Known as the “100-hour war,” Operation Desert Storm was the last relatively “quick and painless” conflict the United States took an active combat role in, ending in an absolute victory that created a feeling of national pride in American military might- a feeling that would last until the invasion of Afghanistan.
Of the nearly 600,000 active-duty American troops deployed in the 1991 conflict, only 148 lost their lives in battle, while anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 Iraqi troops were killed. In the aftermath of the battle, the Iraqi military -which was the world’s fourth largest army at the time- was crippled by the might of the Coalition.
Behind the success of the operation was US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., a legendary commander who planned Desert Storm’s extensive air campaign and lightning-fast ground offensive.
When the battle was nearing the end, the great general praised American and Coalition forces, detailing their moves.
Of all the units he praised, Schwarzkopf reserved special praise for two US Marine Divisions, who punched through the phase line and pushed inward towards Kuwait.
“I can’t say enough about the two Marine Divisions,” he said. “If I used words like ‘brilliance,’ it would really be an under-description of the absolutely superb job that they did in breaching the so-called ‘impenetrable barrier.’”
“It was a classic, absolutely classic military breaching of a very, very tough..minefield, barbed wire, fire trenches-type barrier,” he said. “They went through the first barrier like it was water.”
Through artillery fire and constant resistance, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions pushed through enemy defenses, backed by airpower and reinforcements in the form of Army units that needed to be implemented in the battle plan.
Under the oversight of then-Lieutenant General Walt Boomer, 1st MarDiv Commander Major General James M. “Mike” Myatt was initially ordered to stall in order to allow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a little more time to mull over surrender.
There was just one little problem- by the time Schwarzkopf relayed the order to Boomer, who then relayed it to Myatt, Myatt already had two 3,000 Marines 12 miles inside of Kuwait, twenty miles north of everyone else and taking prisoners.
“We had it hanging out a little bit there,” Myatt later told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, which was documented in a historical piece by the US Naval Institute. “Noon in Washington, DC, was 2000 in Saudi Arabia.”
Despite being way ahead of the curve and in danger of being cut off or attacked with chemical weapons fired by Iraqi artillery, the pre-emptive push into Kuwait paid off with the help of Marine teamwork. In the lead-up to the battle, LTG Boomer ordered Marine AV-8B Harrier II and AH-1 Cobra pilots to kill every artillery piece they could find.
“Whenever I talked to our pilots, I tried to stress [the situation] to them,” he said in a 1990s documentary. “Look, taking out tanks may be a little more fun and it may be sexy, but get the artillery. We will deal with the tanks, we can handle the tanks. What we are less prepared to deal with are chemical weapons, and they’re going to be delivered by artillery. So you get the artillery…And they did just that.”
Wiping the desert floor with Iraqi artillery units, the precise strikes, Harrier and Cobra crews provided Myatt and other Marine commanders the breathing room they needed to continue their fight against the Iraqi army.
While footage of armored operations in the Gulf War usually consists of then-new M1 Abrams tanks scurrying across the desert, Myatt was armed with 123 M-60 Patton tanks, a heavy tank from the Vietnam Era that still proved more than a match for the Iraqi tank crews that heavily outnumbered them.
Thanks to the teamwork between Marine commanders and the pure ferocity of Marines under their command, the Marines earned the praise of Schwarzkopf.
“Absolutely superb operation,” Schwarzkopf said of the Marines’ hard work. “Textbook, and I think it will be studied for many, many years to come as ‘the way to do it.’”
If anyone knows how to make a regimental-sized hole to push two divisions through, it’s the US Marine Corps.