That document also misattributed a mass-fratricide bomblet attack on a unit of the First Armored Division to enemy fire. It correctly states that one American cavalry troop suffered at least 23 wounded when howitzers fired cluster shells at them; however, in a 2017 interview with The Times, the squadron operations officer at the time, Mark Hertling, now a retired lieutenant general, says he believes it was friendly fire that wounded his soldiers. Hertling himself was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he suffered in that incident.
So did Iraqis really surrender because of these artillery bomblets?
A lot of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to allied troops in 1991, but without the Pentagon’s producing the records, there are no publicly available documents that point to Iraqis’ surrendering specifically because of these DPICM grenades falling on them. Responding to a query from The Times, the Department of the Army was unable to locate any records from Desert Storm that cited Iraqi prisoners calling M.L.R.S. “steel rain,” and did not respond when asked if the service would continue to stand by its story. The only sources offering the narrative about Iraqis doing so are those written by Army artillery soldiers in the months and years following Desert Storm, citing secondhand accounts.
How did these rocket and artillery bomblets perform in combat?
In many cases, they failed to work as advertised. They were supposed to be able to destroy Soviet armored vehicles, with small armor-piercing warheads. But the attack on the First Armored Unit shows that the DPICMs not only failed to destroy Bradley Fighting Vehicles; they also failed to destroy the troop’s unarmored Chevrolet S.U.V.s — even those that took more than one direct hit.
These weapons had a much more pernicious effect, though, that was barely mentioned in the Army’s 1993 history. American howitzers fired nearly 27,450 cluster shells in the war, and batteries fired more than 17,000 submunition-loaded rockets. In all, those munitions disgorged 13.7 million DPICM grenades on Iraq and Kuwait. Pentagon documents estimate that between 10 and 20 percent or more likely failed to explode on impact, littering the battlefield with highly dangerous duds that would still explode if disturbed.
Why didn’t they work like they were supposed to?
During Desert Storm, the simplest reason is that the bomblets often landed in soft sand, when they were designed to hit the steel plates of armored vehicles. These submunitions relied on a simple fuze that needed to hit its target within a certain angle and provide enough resistance to work. Before his 2018 death, Bill Kincheloe, the inventor of that submunition’s fuze, gave multiple interviews to The Times and explained those parameters. “When that thing hits the ground, it has to hit within 45 degrees to fire,” Kincheloe said. “If it hits at 46 degrees, it won’t fire.” Kincheloe said that the sloped sides of tire tracks and footprints left in the sand could provide enough of an angle to send the submunitions tumbling upon impact, instead of detonating. The problem was even more acute because in early 1991, frequent and unusually intense rainstorms made the sand those bomblets landed in even softer. “If you dropped them on the soft sand, about 60 percent would go off,” Kincheloe said. “You’d have between 3 and 12 percent plain old duds, and the rest would be ground-impact duds.”