Kuwait in three days: How US tanks broke through Iraqi defenses in Desert Storm The ground attack on Iraq during Desert Storm began 33 years ago 24.02.2024, 08:08

“Mother of All Battles”

On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi army invaded and captured Kuwait, located in the south of Iraq. For several days, a puppet government came to power in the small kingdom, first advising Saddam Hussein to “accept them as sons of a great family, return Kuwait to the great Iraq, the Motherland, and ensure the full unity of Iraq and Kuwait.” ”

Saddam declared his revenge on the British imperialists who divided the Iraqi people. In fact, he did not want to pay his $14 billion debt to Kuwait during the war with Iran and at the same time hoped to make a profit from Kuwait’s oil fields. In response to the invasion, the United States, Britain, France, and Egypt began sending troops to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to regain the kingdom’s independence by force.

The Iraqi army was then the fourth largest in the world, armed with relatively modern Soviet equipment and rich combat experience. Of course, Saddam did not expect to defeat American troops in a front-line battle: He planned to meet them at a strong line of fortifications, inflict heavy casualties, and prolong the war so that public opinion would insist on an end to the war. With Vietnam in the 1970s.

As bombs and cruise missiles began to fall on Baghdad on the night of January 17, Saddam announced that “the great duel and the mother of all wars” had begun and “the dawn of victory is approaching.” The American military found this pathetic situation so funny that it was ironically reconsidered years later: For example, the briefing on the results of the war was called “the mother of all press conferences.”

war in the air

From the first days, the “mother of all wars” Iraq did not go according to plan: the international coalition troops did not break their foreheads against the fortifications. Initially, American-British aircraft attacked airfields and anti-aircraft missile positions. The Iraqis had the means to counter it: dozens of batteries of obsolete S-75 and S-125 air defense systems, about 30-40 batteries of relatively new Kub air defense systems. (export change called “Square”)As well as more than 100 modern short-range air defense systems “Osa” and its Franco-German counterpart Roland.

Iraqi pilots had several dozen of the latest MiG-29s, almost a hundred Mirage F1s in the middle of their operational cycle, and 19 MiG-25 interceptors that posed a threat regardless of the year of production due to their tremendous speed. In other words, Iraq was very well armed for a third world country, and its air defense capabilities were far superior to, for example, Ukraine’s at the beginning of 2022.

Dozens of historical theses can be defended when discussing the reasons why this did not help Iraq win the war in the air within a few days. Broadly speaking, the answer is technological advantage and better training of USAF pilots. Therefore, the United States regularly held large-scale Red Flag exercises simulating real warfare, and the command encouraged proactive thinking and carefully considered how best to use the strengths of the American armed forces. For example, the campaign began with several dozen Ah-64 attack helicopters approaching an early warning radar near the border at ultra-low altitude at night and destroying it (and everything around it) using thermal imagers and guided anti-tank missiles.

The destruction of the radar created a hole in the defenses through which attack aircraft could fly. Another example: In one of the first raids, the Americans launched dozens of BQM-74 target drones over Iraq, imitating the flight of an aircraft and attracting anti-aircraft missile fire. As soon as the Iraqi air defense system turned on the radar to hit the target, US Air Force pilots launched a missile towards the target, homing in on the locator’s radio signal.

With Iraq’s air defenses suppressed, US aircraft began regularly destroying targets according to the list: command centers, communications centers, bridges, repair shops, weapons and ammunition depots, as well as troop concentration areas. But no bombing can destroy the entire entrenched enemy army. The air campaign only took a huge toll on the organization, logistics, and morale of the Iraqi forces, as constant bombing without the ability to respond would depress anyone.

ground attack

Coalition forces were opposed by more than 500 thousand Iraqi soldiers deployed along the border with Saudi Arabia. They were covered with extensive minefields and the soldiers took cover in a long line of trenches. The front line consisted mainly of mobilized soldiers and second-rate military units, while the elite armored divisions of the Republican Guard were positioned hundreds of kilometers behind.

The Iraqis’ plan was logical: Soldiers of all types would be able to defend themselves passively in the trenches, and even if they failed, they would inflict heavy losses on the enemy. If the battered coalition troops break through the defenses, they will be attacked by well-trained and motivated fighters armed with fully modern T-72 tanks.

The offensive of the coalition troops (650 thousand people in total) began in the early morning of February 24 and had different tasks in three sectors. In the easternmost sector, directly opposite Kuwait, American Marines were advancing with the support of their Arab allies. Their mission may seem extremely tedious: make regular passes through dense minefields and slowly advance, eventually reaching Kuwait.

In the central sector, the command concentrated 1,400 Abrams and Challenger main battle tanks with the support of infantry fighting vehicles.

This armored fist would penetrate the Iraqi defenses, turn right and attack the Republican Guard units, giving them no opportunity to counterattack.

The offensive of the troops in the western sector was supposed to be the most creative attack. 16 thousand soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, distributed on 350 helicopters, were supposed to fly 240 km deep into Iraq and attack one of the rear positions. After that, they had to establish a forward base there and from there, with a second helicopter landing, attack the next position, a hundred kilometers deeper than the first.

The battles on the first line of defense went well for the Americans and their allies. The summarized scenario of a typical war looked like this. When the Iraqis saw the armored vehicles approaching them, they tried to destroy them with cannons. There were no advanced artillery spotters, so fire was very inaccurate.

But the American artillery response covered the Iraqi howitzers with their first salvo, followed by the remaining troops. This was largely facilitated by counter-battery radars that showed where the fire was coming from, but more importantly, the US Army actively used field reconnaissance and developed a procedure for requesting artillery strikes from infantry. Periodically, Iraqi positions were attacked by bombers or helicopters, so that, as a rule, by the time American tankers and infantry reached the defensive line, most of the enemies were ready to surrender and all that remained was to suppress resistance. The rest were huddled in the trenches.

The attack by the paratroopers of the 101st division looked similar. They were shot down several kilometers from the enemy position, along with light 105 mm howitzers brought in by heavy CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The paratroopers advanced under artillery fire, helicopter attacks and constant bombardment from F-16s and A-10s. The Iraqis were deep in the rear and did not understand how tens of thousands of enemy soldiers suddenly appeared in front of them and even with artillery, so the first defenders began to surrender an hour after the start of the battle.

Weapons and armor

Success on both wings of the attack and the overcoming of minefields along the entire front allowed General Norman Schwarzkopf to throw the accumulated tank fist into the breach in the center. On the third day of the offensive, American-British armored vehicles reached the area where the enemy’s elite tank forces were supposed to be deployed. At that time, the Iraqis realized that the war was lost and soldiers began to flee Kuwait. In this regard, the Republican Guard faced the task of holding out as much as possible to ensure that the army did not retreat and did not fall into the ring.

The largest tank battle since World War II took place on February 26, when 200-300 coalition armored vehicles encountered 300-400 Iraqi tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. The battle became known as 73 Easting. (This is how this point is indicated on American maps) began with Anglo-American tanks advancing through a sandstorm and were therefore not supported by reconnaissance helicopters. As a result, Abrams suddenly found themselves in front of the T-72s waiting at a distance of 1300 meters, and a classic conflict began, similar to what is shown in war movies or computer games about tanks. At close range, neither formation nor maneuvers play a big role, and the result depends on who shoots better and who has better technique.

As a result, the Iraqis lost 160 tanks and 180 units of other armored vehicles, and the American-British troops did not lose a single tank and not one Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.(Houlahan, Thomas (1999), Gulf War, Complete History) In one episode, a company of Abrams tanks attached to infantry fighting vehicles destroyed an entire Iraqi tank battalion without suffering a single casualty. This was achieved mainly through a thermal imaging device that saw through the sandstorm; 1.5-2 times longer viewing range than T-72; thick frontal armor; a powerful gun with depleted uranium shells, as well as regular training for tank crews.

The next day the second major tank battle for the “Medina ridge” took place. (The name is given after the Medina tank division that occupied the defense there). Iraq’s result was slightly better: they managed to knock out four tanks and two infantry fighting vehicles, losing more than 180 tanks and 120 infantry fighting vehicles. However, the Republican Guard partially completed the mission: most Iraqi troops managed to escape from Kuwait, except for those shot from the air on the highway. On February 27, Saddam officially announced his withdrawal from the captured kingdom.

Coalition troops retook Kuwait within three days. Irreversible losses from enemy actions amounted to 137 people, including 113 Americans. Iraq lost 20 to 50 thousand people and had to pay a large compensation. The most important result was also a rethinking of the role of aviation on the battlefield: in terms of effectiveness, nothing compares with regular impunity attacks with guided bombs and missiles, including deep into the rear. At the same time, it was once again confirmed that the war could not be won by bombing alone and only ground troops in direct contact could drive the enemy off the ground (unless he decided to surrender beforehand).

Changes were made to the text of the article. It was initially mistakenly referred to the US Air Force’s use of AIM-120 missiles.

What are you thinking?

Many people associate the 1991 Gulf War with the endless American bombardment that forced Iraq to surrender. This is partly true: aviation played a decisive role in this war, allowing the United States to suffer insignificant losses by the standards of the 20th century. What is less known is that on February 24, after the bombing, World War II took place. A major ground offensive is coming, setting off the largest tank battle since World War II. How and why Iraq lost Kuwait in three days – in the material of socialbites.ca.

Source: Gazeta


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