• Chapter 35: The Battle of Khafji

    January 30, 2016
  • More Border Skirmishes

    One other sighting of enemy vehicles was called in by the 2nd LAI Battalion. At 0029 early on the 30th, the battalion reported another 29 vehicles moving through the berm; however, it was uncertain if these were Saudi or Iraqi. A call to the MEF CP confirmed that these were Saudi, operating along the eastern boundary of the division's zone. At 0116, the 1st Marine Division's Task Force Shepherd reported that OP-6 was being fired upon; at the same time the 2nd LAI Battalion reported the Saudis were firing over their positions. Colonel Ronald W. Richard, the division Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, immediately called the MEF staff to correct the situation. There now were also 20 vehicles north of the border, heading south. These were engaged by the 2nd LAI Battalion with air support.

    By 0220, the skirmish was over; the 2nd LAI Battalion reported two tanks destroyed, both hit by the same gunner, Corporal Willis. At 0550, the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Keith T. Holcomb, reported that a 15-kilometer gap existed on its left flank with the 1st Marine Division. The battalion was ordered to refuse its flank, while the division sought approval to change the boundary. This approval came at 0837.

    At 0600, the Iraqis attacked near OP-6 with an armor battalion consisting of more than forty tanks and an infantry battalion. They drove to within twenty five meters of the forward positions of Company C, 1st LAI Battalion. A-10s were once again called into action along with Marine Cobra attack helicopters (pictured here) and AV-8Bs. Marine artillery and ground forces of the 1st LAI Battalion held the advance. The Iraqis broke off the attack after suffering heavy losses. Twenty four of the forty tanks had been destroyed along with twelve APCs.

  • The Advance toward Khafji

    Meanwhile, Air attacks on the scattering Iraqis continued throughout the night until about 0400. A Company moved forward and reoccupied OP-4. Around 0930, several Iraqis crossed the lines and surrendered. The Iraqis suffered the loss of at least ten tanks and a dozen Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs).

    The Iraqis were not done yet. A and C Companies of the 2nd LAI Battalion encountered another Iraqi force at OP-3 near Al Wafra. These Marines from 2nd Marine Division engaged the enemy in a running gun battle as the Iraqi column moved toward the border. More than 2,000 Iraqi soldiers, supported by tanks, Chinese built APCs and other combat vehicles began their final dash south towards the Saudi Border and and then east toward the coastal the town of Khafji. It was a flanking movement.

    U.S. Marines manning observation posts along the border at OP-7 & OP-8, located east of us, saw the huge columns of armor heading their way through their night vision systems and tried to get rapid support to strike the force before they were overrun. By 2030, some of the observation posts came under heavy Iraqi fire. Although the units manning the outposts fired back, it did little against the crushing armor onslaught.

    Allied air attacks began attacking the advancing Iraqis, destroying four tanks and a least a dozen other vehicles. However, it failed to stop the Iraqis from advancing all the way to Khafji. They slammed their way through the lightly guarded roadblocks manned by the Saudi 5th Airborne Battalion at around 2330 and then entered the town of Khafji. Once they were in the town, they sought cover from the Allied air assaults. The Saudis were forced to pull back and retreat from the town, withdrawing to the defensive line located south of the town.

    Little did the Iraqis know that two six-man Marine recon units from one of the outposts chose to stay behind, finding shelter in rooftop positions in the center of the town. They set up claymore explosives on the stairway as a booby trap. At one point, Iraqis were in the same building as the recon Marines, and heading up the stairwell. The Marines knew that, although the claymore would take care of them, their position would then be compromised and they had nowhere to run or hide. They would have to fight to the death. For some reason, when the Iraqis approached the upper floor of the stairwell, they stopped, turned around, and then left the building. One of the Marines believes that they saw the claymore but didn't know that it was the type of booby trap that has to be set off manually. Fearing the building was full of booby traps, they quickly exited and never returned. Those claymores, although never used except as a decoy, may have saved their lives. The Marines remained hidden and not only provided intelligence, but also called in artillery strikes for the next thirty six hours.

  • Saudi & Qatari Battles

    As these new Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles were rolling in, perhaps to provide reinforcements for the occupying force in Khafji, Qatari forces opened up on them with twenty four French built AMX-30s (pictured here). According to my resources, which I will gladly share at the end of my blogging, The Iraqi commander ordered his troops to open fire. The machine gunner in the command APC refused when he saw that he was up against tanks. The commander promptly shot the gunner for refusing orders. Within moments, the Chinese built APC suffered a direct hit from an AMX main gun round. The APC was destroyed and both the regimental commander's legs were blown off. The Qataris wiped out the mechanized unit and the attack was repelled with the aid of our artillery and air support.

    Under the cover of darkness, Saudi mechanized infantry and Qatari armor conducted a night probing attack on Khafji to determine Iraqi positions. They advanced from building to building and street to street to clear out the enemy troops. Once in the town, American air and artillery support was limited. So the Arab forces had to fight their way through the Iraqis. The Saudis and Qataris proved to be very innovative in their use of weapons. Anti-tank missiles were used to destroy Iraqi strongholds in buildings. At one point, a TOW missile was fired at an Iraqi observation post located on a terrace. The impact of the missile swept the balcony clean. Saudi forces fired five French made Apilas missiles at an Iraqi occupied building that overlooked Khafji's main street. One of the missiles went through five walls causing large holes in each wall. Needless to say, the Iraqis abandoned the position. After a planned withdrawal, the Arab forces counterattacked and pushed into the city by dawn of the next day.

    From the Iraqi Lieutenant's diary:

    "The air strikes began heavily today and I am still alive. I could be killed at any moment. I am more afraid for my relatives than I am afraid to die. The air raids are nothing new to me, but I am very worried."

  • General Keys Arrives On Scene

    After the action of the night of the 29th, General Keys decided to move several combat units to positions northward, from which they could more quickly respond to any further probes. He ordered 6th Marines to establish this covering force. The 6th Marines shifted north with two battalions — the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines. Artillery support and Counter Battery Radar would be provided by 10th Marines. A frag order also was issued to the 2nd Tank Battalion to place, on order, one company under the operational control of the 6th Marines.

    With these preparations made against the possibility of a repeat by the enemy of the previous night's actions, General Keys left to visit the scene of the skirmish. There he met with Lieutenant Colonel Holcomb and reviewed the new dispositions with him. I snapped a picture of these CH-46 Sea Knight Marine helicopters as they landed. I didn't even know the General himself was riding in them. I just thought it was cool to see them landing in my position and grabbed my camera. When General Keys and his staff got out of the helicopters, he took the time to go around and shake some hands and commended us on a fine job last night.

    After a brief meeting with top brass, in which enlisted men were not invited to attend, Ryder alerted me to reports that were received of heavy enemy columns moving to the north of the division's zone and all along the Kuwaiti border. The 6th Marines, having moved north, continued its mission of covering the division front and preparing to counterattack any incursions. The 2nd LAI Battalion, under the operational control of the 6th Marines, would conduct the screen of the division's sector south of the border.

    By 2000, reports were received at the division COC of an "imminent" attack in the 6th Marines' zone. Intelligence reports cited multiple brigade-size units moving in the area north of the border. In the midst of this news, at 2040, a message was received that a chemical attack in the 2nd Marine Division's area was probable, and personnel north of 28 degrees, 8 minutes were to don chemical protective garments immediately. Intelligence sources continued to send more reports of enemy movements. At 2050, 60 vehicles were crossing the border within five kilometers of OP-3. At the same time, 74 tanks were reported moving in the area south of the border. At 2132, the MEF directed that all personnel north of the Kibrit road were to go to MOPP level 3: all protective clothing except the gas-mask. General Keys personally passed this information on to us. Throughout this time vehicle movement within southern Kuwait continued to be reported to the COC. The largest such concentration reportedly contained 170 vehicles near a cultivated area above the division's sector.

    The anticipated enemy attacks did not occur, and at about 2200 it was obvious that the Iraqi forces had been hurt and kept within the Kuwaiti border. The only place the Iraqis were partially successful was in the Saudi sector, where they entered the coastal town of Al Khafji and held portions of it for more than 24 hours. By 2204, the MEF lowered the MOPP level to 2, and this information was passed to those units concerned.

    On both nights, the division command post gained much needed experience. We demonstrated a calm concentration and a quiet efficiency. This smooth functioning was the result of considerable practice, exercise, and professional competence. Probes by the Iraqis tested our command and control. This experience and confidence gained here were to pay dividends in the weeks ahead.

  • The Battles Continue

    I thought I had heard my Humvee hit last night and I was right. As Romeo Six joined up with us near Al Wafra, Cpl Tanner was the first to notice the bullet hole in the side of my Humvee. I included a picture of it here. That's my backpack that I hung on the outside railing. We did that to make it easier to get to without having to jump in and out of the back of trucks/Humvees. I looked all around to see if there were anymore, but the only other thing I saw only amounted to a scratch. As we talked about what took place the night before, he said to me, "The Lord was definitely with you, my brother." I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving that I did not "bite the bullet" last night.

    We hung out a while swapping stories and then had some chow. Afterward, we got word that Task Force Taro was to head to Khafji to support Marines that were surrounded by Iraqis. I hadn't heard yet what happened over on the east coast as we were still talking about our engagement the previous night. So we are back on the road heading toward Khafji to mount some counterbattery artillery fire against occupying Iraqi forces. Elements of 3rd Marines flank the town with anti-armor weapons, infantry, and artillery units with Romeo Six for counterbattery support. The local Saudi commander suggested that Arab forces counterattack to retake the town. The Marine commanders thought it was a good idea. The Saudi's need this opportunity to regain some pride and take back their own town. We were simply going to provide fire support on the outskirts of town via artillery and close air support, nothing fancy.

    As we were setting up in our defensive positions at 1000, news came over the radio that a third mechanized infantry battalion and an armored battalion crossed the border, that consisted of another eighty Iraqi tanks. These guys just don't get it, do they? We weren't having this. We had to run them out or destroy them now. Iraq was desperate for a victory, and although they would consider the battle of Khafji a major victory, it would amount to very little.

  • It Gets Personal

    I've asked a few Marines to share their most memorable moments in the war, and this is what Lance Corporal William Yale of the 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, Battery Q said: "We travelled through the darkness for over two hours through the desert until we arrived by a lonesome highway at an unknown destination. We conducted our normal procedure of setting up our 155mm towed-howitzer and dug our fighting hole. Our artillery piece was the very left-hand gun, and we were next to the highway. As I was digging out my fighting hole, my commanding officer came by me and said, 'Dig in deep because this is going to be a fight to the end.' Instead of digging a normal fighting hole that was usually chest-deep, I dug the hole large, keeping the manned Mk19 [gun] at chest depth. Behind that area was about eight-feet deep. At approximately 0645, we were finally given fire missions and fired multiple HE (High Explosive) rounds down range. At sunrise, we were finally able to see a town on the horizon where we had been firing at. Once the sun came up, a flock of civilian sports utility vehicles arrived, and a crowd of news media emerged from within them. Moments later, our artillery battery saw missiles being fired from the direction of the town towards us. Everyone yelled, 'Incoming!' and we scrambled to our fighting holes to take cover. However, the news correspondents and camera crews blatantly stood in the open to 'get that perfect picture of history'."

    Here is a report from BBS:

    US Marines killed at Al Khafji

    "Iraqi troops have seized control of a town inside the Saudi Arabian border after a fierce battle in which both sides suffered casualties. The Allies destroyed at least 24 Iraqi tanks in the fight for control of Al Khafji. Twelve American marines lost their lives - the first Allied casualties on land since Desert Storm began 14 days ago. There were no British soldiers involved in the fighting. The attack on Al Khafji came as a surprise and the US military commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, said it showed the Iraqis have 'plenty more fight in them.'"

    Although I don't actually get the letter until a few weeks later, my sister, Robin, wrote to me about this news. She writes, "I'm really frightened for you right now. I heard on the news that twelve Marines were KIA close to the Kuwait border. Please tell me you're not near the border. Please tell me you're all right." There was much more in the two page letter, but I'll bring it up again in a later post when I actually receive the letter and respond to it.

    “Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up”
    ― Veronica Roth, Divergent

  • [nxs_button text='< Chapter 34' destination_articleid='891' destination_url='' destination_js='' destination_target='_self' colorzen='nxs-colorzen nxs-colorzen-c12-dm ' scale='2-0']