Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf D+21 (30 July, 1987) Part I

Fighting between Iraqi and Iranian forces flared up once more as first light broke over the Shat-al-Arab. In the first engagements of the day, company-sized units clashed and began extended engagements that included artillery support and air attacks from both sides. The morning continued and by 1000, the Iraqis were receiving indications of two Iranian brigades from the 92nd Armored Division massing northeast of Basra in Iranian territory. The Iraqi units opposite them were regular army, not Republican Guards. This fact made Iraqi military leadership concerned about the consequences of a serious Iranian push towards Basra from this direction. To disrupt the preparations underway by the two Iranian brigades, air attacks and artillery strikes hampered their assembly areas into the afternoon. Chemical munitions were also utilized but on a limited basis. Small numbers of artillery rounds containing special munitions were used against the lead columns of Iranian forces as they started their road marches towards the border.

In the mid-afternoon, after dealing with casualties and decontaminating vehicles and equipment, the Iranian armor was on the move again, and now friendly shells containing chemical toxins were dropping on the dug-in Iraqi defenders in front of Ad-Dayr and Al-Hartha. When the main attacks were finally launched, Iranian commanders were dismayed to find that the Iraqis had brought forward two battalions of armor to reinforce the infantry.  The afternoon attack bogged down on the outskirts of Al-Hartha and a second attack launched at dusk gained little ground in exchange for heavy casualties and tank losses.

On both sides of the battleline there was a cloud of ambivalence hanging over commanders and troops alike. The reason for these clashes over the past two days was unknown and no one could even guess where the probes and attacks fit into the larger picture.

Unknown to the soldiers on the battleline at that time, their national leaders in Baghdad and Tehran were wrestling with similar concerns.


The addition of TARPS-equipped F-14A Tomcats to the reconnaissance missions being conducted in central and western Iraq was proving invaluable to CENTAF (Central Command Air Forces) efforts to pinpoint the locations of Iraqi SCUD and FROG transport-erector-launchers (TEL) on D+21. Three Tomcats and accompanying KA-6D Tankers arrived at Dhahran by midnight and the fighters flew their first recon sorties at 0245 while USAF RF-4C Phantoms took off to photograph H-3 Airbase in southwestern Iraq, looking for indications of chemical munitions and Iraqi aircraft capable of carrying them.

The Phantoms came back empty, their film revealing no signs of CBW activity at H-3. The Tomcats, on the other hand, brought back strong evidence of SCUD and FROG launch sites being prepared west of Al-Najaf and north of Karbala. By the time the last TARPS Tomcat was landing, CENTAF staff and planners were working to put together plans for a strategic air offensive that would commence at 2100 hours that evening.

The second half of D+21 was going to be a busy time for US aircrews.  

2 Replies to “Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf D+21 (30 July, 1987) Part I”

  1. Maybe I missed something? Why is the US getting in this mess so soon? They have bigger fish to fry,I’d think.
    IMO I’d let these 2 fine pillars of the International community slug it out with everything they got. Then come in and retake Kuwait and possibly kick both their arses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me give you the brief history of July, 1987 in the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf.

      The war kicked off, and Iran and Iraq declared a cease fire. As time went on, Iraq wound up aligning with the Soviets….temporarily. The Sovs used Iraq as a staging area to try and grab the Saudi oil fields. Iraq invaded Kuwait leading up to a Soviet airborne drop on the oilfields, which ended in disaster. CENTCOM had deployed part of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th MAB, plus air assets by then.
      Now, the Soviets and Iraq have broken up. Saddam Hussein promises to pull his forces out of Kuwait at ‘any moment’ but has dithered. Meanwhile, fighting with Iran has started up again and chemical weapons are being used. So, to make certain no CBW weapons will be used against US forces or our Saudi allies, we’re preparing to go SCUD hunting.

      That’s a summary, I’m sure I missed a couple important points though. Apologies. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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