General Robert Barrow (ret.) is the former Commandant of the Marine Corps. We have obtained a copy of General Barrow’s summary of First Marine Division interviews for an internal military “lessons learned” project. A reader has kindly forwarded General Barrow’s summary received courtesy of a Marine officer who prefaces General Barrow’s summary with the statement that “General Barrow is easily one of the top five human beings I have known in my life time. As a result, his following comments take on additional meaning.” Here is General Barrow’s summary:
Last week I sat in on several of the 1st MarDiv interviews that two retired Army colonels now working for RAND conducted on OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] Lessons Learned. They are writing a history for the Vice Chief of the Army on OIF and they recommended that the document also include Marine Corps and British forces experiences. Thus their visit to 1st Division and I MEF.
While at 5th Marines, several of the regimental, battalion, and company commanders involved in the fight in Baghdad recounted some of their experiences. The fight on April 10th for the Amilyah Palace and Hanifah mosque were particularly noteworthy. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines was tasked with the mission. As a 5th Marines account of the action states, “Significant enemy action in several locations along the axis of advance and in the objective area, characterized by a relentless barrage of RPGs, a torrent of heavy machinegun and small arms fire, resulted in the commitment of the RCT quick reaction force in support of the 1st Battalion. In securing their assigned objectives, 1st Battalion experienced heavy casualties and killed an estimated 100 Saddam Fedayeen fighters…Following 1st Battalion’s attack, thousands of Iraqis spontaneously took to the streets of Baghdad to cheer and thank the Marines and Sailors of the RCT for liberating them from Hussein’s oppressive regime.”
During the debrief to the Division, the RAND personnel said that they had no idea that this fight had taken place, the ferocity of it, and the bravery of the Marines until these interviews were conducted. Here are some additional details of the fight that we learned from the 5th Marines officers and SNCOs who had taken part in this engagement. I felt I had to share with other Marines.
The Battle of the Mosque, as it is known, was actually a nine-hour, intense urban fight. Nearly 1,000 RPGs were fired at the Marines and Sailors from windows, doorways, corners of buildings and rooftops. Some of the casualties the battalion suffered were from small arms, and one of the Gunnery Sergeants was killed by small arms through a thin-skinned vehicle.
The vast majority of casualties were from RPG fragments. One company reported that their 12 AAVs received 33 RPG shots, but that none caused a catastropic kill to the AAV. Some of the shape charge rounds went through both sides of the vehicle. On the first day of the battle, the battalion reported 34 wounded, most with fragmentation wounds to the head and upper torso. It was only on the day after the battle that the regiment realized the number of wounded was actually 74.
Many of the Marines had not reported their wounds to the corpsman, because they were afraid that they would be medevaced, and not be able to return to their unit in the midst of this intense fight. Illustrating the bravery and devotion to their fellow Marines, a field grade officer in the regiment told us of one young Marine who only went to the Doc on the day after the battle to report severe shrapnel wounds to his left arm, asking the corpsman to look at the wounds and to not say anything, because he was losing the use of the limb. The Marine confided to the corpsman that he had been unable to stop the bleeding for the past 24 hours. Looking at the blood-soaked dressing, the corpsman asked the Marine how many bandages he had bled through. The answer, “I lost count.”
As soon as the regimental leadership found out about Marines hiding their wounds, the word quickly went out ordering everyone who had suffered wounds to have them taken care of. We still make them like we used to.