The Battle of An Nasiriyah
by Richard S. Lowry
March 23rd was the first anniversary of Task Force Tarawa's bloody battle at An
Nasiriyah. One year later, it remains the costliest day of our struggle in
Iraq. As the sun began to rise on that clear Sunday morning, thirty-three
members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company unknowingly drove directly
through Iraqi prepared defenses in, and around, the ancient desert city of An
Nasiriyah. A series of misfortunes, poor decisions, and just plain – bad luck,
had led this convoy into the jaws of death.
There are not many of us that do not know the story of Jessica Lynch's ambush,
capture, and subsequent rescue. Most Americans were horrified at the news of
the ambush and the sight of young American soldiers being questioned by their
Iraqi captors. Jessica and her fellow prisoners were the lucky ones. Eleven
soldiers died in the ambush that morning, and eighteen Marines lost their lives
What is not generally known is that the Marines of Task Force Tarawa were
traveling on the heels of Captain King's beleaguered supply convoy. Brigadier
General Richard Natonski's Camp Lejeune Marines were moving to secure the
eastern bridges on the highway through An Nasiriyah. These bridges were vital
to the Marines' plans for the attack toward Baghdad. Colonel Ron Bailey's
Regimental Combat Team 2 (RCT-2) was methodically advancing north toward An
Nasiriyah on the same road that the 507th had traveled a few hours earlier when
they encountered some of the surviving members of the 507th who were fleeing
south from the ambush.
C211 Approaches Burning 507th Vehicles
Captain King pleaded with the Marines to save his soldiers. General Natonski
ordered his lead battalion commander, LtCol Rick Grabowski, to press forward
and find the remaining soldiers of the 507th. He said to Grabowski, "We have to
save those soldiers; they would do it for us."
Now LtCol Grabowski's Marines had two missions; secure the bridges and rescue
as many of the stranded soldiers as they could. He immediately ordered Major
Bill Peeples to move forward with his M1 tanks. TEAM TANK pressed forward and
soon they were receiving fire from both sides of the road.
Meanwhile, ten soldiers had abandoned their shot-up vehicles and raced for
cover in a trench along the side of the road. Running low on ammunition and
with five wounded, they resigned themselves to the fact that they would not
survive the day. They all resolved that they would go down fighting. They lay
in the trench for nearly an hour, waiting for the Iraqis to close in on their
position and their final stand against the enemy. Suddenly, Staff Sergeant
Tarik Jackson, cocked his head, "Listen!" he exclaimed.
"Do you hear that?"
"It sounds like our tanks!"
Someone peeked up out of the trench and saw Major Peeples Marine tanks
Burning 507th Vehicle
TEAM TANK moved in and straddled the trench. They began picking targets and
methodically destroying the enemy. COBRA helicopters swooped in and continued
the fight. Soon the wounded were being treated and these ten lucky soldiers
were being moved to safety.
The day was just beginning for LtCol Grabowski's 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.
They continued north into the city. Unfortunately, they only found burning
hulks of the remaining 507th vehicles. The occupants had all been removed. It
would be weeks before the fate of the remaining soldiers was known.
So, now Grabowski's Marines focused back on securing the bridges through An
Nasiriyah. After a short pause to refuel, Bravo Company led the battalion
across the Euphrates River Bridge and into the city. Captain Michael Brooks'
Alpha Company raced across the river next and set up defensive positions while
Bravo Company turned northeast to skirt the eastern edge of the city. Objective
1, the first bridge was secure. They had accomplished half of their mission.
Captain Dan Wittnam raced across the Euphrates River Bridge with his Charlie
Company, riding in eleven Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs or "tracks").
Charlie Company drove straight through the center of town, toward the second,
northern bridge. Enemy fire erupted all around them. Charlie Company plowed
forward through the ever-increasing enemy fire. Lance Corporal Edward
Castleberry was driving the lead vehicle –C201.
Castleberry kept his track moving forward. Several Iraqis ran to the middle of
the road stopped and began shooting RPGs at the vehicle. Two rockets whizzed
by, scraping the side of C201 as they passed. Other RPGs were duds and just
bounced off the armored vehicle. Castleberry watched in terror as another Iraqi
jumped into the road and leveled a RPG at his lead track. He rummaged around in
the driver compartment trying to keep the 28-ton vehicle driving down the road
while he struggled to bring his M-16 rifle up through the hatch. Unable to free
his rifle, he steered straight for the enemy soldier and accelerated, crushing
the threatening Iraqi under his treads before he could let loose his deadly
projectile. Finally, Castleberry managed to free his weapon. Now he was driving
forward and shooting his rifle at the same time. The track commander, Sergeant
William Schaefer, looked over and said to Castleberry, "What in the hell are
"It makes me feel better." Castleberry replied.
Charlie Company pushed forward through the city. The entire Company had nearly
traversed the four kilometer gauntlet when the second to last track, C211, was
hit in the right rear with an RPG. The warhead hit in the vehicle's "Achilles
Heel" just below the track. The explosion spewed shrapnel into the crowded
troop compartment, wounding five Marines. Sergeant Randy Glass was the closest
to the impact. A large chunk of metal almost completely severed his leg. Smoke
poured out of the troop compartment as the entire right rear of C211 continued
to burn. The crippled track continued forward and managed to get across the
northern bridge before it ground to a stop and more than twenty Marines
scrambled out, taking the wounded with them.
All of Charlie Company was now under heavy direct and indirect fire from all
sides. The Weapons Platoon leader set up his three mortars and began returning
fire. Lieutenant Ben Reid ordered one of his mortar teams to move south with
him and set up a position to fire back into the town. Just as they were setting
up, the team took a direct hit from an enemy artillery round. Lieutenant Reid
was thrown to the ground. "I thought my arm had been blown off" Reid said
later. Fortunately, it had only been broken. He turned and found his mortar
team decimated. Five Marines lay dead and another four were severely wounded.
Reid ran up the road for help but another artillery round knocked him to the
ground. As he lay face down in the Iraqi sand, all he could see was a mass of
blood pooling up in the dirt. The shell had peppered his face with shrapnel. He
got back on his feet and continued his run to the mortar track, C208. Reid went
directly to his Gunny Sergeant and asked him if his eye was still intact. The
Gunny looked at Reid's wound and replied, "You're good to go, sir."
Two Air Force A-10s appeared overhead looking for work. Because of the
confusion of the battle and many problems on the ground with communications,
the battalion forward air controller did not know that Charlie Company had
moved north of the Saddam Canal so he cleared the two Warthog pilots hot north
of the bridge.
The A-10s swooped in, not knowing that there were Marines in their target area.
They dropped eight 500lb bombs and made several strafing runs with their
high-powered 30mm gatling guns. They also fired three Maverick missiles. The
aircraft that the Iraqis had dubbed "whispering death" made pass after pass,
destroying many Iraqi emplacements, vehicles, and buildings.
Cas-evac north of Saddam Canal
Unfortunately, several Marine AMTRACS were hit by stray fire. One of the stray
30mm rounds hit and killed a Marine and other canon rounds wounded several
more. By the end of the day eighteen Marines had died fighting for the northern
bridge and another fifteen had been wounded, including Lieutenant Reid, who had
been knocked to the ground a third time with a gunshot wound to his shoulder.
At An Nasiriyah, the Marines of Task Force Tarawa had kicked open the door for
the First Marine Division to charge through to Baghdad. It would take the
Marines more than a week to subdue the Iraqi resistance inside Nasiriyah but
the Marines of RCT1 would start moving through "Ambush Alley" by the next
Copyright © 2004 Richard S. Lowry
Written by Richard S. Lowry. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Mr. Lowry by visiting
Richard S. Lowry, author of The Gulf War Chronicles ,
is currently finished on his next book, Marines in the Garden of Eden.
It will tell the complete story of Task Force Tarawa's week-long battle for An
Nasiriyah. It is scheduled for release on 6 June 2006.
*Note: British based, Osprey Publishing Ltd., has just commissioned Richard S.
Lowry to write the next book in its Warrior Series.
The books in Osprey's Warrior Series span military history, from Roman
Legionnaires and their contemporaries to the men who fought in Vietnam. Richard
will expand Osprey's offering to include U. S. Marines in Operation Iraqi
Freedom. "U.S. Marine in Iraq – 2003" will be available sometime in early 2006.
About the Author:
Richard S. Lowry is an
internationally recognized military historian and author. He proudly served in
the United States Nuclear Submarine Service during the Vietnam War. Richard has
lived in Central Florida for the last 22 years. He is married and a father of
three young men.
He is an entrepreneur, consultant, public speaker and eleventh-generation
American. Richard is a frequent contributor to several military websites such
as military.com and militaryhistory.com. He has been published in Military
Magazine and the Marine Corps Gazette. In June of 2004, Richard was awarded a
research grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation to support his
development of the next great U.S. Marine Corps saga.
Published online: 05/23/2004.