Remembering Desert Storm: 'This one's for you, Saddam'
Posted January 16, 2011 4:27 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2011 5:25 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of reports about "Operation Desert Storm" from WRAL.com and WRAL TV. The 42-day war to liberate Kuwait began 20 years ago today.
"This one's for you, Saddam."
With those grim words parroting a beer commercial, an Apache helicopter crew opened fire at 2:39 a.m. in Iraq – 6:39 p.m. in the United States – 20 years ago Sunday night.
Operation Desert Storm exploded with fury in the first blow of a carefully planned and choreographed plan led principally by N.C. State graduate and Triad native Buster Glosson.
Code named "Wolfpack" after his alma mater, the Air Force brigadier general watched and listened from a headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia hundreds of miles to the south.
Would the plan work? Would the strikes tightly scheduled to hit targets across Baghdad be effective? How many aircraft and crew would they lose?
Glosson was convinced the plan would be a success. "The question is," he wrote in a diary, "what will be the price?
"I can only hope and pray that I have made the correct decision."
"We are under – (static)"
One small but crucial battle in many that would come over the next 42 days erupted in a blaze of light, sound and fury. Those words were followed by the booming sound and sights of powerful 30-millimeter chain gun hitting Iraqi soldiers. The fiery trails of Hellfire missiles drew eyes to blinding explosions as radar equipment and material were blown to pieces.
The strikers were 12 U.S. Army Apache helicopters, guided to their targets by three U.S. Army Special Forces Pave-Low helicopters.
Their targets in far western Iraq that night were key radar stations in Saddam Hussein's extensive French-designed air defense network. They were essential for guarding Iraq, its two major airfields in that part of the country – plus, more importantly, launching sites for Saddam's Scud missiles that were targeted against Israel.
But as their positions were destroyed around them, one commander managed to shout a warning to Baghdad.
"We are under – (static)"
The fragment of news sets off a barrage of anti-aircraft fire over the capital city of Baghdad, and CNN's Bernard Shaw tells the world that war has begun.
"Something is happening outside," he said from his outpost at the Al Rashid Hotel.
Operation Desert Shield, launched the previous August following Iraq's conquest of Kuwait, had turned from a massive military buildup into a war that would ultimately stretch from Iraq to Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and south along the Persian Gulf.
"They never saw us coming"
Moments later, 22 F-15E Strike Eagles accompanied by two F-111 electronic jamming aircraft , all with every light off and at a mere 500 feet over the desert surface, roared undetected through the hole blown in the radar coverage by the Apaches.
Then another Iraqi controller yells: "My radar network has gone down."
An F-117 Stealth fighter lived up to its Arabic nickname – Shaba or "ghost."
Its anti-radar coating and particular design having already defeated other Iraqi radar, the Stealth dropped a 2,000 pound laser-guided bomb on a key strategic Iraqi communications and radar node at Nukhayb. Located east of where the F-15Es crossed the boarded, Nukhaby had been identified as essential link across much of Iraq's aerial defense network.
With the blows at the border and Nukhaby, the Iraqis lost much of their electronic defense grid.
As a result, the F-15Es headed for the Scuds undetected.
"They never saw us coming," recalled retired Lt. Col. James "Chainsaw McCullough," who flew his Strike Eagle along with weapons officer Ansel "Elvis" Mangrum in the backseat of the two-man fighter.
Meanwhile, Stealths headed for Baghdad and other high-priority targets.
Behind them were coming hundreds of other fighters and bombers from the Air Force, Navy and Marines (with Cherry Point pilots hitting Basra). Joining them were British, French, Kuwaiti, Saudi Arabian and other allied aircraft.
The Strike Eagles came under tremendous anti-aircraft fire and were targeted by surface-to-air missiles as they bombed the Scud sites.
As the world watched hoping to see more of what became the first "TV war" and "Nintendo war" for all the high-tech weapons the U.S. and its allies would unleash, CNN suddenly went dark.
A laser-guided bomb from a Shaba knocked Iraqi communications off the air.
In his headquarters, Glosson wrote in his memoirs: "[O]ur television tuned to CNN showed blue-gray snow and static. The [Tactical Air Control Center] erupted in a cheer. The war was underway."
"We will not fail" – President Bush
At 6:56 p.m. Washington time, The Associated Press issued a bulletin saying the U.S. military confirmed that war had begun.
Nineteen minutes later, a grim President George H.W. Bush declared: "We will not fail."
Saddam, meanwhile, declared in a radio address:
"The great showdown has begun."
Calling Bush a "criminal," Saddam said the "hypocrites" had struck at 2:30 a.m. Baghdad time.
"With the perseverance of the believers, the dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins."
Forty-two days later, the Iraqis would be driven completely out of Kuwait.
Codename "Wolfpack" set the stage for Saddam's defeat.