The U.S. Military and the Persian Gulf War

Note added: 1 July 2015
I originally wrote this page in the aftermath of the war, long before the creation of Wikipedia in 2001. At the time, I could find nothing on the web, so I wrote my own. Now, of course, the extensive collection of Wikipedia webpages on the Gulf War can tell you far more than I can. The Wikipedia Gulf War page is a portal to pages on all of the political background, different military campaigns, and orders of battle (which was my main motivation for writing this page 25 years ago).

From the West Point Atlas of United States Wars.
Click on the image for a full size map (201 kbytes).
Courtesy of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The Military Response

The map above shows the theater, and operations, as reproduced in the U.S. Army's West Point Atlas of United States Wars. I will not try to make a long accounting of the action, that has already been done superbly elsewhere. I highly recommend the online book "The Whirlwind War", courtesy of the U.S. Army's Center for Military History; the book "Certain Victory", the U.S. Army's official history of the campaign, and the book "Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait" by Norman Friedman, and published by the Institute for Naval History Press. All 3 books give good accounts, including small unit actions, and all 3 have excellent supporting maps. I will only provide a brief sketch of events here.

Desert Shield

The initial response of CENTCOM (codenamed "Desert Shield") was to dispatch the XVIII Airborne Corps to Saudi Arabia to support Saudi forces in the event that Iraqi forces continued into the oil field region along the Saudi east coast (the first units deployed were the 3/502 Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and 4/325 Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division). Eventually the entire XVIII Airborne Corps was deployed, consisting of the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Cavalry Division, and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Along with these U.S. ground forces, the United Kingdom deployed their 7th Armoured Brigade from its forward base in Germany, and the French deployed their heavily reinforced 6th Light Armored Division. These forces were joined by Kuwaiti & Saudi units, and eventually by units from several other nations, notably Egypt and Syria.

The Desert Shield deployment was designed to block Iraqi forces from proceeding to attack the Saudi oil fields, most of which run along the Saudi east coast, a straight drive south from Kuwait. But this force was inadequate to serve as an offensive force to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Iraqi forces had dug in along the Kuwaiti border, and had virtually all of the armored units in the Iraqi army in support.

Under pressure from the Secretary of Defense (Richard Cheney), Gen. Schwarzkopf developed a plan to use XVIII corps to attack Kuwait, which consisted of a frontal assault by Army and Marine forces, with a flanking maneuver by the 1st Armored Cavalry Division along the Wadi Al-Batin. However, Gen. Schwarzkopf also declared his own plan doomed to failure, and made sure everyone knew that it wasn't his idea to come up with such a plan anyway (Gen. Schwarzkopf was instructed by Gen. Powell to remain in Saudi Arabia and have his staff present the plan, no doubt due to Gen. Schwarzkopf's legendary and not always diplomatically correct temper).

With this documentation in hand, Gen. Powell and Secretary Cheney got approval from President Bush to deploy additional heavy elements from U.S. forces in Europe. VII Corps headquarters deployed with units from both VIII and V corps, including the 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions, the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division, and most of the 2nd Armored Division, as independent brigades or round-out units. With these heavier units in hand, Gen. Schwarzkopf had no doubt that he could engage the heavy armored units of the Iraqi army (including the much vaunted Republican Guard), and evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Instant Thunder

Prior to launching any ground assault on Iraqi forces, an air campaign to weaken Iraqi forces in the field, and to destroy command & control capabilities was tailored for the situation by Air Force planners. Ever since its inception as the U.S. Army Air Corp, and later the U.S. Army Air Forces, the Air Force (an independent service since 1947) has been dominated by the strategic ideas of Giulio Douhet. Douhet was an Italian general during WWI, and in 1920 wrote the first book on strategic air warfare, "Command of the Air". Douhet advocated the strategic bombardment of civilian populations as a means pf breaking the will of the nation to wage war. Douhetism dominated the strategic air warfare of WWII, which saw massive bombing campaigns against cities from both sides of the conflict.

Massive destruction of civilian targets is no longer politically acceptable, but that has not dulled the Douhetist regime of the U.S. Air Force. Just as during WWII, they remain convinced that a properly planned air warfare campaign, against military and national strategic targets, will force the enemy to surrendur without the involvement of ground combat troops (an idea roundly rejected by classical infantry officers, including Gen. Schwarzkopf). The Air Force saw that Instant Thunder Campaign as their best chance to prove the Douhetist ideal, and set about the construction of a whole new breeed of air campaign unlike any ever seen before.

The Air Force Campaign, conducted by Lt. Gen Horner and Brig. Gen. Glosson (but originally conceived by Col. John Warden, USAF), was built around a computer generated Air Tasking Order (ATO). The ATO was hundreds of pages thick, and specified the exact details of operation for every aircraft in the campaign. Ingress and egress routes were defined to control traffic and avoid collisions. Targets were designated, and force packages designed for each target. Because the ATO was computer generated, the aircraft making up a force package did not all need to come from the same air station, but only to arrive at the target at the same time. That ATO also coordinated ground attack with their high altitude fighter covering forces.

The strength of such a system is that it allows for an enormous number of aircraft to be over enemy air space at any one time, and allows for continous 24 hour bombardment. This in turn means maximum damage in minimum time. However, the weak side of this method is that it is rigid and inflexible, targets must be selected 48 hours ahead of the actual attack. Iraqi armored units were able to move fully exposed, but unmolested, right under the noses of ATO controlled pilots, who could do nothing about it. It also created a friction between air planners who wantd maximum coverage for strategic assault, and army corps & division commanders, who wanted control of the air space in front of their units for tactical operations. In the event that ground units move fast (as in fact they did), the need to constently shift the boundary between ATO and ground tactical air space created major problems for both services.

For a more detailed description of the Instant Thunder ATO and the campaign, I recommend Norman Friedman's book "Desert Victory".

The Battle for Khafji

Saddam Hussein put all of his hopes on the "mother of all battles" with the U.S. Army. He expected Army forces to get hung up in the fortified Saudi-Kuwaiti border, and suffer casualties so high as to force President Bush to stop the fighting. However, as Instant Thunder went on, day after day, Hussein became fearful of exactly what the Air Force was hoping to do. He worried that the Army would not attack, there would be no battle, and the Air Force would simply bomb Iraq until there ws nothing left to bomb. So, he ordered his ground force commanders to attack, and start the battle themselves.

But most were afraid to move under the watchful eye of the air attack, and only the Iraqi III corps (Lt. Gen. Salah Abud Mahmud) responded positively, launching an attack to seize the Saudi coastal city of Ras al-Khafji (which had already been evacuated of civilians). The attack consisted of a direct assault down the coast road, supported by an amphibious assault to cut the coast road south of Kahfji, and an asault inland to cover the right flank of the frontal assault. Another, diversionary attack, was made further inland.

The diversionary attack was stopped by U.S. Marines, the inland flanking attack was stopped by the only Qatari unit in the war, a tank battalion, and the amphibious assault ran into the attack helicopters of the British Royal Navy and never made it to shore. The frontal assault brushed a small Saudi border detachment aside and entered the undefended Khafji. However, they were unaware of two U.S. Marine Corps artillery spotting teams which remained in Khafji after the Iraqi occupation (I have read that the teams were trappd by the rapid Iraqi advance, but I have also read that they remained on station deliberately; I do not know which is the correct story).

Saudi units took Khafji back before long, with the help of U.S. artillery spotted by the Marine units in the city. However, there were several notable ramifications of this action. First, the U.S. Marines realized that the Iraqis were uncoordinated and vulnerable to tactical air attack. Second, the Saudi, Qatari, and Kuwaiti units realized that they could take the Iraqis on toe-to-toe and win; the inflated reputation of Iraqi fighting prowess was deflated by this experience, and Arab commanders decided they wanted a bigger piece of the action when the main assault came. The U.S. Marines completely redesigned their attack plan after this action, changing from two divisions leap-frogging each other, to two divisions abreast, on the assumption that they would penetrate the fortified border quicker than previously expected.

Desert Storm

The ground assault on Iraqi forces, designated Desert Storm is illustrated in the map at the top of the page. The most detailed accounts available are the online book "The Whirlwind War", and the book "Certain Victory", the official U.S. Army history of the battle. Time ran out for the Air Force's Instant Thunder campaign. Once a large Army force had been placed in Saudi Arabia, maintaining it in place was very expensive. It had to be used, or removed, and the latter option was not an option. The assualt was launched almost as soon as the last VII Corps units made it to the theater.

The plan was relatively straight forward, strategy wise, though exceptionally difficult logistics wise, because of the compressed time scale. The XVIII Corps was deployed to the far left flank, tasked with isolating the battlefield and protecting the flank and rear of VII corps. The French 6th Light Armored Division and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division extended along the far left to keep any Iraqi units from entering the area. The 101st Airborne Division and the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division would move forward to the highway along the Euphrates River and prevent any Iraqi units (particularly the Republican Guard) from getting out of the area. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (USA) acted in a scouting role, and also was assigned to patrol the boundary between XVIIIth Corps & VIIth Corps.

The units of VII Corps were in the center, tasked with directly assaulting the Iraqi armored forces, and the Republican Guard, with the object of destroying them. The U.S. 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions and 1st Mechanized Infantry Division, along with the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (as scouting force) and the British 1st Armored Division were given this task, all under VII Corps control and Lt. Gen. Fred Franks.

The Marine and Arab units were on the right flank, tasked with frontally assaulting the Iraqi fortifications along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. There two-fold object was to (a) entice the Republican Guard forces forward and into the path of VII Corps, and (b) to penetrate the fortifications and move on Kuwait City (but the Marines were not to enter the city, until Kuwaiti units had preceded them). The Marines were supported by the 1st ("Tiger") Brigade, 2nd Armored Division, from the U.S. Army, because the Marine Corps Sherman tanks could not take on the Iraqi T-72 tanks evenly, whereas the Army M1-A1 Abrams tanks could.

Finally, the Marine expeditionary forces afloat would act as a probable decoy, pinning down large Iraqi forces on the Kuwaiti coast, in anticipation of an amphibious assault. In fact, there was never any real consideration of an amphibious assault on the heavily defended urban coastline, which would expose the Marines to heavy casualties without good reason. However, the option of an amphibious assault on Basra, up the Shat al-Arab, was kept open until well into the ground assault. Such an assault would have put a major force deep in the Iraqi rear area, but was in the end unnecessary.

The actual pace of events was rather different than planned. The XVIII Corps carried out it's task much as planned. However, the Marine Corps' lesson from Khafji didn't quite sink into the Army's thinking. The plan called for the Marine and Arab forces to be hung up in the Iraqi fortifications for 18 to 24 hours, and maybe longer. Long enough, in any case, to entice the Republican Guard to come down in support, giving VII Corps a straight shot at them. But the reality was that the Marines blew through the Iraqi fortifications and accomplished in a few hours, what was expected to take days. Instead of being enticed into the path of VII Corps, Iraqi units were reeling backwards.

The surprising success of the Marine assault motivated CENTCOM to launch the VII Corps attack somewhat early. According to some of the post war pundits, this was a sign of panic on Schwarzkopf's part, reflecting his belief that the Iraqis were in full retreat. General Franks (CG, VII Corps) disagrees, and points out that if this were really the case, CENTCOM would not have insisted that he hold his attack until the Egyptian corps was ready to go. He says that VII Corps was ready, willing, and anxious to go even earlier (tp preserve limited daylight). The fact that they were held back for a coordinated assault leads Franks to conclude that the motivation for an early assault was simply to ensure the safety of the Marine Corps west flank. However, there is also no doubt but that Schwarzkopf did soon come to the conclusion that the Iraqis were in full retreat, and that VII Corps should have moved faster in pursuit. Franks tells the story in his own words in the book "Into the Storm" (Tom Clancy & Fred Franks), which contradicts some arguments made by Schwarzkopf in his own autobiography "It Doesn't Take a Hero".

One interesting aspect of the operations is that map symbols can be misleading. For instance, the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division deployed with only two of its own brigades, with 3rd Brigade, 2nd Armored Division as its round-out brigade. As a result, the division deployed with 6 armored battalions, and 3 mechanized infantry battalions. A normal mechanized infantry division would deploy with 6 battalions of mechanized infantry, and 4 armored battalions. So, in fact, the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division deployed as an armored division that was short one maneuver battalion of mechanized infantry. Likewise, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division also deployed with only 2 of its own brigades, the round-out brigade was the 197th Mechanized Infantry Brigade from Ft. Benning. That gave the 24th 5 armored and 5 infantry battalions, a hybrid division.

The Air Force planners had high hopes that the Instant Thunder campaign would be enough to compel the Iraqis to withdraw. They were disappointed when this did not happen. Nevertheless, a month or so of incessant bombing has a deleterious effect on immobile soldiers, to say the least. When the Army and Marine Corps, and other coalition forces struck the Iraqi front line positions, most of the Iraqis were more interested in surrenduring than fighting, and breeching operations that were expected to take from 18 to 24 hours were finished in as little as 2 hours.

The entire Desert Storm operation was finished in a politically satisfying 100 hours of extremely one-sided combat (the 1st battalion, 37th Armor, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division USA, encountered the 29th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard on February 26, 1991; they destroyed 76 T-72 MBTs, 84 BMP IFVs, 3 Air Defence Artillery pieces, 8 howitzers, 6 command vehicles, 2 engineer vehicles and "a myriad of trucks", at a cost of 4 USA M1-A1 MBT's knocked out of action and zero KIA - a single U.S. Army battalion destroyed an entire Iraqi brigade, while itself remaining intact and essentially undamaged, and this is not the only example).

U.S. Military Organization

The independent branches of the military forces of the United States are operationally organized into nine Unified Combatant Commands. Each command is headed by a 4-star officer, and each command is assigned to a specific geographic region; commanders rotate between the service branches unless geography makes a specific service paramount (seaborne commands will not be given to Army officers, & etc.). There are few, if any units permanently assigned to these commands. Rather, units are assigned as available, depending on the specific crisis at hand, and depending on how geography dictates which service and units would be most effective. Military operations during the Gulf War were the resonsibility of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is the command assigned to cover the southwest Asian region. It was at that time under the command of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA (now retired). This is how Gen. Szhwarzkopf came to command U.S. & U.N. forces in the Gulf War.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is the senior military officer in the United States; he reports directly to the Secretary of Defence, and is the principal military advisor to the president. The office of the Joint Chiefs receives policy directions from the President, usually through the Secretary of Defence, and provides policy directions to the Unified Combatant Commands. Operational control remains in the hands of the local commanders, but their goals and schedules come down from the JCS. In return, the JCS represents the interest of the commanders of the various Unified Combatant Commands, when those commanders feel that schedules and goals are not compatible with the forces deployed. This was particularly the case following Desert Shield, when Gen. Schwarzkopf was directed by Secretary Cheney to construct a plan for assaulting & evicting Iraqi forces from Kuwait, with the XVIII Airborne Corps and allied units on hand. Schwarzkopf protested strongly, but produced the plan as ordered (he was not ordered to say it was a good plan, and made a point of saying that it was an impossible task). JCS played a crucial role in brokering agreement between Schwarzkopf and Cheney to dispatch the VIIth Armored Corps from Germany to support a two-corps assault, as Schwarzkopf requested.

The Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force at the time Desert Shield began was Gen. Michael Dugan, USAF. Dugan was dismissed from his post, and forced to retire, as a result of careless comments to the press, and replaced by Gen. Merrill McPeak, USAF, who held that post throughout Instant Thunder and Desert Storm. JCS Director of operations, Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, USA, (who died in June 2000) became easily recognized by conducting the daily, televised press briefings from the Pentagon.

Here are the names of some of the key players in the JCS, and in the civilian government.

Central Command in the Gulf War

Central command was (and is) headquartered at MacDill AFB, in Florida. During the operations of the Gulf War, Central Command maintained one headquarters at MacDill, and another forward headquarters, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I will list the names of key personnel as I can, all of whom were deployed forward to Riyadh, unless otherwise noted.

Saudi Joint Chiefs of Staff

As host nation, Saudi Arabia obviously committed the lion's share of local resources, including troops and money. The commander of all joint Arab forces, Lt. Gen. Prince Khalid Bin Sultan al-Saud, was commander of Saudi Air Defence Forces, and answered to the Saudi equivalent of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Chairman, Gen. Muhammad al-Hamad, was the only active duty 4-star general in Saudi Arabia. The chief of plans and operations for the Saudi JCS was Maj. Gen. Jousif Madani.

Order of Battle

I have assembled here the most complete order of battle for all coalition and Iraqi forces that I am aware of on the web (or anywhere else). I have included the names of unit commanders where I know them. This list is compiled from a number of sources, but primarily Schwarzkopf's autobiography, It Doesn't Take a Hero; the U.S. Army's official history of the campaign, Certain Victory; Norman Friedman's book, Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait (published by the Naval Institute Press, this is one of the few books that details Marine and Navy operations); and Frank Chadwick's Gulf War Fact Book. Chadwick's small book came out fairly soon after hostilites ended, and contains at least one error that I know of (Lt. Gen. Yeosock returned from medical leave in Germany to command 3rd Army, whereas Chadwick has Lt. Gen. Waller commanding 3rd Army; Schwarzkopf relates the details in his book). However, Chadwick's book also contains by far the most detailed order of battle I have yet seen, for all of the forces involved on either side. So much of the order of battle lists I have compiled here comes from his book. But he does not give any information below the division level for U.S. forces, all of which comes either from the U.S. Army Center for Military History, or from the units mentioned in the text of Certain Victory.

Not all of the units that took part in the Gulf War remain on the active duty list. The U.S. Army at the time consisted of 17 maneuver divisions, but that has been culled back to 10 maneuver divisions since then. The 10 divisions that currently make up the deployable U.S. Army are all described in the Division Matrix, hosted by the U.S. Army's Center for Military History. My detailed order of battle lists for the U.S. 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, 1st Armored, 1st Armored Cavalry and 1st Mechanized Infantry divisions are copies of those lists, supplemented by the names of whatever unit commanders I have been able to cull from other sources.

U.S. Third Army (ARCENT)
Commander, Lt. Gen. John Yeosock, USA
Deputy Commander, Maj. Gen. Paul Schwarz, USA
Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. James Taylor, USA
Executive Officer, Col. Mike Kendall, USA
G-2, Brig. Gen. John Stewart, USA
G-3, Brig. Gen. Steve Arnold, USA

Marine Forces, Central Command (MARCENT)
Commander, Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, USMC Theater Reserve (or other forces under direct control CINC, CENTCOM)

Joint Forces Group
Commander, Lt. Gen. Prince Khalid Bin Sultan al-Saud, Saudi Air Defence Forces

Naval Forces, Central Command (NAVCENT)
Commander, Vice Adm. Hank Mauz, USN; replaced by Vice Adm. Stanley Arthur, USN on October 1, 1990, in a normal rotation.

Air Forces, Central Command (CENTAF)
Commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, USAF