraft, a Marine OV-10 (pictured here), was a slow moving observation plane used to support artillery and air attacks in front of the Marines on the ground. However, this slow flying "Bronco" was susceptible to enemy anti-aircraft fire. Flying Broncos was quite dangerous over Iraqi army emplacements.

    Early in the mission, Lieutenant Colonel Acree spotted what looked like several FROG missile launchers preparing to fire on Saudi Arabia. He went in for a look. While reporting his find, he banked his aircraft and slowly circled the enemy. The Iraqis launched a SAM at Acree and Hunter. The slow moving Bronco had no chance of evading the deadly missile. It struck Acree's left engine, spewing shrapnel into the cockpit. After trying to bring the aircraft under control, he decided that it was a futile task and that the plane was going to crash. He could not reach Guy Hunter in the back seat. The intercom was out and Guy did not respond to Acree screaming his name. The Colonel did not know whether Guy was unconscious or dead, so he quickly pulled the emergency control that would eject them both. It turns out the explosion knocked Guy unconscious. If Lieutenant Colonel Acree had not ejected Guy, he would have gone down with the plane. He saved his friend's life.

    Once they floated down to earth, the Iraqis swarmed on to their position almost immediately. When the news of their fate reached VMO-2's intelligence chief, he lamented about his commanding officer's fate saying, "This is our worst nightmare. The CO was everything to us. He was a dad and we just lost our dad." Although he would be tortured and imprisoned for several weeks, he would survive the war and be returned home.  I have a video of Lieutenant Colonel Acree being interviewed after the war that you can see in a later post.

    As darkness returned to Southwest Asia, fifty Marine aircraft conducted another massive air raid. This time Intruders, Hornets, and Prowlers of Marine Air Group (MAG) 70 attacked Basra and the surrounding area. Maintaining strict radio silence, each strike package raced into Iraq toward its assigned targets at nearly the speed of sound. Six F/A-18s broke up into three groups of two and dove in on the target through an unending barrage of AAA and SAM missiles. In succession, each of the six planes dropped five 1,000 lb. MK83 bombs on the power plant, pulled out of their attack dive into a steep climb, kicked in their afterburners, and rapidly climbed to a safe altitude.

    By the end of day two of the air campaign, it was reported that four more American planes had been lost in action. This brought the total losses to eight Allied aircraft out of four thousand sorties. In addition to Lieutenant Colonel Acree's Bronco, two A-6Es were shot down. Both pilots ejected and were captured. Two A-6s were also shot down, but the pilots, Lieutenant Charles Turner and Lieutenant William Costen were both killed. Major Donnie Holland and Major Thomas Koritz were also killed when their F-15E was shot down.

    "Allah is on our side. That is why we will beat the aggressor."
    Saddam Hussein