Another 2600 sorties were flown on Wednesday the 20th as the Allies continued to pummel the Iraqis from the air. The massive air assault still failed to eradicate Saddam's mobile Scud launchers. Again, the Iraqis managed to fire two more Scuds at Saudi Arabia.
For the first time in Marine Corps history, the 4th MEB conducted combat airstrikes from the USS Nassau (LHA-4 pictured here), a Marine amphibious assault ship. The Nassau is a modern-day assault ship that is able to support all kinds of marine operations. The aft end of the ship contains a massive "well deck." When the large door at the rear of the ship opens, the well deck becomes a small metal harbor that is used to enable the Marines to launch their amphibious vehicles into battle. Fully loaded hovercraft (Landing Craft Air-Cushioned (LCACs)), and AMTRACs can "Swim" out of the Nassau's well deck. The "Roof" of Nassau is a flight deck, able to launch and retrieve helicopters and the Marines' Harrier "jump Jets." In other conflicts, the Marines flew their missions from either Navy aircraft carriers or land bases. But today the Nassau's Harriers, laden with bombs, leapt into the air from the small helicopter flight deck to conduct the first air attack from a ship of the "Gator Navy."
Coiled like a Rattlesnake
By 0001 all elements of the 2nd Marines had completed their passage of the 1st Marines lines and were now in position near the top of the heel. As the sun rose on the 20th, Al Khanjar CSSA and Lonesome Dove Airfield were completely operational. Al Khanjar was stocked with every imaginable supply, including five million gallons of fuel, one million gallons of water, and a field hospital with fourteen operating rooms. Lonesome Dove was adjacent to Al Khanjar, and it provided helicopter support facilities for both Marine Divisions. The Marines were coiled like a rattlesnake ready to strike. All units were in their attack positions with their logistics directly to their rear. The liberation of Kuwait was about to begin.
We had cut twelve of the eighteen passages through the Saudi berms along the top of the heel of Kuwait. The remaining six breaches would be used for the actual assault. The first twelve cuts were used as diversions. Nine passages were plowed in the north in front of the Tiger Brigade and the 2nd LAI Battalion. The other three diversionary cuts were made in front of 8th Marines, who were located south of the intended breach area. The final six cuts, the real attack route, in front of the 6th Marines, would not begin until the 22nd.
In the early morning, Recon Team 1 of the 2nd Recon Battalion was discovered and approached by thirty Iraqi troops and five armored vehicles. We were about to get into another border skirmish. We got the order over the radio to be prepared for incoming fire and aquire targets for the 11th Marines Field Artillery Battery. It didn't take long before Marine artillery shells rained down on the approaching Iraqis. A Harrier "jump jet" dove out of the sky and attacked the patrol. As the Iraqis dove for cover, Recon Team 1 withdrew. A 6th Marines LAI Company raced forward, picked up the Recon Marines, and returned them to the friendly side of the berm.
Sgt. William D. Bates and the other five Marines in Recon Team 2 watched the show as Team 1 was extracted. Realizing that there was still a portion of the minefields that had to be reconnoitered, Sgt. Bates led his team to within a kilometer of the Iraqi minefields. Then, in broad daylight, Sgt. Bates, the team's photographer, and the combat artist crawled the last kilometer to the edge of the minefield. Lance Corporal William E. Owens then slowly climbed an electrical pylon to get a better view for his drawings. The team gathered invaluable information and returned undetected. Team 2 covered thirty kilometers on foot in twenty four hours.
Western Army Recon
Meanwhile, Apache helicopters from the Victory Division and the Screaming Eagles continued their armed reconnaissance missions into Iraq. They destroyed five radar dishes, five antiaircraft sites, and seven vehicles in four raids on Iraqi border posts. During one of these missions, a 24th iInfantry Division OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter was lost. Chief Warrant Ofc. Hal H. Reichle and Specialist Micahel D. Daniels were killed in the crash.
The 101st started its armed reconnaissance of the Iraqi bunker complex along MSR NEWMARKET at 0810. Cobras from 3-101 swooped down on the Iraqis and began strafing their positions. Several Iraqis came out of their fighting positions waving white flags. Believing the rest of the enemy soldiers were on the verge of surrendering, a psychological operations team flew out to the complex aboard a Blackhawk helicopter escorted by two Apache helicopters.
The team landed and broadcasted a surrender appeal over loudspeakers. A small number of Iraqis came out and surrendered. Most of the enemy stay deep in their bunkers. One Apache and the psychological operations team, in the Black Hawk returned to refuel while the remaining Apache herded the small group of Iraqis south.
A and B Companies of the 1-187th Infantry Regiment landed and moved from bunker to bunker to extract the remaining Iraqis. Most surrendered without a struggle, but some clearly did not want to give up. After several short gun battles, the bunker complexes were secured. Four to five hundred Iraqis were captured. A Chinook was sent north to pick up the EPWs. The Chinook ferried back and forth until all the Iraqis were collected. The Main Supply Road (MSR NEWMARKET) was now clear.
As the Apaches were roaming north of the frontier, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division was extending its security zone on the ground north of the border berm. Combat elements moved through the berm and staged for the impending offensive.
Operation Knight Strike
At noon, the 2nd (Blackjack) Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division conducted a battalion-sized reconnaissance-in-force to determine the enemy's disposition and strength in the Wadi-al-Batin and divert then enemy's attention to the Wadi. Colonel Randolph W. House commanded the 2nd Brigade. His orders were to proceed up the Wadi but, "Do not become too decisively engaged, and do not attrit your force." The Brigade proceeded up the Wadi, advancing ten kilometers into Iraq. At that point they encountered an Iraqi mechanized battalion. The "First Team" attacked with A-10s, artillery, M1A1 tanks, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Iraqi battalion was completely destroyed. Only a dozen prisoners were taken. As House advanced, enemy artillery that had dug in to camouflaged positions the night before opened up on the Blackjack Brigade. A-10s immediately swooped down and began attacking the artillery. Within fifteen minutes, the A-10 pilots were reporting at least one hundred Iraqi artillery emplacements.
As the A-10s were attacking, the Iraqis sprang their trap. The enemy had positioned the mechanized battalion several hundred meters north of its fortified positions along the walls of the Wadi. Colonel House had been drawn into a "Kill Zone." TF 1-5 was advancing in a diamond formation. Scouts and a Bradley company led the formation. A second Bradley company trailed the Battalion. A company of M1 tanks protected either side of the advancing formation. Colonel House was in the center of the formation, about a thousand meters behind the lead company in his command track.
House's scouts began receiving direct fire from their flanks. As the two tank companies moved to silence the enemy fire, a round from a large bore antitank gun hit a Bradley in the lead company. Almost simultaneously, another antitank round destroyed a Vulcan antiaircraft vehicle, decapitating in the commander. The antiaircraft vehicle was just behind Colonel House's command track, in the center of the Battalion formation. Another Bradley, commanded by staff Sgt. Christopher Cichon, raced to evacuate the wounded from the disabled lead Bradley. While the crew of Cichon's Bradley was attending to the wounded, it's vehicle was hit also. When Sgt. Cichon returned, he found the engine still running. He believed that the Iraqis would shift their attention to other vehicles, so he loaded both crews into his Bradley and retreated in reverse at fast as he could go.
1-5 Cavalry, with aid from the A-10s overhead, silenced all the Iraqi positions on their flanks and held their position. Several hours later, Colonel House received orders to withdraw back into Saudi Arabia. Task Force 1-5 had completed its mission. Its troopers had destroyed five Iraqi tankers and twenty artillery pieces. Hopefully the Iraqis were now convinced that it was the Coalition's intent to attack up the Wadi.
The deception was not without cost. Three troopers from the Brigade were killed, nine were wounded, one Bradley was lost, another heavily damaged, a Vulcan vehicle was damaged, and a M1 tank ran over a mine and was damaged. One of the troopers killed was Private First Class Ardon Cooper. Cooper gave his life by throwing himself over his wounded buddies to protect them from incoming artillery fire. Cooper was one of only a few soldiers in the Gulf War to receive a Silver Star for his heroic action.
“American soldiers in battle don’t fight for what some president says on T.V.
they don’t fight for mom, apple pie, the American flag…they fight for one another.”