Historical recounting of Marne Thunder in OIF

Historical recounting of Marne Thunder in OIF

Robert W. Rooker

While artillerymen argue the validity of artillery battle damage assessment (BDA) in forums everywhere, the spirit of the slide remained unquestioned–the artillery battle was truly a one-sided victory for Coalition Forces.

The 3d Div Arty fought hard during the 21-day invasion of Iraq, providing timely and effective fires in support of the division. While in constant enemy contact, artillery units traversed across 600 kilometers and arrived on the steps of Baghdad with lightning speed.

The 3d Div Arty and 214th FA Brigade fired 13,923 155-mm rounds, 794 M26 multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) rockets and six Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) missiles in combat. Be it firing for counterfire or close support of maneuver or synchronizing close air support (CAS), the King of Battle delivered.

Prelude to War–3d Division Arrives in Kuwait.

Operation Desert Spring was a familiar mission to the division’s brigades. The 3d Brigade Combat Team had just returned from a continental US (CONUS) crisis reaction force (CCRF) mission (March through October 2002) with 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery (1-10 FA); B Battery, 1-39 FA (MLRS) (B/1-39 FA); and one Q-37 Firefinder radar section. Units began arriving in the area of operations in mass in January 2003. The 3d Div Arty units echeloned into Kuwait with their habitually supported maneuver units as well as the Div Arty headquarters.

The 3d Division’s 2d Brigade was already on the ground, finishing its scheduled six-month CCRF rotation as the rest of the division fell in line. 1-9 FA, C/1-39 FA and one Q-37 radar welcomed the rest of the Div Arty into country; the units ultimately closed by the end of January. The 3d Division units arrived from Forts Benning and Stewart, Georgia; C/3-13 FA (MLRS), from the 214th FA Brigade, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, rounded out 1-39 FA.

February brought reception, staging, onward movement and integration (RSOI) activities to the Div Arty as it drew equipment from Army prepositioned stocks (APS) in Camp Doha, Kuwait. The Div Arty also conducted “Thunder in the Desert,” a live-fire exercise (LFX), to validate the recently fielded advanced FA tactical fire direction system (AFATDS) software. The Div Arty massed fires for the first time in 12 years during the LFX.

Early March brought movement of the division from its base camps to tactical assembly areas (TAAs) in the Kuwaiti desert. Div Arty units began pre-combat checks and inspections plus rehearsals for the upcoming conflict.

On 17 March, the President of the United States set the stage for what was to come by issuing a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or be thrown out.

The War Begins, 19-20 March. On 19 March, Div Arty units moved to attack positions and prepared for war. 1-41 FA moved with 1-10 FA to positions five kilometers from the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. The 3d Division plan called for a combined arms destruction with Div Arty taking out a series of 11 Iraqi intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance observation posts (ISR/OPs) in conjunction with AH-64 Apaches from the division’s 4th Brigade. These outposts traversed the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border for 70 kilometers along the 3d Division’s zone. (See the map on Page 3.)


1-41 FA occupied the northern sector, and 1-10 FA occupied the center with the Div Arty headquarters. 1-9 FA occupied the southern sector of the border with 2d Brigade. The plan called for battalions to fire battery six-round missions on each ISR/OP with the Apaches confirming the destruction.

The Div Arty planned the destruction as a time-on-target (TOT) mission with combat observation lasing team (COLTs) and brigade reconnaissance teams (BRTs) as observers. Additionally, one hour after the ISR/OP destruction, 1-39 FA occupied a position area to shoot six ATACMS in support of V Corps deep shaping operations.

The ISR/OP destruction occurred one day ahead of schedule, setting the stage for the next morning’s ground attack.

The Battle for An Nasariyah and Tallil Airbase, 21-22 March. Combat units crossed the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border early on 21 March. The plan called for two brigades to move north 140 kilometers and destroy the Iraqi 11th Infantry Division in An Nasariyah. The Div Arty’s organization for combat callled for 1-41 FA reinforcing (R) 1-10 FA in direct support (DS) of the 3d Brigade.

Simultaneously, the division cavalry squadron (3-7 Cav) and the 2d Brigade raced through the Iraqi desert 275 kilometers northwest toward As Samawah and An Najaf. 1-9 FA traveled northwest through the Iraqi desert with 2d Brigade and provided a battery DS to 3-7 Cav.

The Div Arty headquarters retained 1-39 FA in general support (GS) along with the two Q-37 radars. Both 1-39 FA and the Div Arty traveled to An Nasariyah in the 3d Brigade’s march column.

As 3d Brigade raced toward An Nasariyah, the FA battalions moved toward their position areas to provide preparatory fires for the brigade’s attack. The enemy started firing artillery immediately on the 3d Brigade as it came into range, forcing all artillery units to stop short of their planned objectives and commence emergency fire missions. DS Paladin emergency missions broke high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) windshields as the Paladins fired from their march columns.

This gave tankers and infantrymen their first glimpse of Paladins’ firing up close–155-mm power and concussion never experienced or replicated in training.

At one point during the attack on An Nasariyah, 1-41 FA stopped and quickly fired a mission next to the division tactical command post (DTAC). The battalion’s speed in action garnered a pleasant first reaction from the Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) as he witnessed Paladin in battle for the first time. From that point on, Paladin was a welcome addition to the play book of maneuver commanders who formerly had been hesitant to lead with artillery.

1-39 FA and the Div Arty tactical operations center (TOC) stopped short of their positions and engaged an enemy D-30 cannon artillery battalion, stopping the enemy fire immediately.

The battle for Tallil Airbase kicked off roughly three hours ahead of schedule with the Div Arty firing an 11-target suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) plan supporting 4th Brigade’s aerial attack. 1-10 FA and 1-41 FA provided DS fires for the 3d Brigade’s attack into the night; the FA battalions encountered enemy dismounts within their perimeters.

All the while, 1-39 FA provided MLRS counterfire against the 11th Infantry Division Artillery. AFATDS and the automated deep operations coordination system (ADOCS) interface worked better than expected, providing the Div Arty real-time graphical situational awareness of counterfire acquisitions for the first time in battle. The Div Arty could witness enemy vectors on a map or satellite photograph overlay–a first–and decide how to engage the acquisitions in a matter of seconds.

At the end of the day, dog-faced artillerymen had bad their first taste of combat yet remained focused. Paladin had proven itself in battle as expected, and the artillerymen were ready to continue the fight.

The Marne 500–Forward Passage-of-Lines, 22-24 March. While 3d Brigade fought at Tallil, 2d Brigade and 3-7 Cav continued to move through the southwestern Iraqi desert and arrived in As Samawah early on 22 March. Enemy dismounted soldiers, artillery and paramilitary trucks with machine guns–the latter dubbed “technicals”–greeted the 2d Brigade with a not-so-friendly welcome. 3-7 Cav stopped in As Samawah and contained the enemy while 2d Brigade (with 1-9 FA DS) bypassed and continued north toward An Najaf and Objective Rams. Ojective Rams was key terrain close to a pass known as “the escarpment” and eventually was occupied as a logistics support area. 2d Brigade encountered occasional artillery barrages during its move toward Rams. 1-9 FA stopped several times to fire counterfire missions.

1-10 FA with 3d Brigade in An Nasariyah also recorded a first for the FA. Observers spotted two tanks and destroyed them with sense and destroy armor (SADARM) rounds–the first fired in combat. The munition worked exactly as designed and destroyed the tanks.

Early morning on 22 March found the division conducting a forward passage-of-lines as planned before the war. 1st Brigade moved through 3d Brigade and traveled 275 kilometers toward Objective Raiders. This objective was just north of Objective Rams (the escarpment) on Highway 28. The race was on.

When 1st Brigade conducted its passage-of-lines, 1-10 FA and 1-41 FA flip-flopped combat roles. 1-10 FA reinforced 1-41 FA’s DS fires for 1st Brigade. Both battalions raced “alongside 1st Brigade toward Objective Raiders.

1st Brigade battled through a road along the escarpment while moving more than 3,500 corps and division vehicles north through As Samawah in the fastest attack in the Army’s history. 1-41 FA stopped to fire missions short of the escarpment, a natural canalization point, and screened the brigade’s movement with smoke on the northern (upper) side.

Heavier than expected enemy resistance in As Samawah diverted the division’s move around the town. The Div Arty and 1-39 FA, caught in the rerouted traffic, moved through the division support command (DISCOM) to get vital MLRS launchers and radars to the fight.

Fierce enemy resistance caused Div Arty units to move under constant contact during their 48-hour marathon. The Div Arty cannon battalions fired 24 missions during the move.

Tired yet determined, artillerymen finally occupied Objectives Raiders and Rams with their brigades. 1-39 FA occupied Objective Raiders in the early morning of 24 March and silenced enemy artillery with its MLRS almost immediately upon arrival–a welcome relief to the brigades.

Fighting the Fedayeen, 25-31 March. As the division finished its massive move north, 3-7 Cav and 3d Brigade fought fiercer than expected resistance in As Samawah and An Najaf. An intense sandstorm helped enemy Fedayeen and Ba’ath Party paramilitary fighters engage M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles at point-blank range. The enemy disabled two tanks and one Bradley.

While A/1-9 FA engaged human waves of Fedayeen fighters at 1,400 meters, 1-39 FA fired 12 rockets in support of 3-7 Cav, allowing the cavalry squadron to disengage. Critically low on ammunition, 3-7 Cav fire supporters called the MLRS missions within 1,200 meters of the squadron, enabling it to break contact. The rockets stopped the enemy attack cold as 3-7 Car pulled out.

When asked if they needed additional fires, the Car observers responded, “There’s no need–everything is burning.” Under arduous circumstances, MLRS fires were used danger close for the first time with great effectiveness.

The division’s plan included a feint by 3-7 Cav across the Euphrates River to draw Republican Guard Forces out of Baghdad to the south. The plan worked exactly as designed, and the division hastily conducted two more feints; waves of Iraqi fighters moved south. 1st Brigade engaged thousands of enemy paramilitary soldiers in AI Kifl while 2d Brigade engaged forces in An Najaf and An Diwaniyah.

1-41 FA and 1-10 FA fired countless close fire missions as 1st Brigade repelled wave after wave of enemy foot soldiers in Al Kifl. Additionally, 1-39 FA and both cannon battalions engaged an enemy column temporarily halted while moving south along the highway; an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had confirmed the enemy column. The battalions destroyed at least 21 enemy vehicles with cannon and MLRS fires.

The 214th FA Brigade joined the 3d Infantry Division fight general support reinforcing (GSR) on 27 March and reinforcing on 31 March. The 214th Leader Brigade brought to battle 2-4 FA (MLRS) and the 1st FA Detachment (FAD)–a welcome sight for the 3d Division.

The fight in Objectives Raiders and Rams lasted for seven days as the division continued using feints at key river crossing points between An Najaf and Karbala. An interesting dynamic developed as the division used the feints to draw forces in the open to engage them with fires: maneuver shaped the battlefield for fires instead of fires shaping the battlefield for maneuver.

In seven days of fighting, Div Arty units fired 2,828 155-mm artillery rounds and 196 rockets, providing 3d Division maneuver forces close supporting fires and counterfire.

Attack Through the Karbala Gap and Across the Euphrates River, 1-3 April. While 3d Infantry Division units fought valiantly on the outskirts of An Najaf and An Diwaniyah, a giant task loomed ahead: continuing the offensive toward Baghdad. Units conducted tactical resupply and prepared for orders to continue the attack. Morale across the division soared when the order came on 1 April to attack through the Karbala Gap toward Baghdad.

The division’s plan called for the 3d Brigade to fix forces in Karbala while 1st and 2d Brigades attacked through the gap and seized a bridgehead along the Euphrates River. Intelligence indicated the four-kilometer gap west of Karbala was the best tactical emplacement point for the enemy’s chemical agents. 3d Infantry Division soldiers increased their mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP) to Level II, preparing for a chemical strike that, thankfully, never came.

The Div Arty initiated the attack through Karbala with a nine-target, 96-rocket prep fired in support of 3d Brigade reconnaissance elements. Artillery preparatory fires lit up the sky as maneuver forces moved toward the town and the gap. Shortly thereafter, 1st Brigade with 1-41 FA moved through the gap, bypassing 3d Brigade to the west.

The 214th FA Brigade moved with the 1st Brigade and occupied a position north of the gap to provide counterfire coverage, engaging 10 acquisitions. Once the 214th Brigade was set, the 3d Infantry Div Arty and 1-39 FA moved through the gap and sped north to the Euphrates River.

1-41 FA, moving with the 1st Brigade, crossed the Euphrates with the lead task force; simultaneously, 1-39 FA closed on its position to support seizing the bridgehead line–a four-lane bridge known as Objective Peach. 1-10 FA, then reinforcing the 1st Brigade, moved to an alternative crossing site 15 kilometers south of Objective Peach in Mussayib, called Objective Hannah, and supported the brigade’s attack on this secondary objective. On 1st Brigade’s heels, the 2d Brigade also moved through the gap and positioned itself to become the division’s main effort for the attack across the river.

An intense counterfire battle broke out immediately as the Div Arty and 1-39 FA occupied position areas along the Euphrates River. Iraqi Republican Guard Artillery fired numerous volleys while 1-39 FA returned rocket fire in 10 counterfire missions, silencing the enemy guns. Intense fire fights with enemy dismounts also broke out in artillery perimeters across the front.

By the morning of 3 April, the Rock of the Mourn Division had added the Euphrates River to its famous combat history.

Attack to Baghdad, 3-5 April. The tempo never slowed as the 3d Infantry Division established a bridgehead line with 1st Brigade and secured the eastern shore of the Euphrates River. The 2d Brigade with 1-9 FA blew across the river. The brigade immediately attacked a key enemy strongpoint at the intersection of Highways 1 and 8 south of Baghdad, known as Objective Saints.

1-9 FA crossed the Euphrates River heading toward a position area eight kilometers southeast of Objective Saints. As the battalion’s lead elements cleared the position for occupation, they captured 11 enemy soldiers. Intense indirect and direct fire fights broke out simultaneously as enemy Republican Guard units fiercely defended their capital city. 1-39 FA fired two targets on 400 enemy dismounts during the attack on Objective Saints. By the end of the day, the 2d Brigade had isolated Baghdad to the south.

After the 2d Brigade secured Objective Saints, 1-10 FA, then reinforcing 1-9 FA, crossed the Euphrates in support of 2d Brigade’s move south to destroy the remaining Medina Division Republican Guard units.

Exploiting 2d Brigade’s success, 1st Brigade and 1-41 FA attacked north to Baghdad International Airport, known as Objective Lions. 1-39 FA and 2-4 FA fired preparatory fires against Special Republican Guard defenses on the airport complex.

MLRS fires followed by cannon fires immediately preceded Task Force 3-69 Armor’s (TF 3-69 AR’s) attack. 1st Brigade tanks began their assault on the airport in near-perfect synchronization after the last of the 90 rockets and hundreds of 155 -mm rounds paved the way.

1-41 FA fired on enemy strongpoints on the airport and battled enemy dismounts throughout the day. The battalion ultimately fought its way to a position area four kilometers southwest of Objective Lions. The 1st Brigade with 1-41 FA fought Iraqi Special Republican Guard strongholds in the heart of enemy territory, taking two days to clear the massive airport complex of enemy resistance. Altogether, 1-41 FA fired 75 missions and 2,097 rounds during the Battle for Baghdad International Airport.

The Div Arty continued its counterfire battle against Republican Guard Artillery on the outskirts of Baghdad. Radar acquisitions came fast and furiously as the Div Arty processed them. 1-39 FA and 2-4 FA continued a steady volume of MLRS fire throughout the attack.

The Div Arty then moved 1-39 FA across the Euphrates, positioning MLRS east of the river to better support the attack. 1-39 FA fought its way through enemy dismounts and occupied a position with the Div Arty headquarters south of Baghdad.

By the morning of 5 April, 3d ID units had completely isolated Baghdad from the south and west. 2-4 FA moved across the Euphrates River and joined 1-41 FA on Objective Lions to extend the division’s MLRS rocket coverage, enveloping the entire city of Baghdad.

The division’s speed and lethal firepower caught the Republican Guard forces by surprise–3d Division soldiers knew they were on the verge of victory.

The Iraqi Regime Collapse, 5-9 April. Despite Iraqi television reports to the contrary, the 3d Division forces controlled the outskirts of Baghdad. To prove this point, on 5 April, the division sent an armored task force from 2d Brigade through the middle of Baghdad to join up with the 1st Brigade at the airport. This attack, called “Thunder Run One,” broke the spirit of the Iraqi Army as well as the credibility of the Iraqi government reports.

The 3d Division successfully controlled south and west Baghdad. With Marines closing in from the east, the only area remaining to complete the encirclement was north of Baghdad.

On 6 April, the 3d Brigade received orders to attack and isolate Baghdad from the north. 1-10 FA rejoined the 3d Brigade and moved north then east around Baghdad to seize the key intersections of Highway 1 and Canal Road, known as Objective Titans. The battalion fought through small-town “sniper alleys” and heavily populated areas north of Baghdad as it moved toward its objective. In its longest day of battle, 1-10 FA fired 31 missions in support of 3d Brigade’s attack. Eventually, the 3d Brigade completed the encirclement and isolated Baghdad.

Expanding on Thunder Run’s success, the 2d Brigade launched an attack into the heart of Baghdad to seize the Presidential Palace Complex and Iraqi Ministry buildings on 7 April, known as “Thunder Run Two.” The Div Arty and 1-39 FA opened the attack with a 12-rocket preparatory fire plan on four targets along 2d Brigade’s route. 1-9 FA also fired 19 targets during the attack as the brigade battled enemy forces at every turn. The Iraqi soldiers were in the final throes of trying to protect their powerless leader.

The Iraqi forces defended in vain as the 2d Brigade and Marines attacked the heart of the city. Saddam’s statue fell on 8 April, signaling the unofficial collapse of his regime. US forces continued to fight pockets of resistance and seize palace compounds as Iraqi citizens cheered the 3d Division on.

1-41 FA fired the last artillery round of the war on 10 April. The Div Arty headquarters received word it would become the Force Protection Headquarters for Baghdad International Airport. The 3d Division had won the war and was quickly transitioning to stability and support operations (SASO).

The 3d Infantry Division Artillerymen performed admirably during Operation Iraqi Freedom, As a testimony to FA units everywhere, the 3d Infantry Division Artillery units brought to fruition years of training, technological improvements and soldier professionalism on the banks of the Euphrates River. Soldiers and leaders at every level executed artillery tasks, contributing immensely to the 3d Infantry Division’s success and earning a place in military history.

Altogether, the 3d Infantry Division Artillery cannon and rocket battalions with the 214th FA Brigade destroyed 526 enemy tanks, trucks and artillery pieces; 67 buildings, OPs and bunkers; and 2,754 enemy soldiers without losing a single soldier or piece of equipment to enemy indirect fire–truly a one-sided artillery fight and truly a victory for the Coalition Forces.

Major Robert W. Rooker is currently the S3 for 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery in the 3d infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Georgia. He was the Assistant S3 for the 3d Division Artillery in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He commanded A Battery, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery in the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), Schweinfurt, Germany, deploying in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also served as the Task Force Fire Support Officer for the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry with the 194th Armored Brigade (Separate) at Fort Knox, Kentucky. His other assignments are as the Media Relations Officer for the 25th Infantry Division (Light) in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Branch Chief of Basic Camp for the 2d ROTC Region, also at Fort Knox.

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