The Battle of Nassiryah Bridges: The First Offensive of the Italian Army Since World War II

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

The April 6 of the 2004 the Italian contingent in Iraq - in the framework of the operation Ancient Babylon started the previous year - tackles and defeats militia members of the movement Sadrist, in what is the biggest clash of fire supported by Italian military departments since the end of World War II.

In the framework of the Al-Sadr offensive - leader of the Sadrist movement - against the bases of Western contingents in Iraq, Nassiryah represents a relatively soft, the militiamen are aware of the shortage of heavy vehicles of the Italians and the caveat imposed in the rules of engagement. Moreover, Al-Sadr believes that a military victory in that city - mainly Shi'ite - could be a springboard for a political affirmation.

The plan of the militia is very simple, once the reinforcements from outside the city had flowed, they would have taken control of the three bridges over the Euphrates, as well as that of the state highway in the eastern outskirts of Nassiryha. This has a small historical center characterized by very narrow roads, while the rest of the city consists of low buildings and houses, with streets and avenues quite wide.

The 3 April began to flood armed groups in the city, and was also coming to an end on a major Shiite holiday with pilgrimages to Garbala and other sacred places of millions of Islamic faiths, including Iranian Shiites. It is worth mentioning the burning propaganda of the armed struggle by these groups, waving fantastic victories on Italian soldiers.

In the city there are three carriageable bridges that cross the Euphrates. The called bridge Alpha - the westernmost of the three - is positioned between the bases Libeccio e Mistral, the first is occupied by the Iraqi military with a rate of carabinieri who deal with the training, while the second was abandoned following the attack of the 12 November 2003.

The bridge Bravo is located in the center, near a large water tank, the bridge Charlie, the largest of the three, is located in the eastern suburbs of the city. The militiamen take control of them by defending defensive stations with RPG-7D machine guns and rocket launchers.

Given the increasingly unsustainable situation, the April 5, the carabinieri decide to evacuate the base Libeccio. They are replaced by a team of shooters chosen under the 11 ° Bersaglieri regiment of the brigade Ram, which provides important information to the Italian Command about the number and displacement of the militia Sadrists.

The tactical framework sees all three Nassiryah bridges occupied by the militias; the Italian contingent does not yet announce any initiative, as one wants to avoid a clash. Once the negotiations have run out, the Italian Command is forced to intervene forcefully, as it is not tolerable that armed militias control the main accesses of the city, effectively isolating the seat of the provisional administration (CPA).

From the testimony of General Luigi Scollo, then commander of the XNXX ° Bersaglieri Regiment and in charge of leading the operation for the reconquest of bridges:

From the beginning, we decided to exclude the use of helicopters (in the theater are HH3F aircraft of AVI AMI, AB412 and CH47c) for the transport of personnel in the area of ​​operations. In the previous few weeks, we had seized large quantities of S-SAI-7 Strela inflatable Soviet firefighters missiles: the threat of possible bumps and the high noise of such aircraft were unacceptable.

The attack forces of the Italian contingent:

  • Two companies of the 11 ° rabbit regiment

  • A company of the 132 ° carri regiment Ram (free of wagons Ram and used as infantry)

  • A squadron of the 3 ° regiment Savoy Cavalry (Equipped with Heavy Blind B1 Centaur)

  • A company of riflemen of the amphibious regiment Saint Mark.

Of course, there are also special forces rates (two detachments of Col Moschin and one of the GOIs) which play an important role in reconnaissance of the targets (an important factor for the success of the operation is to determine whether the bridges have been loaded explosive).

One of the main advantages of the Italian military compared to the militia consists of the good equipment of night vision equipment - even if the number is still less than necessary - as well as the use of protected means.

General Neckline: a Bersaglieri company was equipped with VCC1 troop carrier vehicles with spaced protections (able to counteract the piercing effect of the hollow charges), while the other was on unprotected VM90T 4xXUMUMX.

Also available are some M113 equipped with the BGM-71 TOW trackwheel system and some M-106 with smooth rods from 120 mm.

It is also true that Italian militants have been able to conduct a very realistic combat training program in the previous months, taking advantage of a large training area just outside of Nassiryha, which is unrealistic in Italy due to the scarcity of areas and the numerous restrictions imposed the use of heavy weapons.

Given the abundance of counter-rocket launchers among the militia, it tries to remedy the poor protection provided by the VCC1 - the vehicles supplied by the San Marco Rifles have no additional protections - through the use of sandbags on the roof (so as to be repaired even when shooting from the sky of the transport compartment using the upper opening) and on the sides a wire mesh frame, whose holes are filled with additional sandbags.

The heavy B1 blinds Centaur (a means of high mobility on the road and off-road, capable of fighting small armored units.) The blind is armed with a 105 / 52 mm cannon with 40 equipped with blows, of which 14 is ready for use in turret The shooting system allows both day and night use.The vehicle, a 8x8 with six steering wheels, has a combat weight of 24 tons, an overall length of 8,55 meters, a width of 3,05 meters and a height of 2,71 meters to the sky of the turret.The engine is a FIAT MTCA from 520 hp, which ensures a road speed of over 100 km / h and a range of 800 km) are deployed only in support function, avoiding to enter them in the narrow streets of the city center, as the not sufficiently thick armor would be a serious handicap in an urban combat.

On the opposite side there are some hundreds of Shiite militias loyal to extremist Al-Sadr leader, with large quantities of weapons and fanaticism, ready to use civilians as shields.

The Italian attack begins at the 3.30 local 6 April, three columns move from the Italian base of White Horse, trying to make the most of the advantage offered by the darkness, as our soldiers have night vision systems. The goal is the three bridges on the Euphrates, near which, towards the 4.00 hours, the Italian soldiers are greeted by a large barrage of fire by the militia, among other things quite inaccurate (but no less lethal ).

The bridge Alpha is the first to be invaded by the Italian attack, exploiting the fact that the shooters chosen, laid to the base Libeccio, provide a precise and effective support fire. For the duration of the fight i sniper (belonging to several contingent departments) hit enemies with high precision without causing damage to the civilian population.

Once the bridge is occupied, the column proceeds in the direction of the CPA, a few hundred meters further, while the militiamen begin to retreat to the center of the city, characterized by very narrow roads and therefore ideal for ambush. For this reason, as well as to avoid as far as possible the involvement of the civilian population in the battle, Italian militants give up pursuit.

To defend the bridge Bravo (the central one) the militians erected a barricade.

General Neckline: our column was opened by a wagon of the ARV leopard genius, equipped with dozer blade, a fairly protected means (about 40 t of weight).

To this end, fighting between Italian soldiers and militias, is lit up very intense, some rockets are also used Panzerfaust 3 and guided wire missiles Milan to silence the machine guns positioned by the Sadrists on the bridge. In this phase of the clash the losses between the ranks of the militiamen are quite substantial, despite the renunciation of the use of heavy mortars (120 mm smooth-bore pieces) in order not to run the risk of striking innocent people.

The bridge crossing maneuver is successful and the square on the other side is checked.

The third bridge, the Charlie, is the goal of the rifle company of the Saint Mark, in this case supported by some blind B1 Centaur. The militiamen are stationed at the sides of the bridge's access ramp and in an adjacent palm grove, near some T-55 wrecks.

Combat is very violent and the first defenses, those on the south side, are effectively eliminated. A team of riflemen on board VM90T is pushing the bridge, but militants are starting to let civilians out to use them as human shields.

General Neckline: after careful evaluation with General Chiarini, commander of the Italian contingent in Iraq, made the decision to suspend the attack, to do not jeopardize the lives of civilians.

Around 7.00 hours the Italian soldiers have firmly taken control of two bridges and control a bank of the third (the third objective was not completely achieved only because of the use by the militiamen of civilians as human shields).

Italian losses, despite the enormous amount of fire developed by the militiamen, are quite contained (14 wounded in all), while the adversaries are very high.

After 10.00 there is a noticeable decrease in enemy activity, which allows for agreement between the parties, according to which the local police would patrol the north bank of the Euphrates and the Italian military would remain on the south.

After the battle - with positive results for Italian weapons - it is necessary to make some considerations.

Despite the considerable volume of fire by the militia, Italian losses were low. Several PG-7 rockets hit the unprotected VCC1, but - unlike what happened in Mogadishu the 2 July 1993 - the extra spaced protection did their job well and there were no losses in the vehicles.

Unfortunately, the number of troop transport was not enough, so part of the military had to go into combat aboard the VM90T (photo), 4x4 unprotected vehicles, in fact most of the injured were registered on these means.

However, despite the shortcomings in the means, the Italian military had a flawless behavior - both from the point of view of the command action and the training - selecting the objectives in order to provide an exact picture of the situation and causing several victims among the row of militiamen Sadrists.

It is also true that the absence of tanks (i Ram of the 132 ° wagon regiment remained in Italy) has subjected staff to very high risks. In fact, in recent years there has been a sort of return to the origins, when the armored vehicles were used in support of the infantry and in a completely dependent on the function exercised by the latter in action. A limited number of wagons too Ram, thanks to their firepower, it could have supported the Italian military in attacking the bridges, allowing the achievement of objectives more quickly and safely.

(images: YouTube / web / Nicoleon frames)