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The Battle of Norfolk was a tank battle fought on February 27, 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, between armored forces of the United States and United Kingdom, and those of the Ba'athist Iraqi Republican Guard. The primary participants were the U.S. 2nd Armored Division (Forward),1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the Iraqi 18th Mechanized and 9th Armoured Brigades of the Republican Guard Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division along with elements from eleven other Iraqi divisions. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd) was assigned to the American 1st Infantry Division as its 3rd maneuver brigade due to the fact that one of its brigades was not deployed. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd)'s Task Force 1-41 Infantry would be the spearhead of VII Corps. The British 1st Armoured division were responsible for protecting the right flank of VII Corps, their main adversary being the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division and multiple infantry divisions. It was the final battle of the war before the unilateral ceasefire took effect. One more battle occurred near the oil field at Rumaila after the ceasefire. The Battle of Norfolk has been recognized by some sources as the second largest tank battle in American history and the largest tank battle of the 1st Gulf War. No fewer than 12 divisions participated in the Battle of Norfolk along with multiple brigades and elements of a regiment. American and British forces destroyed approximately 850 Iraqi tanks and hundreds of other types of combat vehicles. This goes without even taking into consideration the destruction of two additional Republican Guard divisions at Objective Dorset by the 3rd Armored Division on 28 February 1991. During this battle the U.S. 3rd Armored Division destroyed 300 enemy vehicles and captured 2,500 Iraqi soldiers.
The battle took place about 60 miles (97 km) east of and 18 hours after the Battle of Al Busayyah, and several kilometers east of the Battle of 73 Easting, which had ended just two hours earlier. The Battle of Norfolk is named for Objective Norfolk, an area that encompassed the intersection of the IPSA Pipeline Road and several desert trails and a large Iraqi supply depot defended by Iraqi armor. Objective Norfolk was located west of Phase Line Kiwi, east of Phase Line Smash, and north of Phase Line Grape. Phase lines are map references occurring every few kilometers used to measure progress of an offensive operation.
The forces involved in the battle were the American 1st Infantry Division, the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (Fwd) ('Hell on Wheels') and the Iraqi 18th Mechanized and 9th Armoured Brigades of the Republican Guard Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division along with elements from eleven other Iraqi divisions including the Iraqi 26th, 48th, 31st, and 25th Infantry Divisions. The American 1st Infantry Division was quite formidable consisting of 334 M1A1 tanks and 224 M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles. The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division was also a participant. The Iraqi 52nd Armored Division was also a primary participant. It was a powerful division consisting of 245 tanks and 195 armored fighting vehicles. The Iraqi 10th and 12th Armored Divisions were also present. The Iraqi 10th Armored Division was considered the best regular division in the Iraqi Army. It had more modern equipment than the other regular Iraqi units. It was equipped with T-72 and T-62 tanks. The Iraqis also had elements of two other independent armoured brigades in theatre, those being the 50th and 29th Armoured Brigades. The British fielded their 1st Armoured Division. The U.S. 3rd Armored Division handled responsibilities at Objective Dorset.
Task Force 1-41 Infantry was the first coalition force to breach the Saudi Arabian border on 15 February 1991 and conduct ground combat operations in Iraq engaging in direct and indirect fire fights with the enemy on 17 February 1991. Task Force 1-41 Infantry was a heavy battalion task force from the 2nd Armored Division (Forward). It consisted primarily of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, and the 4th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment. Shortly after arrival in theatre Task Force 1-41 Infantry received a counter-reconnaissance mission along with the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. This joint effort became known as Task Force Iron. Counter-reconnaissance generally includes destroying or repelling the enemy's reconnaissance elements and denying their commander any observation of friendly forces. On 15 February 1991 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment fired on a trailer and a few trucks in the Iraqi sector that were observing American forces. On 16 February 1991 several groups of Iraqi vehicles appeared to be performing reconnaissance on the Task Force and were driven away by fire from 4-3 FA. Another enemy platoon, including six vehicles, was reported as being to the northeast of the Task Force. They were engaged with artillery fire from 4-3 FA. Later that evening another group of Iraqi vehicles was spotted moving towards the center of the Task Force. They appeared to be Iraqi Soviet-made BTRs and tanks. For the next hour the Task Force fought several small battles with Iraqi reconnaissance units. TF 1-41 IN fired TOW missiles at the Iraqi formation destroying one tank. The rest of the formation was destroyed or driven away by artillery fire from 4-3 FA. On 17 February 1991 the Task Force took enemy mortar fire, however, the enemy forces managed to escape. Later that evening the Task Force received enemy artillery fire but suffered no casualties.
The breach was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage, led by 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, to soften up Iraqi defenses. Around 300 guns from multiple nations participated in the barrage. Over 14,000 rounds of artillery and over 4,900 MLRS rockets were fired at Iraqi forces during these raids. Iraq lost close to 22 artillery battalions during the initial stages of this barrage. This includes the destruction of approximately 396 Iraqi artillery pieces. By the end of these raids Iraqi artillery assets had all but ceased to exist. One Iraqi unit that was totally destroyed during the preparation was the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division Artillery Group. The group's commander stated his unit lost 83 of its 100 guns to the artillery preparation. These raids were supplemented by air attacks by B-52 Stratofortress bombers and Lockheed AC-130 fixed wing gunships. 1st Infantry Division Apache helicopters and B-52 bombers conducted raids against Iraq's 110th Infantry Brigade. The 1st Engineer Battalion and 9th Engineer Battalion marked and proofed assault lanes under direct and indirect enemy fire to secure a foothold in enemy territory and pass the 1st Infantry Division and the British 1st Armored Division forward. On 24 February 1991 the 1st Cavalry Division conducted a couple artillery missions against Iraqi artillery units. One artillery mission struck a series of Iraqi bunkers, reinforced by Iraqi T-55 tanks, in the sector of the Iraqi 25th Infantry Division. The same day the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division with the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor, and the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry destroyed Iraqi bunkers and combat vehicles in the sector of the Iraqi 25th Infantry Division. On 24 February 1991 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division rolled through the breach in the Iraqi defense west of Wadi Al-Batin and also cleared the northeastern sector of the breach site of enemy resistance. Task Force 3-37th Armor breached the Iraqi defense clearing four passage lanes and expanding the gap under direct enemy fire. Also, on 24 February the American 1st Infantry Division along with the 1st Cavalry Division destroyed Iraqi outposts and patrols belonging to the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division. The two divisions also began capturing prisoners. The 1st Infantry Division also cleared a zone between Phase Line Vermont and Phase Line Kansas. Once the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 37th Armor reached the Iraqi rear defensive positions it destroyed an Iraqi D-30 artillery battery and many trucks and bunkers.
Task Force 1-41 Infantry was given the task of breaching Iraq's initial defensive positions along the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border. The 1st Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment handled similar responsibilities in its sector of operations. The 1st Infantry Division's 5th Battalion, 16th Infantry also played a significant role clearing the trenches and captured 160 Iraqi soldiers in the process. Once into Iraqi territory Task Force 1-41 Infantry encountered multiple Iraqi defensive positions and bunkers. These defensive positions were occupied by a brigade-sized element. Task Force 1-41 Infantry elements dismounted and prepared to engage the enemy soldiers which occupied these well-prepared and heavily fortified bunkers. The Task Force found itself engaged in six hours of combat in order to clear the extensive bunker complex. The Iraqis engaged the Task Force with small arms fire, RPGs, mortar fire, and what was left of Iraqi artillery assets. A series of battles unfolded which resulted in heavy Iraqi casualties and the Iraqis being removed from their defensive positions with many becoming prisoners of war. Some escaped to be killed or captured by other coalition forces. In the process of clearing the bunkers Task Force 1-41 captured two brigade command posts and the command post of the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division. The Task Force also captured a brigade commander, several battalion commanders, company commanders, and staff officers. As combat operations progressed Task Force 1-41 Infantry engaged at short range multiple dug in enemy tanks in ambush positions. For a few hours, bypassed Iraqi RPG equipped anti-tank teams, T-55 tanks, and dismounted Iraqi infantry fired at passing American vehicles, only to be destroyed by other US tanks and fighting vehicles following the initial forces.
The 1st Infantry Division's Task Force 2-16 Infantry cleared four lanes simultaneously through an enemy fortified trench system while inflicting heavy casualties. Task Force 2-16 continued the attack clearing over 13 miles of entrenched enemy positions resulting in the capture and destruction of numerous enemy vehicles, equipment, personnel and command bunkers.
The Battle of Norfolk was in a sense a continuation of the fighting that began with the Battle of 73 Easting the day before. It took place under rainy and foggy weather conditions. It began at 0030 on 27 February 1991. Two American Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles were destroyed by the Iraqi Republican Guard 18th Mechanized Brigade while conducting forward reconnaissance. American artillery and MLRS units continued to conduct fire missions against Iraqi targets a dozen miles to the east. With air support from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Aviation's attack helicopters and fire support from both the 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade preventing Iraqi artillery from interfering, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division conducted a passage of the 2nd ACR's lines.
The two attacking brigades of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, including the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (Fwd), were positioned along the 75 Easting, 2,000 meters east of 73 Easting. The Brigades clashed with the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard, including the 37th Brigade of the 12th Iraqi Armored Division. The Tawakalna Republican Guard Division was Iraq's most powerful division which included approximately 14,000 soldiers, 220 T-72 tanks, 284 infantry fighting vehicles, 126 artillery pieces, and 18 MLRS. Elements of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division was destroyed during this engagement by Task Force 1-41 Infantry. This was a slow moving division that lacked the capability for modern day armored warfare. Some 40 Iraqi tanks were destroyed and a similar number of other combat vehicles. On 27 February 1991 Task Force 1-41 Infantry destroyed an Iraqi T-55 tank battalion that ambushed the Task Force. The Iraqi tank unit managed to destroy a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and killed three soldiers belonging to the Task Force. That same day Task Force 1-41 destroyed an Iraqi RPG team, machine gun nest, and a bunker. On 27 February 1991 Task Force 1-41 destroyed an Iraqi tank unit at great range at Objective Denver. The 2nd Armored Division (Forward) destroyed 60 Iraqi tanks and 35 AFVs along the Iraq Pipeline to Saudi Arabia (IPSA).
In the thick of the fog of war, U.S. units became mixed with Iraqi units dispersed throughout the desert. This confusion led to some friendly fire incidents. Task Force 1-41 Infantry was involved in the worst US "friendly fire" incident of the Gulf War on 27 February 1991.
The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd) continued to fight a series of short, sharp battles with Iraqi tank platoons as it moved across the Wadi Al-Batin into Kuwait. On 27 February 1991 an Iraqi tank unit attacked 4-3 FA. The Iraqi tank unit was destroyed by a Task Force 1-41 tank platoon that was assigned to protect 4-3 FA.
A reconnaissance party from 4-3 FA mistakenly moved well forward of the other Task Force 1-41 Infantry units. Task Force 3-66 Armor was given the assignment of looking for the lost reconnaissance party. As Task Force 3-66 Armor approached the reconnaissance party, enemy infantry foolishly took it under fire from fighting positions near the disoriented 4-3 FA recon party. TF 3-66 M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles fought back with only machine guns rather than cannons to reduce the danger of hitting TF 1-41 IN, which stood just beyond the enemy. TF 3-66 AR machine gun fire drove the enemy right into TF 1-41 IN with Hillman's troops capturing all of the enemy soldiers. TF 3-66 AR recovered the members of the lost reconnaissance party unharmed.
The 1st Engineer Battalion was a key participant in the subsequent destruction of one and the rout of two Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions. Elements of the battalion destroyed 58 Iraqi tanks, 41 anti-aircraft artillery pieces, and other large quantities of ammunition and war material.
The 1st Infantry Division's Task Force 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry destroyed the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division. The 1st Infantry Division's Task Force 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor destroyed the 9th Armored Brigade of the Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard.
The 1st Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment led the 1st Infantry Division's attack across Iraq and Kuwait, cutting the Iraqi army's escape route along the Kuwait City/Basra Highway. The Squadron continued its rapid advance, culminating with the capture of the Safwan Airfield, Iraq. The 1st Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment destroyed 65 tanks, 66 Armored Personnel Carriers, 66 trucks, 91 bunkers, and captured 3,010 enemy soldiers.
As part of the 1st Infantry Division, Task Force 3-37 Armor attacked 186 miles across southern Iraq into northern Kuwait, severing Iraqi lines of communication, and then drove north into Iraq to assist in the seizure of the City of Safwan, Iraq, and the securing of the Safwan Airfield for the Coalition Forces-Iraqi Cease-Fire negotiations. During the operation, over 50 enemy combat vehicles were destroyed and over 1,700 Iraqi soldiers were captured.
During the battle, the 4th Battalion, 37th Armor, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division engaged elements of five Iraqi Divisions, destroyed numerous combat vehicles and captured over 450 enemy soldiers, ensuring an unprecedented victory for Coalition Forces.
By dawn, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division controlled Objective Norfolk and the Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division had ceased to exist as a fighting force. A total of eight Iraqi divisions were destroyed. Task Force 1-41 Infantry had around a dozen combat vehicles destroyed, including multiple M1A1 Abrams tanks, during combat operations. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd) and the 1st Infantry Division destroyed 550 Iraqi tanks and 480 other vehicles during combat operations. Approximately 11,500 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the 1st Infantry Division by the end of combat operations. The 2nd Armored Division(Fwd) suffered 5 M1A1 Abrams tanks destroyed during combat operations. It also suffered the loss of 5 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The 1st Infantry Division, including the 2nd Armored Division(Fwd), suffered 21 soldiers killed in action and another 67 soldiers wounded in action by the end of combat operations.
The British 1st Armoured Division was responsible for protecting the right flank of VII Corps. It was assumed by the Corps' planners the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division would counterattack VII Corps once their penetration into Iraqi defenses was discovered. The British 1st Armoured Division had two brigades (the 4th and 7th) which participated in Operation Granby, the name given to the British military operations during the 1991 Gulf War. The 1st Armoured was equipped with the Challenger 1 main battle tank. The British 1st Armoured Division fielded approximately 176 Challenger 1 tanks. With a 120mm rifled main gun, thermal optics, and state of the art Chobham armor, its only rival in-theatre was the American M1A1 Abrams tank. British infantry rode into battle on the Warrior tracked armoured vehicle. It had reasonable armour protection and a 30-mm gun. Modified versions of the vehicle included mortar carriers, MILAN antitank systems, and command and control vehicles; and the British possessed a variety of excellent light armoured vehicles built on their FV101 Scorpion chassis. British artillery was primarily American made M109 howitzers (155mm), M110 howitzers (203mm), and M270 MLRS which were compatible with American systems. Their air support consisted of Gazelle helicopters, used for reconnaissance, and the Lynx helicopter which was comparable to the American AH-1 Cobra. The British had their full contingent of engineer, logistics, and medical units.
This small but powerful division was commanded by 47-year-old Maj. General Rupert Smith. He was a member of the British Parachute Regiment and an expert on Soviet armour and tank tactics. His division had two brigades at its disposal. The 4th Brigade was reinforced with extra engineers and artillery. The 4th Brigade was used for breakout operations and to clear the ground at the breach. The armour heavy 7th Brigade was used for tank on tank engagements.
On 25 February 1991 the 1st Armoured Division broke into the western flank of the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division which was commanded by Brigadier General Saheb Mohammed Alaw. That night the 48th Infantry Division was destroyed and General Alaw was captured by the British. That same night the British cleared two lines of enemy positions during close combat engagements. The British also destroyed several Iraqi companies of T-55 tanks. That same night other elements of the division were engaging the Iraqi 31st Infantry Division.
On 26 February 1991 British artillery units unleashed an hour long artillery strike on Iraqi positions. It was the greatest British artillery display since World War II. That same night the British 7th Brigade fought a night tank battle against an Iraqi tank battalion from the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division. After ninety minutes of battle over 50 Iraqi tanks and armoured personnel carriers were destroyed. That same night the British 4th Brigade destroyed a headquarters and artillery site belonging to the 807th Brigade of the Iraqi 48th Infantry Division. British infantry units cleared Iraqi defensive positions which were occupied by the Iraqi 803rd Infantry Brigade. After 48 hours of combat the British 1st Armoured Division destroyed or isolated four Iraqi infantry divisions (the 26th, 48th, 31st, and 25th) and overran the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division in several sharp engagements. For several hours the 4th Brigade was involved in a battle against a battalion of dug in Iraqi soldiers and T-55 tanks. A Challenger 1 tank achieved the longest range confirmed tank kill of the war, destroying an Iraqi tank with an armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding-sabot (APFSDS) round fired over a distance of 4,700 metres (2.9 mi)—the longest tank-on-tank kill shot recorded. The British 7th Brigade cleared Objective Platinum destroying at least six additional T-55 tanks in dug in positions and a bunker using Milan missiles. The 4th Brigade seized Objective Steel defeating the Iraqi 103rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division in the process. As the British 4th Brigade advanced they destroyed additional Iraqi guns and fighting positions. The British lost two Warrior combat vehicles to friendly fire in the process.
British ground forces had defeated Iraqi forces during combat engagements at Objectives Copper, Zinc, Bronze, and Steel. During combat operations at Objective Zinc the British captured 30 enemy tanks, destroyed 16 IFVs, and captured 1,850 Iraqi soldiers. British forces destroyed a communications site and two artillery positions enroute to Objective Bronze. British forces destroyed 12 Iraqi tanks, 11 guns, and 20 light armor and thin skin vehicles while clearing Objective Bronze. The British 4th Brigade destroyed an entire tank battle group which included 25 main battle tanks at Objective Copper South. The 4th Brigade also cleared Copper South of Iraqi soldiers, IFVs, artillery, logistics support vehicles, and captured two division commanders. The British 26 Field Artillery Regiment conducted fire missions against a tank heavy unit at Objective Brass. This included 48 tanks, APCs, and 25 MTLBs all hidden in fighting positions. A artillery position was also present. The entire enemy position was destroyed and British infantry cleared the trench lines of Iraqi soldiers. British forces destroyed another 25 tanks and 20 APCs at position Brass 3. While taking Objective Platinum 2 the British destroyed an Iraqi tank company in the process. Later in the day the 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment, 7th Brigade engaged Iraqi forces at Objective Lead. The 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment destroyed over 40 Iraqi tanks and numerous other combat systems. The British forces also captured over 800 Iraqi soldiers including the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division commander and killed many more Iraqi soldiers. In the process of moving to Phase Line Smash the British forces took artillery and anti tank fire from Iraqi forces. The Iraqis failed to inflict any casualties on the British forces.
On 27 February 1991 a joint British and American artillery fire mission destroyed what was left of Iraqi artillery and infantry forces at Objective Tungsten. Approximately 70 Iraqi artillery pieces were destroyed. The British also took Objective Waterloo. In the process the British destroyed approximately five Iraqi divisions in 48 hours of combat. The British 1st Armoured Division secured the final objectives on the Basra Highway north of Multa Ridge. In the final operation the British 7th Brigade took Objective Cobalt while the 4th Brigade halted farther west. The British 1st Armored Division had traveled 217 miles in 97 hours. The British 1st Armored Division had captured or destroyed about 300 tanks and a very large number of armored personnel carriers, trucks, reconnaissance vehicles, etc. The Desert Rats also destroyed multiple Iraqi artillery positions. The division also took over 7,000 Iraqi prisoners of war including two division commanders and two other general officers. British forces did not lose a single Challenger 1 tank during combat operations. The British suffered 15 soldiers killed and another 43 soldiers wounded during combat operations. The British also lost 2 British Warrior APCs in a friendly fire incident.
On 26 February the U.S. 3rd Armored Division was tasked with clearing Objective Dorset which was well defended by Iraqi forces. The 3rd Armored Division, along with the U.S. 1st Armored Division, already was responsible for the destruction of 76 Iraqi tanks and 84 infantry fighting vehicles during the Battle of 73 Easting. The Iraqi Tawakalna Republican Guard division had a significant presence at Objective Dorset. The 50th Armored Brigade was the first unit the 3rd Armored Division encountered during the operation. The Iraqi defenses in this sector also consisted of three mechanized battalions from the 29th Armored Brigade and two armored and one mechanized battalion from the 9th Armored Brigade. The 46th Mechanized Brigade of the 12th Armored Division was also present. A T-62 tank battalion from the 10th Armored Division was also attached to the Tawakalna Republican Guard Division. This added up to approximately eight Iraqi heavy battalions occupying Objective Dorset. In the space of only 270 square kilometers the Iraqis massed over 122 tanks, 78 BMPs, and hundreds of other combat vehicles and fighting systems.
Initially thousands of Iraqi infantrymen engaged the U.S. 3rd Armored Division with Sagger antitank missiles and RPGs from dug in defensive fighting positions. The Iraqi defensive network also consisted of bunkers and dug in vehicles. The Iraqis also had the support of a dozen field artillery batteries directly behind the rear of the Tawakalna Republican Guard Division. There were no soft or exposed Iraqi flanks to exploit. The 3rd Armored Division overcame these Iraqi defensive positions utilizing superior command and control along with well coordinated combined arms tactics.
By late 27 February the U.S. 3rd Armored Division cleared Objective Dorset after meeting stiff resistance and destroying more than 300 enemy vehicles. The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Armored Division also captured 2,500 enemy prisoners. The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Armored Division actions contributed greatly to the destruction of two Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions. In 24 hours of nearly continuous combat, the Brigade destroyed or captured 547 vehicles, including 102 tanks, 81 armored personnel carriers, 34 artillery pieces, 15 AAA guns and captured hundreds of tons of supplies and 528 prisoners of war. The 3rd Armored Division had three M1A1 Abrams tanks damaged during combat operations. The 3rd Armored Division suffered 15 soldiers killed between December 1990 and late February 1991. Approximately 7 of the soldiers were killed in action and another 27 soldiers from the division were wounded in action during combat operations.
At the height of the battle, the 3rd Armored Division included 32 battalions and 20,533 personnel. It was the largest coalition division in the Gulf War and the largest U.S. armored division in history. In its moving arsenal were 360 Abrams main battle tanks, 340 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 128 self-propelled 155 mm howitzers, 27 Apache attack helicopters, 9 multiple-launch rocket systems, and more.
Some sources list the Battle of Norfolk as the second largest tank battle in American history behind the Battle of the Bulge. There are other sources that list it as the second or even the third largest tank battle of the Gulf war behind the Battle of Medina Ridge and the Battle of 73 Easting.