Battle of Phase Line Bullet

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Battle of Phase Line Bullet
Part of the Persian Gulf War
T-72 Iraq.jpg
Iraqi Asad Babil abandoned to advancing 3AD forces
Date26 February 1991
Location
Southern Iraq
Result Iraqi victory
Belligerents
 United States  Iraq
Commanders and leaders
United States Gen. Schwarzkopf
United States Gen. Franks
United States Paul E. Funk
Iraq Saddam Hussein
Iraq Al-Rawi
Strength
United States 1st Armoured Division
United States 3rd Armoured Division
United States 1st Infantry Division
United States 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment

Iraq Tawakalna Republican Guard Division

  • 9th Mechanised Brigade
Casualties and losses
2 killed
12 wounded
4 IFVs destroyed
10 IFVs damaged
6 tanks lost
18 IFVs & APCs lost

The Battle of Phase Line Bullet was one of the clashes which led to the destruction of the Tawakalna Iraqi Republican Guard Division, on the 26 February 1991, by a simultaneous attack of the 1st and 3rd armoured divisions, the 1st Infantry Division, and the 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment.

The battle was one of the rare examples of an American armoured force being repulsed[citation needed] by a screen of Iraqi entrenched infantry, APCs, and Iraqi T-72 tanks during Desert Storm. The incident also involved American friendly fire casualties.

Background[edit]

The initial skirmishes between American and Iraqi Republican Guard units took place earlier that day around pre-established line 73 Easting, some 30 miles west of Wadi al Batin, where the 2 ACR managed to destroy two Iraqi armoured brigades. The skirmishes in this sector were still going on when the 3rd Armoured Division, positioned north, made the first contact with a brigade of the Tawakalna Armoured Division around 03:30pm.[1]

Weather conditions were extremely poor, hampering visibility and identification of targets.

Flank screen maneuver[edit]

As the usual practice for armored reconnaissance, a troop of M3 Bradleys (Alpha Troop), belonging to the 4th Squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, was scouting ahead of the main tank force. The flank screen maneuver took place along the southern boundaries between the 2 ACR and 3rd Armored Division operational areas. Task Forces 4-34 and 4-32 were advancing from the rear. The general movement of the US forces followed an eastward direction. The fumes from hundreds of oil wells set on fire by the Iraqis, combined with an intense shamal, forced the US vehicles to use thermal sights.[1]

Surprising contact[edit]

At 03:00pm, the reconnaissance troop of 14 Bradleys received information from the GHQ of the 3rd Armoured Division that no enemy unit remained between them and the Kuwaiti border. Suddenly, they found a screen line of Iraqi APCs straight ahead, barely 300 metres (330 yd) to the east. The poor weather, along with burning oil fumes, reduced the visibility conditions to almost zero.[2] The enemy screen line was part of the 9th Armored Brigade of Tawakalna Division.

Tanks from 3rd Armored Division Brigade along the Line of Departure

A burst of small-arms and heavy machine gunfire, RPGs and Sagger missiles erupted. Initially, the American commander thought they were engaging dismounted infantry supported by BMPs, but later he realized that they were also receiving main-gun tank rounds.[3] The US vehicles retaliated by firing TOW missiles, 25 mm cannon and machine guns. The contact lasted for about two hours, until the Bradleys, battered by enemy and friendly fire and running out of ammunition, were forced to withdraw.[4]

American M1 Abrams tanks from TF 4-34, positioned in the rear echelon, fired in support of the IFVs, destroying at least one T-72 and several Iraqi APCs. They also hit three Bradleys (A-24, A-31 and A-22), causing two American deaths.[2] The 2 ACR also became entangled in the fighting from the rear right.

Another Bradley (A-36) was first disabled by a 12.7 mm round from an NSVT heavy machine gun which penetrated the transmission[5][6] and later shattered by a large caliber shaped charge impact in the turret's front.[7] Bradley A-35 also took some damage from a mix of ricocheting 12.7 mm bursts and indirect fire, but was able to drive out,[8] while A-33 suffered two injured and its radio station hit by 12.7 mm fire. During the process of rescuing casualties from A-24, Bradley A-26, commanded by Sergeant Major Ronald Sneed, was near-missed by a T-72 main round, which spattered the vehicle with splinters.[9][1] While providing cover for A-21 who was attempting to assess the situation with A-36, Bradley A-22, commanded by Staff Sergeant Meyers, was struck in the turret by an M-1 tank from TF 4-34, killing one of the crew.[10] The gunner of A-24 was also killed by a tank round fired by a friendly tank.[11]

The disabled A-22, A-36 and A-24 were left abandoned on the battleground, while A-31, although heavily damaged, was able to pull back.[12] All the remainder Bradleys were raked by machine gun fire and shell splinters, but they remained operational.[13]

Aftermath[edit]

American forces were unable to find a breach in the northern Iraqi lines until the first hours of February 27. That morning, 7th Cav scouts found the hulls of 18 APCs, mostly BMP-1s, and six T-72s disabled or abandoned by their crews. The clash is one of the few recorded actions where an American assault was repulsed by dug-in Iraqi armour. The commander of Alpha troop, Captain Gerald Davie, later acknowledged that "we were ten times too close to the enemy than we would choose to be".[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Atkinson, p. 431
  2. ^ a b See this official report (scan)
  3. ^ See this official sketch of the Iraqi screen line
  4. ^ Atkinson, p. 433
  5. ^ From Wunderlich article:
    • "SGT Ronald Jones (A-36 commander) picked up the narrative; "LT 'V' came over the net and said we had to move south about 800 meters. As we were shifting, my loader was reloading a TOW missile. When we took up position, we engaged another BMP and a tank. We were getting low on ammo, so I told my driver to pivot so we could reload. I realized we were still up front so we started backing up. It sounded like we lost a track, so I told him to stop. As soon as we stopped, we took a round in the transmission. Later, we found out it was from a 12.7-mm machine gun."
  6. ^ Bin, Hill and Jones, page 195, according to a more detailed account by Sgt Jones:
    • "The weather was bad, and I couldn't see anything without the thermal sights. Just as I started to drop back into the hatch, I saw some sparks and dirt fly off the front of my vehicle-I knew we were being shot at. I told the driver to back up. He put it in gear, but all the transmission did was to whine."
  7. ^ By the somewhat flat path of the round (scan) and the position of the Iraqi T-72s, a 125 mm HEAT shell is suspected. Preliminary reports also mentioned a Sagger, but the poor accuracy of this missile in such bad weather and close-range battle conditions makes this theory unlikely
  8. ^ See citation here.
  9. ^ "The round landed 10 metres short, spraying dirt and shrapnel against Sneed's Bradley and blowing him to the ground.." US Defense Department: Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: An Interim report to Congress (1991), Prologue, P-2.
  10. ^ Atkinson, pp. 431-432
  11. ^ Atkinson, page 432
  12. ^ Interview with a member of the crew of A-34
  13. ^ For the overall action, see Atkinson, pp. 428-433
  14. ^ Lowry, page 163

Bibliography[edit]

  • Atkinson, Rick: Crusade, The untold story of the Persian Gulf War. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. ISBN 0-395-71083-9
  • Rostker, Bernard: Environmental Exposure Report:Depleted Uranium in the Gulf. DoD Publication, 1998.
  • Sgt. Tony Wunderlich: Lucky Scouts Dodge "Big Bullets" That Ripped Their Bradley[permanent dead link] Armor magazine, May–June, 1991.
  • Bin, Albert, Hill, Richard, Jones, Archer: Desert Storm: A Forgotten War. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. ISBN 0-275-96320-9
  • Lowry, Richard S.: The Gulf War Chronicles: A Military History of the First War with Iraq. iUniverse, inc, 2003. ISBN 0-595-29669-6

Coordinates: 29°53′34″N 46°52′23″E / 29.89278°N 46.87306°E / 29.89278; 46.87306