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The Haditha Dam Seizure: Getting Ready – Move to Contact

Part 2

On March 29, Company B rejoined the rest of 3rd/75th Rangers at H1 Airfield, where they were told to immediately get ready to run a supporting operation while other CJSOTF-W units seized Objective Lynx. Assembling his company, which had been reinforced with a section of 120 mm mortars, Capt. David Doyle mounted his unit onto a mixed force of Ground Mobility Vehicles (GMVs – specially modified and heavily armed HMMWVs) and cargo HMMWVs for a short 35-km road march. Their objective was a small desert landing strip northeast of H1, which would be used as a remain-over-day (ROD) and refueling site. The force was loaded for a 48-  to 72-hour mission, which was as long as anyone thought that they would be away from H-1.

When they arrived at the ROD site around dawn on March 31, Doyle sent out reconnaissance teams while the rest of his Rangers rested and prepared their weapons, vehicles, and other gear. Then a change-of-mission order arrived for the young Ranger commander. As Capt. Doyle said later, “We infiltrated into the western desert with one plan, and then the circumstances changed during our movement. We received the Haditha Dam mission and had less than 12 hours to plan and get moving.”

The mission order, received digitally at 1400 hours, informed Doyle that his Company B would now assault the dam, and hold it until relieved. The order also had news that Company B was about to be reinforced. Because of the increased scope of the mission, Doyle was being sent the 3rd platoon from Company C, along with a pair of sniper teams and part of the 3rd Battalion staff.

This included a physician’s assistant, the battalion executive officer and command sergeant major (CSM), and an Air Force combat controller controller to help call down the vast array of air support that would be available to the Rangers. Wasting no time, Doyle took out his worn Ranger handbook, and on the hood of his GMV, he and his platoon commanders laid out a simple plan of attack, which they translated into a rough operations order by 1730.

Rangers in action during the first night of the battle. U.S. Army photo.controller to help call down the vast array of air support that would be available to the Rangers. Wasting no time, Doyle took out his worn Ranger handbook, and on the hood of his GMV, he and his platoon commanders laid out a simple plan of attack, which they translated into a rough operations order by 1730.

Noting from the intelligence materials supplied with the mission order that the Iraqi defenses were all facing downriver (southeast), Doyle decided his forces would arrive mounted from the west and rush the dam in a classic coup de main. 1st Platoon/Company B (1st/B) would take and hold the southwestern part of the dam, 2nd Platoon/Company B (2nd/B) would rush across the road atop the dam to take and hold the northwestern end, while 3rd Platoon/Company C (3rd/C) would move to clear “Objective Cobalt” at the bottom of the dam, along with the approaches to the town of Haditha. Cobalt comprised the power station control buildings and the transformer yard. The mission was expected to last about 24 hours, after which Doyle’s force would be relieved and return to H-1.

By 2245, the force was mounted and moving through the darkness the 53 km to their jump-off point, escorted by a pair of armed helicopters from the 160th SOAR. There also was a slight delay when one of the GMVs broke its gearbox mount, and was repaired by cannibalizing parts from three other vehicles. Nevertheless, just before daylight broke on April 1, Doyle’s task force arrived at the perimeter fence of the dam complex. Quickly breaching the obstacle, 1st Lt. Graham White and Sgt. Thomas Corley (pseudonym) leading 2nd/B led the convoy up onto the gravel road just 200 meters from their first objectives on the dam. Racing forward at nearly 60 kph, the convoy ran northeast along the 6-mile-long road across the top of the dam, and then the platoons began to split off to secure their objectives.

Coup de Main: The Dam Assault

A secondary explosion from Iraqi positions across the river during the initial firefight. This may be the propane tank going up. U.S. Army photo.

Splitting 2nd/B into two parts, White led one section into the dam’s administration building, while Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Duncan led the other across the causeway. Still fighting in darkness, the Rangers used their night-vision goggles to great advantage during the early stages of the assault. Maneuvering aggressively, Duncan’s GMVs captured a number of Iraqis, and assumed blocking positions on the southeastern end of the dam. Meanwhile, locating a door leading down into the administration building, White led his section into the structure and began to clear it room by room.

This turned out to be a real chore, as the administration building contained hundreds of rooms, closets, and storage cabinets along with numerous work areas. The job took hours, and gradually took a humorous tone. The problem was that the room-clearing teams quickly ran out of breaching charges, and had to rely on shotguns to blow locks and hinges until shells for those ran out. As one young Ranger later said, “with no charges or shotgun shells left, we turned to having a couple of guys throw a fully-loaded Ranger with body armor against the doors to knock them down. A couple of us got mighty sore doing it, but we eventually got the job done!” Along the way, the clearance teams found 25 civilian workers who were taken into custody. All told, it took over four hours to get the building cleared.

Back on top of the dam, Duncan’s section began to take rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire from the west side of the river. Setting up his sniper rifle, Staff Sgt. Ronnie Jones (pseudonym) engaged the enemy grenadiers at a range of about 990 meters. One of his first rounds went through one of the Iraqi soldiers and into a nearby propane tank, which exploded and killed the other two members of the RPG team.

Seeing that his force had the southern end of the dam secured, Doyle ordered Duncan to take his section and move across to the northeastern end of the dam. As they did, the section encountered a truck loaded with 14 armed Iraqis, which was engaged with .50-caliber machine gun fire. Five of the Iraqis were killed instantly, and an hour-long firefight then erupted. When it was over, Duncan and battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Alfred Birch proceeded to rescue three of the wounded Iraqis who had fallen down a steep hill while under fire. For their actions, both would receive the Silver Star.1

This is Part 2 of a three part series on the Haditha Dam Seizure. This story was first published in its entirety in The Year in Special Operations: 2006 Edition.

Part 1: The Target

Part 3: The Taking of Objective Cobalt

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...