Friday, February 23, 2007

Anniversary of the Decisive Gulf War Tank Battles

Take a look at this image, from Google Earth. I found it while dinking around this afternoon. It's the location of the Gulf War Battle of 73 Easting, almost sixteen years ago to the day, on the night of February 25-26 1991, when the US VII Corps caught up with one of the three Iraqi Republican Guard armored divisions, the Tawakalna Division and literally kicked their butts in a few hours. Click on the image to see it larger, and use the coordinates to help you zoom in with Google Earth if you want to check out the battlefield. This particular image is, I believe, the graveyard of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division, left behind to guard the rear of the Tawakalna Division while the Republican Guard units tried to retreat back into Iraq. I believe this division was destroyed mostly by Apache helicopter, with some assists from M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

I've looked further to the north, where the three Tawakalna battalions got theirs, but the density of destroyed vehicles is very low although there are hastily prepared fighting positions where they're suppsed to be. Perhaps the Iraqis salvaged the destroyed tanks after the war, starting at the north and working their way southward.

Despite the impression that we have of Iraqis being most militarily adept at surrendering, the Guards divisions were actually pretty tough customers who tried to slug it out with the American forces. Remember, these are the same tank units that defeated the Iranians for a decade. Their biggest handicap was lack of intelligence; looking at the most-southern fighting positions shows that they were expecting the attack from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the south and east, and were completely surprised by our forces to the left. Coalition forces also had the advantage of superior equipment, training, and communications. Our tanks could detect and destroy their tanks beyond the range that they could even see us through their gunsights. In these battles, the first indication the Iraqis had that US armored forces were nearby was having one of their tanks blow up spectacularly.

One of the tactics used by the Iraqis as the battle raged on was to not power up their tank, instead letting it remain at the ambient temperature and thus be mostly invisible to our thermal sights. One of the US units reported coming over a small ridge and seeing 'basketballs' appearing and disappearing... and realizing these were the heads of Iraqi tank commanders coming in and out of their turrets quickly spread the word to shoot below the basketballs... ouch!

The smarter Iraqis kept their tanks cold and their heads down. After US vehicles would roll past these dormant tanks in the night, the Iraqis would crank their turrets around by hand and shoot us from behind. It was an effective tactic, but once a shot was fired the tank's temperature changed enough to become clearly visible on our thermal sights and most of these tanks only got off one shot before they were destroyed. Unfortunately, US tanks adjacent to those hit turned their turrets around to engage the bypassed Iraqis, leading to several incidents of fratricide, or "friendly fire" deaths when their gun flashes firing westward were mistakenly identified as enemy fire and engaged by oncoming US tanks to the westward.

After the destruction of the Tawakalna Division, the next Guard unit encountered was the Medina, leading to the Battle of Medina Ridge, the largest tank-on-tank battle in the history of the US Army. I think that only the WWII Battle of Kursk between the Soviets and the Germans was larger.

I think a case can be made that the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of the Gulf War and the lopsided US victory. Why? Because the Soviets were in Iraq supporting their client state with technical advisors and the latest and greatest Warsaw Pact armament. The Soviets always outnumbered the US in Europe, just as the Iraqis outnumbered us in Iraq, however US military strategy was predicated on the fact that large conventional battles would always be against numerically superior enemies like the Soviets and the Chinese. And yet, we defeated the fourth largest army in the world in less than 100 hours, while suffering more casualties in traffic accidents at home than we did on the battlefield. I think the Soviet leadership saw that all of their military spending, the decades of deprivation of their people, the lack of progress in their country's standard of living... it was all a waste. They'd never be able to conquer us militarily, they lost 40,000 troops and wrecked their army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and they were getting left further and further behind, while their earstwhile junior partner China was making great economic strides. Despite the Soviets' best efforts, the US was less than 100 kilometers from downtown Baghdad with nothing in the way but sand. And so we saw the coup attempt fail shortly thereafter, and the Soviet Union was no more.

One wonders about the lost opportunities of the 1990s, starting with our running from Somalia to our ineffective responses to Al Qaeda. What would the world have looked like with Bush had won instead of Clinton? Would 9/11 or something similar have happened?


Anonymous said...

How you military jarheads gloat about pulverizing the Iraqis is revolting. What a lopsided, one-sided battle: it's like a man armed with a machnine gun taking on a man armed with a BB-gun, plus the machine gun armed man has an F-16 dropping bombs and chemicals on the man armed with a BB-gun. Nothing to be proud about there. I hate US military people. You people suck shit. You never, ever take on an army of equal power, you chickenshit assholes. Cowards.

John Clifford said...

Hmmm... if you read the article, there isn't any gloating. But, I don't get your larger point (the US 'never, ever take on an army of equal power'). Are you stupid, or just woefully and willfully ignorant?

If you know anything about the '91 Gulf War, you know that the US military was outnumbered. On paper, the battle was pretty evenly matched. The air campaign had not seriously depleted Iraqi forces (despite Air Force claims to the contrary). The Iraqi Army had a decade of combat experience, had fought the larger Iranian Army to a standstill, and had the latest Soviet weapons and Soviet advisors. The US Army had great equipment and great training, but little experience... and we didn't know if our new weapons and tactics would actually be successful on the battlefield. Remember the 75,000 body bags ordered by the Pentagon?

But all this is besides the point. The rules of war aren't those provided by the Marquess of Queensberry. We're talking life and death here, and in war you never give your enemy an even chance or a fair fight. The ultimate in tactics is to position yourself so that you can bring effective fire on your enemy and he can't return fire effectively. This is the basis of every successful fight, whether it's individual combat, small units engaging in ambushes, or armies against armies. The smart commander takes every advantage. Decrying intelligent strategy and smart tactics as 'cowardly' is about the stupidest comment I've ever heard, and is the sort of thinking that cost the British Army 2.4 MILLION casualties during WWI.

Unlike most other countries today and throughout history, the US military is under civilian command and its job is to implement the policies decided by the civilian leadership of the country with as little cost in American blood and American treasure as will get the job done. And, because our soldiers are valued citizen volunteers instead of mere conscripts and trust our military leadership to not waste their lives, our military leadership fights in ways designed to limit US casualties while inflicting the maximum amount of violence on our enemies in the shortest amount of time. The goal is to win wars quickly while minimizing US casualties. If this results in excessive enemy casualties... then don't fight wars with us.

P.S: Don't ask me to feel sorry for the Iraqis who choose to fight back or flee instead of surrender. Talk about cowards. They were really brave storming Kuwait, gassing Kurds, and using helicopter gunships on unarmed Shiites.

Boyce Williams said...

Thanks for the image. I looked all over the web for the Lat/Lon data where 73 Easting translate to.

Boyce Williams said...

Thanks for the post. I was looking all over the web for the Lat/Lon data that "73 Easting" translates to so I can find the battlefield on Google Earth.

Joseph Tremain said...

To the anonymous anti-American idiot, take a look at Medina ridge. The smaller U.S. brigade of 166 M1A1 destroyed 186 Russian Made top of the line T-72 tanks (with a few T-69) that were entrenched and protected by a ridge, which should have left the M1A1 units completely vulnerable and at a disadvantage if all other factors equal. Not one of the 166 M1A1 tanks were destroyed although four were damaged by hits and recovered, while 186 of Iraq's best trained and best equipped tanks were destroyed with an unknown number escaping. Although the U.S. lost one human life to fratricide, the enemy most likely lost several hundred combat soldiers attempting to kill the outnumbered Americans.

So...if you want to call it an odds number or bully issue, no tank battle in history of anywhere near the number of armored units involved delivered such a one sided victory, especially to an outnumbered force.

In Desert Storm we were extremely out numbered and out-gunned but left histories greatest modern lop-sided victory. Iraqi Freedom found the U.S. forces grossly outnumbered, and once again the U.S. forces prevailed.

So to correct your hatred for America and your complete level of stupidity along with a complete incompetence shown in the inability to study any factual information involved, the American forces prevailed over the Iraqi elite and standard forces solely by superior equipment and training adding better morale, with LOWER numbers of both man-power and equipment.

And on that note, take your chikensh!t @ssh0le and put it in-between my cross-hairs, just once, please, and I will gladly send you to Allah with honor!

Boyce Williams said...

Doing a little web sleuthing to pull together the MGRS location by combining a map from Tom Clancy's book and a paper by Capt. Andrew Glen named "6-41 FA History During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm", I figured the location is just south and east of 38RPU00730005, or 29.826804N, 46.04256544E when translated by an Excel map coordinate translator found on the web. unfortunately the area is not as high resolution as your area so one can't find tracks. But it's a start to help us civilians.