Day Four: 27 February 1991
On the morning of 27 February, the XVIII Airborne Corps prepared to continue its advance east toward Al Basrah. Before the assault could resume, the 24th Infantry Division had to secure its positions in the Euphrates River valley by taking the two airfields toward which it had been moving. Tallil Airfield lay about twenty miles south of the town of An Nasiriyah; Jalibah Airfield lay forty miles east by southeast, near the lake at Hawr al Malih. The task of taking the airfields went to the units that had ended the previous day in positions closest to them. While the 1st Brigade would conduct a fixing attack toward the Jalibah Airfield, the 2d Brigade planned to move east about twenty-five miles and turn north against the same objective. Moving north, the 197th Brigade would take Tallil.
Following a four-hour rest, the 2d Brigade attacked at midnight, seized a position just south of Jalibah by 0200 on the twenty-seventh, and stayed there while preparatory fires continued to fall on the airfield. At 0600, the 1st Brigade moved east toward the airfield, stopped short, and continued firing on Iraqi positions. At the same time, the 2d Brigade resumed the attack with three infantry-armor task forces and crashed through a fence around the runways. Although the airfield had been hit by air strikes for six weeks and a heavy artillery preparation by five battalions of the XVIII Corps’ 212th Field Artillery Brigade, Iraqi defenders were still willing to fight. Most Iraqi fire was from ineffectual small arms; but armor-piercing rounds hit two Bradleys, killing two men of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, and wounding several others in the 3d Battalion, 15th Infantry. As nearly two hundred American armored vehicles moved across the airfield knocking out tanks, artillery pieces, and even aircraft, Iraqis began to surrender in large numbers. By 1000, the Jalibah Airfield was secure.
At midday, heavy-artillery and rocket-launcher preparations, followed by twenty-eight close air sorties, were directed on Tallil Airfield. As the fires lifted, the 197th Brigade advanced across the cratered runways and through weaker resistance than that at Jalibah. But, like the 2d Brigade at Jalibah, the 197th killed both armored vehicles and aircraft on the ground and found large numbers of willing prisoners.
As the 197th Brigade assaulted Tallil, General McCaffrey realigned his other units to continue the attack east centering on Highway 8. The 1st Brigade took the division left (north) sector, tying in with the 101st Airborne Division. The 2d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, the 24th’s reconnaissance unit, moved east from the Hawr al Malih lake area to set up a tactical assembly area behind the 1st Brigade. The 2d Brigade left its newly won airfield position and assumed the center sector of the division front. The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment took the right sector, tying in with the VII Corps to the south. With the 24th Division now oriented east after its northern advance of the first two days, a new series of attacks began between the Tallil Airfield and the Ar Rumaylah oil fields just southwest of Al Basrah.
The attacks down Highway 8 showed more clearly than any other episode the weaknesses of Iraqi field forces and the one-sidedness of the conflict. Through the afternoon and night of 27 February, the tankers, Bradley gunners, and helicopter crews and artillerymen of the 24th Infantry Division fired at hundreds of vehicles trying to redeploy to meet the new American attack from the west or simply to escape north across the Euphrates River valley and west on Highway 8. With no intelligence capability left to judge the size or location of the oncoming American armored wedges and attack-helicopter swarms, as well as insufficient communications to coordinate a new defense, Iraqi units stumbled into disaster. Unsuspecting drivers of every type of vehicle, from tanks to artillery prime movers and even commandeered civilian autos, raced randomly across the desert or west on Highway 8 only to run into General McCaffrey’s firestorm. Some drivers, seeing vehicles explode and burn, veered off the road in vain attempts to escape. Others stopped, dismounted, and walked toward the Americans with raised hands. When the division staff detected elements of the Hammurabi Division of the Republican Guard moving across the 24th’s front, McCaffrey concentrated the fire of nine artillery battalions and an Apache battalion on the once-elite enemy force. At dawn the next day, the twenty-eighth, hundreds of vehicles lay crumpled and smoking on Highway 8 and at scattered points across the desert. The 24th’s lead elements, only thirty miles west of Al Basrah, set up a hasty defense in place.
The 24th Division’s valley battles of 25-27 February rendered ineffective all Iraqi units encountered in the division sector and trapped most of the Republican Guard divisions to the south while the VII Corps bore into them from the west, either blasting units in place or taking their surrender. In its own battles, the 24th achieved some of the most impressive results of the ground war. McCaffrey’s troops had advanced one hundred ninety miles into Iraq to the Euphrates River, then turned east and advanced another seventy miles, all in four days. Along the way, they knocked out over 360 tanks and armored personnel carriers, over 300 artillery pieces, over 1,200 trucks, 500 pieces of engineer equipment, 19 missiles, and 25 aircraft and rounded up over 5,000 enemy soldiers. Just as surprising as these large enemy losses were the small numbers of American casualties: 8 killed in action, 36 wounded in action, and 5 nonbattle injuries. In the entire XVIII Airborne Corps, combat equipment losses were negligible: only 4 M1A1 tanks, 3 of which were repairable.
In the VII Corps’ sector, the advance rolled east. The battles begun the previous afternoon continued through the morning of 27 February as General Franks’ divisions bore into Republican Guard units trying to reposition or escape. As the assault gained momentum, Franks for the first time deployed his full combat power. The 1st Cavalry Division made good progress through the 1st Infantry Division breach and up the left side of the VII Corps’ sector. By midafternoon, after a high-speed 190-mile move north, General Tilelli’s brigades were behind the 1st Armored Division tying in with the 24th Infantry Division across the corps boundary. Now Franks could send against the Republican Guard five full divisions and a separate regiment. From left (north) to right, the VII Corps deployed the 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 3d Armored Division, 1st Infantry Division, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the British 1st Armoured Division.
The dust storms had cleared early in the day, revealing in the VII Corps’ sector an awesome array of armored and mechanized power. In a panorama extending beyond visual limits, 1,500 tanks, another 1,500 Bradleys and armored personnel carriers, 650 artillery pieces, and supply columns of hundreds of vehicles stretching into the dusty, brown distance rolled east through Iraqi positions, as inexorable as a lava flow. To Iraqi units, depleted and demoralized by forty-one days of continuous air assault, the VII Corps’ advance appeared irresistible.
Turning on the enemy the full range of its weapons, the VII Corps systematically destroyed Iraqi military power in its sector. About fifty miles east of Al Busayyah, the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions tore into remnants of the Tawalkana, Medina, and Adnan Divisions of the Republican Guard. In one of several large engagements along the advance, the 2d Brigade, 1st Armored Division, received artillery fire and then proceeded to destroy not only those artillery batteries but also sixty-one tanks and thirty-four armored personnel carriers of the Medina Division in less than one hour. The 1st Infantry Division overran the 12th Armored Division and scattered the 10th Armored Division into retreat. On the south flank, the British 1st Armoured Division destroyed the 52d Armored Division then overran three infantry divisions. To finish destruction of the Republican Guard Forces Command, General Franks conducted a giant envelopment involving the 1st Cavalry Division on the left and the 1st Infantry Division on the right. The trap closed on disorganized bands of Iraqis streaming north in full retreat. The only setback for the VII Corps during this climactic assault occurred in the British sector. American Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft supporting the British advance mistakenly fired on two infantry fighting vehicles, killing nine British soldiers.
At 1700, Franks informed his divisions of an imminent theaterwide cease-fire but pressed the VII Corps attack farther east. An hour later, the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division, set a blocking position on the north-south highway connecting Al Basrah to Kuwait City. The next morning, corps artillery units fired an enormous preparation involving all long-range weapons: 155-mm. and 8-inch (203-mm.) self-propelled pieces, rocket launchers, and tactical missiles. Attack helicopters followed to strike suspected enemy positions. The advance east continued a short time until the cease-fire went into effect at 0800, 28 February, with American armored divisions well inside Kuwait.
In ninety hours of continuous movement and combat, the VII Corps had achieved impressive results against the best units of the Iraqi military. Franks’ troops destroyed more than a dozen Iraqi divisions, an estimated 1,300 tanks, 1,200 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, 285 artillery pieces, and 100 air-defense systems and had captured nearly 22,000 men. At the same time, the best Iraqi divisions destroyed only 7 Abrams tanks, 15 Bradleys, 2 armored personnel carriers, and 1 Apache helicopter. And, while killing unknown thousands of enemy troops, the VII Corps lost twenty-two soldiers killed in action.
In the Marine Central Command’s sector on 27 February, the 2d Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade and the 2d Marine Division began the fourth day of the ground war by holding positions and maintaining close liaison with Joint Forces Command-North units on the left flank. The next phase of operations in Kuwait would see Saudi-commanded units pass through General Boomer’s sector from west to east and go on to liberate Kuwait City. At 0550, Tiger troops made contact with Egyptian units; four hours later, JFC-N columns passed through the 2d Marine Division. During the rest of the day, Tiger troops cleared bunker complexes, Ali Al Salem Airfield, and the Kuwaiti Royal Summer Palace, while processing a continuous stream of prisoners of war. The Army brigade and the 2d Marine Division remained on Mutla Ridge and Phase Line bear until the cease-fire went into effect at 0800 on 28 February. Prisoner interrogation during and after combat operations revealed that the Tiger Brigade advance had split the seam between the Iraqi III and IV Corps, overrunning elements of the 14th, 7th, and 36th Infantry Divisions, as well as brigades of the 3d Armored, 1st Mechanized, and 2d Infantry Divisions. During four days of combat, Tiger Brigade task forces destroyed or captured 181 tanks, 148 armored personnel carriers, 40 artillery pieces, and 27 antiaircraft systems while killing an estimated 263 enemy and capturing 4,051 prisoners of war, all at a cost of 2 killed and 5 wounded.