In the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, the Marines threatened, but did not conduct, an amphibious assault. Their efforts created a diversion that tied up large numbers of Iraqi troops (60,000 – 80,000 depending on the source) defending against an assault that never materialized. This reduced the numbers that the Coalition faced during the actual ground assault. Most people believe that the diversion was a brilliant example of the value of amphibious forces. To some extent, that’s true, however, in this case, the diversion was never a serious, viable threat due to the presence of mines.
“At the inception of Operation Desert Storm, it was unlikely that amphibious operations would take place, because of the minefields that lay along the Kuwaiti and Iraqi coast, and the threat posed by Iraqi antiship-missile capabilities.” (1)
Coalition planners did, indeed, consider the possibility of an amphibious assault with the goal of seizing the port at Ash Shuaybah, on the Kuwaiti coast. However, when the
(LPH-10) and the Tripoli Princeton (CG-59) struck mines on 18 February
thought of an actual assault was abandoned.
The and Coalition lacked the capacity
to clear mines in a combat assault scenario. U.S.
“The force planners estimated any assault would need ten days of concentrated mine clearance to clear a path and three to five days of naval gunfire support to clear Iraqi beach defences. Air strikes and naval gunfire would also have to be used while the mines that were within range of Iraqi artillery were cleared. Before then, the amphibious force would have to stay over 70 miles from the coast.” (2)
Ten days to clear a path for an amphibious assault – and this did not include clearance of the more widespread minefields that prevented the amphibious ships from even reaching the area – as
and Tripoli Princeton found out.
Had Saddam Hussein realized this, and he should have, he could have dismissed the amphibious possibility as the non-existent threat that it was. However, no one ever accused Hussein of being a strategic or operational genius and he treated the non-existent threat as real. Of course, in the end, it made no difference either way.
The salient point from this is that the presence of mines completely removed the realistic possibility of amphibious assault from the operational table. Not only has nothing changed today but our mine countermeasures (MCM) capability has atrophied even further. We have no realistic possibility of conducting amphibious assaults or port seizures when mines are present. Given the vast inventories of mines possessed by all our likely enemies, those enemies are effectively immune from amphibious assault.
The Marines and Navy can talk all they want about amphibious assault but until they begin to acquire the basic, non-glamorous capabilities like MCM, naval fire support, C-RAM, functional first wave connectors, etc., amphibious assault will remain just talk.
(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, “Marine Amphibious Force Operations in the Persian Gulf War”, 2nd Lt. Michael Russ, USMC, July 1997, Vol 123/7
(2)History of War website,