- Anderson, Mark, B.Sc. (Hons), Captain, RN
- 21st century wars/conflict, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Kanimbla II, HMAS Darwin, HMAS Anzac III
- September 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After active participation in the naval war against Iraq earlier this year, HMS Marlborough visited Sydney for rest and relaxation. Your Editor requested the Captain to write an article for the Review detailing the action, and an extract of the account of the ship’s engagement off Al Faw is contained below.
IT BECAME CLEAR that Iraq itself expected the conflict to start on 17 March, as deadlines expired and that pre-emptive measures were being taken. Iraqi air defence units had been given permission to fire on Coalition aircraft and safety distance for our helicopter patrols was increased to 3nm from land and Iraqi maritime units. It was presumed that both the Mim Al Baker Oil Terminal (MABOT) and Khawr Abd Allah Oil Terminal (KAAOT) platforms were now manned by Iraqi military and prepared for destruction, to generate an environmental impact in the Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG).
19 March – 21 March: Commencement of OP TELIC:
19 March 2003
UK Maritime Component Commander (UKMCC) issued an execute order for operations against Iraq at 190800Z Mar 03, chopping UK maritime forces to their US Tactical Control and standing up Operation TELIC from 1800Z that evening. The Rules Of Engagement were extremely robust and basically placed only those constraints implied with in the Law of Armed Conflict in the most forward sector. The Chemical Biological Warfare threat was assessed as Medium within Iraqi territorial waters and the Chemical Safety tablets and an internal block on all external personal communications was imposed at 1200 local to allow the CO to fully brief the ship on Coalition intentions. During the day a few merchant vessels continued to leave the lower reaches of the Khawr Abd Allah (KAA), indicating that no mining had taken place in the Firing Support Areas yet. As Scene of Action Command, HMS Marlborough maintained continuous surveillance on the approaches to the KAA to identify any pre-emptive movements by Iraqi forces and to protect the areas we would use for Naval Gunfire Action (NGA) very soon. The Amphibious shipping and their escorts now moved forward to areas just to the south of us, ready to deploy troops and aircraft forward.
Daylight – 20 March 2003
Shortly after midnight (local), in restricted visibility, 35 steel-hulled merchant vessels left the KAA, under direction from the Iraqi military. Many of these were well-known oil smugglers, not seen for several months. HM Ships Marlborough and Richmond worked hard to challenge and direct these vessels to nominated anchorages, where HMAS Darwin acted as guard ship, supervising boarding, search and clearance down the nominated safe route south. This left HMS Chatham to still keep surveillance on the KAA approaches and the Fire Support Areas. Initial Tactical Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) firings undertaken from USN platforms in our sector were not seen in the poor visibility. The motor vessel traffic finally trickled to a halt and no further Coalition action was taken. The only Iraqi military action seen was the appearance of a Type 54 Iraqi patrol boat, which was intercepted in poor visibility by Marlborough. Five uniformed personnel were seen but no weapons displayed and the vessel turned north at 32kts. As the vessel offered no threat to Coalition forces and a confrontation in advance of planned engagement was to be avoided, the helo was instructed to shepherd the patrol boat up the river. In the afternoon Marlborough stood back from the front for a short break and the first SCUD missiles were fired by Iraq into Kuwait.
Evening of 20/21 March 2003 – Operations Commence.
In the evening Marlborough received word that the Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) mission would go ahead. US forces were to take the MABOT/KAAOT platforms at 2200C, which was set as H-Hour. Marlborough moved back to the north and assumed duties of Scene of Action Commander and Naval Gunfire Support Commander. The ship was rested from its afternoon stand down and morale was good, with a sensible measured focus on the challenging task to hand. An uninterrupted and overt surveillance of the KAA approaches and the Firing Support Areas had been maintained for the preceding 72 hours, increasing confidence that mine laying in this area had not taken place. Floating mines, laid further up the river, had not been seen but remained a risk. From 2015C several US craft were seen to move into preparatory positions around the two oil platforms and by 2105C the only indication of a successful operation was helos circling directly over the platforms and no exchange of fire.