January 21, 2021
First ground-oriented combat action of Operation Desert Storm
Today marks the 30th Anniversary of Marine Corps ground combat troops firing in support of Operation Desert Storm. F Battery, 2d Battalion, 12th Marines fired at an Iraqi military formation early in the morning of January 21st. It was the first of twelve artillery raids that the Marines conducted against the Iraqi Army in Kuwait. The Marines that performed the raids paved the way for the ground assault that began the following month.
U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Central Command commander and commander of Coalition Forces for Operation Desert Storm, assigned the Marines to attack Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Saddam Hussein’s troops had constructed two obstacle belts that stretched from the Persian Gulf through Kuwait into Iraq and covered them with several dug-in infantry divisions. He intended for the obstacle belts to slow Coalition forces down and turn the war into a grinding, bloody stalemate. Saddam also believed that his entrenched forces were sufficiently protected from Coalition airstrikes that they could endure the anticipated pre-attack bombardment and still fight the Coalition to a standstill.
Marines knew that the Iraqi Army, one of the largest in the world at the time, would be well entrenched. Iraq had just completed a bloody war against Iran where they had defeated massed Iranian attacks using similar fortifications. The Marines also knew that the air campaign would not destroy the bulk of the forces defending the obstacle belts. To evict the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions would have to punch through these belts while under intense fire. If the Iraqis knew where the Marines planned to breach the obstacle belts, they might have reinforced the area. The Marines conducted a series of deception campaigns to keep the Iraqis guessing where the ground assaults would occur. One of the deception campaigns was staging an amphibious feint off of the coast of Kuwait. The other campaign would feature Marine artillery strikes against Iraqi targets within the obstacle belt fired from different locations at the Kuwaiti border. Another component featured a psychological operation featuring Marines with loudspeakers broadcasting anti-Saddam messages over the border and leaflet drops on Iraqi military positions to encourage defections.
Operation Desert Storm began with a protracted air campaign designed to gain air superiority over the region and disrupt the Iraqi Military's ability to defend against Coalition forces. The Marines planned to orchestrate a series of artillery raids using towed and self-propelled howitzers to supplement the air campaign. These raids were speedy operations in which an artillery force prepared ten to fifteen rounds per gun, drove to an isolated location a mile from the border, then fired at opportune targets. Once the Marines expended their rounds, they packed and left the area before the Iraqi artillery could respond with counterbattery fire.
Before the first planned raid took place, Iraqi military forces in southern Kuwait attacked Marines in Saudi Arabia with artillery and rocket fire. The attack hit elements of Task Force Taro. Task Force Taro then orchestrated an artillery raid to counter the Iraqi threat. Marines from F Battery, 2d Battalion, 12th Marines drove seven of their howitzers to the Kuwaiti border and waited for a target. At 0302 on 21 January, Marine spotters in the area reported an Iraqi military convoy as a target. The Marines fired 12 rounds per howitzer and reported rounds completed at 0320. They quickly packed up and withdrew, having just completed the first ground-oriented U.S. offensive combat action of Operation Desert Storm.
Other artillery raids soon followed. The I Marine Expeditionary Force conducted twelve artillery raids before G-Day, 24 February 1991,the day the planned ground offensive component of Desert Storm began.
The artillery raids achieved several objectives. First, they countered the Iraqi artillery threat and broke up military units in the defense belts along the border. Secondly, they confused and demoralized Iraqi soldiers. Finally, they helped disguise the Marines' G-Day attack plans through the obstacle belt. The Iraqi Army may have been able to plan a better defense posture and concentrate their forces on the Marine breach locations without the artillery raids.
The artillery raids came together through a team effort. Light Armored Infantry battalions provided protective screens as the batteries traveled to and from their firing locations. LtGen Royal N. Moore, Jr., commander of all I MEF aviation assets in the Persian Gulf, sent an EA-6B Prowler to patrol the skies above every raid to provide electronic jamming against Iraqi counterbattery radars in the area. The 1st Marine Division provided remotely piloted vehicles to search for targets and conduct damage assessments. F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers provided close air support to the Marines on the ground. When the raids provoked counterbattery fire, the jets in the air located and attacked these units, multiplying the raid's effectiveness. These actions typify the ability of the Marine Corps to act quickly in an austere, harsh environment and work as an effective air-ground team.
The air campaign received a lot of attention during Operation Desert Storm as Coalition aircraft attacked Iraqi installations and infrastructure. However, Marine artillery units fighting on the ground provided invaluable service as well. They kept the Iraqi Army in Kuwait off-balance and helped remove threats from the breaching lanes used during the ground assault. Marine artillery supported the ground assault on G-Day even though the artillery raids during the weeks before had severely taxed the Marines and their equipment as they operated in the harsh desert environment.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps collected the first artillery piece to fire in support of Operation Desert Storm. It was an M198 Howitzer named "Damn Yankees," after the rock supergroup. It came to the Air-Ground Museum in 1991, and after a brief stint as an artifact, "Damn Yankees" was recalled to service, where it remained until 2009. The Museum located the historic M198 Howitzer and got it back as the M198s were being phased out of service in favor of the M777 howitzer.
"Damn Yankees" received several upgrades over the years since it served for nearly two decades after Operation Desert Storm. The Museum reached out to Marine Depot Maintenance Command (MDMC) Barstow, whose engineers had extensive knowledge of M198 Howitzers. They conducted an extensive restoration at MDMC Barstow to return the howitzer to its 1991 configuration and color scheme.
The Museum will display "Damn Yankees" in its Desert Storm exhibit as part of its Final Phase. "Damn Yankees" will be featured in a scene that will recreate the Marines’ firing position as they prepare to execute the first ground-based attack mission of Operation Desert Storm. Currently, the gun is mounted in its final location and a series of cast figures have been created to round out the display (photos below). The Museum will complete the display in the coming years, which will honor the legacy of the Marines of Operation Desert Storm.