Overlord'S Blog: Chief of Battle: Part two
Part one can be found here
Late at night on August the first 1990, Kuwaiti Intelligence learned of the impending Iraqi invasion. They immediately flashed the warning up through the chain of command. The Kuwaiti 35th Brigade hurriedly started to mobilise its Chieftain tanks. They were hampered by having some squadrons detached to guard duties elsewhere, and numerous soldiers away on leave.
As the unit began phoning around trying to find soldiers, one of the Brigade officers began combing through personnel files of soldiers on base. If they'd had any armour training, no matter how long ago, they were assigned to composite crews.
Meanwhile other troops started to load ammunition into the tanks. Unfortunately this wasn't complete by the time the unit moved out at 0600. In the previous 8 hours the 35th Brigade had managed to find 36 full crews, and partially load their tanks with ammunition. There hadn't been time to boresight (zero) the guns, and the tanks were carrying insufficient supplies of water. The number of tanks was further reduced when one tank broke down on the very short march north.
The 35th Brigade deployed two battalions that day. The 7th Battalion had 25 tanks, in three understrength companies while the 8th Battalion, was just a single company of ten tanks.
The 7th Battalion who were in the lead deployed in hull down positions, in a line, near a graveyard between the town of Al Jahra and Mutlaa ridge. A six lane highway ran diagonally down from the ridge to Al Jahra, and then linked to a ring road. There was a police station next to the road on the ridge, and the 7th Brigade sent a reconnaissance vehicle there. It reported a column of Iraqi's advancing down the road, this turned out to be the Republican Guards Hammurabi Division.
As the Iraqi's reached the ring road at 0645, the 7th Battalion opened fire. For the Chieftains with their fearsome firepower the range the Kuwaitis were firing at was practically point blank (around 1500 metres). Here at last was the tank battle the Chieftain had been designed for, defending a line against a larger force of Soviet armour.
The pounding the Iraqi's were taking suddenly let up. Lieutenant-Colonel Al Wazan, the commander of 7th Brigade had received orders to cease fire and return to base! For a few moments the Iraqi's could collect their battered wits, then LTC Al Wazan used his initiative and ordered his battalion to open fire again.
By now the 8th Battalion had arrived on the battlefield. There was an Infantry unit inside Al Jahra that would be surrounded so the 8th Battalion was ordered to advance and link up with the Infantry.
Captain Ali, the commander of the the Battalion moved up to the first obstacle, the six lane ring road around Al Jahra. He quickly realised that any attempt to cross the road, especially the central barrier would result in a massacre of his unit. With that in mind he fell back and emplaced his company to the east of the 7th Battalion on the other side of a road that led to the west from the Ring road.
Almost immediately after taking up positions a car came screeching up behind Cpt Ali's tank. He was happy to see the gunner from his normal crew leap out of the drivers seat. The gunner was the battalions best shot, and had been at home on leave when the news of the Iraqi attack had come in.
No sooner than the gunner had taken his seat, he spotted and killed an Iraqi command/observation vehicle that was mostly obscured by a bridge. Then an Iraqi platoon of three T-72's wormed its way through Al Jahra and tried to launch a flank attack on the 8th Battalion. The Kuwaiti tanks easily spotted them and destroyed all three.
As the morning wore on the tanks had been engaged for a long time, and now the lack of water began to tell, on both sides. At some of the lulls in the battle soldiers from both sides queued up next to each other to buy water from a local roadside water vendor.
About 1100 hours a new threat began to develop. Along the road leading to the west came a second Iraqi division. This was the Republican Guards Medina Division. A small battery of SPG's had set up there to support the tanks.
The battery commander upon seeing the tanks approach at first thought they were Saudi re-enforcements so he closed with them. As he got closer he saw the tanks were T-72's. If he ran now after being spotted, the Iraqis would realise they were Kuwaitis and obliterate them.
So he decided to bluff, he walked up to the lead T-72 and spoke to the commander and gathered some intelligence on the Iraqis. When the tanks drove past they were none the wiser.
With enough warning from the artillery position the 8th Battalion shifted so that it refused its left flank, and could keep the Hammurabi Division to its front and also cover the back of the 7th Battalion. The Medina T-72's stormed down the road towards Al Jahra unaware of exactly what was happening.
The Medina Division drove between both Kuwaiti battalions and as it entered the frontal arcs of the 7th Battalion all the defenders opened fire wreaking havoc. As the Medina Division fell back after a very short exchange of fire the artillery battery took them under bombardment.
By early afternoon however, the 35th Brigade was running out of ammunition, the tanks had three rounds left at most and many had less. Equally the lack of water was becoming a concern. The biggest issue was that the Medina Division was forming up for another attack from the rear. With no other choice LTC Al Wazan ordered his brigade to retreat. The brigade crossed the border into Saudi Arabia at 1630.
The Chieftain had proved it was able to do exactly what it was designed to do, hold larger forces of Soviet armour at bay. The 35 Chieftains had held up the lead elements of two divisions for nearly ten hours. As well as the one breakdown the brigade had only lost two tanks in the battle.