Almost 25 years ago, on February 26, 1991, one of the largest tank battles fought since World War II took place during the Persian Gulf War. Fought in the featureless open deserts, it would come to be known only by a north to south running map reference known as the easting. This battle proved decisive for the United States coalition, and introduced a new tank to modern warfare at the same time.
The Battle of 73 Easting was fought where no modern army had desired to go. It was open desert, with little or no terrain features to reference location by. It was considered by the Iraqi Republican Guard to be a natural obstacle, one that would prevent enemy forces from maneuvering through it. A single device would revolutionize the way war is fought though, when the Global Positioning System was set into operation just prior. The United States Army was employing GPS in their tactical vehicles. The Iraqi Republican Guard were not.
On February 23, 1991, General Schwarzkopf initiated Operation Desert Sabre, a tactical Hail Mary as it was, to cut off the retreat from the Iraqi Army and to destroy up to five Republican Guard Divisions along the Iraq/Kuwait border. The 2nd ACR led the attack as forward scouts through the open desert. Their main vehicles included M2A3 Bradleys and M1A1 Abrams. Both employed highly advanced thermal sights and were the eyes and ears of the division.
As the operation unfolded, the first contacts began in the early morning hours on the 26th of February. With aviation screening to their east, the armored columns destroyed their first enemy tank at 0800, and by 1200 would go on to destroy 23 T-55 Tanks, 25 armored personnel carriers, six artillery pieces, and numerous trucks. As movement slowed crossing the 50 Easting to the east, the 2nd ACR was sent forward.
Multiple troops of the 2nd ACR would participate in the Battle of 73 Easting to include E, G, I, and K troops. Within just a few hours, Eagle troop took fire from a cluster of buildings and employed their thermals to identify and destroy targets while maneuvering through the desert. Within just a few minutes, their 12 M1A1 Abrams had destroyed 28 Iraq tanks, 16 personnel carriers, and 23 trucks.
10 minutes later, E Troop maneuvered through a thick sand storm and over a rise. As they crested the hill, they found themselves looking at a Republican Guard main defensive line of dug in T-72 tanks. As E Troop destroyed another 8 T-72 tanks, they observed another set of Republican Guard tanks in prepared positions to their east. The tanks in the prepared position were unable to compete with the M1A1’s capabilities and within another few minutes, 18 more T-72 tanks were destroyed as E Troop continued its advance.
Finally, E Troop conducted a short halt and sent two Bradleys north to link up with G Troop. On their way, they ran into prepared fighting positions of more T-72s and employing their TOW missiles, destroyed 13 T-72s.
The battles for the Iraq/Kuwait deserts were not over and would continue. The actions demonstrated at 73 Easting showed how the principles of fire and maneuver, coupled with the capabilities of the M1A1 Abrams and M2A3 Bradley, were decisive in the destruction of a significantly larger force arrayed in prepared positions. It truly was one of the last great tank battles of the modern age.
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