From the moment the massive movement of US defensive forces commenced deployment to the Gulf, it was obvious that all four branches of the Department of Defense would be heavily committed. To ensure security of Saudi territory and other Gulf states, a host of US Air Force squadrons were hurriedly dispatched during early August to bolster local air defences. At the same time several aircraft carrier battle groups moved to waters around the Gulf and in the Red Sea to provide additional air power and help implement the blockade of shipping attempting to deliver supplies to Iraq itself and through the Jordanian port of Aqaba. This initial response successfully prevented any further expansionist moves by Saddam Hussein while permitting the US a breathing space to organise Army and Marine reinforcements with their heavy equipment.
At the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, the US Navy Middle East Group composed of command ship AGF-3/USS La Salle together with its supporting destroyer, cruisers and frigates were exercising in the Gulf and can justifiably claim to have been the first forces on station. The carrier CV-62/USS Independence and its battle group were already present in the Gulf of Oman, while the nuclear-powered carrier CVN-69/USS Dwight D Eisenhower cut short her Mediterranean cruise and headed for the Red Sea on August 8 having received special permission from the Egyptian Government to transit the Suez Canal. A third carrier group formed around CV-60/USS Saratoga left Norfolk, Virginia on August 7 and sailed at full speed to the Gulf passing through the Suez Canal on August 23. Accompanying the Saratoga was battleship BB-63/USS Wisconsin. CV-67/USS John F Kennedy became the fourth carrier to join the multi national force in the Gulf when she departed the USA during mid-August. In addition CV-41 /USS Midway sailed from its home port of Yokosuka, Japan during September to the Indian Ocean to be available if required.
The complement of the Carrier Air Wings aboard Eisenhower, Independence and Saratoga were basically identical with two squadrons each of F-14A or A+ Tomcats and F-18 Hornets, with one squadron each of A-6E Intruders, EA-6B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, S-3A or B Vikings, and SH-3H Sea Kings. The Air Wing aboard Kennedy was unique as instead of embarking the F-18 it was still flying two A-7E squadrons for what is almost certain to be the Corsair Ms final operational deployment. The Midway has embarked a radically different complement for several years including a trio of F-18A Hornet squadrons along with two A-6E units and one each of E-2Cs, EA-6Bs and SH-3Hs. Note that CVW-5 does not have an ASW squadron embarked. Each Air Wing numbered approximately seventy five/eighty aircraft, with in excess of 300 available from the four carriers on station. However the arrival of the Saratoga enabled Eisenhower to return to Norfolk on September 12. The Independence entered the Persian Gulf on October 1 for a training exercise, the first time a US Navy aircraft carrier has entered these waters since CV-64/USS Constellation in 1974.
During December CV-66/USS America and CVN-71/USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed for the Gulf to increase the Naval presence in the region. Both had conventional Air Wings embarked although the latter was operating a pair of A-6E units as well as its two Hornet squadrons.
Throughout August cruisers, destroyers and frigates together with their resupply and support vessels from both the 6th and 7 th Fleet were ordered to sail to the Gulf region. Most of the larger fighting ships had provision for an SH-2F Seasprite or SH-60B Sea Hawk “LAMPS’ helicopter, while the support ships were equipped to accommodate utility helicopters such as the UH-46 Sea Knight. The USS La Salle normally has an SH-3G Sea King from HC-2 embarked to provide VIP and communications duties for the Commander Middle East Forces (HQ CMEF) from his Bahrain headquarters.
US Naval participation in ‘Desert Shield’ has not been restricted to shipborne assets as several shore-based squadrons have been actively involved. Several P-3C Orion squadrons, including VP-1 from NAS Barbers Point. Hawaii, operating from Masirah in Oman and Diego Garcia have conducted patrols of the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, while EP-3E from VQ-2 stationed at NAS Rota Spain have performed electronic intelligence duties from Masirah. P-3Cs and EP-3Es were also seen to be operating from Bahrain International Airport during November.
C-130FS from VR-22 at NAS Rota have ferried cargo, passengers and most importantly mail from home between facilities in the Gulf for delivery to more than one hundred US Navy ships in the region. The Naval Reserve has also been active in the Gulf with C-9B Skytrain lls including VR-55 from NAS Alameda, California, on resupply.
Carrier-Onboard-Delivery (COD) operations between the carriers and shore stations have been assigned to VR-24 at NAS Sigonella, Sicily and VRC-50 from NAS Cubi Point, Philippines flying the C-2A Greyhound A handful of stateside based UC-12Bs including 161188/7 W from NAS Willow Grove, Pennsylvania have been relocated to the Middle East to ferry VIPs and senior ranking officers within the region in addition to 161205/8K of Commander Middle East Forces stationed at Bahrain.
The 1 st Marine Expeditionary Force was the first Marine Corp unit deployed to the Gulf and was composed of 1st, 4th and 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigades from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Twenty nine Palms, California respectively. The 1 st and 7th MEBs were airlifted to Saudi Arabia during mid August while the 7th was transported by sea from Moorhead City, North Carolina.
These were the first of some 40,000 Marines dispatched to the Gulf along with their heavy armour and munitions. With the 1 st MEF in position the Corps commenced sending the 2nd MEF to the Gulf including the 5th MEB from Camp Pendleton. California. Much of the equipment delivered to Saudi Arabia by sea was unloaded at Al Jubayl including armoured fighting vehicles, tanks and helicopters.
In excess of 300 Marine Corps aircraft and helicopters drawn from both the 1st and 2nd Marine Air Wings (FMFPAC and FMFLANT respectively) as well as the Hawaiian based 1 st Marine Brigade were dispatched to the Gulf to support the ground forces. Amongst the aircraft types deployed were F-18As of VMFA-235 from MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and VMFA-314 from MCAS El Toro. California which departed the USA on August 20, followed next day by VMFA-333 and VMFA-451 both from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina.
MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina provided AV-8Bs from VMA-331 and VMA-542 along with EA-6BS from VMAQ-2 and A-6Es of VMA(AW)-224, while further AV-8BS from VMA-311 at MCAS Yuma had deployed by November. A second as yet unidentified A-6E squadron had also deployed, probably from MCAS El Toro. OV-IOA and D models of the Bronco from both VMO-1 at MCAS New River, North Carolina and VMO-2 at MCAS Camp Pendleton, California were also included in the initial build up. The majority of fixed wing types were flown to the Middle East with the aid of air refuelling provided by USAF KC-10 and KC-135s as well as the Marine Corps own KC-130S.
The number of helicopters committed to Desert Shield was considerable with all four types employed. CH-46Es from HMM-263 and HMM-265 from MCAS New River, HMM-161 from MCAS Tustin, California, and HMM-165 from MCAS Kaneohe Bay were sent to the region to provide transportation of troops, while responsibility of delivering additional troops and armour was vested with CH-53Es of HMH-461 from MCAS New River, along with HMH-465 and HMH-466 both from MCAS Tustin, plus the CH-53DS of HMH-462 also from Tustin. Several units sent AH-1Ws and their supporting UH-1Ns including HMLA-367 from MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, while MCAS Camp Pendleton provided HMLA-267, HMLA-269 and HMLA-369.
Whereas the majority of helicopters were drawn from stateside locations, some were already embarked aboard assault carriers for six month Mediterranean and Pacific cruises. Amongst these was LHA-2/USS Saipan with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked together with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (Composite) 261 from MCAS New River as its air component. As the host flying unit embarked. HMM-261 (C) was operating their own CH-46ES as well as AH-1s and CH-53s from other squadrons temporarily assigned for the duration of the cruise.
Saipan also has a small number of AV-8Bs from VMA-223 at MCAS Cherry Point. Helicopters from the ship were involved in the rescue of US citizens during the civil war in Liberia during August, before the Saipan sailed east. Other assault ships deployed to the Gulf included LHA-4/USS Nassau. LPH-2/USS Iwo Jima and LPH-9/USS Guam which all sailed from the USA on August 13.
Frontline and reserve Marine Aerial Refuelling Transport Squadrons accompanied the deployment to the Middle East of USMC fighter and attack types with several remaining to provide support. VMGR-1 52. 252 and 352 from MCAS Futenma, Cherry Point and El Toro respectively have been all active with KC-130F/R models from the latter unit observed at Bahrain International Airport on many occasions. In addition reserve units VMGR-234 and 452 from NAS Glenview, Illinois and Stewart ANGB, New York have regularly deployed to the Gulf region.
Marine Corp aircraft and helicopters have been sent to a variety of locations in Saudi Arabia and to the military complex at Bahrain Airport. Amongst the locations in Saudi Arabia housing USMC helicopters are Dhahran with AH-1 Ws and CH-53s and Al Jubayl with AH-1 s. UH-1 Ns. CH-46Es and CH-53s. However Marine helos operate widely across the northern portion of Saudi Arabia to support the thousands of dispersed ground forces, and no doubt there are many helipads in use.
During December the Department of Defence ordered several additional squadrons to relocate to the Gulf This was the position at the end of December with the January 15 United Nations deadline for Saddam Hussein to vacate Kuwait looming ever closer.