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1st (UK) Armoured Division in Iraq: January to April 2003.

A good deal of military planning had been undertaken by the United Kingdom (UK) in conjunction with the US Armed Forces during the latter part of 2002 for possible operations to remove both the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the regime of Saddam Hussein. However, it wasn't until early in January 2003 that the decision was taken to deploy a British armored division to Kuwait under the tactical command of the United States Marine Corps' 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF). This article chronieles some of the key activities during the operations that occurred in the first half of 2003, looking at matters particularly from an artillery perspective, and considers some of the main lessons identified for future deployments.


Organization and Deployment. The Secretary of State for Defence announced that the 3d Commando Brigade would operate under command of 1 MEF in December 2002. On 20 January 2003, he announced that the UK land contribution to possible operations would be a divisional headquarters: 1st (UK) Armoured Division with 3d Commando Brigade, 7th Armoured Brigade and 16th Air Assault Brigade, with appropriate supporting troops, including the 102d Logistics Brigade.

The structure within these formations was significantly curtailed by other commitments faced by Britain's armed forces at that time, particularly the 19,000 service personnel providing cover in the United Kingdom for striking firemen. The result was a number of highly desirable capabilities were omitted from the task organization. These included provisions for rear area security or area air defense (although a limited close air defense capability was retained), long-range surveillance and target acquisition patrols and, most critically from an FA perspective, any multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS). The latter was omitted both as a result of an agreement that 1 MEF would provide all the deep fires for the British division and after an analysis of the terrain showed the extensive spread of oil infrastructure in our likely area of operations AO would significantly curtail the firing of weapons systems with a large beaten zone.


The final task organization for the British land contribution to the liberation of Iraq is shown in Figure 1. Royal Regiment of Artillery (RRA) personnel numbered just under 2,500, 11 percent of the total force of about 22,000. (See Figure 2.)



The full augmentation needed to bring units up to war establishment was not possible due to manpower pressures elsewhere. In the event, most units coped with a thin establishment, although this might not have been the case had we taken significant numbers of casualties or had combat operations lasted more than 17 days.

The only significant augmentation was to the 3d Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) that doubled in size to field 32 AS90 155-mm self-propelled howitzers and provide the tactical groups for the four battlegroups within the 7th Armoured Brigade; at about 1,000, all ranks, the 3d RHA became one of the largest and, certainly, the most powerful British artillery units ever fielded.

The deployment of the entire British force into Kuwait was completed in 11 weeks, a remarkable achievement considering the deployment of a similar sized force for the 1991 Gulf War took double that time. Inevitably, there were some difficulties. For example, asset tracking was a particular problem. The container park near the Kuwaiti ports was likened to a Christmas morning where the children had gone downstairs first and removed all the labels from the presents so nobody knew either what was inside or who they were from until they'd been opened.

Our ammunition arrived much later in the shipping order than I would have liked; it would have been embarrassing to have had guns with no bullets.

Training and integration were not as thorough or comprehensive as I would have wished, both internal to the British force and with 1 MEF units. This issue will grow in emphasis as US forces, our most likely allies, move toward "Deploy, Employ." Nevertheless, by mid-March, we had enough combat power in Kuwait for operations.

Training and Integration. The British force had not trained as an entity, and the division had not operated under command of 1 MEF, an interesting situation with conflict looming ever closer during February. However, three crucial training activities proved vital to the subsequent success of the operation.

In 2001, the division conducted an expeditionary exercise in Oman. A whole host of lessons at all levels came out of this two-month activity that proved to be invaluable, especially concerning the use of our equipment in the Middle East.

Secondly, the 7th Armoured Brigade had just completed a brigade training year. Although the final field training exercise had been cancelled, all the battlegroups had completed live firing and force-on-force combined arms exercises at the British Army's training center in Canada.

And finally, I had run a major artillery concentration in November 2002. This ensured the battery tactical parties (forward observers and battery commanders) that would deploy with the maneuver units and gun groups were as well trained as resources would allow.

All the artillery units on the final order of battle completed further special-to-arm (artillery) training in England or Germany in January 2003 before their equipment was loaded onto ships. As it turned out, the space and time in Kuwait were too limited for any coherent training before crossing the border. Indeed, my final battery group only arrived 48 hours before operations and just had time to bomb up the guns in a sandstorm before deploying onto their platforms at their first gun position.

The integration with 1 MEF proved to be much easier than I thought, despite the fact we had never trained with them. From top to bottom, we all found 1 MEF an outstanding organization. We turned up for "the party" at the 11th hour when months of planning had already been conducted by US forces, yet we were welcomed and our systems aligned with those of the Marine Corps in an exemplary manner.

We did not take this for granted for we know how difficult it can be. Major General Robin Brims, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 1st Armoured Division, in his first directive to the division dated 3 February 2003, wrote: "Being an ally is a two-way street. When you find someone or something odd, reflect with certainty that someone finds you and your people very odd, too." 1 MEF simply made it work, probably accepting that "the Brits are always slightly odd."

Nevertheless, there were challenges to be overcome. Procedures and battle rhythms were not identical, and it took time to fully understand how we should best operate in our new higher headquarters.

Our communications systems were not interoperable, mainly because 1 MEF, although not yet a digitized headquarters, has many more digitized systems than our formations have. We overcame this in part by allocating appropriate terminals to each other's headquarters.

However, the overall key to success was very significant numbers of high-quality liaison officers (LNOs) being deployed in both directions. For example, I eventually placed three lieutenant colonels and 10 majors in both 1 MEF and the 3d Marine Air Wing (3d MAW) to coordinate fires, some LNOs embedded and some in a pure liaison role. They had to be extracted from other posts, but they were critical to the operation.

A weakness in most of our formations is our integration of air into the land battle. The British Armed Forces have insufficient people or equipment, particularly communications equipment, and too little training to undertake this important technique. This has been recognized and is in the process of being rectified, although the solution will not be instantaneous.

However, given that 1 MEF's deep fires are provided solely by the 3d MAW rather than by ground-based systems, the integration of air, especially close air support (CAS), needed to be a part of our battle. The situation was saved by the provision of both a 70-person USMC air support element (ASE) into the divisional headquarters and also the USMC 1st and 3d Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Companies (ANGLICOs). The latter came with ground-to-air communications and were attached to joint fires cells at all levels from division down to company or squadron.

We could not have operated without these critical and most professional additions to our task organization. Indeed, we are looking to replicate their capabilities in our own order of battle.

Finally, we developed extremely close linkages with the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment and trained and fired together, which paid dividends in the early hours of the campaign. It proved to be a happy and rewarding relation ship with a highly professional unit.

The 7th RHA and elements of the 3d RHA were grouped (attached) to the 11th Marines for initial border crossing operations. Rounds fell together in unity of mission and purpose despite the incompatibility of our communications systems (liaison parties again proved to be the solution).

Scheme of Manoeuvre. I do not intend to go through the warfighting phase of Telic that occurred between 20 March and 9 April blow-by-blow, for you will be familiar with much of it. Rather I wish to give you a feel for the nature of the British operation.

The mission of the 1st UK Armoured Division was to attack to defeat enemy forces, secure key oil infrastructure and seize the Umm Qasr port to prevent or mitigate environmental disaster and enable humanitarian operations. Subsequently, the division was to relieve the 1st Marine Division (1 MARDIV) to support its rapid movement north. (See the map in Figure 3.)


The key to success was to attack with 1 MARDIV and together gain control of the oil infrastructure, control the AO and then enable 1 MEF to continue the advance north alongside V Corps without interference.

Our part in the plan was to seize the Al Faw oil infrastructure, a task undertaken by the 3d Commando Brigade working with US Naval Special Warfare (NSW) sea/air/land (SEAL) teams; to secure Umm Qasr, a task for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15 MEU) under the tactical control (TACON) of the 3d Commando Brigade; and then relieve the 1 MARDIV. For this phase of the operation, I had my three close support regiments and the 15 MEU's S Battery.

My resources for the opening phases of the operation are in Figure 4 on Page 42. The plan proved robust, and there was no need to deviate from it. The business of allocating resources at the highest level and then delegating their control to the lowest levels worked superbly, another timeless principle.

By 22 March, the 1 MARDIV had been relieved in place and was moving west to cross the Euphrates River at An Nasariyah. The 7th Armoured Brigade had surrounded Az Zubayr and was sitting on the bridges on the Shatt al Basrah looking into the city of Basrah.


The Iraqi regular army had not fought a conventional battle but had largely melted back into the urban areas when faced with overwhelming combat power, leaving much of their equipment behind. The soldiers then had been co-opted by Ba'ath Party elements and, particularly, the Saddam Fedayeen, and forced to continue fighting alongside these fanatics. Together they launched furious, if militarily inept, attacks against our units.

However, the regime still maintained an iron grip on the population and urban areas; the key question was when and how to liberate them without turning the towns and cities into rubble and without embarking on costly urban fighting. Furthermore while we knew not to enter urban areas until conditions were right both locally and for the wider Coalition (apart from Umm Qasr), it was clearly unacceptable to allow the regime to retain the initiative there, especially given their grip on the population.

A series of increasingly aggressive raids and precision strikes on key nodes, gatherings or regime personnel loosened the regime's grip. Much of this activity was cued by human intelligence (HUMINT) grouped down at the lowest levels of command. Timely, air-delivered munitions along with the highly accurate fire of ground artillery were critical during this phase. Strikes on the Ba'ath Party headquarters against regime meetings in both Az Zubayr and Basrah and against Ali Hassan Al Majid, "Chemical Ali," the regime leader in southern Iraq, combined with powerful armored raids into the city swelled the courage of the local population and, eventually, proved to the Saddam sympathizers their cause was lost.


Basrah fell on 7 April and attention then turned to exploitation up the Tigris River valley into the Maysan Province, particularly to liberate Al Amarah, its capital. However, by this time Baghdad had fallen and the regime had gone underground or been eradicated by the locals. Combat operations had ended in southern Iraq.

In 17 days of warfighting, the British artillery fired 22, 193 rounds, give or take about 100 rounds, as ammunition accounting on gun positions is notoriously inaccurate. The 9,500 155-mm rounds included 2,000 extended-range bomblet shells (ERBS) used for the first time and whose target effects and maximum range of 30 kilometers proved invaluable; 200 smoke rounds, mainly in support of the early border crossing operation; 700 illuminating rounds; and just under 6,000 conventional high-explosive (HE) rounds. The illumination was used extensively over Basrah along with airborne surveillance systems (helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) to psychologically reduce the freedom of movement of the regime personnel in the urban areas. Feedback suggested that this proved to be highly effective.

Of just under 13,000 105-mm rounds fired, all were HE, except about 200 each of smoke and illumination. The S Battery also fired 350 rocket-assisted projectiles (RAPs) while TACON to the 1st Armoured Division. Finally, a gun line of four ships that fired about 600 salvos provided the first naval gunfire support (NGS) to British operations since the Falklands War in 1982.

CAS, fixed and rotary wing, from the 3d MAW was a crucial factor in the success of the operation. Despite our not being in the 1 MEF main effort, the division used significant numbers of sorties most effectively in our AO.

Targeting and Rules of Engagement (ROE). The importance and complexity of targeting and of understanding ROE are areas that only real operations bring to the fore. British ROE at the tactical level were based on three principles: positive identification of Iraqi combatants, an identified military necessity to engage them, and the proportionality of the attack or expected damage within the engagement. The issue is exacerbated when enemy positions are in complex urban terrain or close to one of the 11,000 or so restricted or no-fire targets where collateral damage or civilian casualties could result--mosques, hospitals, schools and the like.

The question became, "Could the junior officer in a command post order the guns to fire when the check map showed the engagement would be in such an area?" The division's senior lawyer and I devised a series of scenarios presented to relevant commanders, observation officers, command post officers and their superiors. He provided the legal factors, and I educated him about combat and gunnery. It proved to be a highly effective process and, as a result, I had confidence that before conflict was joined, all necessary personnel understood whether or not they could engage a target.

We finished our presentations with a one-liner: "If the enemy are engaging Coalition Forces, the only issue is the proportionality of the response, given possible noncombatant casualties or collateral damage; but if the enemy has yet to engage friendly forces, the military necessity of the fire also must be proven."

The deliberate targeting process using both lethal and nonlethal means against enemy forces and nonlethal means (information operations, for example) against noncombatants is understood in principle but rarely practiced to the detail real operations demand. The procedures are easy to comprehend: what effect does one wish to have in what time scale against what target audience? Having gotten reasonable intelligence on enemy dispositions, the major difficulty was receiving reliable feedback on the consequences of an initial strike in order to trigger subsequent actions.


This proved a challenge when the strike was kinetic. Battlefield damage assessment (BDA), at best, was tardy and imprecise and too often nonexistent.

But measuring the effectiveness of a leaflet drop or series of radio broadcasts proved to be nigh onto impossible. It was hoped many Iraqi formations would indicate a desire to surrender, avoiding combat and potentially allowing them to form a nucleus of a new Iraqi army. However, a lack of feedback forced us to revert to kinetic targeting of assessed positions. The only alternative to kinetic targeting would have been to expose Coalition Forces to potential danger, something that was clearly unacceptable. This issue, in part, resulted in the significant expenditure of artillery ammunition.

Technology and Doctrine. A range of technological developments proved their worth for the first time in combat. New weapons locating radars (WLRs), when integrated into a proper surveillance system, were remarkably effective. This linkage to the shooters is something that needs to be tightened.

Advanced sound ranging also detected enemy artillery fire to an accuracy of about 100 meters at a range of 60 kilometers. While clearly suited to the less mobile operations of the British division when compared to those of V Corps or the 1 MARDIV, sound ranging remains a capable system, particularly with its recent upgrading.

UAVs were a vital component of the target acquisition (TA) capability. The British Phoenix UAV is rail-launched and operates from within the divisional area, an important factor in guaranteeing the essential requirement that UAVs at this level remain under the full command of the land commander. Crucial to the success of our TA equipment was that they produced a broad, layered surveillance and TA (STA) system. Cross-sensor cueing was particularly effective.

The AS90 howitzer proved to be robust, versatile and provided the range, accuracy and, when required, significant weight of fire to degrade almost all enemy actions. The variety in its munitions has already been mentioned. Having toyed with withdrawing the illuminating shell from service some years ago, Operation Telic has shown the British Army must retain a full suite of munitions.

The L118 light gun also proved its worth, particularly when it was lifted along with sufficient ammunition onto the Al Faw peninsula early in the operation, thus freeing AS90s to commence tasks elsewhere. A proper balance of towed (both 105-mm and 155-mm) and self-propelled artillery would appear to be an essential future prerequisite.

Most of our doctrine proved robust although we need to refine the coordination of lethal and nonlethal effects within a timely STA framework. It remains unclear in British doctrine exactly where the command of lethal and nonlethal effects should most logically lie. There is much merit in placing this command in a joint effects cell (JEC) where the necessary synergy can be developed against appropriate time lines. Of course, there would be feeds to other parts of the headquarters throughout any operation. This was how the 1st Armoured Division headquarters operated throughout Telic, and it proved remarkably effective.

Conclusion. Deploying a British division into Iraq as part of the liberating force provided a unique opportunity to practice procedures and techniques in high-intensity combat. It proved, again, something that too often gets ignored in combined arms training: the critical importance of Field Artillery and the dependence of combat troops upon it.

It reconfirmed the need to conduct robust, challenging and realistic training. The fact that many soldiers commented during the fighting that it was "just like being on an exercise" is a testament to the training they had been given. It demonstrated that, as close friends and allies, US and UK Armed Forces need to conduct more frequent training, both intellectually and in field integration, especially given the move toward Deploy, Employ.

Operation Telic reaffirmed the necessity of having a full range of high-technology equipment. Outmatching the enemy both by day and night provided a confidence that bred success.

Although we faced some weaknesses already discussed, the operation proved, again, the robustness of the British and American Soldier and Marine. Any success was their success and theirs alone.

By Brigadier Andrew R. Gregory

Brigadier Andrew R. Gregory was the Deputy Commander of the 1st (United Kingdom) Armoured Division and Commander of the 1st Division's Royal Artillery and during Operation Telic, the liberation of Iraq. Currently, he is the Assistant Chief of Staff for Command and Battlespace Management in the Headquarters of the British Land Command at Wilton. In his assignment before Operation Telic, he was the Director of the Army Junior Division within the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Watchfield. He also has completed operational tours in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. Brigadier Gregory commanded the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, an AS90 howitzer regiment, at Tidwell, and the first battery fielded with the AS90.
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Author:Gregory, Andrew, R.
Publication:FA Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:2-18 FA: training the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
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