DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
Oral History Interview
DSIT AE 015
MAJ Walter Wilson, Jr.
S-3, 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry
Interview Conducted 14 January 1991 at Ali Range, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
Interviewer: MAJ Dennis P. Levin (130th Military History Detachment)
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
7 August 1990 - 15 May 1991
Oral History Interview DSIT AE 015
MAJ LEVIN: This is a serial interview, Operation DESERT SHIELD. This is MAJ Dennis Levin, Commander, 130th Military History Detachment. I am interviewing ...
MAJ WILSON: MAJ Walter Wilson, Jr.; ***-**-****; HHC, 1-5041; Battalion S-3.
MAJ LEVIN: The primary focus of this interview is about the training relative to the Iraqi strong point that was constructed on the Ali Range. And I am interested what preparation you had before the training operation, and then if you could just kind of take me through the operation as it went.
MAJ WILSON: The main preparation we did, other than issuing a formal operations order, was to rehearse it twice before we actually conducted the attack. And also we had about two officer OPD [officer professional development] classes on the Iraqi strong point and what it consists of, and how we would envision taking it down.
MAJ LEVIN: Can you tell me a little bit about its construction and the kind of information that was given during the officer preparations?
MAJ WILSON: It is mainly a defense against dismounted infantry. It was used extensively in the Iran/Iraq war. It's mainly triangular in shape; it is about 750 meters each leg of the triangle. One company triangle is composed of three platoon triangles. Each platoon triangle is composed of three squad triangles. And within the center of the company triangle is where they would have their air defense and mortar assets, and either along the edges of the berm or back in the center of the triangle is where they would have any reinforcing tanks. So the main thrust ... the triangle itself, is like a little fire base from which they fight from and they try to kill the enemy that attacks the triangle or attacking a sister triangle (which could normally be 750 [meters] to a kilometer away). Something like that.
MAJ LEVIN: That is a pretty fair distance between them. That is normally out of small arms range, so the kind of support that they would provide for each other would normally be heavy weapons. Okay. Can you tell me anything about the nature of the cover that they would have inside one of these triangles?
MAJ WILSON: From what we understand they would be the standard trench lines. The Iraqis, from what we have been reading, tend not to dig in very heavily, at least initially ... but the longer they stay there, the more prepared they would become. And after a couple of months you could expect to see concrete, prefab bunkers and things like that.
MAJ LEVIN: I noticed when I went through the triangle after the assault was made, there wasn't a whole lot of overhead cover. Is that what is anticipated, [that] they would not have that much in the trench lines itself?
MAJ WILSON: I think when the triangle was initially built back in September, it was probably that way up in Kuwait. But I don't think it is like that anymore. But based on the initial anticipation, and also based on the problems of trying to keep it up through repetitive live fire exercises, I think they did away with the overhead cover.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind of scheme or maneuver was developed to attack the triangles?
MAJ WILSON: Well, we ... each battalion tried it just a little bit differently. One infantry battalion should doctrinally have two breach lanes, so we did; and we had a rifle company on each breach lane. And each rifle company would ideally have a bulldozer, a platoon of tanks, a platoon of LAVs2, and MCLCs3 to support the breaching movement.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Could you describe a MCLC, please?
MAJ WILSON: A MCLC is the line charge that is shot out by a rocket. And it is sausage-linked C-4 which shoots over a mine field. When it lands on a mine field it detonates and it should, the [over]pressure, should detonate into the mines and the mine field opening a breach through the mine field. That did not work on this one because the rocket did not fire. We are still working on that.
MAJ LEVIN: Do you have two MCLCs or one?
MAJ WILSON: We had two MCLCs, but only one trailer, so we were going to fire one MCLC in the rehearsal and then fire the other one for the full-up attack, but the rocket misfired, and it's an old made-in-1953-model rocket and that is what caused the system to go down we think.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. So these things are carried in a trailer?
MAJ WILSON: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: Behind what?
MAJ WILSON: Usually a tank. A tank is the best thing to pull it in.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. How does it get from behind the tank up to the mine?
MAJ WILSON: It shoots from its position behind the tank. All the tankers have to do is make sure they are buttoned up. It will shoot straight out over--there is about a 60-foot safe distance from the trailer to the edge of the explosive. So as long as the tankers are buttoned up, it is not going to hurt them.
MAJ LEVIN: So the tanker has to be right up to the mine field?
MAJ WILSON: Within about 60 feet of it. You get pretty close.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. We established there are going to be two companies making breach lanes.
MAJ WILSON: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: What is the scenario for preparation before the companies ... ?
MAJ WILSON: Ideally, there would be a day or more of artillery prep[aratory fires] on the triangle. We began our attack with our actual prep going full-up at H-5 and then at H-Hour we crossed the line of departure. We couldn't get close air [support] to come in because of the air space problem over Range Ali, but we had the OH-58C [Kiowa] and a few [AH-64] Apache helicopters flying support. They didn't have any ammo, but they were out there flying support for us, so they were also in support. And in addition, we had our mortars, 81[mm] mortars, firing on targets inside the triangle.
MAJ LEVIN: How long did that last?
MAJ WILSON: The artillery prep only lasted about 5 minutes before we crossed the LD, but the actual artillery firing on the triangle lasted until we got half way between the mine field and the wire fence in front of the triangle. So we went for probably a good 20 or 30 minutes; the artillery fired 450 rounds, which isn't a great deal, but for a training exercise it was.
MAJ LEVIN: Yes, I understood that was an unusual amount of rounds for training. How accurate was it from what you could tell?
MAJ WILSON: The artillery was right on target for what they needed to do. But they weren't able to fire air bursts because they didn't have the fuses and what not, and consequently there wasn't as much damage done inside the triangle as there would have been.
MAJ LEVIN: I was wondering about that. It didn't seem like there very much shrapnel laying around.
MAJ WILSON: No, most of it detonated in the sand and not much was leveled.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. How close do the infantry companies get during the preparation phase?
MAJ WILSON: We do not get any closer than 500 meters. So at the 500-meter mark, we had to shift the artillery off the triangle, if we moved into the triangle itself. Now if we had tank main gun ammunition, that would have supplemented our movement up, which they didn't have any. But the LAVs had TPT ammunition so they were able to use their Bofors cannon and keep shooting at the small triangles as we moved up to them.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. What kind of rounds were they using on that?
MAJ WILSON: They just had TPT, training practice rounds.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they have an elevated position?
MAJ WILSON: No, they moved right up with the breach team, so they were on the same plain and it is all basically real flat. And off to the left and right flanks we had positions for TOWs4 and [M-2] .50-cal[iber machine gun]s to fire. We didn't have any live TOW or live .50-cal. ammo, but they moved up and simulated like they were actually helping suppress. But we had that out to the flanks.
MAJ LEVIN: How effective do you think the suppressive powers would be on a position like that?
MAJ WILSON: I think it would be pretty effective on the position, without a doubt, but what would worry me is a sister triangle that maybe wasn't being suppressed as well. Or a counter-attack that was coming from behind the triangle, which was one of the things that we kept trying to exercise with the Apaches. We kept telling them we had tanks or something spotted further north and had them positioned trying to intercept those.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Now with the suppressive fire lifted, how did the infantry move forward, and how long did that take usually?
MAJ WILSON: From the time we crossed the line of departure, it took us 54 minutes to secure the entire triangle. I don't have how much it took at each obstacle phase, but once we got to the wire, we carried wooden ladders with us and carried those on the LAV vehicles. So with the dismounted infantry moving close behind the LAVs, they just grabbed the ladders, threw them on the wire and they were over, you know, lickety-split.
The two breaching companies went straight into the base triangle through two little platoon-size positions, triangles one and two we called them. And when that started, we brought our third rifle company along what was our Axis BONE. They were all mounted in HMMWVs [M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles]. We brought them straight up, straight through the wire, brought them around the flank and they got to a dismount point and they went in after the northern triangle. But the whole operation, from start to finish was just 54 minutes.
MAJ LEVIN: How did the HMMWVs get through the wire in the middle? Was that blown?
MAJ WILSON: Yes. One of the LAVs had an engineer squad on it, so once the infantry got across the wire and the triangle started to become more secure, they got out with the cutters and started cutting holes in it. Because we eventually moved the tanks right up into the--in some cases up into the triangles--and the LAVs moved through and up on the flanks.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. What other kind of barriers do you have right before the triangle? That wire was really the last barrier.
MAJ WILSON: The wire was the last one. Right before it was the mine field, and the first one was the tank ditch.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay, breaching the mine field and the tank ditch, how was that accomplished?
MAJ WILSON: The tank ditch was done with the 'dozers. And the 'dozers would come up and just scoop in the tank ditch, wear it down to where the tanks and the LAVs could get through it. And of course, the infantry didn't have any big problem.
We sent out scouts with sappers ahead of time, before our LD [line of departure] time, to go up to the tank ditch, identify the best place to cross and ... according to the doctrine, see if there were mines in the tank ditch and things like that, and so they would try to neutralize those or at least identify them so when the other guys got up there they could get rid of them.
Right after the mine field, that is where the MCLC was most important because that was the best way to clear the mine field even though they have some mines that are resistent to it now. But that was only on Alpha Company's [Company A's] lane. On Bravo Company's [Company B's] lane, the intent was to use the bulldozers with the blade sunk in the ground about 4 or 5 inches and articulated at an angle and it would push through. And in the problem with that is we might lose the bulldozer before we got to the other end, but we just continue to push, probably, with the tanks.
If it was ideal, we would have had at least two bulldozers on each lane, three or four MCLCs on each lane because the Iraqi mine field is longer than the length of the MCLC, so we would have had a lot more assets if it was for real. I hope we would.
MAJ LEVIN: The engineers were a little bit antsy from what I understand using those bulldozers. They felt they were pretty exposed.
MAJ WILSON: They are.
MAJ LEVIN: So the driver really is taking a big risk?
MAJ WILSON: Yeah. And the real experts of the mechanical breach are the mech[anized infantry and] armor guys and of course, the tanks got the plows on the front, so they are not as exposed as we are. And they also can attach the tank rollers up front to detonate the mines too. But for the light infantry, that is about all we can do. That is why the MCLC would be so important to us.
MAJ LEVIN: Yes. How far did your men actually have to run? Did they ride the LAVs?
MAJ WILSON: No, we had some security personnel on the LAVs. We had four LAVs with each company. One had an engineer squad. One had an infantry squad. One had the company commander and his little CP [command post] element. And the last one had the leftovers from the infantry squad. The rest of the infantry, except for our Charlie Company [Company C], our last company, they walked. And we moved them forward by phase line, depending on how danger-close the artillery was. So they just walked forward. Up to a point. And about the time they hit the wire, most of them were running.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they normally run something like this in daylight or at night?
MAJ WILSON: We discussed that quite a bit, and the night might protect us somewhat in terms of the Iraqis having a hard time to see us; however, the day, if we can suppress the triangle, the triangle that we are attacking, suppress it and suppress the other ones that might interfere with us, the day would give us the advantage of hopefully have close air and much better control and what not, going in and attacking it. So we talked about that at the [field]-grade level for quite awhile and decided to stay with the day attack. And if we didn't have as much suppression, then it would probably be smarter to do it at night.
MAJ LEVIN: Once the infantry got into the triangles, what was the plan then?
MAJ WILSON: They each ... the A and B Company that had the two base triangles, they went in and fanned out to the left and the right so they wouldn't be shooting at each other, and cleared those triangles. Once they were secure, they started putting fire in the third triangle, the northern one, and to any other targets that were inside the triangle itself.
As Charlie Company came around and ran up the left flank, heading toward the third triangle, they kept the fire up until I was given the word that they needed to shift off. Then they shifted fire off. Charlie Company took the triangle, and then we consolidated.
If we had the AT [anti-tank] ammo we wanted, we had planned in a counter-attack where we would shoot Dragons and AT-4s at some counter-attack targets. But we basically took the triangle and secured it and the overall mission, as far as the bigger plan, was to get a foothold in the obstacle belt, breach the obstacle belt, get a good foothold so we could pass through a mech[anized] infantry unit that would be continuing north. And we would basically just stay there until it was covered.
MAJ LEVIN: How tired were the men by the time they got to the objective? That's a long walk.
MAJ WILSON: They were pretty beat, especially since they did it twice that day. In the morning we had a rehearsal and then the afternoon they did it again. So it is pretty tiring. And we did it without rucksacks, but it still took it out of you.
MAJ LEVIN: Was there any change in the load that the men were carrying, other than the fact they weren't the rucks[acks]?
MAJ WILSON: No, we paid an awful lot of attention to that, and we went with our usual basic load, less the rucksack.
MAJ LEVIN: What about water? Was that a factor?
MAJ WILSON: This time of the year it was not. The last time the brigade did it it was late September or October and it was still real hot and water a big factor. This time of the year it didn't bother us that much. Although, as we took the triangle, we had casualty collection points along the way and we exercised that system. And at the end we had planned for the company train vehicles, two HMMWVs, to come forward with water and ammo resupply. So we had thought about it, but it wasn't a problem like it would have been in summer.
MAJ LEVIN: Has anyone given thought to an estimate of casualties in an operation like this?
MAJ WILSON: No, not that I really heard of.
MAJ LEVIN: Nobody has been talking in terms of percentage losses, anything like that?
MAJ WILSON: Not really. We, on our own, we killed or wounded about ten guys ... just so we could exercise an evacuation process. But if it had really suppressed hard, you probably wouldn't take that many casualties.
MAJ LEVIN: One of the unusual aspects of this, I note the 82d is currently testing the LAV to see if it is a worthwhile vehicle. How did the LAV perform on this?
MAJ WILSON: The LAV does real well, and we worked with ... the LAV platoon leader was the same guy we have worked with in March on our EXEVAL [external evaluation], and we worked real well with him. They can move real fast, especially in this terrain. They just move lickety-split. They have that canon they can shoot. They can carry about ... they comfortably ... they can carry about five soldiers in addition to their own crew, which we would like to be able to put more on there, but it is a good vehicle. And in this case, it would have enabled the commander to be up front and see what was going on and still have some armor protection and what not.
MAJ LEVIN: What about the use of HMMWVs, what kind of HMMWVs were used to ... ?
MAJ WILSON: We used our cargo HMMWVs. And the thing there, you could get them up there fast, real fast; and although they are not an armored vehicle, we were able to keep that company back out of harm's way and when we needed it, call it, and they could come forward very quickly which is what they did under that scheme of maneuver.
MAJ LEVIN: What would be the determining factor in calling them forward? The fact that the wire had been breached or ... ?
MAJ WILSON: No. What we did in the order ... I wrote the order so that that company had to be prepared to go either on the right flank or the left flank, although, because of the live fire constraints, we knew we were going to go on the left flank. And what we did, what the trigger would have been if it had been for real, whichever company was having the most success, that was where I would have sent the third company. In this case, of course, no one was shooting back at us, but both companies stayed almost up with each other, attacked the triangles within few minutes of each other, so everything moved along pretty smoothly; didn't have any big problems.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Is there anything about this exercise that you feel is different from the way an attack on one of those triangles would actually go?
MAJ WILSON: Other than the fact no one was shooting at us, and ... . No. We already talked about the bulldozer being so exposed, and that is something we really have to think hard about, but no, we planned it like we would really try to do it. We actually felt pretty good about it after it was over, it all came together pretty well. It would have been nice to have some more ammunition.
MAJ LEVIN: But in the event of a real attack, you would be counting on air support and all kinds of things that you didn't have. Would you anticipate in an actual assault on this using napalm?
MAJ WILSON: According to the Air Force guys that is not in their inventory, it is only in the Navy's. So no, I wouldn't be even counting on it then. We talked about that one night and he said the Air Force didn't have napalm anymore, it is just a Navy/Marine thing.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind of ordnance would you want them to lay on you?
MAJ WILSON: What we were looking at, the artillery ... . In my mind, the artillery was going to take care of the triangle. They would take care of that. What we were worried about was reinforcements, reinforcing tanks. So therefore, preferably, A-10s would come in with their cannons and take out the tanks. That was really my biggest concern, even with the Apaches, I wrote in where they were ... . I needed them to keep watching my flanks and watching deep, because that is where I felt like we were vulnerable. The artillery would suppress the triangle, that would happen. It was the other stuff we were worried about.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay, once ... . Now from what I could see in a triangle, all of the defensive positions that they had were really open, so if anybody was out there during an artillery attack, especially when they have had air bursts, they would be wiped out. But considering the fact that these guys are probably going to be in bunkers, would you anticipate a change in the way the infantry would be working this thing?
MAJ WILSON: I guess the big change would be we probably would have to fight a lot harder once we actually got up if they were dug in and the artillery couldn't move them. But we tried the exercise, going through the trench systems, just like we would go through the trench systems. Who knows how well they would hold up under the barrage.
MAJ LEVIN: Is there anything you would like to add to this, something that I may not have been able to cover?
MAJ WILSON: No. It was just a real ... I think it was one of the few times in the battalion live-fire, that involved as much of our assets as we could get. It was probably one of the few times you had a major battalion training event where all the soldiers got a lot out of it because they not only got to go up there and shoot their weapons and clear the trenches, but as they were moving up, the troops were amazed and in awe, and some were a little bit concerned that the artillery was coming in so close and they saw the helicopters on the flanks and they, you know, the gun jeeps [HMMWVs] were moving around.
Because of the flat open terrain, the soldiers--all the soldiers--got to see a lot of what was really going on, not just his little M-16 part. So that in that respect, I think we all got a lot of it, because there are some times when the troops just see their little picture.
MAJ LEVIN: Oh, by the way, the cargo HMMWVs that you were using, did they have any kind of weaponry mounted to them?
MAJ WILSON: One or two of them had .50-cals. on it, but the .50-cal. on a cargo isn't a whole lot of help because it is hard to traverse it much more than a little bit to the front, left or right. It's not like on the turtle shell [HMMWV variant], where it can go around without getting in anybody's way.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay.
MAJ WILSON: But that company did have a section of .50-cals. attached to it, to help, to move up there with it and provide any suppressive fire that they might have needed in getting up there.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay, I appreciate your time. You have been a real help.
MAJ WILSON: I appreciate it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
2. The 82d Airborne Division had eleven Light Armored Vehicles armed with 25mm guns (LAV-25s) on loan from the US Marine Corps for evaluation when the DESERT SHIELD deployment began.
3. Mine-Clearing Line Charge, pronounced "Mick-Lick."
4. Tube-Launched, Optically-Guided antitank Weapons.