Australian contribution to the 1991 Gulf War

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HMAS Sydney in the Persian Gulf in 1991. Note radar absorbent matting fitted to the side of the ship.

Australia was a member of the international coalition which contributed military forces to the 1991 Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. More than 1800 ADF personnel were deployed to the Persian Gulf from August 1990 to September 1991. In August 1990, two frigates HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Darwin and the replenishment ship HMAS Success left for the Persian Gulf. HMAS Success had no air defences so the Army 16th Air Defence Regiment deployed on this ship. On 3 December 1990, HMAS Brisbane and HMAS Sydney (IV) relieved HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Darwin. On 26 January 1991, HMAS Westralia replaced HMAS Success. A Navy Clearance diving team was also deployed for explosive ordnance and demolition tasks. Australian ships were in danger of mines and possible air attacks. In a number of recorded incidents, HMAS Brisbane encountered free floating mines, on one occasion narrowly avoiding a collision. Both HMA Ships Brisbane and Sydney encountered significant air threat warnings from Iran and Iraq throughout the initial period of the commencement of the Desert Storm Campaign. The detection of land based silkworm missiles from Iran throughout the campaign also added to the challenges for both crews as well as the multi-national Naval Forces.

In addition to the naval contingent, Australian service personnel were seconded to British and United States ground troops.[1] The government position was not to deploy ground troops with "no boots in the sand".[citation needed] The RAAF deployed a unit of photo-interpreters which were based in Saudi Arabia.[1] Four medical teams were also deployed.[1] At the end of Desert Storm, 75 ADF personnel were deployed to Northern Iraq to assist in the provision of humanitarian aid to the Kurds living in the UN-declared exclusion zone.[1]

Whilst there were no casualties of ADF personnel during the Gulf War, a significant number of Australian Gulf War veterans appear to continue to suffer from Gulf War illness.[2]


Australia's contribution to the 1991 Gulf War centred on a Naval Task Group which formed part of the multi-national fleet in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, under Operation Damask. In addition, medical teams were deployed aboard a US hospital ship and a navy Clearance diving team took part in de-mining Kuwait's port facilities at the end of the war. Following the end of the war Australia deployed a medical unit on Operation Habitat to northern Iraq as part of Operation Provide Comfort.[1][3] While there were proposals to deploy other units (including an apparent US request for RF-111 reconnaissance aircraft) these proposals came to nothing and no Australian Army or Royal Australian Air Force combat units were deployed.

The Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) did not take part in the war.[3][4] In 1993, a book was published on a British SAS patrol Bravo Two Zero with an Australian member using the pseudonym of Stan.[5] Subsequent media reports stated that SASR soldiers on exchange took part in the war, however, in 2005 it was disclosed that Stan was a former Army Reserve Commando who had joined the British Army.[6][4] As the SASR had long established exchange programmes, a soldier may have served with British or United States special forces units. The total number of personnel deployed between August 1990 and September 1991 was 1,800.[7] In the aftermath of the conflict, Royal Australian Navy warships continued to be deployed to the Persian Gulf periodically to enforce sanctions against Iraq until the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.[8]

Royal Australian Navy[edit]

Operation Damask I (6 September 1990 – 3 December 1990)

Task Group 627.4

Operation Damask II (3 December 1990 – 28 May 1991)

Task Group 627.4

Operation Damask III (13 June 1991 – 4 September 1991)

Operation Damask VI (October 1992 – April 1993)

Other Deployments

  • Logistic Support Element (Muscat, Oman)
    • Logistic Support Detachment Bahrain
    • Logistic Support Detachment Dubai

Task Group Medical Support Elements (served aboard USS Comfort)

  • TGMSE 1 (13 September 1990 – 4 January 1991)
  • TGMSE 2 (31 December 1990 – 15 March 1991)
  • TGMSE 3 (13 January 1991 – 15 March 1991)

Clearance Diving Team 3 operated in the theatre from 27 January 1991 to 10 May 1991. It was involved in mine clearing operations in Kuwait from 5 March to 19 April 1991.[citation needed]

Royal Australian Air Force[edit]

RAAF C-130 aircraft from No. 36 and No. 37 Squadrons provided a shuttle service between Australia and the Persian Gulf. Boeing 707 aircraft from No. 33 Squadron and VIP aircraft from No. 34 Squadron also flew to the Middle East.[citation needed] A small team of RAAF photo-interpreters was posted to Saudi Arabia. Intelligence analysts from the RAAF and Defence Intelligence Organisation were also posted to Saudi Arabia.[1]

Australian Army[edit]

The only formed Australian Army units to participate in the Persian Gulf War were anti-aircraft missile teams from the 16th Air Defence Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery who, equipped with RBS 70 missiles, provided point defence to HMAS Success and HMAS Westralia. A small number of Australians (mainly Army officers) on exchange to US and British units saw action in the Persian Gulf with those units.[1]

Operation Provide Comfort/Operation Habitat (16 May 1991 – 30 June 1991)[edit]

The Australian Army and Air Force provided 75 personnel to Operation Habitat, the Australian contribution to Operation Provide Comfort, the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kurds living in the UN-declared exclusion zone in northern Iraq.[1][7]

  • Australian Medical Unit (Gir-I-Pit, Northern Iraq)
    • Headquarters and Administrative Support Group
    • Four Medical Teams
    • Dental Team
    • Preventative Medical Section
    • Engineer Section


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Iraq: The First Gulf War 1990–1991". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Sim, Malcolm; et al. (2015). Australian Gulf War Veterans' Follow Up Health Study: Technical Report 2015 (PDF). Monash University. 
  3. ^ a b Horner, David (2009). In Action with the SAS. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781741755527. 
  4. ^ a b Bonner, Stuart; Macklin, Robert (2014). Redback One: Explosive Action in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan: The True Story of an Australian SAS Hero. Sydney, New South Wales: Hachette Australia. ISBN 9780733630606. 
  5. ^ McNab, Andy (1993). Bravo Two Zero. Great Britain: Bantom Press. ISBN 0-552-14127-5. 
  6. ^ Collins, Peter (2005). Strike Swiftly: The Australian Commando Story. Sydney: Watermark Press. ISBN 094928470X. 
  7. ^ a b "1980s, 90s and Gulf War". History. Department of Defence. Archived from the original on 4 July 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  8. ^ "Working Paper No. 18: Database of Royal Australian Navy Operations, 1990–2005" (PDF). Sea Power Centre Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  9. ^ Perryman, John. "Ships Named Canberra". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 


  • Hodgman (editor), Commander J.P. (1991). Australia's Navy 1991–92. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian Department of Defence. 
  • Holmes, Tony. "Tiger Squadron". Australian Aviation. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Phantom Media (July 2005/No. 218). 
  • Horner, David (1992). The Gulf Commitment: The Australian Defence Force’s First War. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. 
  • Horner, David (1995). The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery. Sydney, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. 
  • Horner, David (2011). Australia and the New World Order: From Peacekeeping to Peace Enforcement: 1988–1991. The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-76587-9. 
  • Londey, Peter (2004). Other People's Wars: A History of Australian Peacekeeping. Sydney, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. 
  • "Chapter 2: Australian involvement in the Gulf War". Australian Gulf War Veterans' Health Study 2003. Department of Veterans Affairs. 2003.