Strike from the Sea
The Royal Navy & U.S. Navy at War in the Middle East 1949-2003
By Iain Ballantyne
Pen & Sword Maritime Books
Published in the U.S. by U.S. Naval Institute Press
Reviewed by Capt. Edward Lundquist, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U. S. Navy (Ret.)
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Iain Ballantyne is my editor at WARSHIPS International Fleet Review magazine. I’ve written a number of articles for him. So when he sent me a copy of his book, Strike from the Sea – The Royal Navy & U.S. Navy at War in the Middle East 1949-2003, I was only too happy to read and share my thoughts with Sea Classics readers.
First of all, Ballantyne writes from experience, that being several embarks made aboard ships in the region during and after the recent operations there, between 1990 and 2001. During the 2003 Iraq War he spent four weeks locked into the ‘command bunker’ of his UK-based magazine eating, sleeping and breathing ‘Shock and Awe’. In the immediate aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom he held detailed discussions on front line operations with an SSN captain, naval helicopter pilots and surface warship COs.
He knows what he’s talking about. He also knows that what’s going on over in the Gulf Region is based on centuries of history, so starting his account with much background dating from World War II makes a lot of sense and put allied presence in the region in greater perspective.
Chapter one starts us off with the Suez Crisis as a preliminary event we need to comprehend before the later pieces of the puzzle can fall into place. In fact, many of the events in that part of the world are difficult to comprehend. Why during the Suez Crisis, the normally closely allied Royal Navy and U.S. Navy weren’t sure if they were on the same side. But the Sailors in both navies had to contend with the same long deployments in the scorching hot Middle East hot sun, gulping salt tablets. Ballantyne also share with us the stories of ships who spent significant time in the Gulf, like the British frigate Ashanti, or the U.S. Flagship USS Duxbury Bay.
This sets the scene for decades of naval presence in this hot but strategically important. Region.
Ballantyne gives us a very personal account of the events leading up to the first Gulf War, including the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Desert Shied build up and the Desert Storm military action that restored Kuwait and decimated the Iraqi forces, at least for a few years. We then see the enforcement of the No-Fly zones in northern and southern Iraq and move through the build-up to the 2003 war to remove Saddam, including also an account of the post September 11 War on Terrorism from the naval perspective.
These stories come from Ballantyne’s coverage in the region, and he shares the combat stories he received first hand from the warriors who were at the front line, along with the analysis and context to explain to us what was happening at the time. We hear the stories of British Commandos, the UK’s First Sea Lord, skippers of US and Royal Navy ships, and action reports filed by US Navy and US Marine Corps personnel as well as Pentagon news briefings and after-action studies. Work on a Royal Navy internal communications video on the Iraq War, as a scriptwriter, provided Ballantyne with exclusive access to yet more eye-witness material.
In the book he talks about RN and RAN ships providing fire support in the littoral waters of the northern Gulf. I asked him if the situation would have been different if the U.S. Navy had the new 5-inch 62 caliber gun which can fire the rocket-propelled guided Extended Range Munition (ERM), or the new Advanced Gun System (AGS) with the Long Range land Attack Projectile which will be found on the new Multimission DD(X) destroyer.
“They might well have made a difference to the US Navy as I understand from my sources that the USN was not prepared to risk its Arleigh Burke destroyers or Ticonderoga-class cruisers in the same shallow waters that the RN was happy to send the Type 23s and Type 22 into, alongside the Anzac from the RAN,” Ballantyne told me. “Sometimes, as it reveals in the book, the British frigates and Aussie frigate had around 6-ft under their keels in waters that were also mine-infested and where suicide boats were also discovered hidden for future use. As happened in 1991, it was the world-beating niche capabilities of the RN that perfectly teamed the awesome technological supremacy of the US Navy,” Ballantyne told me.
A perfect example of how the long-range capability of DD(X) – up to 100 miles with LRLAP, would have reached numerous targets without getting the firing ships in too close. I also thought about that environment, and how the navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship will be suited for operations in the shallow, dangerous littoral regions and allow the larger combats to stand off further from shore.
“There were also big contrasts between how the Royal Marines and US Marines tackled the challenges on the ground, again influenced by their access to technology, or lack of it,” said Ballantyne. “Not something the hardback edition really goes into, but if I get the chance to do an additional chapter for a paperback and a revised epilogue I will touch on such issues. The book is not a technical book – as you will know if you have looked at it – it deals with the human experience and geo-political aspects of the conflicts in the Middle East involving the two navies between 1949 and 2003. You will note that it also looks at broad questions of strategy and tactics, but I was keen give the people a chance to speak. The story is far from over, as you know.”
History repeats itself. And we learn through engaging. This book tells us both the history, and the stories of the engagements, all of which serve to prepare us for the next chapters in this troubled region of the world.
Edward Lundquist is a retired U.S. Navy captain and a naval analyst who has been published in numerous periodicals worldwide. He is the director of corporate communication for the Center for Security Strategies and operations, Anteon Corporation, Washington, D.C.