It seems that America’s overwhelming victory in Operation Desert Storm took place centuries ago. When Saddam Hussein invaded his small but rich neighbor, the world definitely changed. Take a moment to remember that January day. Where have you been?
At the time, I was working for a major airline, and on January 16 I was sent across the country to Los Angeles. I had to make a very important presentation to our client from the AIR on Monday, January 17th.
I arrived at LAX in the middle of the day. I packed my bags and got on the rented bus. After a short trip, I was dropped off by the car. Knowing that America was preparing for war, I turned on the radio to find out the latest news.
There were planes in the sky. The war began.
Here’s the story of the first moments of Operation Desert Storm. This is an excerpt from the Chronicle of the Gulf War, which can be purchased from any online bookstore, as well as from a local bookstore.
By midnight on 16 January 1991, the wheels of the most destructive air raid in history had been set in motion. Ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were on designated starting positions. The E-3 Sentry, an on-board warning and control system (AWACS) was involved in four races south of the Saudi-Iraqi border. One hundred and eighty tankers circled south of the AWACS system, just outside the reach of Iraq’s early warning radar. Fixed wings and rotating aircraft were prepared for battle.
The stunning firepower of the U.S. military was deployed to the northern border of Saudi Arabia in just five months. The Marines were concentrated along the Persian Gulf and scattered along the border with Kuwait by small, fast naval units. These Marines were mounted on high-mobility multi-purpose vehicles (HMMWV) and light armoured vehicles (LAV).
The advanced units were deployed to prevent Iraq’s advance against Saudi Arabia. To the south, the remaining U.S. forces were deployed to counterattack advancing Iraqis or concentrated around advanced supplies and airbases. Each airport, located very close to Iraq and Kuwait, was packed with Allied aircraft. Six Navy aircraft carriers surrounded Iraq in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of aircraft, from the last American F-117A Nighthawks to the venerable B-52 Stratofortress, were prepared for war. The airfields were so overcrowded that there was no room for the B-52. They will perform their first missions directly from their bases in Spain, Diego Garcia and even Louisiana.
The largest-ever supply chain stretched from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf to both coasts of the United States. Super-heavy armoured personnel carriers and units from the United States and Europe continued to enter Saudi Arabia. The trigger was cocked, there were bullets in the chamber, the trigger was lowered.
17 January marked the culmination of many years of the acquisition of high-tech systems and the formation of the world’s largest fully volunteer army; months of dedication, planning and “sword sharpening”; Weeks of diplomacy; and stressful days. For the first time, the United States planned to conduct a four-dimensional air-to-ground battle. This was to be organized in an accurate time sequence. Meanwhile, the Iraqis were preparing for a two-dimensional war of attrition. They had no idea of superiority in the air, time or pace. The coalition will wage a third world war, and the Iraqis – the First World War.
At 12.01 on the 17th, twenty F-117 Stealth fighters from the 415th Tactical Fighter Squadron took off from a secret airbase deep in the mountains of Saudi Arabia. These state-of-the-art aircraft will lead a manned air raid deep into Iraq. In less than an hour, more than three hundred additional attack aircraft carriers and airbases began to take off from aircraft carriers and airbases across the Persian Gulf. These warplanes were fueled and piled up south of the Saudi border like fighter jets as they approached O’Hare Airport on a snowy Christmas Eve.
At exactly 1:40 a.m., the aircraft carrier USS Wisconsin began launching Tomahawk cruise missiles to join other Tomahawks launched from the USS San Jacinto in the Red Sea. Tomahawk missiles will be the first to enter Iraqi airspace, fly under radar and hit their targets at altitudes between fifty and 100 feet above the ground.
Meanwhile, two groups of Apache and Pave Low helicopters took off from a remote base in western Saudi Arabia around 1 a.m. The 101st Airborne Apache was heavily armed. Each team had a Pave Low helicopter from the 20th Special Operations Squadron with GPS navigation, additional electronic countermeasures (ECMs) and rescue equipment. This small, deadly unit, commanded by Lt. Col. Richard Cody, was codenamed TASK FORCE NORMANDY after the screaming eagles’ advanced operations behind French beaches nearly half a century ago.
At 2.15 a.m., two task FORCE NORMANDY groups crossed the border. Their targets were two early warning radar installations in western Iraq. The Apaches of the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment crossed the border, captured their targets, secured themselves with lasers and moved forward on “low and slow” targets. All the lights on both objects were on fire, indicating that no Apaches were detected.
When the Apaches were within reach, they fired their Hellfire rockets with ripples. At exactly 02.38 the first missile hit the target “like lightning from the sky.” Several rockets disrupted the generators of the installations. The Apaches (who fired twenty-seven Hellfire missiles) destroyed radar antennas, operating centers, generators and barracks. All missiles hit their targets. When the Apaches ran out of Hellfire missiles, they fired rockets and thousands of 30 mm cannons at the area. Both objects were stopped in 30 seconds and completely destroyed in less than four minutes!
Eight F-15E Strike Eagles fighters from the U.S. Air Force went to Iraq behind TASK FORCE NORMANDY and destroyed the local air defense control and control center. These three attacks created a black radar corridor twenty miles wide for our attack aircraft to enter Iraq.