Overall Mission: Our mission was to conduct an aggressive program of
raids, reconnaissance's in force, deceptions, and feints one and a half weeks
prior to G-day to make the Iraqis think that we were prepping the Wadi Al Batin
for the main attack. The desired effect was that the Iraqis would think that
the main coalition ground attack would come up the Wadi Al Batin, a natural
invasion route, and they would therefore beef up their forces there, at the
expense of the Western flank, where VII Corps would conduct the main attack.
The Plan: TF 1-32 AR, with engineer support, would blow a hole in the smuggler's Berm separating Saudi Arabia and Iraq to make the Iraqis believe that we were opening up an invasion route. A PSYOPs unit provided taped recordings of tracked vehicles to make the Iraqis think that we were marshaling forces in that area. 3-82 FA was the direct support field artillery battalion. During Berm Buster, 3-82 FA would fire a 7 minute prep to suppress the Iraqi security zone, and then fire smoke to screen the breaching of the Berm, as well as Copperhead to take out hard Iraqi targets , such as bunkers; then, at nightfall, we would fire Illumination to help TF 1-32 spot Iraqi recon patrols. H-hour for this mission was 1630 hours. Following completion of Operation Berm Buster, we would make a lateral night move, west to east along the Berm to the Wadi Al Batin, to participate in Operation Red Storm, a massive aviation/artillery raid with an H-hour of 0100 hours, 16 February 1991. All in all, it would prove to be a long day.
0500 hours, 15 February: Stand-to. I went to the TOC to go over last minute details with the commanders and staff. Everybody was very nervous, since it was our first combat operation. As a precaution, the battalion commander directed that everybody wear body armor ("flak vests") for this operation. Flak vests were very hot and uncomfortable to wear with all the other TA-50 and MOPP gear, but, given the circumstances, it seemed to be a prudent precaution.
0800 hours, 15 February: The battalion moved out to link up behind TF 1-32 at the line of departure (LD). Our movement formation was platoons in wedge, batteries in column, battalion in column. The order of march was B battery, the TOC, A battery, C battery, and the Combat Trains.
1000-1400 hours, 15 February. We waited at the LD for 4 hours. Our early move-out was a typical overreaction, I thought. I was nervous, and wanted to get the whole thing over with. The waiting was killing me. Waiting for battle is worse than fighting the battle. I imagined the worse. My stomach hurt with fear.
1400 hours, 15 February: we moved out, moving very fast, and it was hard to keep up with the faster tanks and Bradley's of TF 1-32. At 1545, we hit the release point (RP), and I peeled out toward my initial position. At 1609, I heard "red dog 6300" on the battalion net, the code word to occupy and establish a firing capability. We occupied. It was the best occupation I had ever seen; the soldiers were really pumped. At 1615 hours, we were ready to shoot. We started computing data for the 7 targets of the prep, and getting the data down to the guns.
1628 hours, 15 February: the H-hour was originally 1635 hours, but COL
House, the brigade commander, changed it to 1630. We were the only battery that
was ready to fire the prep, and we executed it
flawlessly. The other two batteries missed one or more of the seven targets,
drawing a sharp rebuke from the battalion S-3 on the battalion net. I felt very
proud of my battery. After the prep, we made a 1 Km survivability move. We then
shot smoke and Copperhead, while TF 1-32 went through the breech made by the
engineers, and set up security on the Iraqi side of the Berm. Night fell; the
PSYOPs detachment proceeded with the deception operation (the vehicle noises),
and the Iraqis started throwing out some sporadic mortar fire. Alfa battery
shot some Illumination to help the maneuver units spot Iraqi patrolling
2000 hours, 15 February 1991: TF 1-32 withdrew, and we were released to transition to our Operation Red Storm positions. Operation Red Storm was a VII Corps Artillery-Aviation raid up the Wadi Al Batin designed to make the Iraqis believe that the Wadi was being prepped for the main offensive. It featured the 11th Aviation Brigade, the 1st Cavalry Division Artillery, and elements of the VII Corps Artillery. Just prior to 0100 hours, 16 February 1991, the artillery units were to fire a 3 minute prep on selected targets, followed by Apache attack helicopters crossing the Berm to engage targets of opportunity. At the same time, USAF assets were attacking deep targets.
We moved in battalion column, order of march B-TOC-A-C-CBT. It was dark as hell, zero visibility. My GPS was not tracking satellites, as usual (During that time of day, the angle between the NAVSTAR satellites and the earth was bad, so GPS receivers could not get a good fix on the required minimum of 3 satellites.) Fortunately, I had thought ahead and had my 1SG's LORAN receiver. Operation Berm Buster had given me a great deal of confidence, so I wasn't scared anymore. We had plenty of time to move the 15 km to get in position just prior to H-hour. I was completely focused on keeping the convoy together, avoiding breaks in the convoy, and ensuring that nobody got lost. We decided to do the march without any lights, not even blackout markers, for OPSEC reasons. We had NVGs, of course, but with zero visibility, it was tough to see the vehicle in front of you.
Then it happened -- my worst fears were realized. At 2130 hours, C-14 (one of my howitzers) slid into an anti-tank ditch, injuring the section chief and his driver. SFC Wright stopped to handle the situation, and the rest of the convoy stopped along with him. Meanwhile, I, unaware of what had just happened, and continued on with 3 gun sections and the 1st platoon FDC. By the time SFC Wright called me on the radio to inform me of what had happened, there was a hopeless break in the convoy. I called LTC Knight to inform him of what had happened. He was clearly not happy, but kept his cool and told me to get forward with as much combat power as possible. However, I did not even have 50 percent of my battery. I looked at my watch -- three hours to go until H-hour. I looked at my LORAN -- only three kilometers to go to our position area. I called LTC Knight and told him that we had time, and I was going to take a shot at finding and reuniting my battery. He said "OK, but hurry!" MAJ Currid, the battalion XO, who was behind the stalled portion of my battery, called me on the radio and said he would help me get my battery back together. I told him that he could help me better by taking care of my two casualties, that I could handle reuniting my battery internally. He directed me to evacuate my casualties to the battalion aide station, located with the combat trains just behind the stalled portion of my battery. SFC Wright, who was monitoring the battalion net, heard the conversation and evacuated the casualties. Meanwhile, I gave 1LT Al Kearse, my first platoon leader, an azimuth to the stalled convoy, and sent him back to get them. He found them quickly (thank God), and guided them in on my red flashlight signal. Once the battery was re--formed, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and moved on.
At midnight, we pulled into position, and occupied. We computed firing data for our target, which was an Iraqi radar station. We would fire 40 rounds of high explosive (HE) rocket assisted projectiles (RAP) on it in 3 minutes of firing. Once we were done computing data, we sent it down to the guns, and the battery laid on it. Then, we waited for H-hour. We turned off all of our vehicle engines and lights to keep any Iraqi patrols from detecting our presence. We really had our asses hanging out; sitting in position in the security zone for about 45 minutes, I was concerned about an Iraqi patrol seeing or hearing us, and calling in artillery fire on us. Fortunately, that did not happen.
At 0055 hours, we fired our mission. The sky lit up with MLRS and RAP. At 0058 hours, we heard "Check fire!" over our radio nets, followed almost immediately by the sound of Apaches flying overhead into Iraq to engage their assigned targets. In the distance, we could hear the "popcorn" sound of USAF cluster bomblets striking deep Iraqi targets. It was as if the Fourth of July had come early. I almost felt sorry for the poor Iraqis on the receiving end of it. We quickly "march ordered" and moved south about five kilometers, where we occupied positions to provide support for 1-7 CAV, the division cavalry squadron.
February 16-18, 1991: We had three things going on: be prepared to shoot
in support of 1-7 CAV, conduct maintenance, and prepare for Operation Knight
Strike. Operation Knight Strike was a reconnaissance in force conducted by TF
1-5 CAV up the Wadi Al Batin to determine the strength, composition, and
disposition of Iraqi forces in the area. This operation was intended to make
the Iraqis think that we were definitely thinking of a major attack up the Wadi
Al Batin. It would be the first mounted combat in Iraq during the war. It would
also be the bloodiest battle of the war for the First Cavalry Division.
On the night of February 19, 1991, Team A, TF 1-5 CAV conducted a night route reconnaissance for the task force. My battery was selected to provide artillery support for this night route reconnaissance. At 1600 hours, I moved my battery up to the smuggler's Berm. At nightfall, A/1-5 crossed the Berm. 1LT Aaron Geduldig, the Team fire support officer, called in a DPICM (dual purpose improved conventional munitions) fire mission on some Iraqi security force units. Following the completion of that mission, we fired high explosive projectiles with concrete piercing fuzes at the so-called Beau Geste house. The Beau Geste house was a Saudi border station that had been taken over by the Iraqis, and was so named because it resembled the prototypical French Foreign Legion desert post as portrayed in the epic film Beau Geste. We scored four direct hits, destroying the station and the Iraqi soldiers inside. We fired various other fire missions at targets in the Iraqi security zone, presumably with good effects, since the fire support officers at the company team and task force levels seemed pleased. I moved both of my platoons at about midnight, (one platoon at a time to maintain a continuous firing capability) because I was concerned about being acquired by Iraqi target acquisition assets and receiving counterfire. My fears were unfounded, because Iraqi counterfire was never forthcoming.
While my battery was forward supporting the route recon, the rest of the battalion was in the rear preparing for the operation. I missed out on all of this, which concerned me, because, by 0600 hours, my battery was low on ammunition and fuel, and I had not received the new COMSEC variable required to communicate on the battalion's secure FM radio networks. I called back to the battalion executive officer and voiced my concerns. He told me, "Don't worry about it, we'll get you everything you need. Just be prepared to fall in with the rest of the battalion when we pass by you." That is exactly what we did, and we got everything we needed "on the fly." It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done.
Shortly after joining the battalion wedge formation, we occupied and established a firing capability. TF 1-5 CAV passed by us and thrust into Iraq. Then, things started going wrong. The battalion tactical operations center (TOC) communications went down. As a result, they could not communicate with any of the fire support officers and forward observers who were forward with the task force. Meanwhile, the task force continued it's march into Iraq, and we did not shoot any fire missions: no prep to soften Iraqi positions, no smoke to screen the task force's movement. This struck me as being very unusual. Our battalion commander became extremely angry; I could hear him on the radio screaming at the battalion S-3 (the plans, operations, and training officer): "I want you to get commo! I don't care what you have to do! Meanwhile, the Brigade COLT spotted a battery of Iraqi AT-12's dug into the side of the Wadi Al Batin, and called in a fire mission. We heard the mission come down, and oriented our tubes on the target, and waited for the command to fire. However, the command to fire is not forthcoming. "What the hell is going on up there?" I thought.
Then, tragedy struck. The Iraqi anti-tank weapons dug in along the side of the Wadi opened up on the task force, striking a Bradley and a Vulcan track that had stopped to pick up a few Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered. Three U.S. soldiers died and seven were wounded. The brigade COLT (Combat Observation and Lasing Team) tried to get an Immediate Suppression mission through, but the battalion TOC could not hear him. At this point, the battalion commander, who himself was coming under direct Iraqi fire, went absolutely ballistic. He called the A Battery commander and gave him control of the battalion. Outraged, we shot volley after volley of DPICM, carpeting the general area of the Iraq AT-12 positions. Meanwhile, Medevac helicopters flew forward in an attempt to evacuate the casualties. They got through under fire, and brought the men out. TF 1-5 pressed on, and we shot smoke to screen and obscure their movement. As the task force pressed on, they came across an Iraqi battle position composed of Iraqi dismounted troops in an open trench line. The task force S-3 called in a fire mission, and we pounded the trench line with HE (high explosive) projectiles, using a variable time fuse to get an air burst effect. The HE projectiles exploded in the air approximately 20 meters above the trench line, raining huge, jagged shell fragments down onto the terrified Iraqi soldiers exposed in the trenches below. Many Iraqi soldiers died, and the rest surrendered.
At this point in time, the Blackjack Brigade commander, COL Randolph House, decided that we had made our point and executed a successful feint, and it was time to pull back into Saudi Arabia. We shot smoke to cover TF 1-5's withdrawal, then moved back about two kilometers ourselves. By the time we finished our move and reestablished a firing capability, it had gotten dark. Most of TF 1-5's vehicles had disengaged from contact and pulled back into Saudi Arabia, but they were still trying to recover a few damaged and disabled vehicles that were still in Iraq by towing them out with M-88 recovery vehicles. As the lumbering M-88s were towing the damaged and disabled vehicles back toward the break in the Berm, an Iraqi mortar battery was taking potshots at them.
Meanwhile, we were feeding chow to our soldiers back in our fallback positions, the first hot meal we had had in days. Just as chow was served, our direct support Q-36 firefinder radar set picked up the Iraqi mortar rounds being fired at the TF 1-5 recovery vehicles. By back-plotting the ballistic trajectory of the mortar rounds, the Q-36's on-board computer was able to determine the location of the Iraqi mortar battery. They promptly sent the fire mission to the battalion fire direction center, which issued fire commands to the three firing batteries.
I was eating dinner at my HMMWV with one of my platoon sergeants when I heard my cannon crew members yell "Fire mission!" Wondering what the hell was going on, I ran over to my FDC. "Fire mission against an Iraqi mortar battery," they told me. We fired one volley of DPICM at the Iraqi mortars, which apparently was effective, because we never had any more trouble from that Iraqi mortar battery again. Once TF 1-5 was completely withdrawn, we withdrew back to our original positions to prepare for G-Day.
All in all, the Battle of Ruqi pocket was a success. With its feints, raids, and
deceptions, the First Cavalry Division (especially the 2nd Blackjack Brigade)
kept four Iraqi Divisions tied up in the Wadi Al Batin, and kept the Republican
Guard divisions' focus on the Wadi as the main attack route. This allowed the
VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps to move west and position themselves,
unhindered, for the Grand Finale: the "Hail Mary" Play.