WEB SPECIAL - Attack on Iraq

NAVAL FORCES SPEARHEAD 'OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM'

Special Reports by Iain Ballantyne (UK), G. Keith Jacobs & Charles Strathdee (USA)

TLAM HAMMER FALLS FIRST

A Tomahawk missile bursts from the waters of the Gulf, moments after launch from a Royal Navy submarine. The missiles was one of a number precisely targeted on Command and Control centres in Baghdad on March 20. Photo: Royal Navy.

A Tomahawk missile bursts from the waters of the Gulf, moments after launch from a Royal Navy submarine. The missiles was one of a number precisely targeted on Command and Control centres in Baghdad on March 20. Photo: Royal Navy.

Cruise missiles fired by US Navy warships and submarines opened the war to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein.

A first wave of 40 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) was launched in the early hours of March 20. They were aimed at bunkers, residences and presidential palaces in and around Baghdad, to try and kill both the dictator and other key leaders of his extremist socialist regime.

The missiles were launched by the destroyers USS Milius (DDG 69) and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), the cruisers USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS Cowpens (CG 53) and the attack submarines USS Montpelier (SSN 765) and USS Cheyenne (SSN 773).

According to US central Command spokesmen the US Navy shooters were firing from the Red Sea and the Gulf. The Tomahawks were all believed to be Block IVA missiles, with updated GPS receiver, new computer interface, 3-metre target accuracy (CEP) and with computer link to launch platform while in-flight. These mean they are capable of receiving reprogrammed target data during transit to the target. This means that, if intelligence is received that Saddam has switched bunkers after the missile launch, the weapon can be instructed to change course.

Saddam Hussein was said by some sources to have been wounded in the initial attacks, but made a TV broadcast shortly after. However, it could have been pre-recorded or given by one of his several doubles. After night fell on March 20, both USN and Royal Navy vessels delivered more Tomahawk missile attacks. The Trafalgar Class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) HMS Turbulent (S87) and Swiftsure Class SSN HMS Splendid (S106) fired the British TLAMS. In total 50 TLAMs were fired in the second salvo against Baghdad, with the US effort coming from the destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and the attack submarines USS Columbia (SSN 771) and USS Providence (SSN 719).

NGS PRIOR TO AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT

The Type 23 frigate HMS Marlborough provides Naval Gun Fire Support for Royal Marines. Photo: Royal Navy.

The Type 23 frigate HMS Marlborough provides Naval Gun Fire Support for Royal Marines. Photo: Royal Navy.

Meanwhile the RN frigates HMS Chatham (F87) and HMS Marlborough (F233) provided Naval Gun Fire Support (NGS) with their 4.5-inch guns, for an assault by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines against the al-Faw peninsula at the head of the Gulf. The attack was a classic amphibious operation, against beaches south of the Iraqi naval base and oil city of Uum Qasr, which is in turn gateway to the port city of Basra. The main assault was preceded by reconnaissance work by both British marines and members of the US Navy's SEALS.

A Royal Marine from 40 Commando takes cover in the al-Faw Peninsula after being dropped off by a Royal Air Force helicopter

A Royal Marine from 40 Commando takes cover in the al-Faw Peninsula after being dropped off by a Royal Air Force helicopter. Photo: Royal Navy.

Sea King helicopters carried troops from 40 Commando ashore from warships, including the carriers HMS Ocean (L12) and HMS Ark Royal (R07) in the Gulf, and also from north-eastern Kuwait.

Royal Marines from DELTA Company, 40 Commando disembark from the HMS Ark Royal in the assault on southern Iraq

Royal Marines from DELTA Company, 40 Commando disembark from the HMS Ark Royal in the assault on southern Iraq. Photo: Royal Navy.

Meanwhile Rigid Raider craft took in assault engineers and other troops to 'Red Beach' on the al-Faw. The Commanding Officer of 40 Commando said the following morning that his unit had sustained no casualties and had captured a small number of Iraqi soldiers after some skirmishes.

To the north, by the morning of March 21, after being heli-lifted in from Kuwait, were the marines of 42 Commando, providing a blocking force to halt any Iraqi counter-attack. The rest of 3 Commando Brigade's at-sea assets came ashore by landing craft and helicopter from British naval vessels in the Gulf on the same day. By the late afternoon of March 21 it was being reported that the entire peninsula was now secure in the hands of the Royal Marines and US Marines.

Royal Marines from 40 Commando disembarking from a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter at night, during an exercise shortly before their amphibious operation in the al-Faw Peninsula

Royal Marines from 40 Commando disembarking from a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter at night, during an exercise shortly before their amphibious operation in the al-Faw Peninsula. Photo: Royal Navy.

UK DEFENCE CHIEF'S BRIEFING

On the afternoon of March 21, the head of the British armed forces, Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, confirmed that resistance in Umm Qasr had ceased. See below for more detail.

The Admiral revealed during a briefing at the Ministry of Defence that the next step would be for the Royal Navy's mine-hunters to move forward and clear the port, to enable relief supplies to be brought in for the Iraqi people.

Commenting on action in the al-Faw Peninsula the previous evening, Admiral Boyce said that the Royal Marines had faced some stiff resistance. He then revealed that by the afternoon of March 21, 40 Commando was taking the surrender of significant numbers of Iraqi troops. Turning to the wider picture, Sir Michael said that elements of the UK's 7th Armoured Brigade were, in company with US troops, approaching the outskirts of Basra. He also revealed that other American formations were making good progress toward Baghdad, having covered 150km since the previous evening. Sir Michael paid tribute to the UK units that had been in action by saying: "I think our people have performed admirably on land, at sea and in the air."

US MARINES ENTER NAVAL PORT CITY

A Marine from Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

A Marine from Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit reaches for a new magazine to insert into his weapon during a live-fire drill shortly before invading Iraq. Photo: US Marines.

On the night of March 20/21, the heavily armed US Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) entered Umm Qasr and were involved in combat with Iraqi forces.

However, they managed to raise the Stars and Stripes over the city the following afternoon - the flag was promptly pulled down again, as it gave the wrong political signal to the Arab world. To the West, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) was pressing on with its advance into the oil fields south of Basra. According to some reports marines from the 7th Marine Infantry were held up while crossing into Iraq when some tanks were sited on their axis of advance. They were soon dealt with by Cobra helicopter gunships. Elsewhere Javelin anti-tank missiles were used by US Marines to destroy at least one elderly Iraqi T55 tank.

The 7th Marines also took the important Iraqi oil town of Safwan, coming across positions abandoned by the Iraqi Army's 32nd Mechanised Brigade, although some enemy troops did try to delay the advance by provoking brief firefights.

RACING FOR THE OIL FIELDS

The aim of capturing the oil fields is to prevent the Iraqis repeating the tactics they used during the Gulf War of 1991, when they set fire to more than 100 wells in Kuwait. This poisoned the air and waters of the Gulf. The American and British marines are therefore ensuring Saddam cannot set fire to southern Iraq's wells and cause a similar environmental catastrophe. Another major war aim is to preserve the infrastructure of Iraq, to ensure that the country, which has been ruined by decades of Saddam's rule, can soon have massive oil revenue flowing in to rebuild itself.

IRAQIS HIT BACK

During an Iraqi missile attack on Kuwait, US Marines seek shelter inside bunkers.  Photo: US Marines.

During an Iraqi missile attack on Kuwait, US Marines seek shelter inside bunkers. Photo: US Marines.

Prior to ground troops mounting the opening phase of the invasion, the Iraqis fired Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs) at Allied forces based in north-eastern Kuwait. Patriot anti-missile batteries destroyed two of the four missiles fired in the first attack.

One of the Iraqi missiles landed near the US Marine Corps base at Camp Commando. Monitor and survey teams were dispatched to the impact site, where no signs of biological munitions were found. No marines were injured or killed. Further alarms sounded later in the day, sending marines scurrying into the bunkers after donning their M-40 field protective masks.

CARRIERS ALSO WEIGH IN

The carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean while conducting combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo: US Navy.

The carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean while conducting combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo: US Navy.

Hornet strike jets from the carrier USS Constellation (CV64) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), in the Gulf, were among Allied aircraft taking part in strikes on Basra on March 20 and March 21. The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), which are both in the eastern Mediterranean, also contributed to the air assault.

FIRST CASUALTIES - USMC & 42 CDO

On the morning of March 21, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a statement on the death of eight Royal Marines in an air accident: "At around midnight on March 21, a US Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed south of the Kuwait border with US and UK personnel aboard; there were no survivors. Eight personnel from 3 Commando Brigade are believed to have been killed in the accident. Their next of kin are being informed."
Four US Marine Corps aircrew were also killed and the Royal Marine casualties were later confirmed as coming from 42 Commando. The USMC Sea Knights were withdrawn so they could be checked out and, after a delay of several hours, 42 Commando was taken forward in RAF Chinook helicopters, to its blocking position north of 40 Commando.

News of the first casualty in fighting also broke - a US marine belonging to the 1st MEF, killed in fighting during the night of March 20/21. Then another US Marine was killed within hours during fighting in Umm Qasr itself.

IRAQI MINELAYER INTERCEPTED

Australian naval forces intercepted an Iraqi minelayer boat as they moved to secure the approaches to Umm Qasr on March 21, along a stretch of water called the Abd Allah. The two threats that Allied naval forces are most wary of are mines and attack by kamikaze boats. Admiral Boyce confirmed the interception of the vessel during his briefing at the MoD (see above).

IRAQI DIVISION SURRENDERS?

As the war in Iraq passed into its third day (March 22), defence sources in Washington D.C. were suggesting that the Iraqi Army division guarding Basra had capitulated. The senior officers of the 51st Division had allegedly surrendered to US Marines from the 1st MEF. Mass air drops of leaflets suggesting troops should surrender were said to have played a part in destroying the morale of the division which, once the war started, was totally demoralised by the scale of the Allied onslaught.

• For background on the conflict see our other web specials and the forthcoming Gulf War special editions WARSHIPS IFR magazine (due out in early April and early May).