Heroic Effort Secures Victory in Baghdad
By Jeff Lukens
The battle for Baghdad may have looked easy to those of us who watched it on television. The true story, however, is one of our courageous and determined soldiers prevailing through a harrowing struggle. Their heroism deserves our utmost gratitude.
In the new book, "Thunder Run," imbedded journalist David Zucchino tells the story of the U.S. Army's 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division commanded by Col. David Perkins. Greatly outnumbered, with fuel and ammunition running low, they achieved a dramatic victory.
As the American forces approached, the Iraqis set up successive rings of defense around Baghdad. Everyone thought we would lay siege to the city, advancing block-by-block, and costing many lives.
What no one expected until that day was a spontaneous plan by Perkins to drive 88 tanks and 44 Bradley Fighting Vehicles straight up Highway 8, boldly seizing the center of Baghdad. Such an unprecedented move, if successful, would break the Iraqi army's will to fight and spare thousands of lives.
The greatest challenges they faced were limitations of fuel and ammunition. Each tank carries about eight to ten hours of fuel. That meant about the fourth hour they should decide whether they are going to stay or pull out of the city.
Controlling three major interchanges on Highway 8 were critical to resupply troops in the city. Perkins tasked an infantry battalion to hold the three interchanges (dubbed Larry, Moe and Curly) outside the city, and the two tank battalions would take the city itself.
The operation began at 5:00 a.m. on April 7, 2003, with airburst artillery fire on top of the highway overpasses to cut down exposed enemy waiting there.
The tank battalions then charged up the highway, through the interchanges, and took Saddam's Presidential Palace complex with little resistance. As expected, by the fourth hour their fuel tanks were half-empty. Challenges soon began to mount.
Back at the interchanges, Iraqi forces in nearby bunkers and buildings engaged the infantry battalion in frantic firefights. At the Curly interchange in particular, an infantry company was heavily outnumbered and feared being overrun. Just one hour of ammunition remained.
Imagine fewer than a thousand soldiers in a city of five million -- surrounded, and out of ammunition and fuel. Thoughts of Mogadishu haunted them.
Perkins ordered the tanks in Baghdad to shut off their engines to conserve fuel. A surface-to-surface missile hit the brigade headquarters 18 kilometers south of the city causing many casualties and destroyed vehicles. Then the resupply convoy arrived at the Curly interchange while the firefight was still in progress. While supplies were being off-loaded, enemy fire destroyed three ammunition trucks and two refuelers.
It is now between the fourth and sixth hour. In the city are vehicles with their engines shut down, at the interchanges they were almost out of ammunition, a resupply convoy was burning, and the brigade headquarters was destroyed.
Under such circumstances, most people would probably play it safe and pull out. Yet, not one person in Second Brigade wanted to give back what they had fought so hard to achieve. Perkins took a gamble and decided they would stay in the city.
Within an hour, a makeshift headquarters was up and running. Reinforcements were sent to the interchanges. Fuel and ammunition trucks that were not burning were driven away through a gauntlet fire to resupply the rest of the interchanges.
The troops in the city, however, still needed be fuel and ammunition. A second resupply convoy was dispatched. Charging through a hail of gunfire, it amazingly made it into the city without casualties, just as it was getting dark. There were many cheers and sighs of relief.
Perkins' daring plan had worked. The next morning, Iraqi forces staged a fearsome counterattack at the Presidential Palace. With fuel and ammunition supply lines established, Second Brigade fended them off and consolidated their control of Baghdad.
It is historically unprecedented for so few soldiers so quickly seizing so large a city with so little loss of life. Eight Americans and hundreds of Iraqis were killed in this clash, which is very light compared with what could have happened in a protracted siege.
By pushing this mission through to completion against huge odds, the siege of Baghdad lasted essentially one day. We should be proud of their accomplishment. This is what heroism is about. It is reassuring to know such dedicated individuals serve our country.