When Gaming Meets History #20: Gulf War I

By Scott Parrino 06 Aug 2005 0

The USMC ? A Knife to the Iraqi Throat

A Note From Wild Bill: Titled ?When Gaming Meets History," this column devotes itself to historical vignettes of the fighting of World War II and post World War II events and battles. It pertains to wargaming in that it offers you views of some of the details of just what really happened during those difficult times. The other purpose of these writings is to offer ideas for possible scenario design in the game of your choice. It is, therefore, wargaming and history in one package.

The Marine Presence 

Poised and prepared, the United States Marine Corps along with the Tiger Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division were in the heel of the boot, the northeastern corner of Saudi Arabia.  Fighting at their side were the Pan-Arab forces, including Egypt, Syria, Kuwaiti forces and the Saudis. Of the 90,000 Marines, 17,000 were a part of the huge Amphibious Task Group, lying off the shore of Kuwait. 

A total of 20 Marine Infantry, 11 artillery, four tank, two LAI and two amphibious assault battalions were making ready to plunge into Iraq and head straight to Kuwait City. This included 260 howitzers of various calibers, over 200 main battle tanks, and 700 armored transport vehicles of all types. Another Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) was on standby at bases throughout the Pacific if needed.

The unique aspect of Marine organization was the autonomy of its units. While a Marine ground unit does not differ substantially from a US Army one, their Task Force (TF) organization is quite unique. They follow a concept called Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). This means that a Marine TF includes a certain amount of autonomous command, with assets that include ground and air power, plus the appropriate service support elements, no matter the MAGTF?s size. 

Fighting units, furthermore, range from the large Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), usually of divisional or greater strength. Then there is the MEB, or Marine Expeditionary Brigade. It contains a Regimental Landing Team (RLT), reinforced with armor and artillery units. It averages in size to be a manpower force of 8,000 up to 18,000.

The smallest self-sustained Marine unit is the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which is the size of an expanded Battalion Landing Team (BLT). This is usually a 2,000 man force and is reinforced with helicopter transport, armor, and at least one battery of 155mm guns.

The Marine Purpose

During Desert Shield-Desert Storm, the Marine ground units were divided into Task Forces, including Taro, Grizzly, Papa Bear and others. These forces would constitute the principal drive north near the coast into the heart of Kuwait.

The USMC presence, staring eye to eye, toe to toe against 11 dug in Iraqi divisions with 8 Republican Guard Divisions waiting in the wings was still disconcerting enough to the Iraqi high Command to cause them to focus the strength of their defenses in that area.

The Marine forces would serve as the anchor, the imminent threat that would keep Iraqi eyes away from the western end of Iraq and the presence of the XVIII Corps. This was the force that would execute the deep penetration to within less than 150 miles of Baghdad in less than two days and cut off the Iraqi army.

General Colin Powell had made his intentions clear to the Marine commanding officer, Lt. General Walter Boomer less than a week before the action would begin. Much to his disdain, Boomer was to move his troops forward cautiously. They were to draw attention. The big move would be in the west. If casualties became heavy from enemy artillery fire, the Marine forces were to withdraw out of range.

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