10 Lessons from the Battle of 73 Easting

February 27, 2016 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: First Gulf WarMilitarySecurityDefenseU.S. Army

10 Lessons from the Battle of 73 Easting

“The division will succeed only as the platoon succeeds.”

The enemy scouts had warned Iraqi forces in the village prior to their capture. McReynolds’s wingman, Sergeant Maurice Harris, remained at the limit of advance and scanned into the village through the blowing sand. Sergeant Harris’s Bradley came under 23mm canon and machine gun fire. He reported to his platoon leader, who responded, “well, kill them.” This engagement and the twenty-three minute battle that followed revealed ten essential elements of success in battle that remains relevant today.


1) Lead from the front. Leaders must be forward to gain a clear picture and make decisions. As Sergeant Harris engaged with 25mm, Lieutenant Gauthier moved forward to assess and further develop the situation. Gauthier fired a TOW missile into the center of the enemy position in the village to orient our tanks. After our gunner, Staff Sergeant Craig Koch, fired a subsequent tank round to mark center, all nine tanks fired high explosive rounds into the village simultaneously to suppress the enemy position. Despite the secondary explosions in the village to its south, First Platoon maintained its primary observation to the east.


2) Shoot first. If you know where friendly forces are and there is not a danger of civilian casualties, do not hesitate to shoot or conduct reconnaissance by fire. The side that shoots first has a tremendous advantage. Staff Sergeant David Lawrence was the commander of First Platoon’s northernmost Bradley. When his gunner, Sergeant Bradley Feltman, said, “Hey, I’ve got a hot spot out there; I’m not sure what it is,” Lawrence responded, “Put a TOW in it; see what it is.” Lawrence identified the hot spot as a T-72 as the turret was ripped from its hull in the ensuing explosion. Our troop’s experience was consistent with Erwin Rommel’s observation in his World War I book, Infantry Attacks: “I have found again and again in encounter actions the day goes to the side that is first to plaster its opponents with fire.”


3) Fight through the fog of battle. Be prepared for confusion and concurrent activity. As we suppressed enemy positions in the village and while Lawrence was launching a missile, the Troop received permission to advance to the 70 Easting. I instructed First Platoon to resume movement east. Lieutenant Petschek did not respond immediately because Lawrence was reporting on the platoon radio net, “Contact! Contact, east, tank!” Simple orders and complete reports are essential to maintaining common understanding in battle.


4) Follow your instincts and intuition. As Sergeant Feltman launched the TOW missile, I decided to go to a tanks lead formation and instructed Green and White, the tank platoons, to “follow my move.” First Platoon pulled in behind as the tank wedge moved forward and covered the tanks’ rear. Third platoon retained responsibility for flank security. As we began moving forward, First Platoon, responding to the contact report on their platoon radio net, began firing twenty-five millimeter high explosive munitions across the front. It was a little unnerving for the tanks as we moved forward. I gave First Platoon a cease-fire order—“Red 1, this is Black 6, cease fire.” The two tank platoons were slightly delayed. As our tank came over the crest of the imperceptible rise north of the village, Sergeant Craig Koch, the gunner, reported “tanks direct front,” I counted eight T-72s in prepared positions. They were at close range and visible to the naked eye.


5) Use standard unit fire and battle drills. Aim to overwhelm the enemy upon contact and retain the initiative through speed of action. As Sergeant Koch fired the main gun and destroyed the first tank, I sent a contact report to the troop, “This is Black 6. Contact east. Eight armored vehicles. Green and White, are you with me?” Sergeant Koch destroyed two more tanks as our tank platoons accelerated movement. All nine tanks began engaging together as we advanced. In approximately one minute, everything in the range of our guns was in flames. Fire distribution and control allowed us to destroy a much larger enemy force in a very short period of time.


6) Foster initiative. Every trooper understood how our platoons and the troop conducted fire and maneuver. Our tank driver, Specialist Christopher Hedenskog knew that he had to steer a path that permitted both tank platoons to get their guns into the fight. He turned 45 degrees to the right and kept our frontal armor toward the first enemy tanks we engaged. He drove through a minefield, avoided the anti-tank mines, reporting on the intercom, “Sir, I think you need to know, we just went through a minefield.” He knew that it would be dangerous to stop right in the middle of the enemy kill zone. Hedenskog saw that our tank platoons had a window of opportunity to shock the enemy and take advantage of the first blows that Sergeant Koch had delivered.


7) Use tanks to take the brunt of battle. Tanks drove around the anti-tank mines and Bradleys and other vehicles followed in their tracks. Our Squadron S-3’s tank, commanded by Major Douglas MacGregor, hit an anti-tank mine, but the blast damaged the tank only slightly. It continued the attack and made a rapid repair when we halted. We ran over anti-personnel mines, but they sounded like microwave popcorn popping and had no effect on armored vehicles. The rate of fire of our tanks allowed enemy tanks to fire only two errant main gun rounds at the outset of the battle and two later as the troop assaulted. Enemy machine gun fire had no effect on the troop’s advance. The psychological shock of our tanks advancing undaunted toward their defensive positions paralyzed and panicked the enemy.


8) Be prepared for misfires and degraded operations. Lieutenant Jeff DeStefano’s tank crew came around the village, destroyed an enemy tank, and acquired a second tank at very close range that was traversing on them. A round got stuck in the breech of DeStefano’s canon. The loader grabbed hold of the loader’s hatch, kicked the round in, the breech came up, and the gunner, Sergeant Matthew Clark, destroyed the T-72. In another example, Staff Sergeant Digbie ordered Private First Class Charles Bertubin to reload TOW missiles. Bertubin could not get the cargo hatch open, however. When the lightweight wrestler kicked the hatch release, he sheared it off. Rather than tell his Bradley commander that he could not get the TOWs reloaded, he jumped out of the back door while the vehicle was under small arms and machinegun fire. He climbed onto the back of the Bradley, loaded both missiles, then tapped his Bradley commander on the shoulder while yelling, “TOWs are up.” Staff Sergeant Digbie nearly jumped out of skin because he thought that an Iraqi had climbed onto the Bradley.


9) Coordinate between platoons and ensure mutual support. The burning tanks and personnel carriers of the enemy’s first defensive line formed a curtain of smoke that concealed enemy further to the east. As our tanks assaulted through the smoke, we saw other enemy armored vehicles and large numbers of infantry running to get back to subsequent trench lines and positions. We destroyed the enemy armored vehicles quickly and shot the infantry with machine guns as we closed the distance with them. Pockets of enemy soldiers threw their arms up. Our soldiers were disciplined; turrets turned away from any enemy soldier with his hands raised. Tank platoon leaders asked scout platoons to pick up observation of the enemy infantry as their Bradleys came through the smoke. The scouts saw that the enemy had used false surrender to gain a better position. Enemy soldiers were re-shouldering their rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Our Bradleys surprised the enemy and killed them before they could engage our tanks effectively.


10) Take risk to win. Because Eagle Troop pressed the assault, the enemy could not respond effectively. As we cleared the westernmost defensive positions, our executive officer, Lieutenant John Gifford, broke in on the radio, “I know you don’t want to know this right now, but you’re at the limit of advance; you’re at the 70 Easting.” I responded, “Tell them we can’t stop. Tell them we’re in contact and we have to continue this attack. Tell them I’m sorry.” We had surprised and shocked the enemy; stopping would have allowed them to recover. As Erwin Rommel observed in Infantry Attacks: “The man who lies low and awaits developments usually comes off second best. . . .It is fundamentally wrong to halt—or to wait for more forces to come up and take part in the action.” Eagle Troop continued to attack toward another very subtle ridgeline on which the enemy positioned his reserve, a coil of eighteen T-72 tanks. Major Mohammed later told one of our troopers that he had not known he was under attack until a soldier ran into his elaborate command bunker yelling, “tanks, tanks!” By the time he got to his observation post, all the vehicles in defensive positions to the west were in flames. He ordered the reserve behind him to establish a second defensive line. It was too late. Eagle Troop’s tanks crested the rise and entered their assembly area. The tanks were starting to move out when we destroyed them at close range.