President Trump named Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor on February 20, 2017. McMaster is a West Point graduate who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina. His dissertation was critical of American strategy in Vietnam and was later published in his book “Dereliction of Duty.”
The following tribute to General McMaster recounts his role in a legendary battle of the Persian Gulf War. This battle, little known by the American public, is intensely studied in military schools as a classic of modern tactics. Within twenty-three minutes a U.S. Army cavalry troop, out-manned and out-gunned 5 to 1, reduced an Iraqi motorized rifle brigade of the Republican Guard to scrap iron without itself suffering a single casualty.
This is the story of McMaster’s role in the Battle of 73 Easting, the last great tank battle of the 20th Century.
Some background gives chronological context to that battle. Iraq invaded Kuwait August 2, 1990. The buildup of coalition forces in Saudi Arabia, known as Desert Shield, began August 7 and would eventually peak at over 600,000 military personnel. The U.S. Army’s VII Corps, a heavy Corps, deployed from Germany on November 8. This gave General Norman Schwarzkopf the armored fist he needed to attack and defeat the Iraqi forces.
The actual offensive, Desert Storm, began on January 17, 1991, with coordinated air strikes against Iraqi positions. Air strikes continued until February 24 when General Schwarzkopf launched the ground offensive.
Schwarzkopf’s plan called for the VII Corps to race north then east from Saudi Arabia into Iraq in a flanking “Hail Mary” play. The Corps objective was to cut off the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait and destroy the Republican Guard divisions near the Iraq-Kuwait border.
In a classic cavalry mission, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR) led the VII Corps in a covering force operation. The 2d ACR was to locate and fix the Iraqi forces and then assist the heavy 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions and the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) to pass through and destroy the enemy. Eastward movement was controlled by a series of map-designated phase lines coinciding with north-south longitudinal grid lines. Thus the term “73 easting” was derived.
The 2d ACR’s Eagle Troop was commanded by 28-year-old Captain McMaster. Little did he realize he was about to fight the most studied battle of modern times with his 12 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 13 Bradley fighting vehicles.
Bad weather from February 24 through 26 grounded U.S. tactical aircraft. The 2d ACR would have to find the Iraqi forces in a manner reminiscent of their horse-mounted forefathers. The Iraqis were entirely outfitted with Russian equipment. On the morning of February 26 Eagle Troop sighted an Iraqi BMP (infantry fighting vehicle) which McMaster destroyed with his main tank gun at a range of 2,620 meters. Eagle Troop continued to advance to 67 Easting during the late afternoon when the Troop received machine gun fire from a village.
4:07 p.m.: Eagle Troop’s tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles destroyed the village buildings silencing the enemy fire. In the process they also destroyed a ZSU-23-4 (a four-barrel 23 millimeter anti-aircraft weapon) used by the Iraqis in a defensive ground role.
4:22 p.m.: The Troop advanced another 3 kilometers to 70 Easting where they observed the first of 8 Iraqi T-72 tanks arrayed in defensive positions. All 8 tanks were destroyed at close range within seconds, McMaster’s tank gunner killing 3 tanks within 10 seconds.
Eagle Troop continued attacking through the line of destroyed tanks and spotted another large force of Iraqi tanks in a brigade defensive position. By this time Eagle Troop was fully deployed and McMaster ordered a general assault on the numerically superior Iraqi brigade. Tanks engaged tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles engaged and destroyed dismounted Iraqi infantry. Attacking through the Iraqi defensive positions Eagle Troop destroyed 18 or more T-72 tanks.
4:30 p.m.: With no more targets to acquire, McMaster halted his advance at 74 Easting.
In less than one-half hour Eagle Troop destroyed an Iraqi brigade including 30 tanks, 16 BMPs, 39 trucks and 1 ZSU-23-4. Because of their aggressiveness, shock action and superb training, Eagle Troop suffered no losses.
The Persian Gulf War would last only one hundred hours and would conclude with the destruction of the Iraqi armed forces and the liberation of Kuwait. Iraq’s military had been trained by the Soviet Union to use Soviet doctrine, tactics and equipment of the same type that faced Western Europe and the NATO allies during the Cold War.
Captain McMaster and his men spent years training for their successful combat mission. They are not unique. The U.S. Armed Forces are filled with fine, well-trained service personnel just like those who fought the Battle of 73 Easting.
The dilemma America now encounters is, “How will the US Armed Forces fare in a major confrontation with China or Russia or the Middle East in the face of sequestration and the recent purge of senior military officers?” McMaster will have his work cut out for him in his new job advising the president. Even so, McMaster will serve the president well.