10 Lessons from the Battle of 73 Easting
“Other battles would be more destructive than 73 Easting. Other units would fight with the same proficiency demonstrated by Holder’s dragoons. Yet in this first major engagement against the Republican Guard, the U.S. Army demonstrated in a few hours the consequences of twenty years’ toil since Vietnam. Here could be seen, with almost flawless precision, the lethality of modern American weapons; the hegemony offered by AirLand Battle doctrine, with its brutal ballet of armor, artillery, and air power; and, not least, the élan of the American soldier, who fought with a competence worthy of his forefathers on more celebrated battlefields in more celebrated wars." - Rick Atkinson, Crusade
The Battle of 73 Easting was one of many fights in Desert Storm. Each of those battles was different. Individual and unit experiences in the same battle often vary widely. The tactics that Army units use to fight future battles will vary considerably from those employed in Desert Storm. Harbingers of future armed conflict such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ISIS’s establishment of a terrorist proto-state and growing transnational reach, Iran’s pursuit of long range ballistic missiles, Syria’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs to commit mass murder against its citizens, the Taliban’s evolving insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and that regime’s erratic behavior all indicate that Army forces must be prepared to fight and win against a wide range of enemies, in complex environments, and under a broad range of conditions. There are, however, general lessons and observations from combat experiences that apply at the tactical level across a range of enemies and battlefield conditions. The purpose of this essay is to reflect on the experience of Eagle Troop, Second Squadron, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment twenty-five years ago during Operation Desert Storm to identify enduring keys to success in battle.
Context: Second Cavalry Regiment’s Covering Force and the Tawakalna Division’s Defense
On February 23, 1991, the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment moved into Iraq and initiated an offensive covering force mission forward of Lieutenant General Frederick Franks’ VII Corps. The VII Corps’ mission was to envelop and defeat the Republican Guard from the west. The Iraqi defense was mainly oriented to the south. The Republican Guard was positioned in depth to the north to preserve their freedom to maneuver. Once the Iraqis detected our effort to envelop and destroy their Army in Kuwait with the VII and XVIII Airborne Corps, elements of the Republican Guard, including the Tawakalna Division, reoriented to the west.
As an offensive covering force, the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment led the attack to ease the forward movement of the Corps, prevent its premature deployment into fighting, and defeat enemy units within its capability. Our troop, Eagle Troop of the Second Squadron, was part of that Regimental operation, an operation that ultimately located the boundary between the Republican Guard and the mechanized divisions of the Iraqi Army. Our Troop’s fight and other Regimental engagements gave the Corps commander the information he wanted before committing a “fist” of four heavy divisions that were moving behind our Regiment.
On the first day, we traveled only about twenty kilometers into Iraq and waited for the divisions to close behind us. First Lieutenant TJ Linzy’s scout platoon in Captain Tom Sprowls’s F Troop led the squadron, encountering and rapidly defeating several enemy infantry units. The emphasis was on getting to the Republican Guard and we passed prisoners on to units traveling behind us. Our Troop had our first combat action on the evening of the 24th after moving further to the north. It was dusk and an enemy position fired on us as we halted. We engaged them with direct fire from Bradleys and a tank as well as indirect fire from our mortars, killed some of them, and then many surrendered to F Troop on our right flank. As we continued the attack, leaders warned soldiers not to become complacent due to the ease of early encounter actions with the enemy; we would soon meet more capable Republican Guard units. Just before sunset during the evening of February 25, G Troop, commanded by Captain Joe Sartiano, engaged and destroyed an enemy reconnaissance unit of about twelve MTLBs—small armored personnel carriers. They were Republican Guard vehicles. G Troop took captured vehicles to the squadron command post. We examined maps and weapons. Some of the weapons were brand new. We anticipated a fight. It was clear that we had entered the Republican Guard security zone.
A VII Corps order received early the next morning, turned our Regiment and the following divisions from a northeast to an eastward axis of attack. Lieutenant General Franks told the Second Cavalry Regiment Commander, Colonel Don Holder to expect to pass the First Infantry Division (1ID) forward as early as 1800. General Franks gave 2ACR an initial limit of advance of the 60 Easting.