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TV show brings intimate details of big battles

Jan. 30, 2013 - 09:19AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 - 09:19AM  |  
Little-known details from the battlefield, told by the troops who fought there, mark the Military Channel's new series "Ultimate Warfare."
Little-known details from the battlefield, told by the troops who fought there, mark the Military Channel's new series "Ultimate Warfare." (Military Channel)
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The lineup

Battles featured in "Ultimate Warfare" episodes:
Baghdad: Thunder Runs — Jan. 29
Kandahar: Against all Odds — Feb. 5
Courage at Sea (Leyte Gulf) — Feb. 12
Khe Sanh: Marines Under Siege — Feb. 19
Hue: Vietnam’s Bloodiest Battle — Feb. 26
Fallujah: The Taking of Terror Central — March 5
Midway: Taking Back the Pacific — March 12
Okinawa: Island Fortress — March 19
Chosin: One Way Out — March 26
Bulge: Holding the Line — April 2

One lucky shot from an Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher almost brought disaster for the first American armored assault into Baghdad.

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One lucky shot from an Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher almost brought disaster for the first American armored assault into Baghdad.

It was early April 2003 when a task force of 3rd Infantry Division tanks and mechanized vehicles started a bold series of forays into Iraq's capital that soon would become known as the Thunder Runs — and mark the beginning of the end for Saddam Hussein's regime.

As the first contingent moved up Highway 8 under heavy fire, an Iraqi soldier launched an RPG at an M1 Abrams tank and hit a tiny exhaust vent, setting off a chain reaction that engulfed the tank in flames.

Although the crew was able to escape, the U.S. advance ground to a halt for nearly 20 minutes as troops tried in vain to save the vehicle even as the Iraqi counterattack intensified.

These little-known details from the battlefield, told by the troops who fought there, mark the Military Channel's new series "Ultimate Warfare."

"You're hearing it from the guys who lived to tell it," says executive producer Ron Simon, "like you're sitting next to them at a bar hearing them tell the story. That's the feeling we wanted for our audience — that kind of intimacy."

Each episode will dissect a specific battle, from the massive campaigns of World War II and Korea to special-ops skirmishes in Afghanistan and street fighting in Iraq. Along with interviews with troops who fought in the battles, the docudramas combine combat footage with stylized re-creations.

As with every draft of history, some claims in the show may be debated by armchair historians and veterans alike. The show lauds the Thunder Runs, for example, as the first mechanized force to enter a major city since World War II.

The mechanized troops who fought in Saigon, where the term "Thunder Run" first was coined, according to Army Gen. Tommy Franks in his memoir "American Soldier," might take exception to that statement — not to mention the Marine tankers who deployed into Mogadishu or the Army and Marine tankers and mechanized infantry who secured the Balkan capitals of Sarajevo and Pristina.

"Obviously, when you say something is ‘the first,' you want to be right, and we go through several lines of fact checking," Simon says. "We have historians who look at each and every script before they go out there, but, you know, everyone is human."

Yet, it's the debates over the finer points of history that can make shows like this interesting.

And this show's straight-from-the-troops perspective makes it compelling.

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