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Gulf War 2: 40 SHOTS.. 40 STRIKES Awesome US Apache gunships blast Iraqi elite with a hail of missiles; 50 Republican Guards dead, 25 tanks blitzed in 30-chopper swoop by Screaming Eagles.

Byline: CHRIS MURPHY

FEARSOME Apache attack helicopters devastated Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard yesterday in a raid that destroyed 25 tanks and killed at least 50 Iraqis.

Thirty choppers of America's 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles, took the elite Guard by surprise south west of Baghdad and unleashed a withering hail of missiles. Every shot went home.

Spokesman Major Hugh Cate said: "We fired 40 missiles and we had 40 hits.

"We had a confirmed kill of at least 25 vehicles including tanks and armoured personnel carriers and at least 50 dead."

The tough Medina Division of the Republican Guard was a sitting duck for the sophisticated Apaches - dubbed Widowmakers by their crews.

A military source said: "These guys never stood a chance. One moment they would have been either sleeping or on sentry duty. The next it was like the world coming to an end. The noise would be deafening, the heat intense and the smoke blinding.

"They wouldn't know where the attack was coming from and there was not a thing they could do.

"Those that died would not have even known they were under attack.

"The missiles fired from the Apaches are so powerful they can rip a tank apart.

"Anyone inside would have died instantly from either the blast or from being ripped apart by flying white hot shards of fractured steel.

"The attack was carefully planned to ensure the missiles hit as a cluster in as short a time as possible.

"It was a case of hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast. There was no chance to run and hide.

"Getting caught in the middle of an assault like this is as close as anyone will get to Armageddon.

"After it was over the ground looked like a hell on earth - piles of shattered, smouldering vehicles and the horror of men left dead.

"It is not a scene anyone can imagine. It is the stuff nightmares are made of."

The Republican Guard is dug in to provide a ring of steel around the Iraqi capital as US forces close in.

But a constant bombardment has been softening them up and has left Saddam's finest wondering where death will strike next. It was a stunning blow when the Apaches pounced.

The low-flying killing machines find their prey with state-of-the-art radar. They can strike from up to seven miles away - or sneak in to blast the target at close range.

The Screaming Eagles specialise in airborne assaults deep into enemy territory and this was their first major combat operation since the war began ten days ago.

Major Cate said: "The 101st is back in flight. Our first deep attack mission."

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Holden of the 101st's combat battalion said: "What we offer is agility and lethality."

The Division was formed in World War Two and immortalised in TV's Band of Brothers.

The Republican Guard's six divisions have proved no match for the modern technology which allows coalition forces to pick off its ageing Soviet tanks at will.

Military analyst Dan Goure said: "They have been defeated in every direct combat with a competent adversary."

Two Apaches crash-landed during yesterday's action and one pilot broke a leg.

The 101st also captured 11 Republican Guard soldiers south west of the central city of Najaf yesterday.Its firepowerTHE Widowmaker's awesome specification:

- Cost: pounds 27million.

- Max speed: 225mph.

- Range: 483 kilometres.

Weaponry:

-Up to 16 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or air-to-air missiles;

-Up to 76 2.75in rockets;

-30mm M230 machinegun which fires 10 rounds a SECOND.

-High-tech helmets:

Enables a pilot to aim missiles just by looking at a target.

CAPTION(S):

HAMMER BLOW: Troops of Iraq's Republican Guard; DEATH FROM THE SKIES:; Screaming Eagles Apache helicopters attack out of the sun
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 30, 2003
Words:624
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