Both marine divisions faced their toughest fights of the war on the 25th when Iraqi armored units staged strong counterattacks. For the 1st Division, the battle included a precarious defense of Maj. Gen. Myatt's forward command post, featuring an aggressive attack by a company of Marine LAV-25s against a superior force of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles.
During the early morning hours of day two of the Ground War, an Iraqi mechanized division counter-attacked elements of the 1st Marine Division in Southeastern Kuwait. During the ensuing intense ten hour battle, then-Capt. Eddie Ray (pictured here) repeatedly maneuvered his Light Armored Vehicle Company in harm's way, skillfully integrating his Light Armored Infantry weapons, reinforcing TOW's, and AH-1W Attack Helicopters to decisively defeat main Iraqi counter-attacks. Leading from the front and constantly exposed to large volumes of enemy fire, Ray led swift, violent attacks directly into the face of the vastly larger enemy force. These attacks shocked the enemy, destroyed 50 enemy Armored Personnel Carriers, and resulted in the capture of over 250 Iraqi soldiers. He was awarded the Navy Cross after the war and eventually retired as a Colonel.
The 2nd Division, meanwhile, was fighting off separate attacks from Iraqi mechanized and armored units in what was called the biggest tank battle in Marine history. In one fight, what was known as the "Reveille Engagement," 2nd Marines, including Bravo Company, the reserve tank unit with its M1A1s, were roused from their sleep to destroy thirty T-72s and four T-55s — in minutes. Counterattacks and darkness, however, prevented both divisions from moving north. I'll go over it in more details later in this post.
A Massive Iraqi Counterattack
G-Day had gone exceptionally well for the 2nd Marine Division. The resistance encountered during the initial breach was sporadic, occasionally heavy, and yet not as stiff as had been expected. We lost seven M60 tanks, two AAVs, and the M1 tank that had fallen prey to the Iraqi minefields. Only one Marine had been killed and eleven others wounded. The loss of any Marine is certainly tragic. However, the Marine commanders were thrilled that only one had lost his life on the first day. By the end of the G-Day, the 2nd Marine Division had penetrated the second obstacle belt and had captured five thousand Iraqi prisoners, including an entire Iraqi tank battalion of thirty five T-55 tanks.
The 3rd Marine Air Wing flew six hundred twenty one sorties in support of the Marines on the ground, destroying forty tanks, three APCs, eighteen trucks, more than one hundred other miscellaneous vehicles, three AAA sites, and four FROG missile sites. One AV-8B was lost and Captain James N. Wilbourne was killed in the crash.
As G-Day came to a close, the Iraqis were trying to marshal their remaining resources for a counterattack. Frontline units that had fled from the 1st Marine Division's onslaught were gathering in the Burqan oil field, the world's 2nd largest oil field, joined by reserve units. Under cover of darkness, Iraqi armor reinforcements were moving southeast from their reserve positions in Northwestern Kuwait to counterattack the Tiger Brigade and 2nd Marine Division. An American OV-10 discovered the giant Iraqi column in the early evening and the Marine Headquarters was alerted.
At 2200 of G-Day, four Cobra helicopters were dispatched from Lonesome Dove to attack the advancing Iraqi armor. Captain Randall Hammond led his four Cobras on their first mission against Iraqi counterattack. They flew north in total darkness. The overcast night coupled with the billowing smoke from the burning oil fields made it almost impossible to fly. But they groped their way toward the tanks that were moving southeast to attack the 2nd Marine Division. Luckily, the clouds and smoke parted just long enough for Hammond to see Marine tanks parked for the night. He knew that once past the Marine line it would be safe to fire on targets below. Almost as quickly as the skies had cleared, they were thrown back into more blowing smoke and total darkness. They would not be able to find the enemy tanks from this altitude. Hammond ordered his pilots to drop down as low as possible and try to get under the smoke. The Cobra pilots found about three hundred feet of clear air near the ground. They also noticed vehicles in the distance. The Cobra pilots launched flares to light the area. When the flares ignited Hammond and his men found that they were flying directly over a sea of Iraqis. There were tanks and armored vehicles as far as the eye could see in all directions. They pounded the armor column with everything they had and returned to base.
The Deadliest Attack
The last Scud missile of the war was fired today at Saudi Arabia. It hit and destroyed a large building in Dhahran that was being used as a temporary American barracks. Twenty eight Americans were killed and one hundred were wounded. The Scud had been detected by a Patriot missile battery's RADAR but experienced a problem and did not fire. A "fail-proof" software system is designed to automatically alert another nearby Patriot missile battery to take the target out in the event that it is unable to do so itself, but due to a software error, the battery did not hand off the target, nor did it engage the Scud. The operators believed that the target had been handed off, so they did not manually intervene. Thus the Scud passed through the defenses and slammed into the barracks. This was to be the largest single source of American casualties in the entire war.
My gut feeling on the 23rd about how Saddam could have killed many Marines assembled together along the border if he had fired all of his remaining Scuds all at once, was validated. Had he done so, and we were unable to defend all of them, it would have changed things dramatically.
The Harrier SJU-4/A Escape System
Coalition air forces flew over three thousand sorties on the 25th. Nearly half of them were in support for the ground offensive in Kuwait. The 3rd Marine Air Wing flew more than four hundred sixty sorties in support of Marines on the ground. In addition to the carnage from the opening day of the Ground War, the Marine Air Wing destroyed an additional fifty two tanks, nine APCs, a AAA site, and another FROG missile site. Two aircraft were lost during these close air support missions. An OV-10 Bronco was shot down and Major Joseph Small was taken prisoner. Captain David Spellacy was killed in the crash. A Marine Harrier, piloted by Captain Scott Walsh, was also lost. Captain Walsh and Major Dan Peter's were notified earlier that day that their upcoming sorties would be against the counterattacking mechanized Iraqi force that had been spotted and attacked earlier. He and Major Peters launched at 0600 to attack the Iraqi unit that was moving to our left flank. At 0630, Walsh and Peters arrived over their target area. A "FAST/FAC" (Forward Air Controller) F/A-18 marked the advancing Iraqis with smoke. Peters and Walsh dove in and dropped everything they had on the advancing Iraqis, then returned to the Forward Area Resupply Point (FARP) to refuel and rearm, as other AV-8s swept down on the Iraqi column.
By 0900, Walsh and Peters returned for their second run. By this time the smoke from the oil well fires was obscuring the attack area. The smoke was hanging in the atmosphere at around ten thousand feet. Captain Walsh was forced to attack from under nine thousand feet. He was in a four hundred fifty knot left hand turn when he "...got hit by a SAM. It basically hit the rear of the plane. It knocked the heck out of it. I looked over my shoulder and saw this smoke trailing out of the back." Walsh still had some control. He didn't want to bail out and land amid a bunch of guys he and his fellow Marine pilot had been bombing for three hours. So he decided to try to head south and land the plane at an emergency airstrip on the Allied side of the lines.
As he was bringing the crippled Harrier in on the approach, the stick froze and the plane flipped over on its back. Walsh was now traveling at two hundred twenty five knots, about eight hundred feet off the ground, and upside down with his nose down at thirty degrees (as demonstrated with the picture I've included). He immediately ejected. The last thing that went through his mind was, "Man, I hope this seat works!"
The canopy blew. The seat carried him away from the aircraft, righted itself, and deployed his parachute. After several seconds of shear explosive terror, Captain Walsh found himself flowing safely to earth. His landing was a little rough. He unhooked his parachute and began springing south. Soon afterward he found himself approaching the Marines of Task Force Shepherd.
On October 4, 1991, Captain Walsh visited the Universal Propulsion Company that manufactured the SJU-4/A Escape System that was designed to carry the pilot away from his disabled aircraft, automatically right itself, and deploy the pilot's parachute. He explained his early morning mission to a group of employees and personally thanked them for saving his life.
"The Reveille Battle"
We began our day south of Al Abdaliyah. At 0545, Marines that were on watch reported sounds of vehicles approaching from the east. After being pummeled from the air for most of the night, the Iraqi counterattack had finally reached us. The lay of the land was such that the Iraqi armor approached to within eighteen hundred meters before they could be seen.
At 0550 the first enemy tanks drove over a small ridge. This was the Iraqi counterattack that General Keys and General Boomer had dreaded. The Iraqis were finally coming out in large numbers to fight; not just defending their positions, but going on the offensive. Bravo Company's 2nd platoon opened fire first. The 1st and 3rd platoons moved on line to support 2nd platoon. As Bravo Company gunners began searching for targets they realized that an entire Iraqi tank battalion was moving southwest to counterattack us. Within ninety seconds Bravo Company stopped the approaching Iraqis dead in their tracks. All thirteen Marine M1A1s fired volley after volley as more vehicles came into view. Within seven minutes, the company destroyed over thirty vehicles. I stood in the back of my Humvee manning the M-60 and protecting our flank. At some point I had the presence of mind to take a picture of what I was seeing and included it this with post. This picture shows the direction that 2nd Platoon was firing from. Another picture (which didn't turn out) showed the enemy tanks to our east.
We continued to fight until 0630, as battalion TOW vehicles joined in the battle. The mass of Marine firepower completely overwhelmed the Iraqi tankers. By 0700 the Iraqi survivors began to surrender. Bravo Company alone was credited with the destruction of Saddam's best T-72 tanks, three T-55 tanks, a T-62 tank, and seven APCs. Again, the company suffered no casualties. The battle came to be known as "The Reveille Battle." Once the Iraqi armored counterattack had been crushed, we pressed on north, through increasingly poor visibility searching for what remained of this battalion.
An artillery prep preceded the attack north toward a hard-surfaced road grid "Ice Cube Tray." At 0630 Tiger Brigade, supported by Romeo Five, resumed its attack. 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry led the attack on an Iraqi bunker complex that lie directly in the brigade's path of advance. The regiment's M1s and Bradleys rolled to within two and a half kilometers of the complex, stopped, and systematically began picking off enemy vehicles and bunkers with M1 main gun and chain-gun rounds. While the armored vehicles were pounding the Iraqis, 3-41's infantry moved forward to clear the complex.
Enemy Prisoners of War
Realizing that they were incapable of resisting the Marines, the Iraqis began coming out of their bunkers to surrender. Four hundred Iraqis were captured, and Tiger Brigade had destroyed four T-55 tanks, ten artillery pieces, two BTR-60s, two 120-mm mortars, and numerous bunkers.
By the end of the day on G-Day, we had Al Jaber Airfield under siege. No one was going in or out without going through Marines. At the orders of General Thomas Draude, a forward Command Post (CP) was set up nearby just west of the burning Burqan oil field. A young intelligence Captain cautioned the General that he believed the Iraqis were massing for a counterattack in the center of the facility. Draude discounted the warning, believing that no one could tolerate the heat from the dozens of fires raging throughout the field.
Draude and General Myatt were overjoyed that their men had suffered so few casualties, but they were still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Total 1st Marine Division losses for the day amounted to one Marine killed in action, nine wounded, one damaged LAV, and three damaged tanks. The Marines had destroyed hundreds of Iraqi tanks and other armored vehicles and had captured several thousand prisoners. Pictured here is one of several EPW camps.
The Battle of Al Burqan Oil Field
Just as the young intelligence office had suspected, there was indeed a counterattack planned from the Iraqis. As the commanders in the CP were having a staff meeting, a single Iraqi tank and a Chinese built APC appeared one hundred yards from the officers. The smoke from the oil well fires was so bad that it was used as a smoke screen to cover the Iraqis movements and had wandered unseen through Marine sentry posts. Fortunately, these Iraqis wanted to surrender. However their officer informed the Marines of 1st Division that the rest of his Brigade was close behind and that they intended to fight.
Shortly thereafter, sixty six howitzers supported by Romeo Three's Fire Finder Radar, fired two hundred forty four rounds in the first volley. Three minutes later, after enemy artillery locations had been determined by Romeo Three, a second salvo unleashed nearly five hundred more rounds. The Iraqi 5th Mechanized Division had spent the previous night massing in the cover of the Burqan and preparing to counter attack just as the Intelligence officer suspected.
There is so much more that I could go over but I'm running out of time. All of what I've shared is only a small portion of what took place on this day. There were more battles as Marines continued to go up against other Iraqi counterattacks. I haven't even talked about the advance from the western flanks by the Army and Coalition forces. Commanders were beginning to see how quickly the Marines were advancing toward Kuwait and began to fear the Iraqis may flee before the Army's XVIII and VII Corps was in place to stop them. General Schwarzkopf ordered them to speed up their advance and quickly cut off their chance to retreat or resupply.
It was a very long day and by the end of it, I was very tired and ready for some much needed sleep. However, I would not get much sleep tonight, as something early in the morning had me up and on my guard until daylight. It would be the other thing I mentioned before that weighed on my conscious for a very long time.
"We were all tired. The young Marines had been training for months in a very unhospitable land.
The staffs had been working and planning around the clock for months."
- Lieutenant General Walt Boomer - Marine Air Ground Commander