Battle of Norfolk

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Battle of Norfolk
Part of the Persian Gulf War
A dug-in Iraqi T-72 Asad Babil tank at the Battle of Norfolk, 26 February 1991
Date February 27, 1991
Location Muthanna Province, Ba'athist Iraq
(now Al Muthanna Governorate, Iraq)
Result Coalition victory
 United States
 United Kingdom
Iraq Ba'athist Iraq
Commanders and leaders
Maj. Gen Thomas G. Rhame[1]
Maj. Gen Rupert Smith[2]
Salah Aboud Mahmoud
Brig. Gen Saheb Mohammed Alaw
Units involved
2nd Armored Division (Forward)
1st Infantry Division
British 1st Armoured Division[3]
210th Field Artillery Brigade[4]
Tawakalna Republican Guard Division
12th Armored Division
52nd Armored Division
25th Infantry Division
26th Infantry Division
31st Infantry Division
48th Infantry Division[5]
Casualties and losses
American Sector
6 killed
25 wounded
5 tanks destroyed
2 AFVs destroyed[6]
British Sector
Dozens killed and wounded.[7]
American Sector
Heavy casualties
937 soldiers captured
100 tanks destroyed
75 AFVs destroyed[8][9]
80+ artillery pieces destroyed
British Sector
Heavy casualties
Hundreds of tanks and other vehicles destroyed.[10][11]

The Battle of Norfolk was a tank battle fought on February 27, 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, between armored forces of the United States Army and those of the Ba'athist Iraqi Republican Guard. It was the final battle of the war before the unilateral ceasefire took effect. The Battle of Norfolk has generally been overlooked especially when considering the sheer size of the battle. No fewer than 14 divisions participated in the Battle of Norfolk, making it perhaps the largest battle of the war, though the Battle of Medina Ridge involved the largest American and Iraqi divisions.[12][13] Over a decade would pass after the conflict before quality references would become available on most of the battles that took place during the 1st Gulf War. Many of the land battles during Operation Desert Storm were in fact larger than the majority of the battles that took place in southern and western Europe during World War Two, at least as far as the quantity of equipment involved is concerned.


The battle took place about 60 miles (97 km) east of and 18 hours after the Battle of Al Busayyah, and several kilometers east of the Battle of 73 Easting, which had ended just two hours earlier. The Battle of Norfolk is named for Objective Norfolk, an area that encompassed the intersection of the IPSA Pipeline Road and several desert trails and a large Iraqi supply depot defended by Iraqi armor. Objective Norfolk was located west of Phase Line Kiwi, east of Phase Line Smash, and north of Phase Line Grape. Phase lines are map references occurring every few kilometers used to measure progress of an offensive operation.[14]


The forces involved in the battle were the American 1st Infantry Division, the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (fwd) (Hell on Wheels) and the Iraqi 18th Mechanized and 9th Armored Brigades of the Republican Guard Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division along with elements from eleven other Iraqi divisions including the Iraqi 26th, 48th, 31st, and 25th Infantry Divisions.[15] The Iraqi 52nd Armored Division was also present.[16] The British would be represented by their 1st Armoured Division.[17]

Counter Reconnaissance[edit]

Task Force 1-41 Infantry was a heavy battalion task force from the 2nd Armored Division(Forward). Shortly after arrival in theatre Task Force 1-41 Infantry received a counter reconnaissance mission.[18] Counter Reconnaissance generally includes destroying or repelling the enemy's reconnaissance elements and denying their commander any observation of friendly forces. On 15 February 1991 4-3 FA fired on a trailer and a few trucks in the Iraqi sector that was observing American forces.[19] On 16 February 1991 several groups of Iraqi vehicles appeared to be performing reconnaissance on the Task Force and were driven away by fire from 4-3 FA.[20] Another enemy platoon, including six vehicles, was reported as being to the northeast of the Task Force. They were engaged with artillery fire from 4-3 FA.[21] Later that evening another group of Iraqi vehicles were spotted moving towards the center of the Task Force. They appeared to be Iraqi Soviet made BTRs and tanks. For the next hour the Task Force would fight several small battles with Iraqi reconnaissance units. TF 1-41 IN fired TOW missiles at the Iraqi formation destroying one tank. The rest of the formation was destroyed or driven away by artillery fire from 4-3 FA.[22] On 17 February 1991 the Task Force took enemy mortar fire, however, the enemy forces managed to escape.[23] Later that evening the Task Force would receive enemy artillery fire but suffered no casualties.[24]


The breach was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage, led by 4-3 FA Battalion and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, to soften up Iraqi defenses. Around 300 guns from multiple nations participated in the barrage. Over 14,000 rounds of artillery and over 4,900 MLRS rockets were fired at Iraqi forces during these raids.[25] Iraq lost close to 90 artillery pieces during the initial stages of this barrage. By the end of these raids Iraqi artillery assets had all but ceased to exist. These raids were supplemented by air attacks by B-52 bombers and C-130 cargo aircraft.[26]

Task Force 1-41 Infantry was given the task of breaching Iraq's initial defensive positions along the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border. Once into Iraqi territory the Task Force would encounter multiple Iraqi defensive positions and bunkers. These defensive positions were occupied by a brigade sized element.[27] TF 1-41 IN elements dismounted and prepared to engage the enemy soldiers which occupied these well prepared and heavily fortified bunkers.[28] The Task Force would find itself engaged in six hours of combat in order to clear the extensive bunker complex .[29] The Iraqis would engage the Task Force with small arms fire, RPGs, mortar fire, and what was left of Iraqi artillery assets. A series of battles would unfold which resulted in heavy Iraqi casualties and the Iraqis being removed from their defensive positions with many becoming prisoners of war. Some would escape to be killed or captured by other coalition forces.[30] Task Force 1-41 earned a Valorous Unit Award for its efforts.[31]


The Battle of Norfolk was in a sense a continuation of the fighting that began with the Battle of 73 Easting the day before. It began at 12:30 am on 27 February. The two attacking brigades of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, including the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (fwd), were positioned along the 75 Easting, 2,000 meters east of 73 Easting. The Brigades clashed with the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard, including the 37th Brigade of the 12th Iraqi Armored Division.[32] The 12th Iraqi Armored Division would be destroyed during this engagement. A total of 80 Iraqi armored vehicles would be destroyed in the process.[33]

4-3 FA Battalion, 2nd Armored Division(FWD) conducts artillery strikes on Iraqi positions during the 1st Gulf War. 4-3 FA was the primary fire support battalion for Task Force 1-41 during the 1st Gulf War, February 1991.
British Army Challenger 1 main battle tank during Operation Desert Storm. The Challenger proved to be a deadly opponent at the Battle of Norfolk.

With air support from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Aviation's attack helicopters[34] and fire support from both the 4-3 FA Battalion and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade preventing Iraqi artillery from interfering, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division conducted a passage of the 2nd ACR's lines.[35] In the following three hours the U.S. 1st Infantry Division methodically crossed the 6.2 miles (10.0 km) of Objective Norfolk, destroying Iraqi tanks, trucks, and infantry through thick fog. The 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (fwd) destroyed 60 Iraqi tanks and 35 AFVs along the IPSA pipeline.[36] In the thick of the fog of war, U.S. units became mixed with Iraqi units dispersed throughout the desert. This confusion led to some friendly fire incidents.[37]

By dawn, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division controlled Objective Norfolk and the Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division had ceased to exist as a fighting force. A total of eleven Iraqi divisions were destroyed. American casualties were six soldiers killed (all but one by friendly fire) and 25 wounded.[38]

British participation[edit]

The British 1st Armoured division was responsible for protecting the right flank of VII Corps. It was assumed by the corps' planners the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division would counterattack 7th Corps once their penetration into Iraqi defenses was discovered. The British 1st Armoured Division had two brigades which participated in Operation Desert Storm. The 4th and 7th Brigades. They would both rotate responsibilities as the lead brigade. The 1st Armoured was equipped with the Challenger 1 main battle tank. With a 120mm rifled main gun, thermal optics, and state of the art Chobham armor, its only rival in theatre was the American M1A1 Abrams tank. British infantry rode into battle on the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle. It had reasonable armor protection and a 30-mm gun. Modified versions of the vehicle included mortar carriers, Milan antitank systems, and command and control vehicles; and the British possessed a variety of excellent light armored vehicles built on their Scorpion chassis. British artillery was primarily American made M-109s (155mm), M110s (203mm), and MLRS systems which were compatible with American systems. Their air support consisted of Gazelle helicopters, used for reconnaissance, and the Lynx helicopter which was comparable to the American Cobra. The British had their full contingent of engineer, logistics, and medical units.[39]

This small but powerful division would be commanded by forty-seven-year-old Maj. General Rupert Smith. He was a member of the British Parachute Regiment and an expert on Soviet armor and tank tactics. His division had two brigades at its disposal. The 4th Brigade which was reinforced with extra engineers and artillery. The 4th Brigade would be used for breakout operations and to clear the ground at the breach. The armor heavy 7th Brigade would be used for tank on tank engagements.[40]

On 25 February 1991 the 1st Armoured Division would smash into the western flank of the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division which was commanded by Brig. General Saheb Mohammed Alaw. That night the 48th Infantry Division was destroyed and General Alaw was captured by the British. That same night the British cleared two lines of enemy positions during close combat engagements. The British also destroyed several Iraqi companies of T-55 tanks.[41] That same night other elements of the division were engaging the Iraqi 31st Infantry Division.[42]

On 26 February 1991 British artillery units unleashed an hour long artillery strike on Iraqi positions. It was the greatest British artillery display since World War Two. That same night the British 7th Brigade fought a night tank battle against an Iraqi tank battalion from the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division. After ninety minutes of battle over 50 Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed.[43] That same night the British 4th Brigade destroyed a headquarters and artillery site belonging to the 807th Brigade of the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division. British infantry units cleared Iraqi defensive positions which were occupied by the Iraqi 803rd Infantry Brigade.[44] After 48 hours of combat the British 1st Armoured Division destroyed or isolated four Iraqi infantry divisions(the 26th, 48th, 31st, and 25th)and overran the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division in several sharp engagements. By midnight there was no more organized Iraqi resistance between the 1st Armoured Division and the Persian Gulf.[45]

On 27 February 1991 the British 1st Armoured Division secured the final objectives on the Basra Highway north of Multa Ridge.[46] The British 1st Armoured Division had traveled 217 miles in 97 hours. The 1st Armored Division had captured or destroyed about 200 tanks and a very large number of armoured personnel carriers, trucks, reconnaissance vehicles, etc.[47]

Iraqi Type 69 tanks after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division during Operation Desert Storm.
Destroyed Iraqi tanks burning at the Battle of Norfolk during the 1st Gulf War, February 1991.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bourque, p.14
  2. ^ Bourque, p.43
  3. ^ Bourque pp.331,335
  4. ^ Bourque, p.333
  5. ^ Bourque pp.134,144,377
  6. ^ Bourque, p.336
  7. ^ Bourque, p.460
  8. ^ Bourque, p.336
  9. ^ Westwell, p. 88
  10. ^ Bourque, p.377
  11. ^ Bourque, p.275
  12. ^ Bourque, pp.144, 260, 275, 377
  13. ^ Zaloga (2009), p. 64
  14. ^ Bourque, p.134
  15. ^ Bourque, p.144
  16. ^ Bourque, p.377
  17. ^ Bourque, p.260
  18. ^ Hillman, p.6
  19. ^ Bourque, p.96
  20. ^ Bourque, p.98
  21. ^ Bourque, p.99
  22. ^ Bourque, p.99
  23. ^ Bourque, p. 102
  24. ^ Bourque, p.103
  25. ^ Bourque, p.164
  26. ^ Bourque pp.163
  27. ^ VUA Citation
  28. ^ VUA Citation
  29. ^ VUA Citation
  30. ^ Bourque, pp.113-133
  31. ^ VUA Citation
  32. ^ Bourque, p.134
  33. ^ Westwell, p. 88
  34. ^ Bourque, p.330
  35. ^ Bourque, p.331
  36. ^ Zaloga (2009), p. 64
  37. ^ Bourque, p.100
  38. ^ TAB H -- Friendly-fire Incidents
  39. ^ Bourque, p.260
  40. ^ Bourque, p.261
  41. ^ Bourque, p.275
  42. ^ Bourque, p.275
  43. ^ Bourque, p.275
  44. ^ Bourque, p.276
  45. ^ Bourque, p.377
  46. ^ Bourque, p.377
  47. ^ Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: final report to Congress. United States. Dept. of Defense. 1992.

Works Consulted[edit]

  • Bourque, Stephen A. (2001). Jayhawk! The 7th Corps in the Persian Gulf War. Center of Military History, United States Army. LCCN 2001028533. OCLC 51313637. 
  • The Road to Safwan: The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry in the 1991 Persian Gulf War by Stephen A. Bourque and John Burdan III
  • Westwell, Ian (2001). 1st Infantry Division 'Big Red One'. Spearhead #6. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allen. ISBN 9780711029231. 
  • Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: final report to Congress. United States. Dept. of Defense. 1992.