Kelly, Lieutenant Colonel David, Ret., First Fights In Fallujah, Marines During Operation Vigilant Resolve, in Iraq, April 2004, Philadelphia and Oxford, Casemate, 2023
First Fights In Fallujah, Marines During Operation Vigilant Resolve by Retired Lieutenant Colonel David Kelly was part of the Marine history project that sent researchers throughout the Iraq War to interview the troops about their experiences. This one focused upon the First Battle of Fallujah. Like other books in the series this one is up and down with some vary harrowing tales of combat mixed in with other ones that are not half as interesting.
The April 2004 Battle of Fallujah was the first major confrontation between the United States and the insurgency in Iraq. Marines told the author that the militants were determined but ill experienced. Their main weapons were AKs, RPGs and machine guns but they were bad shots. That was shown by small hunter killer teams of 3-4 insurgents that tried to take out the Marines’ tanks. They couldn’t hit moving targets or anything past a few feet away. Several Marine tankmen recalled how insurgents showed bravery but with few results. For instance, they would stand right in front of their vehicles, blast away only to get killed. The Marines respected their opponents but quickly realized their limitations.
Kelly found the Marines were unprepared for the urban battle they fought in Fallujah. All the units had just arrived in Iraq and were trained to do things like protect convoys and look for IEDs. They ended up fighting a combined arms battle in a large built up urban area with infantry, armored fighting vehicles, tanks, helicopters, jets and gunships.
The most engaging story was about how an armored personnel carrier was knocked out leading to a day’s effort by several Marine units to locate it within the city and rescue the trapped troops. This was one of the times where the first-hand accounts really came alive and showed the value of these Marine histories.
There are several downsides to First Fights In Fallujah. One is that it included interviews with Marines that didn’t fight in Fallujah but in some other areas like Babil province. Some of the stories were very short and didn’t really add anything to the overall plot. All of those seemed unnecessary and could’ve been cut. The book would have been much more concise if it had. There is also an overwhelming number of military acronyms. There is a glossary of them at the end, but this happens all too often in military histories and the reader can easily get lost in all the jargon.
Despite its inconsistencies Lt. Col. Kelly’s book is still a good read. Too many military histories are on the macro level and only focus upon the generals and strategy. This one takes you down to the ground level and the regular Marines who fought in Fallujah in 2004.
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