NSW Boat Teams Set Stage for Operation Desert Storm

By James D. Gray

Combatant Craft Historian of the Combatant Craft Crewman Assc.

On August 2, 1990 under Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait. An international coalition of forces, including the United States military, responded. U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command deployed a rapid response Task Group under Capt. Ray Smith. This Task Group was comprised of three SEAL platoons, and two high speed boat detachments from Special Boat Unit-12 and supporting staff. The missions they carried out resulted in critical support and intelligence that enabled the success of the coalition counter-invasion, ultimately making it possible to liberate the country of Kuwait.

SBU-12 Fountain HSB carrying a CRRC


Upon arrival at RAS Al Gar, Saudi Arabia on Aug 10, the NSW task unit began responding to Commander in Chief U.S. Central Command’s orders, and at the beginning of Desert Shield recognized the need to assess the capabilities of Coalition Forces. Special boat detachments began working with the Saudi navy on high-speed boat operations and Free Kuwaiti naval assets. On Sept. 21, 1990, Special Boat Unit-13 deployed a 24-foot Willard rigid hull inflatable boat detachment to support operations. From August to January the special boat detachments also conducted nightly recon patrols and harbor patrol and the Coalition and U.S. Forces continued their build up of Forces in the area of operation.

As the Coalition Forces grew and shifted from defense of Saudi Arabia to the retaking of Kuwait, many amphibious readiness groups arrived for the possible amphibious invasion of Kuwait. Among the U.S. Marines aboard the ships were four detachments of SEAFOX boats and rigid hull inflatable boats from Special Boat Units 20 and 12. They were there to support SEAL amphibious operations.

January of 1991 was the defining month, because the forces went from defense to offense and task groups were deploying to forward bases. NSW Task Unit Mike, commanded by Cmdr. Tim Holden, moved north with three SEAL platoons with the high speed boats and RHIB detachments to Ras Al Mishab. There the boat detachments conducted nightly patrols north into the oil slick and mined Kuwaiti waters.

With airstrikes being launched into Kuwait, special boat detachments from units 12 and 13 were required to do combat search and rescue, and bomb damage assessments as well as SEAL support operations. Wear and tear on the boats was taking a hard toll on the HSBs from SBU-12 and on some ops they had to be towed back to base where the engines were replaced overnight and repairs done so they could make the next operational commitment.

The Halter HSB type used on the Great Deception Raid

On Jan. 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm officially began and the special boat detachments and SEALs were conducting actual reconnaissance of Kuwaiti beaches. Nightly, the boats would depart with embarked SEALs and combat rubber raiding crafts, or CRRCs, lashed to their bows to transit through mined waters approaching the coastline. They launched the SEALs in the CRRCs about 500 yards from the beach. The SEALs would swim in and perform beach recon in oil-slick, 50- degree water, recording mines, beach obstacles, and even Iraqi patrols, which the SEALs passed within 50 yards of without being detected. Then the operators swam back to their raiding crafts to be recovered by the boats.

On Jan. 30, using the Free Kuwaiti ship Sawhill, NSW launched SEAL delivery vehicles and conducted mine charting of Kuwaiti waters. SBU-13 RHIBs acted as safety craft. The reconnaissance done during the operations negated the amphibious invasion of Kuwait.

Due to the wear and tear on the SBU-12 HSBs over the months of constant operations, Task Group Commanding Officer Smith brought in a four boat NSW Development Group HSB detachment. They arrived Feb 13, and began familiarization operations in the area of operation and in mined waters, with SBU-12 crewmen riding along as the area subject matter experts.

With the ground invasion approaching, NSW conceived a tactical deception mission, which was approved. On Feb. 22 a full mission profile was developed and a full dress rehearsal was conducted.

SBU-13 with CRRCs prepare for Recon mission

Upon receiving word to “proceed with mission,” SEALs loaded two CRRCs onto the HSBs to conduct the actual beach diversion.  With timing critical as the ground war of Desert Storm was looming to kick off in just hours, the four DEVGRU HSBs with SBU-12 supplementing the crews and SEALs, departed on a night transit of 70 nautical miles in a sea state of two (smooth seas).

At Mina Saud, Kuwait, the SEALs under Lt. Tom D. Dietz, assigned to Seal Team Five, boarded their CRRCs and moved into the target area. The HSBs loitered to provide recovery or hot extract if needed. Within two hours, the SEALs in the area planted demolition charges and beacons to indicate an amphibious landing and ex-filtrated. They linked up with the CRRCs then transited to the recovering HSBs. The escort HSBs then moved in within 200 yards of the beach and conducted two firing runs on bunkers on the beach with .50 cal machine guns and Mk-19 and 7.62 Mini-guns, and threw satchel charges into the water during egress. The planted demolitions by the operators, exploded shortly after leaving the area, and air strikes were also called in. The raiders returned to base shortly before dawn.

Intelligence from Central Command indicated two Iraqi armored divisions were moved into Kuwait to stop the invasion that never was.

It must be said that the day-to-day long, hard hours of maintenance and operations on the boats made the missions seem glorious. It was the boat guys who worked through the night turning wrenches so they could go out and operate again. They are the unsung heroes.

The Naval Special Warfare forces returned home March 11, 1991 to a grateful nation.

nswg SBD91
SBU-12 Special Boat Detachment Desert Storm

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