On this day thirty years ago, Operation Desert Storm was launched to liberate Kuwait. The UK took a central role in the fight on land, at sea, and in the air under the codename of Operation Granby.
On 2 August 1990, Iraqi forces illegally occupied the small desert kingdom of Kuwait which sits at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. International condemnation was almost universal and, alongside diplomatic efforts, the United States and 35 coalition partners began a military effort to first deter any further military action against Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield), and later to eject the Iraqis by force if necessary. By 15 January 1991 it was clear that diplomacy had failed and a day later Operation Desert Storm began.
In its largest single deployment since the Second World War, the British Army deployed the 1st Armoured Division from its garrisons in Germany under the command of Major General Sir Rupert Smith. The Division’s two fighting brigades, 7th and 4th Armoured Brigades, commanded by Brigadiers Patrick Cordingley and Christopher Hammerbeck respectively, and equipped with Challenger 1 main battle tanks and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, packed a potent punch and were supported by some of the latest artillery systems, helicopters, and combat engineer equipment. Perhaps most importantly, the whole force was sustained by an enormous logistic, equipment support, and medical network drawn from all over the Army.
The Allied air offensive which commenced on the 16 January 1991 was impressive, delivered crushing blows to the Iraqi’s command and control systems, infrastructure, and armed forces, but was incapable, on its own, of liberating Kuwait. For the ground offensive, 1st Armoured Division was placed under the command of the US VII Corps and would fight into Kuwait from the west, performing a left hook intended to trap the Iraqi army.
From the launch of Operation Desert Sabre, the ground phase of the war, on 24 February 1991, the British force would advance 180 miles in 66 hours, destroy the equivalent of three Iraqi armoured divisions, and capture over 7,000 prisoners. In one instance, a tank of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards destroyed an Iraqi tank at a range of 3 miles, a distance record still unbeaten today. Modern weapon systems, integrated forces, and tactics developed to fight the Soviets in the Cold War proved unbeatable, even to the well-equipped and combat-tested Iraqi forces.
The conflict ended on 28 February 1991, but the integration of forces and close interoperability achieved by UK, US and international forces remains just as important to the British Army today.