Gamble in the Desert: The First 30 Days of Operation Desert Storm Part III 18 August-25 August


*Author’s note- When I started this blog in 2012 my first two entries were the Gamble in the Desert series. The series was pushed off to the side and forgotten as other topics came to the forefront. So, in the spirit of finishing series that have been left incomplete I am continuing Gamble in the Desert. For reference I will post links to the first two entries at the end of this one*

The invasion of Kuwait presented the United States with the immediate need for a sizeable force to be deployed to the Arabian Peninsula immediately. When Operation Desert Shield commenced there was no up to date template, scenario or OPLAN for unit commanders and their staffs to draw from. Plans for the deployment and employment of initial units were put together or improvised on the fly, in many cases while those very units were in the air and on their way to Saudi Arabia. With this in mind, it needs to be noted that the opening phase of Desert Shield was not a ‘no plan’ contingency. The beginnings of the ‘big picture’ plan were available, as well as several older contingency plans. This helped, however, it was far less than planners were accustomed to working with in an exercise, let alone a real world crisis.

This situation was not limited solely to the first Army and USAF units to deploy. All of the services were facing the same predicament. The end result was a series of unique problems which required unique, improvised solutions in the shortest amount of time possible. It was not orderly or by the book, however, the job was getting done.

The US Air Force was essentially caught between two chairs as August progressed. Along with its primary role of deploying combat aircraft to the region, the Air Force was also responsible for providing the airlift capability to move the first wave of airborne and airmobile Army troops and their equipment to Saudi Arabia. By C+11 (August 18, 1990) 95 percent of the operable C-5 Galaxies, and 90 percent of the operable C-141 Starlifters were flying the air bridge between CONUS and Saudi Arabia. This effort was augmented by civilian airliners that were part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. On C+10 stage one of the CRAF program was initiated.

In mid-August, after a large portion of the 82nd Airborne Division had arrived, the focus of airlift priorities was shifted.  C3I (Command, Control Communications & Intelligence) systems and other types of assets were needed to support the fighter and bomber force gathering in the Middle East. At this point, airpower was providing the bulk of the combat power in Saudi Arabia and needed to be supported properly. While this was happening, the flow of combat aircraft into the theater dropped off to a more moderate pace from C+11 until C+16 but would pick up again later in the month.

For CENTCOM, its needs evolved as time went on. In August of 1990 tits deployment plans maximized the flow of combat units. The first ground units to move were the 82nd Airborne and the air-transportable Marine Expeditionary Brigades which linked up with prepositioned equipment in Saudi Arabia. Next on the list were the 101st Airborne Division and 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized).  The 24th was a heavy maneuver unit that carried a lot of tanks and armored fighting vehicles. The bulk of its equipment needed to be transported by sea. The 101st, though an airborne division in name, was in reality an air mobile division. It’s primary method of troop transportation was the helicopter. The majority of the division’s helicopters would be moved by sea as well.

The embarkation ports for the 24th Mech and 101st were Savannah and Jacksonville respectively. Two fast sealift ships, the USNS Altair and USNS Capella had arrived at Savannah on C+5 and began loading equipment immediately. Capella was loaded within forty-eight hours and departed on C+7 bound for Saudi Arabia. The first ship carrying the 101st Airborne’s equipment left Jacksonville on C+12. During the five-day period in between and thereafter these dates, transport ships converged on southeastern US port cities to take on equipment. Shipping was not as readily available as aircraft though. The ready reserve ships expected to be available by C+11 were delayed by a week and there were mechanical problems with other vessels. It was a two-week journey by sea from the US to Saudi Arabia and in the case of some ships the amount of time was lengthened by these issues.

On C+15 President George H.W. Bush authorized the first call up of Reserve Component personnel for active duty. This first activation of reservist was mostly for support units to aid in logistical operations underway in the US and Saudi Arabia. 48,000 reservists made up the initial activation but that number would increase steadily as time went on.

A flurry of diplomatic activity was going on during this time period too. The United States was rapidly building a diverse coalition of nations opposed to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Pledges of military assistance were coming from traditional allies such as Great Britain and France, as well as from Arab nations like Egypt and even Syria. The danger of Saddam Hussein gaining control of Saudi Arabia was apparent to nearly every nation in the world and those that could provide assistance in one form or another did just that. The United Nations was not idle or playing a secondary role either. On C+18 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 665 authorizing a naval blockade to enforce the embargo against Iraq. The world was uniting against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, with the exception of a handful of nations. The invasion of Kuwait, the detention of foreigners, and the prospect of Iraq controlling a large portion of the world’s oil had galvanized the world community to action. Decisively, the tide was turning against Iraq on the diplomatic front.

But if the Iraqi army came south into Saudi Arabia, diplomacy and UN resolutions could not stop them. All that stood between Iraq and regional hegemony was the buildup of US military power in the Saudi desert and if had hostilities kicked off between 18 and 25 August the end result would still have been very much in doubt.

Part One

Part Two

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 120-140


This is it. The list of scenarios from the movie Wargames has been laid out and analyzed. It took nearly three years and as far as side projects go, this one was a lot of fun. All good things must come to an end, however, and here we are. The final twenty nuclear war scenarios from Wargames.

  • ALASKAN DISCRETIONARY– A low profile operation by the Soviets to disrupt the Alaskan pipeline or possibly disable US early warning radars in preparation for a first strike. As Alaska is US territory, this would be a direct attack upon the United States and the possibility of escalation is very high.


  • CANADIAN THRUST– A Soviet military move into Canadian territory. With East Bloc forces on North American soil the situation would become volatile very fast.


  • ARABIAN LIGHT– A regional conflict spills over and provides the spark for a global conflict. The Iran-Iraq War certainly had the potential to serve as a catalyst.


  • AFRICAN DOMESTIC– Apartheid was ugly. The South African government was a pariah and the ANC was backed indirectly by the Soviet Union. If Apartheid had exploded, the superpowers would have been drawn in. While the US had no love for the South African government, it could not allow the Soviets to gain total control of resource-rich South Africa.


  • TUNISIAN INCIDENT– Libya and Tunisia clash in an isolated action on land or at sea and it escalates.


  • MALAYSIAN MANEUVER– China begins making political and military moves to gain control of Malaysia.


  • JAMAICA DECOY– Cuba instigates an action in Jamaica to divert attention away from Soviet action elsewhere. The US responds with a Grenada-like operation and it’s all downhill from there.


  • MALAYSIAN MINIMAL– Communist insurgency rekindles in Malaysia


  • RUSSIAN SOVEREIGNTY– This could refer to an invasion of Russia by the PRC. Possible during the time period. It’s the only realistic possibility.


  • CHAD OPTION– In the late 70s and early 80s, the Libyan-Chad conflict raged. French involvement increased the potential of a wider clash between the US and Soviet Union.


  • BANGLADESH WAR– Bangladesh’s leader moved away from his country’s strong ties with India and the Soviet Union in the early 80s in favor of a strong relationship with the West. It could have sparked war with India.



  • BURMESE CONTAINMENT– Again, Burma’s inclusion on this list mystifies me.


  • ASIAN THEATERWIDE– Asia explodes. Korea, PRC-USSR, US-USSR, PRC-USA….choose your poison.


  • BULGARIAN CLANDESTINE-NATO or independent Turkish covert actions against Bulgaria, a Warsaw Pact member at the time.



  • GREENLAND INCURSION– Soviet assault to seize and destroy US military assets in Greenland. Considering that Thule AB and the BMEWS radar site are located there, escalation would’ve been assured in this scenario.


  • EGYPT SURGICAL– Libyan surgical strike against an Egyptian target. Political or economic.


  • CZECH HEAVY– Confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Southern Germany and Czechoslovakia. NATO incursion perhaps.


  • TAIWAN CONFRONTATION– The PRC launches an offensive to reclaim the ‘lost province.’


  • GREENLAND MAXIMUM– Greenland Incursion times 5.


  • UGANDA OFFENSIVE– The Ugandans go on the offensive and occupy Congo.


  • CASPIAN DEFENSE– A NATO offensive on its southern flank, or alternatively, perhaps an Iranian offensive into the southern Soviet Union.


Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 100-119


We’re getting towards the end of the list unfortunately. After this, only one set remains.

  • LIBYAN ACTION– Think Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. In 1981, US Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan fighters during a period of heightened tension. In 1986, US and Libyan air and naval forces mixed it up and later, USAF and US Navy aircraft bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1989, Navy F-14s shot down Libyan fighters again. Any of these incidents could’ve spilled over into a much larger conflict.


  • PALESTINIAN TACTICAL– What if the First Intifada had gone beyond protests and riots? What if Syria had contributed equipment, weapons and advisors to the PLO and the uprising took the form of a more organized and deadly offensive against Israel?


  • NATO ALTERNATE– Confusing title. A Soviet move against NATO using an alternative to its war plans or vice versa?



  • CYPRUS MANEUVER– Cyprus was a bastion of instability from the 1974 coup onward into the 80s. If either Greece or Turkey had moved unilaterally to take over the island there it could have escalated quickly and gone in a direction that nobody had thought possible.


  • EGYPT MISDIRECTION– An Egyptian move against Libya goes awry and brings in Soviet assistance for its Libyan allies.


  • BANGLADESH THRUST– In the late 1970s, when this list was originally put together (years before the movie) Bangladesh was in a period of political disarray. Ziaur Rahman came to power in 1979 and was a popular president. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that Rahman, had he not been assassinated in 1981, could have prepared and executed an offensive against one of the nation’s South Asian neighbors.


  • KENYA DEFENSE– Kenya finds itself under attack by an external or internal enemy.


  • BANGLADESH CONTAINMENT– Unlike the Bangladesh scenario previous, this one revolves around containing an aggressive and outward looking Bangladesh.


  • VIETNAMESE STRIKE– Vietnam moves against one of its neighbors.


  • ALBANIAN CONTAINMENT– This one is a bit hard to swallow; Hoxa and Albania’s aspirations needing to be checked.
  • GABON SURPRISE– Omar Bongo was unpredictable and deadly. He could have taken Gabon over the edge at any time.


  • IRAQ SOVEREIGNTY– An internal uprising (Iranian backed?) against the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein.


  • VIETNAMESE SUDDEN– Similar to STRIKE, only faster


  • LEBANON INTERDICTION– This one actually became reality. Think Lebanon 1982-834


  • TAIWAN DOMESTIC- Chinese backed opposition groups sew political chaos on Taiwan


  • ALGERIAN SOVEREIGNTY– Social unrest was common in Algeria from the late 70s through the 80s. Libya or another outside nation-state player might have tried to turn the situation to its favor and chip away at Algeria’s status as a sovereign nation.


  • ARABIAN STRIKE– A Soviet move into the Arabian Peninsula to seize the Saudi oil fields.


  • ATLANTIC SUDDEN– The Soviets begin a war against NATO with a major, sudden effort to close the Atlantic.


  • MONGOLIAN THRUST– Either Mongolia moving against China or the Soviet Union, or perhaps a Sino-Soviet encounter within the borders of Mongolia.


  • POLISH DECOY– A Soviet gambit to take attention away from another region where it will be making moves in the near future.


Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 60-79



I forgot how much I enjoy posting these scenario lists. Apologies for there being such a large gap in time between lists.


  • Danish Paramilitary– The Danes sponsoring and training paramilitary groups in the East Bloc to carry out raids and strikes against Soviet targets.


  • SEATO Takeover– Worst case result of the domino theory following Vietnam


  • Hawaiian Escalation– Pearl Harbor II? A Soviet or Chinese attack on the US naval base leads to quick escalation.


  • Iranian Maneuver– Back during the Cold War this scenario could’ve referred to a Soviet move against Iran to secure oil fields and/or a warm water port.


  • NATO Containment– The Soviet Union moves to limit NATO power and expansion


  • Swiss Incident– Swiss neutrality is breached in some form and it escalates


  • Cuban Minimal– A situation similar to Operation Urgent Fury leads to the Caribbean exploding.


  • Chad Alert– Back in the 80s Libya and Chad were involved in a conflict that led to French intervention three times. If the Soviets had decided to back their Libyan ally, the situation could have escalated significantly.


  • Iceland Escalation– A Soviet military move to neutralize Iceland would have assured a clash between the superpowers.


  • Vietnamese Retaliation– In the late 70s, China and Vietnam were not the best of friends. In fact, China even invaded Vietnam in 1979. There was a lot of animosity between the two former allies.


  • Syrian Provocation– Bekka Valley, Lebanon, terrorism….choose your poison.


  • Libyan Local– A clash between Libya and Egypt or another neighboring state draws in the Superpowers.


  • Gabon takeover– Omar Bongo would never have gone quietly into the night. It would’ve gotten ugly quick.


  • Romanian War– Nicolae Ceaușescu was something of an East Bloc maverick. If he had stepped out of line, the Soviets may have come down hard on him. A Western response might have enflamed the entire continent.


  • Middle East Offensive– Soviet thrust to capture Saudi Arabia or Iran.


  • Denmark Massive– Whoever controls Denmark controls the Baltic Sea. The Soviets had their eye on Jutland for much of the Cold War and any move against Western Europe would have begun with a large operation against Denmark.


  • Chile Confrontation– Chile and Argentina clash.


  • South African Subversion– Think back to the 80s. Apartheid was still enforced in South Africa, Pretoria had nuclear devices, and the Border War was underway. It could’ve ended very badly.


  • USSR Alert– The Soviet Union prepares for military operations on a global scale. Their conventional and strategic forces go on alert. The US responds in kind………


  • Nicaraguan Thrust– Ronald Reagan’s worst nightmare. Nicaragua, backed by war materials from Russia and possibly manpower from Cuba, takes to the offensive in Central America.