U.S. Marine Major General James M. “Mike” Myatt suddenly had a problem.
The 1st Marine Division commander had just received word from his superior, Lieutenant General Walter E. Boomer, that President George H. W. Bush had agreed to give Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev additional time to try to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to end his forcible occupation of Kuwait. That meant a possible delay in the planned start of the ground-war phase of Operation Desert Storm, the international coalition’s offensive to liberate Kuwait. As a result, Boomer, commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force, told Myatt that no coalition forces were to penetrate into Kuwait. During the 22 February 1991 conversation, Boomer relayed a warning from the coalition supreme commander, U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf: Myatt must “be careful here. Don’t do anything irreversible. The President’s offered Saddam one more chance to get out by noon.”
Myatt’s problem was that he already had two regiments with more than 3,000 Marines and Navy corpsmen about 12 miles inside of Kuwait, some of whom had passed through the first of two Iraqi minefields, assaulted enemy bunkers, and taken prisoners. About 20 miles north of the rest of the division and with no tanks, the two infantry units would be vulnerable to an attack by Iraqi heavy forces.
“We had it hanging out a little bit there,” Myatt later told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “Noon in Washington, D.C., was 2000 in Saudi Arabia,” he noted. And he told Boomer, “it’s not irreversible because we can bring them back out,” at which they both laughed, he recalled.
Invasion and Initial Response
Operation Desert Storm was so dominated by high-tech weapons that it was nicknamed the “Nintendo War.” And the Marine forces that went into Kuwait were the most mechanized formations in the Corps’ history, with every Marine in the main assault columns riding in some form of wheeled or tracked vehicle. But the 1st Division’s early thrusts into Kuwait were conducted by two task forces of mostly foot-mobile grunts who struggled to carry heavy loads of weapons and supplies for miles in a grueling trek.
That early penetration of the Iraqi defenses was a bold gamble by Myatt intended to help bring a swift end to what had been a six-month ordeal of rapid buildup, followed by seemingly endless training and waiting in brutal heat, triggered by Iraq’s invasion of its tiny oil-rich neighbor on 2 August 1990. The predawn assault by Iraqi troops quickly overwhelmed the small Kuwaiti army. Saddam then massed his forces along the Saudi border and warned other countries not to intervene. But President Bush declared that Iraq’s brutal conquest of Kuwait “will not stand,” and the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
Bush offered to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq and sent Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. Central Command, to Jeddah to consult with Saudi King Fahd, who requested U.S. military assistance on 6 August. The president immediately ordered forces to Saudi Arabia, and the next day U.S. Air Force fighters flew east and the alert brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division began to deploy, initiating what became Operation Desert Shield.
The first elements of the 82nd arrived on 9 August and established defense positions well south of the Kuwaiti border. But the lightly armed paratroopers would have been little more than speed bumps if the mechanized Iraqi forces had crossed the border and pushed southward. On 14 August ground forces from the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and fighters and attack jets from the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) flew into Saudi Arabia, as ships from Maritime Preposition Squadron 2 pulled into the country’s Persian Gulf port of Al Jubayl and began offloading Marine heavy weapons, equipment, and supplies. That provided the first substantial defensive force.
Within two weeks, 15,248 Marines, under the command of Major General John I. Hopkins, were deployed in the desert north of Al Jubayl, trying to adjust to 110-degree heat and talcum-like sand that covered their sweaty bodies and fouled their weapons. They would be joined by more Marines from the 1st Division under Myatt, thousands of soldiers from the Army’s XVIII Corps, and growing numbers of international troops that included traditional European allies and a surprising contribution from Arab nations.
As the coalition forces grew, Schwarzkopf and his commanders began to shift their focus from defending Saudi Arabia to planning for possible offensive action to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. President Bush ordered a near doubling of the U.S. commitment, which brought in the heavy divisions of the Army’s VII Corps and additional Air Force fighter and bomber wings. The Navy deployed four more aircraft carrier battle groups, to bolster the two already in the area, and the reactivated World War II–era battleships Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64).
Marine Organization and Vehicles
By February 1991, the U.S. force would number more than 500,000, including 92,000 Marines—the largest deployment of American troops since the Vietnam War. That U.S. Desert Shield force included the 2d Marine Division, commanded by Major General William M. Keys, and aviation squadrons from the 2d MAW, which fell under the control of 3d MAW commander Major General Royal N. Moore.
Already heavily mechanized, the 2d Marine Division was reinforced with the 1st Brigade of the Army’s 2nd Armored Division, called the “Tiger Brigade” and equipped with powerful M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Keys also received Bravo Company of the 4th Tank Battalion, a Marine Corps Reserve unit that had just been trained on borrowed Army M-1s. That gave Keys 257 tanks, including 185 Abramses. “It was probably the heaviest Marine division, with the most combat power, ever to take the field,” the division commander said.
Myatt’s 1st Division had 123 of the older M-60 Patton tanks, which would prove to be more than a match for Saddam’s Soviet-made tanks. Both divisions also had battalions of tracked AAV-7 assault amphibious vehicles and eight-wheeled LAV-25 light armored vehicles, plus hundreds of trucks and Humvees to transport their Marines in what would be a fast-moving offensive. In addition to the two Marine divisions and the hundreds of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters that were in Saudi Arabia, there were thousands of Marines in the 4th and 5th MEBs afloat in the Persian Gulf on board amphibious ships.
Because many of the Marines under his command had come from units outside of the 1st Division, Myatt decided to organize them into task forces designed for different missions. He created two mechanized units, heavy with tanks and other vehicles to make the main assault: Task Force Ripper, formed around the 7th Marines under Colonel Carlton W. Fulford, and Task Force Papa Bear, based on Colonel Richard N. Hodory’s 1st Marines.
Myatt also assembled two purely infantry units with few vehicles, which would make the early incursions into Kuwait to shield the flanks of the two assault columns. These were Task Force Grizzly, led by Colonel James A. Fulks of the 4th Marines, and Task Force Taro, commanded by Colonel John H. Admire from the 3rd Marines. And he created task forces Shepherd, with LAVs from the 1st and 3rd Light Armored Infantry battalions; Warden, made up of Reservists from the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines to deal with Iraqi prisoners of war; and Troy, a small diverse unit that would imitate a large force to mask the division’s later move to its assault positions. Artillery batteries from the 11th and 13th Marines would support the assault task forces. Keys, meanwhile, maintained the normal designations of his 2d Division units—the 6th and 8th Marine infantry regiments and the 10th Marines artillery regiment, plus the Tiger Brigade.
Desert Shield Becomes Desert Storm
As the coalition forces were growing, the U.N. gave Saddam a deadline of 15 January to agree to pull his army from Kuwait. When that demand was ignored, the allies went on the offensive, which began in the early hours of the 17th with attacks by aircraft and by Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from Navy warships and submarines.
The initial strikes hit Iraqi command-and-control facilities and air-defense sites, then the allied campaign focused on more extensive raids against Iraqi ground forces. The attacking air armada included fighters and attack jets flying from the six U.S. carriers plus Marine aircraft from bases in Saudi Arabia and amphibious assault ships in the Persian Gulf. Any Iraqi fighters that dared to challenge coalition air were eliminated, including one shot down by Marine Captain Charles Magill, flying an F-15C Eagle on exchange duty with the U.S. Air Force.
Within days the coalition had complete air dominance over all of Kuwait and Iraq, which allowed it to turn its attention to a systematic attrition of the Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait. Elimination of its air forces also would prevent Iraq from detecting the movement of the Army’s VII and XVIII Corps and French and British forces hundreds of miles to the west and the Marines’ shift about 50 miles to the northwest.
Schwarzkopf’s plan called for the Marines to make the main attack into southern Kuwait while forces from the Arab partners attacked to their right up the coastal highway. Those thrusts were intended to destroy the divisions of mostly conscript Iraqi troops dug in behind the two minefields and to draw the attention of the elite Republican Guard divisions waiting farther north. The massive Army and allied forces out to the west then would swing into northern Kuwait to smash the Guard forces, in what Schwarzkopf called a “hail Mary” move.
As the air war continued the systematic destruction of Iraq’s defense infrastructure and its massed land forces, Marine artillery joined the campaign of attrition, with a series of combined-arms raids aimed at reducing the large numbers of Soviet-made artillery that could inflict serious casualties on the Leathernecks attempting to breach the minefields. In the raids, batteries of 155-mm howitzers would fire barrages at Iraqi positions, then quickly withdraw before the enemy could react. When the Iraqi artillery did respond, its revealed positions were hit by Marine aircraft loitering nearby
Early Ground Fighting
Two weeks into the air war, Saddam apparently decided to try to deter a coalition ground offensive by launching a number of probing attacks and a major mechanized assault into Saudi Arabia. But the attacks had the opposite result. The first clashes came during the night of 29–30 January with multiple strikes by armored vehicles, tanks, and troops against two lightly defended observation posts just south of the sand berm along the border.
The poorly coordinated attacks against OP 4 and nearby OP 6 were repulsed by Marine LAVs firing TOW missiles and by coalition air strikes, resulting in 22 destroyed enemy vehicles and several hundred Iraqi soldiers surrendering. But two LAVs were destroyed in “friendly fire” incidents, one hit by a TOW missile from another Marine LAV and the other by a missile fired by an Air Force A-10 Warthog. Eleven Marines were killed.
Rather than being intimidated by the futile attacks, the Marine commanders concluded that the Iraqi soldiers were unmotivated, poorly trained, and ill-led and the Iraqi defenses would not be as formidable as originally assumed. But the deadly incidents of fratricide led Central Command to order all allied vehicles marked with inverted “V” symbols, orange panels, chemical light sticks, and thermal tape.
The Iraqi army staged a bigger attack on 30 January–1 February, against Khafji, a few miles south of the border. The only coalition presence in the Saudi city, from which civilians had been evacuated, was four small 1st Marine Division reconnaissance teams. As the fight at OP 4 was beginning, allied air spotted an Iraqi mechanized brigade moving down the coastal highway toward Khafji and a second brigade moving through the Al Wafrah oil field in Kuwait.
Despite allied air strikes, the Iraqi forces rolled into the abandoned city, trapping two of the Marine recon teams, which would stay hidden throughout the Iraqi occupation, radioing information on the enemy forces. Although Myatt wanted to use Marines to rescue the two teams, Khafji was in Saudi Arabia’s defensive zone and he reluctantly agreed to let the Saudis liberate their own city. Supported by Marine air and artillery, Saudi and Qatari mechanized units launched a daylight attack on 31 January, driving the Iraqis from Khafji, destroying 90 enemy vehicles, and capturing more than 600 soldiers, with minimal loses.
Change in Plans
The easy reversal of the Iraqi attack reconfirmed the Marine commanders’ negative view of the enemy forces. “We knew that the Iraqis weren’t as good as everybody had portrayed them to be at that point,” Myatt said. The lowered estimate of the Iraqi army’s capabilities and will to fight also led Boomer to revise his plans for the attack into Kuwait. Originally, the I MEF commander had planned to have the 1st Division conduct the breach of the two minefields, then allow the more powerful 2d Division to pass through their lines and continue the assault. That decision was driven mainly by a lack of the engineering assets needed to clear enough lanes through the obstacle belts to allow rapid passage of the Marine divisions.
But none of the Marine leaders liked the idea, and as more engineering gear became available, Keys went to Boomer to propose that the divisions conduct independent breaching operations. “I was not comfortable with that original plan,” Keys said. “Any passage of lines under combat conditions is a horribly complicated evolution.” Boomer said his decision to change the plans was based on his trust in Keys, who had fought alongside him when they were “co-vans”—advisers to South Vietnamese marines.
But the revision required time for Keys to move his division northwest, to the left of the 1st Division’s planned attack zone. It also necessitated a major change in how the Marines would provide logistical support for the assault into Kuwait, resulting in an amazing accomplishment by Marine logistics and engineering units.
During the initial planning for the ground offensive, Brigadier General Charles C. Krulak, commander of the 2d Force Service Support Group and a future Marine Corps commandant, directed the construction of a huge logistic support base, called Kibrit, in the desert. By 2 February, it was ready, with a “big fuel farm, the largest ammunition supply point in Marine Corps history, and all the supplies I MEF needed for the attack into Kuwait,” Krulak said.
But with the decision to make two separate breaches and to move the attack axis to the northwest, Krulak told Boomer he could not support the new plan from Kibrit and would have to find another support base. His staff found a spot west of the Kuwait border, which he named Al Khanjar—Arabic for “the knife.” Marine engineers and Navy Seabees moved in heavy equipment and went to work converting a vast piece of desert into another massive logistics base.
“We started building this miracle in the desert on 6 February and had it completed by 0100 on 20 February,” Krulak said. Khanjar encompassed 11,280 acres, with 780 acres of ammunition storage cells; 5 million gallons of fuel, “the largest fuel point the Marine Corps had ever seen”; 100,000 gallons of water; and the third-largest Navy hospital in the world in terms of operating rooms. All of it dug in, nothing above ground, he explained. In anticipation of a possible chemical attack, Khanjar had vast quantities of water and as many water-carrying vehicles as Krulak could get, for decontamination.
While not taking anything away from the air and ground warriors, “when historians and strategists and tacticians study the Gulf War, what they will study most carefully will be the logistics,” Krulak, a career infantry officer, said. “This was a war of logistics.”
Breaching the Barriers
As the date for the ground war approached, Keys moved the 2d Division into position for its attack and Myatt ordered Fulks and Admire to start moving Grizzly and Taro up to the first minefield. Myatt already had sent reconnaissance teams to the minefield to look for ways through the obstacles. They found a path for Taro, but none for Grizzly. By this time, the crushing heat of summer had been replaced by cold, wet weather, with occasionally strong winds that collapsed some command tents. The Marines in the assault units, who had left their tents behind, endured this climatic assault as they had the heat.
Because of the distance their Marines had to cover by foot, Fulks and Admire had moved them just short of the berm along the Kuwaiti border on the night of 20 February. Fulks sent recon teams up to the minefield in repeated efforts to find a way through for Grizzly, but their efforts were disrupted by unexpected allied air raids just beyond the minefields, Iraqi armored patrols, and sporadic, inaccurate artillery fire. Late on the 22nd, engineers with Taro began marking the previously discovered path through the mines in their sector. But Fulks was getting desperate and told Myatt he might have to use explosive mine-clearing equipment to create a path.
Then Grizzly got a break. Scouts observed the path through the minefield taken by Iraqi defectors and used it to cross the barrier, capturing an enemy bunker and taking prisoners after shooting three defenders. But when Fulks requested permission to exploit the breach, Myatt told him of the presidential order restricting movement into Kuwait, so he had to pull back his scouts and their prisoners. Admire expressed concern about the delay, saying he would need six hours to move from the staging area to his blocking position. Myatt understood but could do nothing other than inform Boomer of the time line.
That night, Boomer sent a message to his Marines telling them they would attack the next day and their objective was “not to conquer, but to drive out the invaders and to restore the country to its citizens. . . . May the spirit of your Marine forefathers ride with you and may God give you the strength to accomplish your mission. Semper Fi.” While they waited, task-force Marines heard an explosion to their rear as an artillery-fire direction radar exploded from a U.S. antiradiation missile fired in error. It killed the radar operator and wounded another, continuing the tragic incidents of fratricide that killed more Marines than the Iraqis did.
Finally, in the early evening of 23 February, about eight hours before the ground war was to start, the Marines of Taro and Grizzly shouldered loads as heavy as 100 pounds and began the slow, careful walk through the minefield, following paths marked by glowing chemical sticks. Some pulled crude handcarts loaded with supplies and equipment. A few lucky ones rode in Humvees carrying TOW missile launchers or bulky communications gear. They had miles to go to reach their blocking positions between the two obstacle belts.
“Kind of like World War I,” recalled Corporal Michael Eroshevich, an infantryman with Taro, who called the ordeal “the most grueling physical experience” of his life. “This was pretty much a Nintendo war. But we were going to walk 30 miles and go through a minefield on our hands and knees.” The heavily burdened march was made more difficult by the bulky chemical-protection suits and boots every Marine wore and the pouch at their waist holding the mask and hood they would have to don quickly if there were a chemical attack. As it turned out, the chemical suits mainly served as some protection against the cold and the drizzling rain, laced with oil droplets from the flaming oil wells they skirted during the fight through Kuwait.
Despite the discovery of an unexpected belt of antipersonnel mines behind the first minefield, breached by engineers using handheld probes, the two blocking forces were in position when at 0430 on 24 February— “G-Day”—the 1st Division started the main U.S. ground attack at a position between the two early penetrations.
Although Taro and Grizzly had been able to walk through narrow paths between the mines, the combat engineers with Ripper and Papa Bear had to create multiple lanes wide enough for tanks, amphibious tractors, and trucks to navigate safely. They fired rocket-propelled explosive mine-clearing line charges across the barrier to detonate the antitank and antipersonnel mines, then sent M-60 tanks with mine plows in to push aside any unexploded mines. A reporter passing through the minefield behind Ripper saw at least two tanks stranded in the field after undisturbed mines blew off their tracks.
An hour later, the 2d Division began its breach about 15 miles to the northwest. Keys had ordered the 6th Marines to conduct the breach and the regimental commander, Colonel Lawrence Livingston, had his three mechanized battalions create two holes each through the barrier, using the same sequence of line-charges followed by tanks with plows. They had the same problems the 1st Division did, with ineffective line charges and disabled tanks.
Myatt’s force encountered only light and ineffective artillery fire at the first obstacle belt, but Keys’ Marines had to suppress heavier, although mostly inaccurate, Iraqi shelling with counterbattery fire and air strikes. Both divisions met heavier artillery, tank, and infantry fire at the second minefield, and the 6th Marines’ engineers had even more problems clearing all six of the required lanes.
Once through the obstacles, the two Marine forces quickly overcame the dug-in Iraqi defenders and used TOW missiles and tank fire to repel light and uncoordinated counterattacks. Both attacking columns became burdened with the floods of Iraqi soldiers eager to surrender. In many cases, the Marines ignored the groups of disheveled men waving dirty white rags, and just pointed them south to where support units could corral them.
Lopsided Fight for Kuwait
“I really didn’t see any fighting by the Iraqis,” said Corporal Raymond Campbell, a TOW missile gunner. “They all just surrendered. The [Marine] tanks were firing them up so bad I think they just gave up.” Added Hospitalman Apprentice Clifton Hogan: “There’s nothing to this. It’s like a nature walk. They jump up like squirrels to surrender.”
As the two Marine divisions were rolling into Kuwait, about 7,500 Marines from the 5th MEB were offloaded at Saudi ports to serve as the I MEF reserve force. Prior to G-Day, those Marines had engaged in a series of landing exercises as the amphibious flotilla moved north through the Persian Gulf, reminding the Iraqis of the powerful force they fully expected would assault the beaches near Kuwait City. Intelligence indicated that the amphibious force tied up about ten Iraqi divisions totaling 80,000 men on the Kuwait coastline, troops that could have fought the 1st and 2d Divisions. What might have been a dangerous assault on the well-defended beaches was not needed, as the Marine divisions quickly moved through the dispirited Iraqi defenders. By dark on G-Day, the 1st Division had reached its initial objective, the sprawling Al Jaber airfield, which it secured the next day.
Perhaps the toughest part of the Marines’ drive came on the second day, when a strong Iraqi mechanized force came out of the Al Burqan oil field, which appeared to be an impassable sea of roaring flames. The attack came within 100 yards of Myatt’s command post before it was repulsed by the aggressive defense of Task Force Shepherd LAVs, in an action that earned Captain Eddie Ray a Navy Cross, and by a rain of missiles and 25-mm cannon fire from a group of AH-1W Cobras that had to fly just above the ground to get under the hovering smoke-filled clouds.
The same day, the 2d Division fought off several Iraqi armored and mechanized attacks, in what was called the largest tank battle in Marine Corps history. The biggest fight was the “Reveille Engagement,” in which the Reserves’ B Company tankers had to scramble into their M-1s to beat off a dawn assault by an Iraqi force led by dozens of the supposedly formidable Soviet-made T-72s. Using the Abrams’ superior thermal sights and targeting systems, the Marines began scoring hits before the Iraqis even knew the enemy was near. In a fight that lasted mere minutes, the Marine tankers destroyed 30 T-72s, 4 T-55s, and 9 armored personnel carriers.
The next two days, the main obstacle for the Marine advance was the combination of smoke from the burning oil wells and the ground-hugging clouds that made the late afternoon so dark that vehicles had to be guided into defensive circles by Marines on foot waving lighted chemical sticks. Despite the weather, which also handicapped air support, the 1st Division circled Kuwait International Airport on day three, supported by 16-inch gunfire from the Missouri and Wisconsin, and secured it the next day. On 28 February, the Marines stood aside to allow Arab units to move into Kuwait City, which had been abandoned by the invaders.
Later that day, President Bush ordered a cease-fire, ending the ground war after 100 hours. In that time, the Marines had driven about 100 miles, defeated at least 11 Iraqi divisions, destroyed more than 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and captured more than 22,000 prisoners. During that same period, the massive Army and allied forces to the west completed their sweep into northern Kuwait and southern Iraq to crush Republican Guard and regular Iraqi army divisions, although the early cease-fire prevented the total destruction of Saddam’s major forces.
For all the U.S. services, the quick and overwhelming victory in Desert Storm put an end to the dismal historical trend of unprepared American forces losing their first battles of a war. That was thanks to the defense buildup in the 1980s and the strong performance of a cadre of commanders hardened by combat in Vietnam.
For Marine leaders, the ability to rapidly transport, equip, and assemble a powerful fighting force thousands of miles from any of their bases validated the concepts of the maritime prepositioning squadrons and of organizing combined-arms combat and logistical units together in Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs). Smaller MAGTFs would again prove their worth a decade later when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered new rounds of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And for the United States, Desert Storm was the curtain raiser for what has become a quarter-century of military involvement in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia.
LtGen Walter E. Boomer, USMC, “Special Trust and Confidence among the Trail Blazers,” interview, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 117, no. 11 (November 1991), 47–50.
Charles H. Cureton, With the 1st Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 1990–91 (Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 1993).
LtGen William M. Keys, USMC, “Rolling with the 2d Division,” interview, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 117, no. 11 (November 1991), 77–80.
Otto Kreisher, “Marines’ Minefield Assault,” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Summer 2002.
Otto Kreisher, various Operation Desert Storm articles published in the San Diego Union, March 1991.
BGen Charles C. Krulak, USMC, “A War of Logistics,” interview, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 117, no. 11 (November 1991), 55–57.
MajGen J. M. Myatt, USMC, “The First Division in the Attack,” interview, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 117, no. 11 (November 1991). 71–76.
U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Hearings before the Committee on Armed Services, 102nd Congress, 1st session, 9 May 1991.
The Air Component
Marine aviation provided crucial support for the ground Marines in Operation Desert Storm by pounding the entrenched Iraqi forces in Kuwait during the air phase and flying vital close-air support missions during the four-day ground war. But to do that, the Marine air commander, Major General Royal N. Moore, frequently had to work around the rigid control attempted by the U.S. Air Force–run Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) concept.
“The JFACC process of having one single manager has its limitations, as does every system,” Moore, who commanded the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing during Desert Storm, said. “It does not respond well to a quick-action battlefield. . . . If you’re going to fight a fluid battlefield like we were on, then you need a system that can react.”
Because Marine aviation’s primary mission always is to support the ground forces, Moore kept many of his fixed-wing jets and all of his helicopters out of the JFACC process to help the grunts of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). “We, in essence, had control of the air space over our Marines,” he said.
The relatively easy advance by I MEF through the Iraqi forces in Kuwait was due in part to Marine air using the air campaign and into the ground war “to start attacking their [the Iraqis’] will,” said 1st Marine Division commander Major General James M. “Mike” Myatt. “The 3d Marine Aircraft Wing air is what did it for us, not JFACC.” Beginning 15 days before the ground war started, Moore added, “if a target didn’t do something for the I MEF and battlefield preparation, we weren’t going. The Air Force understood that.”
With only about 500 airplanes, Marine aviators flew about 18,000 sorties, “9,000 of those sorties in the last five days,” he said. The missions included the first ever by Harriers flying from amphibious ships.
Although Marine air’s main mission was to attack the Iraqi forces confronting Leathernecks on the ground, Marine and Navy EA-6B Prowler electronic-warfare jets supported the total coalition air campaign by suppressing Iraqi air defenses with antiradiation missiles and electronic jamming. Availability of the Prowlers was a “go/no go” criterion for major strikes; if they didn’t fly, the strike was scrubbed.
A major problem for all coalition air was the weather. “We fought the ground campaign over the worst four flying days of the whole war,” Moore said. Although promised 72 hours of good weather for the ground war, “we probably didn’t get 72 minutes.”
Three Marine aviators were killed in action. Five were shot down and became Iraqi prisoners of war but were repatriated after the conflict. The Marines lost seven aircraft from enemy action, but ten from accidents—eight of them helicopters.