March 10, 2007
Arma Virumque Cano: "Of arms and the man, I sing,"By John B. Dwyer
"Of arms and the man, I sing," wrote Virgil in the Aeneid. In TAKEDOWN, retired Army infantry officer Jim Lacey, who was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom, has written an overdue account of the martial accomplishments of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), which led the V Corps drive to Baghdad that liberated Iraq four years ago this month.
In the last chapter, "Reflections" Lacey asks,
Why did they succeed? Because, Lacey tells us, "the division simply outfought the Iraqis."
This despite the fact that the enemy fielded more men, more tanks, more artillery than the 3rd ID. And that "probably fewer than one in fifty soldiers had ever seen combat before." The key factor, as always, was leadership. "Without exception, every officer and sergeant rose to the occasion." They had to, because on the way to Baghdad, the strategic center of gravity, they were called upon to adapt to the unforeseen, defeat fanatical, suicidal fedayeen fighters, regular Republican Guard forces and commando units, cross bridges rigged for demolition, and fight through an apocalyptic sandstorm.
The 3rd Infantry Division, organized for service in World War One, carries the proud motto "Rock of the Marne" for its valiant stand at that strategically vital river in July 1918. America's most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy, served with the division's 15th Infantry Regiment during World War Two.
After reading TAKEDOWN, you will have no doubts that the infantrymen, tank crews, artillerymen, engineers and various support units of the 3rd ID proved themselves the equals of their heroic forebears. To emphasize this fact, the author describes the valorous actions of Staff Sgt. Dillard Johnson. In the Introduction we read how this Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander was ordered to take a bridge outside As Samawah.
Accompanied by an M1 tank, he proceeded to do so, but soon became embroiled in a firefight with several hundred enemy. There is not sufficient space in this review to do justice to the 4-page account, so here is a brief excerpt:
Lacey does not tell us what award Johnson received, but I would hope it was the Silver Star.
Every military campaign has a plan. In its finals stages, the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom called for the 3rd ID to maneuver between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, "a canal laden, inhospitable route." As the author makes clear, it was only because 3rd ID commander, Maj. Gen . Buford Blunt pressed his boss, V Corps commander Lt. Gen. William Wallace, that this route was changed to a more tank friendly one west of the rivers.
LTG Wallace is given great credit for agreeing to what was, in fact, the better plan, the route to victory. High level decisions are always made by the generals, but in Jim Lacey's view, the campaign fought by the 3rd ID was "a colonel's war" with the hour by hour, day to day decisions being made by the officers in charge of the division's three maneuver brigades and the lieutenant colonels commanding their component task forces. Lacey identifies these officers and provides an appraisal of each one by an anonymous individual who knew them.
His effort could have been improved by ensuring that each appraisal was of equal length so as not to imply favoritism. To illustrate the importance of these officers, let's take a look at Lt. Col. Ernest P. "Rock" Marcone (Lacey misspells his first name in the book) and the accomplishments of his 1800-man Task Force 3/69th Armor, which consisted of A and C Companies, 3/69th Armor, B Company, 2/7th Infantry, B Company, 3/7th Infantry, and A Company, 11th Engineer Battalion. From April 1 to 4, TF 3/69th Armor had the direct support of 1/41st Field Artillery and two companies of AH-64 Attack Helicopters.
In an e-mail to this reviewer, LTC Marcone stated:
In the end, it was all the 3rd ID units that combined into an unbeatable force. The 21st century Rock of the Marne soldiers faced and overcame all challenges, displaying exemplary fortitude, perseverance and heroism. It will be recalled that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith of the 3rd ID's B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion earned a posthumous Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty on April 4, 2003 near Baghdad International Airport.
To give readers both sides of the story, the author cites the recorded thoughts of several Iraqi officers, including Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdami, who commanded the Republican Guards deployed south of Baghdad. In Ch. 17 Lacey examines the regime's war plans, noting that
Saddam and his senior commanders were convinced "of the inherent fighting superiority of the average Iraqi over the Americans." Saddam was influenced by the movie "Blackhawk Down" and gave copies to all his commanders. He believed that the Somalia scenario "could be replicated on a massive scale in every city in southern Iraq" which would cause Americans to cease hostilities.
In Ch. 4, the author describes the organization and mission of what proved to be the most tenacious of all the forces engaged by 3rd ID units - the fanatical, suicidal fedayeen Saddam. We learn why they kept charging tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, whose crews kept mowing them down: If any unit commander, from section up to regiment, was defeated, he would be executed. The same held true for the individual fighters.
In his book, Jim Lacey augments the narrative with first-hand accounts by some of the warriors who fought their way to Baghdad. This is an effective technique that can often make for compelling reading, but the author at times overuses these accounts and undermines their impact.
Overall, the author does a good job of presenting the voluminous material he had at his disposal, of relating the actions of each unit and its progress towards Baghdad, from Talil to Samawah, through the perilous escarpment, then on to Najaf and the Karbala Gap, with its chemical weapons threat, across the key bridge at Objective Peach, ever forward to Baghdad International Airport and the capital city, where 1/64th Armor's second thunder run led to the regime's collapse.
In this reviewer's opinion Lacey should have striven for a more balanced presentation, giving each brigade and unit more or less equal attention. He fails to achieve this in TAKEDOWN. Then there's the matter of utilizing available information. Discussing the situation facing Col. Grimsley's 1st Brigade, specifically LTC Marcone's TF 3/69th Armor, at the sheer cliff face of the escarpment in Ch. 8, Lacey does not tell the reader that the two officers, while at the National Training Center in the fall of 2002, anticipated this challenging mission and prepared for one just like it. This information can be found in On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom
Lastly, this book would have been improved with a good map of Iraq, an organizational chart of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), a description of the specifications of the M1 Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and a glossary, defining such terms as "coax" - the turret-mounted M240 7.62 m.m. machine gun to the right of the main gun.
My criticisms notwithstanding, I recommend TAKEDOWN, especially now, when support for the war in Iraq, central battlefield in the war against Islamofascism, has ebbed, and when Congress is passing cynical anti-war resolutions. Americans need the bracing context and perspective this book provides, to be reminded that Iraq was liberated only four years ago this month, that the service and sacrifice of the warriors of the 3rd Infantry Division and all those who followed, must not be rendered null and void by cowardly, defeatist and dangerous mindsets and actions.
John B. Dwyer is a military historian.