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Histories for 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, INDIA Co. 1st Platoon

Task Force Papa Bear
G-Day As General Myatt moved north he received disturbing news from Colonel Fulford. Prisoners captured by Task Force Ripper indicated that a counter- attack was going to come from "out of the flames." A captured map confirmed prisoner accounts. However, it was not conclusive and burning wellheads existed along the division's entire front. Myatt sensed that the phrase meant the attack would come from the Al Burqan Oilfield. In his analysis he saw the oilfield as the only area capable of hiding a large enemy force. If correct, the attack threatened to hit Task Force Papa Bear on the division's right flank. Up to that point, Task Force Papa Bear had played a limited role as the division reserve in support of Task Force Ripper's main attack. The task force was to begin moving to its attack position at 0200, but Colonel Hodory set it creeping forward in advance of the scheduled hour. At 0533 Task Force Papa Bear crossed Phase Line Black and entered Kuwait in column formation led by 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, followed by the engineer task force (1st Combat Engineer Battalion Detachment), 1st Tank Battalion, and 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. By 0745 the task force reached its attack position. Task Force Papa Bear remained at its attack position until 0905 when the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, began breaching the first obstacle belt to the east of Task Force Ripper's lanes. The obstacle belt consisted of a barbed wire fence marking its forward edge, an anti-personnel and antitank minefield (120 meters deep at that point) and a rear-boundary barbed wire fence. No cover existed to protect the assaulting force, but the Iraqis chose not to defend this part of the first obstacle belt. By 0940, the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, completed its two lanes and deployed into the desert beyond to establish the task force breachhead 2,000 meters deep by 3,000 meters wide. The 1st Tank Battalion followed and moved north to secure the center of the breachhead. There, it began receiving enemy artillery fire. Though sporadic, the firing continued against Company D until the forward air controller with Company C, 3d Tank Battalion, Task Force Ripper, spotted and destroyed the Iraqi observation tower. Colonel Hodory followed 1st Tank Battalion with his command group and 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, which immediately turned southeast to cover the right flank. Meanwhile, the engineer task force completed two additional lanes and moved to the northern side of the minefield where it rearmed for the second breach. During the next several hours Task Force Papa Bear gradually expanded the breachhead while preparing to penetrate the next obstacle belt. The forward air controller with 1st Tank Battalion directed a series of Cobra and Harrier strikes against enemy tanks and positions near the proposed breach site. The air attacks destroyed two tanks, two observation posts, a mortar position, and bunkers. Meanwhile, fire support and scout teams from the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, began reconnoitering the second obstacle belt, but enemy direct and indirect fire interrupted the attempt. Colonel Hodory countered with further air strikes by a section of Cobras and four AV-8B Harriers. Under the direction of an OV- 10 FAC(A) the Marine aircraft destroyed another forward observation tower, two more mortar positions, two T-55 tanks, and one bunker. By 1205 all of Task Force Papa Bear's assault battalions and Colonel Hodory with the "Alpha" command group were through the first breach. Colonel Hodory moved north and completed arrangements for breaching the second minefield. With Task Force Ripper getting ready for its swing west at Al Jaber, General Myatt wanted Task Force Papa Bear quickly through the second belt. He needed it to cover Ripper's flank, and to establish a breachhead large enough for the landing of Task Force X-Ray before darkness made movement too risky. Yet, the Iraqis were clearly alert and seemed determined to resist. This made a hasty breach necessary and Colonel Hodory began consolidating and repositioning the task force for the assault. At 1400 the task force combat trains were on the north side of the first breach and ready to support follow-on Operations. By 1500, the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, had completed its displacement to a new position north of the first belt and began neutralizing Iraqi positions. Meanwhile, amid sporadic artillery and mortar fire, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, started deploying for the assault on the second obstacle belt. As the Marines neared the minefield they got their first sight of the burning wellheads of the Al Burqan Oilfield. By 1320 everything was in place and Colonel Hodory sent the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, against the second obstacle belt defended by the Iraqi 22d Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division. The same problems with line charges experienced by Task Force Ripper and Task Force Papa Bear's first breach continued. At 1600, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, obstacle-clearing detachments successfully opened lane 2. The effort to clear lane 1 stopped when an anti- tank mine knocked out an M-60A 1 roller-equipped tank. The tank blocked the lane. Lane 1?s combat engineers began work on another lane while the battalion's assaulting companies moved to lane 2 and started through. No sooner had the first company penetrated the minefield than it engaged five T-55 tanks attempting to withdraw and destroyed two. The assault force pressed on to widen the breachhead. Then, enemy mortar fire fell on the advancing Marines causing 10 casualties among a group clearing bunkers. While corpsmen treated and evacuated the wounded, the 3d Battalion continued its assault on the 22d Brigade's trenches. Assisted by AH-1W Cobras, artillery fire from 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, and organic 81 mm mortars, the 3d Battalion fought its way through a strong antitank and mortar position. When the position fell, hundreds of Iraqi soldiers began surrendering. During the 3d Battalion's assault, 1st Tank Battalion moved through the single open lane. At 1615 it swung east and attacked an enemy force consisting of revetted tanks and dug-in infantry. Tracers crisscrossed the gray sky as Marine units closed on the Iraqis. When the TOW company moved into position on the battalion's right flank, it unhinged the Iraqi defense by destroying six T- 55 tanks. Company B's forward air controller directed a flight of AH-1W Cobras against another group of tanks. Their TOW missiles accounted for an additional eight T-55s. The Iraqi defense came apart. Company I, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines (attached to 1st Tank Battalion), no sooner reached the enemy position than it became inundated by 650 Iraqi soldiers wanting to surrender. In the gathering darkness, while Company I handled the prisoners, 1st Tank Battalion pushed its antitank company into the oilfield as a screen. One of the TOW-equipped HMMWVs no sooner got in position than it encountered a T- 55 whose crew still wanted to fight. Following a short engagement, the Iraqi tank exploded in flames after a direct hit by a TOW missile. At 1700 Colonel Hodory brought the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, into the breach. The battalion moved directly north where it encountered resistance. Company B and a platoon of TOWs destroyed three tanks and three armored personnel carriers in the fight. The company forward air controller directed a flight of AH-1W Cobras and knocked out four armored personnel carriers. Meanwhile Company A moved to the battalion's right flank where it engaged enemy vehicles and infantry. Colonel Hodory then detached the uncommitted 1st Battalion's Company D, which had just gone through the breach, to assist the 1st Tank Battalion with its prisoners. Colonel Hodory moved into the breachhead with his "Alpha" command group in trace of the 1st Tank Battalion. During the tank battalion's engagement Colonel Hodory located the command post in the center of the task force position. He kept the "Bravo" command group south of the minefield. From there it coordinated the movement of units into the only functioning lane at the time. Work on clearing additional lanes continued. The obstacle-clearing detachments completed an alternate lane and the engineer task force moved to the minefield and began work clearing two additional lanes. Work on lane 3 suddenly stopped when another M60A1 tank struck a mine. By then it was getting dark. Colonel Hodory consolidated his position. He turned over lane control to the regimental S-4 and moved "Bravo" command group north to his location. He established a temporary enemy prisoner camp on the north side of the breach. Continuing resistance, however, caused Hodory to leave the logistics trains and the engineer task force on the south side. Papa Bear's assault battalions remained where they were and completed the formation of a breachhead into the Al Burqan Oil field. The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, occupied the left sector of Task Force Papa Bear's zone. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, moved north into the oilfields to anchor the center of the line. The 1st Tank Battalion faced east and the open desert on the right flank. Though enemy resistance diminished, the area of the breakthrough remained volatile. "Bravo" command group, traveling in a lightly armed AAVC7Al, no sooner cleared the minefield than it came under fire from a T-55. A missile fired from an accompanying HMMWV mounted TOW knocked out the Iraqi tank. The assault battalions spent the next few hours sweeping their areas and making final dispositions in a landscape littered with enemy bunkers, revetted positions, and wrecked tanks, personnel carriers, and vehicles of all types. Behind the task force, between the two obstacle belts, moved support units of the 1st Marine Division as they took up night defensive positions in the gather- ing darkness. To the north the burning wells belched great columns of flame and smoke. The entire Al Burqan Oilfield seemed to be on fire and no one knew what enemy force might be lurking there, if indeed any Iraqis remained in the oilfield at all. Light from burning wells overpowered thermal sights and smoke obscured the area. Growing concern about what lay in front of the division prompted General Myatt to have Colonel Hodory push Papa Bear's antitank screen several kilometers into the oilfield at 2100 that evening. At 2330 General Myatt gave Task Force Papa Bear a new mission. Myatt wanted to consolidate the division position before resuming the offensive. Like a snake getting ready to strike, he began building combat power for the next day's attack on Kuwait International Airport and Kuwait City. Myatt ordered Task Force Papa Bear to defend east and northeast to cover the landing of Task Force X-Ray and to protect the division's right flank until Colonel Howard got all five artillery battalions repositioned in the morning. Once X-Ray and the artillery were in place, General Myatt gave Colonel Hodory an "on order" mission to continue attacking northeast. As Colonel Hodory planned his new mission General Myatt reassessed the tactical situation. For the most part the offensive had gone very much as planned. The division had finished the day on planned objectives. Four artillery battalions were already in position to support the continuing attack and Colonel Howard planned to move the last battalion, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, early the next morning. During G-Day, the artillery fired 1,346 rounds, mostly rocket assisted projectiles (RAP), in support of the task forces, yet ammunition supplies were still plentiful. G Plus 1, 25 February 1991: `Possible enemy attack' At 0109 General Myatt saw the Iraqi maps captured by Task Force Ripper and heard the statements by several captured officers that began to concern him that a counterattack was imminent. However, for a time, he and his headquarters staff continued to focus on the Jaber area--that was where the original concentration of Iraqi artillery (and the greatest threat to the division) had been. As the night wore on further intelligence reported an armor/mechanized brigade- size force and an armor brigade to the northeast. If correct, the two brigades were well positioned to strike the division's front and right flanks. Attempts to confirm the location of the enemy units failed because of the flames and smoke rising from the burning Al Burqan Oilfield. Intercepts of Iraqi radio traffic soon convinced General Myatt that the enemy was going to attempt something. He then alerted his commanders and reassessed the division's defenses. The position was as well laid out as allowed by the chaotic conditions of the previous evening. In front of Task Forces Ripper and Papa Bear, Myatt had Lieutenant Colonel Myers establish a screen with LAVs, antitank HMMWVs, and scout teams. The main line consisted of a series of battalion battle positions. Commanders placed tanks and antitank weapons to the front to favor their integral thermal and night vision devices. General Myatt made adjustments to the division's defenses. He judged his front to be thinly defended and lacking a sufficient antitank strength. He also concluded that the division command post was too far forward in its location just south of the thinly defended lines near the Emir's Farm. The placement of the forward command post at that location reflected Major General Myatt's belief that the commander should be as far forward as possible. There were practical reasons as well. Brigadier General Draude wanted to have the headquarters out of the fire sack between the two obstacle belts, and Myatt wanted to be in the best location for organizing and launching the next day's attack. Only Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, occupied that portion of the line. General Myatt decided to reinforce Company C with the nearest unit available, a LAV company from Task Force Shepherd. Accordingly, at 0645, Company B, Task Force Shepherd linked up with Company C in front of division headquarters. Few in the company expressed any joy over the assignment. After six months in the desert, they wanted to get into the fight, but so far the war seemed to pass them by. During the engagement of 29-30 January at OP 4, Lieutenant Colonel Myers did not commit Company B until the end. On G-Day the company scarcely fired a shot. Now, just as the division launched its final attack, Company B got an assignment which promised little combat. Captain Eddie S. Ray, the company commander, was so upset about the assignment that he approached Brigadier General Draude and asked if the company could be returned to the line as soon as feasible. General Draude understood Captain Ray's frustration but advised him that the company was needed in front of the division command post for the time being. As events turned out, Company B's departure from Task Force Shepherd put it in position as the center piece in the most important engagement fought by the 1st Marine Division during the war. General Myatt made another fortunate adjustment to the division's defensive lines. Concerned about what enemy units might be hiding in the Al Burqan Oilfield, he ordered the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, to conduct a reconnaissance in force into the oilfield at first light. By waiting for dawn, Myatt hoped to avoid friendly fire casualties. In the period of time necessary for Lieutenant Colonel Humble to orient the division for the drive to the Kuwait International Airport, General Myatt wanted a thorough probe of the oilfield, even though the Iraqi attack had so far failed to develop. Other intelligence information coming to division headquarters indicated that the enemy was building a sizable counterattack force. At 0730, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, attacked into the Al Burqan towards Gathering Center 4. It found movement difficult. A combination of thick black smoke and morning fog reduced visibility to 200 meters and less. Myatt decided to mass the fire from the five artillery battalions to disrupt the attack before it got organized. The 11th Marines quickly responded. Nevertheless, Brigadier General Draude found the time required to shift the guns to be "agonizingly slow?. At 0753 when he received the order, Colonel Howard had only one battery oriented to the area, but two brief orders from the regimental fire direction center massed every available artillery piece against the separated Iraqi brigades. Howard fired on the targets in sequence with the order: "Regiment; four rounds DPICM or RAP as range appropriate; Time on Target, 0817" against the armored-mechanized brigade, and: "Regiment; four rounds DPICM or RAP as range appropriate; Time on Target, 0820" against the site of the armored brigade. As directed, at 0817 11 batteries from four battalions fired on the first target. A barrage of 244 rounds fell on the Iraqi 22d Bri- gade, 5th Mechanized Division. Three minutes later, 13 batteries from five battalions shifted to the site of intelligence subsequently discovered to be the Iraqi 15th Brigade, 3d Armored Division and fired a barrage of 496 rounds of RAP and DPICM. The enemy did not immediately respond to the Marine artillery. The Iraqi attack began from the east with a feint against the left flank. followed by large-scale assaults against the right flank and center. The first attack struck Task Forces Shepherd and Task Force Ripper at about 0515. To the Marines of Company D, Task Force Shepherd, the assault seemed reminiscent of the engagement at OP 4. Under cover of an overcast and dark night an Iraqi column made its way south towards Al Jaber guiding on a north- south running power line. When Company D spotted the enemy vehicles they opened a running fight, hitting the Iraqis with a combination of TOW missiles and 25mm fire. Slowly moving south, Company D knocked out five enemy tanks and one truck from the rear of the column. The main line of Task Force Ripper engaged the column's front when it came in range. By 0620 the 3d Tank Battalion's TOWs found themselves in an intense firefight with 20 vehicles and an unspecified number of dismounted infantry. The TOW fire soon dispersed the attacking force which ended the first Iraqi assault. Meanwhile, Colonel Hodory on the division's right flank held an "orders group" to discuss General Myatt's changes to the task force mission and the possibility of an Iraqi attack. The meeting proved difficult to put together. Dense fog enveloped the area and reduced visibility to 100 meters. Unit commanders with their operations officers found getting to regimental headquarters an arduous exercise. They groped through fog and smoke so thick that some never got to the meeting on time and needed to be briefed separately. Consequently, the "orders group? took longer than intended. The fog proved as much a problem for the Iraqis as it did for the Marines. It disoriented the enemy force. Instead of striking Marine lines with mass, the attack dissipated and drifted into Task Force Papa Bear. Some enemy units collided with positions along the main line, some slipped past and moved into the center of the task force. The first encounter surprised both sides. An enemy force aiming for the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, missed the Marine battalion and kept driving until coming into contact with the task force headquarters. At 0800 Colonel Hodory and his staff were still briefing late arriving commanders when a T-55 tank and three Type-63 armored personnel carriers emerged from the fog and halted about 50 meters from where Colonel Hodory stood. The tank sat motionless with its gun perfectly sighted on Hodory's command vehicles. It never fired. Instead, the brigade commander came forward and surrendered to the astonished Marines. When questioned, he revealed that his force made up part of the 22d Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division assigned to attack the American right flank. When questioned further, he explained that he no longer wished to fight nor did the group accompanying him. However, he could not speak for those behind him in the fog. As Colonel Hodory digested this information, the rest of the Iraqi force began an attack on the task force command post with tank and automatic weapons fire. The task force S-3, Major John H. Turner, saw that: We had main gun rounds, machine gun tracers and even 5.56mm fire (from India 3/9) coming through the CP. I remember hitting the deck for the first time during the war and I saw tracers going through the CP from east to west at knee height. The headquarters countered with a combination of MK-19s, machine guns, and light antitank weapons. In ten minutes, they destroyed or disabled one enemy tank and several armored personnel carriers, and forced the Iraqis to retreat into the fog. Colonel Hodory notified commanders that headquarters was under attack by a brigade-size force. He told 1st Tank Battalion to expect the Iraqi assault to come in an easterly direction, parallel to the second obstacle belt. That information required the 1st Tank Battalion, which had already faced north in anticipation of resuming the division attack, to redeploy facing east. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michael M. Kephart, then called the company commanders in for a meeting. However, the briefing had scarcely begun when battalion headquarters suddenly came under enemy automatic weapons fire. As bright yellow tracers cut across the Marine position company commanders quickly returned to their units and the battalion prepared to first contain the attack, then launch a counter-thrust. The first response consisted of Dragon and light antitank fire from the dug-in Company I, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, attached to 1st Tank Battalion. Struck on its flank and startled by American fire from the unseen unit, the Iraqi attack faltered. The tank battalion used the opportunity to reposition its companies for a counterattack to the east, Company D deployed on the left and Company C on the right. Colonel Admire supported the tank battalion's drive by moving 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, to a location adjacent to the second obstacle belt. The 1st Tank Battalion redeployed to meet the enemy assault. The dense fog and the limited capabilities of night-vision gunsights threatened even greater confusion if any of the companies got out of position. The two companies managed the movement without difficulty and once they got into position, 1st Tank Battalion's counterattack began. A deep rumbling from engines and the high-pitched squeaking of tank tracks replaced the sound of enemy fire as Companies C and D moved forward on their 2,000-meter jab through the Iraqi brigade. Marine tanks and antitank HMMWVs paused only long enough to sight and fire on enemy vehicles. The TOWs were the first to get engaged and they knocked out six enemy tanks. Lieutenant Colonel Kephart then switched the TOWs north to guard the battalion's left flank and give the tanks a clear field of fire. Company C destroyed more than 18 enemy vehicles. Company D supported the main attack and destroyed whatever managed to get past Company C. Not everything went smoothly for the Marine tankers. Corporal Motley, a tank commander in Company C, spotted a T-55 and swung his turret at the target. Giving orders to his gunner, Corporal Irwin, Motley shouted out the target and type of main gun round to be fired: "Gunner, Sabot, Tank!" Irwin attempted to fire the gun but experienced a misfire. Corporal Motley then switched Irwin to the main gun's co-ax machine gun only to have that misfire, as did his position's .50-caliber machine gun. Another tank then engaged the T-55. During the course of the Iraqi counterattack the fog lifted. As it did, a forward air controller in an OV-10 Bronco spotted a build-up of enemy armor to the northeast. Marine fighter-attack aircraft took advantage of the improved visibility and bombarded the Iraqi force. Seriously weakened, the enemy unit fled. At about 1000, a second force began assembling to the southeast. The clearing fog enabled 1st Tank Battalion's TOW weapons to swing into action. Firing at extended ranges, they scored numerous tank and vehicle hits before being joined in the attack by AH-1W Cobras. Major Turner saw from the vantage point of Task Force Papa Bear's command post located "about 1,500 meters west of the battle, we could see enemy tanks and APCs bursting into flames.? Struck simultaneously by air and ground fire, the Iraqis lost vehicles and personnel. No further attacks developed, and by 1100 the 1st Tank Battalion controlled the battlefield. Remnants of the enemy force soon surrendered or withdrew north through the burning wells. In a fight lasting three hours, the battalion had successfully stopped an attack by two Iraqi Brigades (the 501st Brigade, 8th Infantry Division, and the 22d Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division). The enemy lost 50 tanks disabled, 25 armored personnel carriers destroyed, and 300 prisoners taken. There were no Marine casualties. At 1100, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, remained heavily engaged in a fight of its own. Having departed its positions at 0730 to clear the Al Burqan Oilfield through Gathering Center 4, the battalion proceeded slowly, moving north for over an hour when, at 0915, it ran into the southern flank of an enemy force counterattacking from the east. The engagement began when the 1st Platoon, Company B, the battalion heavy machine guns' "Baker Team," and the 1st Section, 4th Platoon, Antitank (TOW) Company, 1St Tank Battalion, came in contact with mechanized infantry from the Iraqi 15th Mechanized infantry Brigade, 3d Armored Division. All of Company B soon joined the fight and, by 0930, it destroyed three armored personnel carriers and captured 29 enemy soldiers. The 1st Battalion resumed its movement north with Company B on the left, Company A in the center, and Company D on the right. Companies A and B fought several company-size enemy units during their drive through the burning oilfields. Company D struck the 2d Battalion, 15th Mechanized Brigade and captured more than 400 prisoners including an Iraqi battalion commander. While moving through the oil field, the battalion came abreast of an LAV screen consisting of Companies A, C, and D, Task Force Shepherd. Because of the thick smoke that often reduced visibility in that area of the battlefield to less than 50 meters the two units maintained constant communications using 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, tactical radio net. The frequent cross-checking successfully avoided friendly fire incidents while the LAVs and mechanized infantry maneuvered against the Iraqis. By 1600 the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, reached the planned limit of its advance astride the "03? grid line. From the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Company B covered the battalion's left flank; Company A occupied the center on Hill 114; while Company D, which continued to sweep the area for prisoners, was to take position on Hill 127 covering the right flank (which it did at 1900 that evening). Company D was tied in on the right with 1st Tank Battalion. Both the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and the 1st Tank Battalion fought amid dense smoke. Unable to employ close air support and artillery, their tactics relied on TOW gunners using thermal sights. In spite of poor visibility, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, destroyed about 43 enemy vehicles and captured more than 500 prisoners. The battalion lost three Marines wounded when an RPG exploded in front of a scout vehicle.'59 The drive by the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, set off a chain of events. When the 1st Battalion proceeded north it encountered Iraqi units moving across the division front. The battalion halted the southern flank unit of a brigade-size enemy force, fixed it in place, and ultimately destroyed it. The other enemy units continued through the smoke and the fog, pivoted south, and, at 0930, collided with the 1st Marine Division Command Post; Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines; and Company B, Task Force Shepherd (both companies were reinforcing the forward command post). The first hint that something was amiss occurred soon after Company B arrived. Commanded by Captain Eddie S. Ray, the company had just gotten into position when one of its LAVs suddenly fired into the fog. That caught everyone's attention. There had been no radio communication and a quick check showed the firing to have been the result of an accidental discharge. However, no sooner did the company commander complete his investigation than 100 Iraqi soldiers appeared wanting to surrender. Spooked by the 25min gun fire, their arrival at a location already swept the previous day raised questions about what might be developing further Out in the fog and smoke. At first, Marines around the command post could only hear the low sound and rumble of moving tanks and vehicles. Then, the smoke and fog suddenly lifted to reveal an attacking force consisting of five T- 55s, 33 armored personnel carriers, and some dismounted infantry. A vicious firefight erupted as Company B, Task Force Shepherd, and Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, along with Marines assigned to the division forward command element, responded with TOW, AT-4, 25mm gun, and automatic weapons fire. Burning enemy vehicles began to litter the battlefield. After an hour of fighting the Iraqis withdrew into the fog. Marines around the division command post breathed a sigh of relief, none more so than the radio operators and staff personnel working inside the canvas headquarters tent. The Iraqis quickly reorganized. Fifteen minutes later, at about 1015, the enemy launched a second attack against the command post. The attack again withered under the intense Marine fire, now reinforced by several sections of Sea Cobras firing TOW missiles. Repulsed, the Iraqis withdrew behind the burning wells which obscured them from thermal sights. At about 1100 much of the fog and smoke dissipated and the enemy launched a third attack. On that occasion General Draude raised the side of the headquarters tent to provide command element staff with a panoramic view of the battlefield as Iraqi tanks and personnel carriers came under fire. Stopped again, the enemy force disintegrated with the loss of 320 soldiers captured, and two tanks and 27 armored personnel carriers destroyed. As soon as Iraqi pressure eased against the command post General Myatt repositioned the division for a resumption of the offensive. Task Force Papa Bear bore the brunt of the attack and consequently needed more time to adjust. At 1132 Task Force X-Ray flew to a landing zone adjacent to Task Force Papa Bear's breach lanes. Myatt attached it to Papa Bear, and Colonel Hodory held it south of the second obstacle belt until fighting ended in the 1st Tank Battalion's zone. Then he moved it overland to establish battle position X-Ray, a blocking position in the vicinity of the 1st Tank Battalion's previous location. That secured the division's eastern flank while the tank battalion reoriented north. Combat Service Support Detachment 11 moved into the battle area to resupply the 1st Tank Battalion; 3d Battalion, 9th Marines; and 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. As darkness fell Colonel Hodory brought up the engineers and logistics trains to locations north of the obstacle belt. As the division shook off the counterattack and redeployed further into the Al Burqan Oilfield, the burning wells came to play a significant part in General Myatt's tactical planning. Instead of bypassing the Al Burqan Oil field as originally decided--scientists said the burning wells produced toxins that made the area uninhabitable, thus it was seen as a barrier--the Iraqi attack proved that a large unit could operate and survive there. General Myatt had to adjust the advance of the division's right flank to encompass the oilfield. In effect, the change put Task Force Papa Bear, the division reserve, on an axis of advance through the oilfield that committed it to a series of engagements lasting the entire day. The engagements turned out to be as frequent and as fierce as those encountered in the main attack by Task Force Ripper. The burning wells belched thick black smoke that completely obscured the battlefield. Poor visibility concealed the three Iraqi brigades and enabled them to attack without being detected. As a result General Myatt needed to ensure the oilfield did not hide any more surprises. Rather than it being the barrier that division staff figured the Al Burqan Oil field to be, the counter-attack showed the area to be trafficable, an excellent tactical position in its own right. The Al Burqan Oilfield became an objective to be seized. The smoke affected all aspects of division operations. The division operational plan needed good visibility, 23 percent or better of moonlight, for night operations. However, by the end of the first day's operations, General Myatt discovered that the blowing smoke obscured the battlefield during the day and frequently rendered night vision devices inoperable. The inability to see in the dark forced Myatt to abandon the idea of large-scale night operations. Also, extensive smoke and cloud cover canceled out the use of fighter-attack aircraft and made it difficult even for AH- 1W Cobras to operate. On the third day of the ground attack, when the division moved into the heart of the Al Burqan Oilfield, the task forces found themselves frequently plunged into virtual darkness when wind shifts suddenly blanketed them under smoke too thick for sunlight to penetrate. Gunnery Sergeant Cochran noted at the time that: "It was like being in a black hole.? G Plus 2, 26 February 1991 The dawn of G Plus 2 was not characterized by the persistent fog encountered the morning before, and units quickly moved to their attack positions for the assault. Reports were coming into division headquarters that the Iraqi III Corps had received orders to withdraw. General Boomer did not want the III Corps to get away and, as part of I MEF's two-division attack, General Myatt directed Colonel Fulford to begin moving at 0654. Boomer wanted both divisions to attack on line and Fulford's first task was to move his task force north 10 kilometers to link up with the 8th Marines and the 2d Light Armored Infantry Battalion of the 2d Marine Division on his left flank. The battleground Task Force Ripper traversed was littered with enemy tanks and vehicles. Some showed obvious signs of destruction from air bombardment; other vehicles appeared intact but abandoned. However, some crews remained with their vehicles and waited in ambush. As Task Forces Ripper and Papa Bear advanced, each tank unit commander developed different policies for dealing with this threat. In Task Force Papa Bear, 1st Tank Battalion shot at everything. In Task Force Ripper, 3d Tank Battalion tested Iraqi vehicles with long-range machine gun fire to see if the enemy responded. If it did, a tank round or TOW missile followed and dispatched the Iraqi vehicle. The infantry battalions led with their scout detachments, which used TOW thermal sights to determine whether the enemy vehicle gave a "hot" or a "cold" signature. If the Iraqi vehicle or tank had its systems turned on and registered "hot" as a result, they engaged it. The frequent firefights interrupted the rapid advance with numerous stops and starts. By 0030 Colonel Hodory had Task Force Papa Bear positioned for the attack on Kuwait international Airport. Again designated the division reserve supporting Task Force Ripper, Papa Bear was not scheduled to begin its advance until 0800. This gave Colonel Hodory more than an hour of daylight to establish a column formation for the first part of the assault. He placed 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, in the lead, followed by 1st Tank Battalion, the engineers, and the combat trains. The 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, established a column of its own to the west and slightly behind the Engineers. Papa Bear's formation did not include the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, stationed to the north in the Al Burqan Oilfield. It remained there following its attack the previous day. It would stay there until the task force began its advance then move west along a line of power lines to join the main body when Papa Bear came abreast.'~ The movement took place as planned. After the 1st Battalion established contact with Papa Bear and the task force cleared the Al Burqan Oilfield, Colonel Hodory reformed the task force with 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, on the right and 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, on the left. He placed 1st Tank Battalion in the center, followed by the engineer task force. Moving north through clouds of black smoke, at 1100, Papa Bear passed Phase Line Red. By 1300 it reached Phase Line Diane where it stopped alongside Task Force Ripper. On the journey north, the task force moved over a landscape littered with tanks, antitank and antiaircraft guns, and vehicles of all types. Iraqi soldiers surrendered along the entire route. The second phase of the movement to Kuwait International Airport did not promise to be as easy. Though Marine commanders knew the Iraqis were retreating, the area in front of the 1st Marine Division remained defended. The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, found the enemy quite active. As the battalion waited at the line of departure, CAAT 2 received sporadic small arms fire from a group of buildings about 600 meters northeast of the battalion. Remembering the previous day's ambush, Lieutenant Colonel Mattis struck back with everything the battalion had. In a matter of minutes, artillery, mortars, machine guns, MK- 19 40mm grenades, and LAAW fire rained in on the Iraqis. Tracer fire snaked into the buildings and explosions ripped them apart. When the smoke cleared the buildings lay in ruins with their occupants dead or dying. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, adopted a less dramatic approach. Taking advantage of the waiting period, the battalion launched a preemptive strike. Its ?Able Team" and TOW section moved forward to clear the immediate area in front of the battalion. In their assault they found 10 abandoned T-62s, 10 AT-12s, large quantities of ammunition, and enemy soldiers wanting only to surrender. At 1330 the division sat immobile as task force commanders and regimental operations officers (S-3s) met with General Myatt and division forward staff to finalize plans for the attack on the Kuwait International Airport. Myatt ordered TF Ripper to seize the highway northwest of the airport and establish blocking positions to support Task Force Papa Bear's drive to isolate the airport from the south. Task Force Shepherd was to skirt the east side of the airport and seize the highway system to the northeast and secure the division's right flank and isolate the airport from the east. Once it had the airport surrounded, Task Force Taro was to move north by truck convoy and secure the airfield complex. Task Force Grizzly remained at Al Jaber. Following this meeting, the task force commanders returned to their units and held their own "orders groups. " Some units shifted position as commanders made minor adjustments to their formations. General Myatt directed the maneuver battalions to hold their lead elements at Phase Line Margaret until cleared to move to Phase Line Green. It was about 1400 when 2d Marine Division units linked up with the left flank of the 1st Marine Division. The initial meeting proved the problems commanders faced contending with the fog and blowing smoke. As the flank elements of both divisions came within sight of each other, poor visibility caused some AAVs carrying 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, to mistake the AAVs of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, as Iraqi vehicles. Firing their .50-caliber machine guns at a range of 1,000 meters into the battalion's combat train, the 2d Marine Division AAVs closed to within 500 meters before seeing they were firing on Marine vehicles and returned to their zone. The advance of Task Force Ripper ultimately exposed its right flank. With 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, heavily engaged in clearing the obstacle belt, at 1620 Colonel Fulford asked General Myatt to launch Task Force Papa Bear's attack. Ten minutes later Papa Bear crossed Phase Line Diane. Visibility deteriorated As the task force moved into the same weather conditions confronting Task Force Ripper's Marines. Unit commanders found themselves fighting problems generated by circumstances and the environment as much as they did the enemy. The position location and reporting system (PLRS) suddenly went out when the master station relocated to keep pace with the rapid advance. Normally, operations officers used the global positioning system to cover periods when PLRS failed to work; however, it also failed. Commanders immediately returned to standard desert navigation techniques using compasses and constant odometer checks. That worked to a point. Papa Bear's advance took it into the heart of the Magwa Oil field (which made up the northern part of the Al Burqan Oilfield) complex of wells, over-ground pipes, and power lines. Frequent twists and turns got the task force around most obstacles but challenged navigational abilities. Unfortunately, smoke, blowing sand, and darkness obscured terrain features, making progress slow and halting. Task Force Papa Bear remained channeled by the burning wells and above- ground pipelines. Colonel Hodory organized the task force into two columns. The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, made up the balance of the left-hand column and spearheaded Papa Bear's attack. The task force headquarters followed in trace. The right-hand column consisted of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, followed by the 1st Tank Battalion. Colonel Hodory placed the engineer task force behind the 1st Tank Battalion. In order to cover TF Ripper's flank, the columns pressed forward. They bypassed numerous abandoned Iraqi positions and saved time by directing surrendering Iraqi soldiers towards follow-on units. At 1730 the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, arrived at Phase Line Margaret and soon after encountered the obstacle belts. The battalion found two barbed-wire belts in front of it instead of one. Breaching operations began and, unopposed by the enemy, the 3d Battalion's combat engineers quickly cleared lanes through the two belts. At about 1800 the battalion completed its passage of the belts and started moving toward an agricultural area just south of the airfield perimeter road. That proved to be the last Iraqi defensive position between Task Force Papa Bear and the Kuwait International Airport. Occupied by elements of the Iraqi 20th infantry Regiment, 3d Armored Division, the position consisted of a complex of bunkers and fighting positions supported by armored personnel carriers and tanks. Most defenders chose not to fight and the sporadic resistance scarcely hindered the 3d Battalion's advance. However, the near-zero visibility and the sandstorm combined to make progress difficult and slowed its movement to a crawl around the wells, pipelines, and the occasional oil lakes. It took the battalion until 2300 to locate and cut through the perimeter fence of the airport to establish a small breachhead. The right-hand column experienced similar conditions. At about 1815, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, crossed Phase Line Margaret and began its attack east toward a radio station located next to the perimeter road. Smoke obscured everything. Only TOW thermal sights provided a view of what lay ahead. Slowly the battalion felt its way north and into an area containing numerous tanks and armored personnel carriers manned by crews determined, for once, to resist. Several firefights developed as Marine and Iraqi vehicles exchanged tank and machine gun fire. Leaving burning Iraqi vehicles behind, the battalion brushed aside opposition, bypassed surrendering soldiers, and pressed north to the obstacle belt. No sooner were they past the barbed-wire and minefield than lead elements of the 1st Battalion saw two enemy vehicles through their thermal sights. The Iraqis attempted to flee west at high speed only to be stopped when TOW missiles slammed into their vehicles. Two of the Iraqis died in the explosions and the dazed but surviving six passengers surrendered. They were all officers. Later, when closer to the airport, an armored personnel carrier bolted from concealment in an attempt to get to the highway. A TOW missile hit and disabled the vehicle and it stopped between the 1st Battalion and task force headquarters. Instead of surrendering, the survivors dismounted and began shooting. Marines from Company D returned fire, killing them. The incident turned out to be the battalion's last firefight. At 2200 the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, reached the radio tower and established positions alongside the airport perimeter road. The 1st Tank Battalion initially followed 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. Numerous oilfield pipelines obstructed its route and there were frequent halts and detours as the battalion moved to get past these barriers. Occasionally, Iraqis bypassed by the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and fired on the Marine tanks, but the engagements which ensued always left the enemy's vehicles destroyed and burning. The congested area and appalling visibility was an unnerving experience for the tankers. Second Lieutenant James D. Gonzales, Company C, 3d Tank Battalion, later wrote: It was an obvious chokepoint, kind of like the classic ambushes you learn about in school. We could go forward, or back out the way we came. Unfortunately, the entire 1st Marine Division lay behind us, so going back was not an option. Eight-foot berms to our right and a dense orchard on our left, left us with only one option: push forward down the narrow road to out front. ?Move out, Red. Take it slowly and keep an eye on those trees. They've got bunkers in there," the 1st Platoon commander called out over the net. Not only were there bunkers--but bunkers filled with ammo. One tank had just pumped 100 .50-cal rounds into one twenty minutes earlier and it was still burning ferociously. I watched as 1st Platoon crept its way down the road. They were at great risk and everyone knew it. We were all tense, maybe the most thus far. What lay ahead? They could really hurt us right here. Oh well, everything was going good so far. All of a sudden: BOOM! BOOM! Two bright flashes followed by massive secondary explosions lit up the sky. My heart dropped through my stomach. Both explosions came from near the head of the column. An ambush! They got us! "Speak to me, Red! Red, speak to me! What's going on up there?" Skipper tried to sound calm but couldn't hide his concern. Silence. It must have been our tanks. "Red! Red! Speak to me!" More silence. Oh God! I can't believe they got us. I wanted to throw up. It was all so unbelievable. Would we be next? Still, no response. "Any Red element, any red element, this is Gold. What's going on up there?" "Roger, Gold, this is Red. Destroyed two enemy trucks." Thank God! Trucks! Oh, that's right. We had all forgotten about the last intel report which mentioned a parking lot along our route toward the airport. As resistance collapsed the battalion completed the last kilometers without further enemy interference. The 1st Tank Battalion had reached its battle position alongside the airport perimeter road on the task force's right flank by 2100. By midnight, the 1st Marine Division had achieved its primary objective, cutting off the Kuwait International Airport. Enemy resistance had collapsed. It only remained for Task Force Shepherd to move into position for the final push to physically occupy the airport itself. Behind the mechanized task forces, Task Force Grizzly succeeded in taking Al Jaber in a dawn attack by 2d Battalion, 7th Marines. The infantrymen cleared the buildings. "With minimal vocalization they quickly secured their objective," Sergeant Grow observed. Task Force Grizzly spent the day carefully clearing every bunker in the complex. At 1500 Colonel Fulks felt satisfied the airfield was clear and announced I MEF Objective A secure. Even before the declaration, however, combat service support personnel arrived and installed a forward air refueling point. G Plus 3, 27 February 1991 It took Task Force Shepherd three hours to find its way through the darkness and reach the airport perimeter. Shepherd first moved south on the coastal highway, then west along the perimeter hard-surface road to approach the airport from the south side. As the LAVs moved in, Colonel Hodory relocated the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, to positions outside the fence-line, thus clearing an area for Task Force Shepherd's assault. Observation of the airport with thermal sights revealed enemy activity, but it was not until 0330 when Task Force Shepherd neared the 3d Battalion's former position that the Iraqis reacted. RPGs and machine gun fire caused the night to come alive with bright yellow-orange tracers and the flash of explosions. Moreover, the LAVs suffered no casualties or vehicle hits and the firing gradually subsided. Myers ordered the two companies on line. At 0430 the attack began in complete darkness with Company A on the left and Company C on the right. Company A immediately engaged an armored personnel carrier, destroying the vehicle and capturing three Iraqi soldiers. However, the company also encountered antipersonnel mines and stopped. Mines could be seen all around the company, and little else. Visibility started deteriorating when another wind shift brought in clouds of black smoke from the oilfield. To Lieutenant Colonel Myers, the poor visibility coupled with the mines and the unknown enemy situation, posed an unacceptable risk to the Marines. With the enemy clearly routed he felt there was nothing to be gained by pressing the attack at that moment. He therefore halted Task Force Shepherd until dawn and recommenced the attack at about 0615. Thirty minutes later, Marines of Company A raised the United States flag and a replica of the Marine Corps colors from flag poles in front of an airport terminal that later became the division headquarters. Task Force Taro arrived about 0800 and Colonel Admire met with Lieutenant Colonel Myers, after which 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, commenced clearing and security operations. They captured more than 80 Iraqi soldiers in and around the airport. At 0900 General Myatt with the forward command post arrived and set up operations. Fighting had ceased across the division front, so Myatt and his staff immediately aimed at minimizing casualties to both sides. He ordered units not to advance any farther, but to conduct a thorough reconnaissance of their respective zones for stragglers, mines, and anything that might be of intelligence value. At 1615 General Myatt passed the well-received order downgrading the MOPP level to zero. For the first time in days, Marines of the division climbed out of their cumbersome, heavy, and, by then, oil-blackened suits. G Plus 4, 28 February 1991 At 0647 on 28 February General Myatt directed division units to cease all offensive operations. An hour later came even better news. Myatt directed that NAPP and CIPRO pills were no longer to be taken. To many in the division the discontinuation of the pills was the first tangible evidence the fighting was over. The threat of chemical and biological weapons that had loomed since arrival in August and September thankfully had ended.

Posted by Danny Rodriguez
Jul 11 2003 03:33:13:000AM

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