It was February of 1991, and six weeks of brutal aerial bombardment were still no match for Saddam Hussein’s hubris. His continued refusal to evacuate Kuwait had triggered a coalition ground invasion along a 350-mile front that ran northwest to southeast from the marshes of Hawr al-Hammar to the Persian Gulf. In the east, two divisions of U.S. Marines supported — without much drama — a largely Muslim and Arab army in the liberation of everything south of Kuwait City. In the west, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps ambled unimpeded through the Euphrates Valley.
The relatively untroubled flanks of the advance helped etch into our collective memories that the invasion was a cakewalk. But in the middle was VII Corps, under the peg-legged visionary Lieutenant General Frederick M. Franks, who was tasked with the utter destruction of the Republican Guard. VII Corps’s order of battle constituted the most powerful mechanized force of its kind ever fielded. During the Cold War, VII Corps was tasked with holding the ground between Frankfurt and the Czechoslovak border against a Warsaw Pact invasion. The repurposed VII Corps was home to the distilled essence of America’s heavy-maneuver formations. A normal corps featured three divisions and supporting units. VII Corps had five heavily mechanized and armored divisions as well as the scouting force of the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) — a tip-of-the-spear outfit composed of tanks and fighting vehicles that could match any full division in speed and lethality.