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Royal Marines have one of their finest moments in recent history officially recognised

20 March 2023
Twenty years after they stormed the sands of Iraq and captured Saddam Hussein’s key oil region, Royal Marines can now formally add another illustrious date to their history.

The assault on the Al-Faw Peninsula in southern Iraq was a complex amphibious operation – launched from bases on land in Kuwait and from HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean in the northern Gulf. It led to the collapse of the Iraqi Army, the fall of the country’s second city, and prevented an ecological catastrophe.

The Royal Marines have accrued so many battle honours in the three and a half centuries since they were first formed that only one, their capture of the Rock of Gibraltar in 1704, adorns their world-renowned regimental cap badge. The sheer number of additional honours won are symbolised by the great globe itself, an honour bestowed on the Corps by King George IV in 1827. 

But they also formally mark ten key ‘memorable dates’ – days which commemorate an event of significant importance in their history – from the birth of the Royal Marines on October 28 1664 through to the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21 1805, Gallipoli on April 28 1915, and the Normandy landings on June 6 1944.

The liberation of the Falkland Islands on June 14 1982 was the tenth and most recent significant date to be memorialised. His Majesty the King, the new Captain General of the Royal Marines, has been informed of the eleventh ‘memorable date’ – the Assault on the Al-Faw Peninsula, March 20 2003 – connecting the current generation of Royal Marines with a moment in history to which they can all relate.

The Commandant General of the Royal Marines, General Gwyn Jenkins, said: "The assault on the Al-Faw peninsula is an example of Royal Marine operations of the highest order. A true representation of the Commando mindset, it was executed with skill and precision.

"Commandos are still today demonstrating the importance of being ready to operate, fight and win in the face of complexity and uncertainty and it is absolutely fitting that on this, the 20th anniversary of Al-Faw, it be marked in our Regimental history as a Corps memorable date."

The Al-Faw peninsula – a flat, largely featureless area larger than Norfolk – was home to the bulk of Iraq’s oil fields and infrastructure, as well as the country’s only deep-water port, Umm Qasr.

The rapid capture of the peninsula – defended by the Iraqi Army – would deprive Saddam Hussein’s regime of any oil revenue and prevent a scorched earth policy, destroying the facilities and causing an ecological disaster, as occurred in Kuwait in 1991.

Led by Brigadier Jim Dutton, the assault by 3 Commando Brigade which began on the night of March 20-21, 2003, with the attack on Al-Faw, involved more than 2,000 personnel, 80 helicopters, and amphibious shipping and successfully culminated just over a fortnight later with the fall of Iraq’s second city of Basra and Royal Marines occupying Saddam’s Basra palace.

Executed with elan, determination and quiet professionalism the operation led to substantial losses being inflicted on the enemy, hundreds of prisoners taken – including senior officers – key oil installations seized, aid shipments being delivered to Umm Qasr port, and the demoralisation of the Iraqi Army in the south of the country.  

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