The previous two examples of D -Day and the Falkland Islands have highlighted the issues of ship to shore logistics over a beach.
Using an existing port is an alternative, generally speaking, a preferred alternative.
Existing ports have transport infrastructure, storage, berthing for deep draft vessels, material handling equipment and often a pool of organised labour.
In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Operation TELIC, the port in question was at Umm Qasr. The port of Umm Qasr, before the conflict, was responsible for two thirds of the United Nations Food for Oil programme.
The port itself is divided into North, Middle and South with 22 berths and a range of cargo handling and storage facilities, some berths are dedicated to bulk materials like grain.
The deepest draft was 12.5m but most of the port required constant dredging.
Umm Qasr South
Umm Qasr South RORO and Container Facilities
In to order to dock at Umm Qasr a ship would need to navigate 41 miles of the Khor Abdallah waterway
After many years of neglect and much of the damage from 1991 not repaired or cleared putting Umm Qasr and approach waterways at the centre of the logistic effort for the immediate aftermath of the invasion would lead to a range of big problems.
One look at a map and the many of the problems with safe navigation, dredging and the sheer scale of the operation to make safe the area are obvious
Assault Al Faw
On the night of the 19th of May US SEALS and Polish GROM secured the offshore oil terminals and the onshore manifolds on the Al Faw peninsular.
The MoD publication; Operating in Iraq – Lessons for the Future records the assault on Al Faw as;
The high mine and anti-ship missile threats around the Iraqi coast meant that the initial assault onto the Al Faw peninsula was reliant on helicopter support. The plan was to insert 40 Commando (Cdo) first using RN and RAF helicopters to seize the oil infrastructure at the base of the Al Faw peninsula. In order to protect 40 Cdo’s northern flank, 42 Cdo was to be inserted a short time later using US Marine Corps helicopters. Build-up of combat power, in particular light armour and logistics, was to be achieved by US heavy lift hovercraft because the very shallow beach gradients did not allow the use of conventional landing craft. The assault by 40 Cdo in conjunction with US forces, went according to plan, but the early crash of the US CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter carrying the headquarters of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force caused the second helicopter insertion to be aborted in the appalling and deteriorating visibility. It was hastily re-planned and executed six hours later using RAF Chinook and Puma helicopters. In view of extensive mining of the beach area it was decided not to risk the hovercraft. Consequently the light armour supporting 3 Cdo Brigade had to be inserted by a landing craft ferry north of Umm Qasr, some 24 hours later than planned.
Supporting the assault forces was 148 Battery Royal Artillery who were involved with three distinct activities, the initial assault, countering an Iraqi counter attack against 40 CDO and Op JAMES, an attack on Basra.
From 148 Battery RA commanders notes
As the Battery Commander I was responsible for the coordination, integration and delivery of offensive support, or combined fires, from air, aviation (helicopters), artillery, naval gunfire and mortars. There was an awful lot of it, especially for the initial operation on the Al Faw Peninsula, which one particularly articulate Royal Marine company commander described as a battery commander’s wet dream. As well as a variety of platforms providing fire, including my own eight 105 mm Light Guns, I also had the Battery’s Tac Group throughout the operation: my own three OP parties, a fire support team from 148 Bty, four fire control teams from the USMC 1 Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) and two Tactical Air Control Parties (Forward Air Control) (TACP(FAC)). We coordinated these with the mortar fire controllers (mfcs) from 40 Cdo to optimise the combined effect of all available weapons systems.
The first phase was to secure the oil facilities against sabotage. Defending the area were a Naval Coastal Defence battalion reinforced with artillery and anti aircraft guns.
The plan for Offensive Support was as follows. Any aircraft from Op Southern Watch – the air overflights of south-east Iraq sanctioned after the 1991 Gulf War – that was illuminated by enemy radar would result these high priority air defence and C2 targets on the Peninsula being hit in return. At H-24 hours 105 mm Light Guns and 155 mm AS90 from 3 RHA would occupy firing positions on Bubiyan Island which is just within the Kuwait border where they would prepare for a 90-minute fireplan to support landings by 42 Cdo to our flank after we had landed. Surveillance of the Peninsula and objective would increase at H-5 hours using US and UK assets. At H-20 minutes Iraqi communications frequencies would be jammed. Between H-17 and H-7 specifc targets would be engaged by Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) or GPS guide bombs. A10s and C130 Spectre gunships from the Special Operations Flight would then be on station from H-7 to cover the HLSs and remain on station to provide close support to the contact battle once the SEALs and ourselves had landed. Finally, once the first assault elements from 40 Cdo had landed the guns on Bubiyan Island would commence their 90-minute fire plan to prepare the 42 Cdo Area of Operations for their landings to our flanks.
Tactical Assembly Viking was the kick off point with most of the marines launching from here, A, B and C Company. D Company would also launch from HMS Ocean. The Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) suffered a loss of several personnel in a USMC CH46 Sea Knight crash
Throughout the night and into the morning the assault continued and by morning USMC and RM artillery, naval gunfire support from RN and RAN vessels and helicopter launched TOW missiles from the CHF’s Lynx’s enabled the main force to achieve their objective.
As we consolidated on our objective, the Scorpions (light armoured vehicles) of C Sqn Queens Dragoon Guards pushed north to set up a recce screen just south of Basra. The Commando then began to clear north up the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran. As we approached Basra the enemy launched an armoured counter attack against us, relying on heavy armour to throw our lightly equipped Commandos off the Peninsula. A, B and D Coys and 8 Bty were spread across a wide frontage in company positions. At last light on 26 Mar intelligence began to detect increased signals traffic from the enemy, then the recce screen from the QDG picked up the lead armoured vehicles moving towards them. We began to call for all available air support and US and UK aircraft heading north started to be diverted to assist us. As aircraft began stacking over our battle area, the FACs with the QDG began calling in strike after strike against the tanks. At the same time we began hitting them with heavy artillery from the AS90 guns with 7 Armd Bde to our west and both 7 and 8 Btys on the Peninsula itself. The situation along the forward line own troops got quite tense as some of the tanks got to within 800 metres of the lightly armed recce vehicles and there was a spectacular hit by an F18 with two 500-pound bombs on a pipeline behind which two T55s were hull down. As we slowed the enemy armoured column down, inflicting heavy casualties in the process, we were allocated a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards with 7 Armd Bde. They conducted a night assault river crossing by an M3 pontoon bridge into our area and worked their way up the west side to a line of departure on the flank of the remaining enemy. With our air and artillery supporting them, coordinated by HQ 40 Cdo, they launched their attack which destroyed fourteen T55s, sixteen other AFVs and five enemy positions in what was described later as the biggest British tank battle since the Second World War, which, it must be added, was coordinated by a Commando brigade and a Commando group HQ.
Naval Gunfire Support consisted of 17 fire missions and expended 155 4.5″ and 5″ rounds.
The assault on Al Faw is often characterised as an amphibious RM only affair but this was very far from the truth, combined arms and combined nations forces achieved the objective of securing the oil installations at Al Faw and allowed the port and its approaching waterways to be used without fear of being attacked from the peninsular.
Operating in the area during this initial phase were two US Navy Cyclone Class patrol boats (USS Firebolt and USS Chinook) and tow US Coastguard cutters (USGC Aquidneck and USCG Adak)
All four spotted a number suspicious vessels and after holding them in place until daybreak decided to investigate, what they found was nothing short of incredible.
The tug Jumariya had a barge with carefully concealed mine storage and launching facilities and the Al Raya had disguised mines and a specially constructed stern flap for covert launching.
The Al Rayiah
Luck as ever played its part, it was not lucky that the US Navy and US Coastguard intercepted the two tugs, that being testament to their professionalism, but luck in so much that the Iraqi forces decided to indulge in a spot of mining on the same night as the initial assault.
A day or two earlier and the next phase may have been very different.
Once the area had been secured the task of clearing the port and approach waterways commenced, the original plan called for the port to be clear and available for use within 72 hours, a significantly overoptimistic target, it would take just under ten days before first access.
Driving up from Kuwait was a combined force of Australian, British and US mine clearance specialists.
Australian Clearance Diving Team 3 (AUSCDT 3) was the only coalition unit with established harbour clearance SOP’s so they were tasked with clearing the berths and associated facilities at Umm Qasr to enable berthing of vessels. The Australian force also noted that US Navy MCM forces arrived without ammunition or explosives so had to be sustained by the Australian force. The US Navy team did not have any NBC equipment, again unlike the Australian and UK forces.
To provide some sense of the problem of demining a busy port as opposed to a pristine beach this quote from an Australian Army spokesman, Lt Col Pup Elliot;
If they find a can of soft drink on the bottom, they have to deal with that, look at it and make an inspection and at times they’ll find stuff that they may not be able to identify
Read more about the exploits of AUSCDT 03 at the RAN Clearance Divers Association here
Whilst mine clearance work commenced at the port the waterways would also need clearing.
HMS Roebuck would provide invaluable survey capabilities and was in fact the first Royal Navy vessel to dock at Umm Qasr
Commenting on the task, HMS Roebucks commander said;
The last charts to be made in the area were over 40 years ago, so our biggest problem was to find out how accurate they were. The first few weeks work were very slow indeed because we tow our sonar behind us, so we don’t want to be the first to find a wrecked ship
Clearing the waterways involved a range of UN and USN forces, everything from the rapidly introduced SWIMS system to the hugely impressive CH-53 Sea Dragons
Even the famous dolphins got a look in
Seafox and the Royal Navy were instrumental in the clearance operations for Operation Telic around Umm Qasr.
Another UOR was the Shallow Water Influence Minesweeping System (SWIMS) designed to operate in the shallow waters in the south of Iraq.
SWIMS consists of a towed magnetic and acoustic source, a tow/power delivery cable, a power conditioning and control subsystem, and an external or palletised power supply. Its small size and reduced weight require minimum handling equipment, and it is deployable from a helicopter or surface craft by two personnel. 12 QinetiQ modified remote controlled Combat Support Boats (CSB) were also used to tow Australian Defence Industries (ADI) Mini Dyad System (MDS) and Pipe Noise Makers (PNMs) ahead of the RN minehunters as part of the SWIMS payload. It is worth noting that the system demonstrator was available within 3 weeks of order placement, a truly remarkable feat.
One the mines had been cleared to an acceptable level of risk, it was time to open the port.
Although 12 tonnes of supplies reached Umm Qasr by truck, overland from Kuwait, the bulk of humanitarian supplies would be through the port and the delay in clearing the port and its approaches was contributing to rising tensions in the city.
The first ship to dock was RFA Sir Galahad, Berth 5, with 232.3 tonnes of humanitarian supplies, gifted by Kuwait.
RFA Sir Galahad was led in by HMS Sandown and accompanies by a number of other vessels
In the images above, behind RFA Sir Galahad is the US Navy Cyclone class patrol vessel USS Firebolt which berthed on an uncleared section of the wharf, as did the RFA vessel!
RFA Sir Galahad was followed by RFA Sir Percivale a few days later.
However, ten days after the first port visit Lloyds were still refusing to insure civilian vessels, or at least at a rate that was affordable. This lack of insurance meant larger vessels carrying the thousands of tonnes humanitarian supplies needed by the people of Basra remained on ships in the Gulf.
The Spanish vessel The Galicia berthed after Sir Percivale
Also hampering the larger ships was the simple fact that the deep water port of Umm Qasr was rapidly becoming a shallow water port because of the natural build up of silt and lack of dredging.
17 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC under the command of Lt Col Paul Ash were responsible for bringing Umm Qasr back into service.
Most of the damage had been caused by neglect and under investment rather than military action by the Coalition, spare parts for machinery were unavailable and most of the Iraqi civilian workers had been dispersed. The waterways had little or no safe passage markers and the surrounding utility infrastructure was in poor condition.
By early May much of the immediately repairable damage had been repaired
The 2,000 ton displacement US Coastguard Juniper Class Buoy Tender Walnut had installed 34 navigation buoys, the existing ones being either damaged or dangerously out of position. 25 of the existing buoys were also removed.
Interestingly, the USCGC Walnut history page indicates that they knew of the deployment on 14th November 2002 which contrasts with the notice available to UK forces.
Click here for a good overview of US Coastguard operations in the Gulf in 2003
HMS Brocklesby had completed the mine clearance activity
…and the USS Grapple had carried out a great deal of wreck salvage.
On Friday 2nd of May a United Nations World Food Programme ship docked at Umm Qasr and offloaded 14,000 tonnes of bagged rice, contrasting starkly with the couple of hundred tonnes landed by the RFA vessels and the Galicia.
Longer term rehabilitation would include all wreck removal, a more permanent dredging capability, crane repairs, installation or repairs of aids to navigation, storage, parking and utility services
Equipment ranging from large heavy lift barges and salvage vessels to self propelled dredging pontoons (Versi Dredge 5012L) were deployed.
The coalition authority commissioned a survey of the port.
The port of Umm Qasr was handed back to the Iraqis in May 2003 after which the slow process of full rehabilitation continued.
The final dredged depth of 12.5 was achieved in 2010
Although not directly part of the operations at Umm Qasr it is worth mentioning the issues prior to the conflict at the Kuwaiti port of Shuaiba.
The MoD had chartered a lot of RORO shipping to get the Army to Kuwait but although the port of Shuaiba was the preferred location the RORO facilities left a lot to be desired. It was not an option to crane the many hundreds of vehicles over the side so the technical people involved with FIPASS were drafted in.
In less than 30 days they had designed, built and installed a floating linkspan that comprised a 28x14m pontoon attached to two smaller pontoons and a 17m link bridge. The whole system was secured using tensioned steel rope and allowed an unused corner of the port to be used for offloading.
This system allowed every kind of vehicle up to the largest Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET) loaded with Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks or CH47 Chinooks to be offloaded.
Observations and Lessons
The task at hand was very different from 1982, it was a coalition operation in a complex security environment with the main logistic task being to get the port ready for humanitarian and sustainment supplies rather than the main combat phase.
Operations to secure, clear and rehabilitate the port were conducted in a security environment that presented many challenges, although the conventional Iraqi forces were quickly dealt with the unconventional forces would remain stubbornly in place.
Making use of an existing port is much more complex than landing supplies over a beach but the capacity and integration with transport and storage facilities onshore means that throughput is in a different class.
Mine clearance of existing port and waterways is also significantly more demanding because of difficult tidal conditions, poor visibility and the simple fact that a busy waterway will likely have several decades (Umm Qasr was opened in 1958) of debris and litter on the surface that will all need to be detected, classified and if necessary, cleared.
Classification was a real issue, so much so that the normal route of detect, classify and clear was truncated with most finds being explosively cleared without classification.
An unforeseen issue with using dolphins was found, training the clever mammals had been carried out with white sacks acting as surrogate mines, given that Umm Qasr had for many years been the main point of entry for UN supplies you can guess how many white sacks were on the bottom.
Of note were the US Coast Guard, particularly the buoy tender USCGC Walnut and the Royal Australian Navy clearance divers who proved to be indispensable. The UK mine countermeasures force also demonstrated yet again that they form a significant capability in the UK’s force mix that delivers real influence in coalition operations. A special mention must also be made of the QinetiQ and Royal Navy team that put together the SWIMS unmanned system based on the Army’s Combat Support Boat that with the operators on board HMS Brocklesby swept a 27.7 nautical mile corridor in less than 24 hours
Operations around Umm Qasr exposed shortfalls in mine countermeasures, rapid survey and assessment, port repair and rehabilitation but in many ways these were relatively minor and many have been addressed. For the bulk of the longer term rehabilitation a wide range of civilian contractors were used, this kind of capability does not exist in any military, something that would become clear in the next part of this series, Haiti.
Sources and Further Reading
Other Posts in the Series