Battle of Al Faw (2003)
The Battle of Al Faw was one of the first battles of the Iraq War. One of the initial objectives of the Coalition campaign in Iraq was to capture the Gas and Oil Platforms ("GOPLATs") in the Al-Faw Peninsula intact before it could be sabotaged or destroyed by the Iraqi military. This would prevent an ecological disaster similar to the 1991 Gulf War and enable a quicker resumption of oil exports which was vital to the rebuilding of Iraq after the war.
The British Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade would also capture Umm Qasr at the same time so that its only deep water port in Iraq could be used to bring in humanitarian supplies once the Khawr Abd Allah waterway was cleared by the Mine Counter Measures Task group. The United States Marine Corps placed 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit under the command of 3 Commando Brigade so that the Brigade had the necessary force to capture both targets.
Order of Battle
- 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines
- 40 Commando, Royal Marines
- 42 Commando, Royal Marines
- 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery
- 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers
- 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers
- 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, United States Marine Corps
- SEAL Teams 3, 8 and 10, US Navy Special Forces
- JW GROM, Polish Army commando unit
- Fleet support
- HMS Ark Royal (helicopter transport)
- HMS Ocean (amphibious assault ship)
- HMS Richmond (naval gunfire support)
- HMS Marlborough (naval gunfire support)
- HMS Chatham (naval gunfire support)
- RFA Sir Galahad (transport)
- USS Valley Forge (command and control)
- USS Rushmore (transport)
- ORP Kontradmirał Xawery Czernicki (logistic support)
- HMAS Anzac (naval gunfire support)
- Aviation support
- USS Constellation
- A-10 Thunderbolt II (close air support)
- AC-130U Spectre gunship
- AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters
Following days of bad weather, the assault on Al Faw was set for 2200 hours (local time) on 20 March 2003. US gunships and fighter-bombers attacked the known Iraqi positions on the peninsula in a short bombardment prior to the operation. In a classic airborne night assault, the 40 Commando and US marines landed by helicopter, encountering light resistance. They captured their three strategic objectives without loss and capturing over 200 prisoners.
At the same time, air and sea landings secured the gas and oil platforms out at sea. SEAL Teams 8 and 10 captured the Mina Al Bakr Oil Terminal and Polish GROM commandos captured the Khor Al-Amaya Oil Terminal. 32 Iraqi prisoners were also captured. Explosive Ordnance Disposal were then landed on the platforms to search for and remove explosive booby traps and demolition charges.
A second assault by 42 Commando followed at 2225 hours. The second assault was preceded by artillery and naval bombardment, the artillery fire came from three British and one US artillery batteries positioned on Bubiyan Island, the naval component from HMS Richmond, HMS Marlborough, HMS Chatham and HMAS Anzac. The Marines were preceded by USMC AH-1 Cobra helicopters gunships and flown in by USMC helicopters to land just north of the town of Al Faw, destroying Iraqi artillery which could threaten the oil infrastructure and 40 Commando's flank.
The insertion began badly with appalling visibility, worsened by fires and sand. The Headquarters of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force crashed in a US CH-46 Sea Knight as the assault formation turned over the Brigade assembly area, killing the seven Royal Marines, one Royal Navy operator and four US marine Corps aviators aboard. The cloud base dropped even further and the insertion was aborted. A new insertion was planned, using RAF Chinook and Puma helicopters for dawn. The landings finally took place, six hours late and onto insecure landing zones, all the objectives were taken and secured.
15 MEU crossed the Iraq-Kuwait border in the early hours of the morning, bypassing the town of Umm Qasr and seizing the port.
Plans to land British armour by hovercraft were abandoned once engineers discovered extensive mining of the beaches near Al Faw which posed too great a danger to heavy U.S. Navy hovercraft carrying UK Scimitars. The Scimitars of C Squadron Queen's Dragoon Guards, which had been loaded Hovercraft aboard the USS Rushmore for the landing were instead landing back in Kuwait and finally crossed the waterway north of Umm Qasr twenty-four hours late. They then took up their positions on the salt marshes south of Basrah.
Fedayeen Saddam paramilitaries continued scattered fighting around Umm Qasr. Two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters collided, killing 7 people.
15 MEU achieved their main objectives of securing Umm Qasr ahead of schedule, within 48 hours of crossing the Iraqi border. They then pushed north along the west bank of the Khawr Abd Allah waterway encountering stiff resistance from Fedayeen Saddam.
An Iraqi armoured brigade attempted a counterattack on Al Faw. It was engaged and repelled by 40 Commando with many Iraqi armoured vehicles destroyed.
With the route to Umm Qasr declared safe and the Al Faw Peninsula largely in Coalition hands, this allowed the British 7th Armoured Brigade to press on to Basrah and US forces to advance on Baghdad without the threat of Iraqi forces near Basrah flanking through Al Faq and attacking Coalition supply lines.
- "Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future, The Al Faw Peninsula Operation". Ministry of Defence/National Archives.
- "Second Night – Assault on the GOPLATs". Defense Media Network.
- Leigh Neville (2008). Special Operations Forces in Iraq. Osprey Publishing. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1-84603-357-8.
- Mark Ormrod, Man Down, Random House, 2009, p.145
- Operations In Iraq – First Reflections, British Ministry of Defence, 7 July 2003