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December 09, 2003

The "Thunder Run" into baghdad

I've finally found an article worthy of registering with the LA Times over (I got it without that, via the DoD Earlybird, for those of you with access). I obviously can't reproduce it here in whole without justifiably annoying the Times, so here is the link.

And here are some excerpts to convince you it's worth it.

This is the story of the "Thunder Run" into Baghdad that collapsed the Iraqi resistance.

It looks like the "Thunder Run" will replace the Battle of 73 Easting as the
most studied ground engagement in U.S. History.

------------------------
Los Angeles Times Magazine
December 7, 2003

The Thunder Run

'Are you kidding, sir?': Fewer than 1,000 soldiers were ordered to capture a
city of 5 million Iraqis. Theirs is a story that may become military legend.

By David Zucchino

Nine hundred and seventy-five men invading a city of 5 million sounded
audacious, or worse, to the U.S. troops assigned the mission outside Baghdad
last April 6. Ten years earlier, in Mogadishu, outnumbered American soldiers
had been trapped and killed by Somali street fighters. Now some U.S.
commanders, convinced the odds were far better in Iraq, scrapped the
original plan for taking Baghdad with a steady siege and instead ordered a
single bold thrust into the city. The battle that followed became the climax
of the war and rewrote American military doctrine on urban warfare.

Back home, Americans learned of the victory in sketchy reports that focused
on the outcome-a column of armored vehicles had raced into the city and
seized Saddam Hussein's palaces and ministries. What the public didn't know
was how close the U.S. forces came to experiencing another Mogadishu.
Military units were surrounded, waging desperate fights at three critical
interchanges. If any of those fell, the Americans would have been cut off
from critical supplies and ammunition.

Embedded journalists reported the battle's broad outlines in April, but a
more detailed account has since emerged in interviews with more than 70 of
the brigade's officers and men who described the fiercest battle of the
war-and one they nearly lost.

Times staff writer David Zucchino, who was embedded with Task Force 4-64 of
the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), returned to the United
States recently to report this story.

More in the extended post.

The battalion had been given only a few hours to prepare. Ball studied his military map, but it had no civilian markings-no exit numbers, no neighborhoods. He was worried about missing his exit to the airport at what fellow officers called the "spaghetti junction," a maze of twisting overpasses and offramps on Baghdad's western cusp.

Ball's map was clipped to the top of his tank hatch as the column lumbered
up Highway 8. He had been rolling only about 10 minutes when his gunner
spotted a dozen Iraqi soldiers leaning against a building several hundred
yards away, chatting, drinking tea, their weapons propped against the wall.
They had not yet heard the rumble of the approaching tanks.

"Sir, can I shoot at these guys?" the gunner asked.

"Uh, yeah, they're enemy," Ball told him.

Ball had fired at soldiers in southern Iraq, but they had been murky green
figures targeted with the tank's thermal imagery system. These soldiers were
in living color. Through the tank's sights, Ball could see their eyes, their
mustaches, their steaming cups of tea.

The gunner mowed them down methodically, left to right. As each man fell,
Ball could see shock cross the face of the next man before he, too, pitched
violently to the ground. The last man fled around the corner of the
building. But then, inexplicably, he ran back into the open. The gunner
dropped him.

The clattering of the tank's rapid-fire medium machine gun seemed to awaken
fighters posted along the highway. Gunfire erupted from both sides-AK-47
automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, followed minutes
later by recoilless rifles and antiaircraft guns.

Iraqi soldiers and militiamen were firing from a network of trenches and
bunkers carved into the highway's shoulders, and from rooftops and
alleyways. Some were inside cargo containers buried in the dirt. Others were
tucked beneath the overpasses or firing down from bridges.

In the southbound lanes, civilian cars were cruising past, their occupants
staring wide-eyed at the fireballs erupting from the tank's main guns and
the bright tracer flashes from the rapid-fire medium and .50-caliber machine
guns. From onramps and access roads, other cars packed with Iraqi gunmen
were attacking. Mixed in were troop trucks, armored personnel carriers,
taxis and motorcycles with sidecars.

Behind Ball, a tank commanded by Lt. Roger Gruneisen had fallen behind. Some equipment from the crippled tank had been dumped onto the top of Gruneisen's tank, obstructing his view from the hatch. With the emergency addition of Staff Sgt. Jason Diaz, commander of the burning tank, and Diaz's gunner, Gruneisen now had five men squeezed into a tank designed for four.

The gunner had swung the main gun right to fire on a bunker. In the loader's
hatch, Sgt. Carlos Hernandez saw that the gun tube was headed for a concrete
bridge abutment. He screamed, "Traverse left!" But they were moving rapidly.
The gun tube smacked the abutment. The entire turret spun like a top.
Inside, the crewmen were pinned against the walls, struggling to hold on as
the turret turned wildly two dozen times before stopping. It was like an
out-of-control carnival ride.

The crew was dizzy. Hernandez looked at the gunner. Blood was spurting from
his nose. His head and chest were soaked with greenish-yellow hydraulic
fluid. The impact had severed a hydraulic line. Except for the gunner's
bloody nose, no one was hurt.

The main gun was bent and smashed. It flopped to the side, useless. The tank
continued up Highway 8, Gruneisen on the .50-caliber and Hernandez on a
medium machine gun. They rolled up to the spaghetti junction into a curtain
of black smoke-and missed the airport turn. They were headed into the city
center.

If this isn't enough to get you to register for it or go check the Earlybird, nothing is. Remember, if you don't want the Times collecting info - fib, then delete the cookie!

Way to go, Soldiers of the Rock!

John | Permalink | Comments (7) | Global War on Terror (GWOT)
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