Battle of the 73rd Easting
Headed due east on the afternoon of February 26, 1991, VII Corps was advancing with a front of four armored/mechanized divisions. In the center of this front, leading the way and conducting reconnaissance for the corps, was the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). The 2nd ACR’s job was to locate the forward elements of the IRG divisions suspected to be in the area, fix them in place, then pass the heavy divisions of VIII Corps through their lines so that they could smash the elite Iraqi units with a single killing blow. It was a difficult assignment, made more so by the weather conditions.
The winter of 1990/91 was one of the wettest on record in the Persian ...view middle of the document...
H.R. McMaster. A graduate of West Point, McMaster was one of the premier young cavalry officers in the U.S. Army. Aggressive and intelligent, McMaster would eventually turn his graduate thesis into the bestselling book Dereliction of Duty. On this day though, McMaster and the other 2nd ACR troop commanders were feeling their way forward through the sandstorm on the thermal imaging sights of their tanks and cavalry vehicles, and a handful of commercial GPS receivers. Already, there had been a handful of clashes between 2nd ACR and Iraqi MT-LB reconnaissance carriers, all of which had been vaporized by the 120mm guns of the M1A1s and TOW-2 missiles of the Bradley’s. As the afternoon drew on, they were groping forward a kilometer or “Easting” line at a time, expecting to hit the Tawakalna Division at any time. Around 1530 hours (3:30 p.m.), Eagle Troop ran head on into the IRG division.
Eagle Troop began to take fire from a complex of buildings, which they demolished with a salvo of cannon fire and TOW missiles. At that moment, while just passing over the 73 Easting line, Capt. McMaster crossed a small rise and saw a line of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles dug in ahead of his M1A1 Abrams, nicknamed “Mad Max.” Ordering his gunner to engage, McMaster’s crew destroyed three Iraqi tanks in just under eight seconds. What immediately struck McMaster as he peered through the M1′s thermal sight was that there was no return fire and that all the Iraq armored vehicles were dug in facing to the south. Eagle Troop had just led 2nd ACR and the whole of VII Corps onto the right flank of the Tawakalna Division’s 18th Mechanized Brigade, and they were not ready. There was however, a dilemma for the young officer.
The problem was that if he followed his mission orders to the letter, McMaster might well cause problems for the rest of VII Corps. In theory, his job was to locate the IRG divisions, report up the chain to Gen. Fred Franks (the VII Corps commander), then get out of the way while the heavy divisions of the corps passed through them to engage in battle. Practically, he had stumbled into the heart of a dug-in battalion of the Tawakalna, and had no ability to get his unit into a set defensive position. This meant that the divisions behind 2nd ACR would not have room to change from their march formations to the battle wedges necessary to attack the IRG formations. There also was the problem that he was badly outnumbered, at least five or six to one where Eagle Troop was bumping up against the Tawakalna. His own unit might be wiped out by a sudden counterattack, along with much of the 2nd ACR. Clearly the carefully crafted VII Corps battle plan had never foreseen the need for a cavalry captain to make the decision of when and where to engage the IRG. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened.
McMaster quickly ordered Eagle Troop into the attack, essentially the 1990s equivalent of a cavalry charge. He also radioed the contact with the Tawakalna...