History – Flanking and Envelopment

Featured Image: US Marine Corps M1A1 on a live fire exercise in Iraq, 2003 (Courtesy of Wikipedia).

Throughout history the use of flanking has led to some extremely decisive battles, from the Prussian Army at Waterloo flanking and surprising Napoleon’s forces, to the invasion of Poland, where blitzkrieg and Panzers proved that tanks enveloping their enemy can lead to the dismantling of an entire army. However – flanking and envelopment requires multiple pieces to successfully work. First, a strong anchored center must be present, to allow for a mobile flanking force. This is a critical element as it allows the enemy to remain engaged whilst a secondary force moves to attack the enemy from the side or rear. At the tactical level, this can provide enfilade fire as well as effectively suppress or destroy the enemy. Operationally, the use of flanking can help cut lines of supply and communication, as well as encircle and pocket enemy forces to be destroyed by slower and heavier elements whilst mobile units continue to seize the initiative and maintain tempo and momentum.

The First Gulf War is an excellent example of this – as the mobile and armoured forces of the Coalition combined with an excellent air campaign destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army and Air Force. This was done mostly through having better tanks, equipment, night-fighting devices, GPS, and modern advances that essentially made the Iraqi Army’s vehicles and weapons useless. Americans could effectively engage Iraqi T-72s and T-55s from thousands of meters away in the open desert, using advanced optics and laser rangefinder. T-72s were effectively limited by their aging Soviet technology. While individual Iraqi commanders displayed good initiative and tactical knowledge, such as the commander of the Iraqi Army forces at the battle of 73 Easting, American, British, and French tactics and doctrine was simply more modern and more effective.

Below is a battle fought using Wargame: Red Dragon, to demonstrate platoon and company level tactics.

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The Area of Operations. The main effort of Regimental Combat Team 4 will be to proceed up Hwy 1, capturing the town of Izzat, with a halt South of Highway 2. At the commander’s disposal is 4 troops of M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (Callsigns Warhorse 1-4, 2nd Cavalry Regiment) organized as the armoured squadron, as well as 2 companies (Minuteman 1-4 and Bluecoat 1-4) of infantry (5th Bn, 16th Inf Regt) in support of this effort. Reconnaissance is provided by a troop of Bradley Combat Fighting Vehicles, (Roughrider 1-4, 12th Cavalry Regiment) as well as Cavalry Scouts (Alamo 1-4, 12th Cavalry Regiment).

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The opening phase of the battle will see callsign Alamo move to screen and perform reconnaissance of the area between Hwy 1 & 2, South of Izzat.

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Alamo 1-4 moves out, headed towards the front, riding inside of their M113 APCs, mounted with M2 Browning .50cal machineguns and M47 Super Dragons.

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Pictured here, Alamo 1 dismounts left of frame and begins to move into the thick brush, while Alamo 2 and 3 continue forwards close to the cliff face.

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With the frontage confirmed to be clear, additional reconnaissance assets are brought up to survey the battlefield. All Roughrider callsigns are ordered forward to being the process of providing intelligence to the RCT commander, callsign Kratos.

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The troop arrives, and splits off, with Roughrider 4 moving to cover the Southern approach to the plateau, whilst the rest of the troop moves forward to co-locate with Alamo, and begin trying to discern Iraqi positions.

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The view from Roughrider 1’s position is deemed good enough to provide overwatch, and with this area successfully screened, Kratos orders Warhorse forward, to occupy the space behind the plateau’s wooded frontage. As well, divisional assets such as logistics trucks and M163 PIVADS are brought forward to cover and support the RCT.

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Pictured here, Warhorse 4 in M1A1 Abrams move into position at the Southernmost edge.

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Disposition of RCT 4 on the Plateau.

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Roughrider 2 is sent down the nearby slope to recon the nearby treelines, as well as slowly creep closer to Izzat, with Roughrider 1 and 3 in overwatch.

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Roughrider 3 watches as Roughrider 2 (center of frame in the field) moves cautiously into an new position to survey the fields to the South of Izzat.

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Roughrider 2 gives the all-clear, and Roughrider 1 and 3 quickly emerge from the brush and move down the slope to their fellow Bradley’s position, and begin to fan out at the base of the plateau, facing Izzat.

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Roughrider 2 looks out toward to Izzat, pictured in the distance.

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Roughrider 1, the troop commander (Lt. Egert) moves to the next treeline, as 2 covers.

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And the first contact is made, as an ATGM streaks towards Roughrider 1’s track, and 2 calls for them to reverse and withdraw under their cover. The enemy vehicle is well concealed, but Roughrider 3 manages to call out over the radio a position of what appears to be an enemy vehicle.

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Roughrider 1 reverses with all haste to get away from the ATGM and break line of sight.

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Warhorse is sent forward to move to the Forward Defended Line (FDL), and the Squadron Commander, Cpt. Roger Newman begins planning a hasty attack on the enemy to try and force an engagement outside Izzat.

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Warhorse Squadron moves into position and begins to take up a 2-troop frontage of 8 tanks, with Warhorse 1 and 2 leading, and 3 as a tactical reserve, with 4 screening the flanks to the South.

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Cpt. Newman’s plan is a simple one, a quick advance to contact, supported by reconnaisance and surveillance from Roughrider, and potentially Alamo on the Plateau. With Warhorse 3 in reserve, he begins his movement.

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Roughrider 2 is the first to make a spot, and sights in on 2 Iraqi BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicles just under two kilometres from their position. This information is relayed to Warhorse, who quickly begins quarterbacking the engagement.

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Warhorse 2-2, under the command of Sgt. Cameron Brookes engages the BMP-1, and fires the first American rounds of many as he expends a 105mm sabot round at the vehicle.

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The round has the desired effect, completely annihilating the vehicle.

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Through his gunsight, Sgt. Brookes watches as the vehicle burns and the ammunition cooks off, leaving no survivors, just charred bodies lying around the vehicle, smoldering.

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Meanwhile on the right, Warhorse 1 charges forward, pictured top left of frame is Warhorse 2-2’s first kill.

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An Iraqi BRDM-2, the first forward reconnaissance asset is sighted and destroyed as it turns its engine on to attempt escape, illuminating it for the gunners of Warhorse 1.

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Pictured, Cpt. Newman’s M1 Abrams on the right flank.

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On the outskirts of Izzat, a round fired from Warhorse 1 narrowly misses an enemy BRDM-2.

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By now, Warhorse 1 and 2 have forward elements closing to within a kilometre of Izzat, and continue to search for further enemy forces. So close to urban and built up areas, Kratos orders Minuteman forward to support Cpt. Newman’s engagement.

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Suddenly, on the right flank an Iraqi T-62 appears, and while quickly destroyed is followed by another, indicating a counter-attack.

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A fierce enagagement breaks out, with T-62s trading blows with Arbams, and while their rounds miss or deflect harmlessly off of the American’s tanks, their push indicates heavier resistance than expected.

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Pictured, an Iraqi T-62 takes a direct hit from a 105mm sabot round.

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And when American tracks are closer than 900m to the town, Iraqi infantry spring into action, firing off RPGs and machineguns at the tanks, and heavy suppression is returned, although the amount of rockets coming from fire slits and disguised trenches is worrisome to Cpt. Newman.

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The tanks of Warhorse 1 engage Iraqi infantry in the southern outskirts of Izzat.

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Cpt. Newman’s tank narrowly avoids being hit by an enemy tank round.

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On the left, the men of Warhorse 2-2 are rocked as an RPG slams into their tank. Sgt. Brookes sees that his loader is slightly wounded, as some minor spall cut his face. Blood has been shed on the American side.

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The tanks of Warhorse 2 continue to suppress and fight against growing Iraqi resistance – and Cpt. Newman begins to order his men reverse and perform a tactical withdrawal. Without infantry- attacking the town in tanks alone is suicide.

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A hidden threat – an enemy BRDM-2 yet unseen as it was well camouflaged and dug-in is seen by Warhorse 1-3.

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Sgt. Brookes and the men of 2-2 get a front row seat to the vehicle’s immolation.

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Newman’s withdrawal is done under intense enemy fires, both from RPGs and ATGMs fired from the Eastern side of the city.

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The view from the position of Alamo 3, watching enemy vehicles burn and the dust kicked up by Abrams as they reverse away from the dug-in Iraqis.

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Even though they withdraw, the Americans have long reach, as a tank from Warhorse 1 takes down a BMP that was engaging them with ATGMs.

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Newman however is determined to attack before the Iraqis have a chance to bring up reinforcements. His best estimate is that there is a company of infantry with some supporting armor and light vehicles.

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Careening down the road – Minuteman, the company of supporting infantry, moves into position behind the beleaguered Warhorse – now stiffened by its tactical reserve Warhorse 3, which takes up a central position, between Warhorse 2 on the West flank and 1 on the East.

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Pictured – RCT 4’s first infantry company moves into position.

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Cpt. Newman, working in close communication of Cpt. Lawson (Minuteman 1), moves quickly and advances again on the Iraqis, giving them little time to regroup and recuperate as the tanks move forward to support the infantry.

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Nearing the town, Minuteman overtakes Warhorse as they move close to get their dismounts closer to cover, and prepare to discharge their infantrymen.

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However, Iraqi RPGs strike out again, and without the heavy armour of the Abrams, Minuteman 1-3 is hit and destroyed by a rocket, killing both crew. The infantry, in the process of dismounting, reel from the shock, leaving 4 of their own dead behind in the torched track as they run for cover nearby.

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Warhorse opens up, as do the machinegunners on Minuteman’s M113s as they suppress the enemy to allow the infantryman to close and destroy the Iraqis.

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Sgt. Brookes’ gunner is rewarded with the mangled corpse of an Iraqi squad leader being lifted, tattered, into the air as a high explosive shell decimates the sandbag emplacement he had been hiding behind.

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On the right, Minuteman 2, the platoon leader, is killed before he can dismount as his M113 is rocked by an RPG. So far Iraqi anti-tank gunnery has been excellent, and the blood shed by the infantry is unfortunately showing it.

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Minuteman 3-2 has a near miss as it drives quickly across the road, narrowly dodging certain death at the hands of an Iraqi conscript.

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Seconds later, another near miss, and yet another one which passes within inches of Cpl. Mills of the next M113 over, deafening him as it detonates several feet behind their APC.

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Minuteman 2 is rocked again by another huge blast – this time taking the life of the platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Eric Holsom, as well as the three men with him in his vehicle.

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Minuteman 3-2 gets revenge as it engages and cuts a pair of Iraqi soldiers in half as they try and cross Highway 1.

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With the infantry now within the city, and fighting from the White Compound and Schoolhouse for control of the Downtown district, Cpt. Newman begins to make a flanking maneuver, to cut off further Iraqi reinforcements for reaching the town, as well as to envelop and pocket the remaining infantry within the town itself.

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Warhorse 1 leads the charge to the North-East, engaging enemy infantry and shrugging off RPG hits as the speed towards Hwy 2.

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Fighting within the town reaches a fervor, with entrenched Iraqi infantry being cleared out house by house by the American riflemen caught in slugfest, one infantryman against another.

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Warhorse 1, in the distance, is followed by Warhorse 3, and they begin to make gains and close in on Hwy 2, the main route for Iraqi supplies and reinforcements to Izzat.

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As they advance they pass the remains from their skirmish nearly an hour earlier, as T-62s and BMP-1s sit, charred and destroyed, now watching as their killers rumble past them at a quick pace to further the killing.

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The Iraqis are finally pushed back to the crossroad between Hwy 1 and Hwy 2, as they fight to maintain control of both the Desiym and North Abukal districts, the dividing line between the two forces being Hwy 2.

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However to the North-East, Highway 2 has been crossed and captured by Cpt. Newman and Warhorse 1-3. The successful push and use of their momentum allowed them to now completely cut off the Iraqis from reinforcement. Visible are the dust clouds kicked up by the Abrams.

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Roughrider 3 suddenly spots a heat signature, identifying it as an enemy T-62 lying in wait on the outskirts of el-Saadeh. The crew commander fires a TOW-2 from nearly 2.5km away at the vehicle.

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A main gun round from a Warhorse callsign misses the tanks that have appeared in el-Saadeh.

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Visible centre frame is Roughrider 3’s TOW missile, passing the crossroad of Hwy 2 & 3.

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It impacts, destroying the Iraqi tank and causing the a burnout, as pillars of flame erupt from every open hatch and crevice, turning the inside of the vehicle into a furnace and burning the crew alive.

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Cpt. Newman acknowledges the threat, and assigns Warhorse 2 to engage the enemy targets, as 1 and 3 will carry on towards the Al-Burah township North of Izzat.

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Scattered resistance from the town signals an end to the savage fighting that had been taking place so far. Now with only the Desiym District left, the Iraqis fight with little heart as their backs are effectively against the wall.

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Warhorse 2-2 picks up another kill, their second vehicle destroyed this battle, and Sgt. Brookes calls out in awe at the explosion in the distance as the 105mm sabot round causes a K-kill (catastrophic), kill, sending the tank’s turret flying off.

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Roughrider 3 watches as Warhorse 2-2 engages and kills its third vehicle, the small fireball from within the town indicating there was likely few survivors.

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However on the left, a sudden threat as Warhorse 3-3 is fired on unexpectedly from a hidden enemy vehicle with Al-Burah.

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The round passes abreast of Warhorse 3-2.

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Hull-down and well concealed the BMP-1 was hard to spot, and the hasty attack by Cpt. Newman offered little time for thorough reconnaissance to see such vehicles.

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The Iraqis are rewarded for their ingenuity with a direct side hit onto Warhorse 3-3, but thanks to the thick armor, it shrugs off the kit, and returns fire almost immediately.

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The Iraqi BMP-1 has parts distributed across the township as the 105mm round annihilates the frail infantry fighting vehicle.

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Fighting finally concludes within Izzat, as the men of Minuteman take a moment to rest, drink water, and tend to their wounded.

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Cpt. Newman orders Warhorse forward, to capitalize on the success they have had thus far forcing the Iraqis to engage with them before they are ready. Radioing Kratos, he requests that Bluecoat be brought up to screen his flank, and gambles on passing el-Saadeh without infantry, as he does not want to wait the fifteen minutes it will take to bring up reinforcements. After a quick check, it is determined they have enough ammunition and fuel to carry on the fight, and Cpt. Newman outlines his new plan.

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Cpt. Newman’s initiative thus far has paid off, and trusting his instincts has also proved to be successful. He believes that now that he has flanked the enemy and penetrated his rear areas and disrupted his combat support and sustainment routes, he can further damage the Iraqis by pushing to Mukarram and holding there, as by his estimate they will need more reinforcements to continue the attack past that. Bluecoat will advance afterwards and clear el-Saddeh to their East.

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They push off, with Warhorse 1 leading, 2 flanking the East facing el-Saddeh and 3 covering their flank abreast of Hwy 2A.

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Sgt. Brookes and Warhorse 2-2 fall in behind their platoon commander and begin to screen the combat team’s right flank.

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However, as his gunner scans, Brookes calls out a target, and by keyholing a shot through the thin outskirts of el-Saddeh begin engaging a platoon of Iraqi armour attempting to retreat away from them to the North.

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Sgt. Brooke’s picks up his fourth kill, as a T-62 erupts in sparks and flame upon being hit.

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The rest of Warhorse 2 engages in a long-distance gunnery match they are assured to win, and destroy all four Iraqi T-62s.

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Warhorse 2-2 picks up its fifth kill, and Cpt. Newman orders Warhorse 1 and 3 to begin a right wheel, bringing them in a line abreast from Highway 3 to the West of el-Saddeh.

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Warhorse 2 begins to move cautiously through the very outskirts of el-Saddeh, as any infantry presence here would mean they would more than likely be ambushed and killed.

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Warhorse 3-3 continues to extract vengeance on the Iraqi Army for its wound earlier, and with a good bit of gunnery destroy a command BMP-1, as indicated by the half dozen antennas sticking up from its hull.

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Warhorse 3-1 scores a hit on a BRDM with Sagger ATGMs mounted to the top of it, likely the cause of so much of their troubles this far as far as the thick Iraqi anti-tank defenses.

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Bluecoat enters el-Saddeh, unmolested, and begins to move to link up with Cpt. Newman’s combat team to begin the final push on Mukarram.

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Formed up in a single line approximately 2km in frontage, Newman orders the advance, with Warhorse 1 in the center flanked by 3 and 2.

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Warhorse 2-3 passes one of 2-2’s victims.

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Warhorse 3 on the flank keeps a sharp watch, as the enemy strength to the North of Highway 3 is unknown. 20170329214057_1.jpg

In the center, contact is made as Roughrider 1 calls out a target, an enemy BMP-1 command vehicle. 20170329214141_1.jpg

Back in el-Saddeh, US Riflemen of Bluecoat 4 dismount and begin clearing houses and searching the dead bodies of slain Iraqi tankers from the engagement on the city’s South side.

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ATGMs come hurtling yet again, this time the brunt of them aimed at Warhorse 2 on the flank, and the maneuver to avoid the incoming fire.

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Brooke’s platoon commander has a narrow miss as an ATGM passes just a few feet above his Abrams. He begins to use his M240 coax to suppress the suspected position of the enemy vehicle.

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From the Iraqi’s point of view, their BRDM-2s are well hidden and engage Warhorse 2, seen in the distance is Warhorse 2-1 suppressing the woodline approximately 25m to the left of the ATGM teams.

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Hits are scored in the Iraqis, and as more of them die the rate of enemy fire slows down to a few rockets a minute versus the initial flurry of defensive activity. More and more enemy troops are seen scurrying fro underneath trucks where they were sleeping or dashing out of tents trying to make it to their BMPs.

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One of such BMPs, from what seems to be the Headquarters company for the brigade RCT 4 faces explodes as it is hit by a 105mm round.

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Warhorse charges forward to met the enemy, with Cpt. Newman following close behind his 1-4 callsign.

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A resupply helicopter is sighted escaping, but with the PIVAD vehicles still so far back near Izzat, the Abrams are of little use against it.

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And then – tragedy strikes. Warhorse 2-2 receives a direct and devastating hit from an enemy Sagger, penetrating the vehicle, to the surprise of many during the After Action Report.

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The results are fatal, and Sgt. Brookes and the crew of Warhorse 2-2 are killed as their tank burns alive, suffering from a crippling enemy hit.

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Roughrider 2 passes their fallen comrades, unable to help as their M1 Abrams burns.

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However before them they have laid waste to the majority of the enemy brigade’s headquarters and staff elements, with destroyed and burning trucks, BMPs, and ZSU-23-4 SPAAG littered everywhere.

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Cpt. Newman’s Abrams takes Warhorse 1 across the field towards the woods, in front of Warhorse 2 to relieve them of the right flank now that they are down one tank.

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On the right flank, Bluecoat moves off Hwy 3A and through the tall grass towards the city, which erupts, tracer fire skipping out past the dead vehicles towards the dismounted infantry.

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As RPGs streak towards Bluecoat 4, they attempt to return fire and suppress the enemy gunners in the vain hope that Warhorse will be able to engage from their oblique angle.

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The end result is two kills against Bluecoat 4, reducing its vehicles and heavy weapons by half and killing the four men still inside as crew for the vehicles.

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Elsewhere, Bluecoat 3 tries to use the brush to shield itself from the accurate Iraqi anti-tank and fires into the city, preparing to assault across the field at the first buildings on the outskirts.

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Moving as one, and with the heavy suppression of both their tracks and Warhorse 1, Bluecoat moves to close with and destroy the enemy, laving Bluecoat 4 in reserve as they are the most damaged from the enemy’s opening RPG salvos.

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Cpt. Newman orders Warhorse 2 and 3, supported by all Roughriders callsigns save 1, to begin an envelopment of the town, as he is determined to again cut the Iraqis off from retreat and resupply. 20170329214949_1.jpg

Brutal firefights erupt on the city’s North East side as the Iraqis fall back to entrenched positions within the city park. However, without reinforcements or any chance of being able to withdraw seeing as all of their armour is scattered across the field to their South, they begin to retreat, breaking from their positions.

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The Americans observe this, and slam machine gun fire home, killing many of the retreating Iraqi soldiers before they can break out of the treeline.

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And with the encirclement complete, Cpt. Newman’s drive has ended. The butcher’s bill is not a pretty one. For their advance, he lost one of his M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, as well as five M113 APCs (three at Izzat, two at Mukarram). In terms of the human cost versus the materiel, 21 Killed in Action, and 54 Wounded. The Iraqis suffered even more terribly, with 212 KIA and twice that number in wounded, they had a full battalion devastated by the shock action of Newman’s flank. They also lost a considerably amount of equipment, 13 T-62 tanks, and roughly 20 other armoured fighting vehicles.

The heavy fighting though shows lopsided casualties in favor of the Americans, as their flank tactics, envelopment of the Iraqis, and superior technology and doctrine would prove to be the ultimate force for success on the battlefield.

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