Remembering Iraq Invasion 10 years on: Storming the burning battlefields
TEN years ago the first US missiles roared overhead towards Iraq.
Thousands of Plymouth service personnel had spent the previous two months waiting patiently on ship or in Kuwait for word to go in or go home.
In the early hours of March 20, 2003, the war began.
Hundreds of commandos swept across the border and launched air and seaborne assaults to secure gas and oil fields and vital positions in southern Iraq.
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Reports in The Herald at the time said the main assault saw heroic city troops standing on bows of high-speed landing craft to pluck mines out of the water with grappling hooks.
Artillery fire from gunners of Citadel-based 29 Commando Royal Artillery thundered through the air, paving the way for the marines to descend on their targets.
Flames hundreds of feet high from burning oil wells shot into the night sky, thickening the air with smoke.
And some distance away, far beneath the waves, Plymouth submariners fired the Royal Navy's first shots in the war, Tomahawk cruise missiles striking command centres in the heart of Baghdad.
Retaliation attacks from Iraq came almost immediately when two Scud missiles struck the border area with northern Kuwait, where thousands of American and British troops were poised to strike against Saddam Hussein's regime.
There were reports at least one more was intercepted by defence systems.
The threat of gas was ever present right from the start of the war.
On the same day troops and journalists at Camp Coyote – home to Plymouth units 42 Commando and 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery – scrambled to put on their gas masks and suits as a gas alert sounded.
There were no reports of damage, injuries or chemical agents following the explosions, which occurred at about 7.40am. It is believed the warheads were conventional.
But back in Plymouth hundreds of students walked out of schools and colleges to demonstrate against the invasion.
Devon and Cornwall police officers were also on high alert following the outbreak of war.
In the early hours of March 21, the first casualties were taken.
A helicopter carrying eight members of 3 Commando Brigade and four US personnel crashed into the desert killing all onboard.
Tomorrow read the accounts of three Royal Marines who were in Kuwait when the helicopter crash happened