We remained in position southwest of the town of Khafji with Romeo Six locating target after target. Initially, the Marines in town would provide target information as forward observers, but when the Iraqi's would fire back, our radar would locate their exact coordinates.
At first light, Jeffery Brown and his fellow Marines noticed Iraqi armor massing for a counterattack just outside the building in which they were hiding. They called in artillery to within 100 meters of their position. Forty one High Explosive (HE) rounds, containing baseball size bomblets, were fired and "vaporized" the Iraqis. On the last volley, one round burst directly over Brown's head. A piece of shrapnel hit him in the leg. "I was lucky I got hit with a small piece because the bigger pieces were turning foot thick steel-reinforced concrete into confetti." Jeff was the only Marine in either team to be wounded during the battle.
By late afternoon, the Arab forces had retaken the center of town and the only remaining Iraqis had surrendered. In and around Khafji, thirty Iraqis had been killed, five hundred enemy soldiers had been taken prisoner, and ninety armored vehicles were destroyed. As the battle raged in Khafji proper, thousands of enemy troops and hundreds of vehicles were heading toward Al Wafra. Saddam was not finished yet. More Iraqis were moving into Saudi Arabia. In the early morning hours, a column of seventy tanks was attacked by B-52s, A-10s, AV-8Bs, and an AC-130H Spectre gunship. All but three of the vehicles were destroyed before they would reach the border.
Unfortunately, the AC-130, piloted by Major A. Weaver from the 16th Special Operations Squadron, stayed too long in the target area after daybreak and was hit by a surface-to-air missile. The gunship, with the call sign "Spirit 03," managed to make it out over the Gulf before it crashed into the sea at 0635. The entire crew of fourteen perished in the crash. The following story is being shared by an Air Force veteran in their honor:
As part of a decisive demonstration of air power over ground forces, three AC-130 Spectre gunships joined the Battle of Khafji to provide air-to-ground fire and close air support. As the last of the three AC-130s still on station early in the morning of January 31st, and about to end its mission, Spirit 03 “received a call from the Marines – they needed an enemy missile battery destroyed. Despite the risk of anti-aircraft artillery fire, and the greater danger of the morning sun casting light on the circling gunship, the crew of ‘Spirit 03’ chose to remain and destroy the position requested.” “Spirit 03” did what it had been asked to do, it destroyed the target designated by the Marines who were under fire, but that action came at a heavy cost. An SA-7 “Grail” man-portable surface-to-air missile was fired by the Iraqis at the now in-the-early-morning-light-visible AC-130 in the sky over Khafji.
“The missile found its target and at 0635 hours the aircraft sent out a “mayday” distress call and then crashed into the waters of the Persian Gulf,” according to SpecialOperations.com. All 14 crewmembers were killed. The loss of the crew of “Spirit 03” was the largest single loss by any Air Force unit during Operation Desert Storm. The bravery and dedication of Spectre resulted in the destruction of 21 enemy fuel trucks, 10 armored personnel carriers, and 2 antiaircraft artillery sites during the Battle of Khafji. The crew of Spirit 03 was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. The actions of the aircrews played a decisive role in the retaking of Khafji and its subsequent control for the duration of hostilities.
Overall, the 16 SOS was credited for destroying 21 fuel trucks, 10 armored personnel carriers, 9 23mm AAA sites, 6 electronic equipment vans, 3 Squat Eye/Flat Face radar facilities, 2 communication sites, and a command post complex. Numerous other targets, including large numbers of enemy personnel, were engaged but not confirmed destroyed. During the retreat of the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, one AC- I30H gunship provided air cover over the Kuwait International Airport. The remainder of DESERT STORM saw the 16 SOS flying airborne alert. On 27 May 1991, the remaining gunships in Saudi Arabia returned to home station at Hurlburt Field.
“We will never forget this mission and the sacrifice that they made.”
The crew members of Spirit 03, killed in action Jan. 31, 1991: Maj. Paul Weaver, Capt. Thomas Bland, Capt. Arthur Galvan, Capt. William Grimm, Capt. Dixon Walters, Senior Master Sgt. Paul Buege, Senior Master Sgt. Jim May, Tech. Sgt. Robert Hodges, Tech. Sgt. John Oelschlager, Staff Sgt. John Blessinger, Staff Sgt. Tim Harrison, Staff Sgt. Damon Kanuha, Staff Sgt. Mark Schmauss, Sergeant Barry Clark.
"Blue skies always Warriors."
Later in the day, the Kuwaiti resistance managed to relay a message to the Allies. The Iraqi III Corps commander (equivalent to the Marine Central Commander, General Walter Boomer) was holding a high-level meeting at one of his southern command centers, twenty two kilometers southeast of Al Ahmadi. MAG 11 (Marine Air Group 11) immediately dispatched two Marine A-6E Intruders (pictured here)to attack the site.
Around 1925 the bombers dove out of the evening sky and dropped their GBU-10, laser guided, two thousand pound bombs on the reported meeting place. The bombs completely demolished the buildings in which the staff meeting was held. It is not known if the III Corps commander was in the building at the time of the attack. But one thing is for certain, a lot of Iraqi soldiers were seeing early, rapid promotions.
From the Iraqi Lieutenant's diary:
"The attacks continue. Only one officer went on leave. It was [redacted]. It was agreed that I would go on leave if war breaks out between Iraq on one side and 29 countries on the other. That is just not fair."
While the battle of Khafji was raging, the Navy was fighting a battle of their own. United States and British aircraft and gunboats finished off the Iraqi Navy in a series of engagements around Bubiyan Island on the 29th and the 30th. Umm Qasr was attacked from the air again and three small boats were destroyed. F/A-18 Hornets attacked an oil refinery near Basrah, while other aircraft destroyed several Silkworm missile sites on the central Kuwaiti coast.
Just like the Iraqi Air Force's flight to Iran, the Iraqi Navy attempted to make a run from Iraqi ports. Of the twenty vessels that tried to run to safe harbor, only one damaged Osa II missile patrol boat got through. Among the nineteen ships was most of Saddam's "Gator" Navy. Three amphibious landing craft were destroyed in the Shat-Al-Arab. Some reports indicate that the amphibious ships were loaded with an assault force that was to land south of Khafji and outflank the Allied defenses as part of the advance on the town of Khafji.
Acree's recuperation was ended on this day when he, John Peters, Jeffery Tice, and others were moved from the relative safety of the military prison to the Iraqi Intelligence Regional Headquarters Complex in downtown Baghdad. Here they would be subjected to another terrifying round of ruthless interrogations. At the "Baghdad Baltimore," they were subjected to starvation, solitary confinement, freezing cold living conditions, and sleep depravation. The Iraqis intended to "soften them up" in preparation for one last interrogation. Andy and Dinger still had another week of torture to endure at the Interrogation Center.
From an interview with General Wafic Al Samarrai, Head of Iraqi Military Intelligence, regarding POW Andy McNab:
"One of the British SAS, was captured in the western sector and was brought to Baghdad. I met with and I talked to him about an hour. He was very calm, very sure of himself and he knew perfectly well what information to give and what to withhold. He was not ready or willing to give more information.
I talked with him about the situation of his operation, the circumstances of his operation, how he jumped from the plane and what he did. I really derived that he was a highly trained person. I took the map that was in his possession and that was very valuable to us.
The value of the information.. it proved there is great concentration on the Western Sector. This reinforced my impression that the army will be outflanked by airborne and armored forces to be isolated to the South of An Nasiriyah. I also derived that the allied forces were putting great concentration on monitoring the road to Jordan and to monitoring the missiles movement."
Battle Assessment of Khafji
The Battle of Khafji had it's successes and it's failures, and it was not without a serious cost to the coalition. In total, 25 Americans were killed, 14 of whom died aboard the AC-130 gunship "Spirit 03." Eleven Marines were killed by friendly fire on the night of the 29th, west of Khafji, while defending the attempted Iraqi invasion of Kibrit. Beyond that, two Americans were wounded and two were captured. In all, there were 43 coalition deaths and 52 injuries associated with the battle. Yet the Iraqis fared far worse.
According to their own report, the Iraqi losses included 100 armored vehicles, 74 non-armored vehicles, and 20 artillery pieces. Iraqi casualties were 66 killed, 137 injured, and 566 missing. Saddam, who was hoping to turn the war into another Vietnam with heavy U.S. casualties, once told his staff that Iraq would achieve a great victory if "a ratio of four Iraqi casualties to every one American" were achieved on the battlefield. Reports like the ones out of Khafji certainly gave Saddam reason to believe his troops could achieve that "victory ratio" in future engagements.
Al Khafji's other immediate impact was on Iraqi morale. Regardless of the morale of the Iraqis who survived the Al Khafji mission, the morale of the overall force, as reported by their commanders, soared when the mission was completed. One officer, during a post-war review of operation, related a degree of professional jealousy present in the Republican Guard just after the 5th Division retreated into Kuwait. They were eager to learn about the operation and do their part to complete their similar missions.
The battle stands as a lesson on two levels. One is how effective integrated air and artillery support can be; the other is how it is easy to underestimate your enemy’s irrationality and crooked goals. Hussein used the Battle of Khafji as a major propaganda tool, even though it was a massive loss and had little strategic value or prospects for a positive end-game in the first place.
On the coalition side, the incident also showed just how much damage a single, well-placed and brave team of Marines trained in forward air control could do against an overwhelmingly larger force. We would see this concept become the cornerstone of the Afghanistan invasion strategy and it has now become an integral part of standard warfare as we know it today.
"If anyone tells you America's best days are behind her, they're looking the wrong way." President George H.W. Bush