The Gulf War





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The Gulf War

"Gulf Patrol" by Rich Thislte
used with permission of the artist

Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, had fought an eight year war against Iran, which ended in 1988.  The Iraqi economy was devastated from the cost of the war, and had borrowed money to build their military from many of their Arab neighbours, including Kuwait.  When Kuwait refused to forgive Hussein's debt, he accused the small nation of ignorning his country's sacrifices, and also claimed they profited from the Iran-Iraq war.  He accused Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of producing more oil than their quotas allowed, leading to lower prices, which were costing Iraq more than one billion dollars per month.  Although the Kuwait ruling family attempted to offer some concessions to Iraq, they refused to forgive the war debt Hussein had incurred.  Iraqi tanks and troops were soon massed on the Kuwait border, and they quickly invaded on August 2, 1990, taking the world by surprise.

The United Nations Security Council approved a number of resolutions, authorizing a coalition of nations to take action, including military force, to push the Iraqi military out of Kuwait.  A rapid mobilization of troops would be needed, and a high casualty rate was expected. The United States took the lead in the ground war, with armoured and infantry forces pushing back Saddam Hussein's army in a rapid offensive.

Canadian military personnel went to war for the first time since the Korean conflict in 1950.  Troops deployed to the Gulf would serve in one of four  units operating in the area... The Canadian Task Group at Sea, the Canadian Air Task Group in Qatar, Joint Headquarters, and the First Canadian Field Hospital. By the time the conflict had ended in March, 1991, over 3,600 Canadian military personnel had served in the war. 

The first Canadian Forces personnel dispatched to the area were the navy.  Three ships, the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan, along with the supply ship HMCS Protecteur, were tasked with enforcing a United Nations trade embargo.  While Terra Nova and Athabaskan were both warships, Protecteur's task included re-supplying and re-fueling both the Canadian vessels, as well as ships of other coalition navies.  The two Canadian destroyers also provided escort for an American hospital ship, which had Canadian medical personnel on board. The Canadian contingent also included a number of modified Sea King helicopters, which were invaluable in locating and inspecting shipping in the Persian Gulf.  By war's end, nearly thirty percent of all United Nations shipping inspections were conducted by the Canadian Forces.

"Hornets Over The Gulf"
By Rich Thistle ©

The Canadian Air Force soon followed the navy to the Persian Gulf, deploying twenty-six CF-18 Hornet fighters to Qatar.  These "Persian Excursion" fighters flew over 5,700 hours in the war, only firing once on the enemy, when an AIM-7 missle was launched at an Iraqi patrol boat.  Working with the United States Navy's aircraft, Canadian planes also conducted patrols in the north and central Gulf, and assisted in protecting the coalition fleet from enemy attacks.  The Canadian Air Force also sent a number of invaluable ground crew to the bases in Qatar.  Known as the "Desert Cats", these men and women were responsible for the servicing and maintenance of the Hornets.

Along with the CF-18 Hornets, Canada's Air Transport Group provided a number of CC-130's and CC-137's, which carried personnel, supplies and equipment to bases in Qatar and Bahrain.  A CC-144 Challenger was also provided, which was used in a command-liason role for the Canadian Forces commander.

On the ground, the army's 1st Canadian Field Hospital, based out of Petawawa (Ontario), joined British forces in the Saudi Arabian desert.  More than five hundred personnel were attached to the hospital, which treated both British and Iraqi injured.  At one point, the Canadians were caring for nearly seven thousand Iraqi POW's from a nearby camp. One Canadian Navy nurse, stationed at the field hospital, described caring for wounded Iraqi's .

"People were infected with lice, parasites, communicable diseases, TB, hepatitis, and bowel diseases.  It was disgusting. And we operated on a lot of them," said Captain Louise Richard.

In addition to the diseases, the soldiers at the field hospital were under the stress of incoming SCUD missle attacks, bombings, alarms, and oil well fires.  One fire, which started at 11 in the morning, was described as turning the daylight to darkness, and raining oil on the troops.

By March, 1991, the war had ended in coalition victory.  The Iraqi army had been pushed out of Kuwait.  Although Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had been defeated, he remained in power for another twelve years.  During their retreat, the Iraqi's set fire to the Kuwait oil wells, causing billions of dollars in lost revenue, damage, and firefighting costs.  The oil well fires also caused a great deal of environmental damage, and illness among the coalition troops.

At the ceasation of hostilities, Canada assumed a peace keeping role along the Iraqi-Kuwait border, monitoring the de-militarized zone.  Canadian field engineers, operating in a buffer zone between the two nations, assisted in construction and mine clearing operations.  Several naval vessels also remained in the area, patrolling the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, enforcing sanctions imposed on Iraq.

Fortunately, the Canadian military suffered no casualites during the conflict, with all troops returning home safely.  In recent years, however, a number of Canadian Gulf War veterans have claimed illness caused by exposure to chemicals and toxins while serving in Iraq. 

Further Reading:

Milberry, Larry, "AIRCOM.  Canada's Air Force", CANAV books, 1991.



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