The Battle of Nasiriyah was one of the first major battles of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Heavy fighting took place in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah between Iraqi forces and U.S. Marines over control of key bridges over the Euphrates River and the Saddam Canal.
The battle began early on March 23 when a supply convoy of the U.S. Army took a wrong turn into the city and was ambushed. 11 soldiers were killed and six soldiers, including Jessica Lynch were captured.
After rescuing a number of soldiers who managed to escape the ambush, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, under the call sign Task Force Tarawa, attacked north into the city, seizing two major bridges along "Ambush Alley". In heavy urban fighting, 18 Marines were killed including at least one Marine who was killed when A-10s mistakenly strafed a company of Marines north of the Saddam Canal.
On the night of March 24-25, the bulk of the Marines of Regimental Combat Team 1 passed through the city over the bridges and attacked north towards Baghdad. However fighting continued in the city until April 1 when Iraqi resistance in the city was finally defeated.The ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company was re-created at the beginning of the 2003 NBC made-for-TV movie Saving Jessica Lynch. The ongoing battle for Nasiriyah is the backdrop for the rest of the events of the film. The battle is also featured in the 2008 HBO miniseries Generation Kill, in episode 2, "The Cradle of Civilization."
In late March Task Force Tarawa, the ground force for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division on their left and the 1st Marine Division on their right, advanced on Nasiriyah. The main target of Task Force Tarawa was the three bridges over the Euphrates River. The western bridge on Highway 1 had already been captured by the 3rd Infantry Division, however the two eastern bridges were inside the city itself.
The original plan was for Task Force Tarawa to take & hold the two bridges inside the city, creating a corridor for the RCT1 to pass north through the city along Route 7.
Nasiriyah was the headquarters of the Iraqi Army's 3d Corps, composed of the 11th ID, 51st Mech ID, and 6th Armored Division—all at around 50 percent strength. The 51st operated south covering the oilfields, and the 6th was north near Al Amarah, which left three brigade-sized elements of the 11th ID to guard the An Nasiriyah area.
U.S Army 5-ton truck ambushed by an Iraqi Type 69 tank, 23 March 2003
U.S. Army convoy ambushed
At around 0600 on the morning of March 23, an 18-vehicle convoy of 31 soldiers of the United States Army's 507th Maintenance Company and two soldiers of the 3rd Forward Support Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division made a wrong turn along Highway 7 into the city. The convoy was led by Captain Troy King, a supply officer with no training as a combat officer. Iraqi pickup trucks armed with machine guns mounted in the beds began shadowing the convoy as it passed an Iraqi checkpoint near the Euphrates River. After passing the Al-Quds headquarters on the northern outskirts of the city, King realized that he was lost and the convoy began turning around to retrace its steps through the city.
At around 0700 the convoy began taking small arms fire and in the resulting ambush 11 soldiers were killed and a number of soldiers, including Private Jessica Lynch, became prisoners of war. At least 15 of the 18 American transport vehicles in the convoy, ranging from Humvees to Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTTs), were destroyed by small-arms fire, RPGs, mortar rounds, and tank gunfire. Some of them swerved out of the road or crashed while attempting to avoid incoming Iraqi fire. One truck was crushed by the traversing gun barrel of a Type 69-QM tank.
Iraqi Type-69 tank destroyed near Nasiriyah hospitalAt 0730, King's three surviving vehicles made contact with the tanks of Major Peeple's Alpha Company, 8th Tank Battalion on Highway 7, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of Nasiriyah. King informed Peeple of the ten beleaguered soldiers from the five disabled vehicles of the second element of the convoy (known in the official U.S. Army report as Group 2) which had also managed to escape the ambush and set up a defensive perimeter about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of city. Peeple sent his tanks forward to rescue the soldiers. In heavy fighting, several Iraqi platoon-sized units, two ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" anti-aircraft weapons and several mortar and artillery positions were destroyed by a combined force of M1 Abrams tanks, Cobra helicopter gunships and the artillery of 1st Battalion, 10th Marines.
The bloodiest day of the operations for the Marines was also March 23, when 18 men of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, were killed in heavy fighting with Iraqi forces around the Saddam Canal.
A friendly-fire incident occurred when two A-10s from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard strafed the Amphibious Assault Vehicles of Charlie Company by mistake, killing at least one Marine. The A-10 strike was cleared by the battalion's forward air controller, who was with Bravo Company, bogged down on the eastern outskirts of the city and did not have contact with Charlie Company and was unaware that Marines were so far north.
Two other Marines, from the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, Corporal Evans James and Sgt. Bradley S. Korthaus drowned while trying to cross the Saddam canal under fire the following day. A third Marine from the Marine Air Control Group 28 died from hostile fire.
RCT-1 pushes through Ambush Alley
The advance of Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1) through Nasiriyah was delayed by fighting there. On the evening of March 24, the LAVs of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (2nd LAR, commanded by Lt. Col. Eddie Ray) pushed north of the Saddam Canal, leading RCT-1 through Ambush Alley. With Apache Company in the lead, 2nd LAR attacked north on Highway 7, coming under fire from a heavily defended compound north of the city. Two anti-aircraft guns protected the approach to the compound. After coming under fire from LAVs, M1A1 tanks, Cobra gunships and artillery, Iraqi resistance subsided and at dusk, 2nd LAR established a perimeter 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) north of Nasiriyah. However, a huge sandstorm rolled in and a force of Iraqi reinforcements coming south from Kut took advantage of the worsening weather to attack the battalion from every direction. Using a combination of direct and indirect fire, as well as close air support, the battalion was able to defeat the Iraqi attack. The last attack was beaten off around dawn and a large number of Iraqi prisoners were taken. The battalion estimated that between 200 and 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed, while not one Marine was injured.
Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (the "Thundering Third", commanded by Lt. Col. Craparotta) held open Ambush Alley as the rest of RCT-1 passed through Nasiriyah on the night of 24-25 March.
Partly as a result of RCT-1's delay, Colonel Joe Dowdy was later relieved of command of RCT-1.
By March 27, most of the resistance in the city had been crushed and the focus of the battle shifted from full combat to cordon-and-search operations. Small groups of Fedayeen Saddam militia were hiding throughout the city and would launch attacks on Marine patrols with small arms and RPGs. These attacks were uncoordinated and the resulting firefights were lop-sided, with large numbers of militiamen killed.
During the morning of March 27, two recon Marines found a sunken M1 tank at the bottom of the river. The tank had been missing since the night of March 24-25. Navy Seabees spent two days retrieving the flooded tank and three Marines from the 1st Tank Battalion were found inside.
According to a captain in the Republican Guard, morale amongst Republican Guard units was bolstered by the resistance offered by the regular army's 45th brigade in the city.