The seven rescued US prisoners of war (POWs) were increasingly certain they faced death, as their Iraqi captors were unsure what to do with them, it has emerged.
The POWs said they were beaten and interrogated
Instead - after three weeks in captivity - the POWs were freed on Sunday, when US marines stormed a house near the northern town of Samarra, where they were being held.
"It was getting to the point where I believed they were going to kill us," Shoshana Johnson, from 507th Maintenance
Company, told a Washington Post reporter.
Johnson, 30, said the marines kicked in a door, shouting: "If you're an American, stand up!"
"We stood up and they hustled us out of there," another prisoner, 23-year-old Private First Class Patrick Mille, said.
FREED US POWs
Sgt James Riley
Chief Warrant Officer David S Williams
Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D Young
Six US soldiers are listed as missing in action
The US POWs - who were moved around constantly - said they were beaten and interrogated.
But they said they were given medical treatment and were not subjected to torture.
Nevertheless, as US troops closed in fast, the prisoners feared they were going to be killed.
"I thought I would never see my wife again," Chief Warrant Officer David Williams said.
They said that at one point, US bombs smashed the bricks of their prison, but their guards prevented them from escaping.
They said that until their rescue they did not know that Baghdad had fallen or that one of their captured comrades Jessica Lynch had been rescued in a daring raid.
Pictures of US POWs shocked America
Five of them were taken on 23 March when their convoy made a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriya and was ambushed by Iraqi forces.
The two other US soldiers were captured on 24 March after their Apache helicopter was shot down near the town of Karbala in central Iraq.
Shortly after their capture, the US POWs were shown on Iraqi state television being interrogated by their captors.
The pictures sent shockwaves throughout America, and Washington immediately accused the Iraqi authorities of breaching the Geneva Convention.
The five members of the 507th Company described the moment they realised they were being ambushed.
Some families spotted their loved ones on TV
"We got turned around and then lost and we rolled into Nasiriya before it was secure and when we rolled in there was an ambush waiting for us," Shoshana Johnson said.
"It wasn't a small ambush," Sergeant Riley said.
"It was a whole city. And we were getting shot from all different directions... front, rear, left, right".
We couldn't even make a bayonet charge - we would have been mowed down. We didn't have a choice
The soldiers said that nine US troops were killed in the firefight.
They said their automatic weapons jammed in the sand storm, and some tried to reload their rifles manually.
Finally, Sgt Riley - who was the senior soldier present - made a decision to surrender.
"We were like Custer. We were surrounded. We had no working weapons," Sgt Riley said.
"We couldn't even make a bayonet charge - we would have been mowed down. We didn't have a choice."
A day later, the two soldiers from the shot down Apache helicopter arrived.
Chief Warrant officers David Williams and Ronald Young said that after surviving the crash they jumped in the canal and swam nearly half a kilometre (quarter of a mile) with just their head above the surface.
But when running for cover towards a line of trees, they were caught by armed Iraqi farmers.
"They beat us a little. One of them had a stick. They took a knife and put it to my throat," Chief Warrant Officer Williams recalled.
He said they were then thrown in the back of an open lorry and driven around to show Iraqis that American soldiers were captured.
There are still conflicting reports how the POWs were found.
Ronald Young's parents recognised him on TV
By some accounts their location was revealed by Iraqi soldiers, while some of the marines said local residents tipped them to the house.
There were scenes of jubilation and relief as the families of the seven POWs learned the news that their loved ones had been rescued.
Some of the families were told by the Pentagon that US forces had recovered the soldiers, while others recognised their freed relatives on television before official notification.
Another six US soldiers are officially listed by the Pentagon as missing-in-action (MIAs).