CORRECTING MYTHS ABOUT THE PERSIAN GULF WAR: THE LAST STAND OF THE TAWAKALNA

Middle East Journal

Stephen A. Bourque

This paper is based on rsearch for Bourque’s book Jayhawk: The VII Corps during the Persian Gulf War, published by the US Army Center of Military History in 2002. Unless otherwise noted, primary documents and unit after-action reports are located in the “VII Corps After Action Report” located at the Combined Arms Center Historical Archives, Fort Leavenworth, KS.

tawakalna

Several myths about the Persian Gulf War still linger years after its conclusion. One is that the ground war was a relatively simple, high-tech campaign; another is that the air campaign essentially destroyed the Iraqi Army; and the third and most important is that the Iraqi Army did not fight, but simply surrendered at the approach of the coalition’s forces. This paper argues that the Iraqi Army, and especially the Republican Guard, fought bravely but ineptly against the overwhelming combat power of a better trained and equipped US Army.

This article attempts to dispel a number of myths about the way the Iraqi Republican Guard fought during the Gulf War of 1991. The Republican Guard has been President Saddam Husayn’s premier striking force and one of the pillars upon which the continuation of his regime has depended. It was formed in the 1970s as a small force to defend the capital and the president. At that time, only men from Saddam Husayn’s hometown of Takrit were eligible for membership. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the regime opened the Guard to college students from throughout Iraq. Most of these recruits, who had enjoyed college deferments, had never been part of the grueling defensive warfare on the Iranian front. Trained only in offensive warfare, their high motivation was obvious in the decisive victory over Iran on the Faw Peninsula. The Iraqi High Command retrained, re-equipped and enlarged the Republican Guard so that by 1990 it had grown to three armored-mechanized divisions and five infantry divisions. The three armored mechanized divisions included the Tawakalna Division, which fought against the entire US 7th Corps as described in this article; the Medina Armored Division, which battled the 1st US Armored Division on the afternoon of 27 February 1991 west of the Al-Ruqta oil field; and the Hammurabi Armored Division, which fought against the 24th US Mechanized Division at Al-Tawr al-Hammar, on 2 March 1991, after the cease-fire.

BACKGROUND TO THE US-REPUBLICAN GUARD BATTLE

Coalition air forces began the war against Iraq on 17 January 1991. Using every variety of aircraft, from the French Mirage to the US B52, they subjected Iraqi military and civilian targets to one of the most intense air operations since World War II. By 24 February, in spite of the damage that air power inflicted on the Iraqi Army, Saddam Husayn had not ordered his army out of Kuwait. Air operations then took on a new character. In addition to continuing their raids deep into Iraq, Coalition pilots began to provide close air support to the Coalition’s attacking ground troops. Using primarily A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, these pilots joined with US Army attack helicopters and long-range field artillery in attacking Iraqi Army units beyond the range of front-line ground troops.1

After six weeks of air bombardment, the ground war between the Iraqi and the Coalition forces began on 24 February 1991 with an attack by the Coalition forces along a 350 mile front extending from the north at Tawr al-Hammar south to the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. During the ground offensive against Iraq, the Allied Coalition was divided into two army-sized commands. In the east, in a sector that extended from the western Kuwait border to Kuwait City, was the Joint Forces Command (JFC) under HRH General Khalid bin-Sultan. This command consisted of three corps-sized commands: Joint Forces Command-North, US Marine Corps-Central Command, and Joint Forces Command-East. In addition, the JFC contained soldiers from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim forces from around the world. The army command in the western portion of the sector was the US 3rd Army under Lieutenant General John J. Yeosock. It consisted of two corps, the 7th and the 18th. The 7th Corps under Lieutenant General Frederick M. Franks, Jr. was composed of the 1st British Armored Division, the 1st US Armored Division, the 3rd Armored Division, the 1st Infantry Division, and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. During this phase of the ground offensive, the 1st Cavalry Division was the theater reserve force, working directly for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Central Command.

By the afternoon of 26 February, the Coalition forces had advanced across southern Kuwait and had stopped on the outskirts of Kuwait City. Meanwhile, farther west in the desert between Al-Salman and Al-Nasiriyya, the unopposed US 18th Corps was heading for the Euphrates Valley. In the center of the Coalition’s sector, Franks’ 7th US Corps had penetrated the weakly held defenses of the Iraqi 7th Corps and had turned from north to east in anticipation of a climatic battle with Iraq’s Republican Guards Forces Command (RGFC).2

On the US 7th Corps’ right flank, the British 1st Armored Division continued to maul the Iraqi 7th Corps.3 In the center, the 2nd US Armored Cavalry Regiment led the 3rd US Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division towards the Iraqi Republican Guards. On the 7th Corps’ left flank, the 1st Armored Division captured the large Iraqi supply installation at Al-Busayya (that stored food, water, medicine, fuel, repair parts, clothing, etc.) and then turned east, almost on line with the 3rd US Armored Division.

The Tawakalna Mechanized Division of the RGFC was positioned about 25 miles west of the Kuwait border, located exactly in the center of the US 7th Corps’ sector, The Tawakalna was probably the best division in the Iraqi Army. It had fought with distinction during the war with Iran and was one of the lead divisions in Saddam Husayn’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.4 Its two mechanized brigades and one armored brigade were equipped with the most advanced equipment available in the Iraqi Army, including 220 T-72 tanks and 278 infantry fighting vehicles. On 25 February it had moved into a blocking position west of the Iraq Petroleum Saudi Arabia (IPSA) pipeline about 80 miles from Kuwait city. In spite of the air campaign, most of this division was in position and ready to fight when the US 7th Corps arrived on 26 February 1991.5

Neither the Iraqi nor the United States government has released the name of the Tawakalna division commander.6 Most likely he died commanding his forces in the futile effort to stop an overwhelming assault on his positions. Using US spot reports, situation reports, and analysis of destroyed Iraqi equipment, this article will attempt to examine the various phases of that battle, which consisted of several distinct, but integrated actions. Those included attacks on the security zone, the central zone, each of the Tawakalna’s flanks, and against its rear area. The surprising shock of this massive attack from several directions ensured that the Tawakalna division had little opportunity to do anything but either surrender or fight and die in place. They chose the latter course.

THE SECURITY ZONE BATTLE

The Tawakalna commander’s first contact with the attacking force took place in his security zone, in front of his operations zone. The Iraqi defense sector was organized into three zones. The main defensive positions were located in the operations zone. Between the operations zone, and the enemy, was the security zone. This zone, which was about ten kilometers (6.2 miles) wide, was designed to provide early warning and to break-up and slow down enemy attacking formations. Behind the operations zone was a rear area, where the division’s logistics elements operated. It was in this sector that the Republican Guard Commander had tried to deploy at least two brigades from the 12th Iraqi Armored Division on the night of 24 February 1991, to act as a covering force. However, neither of these two brigades got into position because they were mauled by the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd Armored Division.7

To find out what was going on, the Tawakalna commander sent his reconnaissance battalion towards the approaching enemy.8 Initial reports, which the Iraqi commander received from various sources, indicated that the approaching force was from the French 6th Light Armored Division.9 By the early morning of 26 February, however, the Tawakalna commander had received enough information to know that he was not facing the French. The Iraqi intelligence system had correctly located the French 6th Light Division in the western portion of the Coalition sector. Since that report was received, however, the French division had moved another 75 kilometers west and was now securing the Coalition’s left flank. That night the Tawakalna commander moved a reinforced battalion into his security zone. Organized into company and platoon strong-points, these units were to break up the US attack, cause it to slow down, and inform the division commander on the nature of the enemy advance.10  These forces, however, were unable to stop the US attack. Throughout the day the 3rd Armored Division and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment continued to destroy these forward outposts.11  On the US side, the 3rd Armored Division had 316 tanks, 285 infantry fighting vehicles (Bradleys) and over 17,000 soldiers. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment had approximately 39 infantry fighting vehicles and probably ten tanks. In addition, there was the remainder of the tank battalion from the 12th Armored Division with perhaps 20 tanks remaining. The total number of Iraqi soldiers involved in the engagement would have been around 2,000.

Behind his security zone, the Tawakalna commander deployed his three heavy brigades (the 18th, 29th and 9th) forward of the IPSA pipeline road that served as one of the main supply routes in the Kuwait theater of operations. On the left flank he positioned the 18th Mechanized Brigade. South of the 18th Mechanized Brigade, and in front of a major supply depot located on the IPSA Pipeline Road twenty kilometers north of the Saudi Arabian border, were the remnants of the Iraqi 37th Armored Brigade from the 12th Armored Division. The 9th Armored Brigade, reinforced by survivors of the 50th Armored Brigade, held the center of the Tawakalna line. The 50th Brigade had been mauled in the security zone, as had some of the 37th. The remainder of these two brigades were located on the Tawakalna’s southern flank. The 29th Brigade defended the right flank of the division’s sector. The 29th Brigade had no other units protecting its right flank. Without such protection, American forces were free to attack it from the north without fear of encountering Iraqi units prepared to conduct an effective defense.

LEFT FLANK: THE BATTLE OF 73 EASTING (SOUTH)

The main battle began on the Tawakalna’s (18th Mechanized Brigade’s sector) left flank. At 3:30 pm on 26 February 1991, the US 2nd Squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment12 arrived at the edge of the Tawakalna’s operation zone and destroyed three T-72 tanks. A few moments later it ran right into a battalion strong point of the 18th Iraqi Mechanized Brigade. Strong points consisted of dug in vehicle and soldier fighting positions, wire, mines and prepared fields of fire. In most cases the Iraqi units were in the right place, but had not developed their positions as well as they should have. In what was later known as the Battle of 73 Easting,13 the 2nd Squadron attacked. It was a short, but violent battle. Iraqi vehicles exploded as 120mm rounds found their marks. US scout platoons followed the M1 tanks providing “scratching fires”14 to protect the US tanks from the Iraqi infantry. Just as the 2nd Squadron arrived at the rear of the battalion strong point the Iraqis launched a counterattack. While brave, it was ineffective. In 23 minutes one troop from the US squadron destroyed over half of the Iraqi battalion.15

The 3rd Squadron moved just to the south of the 2nd Squadron and attacked the southern portion of the same Iraqi strong point at about 3:30 pm.16 At 4:45 pm, the Iraqis launched a counter-attack against the US 3rd Squadron with a T-72 tank company. At 2,500 meters, they fired at the Bradley cavalry fighting vehicles.17 The range was too great and their rounds struck the earth just short of their intended targets. They were unable to get many more rounds off as M1 tanks bounded forward and, at about 2,100 meters, destroyed most of the Iraqi T-72 tanks.18

The US attack must have surprised the Iraqi battalion. The Iraqi crews were out of their tanks and infantry fighting vehicles because of the danger of air attacks, although the division commander must have had an idea that he was about to be attacked by a large force because his forward security forces and, one would hope, the Iraqi High Command or RGFC headquarters would have given him warning. The word, however, did not find its way down to the front-line battalions and, especially, the individual tank and fighting vehicle crews, since no one ordered the Tawakalna battalion to prepare for immediate battle. At best, the Americans’ attack speed was faster than the Tawakalna Division’s orders process. At worst, no one on the Iraqi staff thought of telling the front-line units to prepare. The US attacked so violently that the Iraqis never had time to get back into their vehicles. The Iraqi battalion, also, did not prepare its positions very well: obstacles were obviously not complete, and it had emplaced only a few of its mines.19 Based on their experience in the Iran War, Iraqi defensive positions have lots of mines, barbed wire and other obstacles to stop the attacker. They dig in their vehicles deep into the ground, with just the turrets exposed so the guns can acquire targets. Unfortunately, the Tawakalna Division was only able to develop partially its defenses. The reasons may be lack of time, the effect of coalition jet aircraft flying overhead, and/or lack of materials (such as mines or wire).

Franks’ orders to Colonel Don Holder, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment commander, were to avoid a decisive engagement. Holder’s troops had successfully destroyed one Iraqi battalion strong point, but there were still at least six or seven more battalions waiting for the US regiment, which did not have the combat power to break through the Tawakalna’s defenses. Holder, therefore ordered his squadrons to hold at their current positions and prepare to pass the 1st Infantry Division, which had moved behind the Regiment, forward.20

The fight in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s sector, however, was not yet over. Around 6 pm on 26 February, the character of the battle changed as dismounted Iraqi infantry, T-55 tanks and MT-LBs21 began a series of attacks on 2nd Squadron’s positions along the 73 Easting. Iraqi infantry, believing that darkness and poor visibility would protect them, charged towards the US troopers firing their AK assault rifles and RPG anti-tank rockets. The US 2nd Squadron’s defensive firepower, however, stopped the Iraqi attacks. US TOW anti-tank missiles destroyed several trucks loaded with Iraqi soldiers. M1 tanks demolished T-55 and T-72 tanks long before they got within their own firing range. The squadron’s mortar sections began firing airbursts at the Iraqi infantry causing them either to retreat or dig in. In several hours of combat, the US squadron knocked out at least two companies of Iraqi tanks. Hundreds of Iraqi infantry and their lightly armored transporters lay scattered on the floor of a small wadi, or dry stream bed, nearby.22

Shortly before 10:30 pm, it was suddenly quiet across the thirty kilometers in front of the Iraqi 18th Mechanized and 37th Armored Brigades. The 2nd US Armored Cavalry Regiment held its fire as the 1st Infantry Division began its forward passage of lines. Passage lanes are clearly marked routes that the moving unit uses to pass through the stationary unit. These routes may be marked by variouus means, including pyrotechnics, reflective or white tape, and even simple road signs. In most cases, the entry and exit of the lane is manned by members of both the moving and stationary unit to minimize confusion. Because the attack had stopped, the Tawakalna commander probably thought he had stopped the American advance on his left flank. Nothing, however could have been further from the truth. Just as the soldiers of the 2nd Squadron were defending against the Iraqi counter-attacks, the 1st Infantry Division began its final move towards the 73 Easting.23 American scouts on the forward line fired green star clusters to mark the exact passage lanes. Then, past tired 2nd US Cavalry soldiers and burning Iraqi T-72 tanks, the 1st US Infantry Division resumed the attack.24

Now, instead of three armored cavalry squadrons, the 18th and 37th Iraqi Armored Brigades faced six heavy battalions of American tanks and infantry fighting vehicles and another six battalions of 155mm field artillery.25 The Iraqis, however, did not run. Instead, they manned their vehicles and weapons systems against the US forces. In the 1st US Brigade sector all of the battalions used a single passage lane. Each unit had its own area of operations to keep it from becoming confused with other units and to ensure that each unit achieved the command’s common objective. Since these were only imaginary lines on the ground, units often strayed into adjacent sectors. The first battalion (1-34 Armor) that passed through the passage lane ran into a battalion from the Iraqi 18th Mechanized Brigade, and Iraqi gunners were able to indentify two American vehicles and destroy them, killing one soldier and wounding five others. The American commander pulled his scouts back and moved his tank companies forward. The second American battalion (Task Force 2-34 Armor) that passed through the passage lane became momentarily lost because it was dark and the combat equipment (in spite of rumors about super technology) did not have a compass or directional aid built into the vehicle. And the third (Task Force 5-16 Infantry) was not yet through the passage lane.26

In the south, the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade moved through three separate passage lanes, where each battalion almost immediately made contact with the Iraqi defenders and both sides started shooting at each other. The primary fighting force in this sector were two battalions of the 37th Iraqi Armored Brigade, defending the left flank of the Tawakalna. The assault of the 3rd US Brigade also caught many Iraqi tank crews on the ground in their shelters, probably hiding from American air and artillery attacks. Because they had not turned on their engines and were not, therefore, generating heat, the tanks did not show up on the American’s vehicle-mounted thermal sights.27 In many instances, American vehicles simply drove past the Iraqi positions. For the next few hours, bypassed Iraqi RPG equipped anti-tank teams and dismounted Iraqi infantry fired at passing American vehicles, only to be destroyed by other US tanks and fighting vehicles following the initial forces.28

As Iraqi RPG teams and T-55 tanks maneuvered to shoot the Americans in their vulnerable rear, some M1 and Bradley turrets swung back to engage their attackers. Responding to apparent enemy fire, friendly crews returned fire. When the confusing mélée was over, the 1st Division tanks discovered that they had destroyed five of their own M1 tanks and four Bradleys.  Six brigade soldiers perished in these attacks and thirty others were wounded.29 Rather than “press the attack” as those at Central Command (General Norman Schwarzkopf’s headquarters) were demanding,30 the brigade commander, Colonel David Weisman, decided to pull the battalions back, consolidate, and use his artillery to destroy the aggressive Iraqi infantry.31

The Iraqis had stopped the 1st Infantry Division’s initial push into their sector; but not for long. By 12:30 am on 27 February, the two attacking brigades of the 1st Infantry Division were positioned along the 75 Easting, 2,000 meters east of 73 Easting.32 For the next three hours they methodically crossed the remaining ten kilometers of their objective, called Objective Norfolk. The area encompassed the intersection of the IPSA Pipeline Road and several desert trails, as well as a large Iraqi supply depot. As they slowly advanced, M1 tank commanders acquired the thermal images of the Iraqi tanks, or infantry fighting vehicles, long before they were themselves spotted by the Iraqis. Platoon leaders, team commanders, and even battalion commanders issued unit-wide fire commands, causing the entire command to fire at Iraqi targets simultaneously.33 By dawn, the 1st US Infantry Division controlled Objective Norfolk. The combined attack of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s three squadrons and the Big Red One’s two leading brigades had destroyed the two Iraqi brigades (18th Mechanized Brigade and 37th Armored Brigade) on the Tawakalna’s left flank. Simultaneously with the fighting in the southern portion of its sector, the Tawakalna Division was under assault in the center of its line.

THE CENTER OF THE LINE

Soon after the Tawakalna Division Commander’s 18th Mechanized Brigade was engaged, the US attack spread to the center of his line. The Iraqi defense in this sector consisted of three mechanized battalions from the Tawakalna 29th Mechanized Brigade, and three armored and one mechanized from the 9th Armored Brigade. In addition, there was at least one battalion of the 46th Mechanized Brigade from the 12th Armored Division. There is also evidence that at least one T-62 tank battalion, most likely from the 10th Armored Division, was also assigned to the Tawakalna in this sector.34 Approximately nine Iraqi battalions, therefore, faced the attacking 3rd US Armored Division’s ten heavy battalions. In a space of only 270 square kilometers, Iraqi defenders massed over 160 tanks, 117 BMPs, and hundreds of other combat vehicle, and fighting systems.35 Thousands of infantry men dismounted from their combat carriers.36 Once on the ground, they constructed their dug in company strong points37 and prepared to use their Saggers and RPGs to engage the attacking Americans. Finally, there were approximately a dozen field artillery batteries arrayed along the rear of the Tawakalna’s operations zone in this sector. The Iraqi defenses were very thick and Major General Paul Funk, the 3rd Armored Division commander, had no soft or exposed Iraqi flanks to exploit in his attack. He attacked with his 2nd Brigade in the north, his 1st Brigade in the south, and his 3rd Brigade in the rear trailing the 1st Brigade.

The 1st US Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division moved in the south of the 3rd Armored Division’s sector on a relatively narrow zone.38 At 5:02 pm, 26 February, it ran into a battalion of the 9th Iraqi Armored Brigade.39  The lead American company team, from Task Force 3-5 Cavalry, established a base of fire as two other company teams moved on line. Not inclined to assault hastily the center of this complex, the entire 3-5 Cavalry moved into firing positions and began to locate and shoot at Iraqi targets. Long-range tank and TOW fires, high explosive and DPICM rounds, and even COPPERHEAD rounds ravaged the Iraqi 9th Armored Brigade’s battalion strong points.40  The Iraqi soldiers, however, continued to fight, preventing this American battalion from advancing any farther for the next 12 hours.41

In the dark, around 7:20 pm, a scout platoon from the brigade’s left-flank battalion Task Force 4-32 Armor, identified a T-72 tank covered with infantry heading towards them from the southeast. In a short and confused fight, the scouts destroyed the tank and scattered its passenger infantry. Soon, a platoon of Iraqi T-72s supported by dismounted infantry joined the fight. By 9:00 pm, Task-Force 4-32 Armor’s fight in this sector came to an end. It had made little progress in its zone and had shot up one of its own Bradley scout vehicles, killing two soldiers and wounding two more.42 The Iraqi line continued to hold.

The US 4/7 Cavalry Squadron, a new unit working for the divison commander and acting independently from the 1st Brigade, screened the division’s southern flank. Around 6:00 pm it ran into an Iraqi tank unit. Like other Iraqi defenders, the Iraqi unit, most likely a tank unit, was hastily dug in and was waiting for a fight. The 4/7 Cavalry’s Bradleys were out of their element in such an engagement against Iraqi tanks. After more than an hour of fighting and making no progress, the 4/7 Cavalry began to pull back from the position where the Iraqis were dug in. In the confusion of the withdrawal, a US tank from an approaching unit fired at one of the Cavalry’s Bradleys, killing the gunner. Another 4/7 Cavalry vehicle was engaged by the US 2nd Armored Cavalry in the south. In the middle of this confusion, Iraqi fire hit and damaged nine of 13 M3 Cavalry fighting vehicles in addition to the two hit by friendly fire. Two soldiers of the 4/7 Cavalry were killed and 12 were wounded in the battle. When given the opportunity, the Iraqi Army could inflict serious losses on the attacking American forces.43

The Iraqi 9th Armored Brigade had stopped the advance of the US 1st Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division. In 12 hours and despite overwhelming fire power, this American brigade had moved forward only four kilometers. That minor tactical success, however, had little effect on the battle’s overall outcome. Before 9:00 pm, Major General Funk determined that his main effort was in the northern portion of his sector of operations, and prepared a deliberate attack to destroy the Iraqi units in the 2d Brigade’s zone of operations.

Funk’s main effort was in the northern portion of his sector where the 2nd Brigade attacked. Waiting less than ten kilometers behind the 2nd Brigade, was the 3rd Brigade. Its four battalions were eager to get into the fight at the first opportunity.44 Until 5:20 pm the 2nd Brigade moved in a wedge formation-with Task Force 4-8 Cavalry in the lead, Task Force 4-18 Infantry on the left and TF 3-8 Cavalry on the right-slowly through the Iraqi 29th Mechanized Brigade’s security zone, constantly fighting isolated Iraqi vehicles.45 Like its counterparts in the adjacent sector, this brigade of Iraqis prepared its defenses according to doctrine. Bunkers, dug in vehicles, and pre-planned fires, backed by determined soldiers, made a formidable defense.46

Funk now ordered his divisional artillery to pound the Iraqi positions with all the indirect fire he had available.47 Almost five battalions of artillery fired at identified and suspected targets in a nine square kilometer box. Then Funk ordered the launching of the 2-27 Attack Helicopter Battalion across the forward line of US troops and into the depths of the Iraqi operations zone.48 At 10:00 pm the 2nd brigade’s three battalions and supporting artillery undertook a coordinated combined arms attack. For the next four hours disciplined 2d Brigade tank and Bradley crews moved through the 29th Mechanized Brigade’s operations zone.

US tank companies bounded forward by platoons, using their thermal sights and stand-off range49 to engage Iraqi vehicles on their own terms. Out-ranged and unable to locate the source of the accurate fire they were receiving, the Republican Guard soldiers returned fire without any noticeable effect. Attack helicopters and multiple rocket launchers destroyed Iraqi artillery almost as soon as they fired. As the brigade line moved forward, Iraqi infantry forces emerged from their hiding places and tried to engage US tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from close range. These Iraqi soldiers had little chance of success as a line of infantry fighting vehicles, moving just behind the tanks, killed them with machine-gun fire.50

The Iraqi 29th Brigade commander continued to resist the American advance. He directed several counter-attacks by armored and mechanized platoons and companies. Many of those were effectively targeted against the 2nd Brigade’s left flank, but concentrated tank, Bradley, and artillery fire stopped these attacks before they could interfere with the 2nd Brigade’s progress. It was a confusing mèlée, with rounds flying in all directions.51 By 2:00 am, 27 February, the 2nd Brigade had fought through the 29th Iraqi Brigade’s first defensive echelon.52 The situation was now right for Funk to order the 3rd Brigade forward. That morning it passed through the 2nd Brigade’s front line and started the 3rd Armored Division’s attack at the rear of the Tawakalna Division, and beyond.53

The 3rd Armored Division’s battle against the Tawakalna illustrates that good tactics are just as important as good technology. Had Funk chosen to attack the Iraqi defenses without evaluating the enemy, deciding on a main effort, massing his forces and using his tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, attack helicopters and field artillery as they were designed, the outcome might have been different. At the same time that American units were overwhelming the Tawakalna’s left and center, another heavy division assaulted its exposed right flank.

RIGHT FLANK (NORTH)

While most of the Tawakalna Division commander’s attention was focused to his division’s front, its right flank was about to be attacked by a fourth American unit, the 1st Armored Division. Major General Ron Griffith’s primary military target had been the Medina Division about thirty kilometers father east,54  but one battalion of the Tawakalna’s 29th Mechanized Brigade occupied positions in Griffith’s 1st Armored Division’s zone of operations.55 That Iraqi battalion lay directly in the path of Colonel Dan Zanini’s (one of Griffith’s three maneuver brigades) 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division.56

Colonel Zanini synchronized the fight to maximize his fire power and minimize battlefield confusion. Artillery, Apache attack helicopters and mechanized infantry fired their weapons at the Iraqi defenders in order to prevent them from returning accurate fire as one of his tank battalions (Task Force 1-37 Armor) began moving in the dark towards the Iraqi defenses. This battalion’s forty-five M1A1 tanks moved abreast towards the Iraqis at less than ten kilometers per hour. About 1,000 meters behind the tanks moved the battalion’s infantry company mounted on its Bradleys, to help destroy any threat to their rear. As the tanks moved forward, the overwatching infantry battalion began firing illumination rounds from its mortar platoon. The brigade commander then turned the fight over to the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Dyer.57

As was the case with the entire Tawakalna division, the Iraqi soldiers fought hard. Many Iraqi tanks kept their engines off in order to defeat the American thermal sights. Those vehicles were often located because of the strange white spots, the tank commander’s head, seemingly suspended in thin air.58 The Iraqi tanks that were not hit were able to turn their turrets and attack the M1s in their flanks and rear. Iraqi infantry moved in three to five second rushes in order to get close to attacking vehicles. Burning vehicles and explosions “washed out” the thermal sights and made it difficult for US forces to locate Iraqi tanks. In that confusion, the 29th Iraqi Armored Brigade knocked out four M1 tanks, wounding six US soldiers.59

The Iraqi brigade, however, never had a chance. It was attacked by Task Force 1/37 Armor, the tank battalion with the best gunnery skills in the entire US Army.60 When TF 1/37 had completed its assault, the Iraqi unit was in shambles. Because of luck, training, and the effectiveness of the Abrams’ enhanced armor, there were no American fatalities. In the sector swept by the 1st Brigade, two Iraqi tank companies and one mechanized infantry company (approximately 24 T-72 tanks and 14 BMP infantry fighting vehicles) had become burning hulks.61

THE DEEP BATTLE 62

At the same time the American ground forces were demolishing the front line of the Tawakalna, US attack helicopters, jet aircraft, and artillery were simultaneously attacking the Iraqi division throughout the depth of its defensive zone. The primary targets included artillery batteries, command posts and supply depots.

As soon as the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment made contact with the Tawakalna Division around 4:30 pm, 26 February, the battle began. Artillery from the Regiment’s field artillery batteries and the 210 Field Artillery Brigade pounded the second line of Iraqi troops. Those missions destroyed troops and supply installations and interfered with the Tawakalna’s command and control.63 The 2/1 Attack Helicopter Battalion, working for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, struck at artillery and support areas to the rear of the Iraqi lines. It destroyed at least two artillery batteries and dozens of vehicles and support installations along the IPSA Pipeline road.64

This assault continued until the 1st US Infantry Division passed through the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 1/1 Attack Helicopter Battalion then attacked the 18th Iraqi Mechanized and 9th Iraqi Armored Brigade’s second line of troops at 9:00 pm, on 26 February.65 The attack prevented the Iraqi artillery from interfering with the 1st Infantry’s passage of lines. From the time the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment made contact, on the night of 26 February, until the following morning when the 1st Infantry Division cleared Objective Norfolk, the Iraqi soldiers of the 18th and 37th Brigades received no respite from constant ground, artillery, and air attack.

The situation was the same in the US 3rd Armored Division zone of operations. Its constant pounding of Iraqi combat and combat service support units made Iraqi counterattacks, resupply or reinforcement almost impossible. Those incessant attacks destroyed Iraqi artillery, broke up units assembling for counter-attacks, and thoroughly disrupted Iraqi command and control. When the 3rd Brigade passed through at dawn on 27 February, there were no more Iraqi strong points to slow the attack. The Iraqi commander had no way of countering the effects of these deep attacks. He had no choice but to stand and fight or surrender. Most of the soldiers in this proud division, like its commander, fought and died.66

CONCLUSIONS

Soon after the 1st Armored Division’s attack started at 8 PM on 26 February, the 3rd Armored Division launched an attack just to the south of the 1st Division. One hour later, the 1st Infantry Division passed through the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and captured all of Objective Norfolk. Franks had wanted to slam into the Republican Guards with a “three division fist.”67 That is exactly what he did. Franks defeated the Tawakalna Division by massing six brigades and an armored cavalry regiment against it, and flanking it to the north and south with two more brigades. Attack helicopters and long range artillery systems had bombed the Tawakalna beforehand.

The Tawakalna division commander, who probably perished in the battle, never had an opportunity to maneuver, use reserves, or even use his artillery with any effect. His spirited defense, however, confirmed Frank’s concern that the Republican Guard did not enter the battle already defeated. They did not run away, and fought with extreme bravery. American battle reports cite the bravery of the determined Tawakalna defenders. This division had good equipment. Unfortunately, they did not know how to use it fully. For example, they did not know how to employ their equipment to ensure that they had local security, allowing the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment to gain contact with them without discovery. The Tawakalna division was unable, regularly, to hit the targets at which they aimed with their tanks and anti-tank guided missiles. Seldom did the Tawakalna division effectively use their artillery or air defense artillery.68

More important than problems in using equipment, The Tawakalna division was simply, overwhelmed. It was the application of the US Army’s Airland Battle doctrine,69 executed by well-trained, equipped and motivated soldiers, that defeated the Iraqi forces. By dawn on 27 February 1991, the Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division had ceased to exist.

With the destruction of the Tawakalna Division, Franks was able to focus the combat power of the 7th Corps towards the other heavy divisions of the Republican Guard Forces Command. Although part of the Medina Division would stand and fight against the 1st US Armored Division, the Iraqi high command ordered the Hammurabi Division to start moving north, across the Euphrates River and away from the American attack in the west. The Tawakalna Division’s defense gave the remainder of the Iraqi Army in Kuwait the time it needed to evacuate most of its mechanized forces to Basra.

 

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