Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part II

1917-4 EGAOn 1 June 1916, Marines aboard USS Sacramento, USS Panther, and USS Lamson went ashore to seize the strategic ports at Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi.  Monte Cristi was taken without any resistance, but the Marines at Puerto Plata had to fight their way into the town, which was defended by 500 irregular forces supporting General Arias.  Captain Herbert J. Hershinger, leading the Marines at Puerto Plata was killed; the first Marine killed in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican loses were estimated as light because the Marines exercised great restraint while entering the city.  Colonel Kane added four rifle companies as reinforcements for the Marines at Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata.

Admiral Caperton messaged the Navy Department for additional Marines for the Dominican Republic campaign.  On 4 June, Major General Commandant George Barnett ordered the 4th Marine Regiment to proceed from San Diego, California to New Orleans. A week later the 4th Marines, Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton [1] (Uncle Joe), commanding, embarked aboard USS Hancock for passage to Santo Domingo.  The regiment arrived in DomRep on 21 June and by his seniority, Colonel Pendleton assumed command of all land forces.  The colonel and his staff began preparations for an assault against Arias’ stronghold at Santiago.

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Brigadier General Pendleton USMC National Archives

Pendleton planned for two columns of Marines to converge simultaneously on Santiago.  The 4th Marines with artillery would march by road from Monte Cristi; a second column consisting of the 4th and 9th companies, reinforced by Marines from ship’s detachments aboard USS Rhode Island and USS New Jersey would follow a rail line inland from Puerto Plata [2].  These two groups would form up at Navarette and aggress Santiago.  The first column, the largest number of Marines —with the longest route of march, would temporarily halt its march at a half-way point to rest and resupply.  The second column would seize the railroad connecting Santiago with the seacoast, thus establishing a main supply line for the combined force in its assault and later occupation of the Santiago.

Before commencing operations, Colonel Pendleton issued specific orders to his men that defined their mission and the principals that would govern their conduct in the Dominican Republic [3].

“… our work in this country is not one of invasion; we are here to restore and preserve peace and order, and to protect life and property, and to support the Constituted government.  Members of this command will therefore realize that we are not in an enemy’s country, though many of the inhabitants may be inimical to us, and they will be careful to so conduct themselves as to inspire confidence among the people in the honesty of our intentions and the sincerity of our purpose.  Officers will act toward the people with courtesy, dignity, and firmness, and will see that their men do nothing to arouse or foster the antagonism toward us that can be naturally expected towards as armed force that many interested malcontents will endeavor to persuade the citizens to look upon as invaders. Minimum force should be used at all times, but armed opposition or attack will be sharply and firmly met and suppressed with force of arms.”

—Joseph H. Pendleton, Colonel, Commanding

Colonel Pendleton’s Marines, consisting of 34 officers and 803 enlisted men began their 75-mile march on 26 June 1916.  He organized his force with the expectation of ambush and combat.  An advance guard of Marines mounted on locally procured horses led the column along the Santiago Road.  They preceded the main body at a distance of 800-1,000 yards.  The supply train consisted of 24 mule-pulled carts, 7 motorized trucks with trailers, 2 motorized water carts, a water wagon, a tractor pulling four carts, with eleven Ford touring cars [4] followed the main body of troops. Supplies were guarded by the 6th Company.  A signal detachment maintained a tenuous telephone line between Colonel Pendleton’s headquarters and the coastal base.

On day one, the Marines marched sixteen miles without meeting enemy resistance. That night, however, one of the trucks that had been dispatched for water came under fire.  Corporal Leo P. Carter, from the 13th Company, received serious wounds.

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Marines march to Santiago

A major engagement occurred on the next day near Las Trencheras.  Dominican rebels had prepared trenches on two hills, one behind the other, which blocked the road to Santiago.  It was a strong position, but disadvantaged by flat ground, covered with thick brush high enough to conceal advancing Marines —yet, not thick enough to dissuade the Marine advance.  On 27 June, Captain Chandler Campbell of the 13th Company, placed his field artillery at a position commanding the enemy’s trenches.  The field guns were reinforced by machine gun squads. At 0800, Campbell opened fire on the trenches; under this fire, Marine riflemen advanced.  At about 1,000 yards, the Marines encountered heavy (but inaccurate) fire.  With few casualties, the Marines fixed bayonets and assaulted the Dominicans. The insurgents, not willing to engage the Marines in close combat, fled to their secondary positions.  Campbell adjusted his fires and the Marines continued their assault.  The battle lasted barely 45 minutes before the enemy executed a rapid withdrawal. They left behind five dead comrades. Marines experienced 1 killed and four wounded.

Withdrawal from advancing Marines was a pattern established for most engagements with Dominican insurgents.  The Marines had superior arms, employed small unit maneuver, and deadly accurate fire.  No Dominican rebel would hold their position against such a force.  Still, the Marines had several disadvantages: there were insufficient Marines to cover such a large territory, lacked mounted or motorized transportation, communications were poor, and the Marines had no way of forcing the enemy to stand and fight.  Time after time, the enemy broke ranks and ran away, only to return later to harass the Marines with sniper fire.

After Las Trencheras, Colonel Pendleton’s column pushed on toward Santiago. Aside from sniper fire and an occasional night attack, the enemy offered no substantial resistance.  Poor roads and inadequate bridging did more to slow Pendleton’s progress than did any rebel defense.  Despite its challenges, the supply train kept pace with the main body. Fuel was sparse, but so too was forage for animals.

The insurgents made their second major stand on 3 July at Guayacanas.  A decisive engagement in the advance to Santiago, the Marines once more faced an entrenched enemy and thick undergrowth in the advance to contract.  This time, field guns could not locate the concealed enemy, but machine gunners displayed laudable gallantry.  They hauled their heavy guns through the brush to within 200 yards of the opposing line and laid down deadly accurate fire.  First Sergeant Roswell Winans, trying to clear his jammed Colt machine gun, stood up under fire to clear a stoppage and keep his weapon in action.  He was the first Marine of the 4th Regiment to win the Medal of Honor.

Infantry and machine gunners pressed the frontal attack while the 6th Company under Captain Julian C. Smith [5], fought off a rebel force that had slipped around the Marines in an attempt to attack the supply train.  As before, the enemy broke ranks and fled, leaving behind 27 dead and 5 men who surrendered to the Marines.  The Marines lost one man killed and ten wounded.  Colonel Pendleton’s force reached Navarette during the next day.

The second column, commanded by Captain Fortson, marched along the rail line repairing bridges, track, and roadbed.  Many of these men rode in improvised military trains consisting of four boxcars and a dilapidated locomotive.  In front, the Marines pushed along a flatcar, upon which they had mounted a 3-inch gun.  The gun proved devastatingly effective in disbursing insurgents at Llanos Perez.  Captain Fortson was replaced in command by Major Hiram Bearss [6] who was remembered by Marines as someone with a peculiar fondness for force marches.

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Hiram Iddings Bearss Photo from Public Domain

Major Bearss resumed the advance on 29 June, but shortly encountered a force of about 200 rebels entrenched across the railroad line at Alta Mira.  Bearss sent the 4thCompany over a mountain trail to turn the defender’s right flank, while the rest of his force, supported by the train, advanced along the railroad.  This combination of frontal and flank assault forced the insurgents back to a secondary blocking position in front of a railroad tunnel.  As lead elements began their assault, Bearss and 60 men charged through the 300-yard-long tunnel to prevent the rebels from damaging or destroying this crucial link in the rail line.  When Bearss and his Marines emerged from the tunnel, they observed the enemy running in full retreat toward Santiago.  The engagement lasted about 30 or 40 minutes.  Two Marines received wounds, including Second Lieutenant Douglas B. Roben.  The enemy losses included 50 dead.

After making extensive repairs to the rail line and constructing a bridge, the rail column, which encountered no further resistance, joined Colonel Pendleton’s main force at Navarette on 4 July 1916.  With his force united, Pendleton was poised to enter Santiago. On 5 July, civic leaders of that city sent a peace commission to Pendleton to inform him that Arias had concluded an accord with Admiral Caperton to cease all resistance.  As General Arias was in the process of discharging his followers, the peace commissioned asked the Marines to delay their entry into the city, which they assured Colonel Pendleton, would be unopposed. Colonel Pendleton agreed to the delay but using caution (should Arias change his mind), rushed his Marines forward to occupy the remaining defenses between his camp and the city.

The rebels did capitulate, and on 6 July, the Marines marched into Santiago to establish the 4th Regiment’s headquarters and communications with other Marine units in Santo Domingo City.  With organized resistance broken, Marine detachments took up the mission of finding and arresting rebel leaders.  It was easier assigned than accomplished, however, as there was no distinction between bandit and bandit leader.  Beyond arresting malcontents, the Marines began helping local communities in the reconstruction of the nation’s economy.  Major Bearss and Captain Wise were instrumental in organizing a freight and passenger transportation entity.  It wasn’t a glamorous arrangement, but reestablishing rail transportation was far better than having no operational railroad at all.

Before the end of July, the Marines were well into controlling the Dominican military situation, but the political situation remained dicey.  On 25 July 1916, the Dominican Congress elected Dr. Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal as provisional president.  Henriquez promised not to seek reelection when his six-month appointment expired. His government, however, was supported and influenced by pro-Arias factions in the legislature.  President Henriquez refused to agree to two conditions set by the United States for granting his regime diplomatic recognition, which the US believed were indispensable to political stability in DomRep. First, that the Dominicans must allow American authorities to collect and disburse all of the country’s revenues, and second, that the Dominican military be replaced by a national constabulary under American supervision.  It was a deadlock that lasted into the fall of 1916.  Then, despite his earlier assurances, Henriquez decided to run for reelection.

Henriquez’ intransigence along with an increase in violent clashes between Marines and Dominican insurgents foreshadowed a reemergence of political deterioration within or near the capital city.  The most serious of these occurred at Villa Duarte on 24 October.  A detachment of Marines attempted to apprehend a noted bandit by the name of Ramon Batista, who seized a rifle and resisted arrest.  Other Dominicans rallied to his aid and a shoot-out ensued during which Captain Low and Sergeant Frank Atwood were killed, along with Batista and three Dominicans.  Continued public disorder and political obstinacy led the United States to conclude that it was time to take the next step.  On 29 November, Captain Harry S. Knapp [7], USN (having succeeded Admiral Caperton commanding US forces) issued a proclamation placing the Dominican Republic under the military jurisdiction of the United States.  Knapp asserted that the Dominican government stood in violation of the Treaty of 1907.

The US military government mission included returning DomRep to a condition of internal order that would enable it to observe the terms of the Treaty, and the obligation of restoring DomRep to the family of nations.  The United States thus assumed control of all Dominican finances, law enforcement, judiciary, and its internal administration.  According to Knapp’s proclamation, Dominican laws were to continue in effect so far as they did not conflict with the objectives of the occupation.  Ordinary administration of both civil and criminal justice would remain the responsibility of Dominican courts and officials, except in cases involving American military personnel and/or any resistance to the military government. In those cases, matters would be resolved by US tribunals.  Captain Knapp enjoined all Dominicans to cooperate with the American government, promising that occupation forces would respect the personal and property rights of all citizens and lawful residents.

As might be anticipated, most Dominicans received this news somewhat unenthusiastically, but Knapp anticipated less violence as its result. In Colonel Pendleton’s opinion, most people wanted an intervention, but were afraid to say so.  Whatever they actually believed, most Dominicans seemed content to comply at least passively with Knapp’s decrees.

Of course, resistance did flare up, most of it isolated and minor, with the most serious incident taking place at San Francisco de Macoris where the governor, Juan Perez and a band of his pro-Arias followers, occupied the Fortaleza [8] in the provincial capital and refused to surrender their weapons to American forces.  Governor Perez, in violation of an order to disarm, now became the focus of the Marines.  On the night of 29 November 1916, First Lieutenant Ernest C. Williams [9] led a detail of twelve Marines from the 31st and 47th Rifle Companies, 4th Regiment, in a surprise assault against the Fortaleza.  The two companies awaited the opportunity to support Williams as he and his hand-picked men rushed the gate, opened it, and rushed inside before guards could erect a barricade.  Insurgents opened fire, wounding eight of Williams’ party, but within ten minutes, Perez and his followers had either surrendered or fled.

Other scattered clashes resulted in Marine casualties, including Captain John A. Hughes, who suffered severe leg injuries during a routine patrol near San Francisco de Macoris on 4 December.  By the end of the year, senior military officials believed that the Dominicans were quieting down and settling in to American occupation.  As an indication of this belief, Marine companies of the Provisional Regiment retired from service in DomRep, leaving behind the 4th Regiment in occupation of northern Santo Domingo with its headquarters at Santiago.  1st Regiment headquarters and staff remained at Santo Domingo City while subordinate organizations were returned to the United States. Redesignated 3rd Provisional Regiment, this headquarters controlled the Marine units remaining in the southern part of the country.  Together, 3rd and 4th Regiments constituted the 2nd Provisional (Marine) Brigade under recently promoted Brigadier General Pendleton.

From late 1916 onward, the 2nd Brigade performed as an army of occupation to enforce the decrees of the military government and maintain public order. Initially, the DomRep was divided into two military districts: Northern District (4th Regiment) at Santiago, and Southern District (3rd Regiment) at Santo Domingo City.  In 1919, the military government created a third Eastern District to address the provinces of El Seibo and Macoris, which had become centers of banditry and political unrest.  The Eastern District fell under the auspices of the 15th Regiment, initially commanded by Colonel James C. Breckinridge [10].  The 15thRegiment had a strength of 50 officers and 1,041 enlisted men.  With the addition of the 15th Marines, the 2nd Brigade reached a peak strength of 3,000 officers and men.

The Marines assigned to the Dominican Republic had a wide range of duties and responsibilities and to ensure that they were able to carry them out with the most flexibility, the regimental commanders had wide latitude in deploying these Marines.  There were always a strong contingent stationed at important seaports because these Marines safeguarded the country’s economic and political centers, protected main lines of supply, and protected the customs houses, which remained the primary source of government revenue.  Marines were also stationed in the interior regions to protect Dominicans from bandits. The DomRep is a large country, which meant that the Marines had to be dispersed over wide areas.  It also meant that senior NCOs often had to make important, split second, far-reaching decisions that might otherwise be made by commissioned officers.  Marine NCOs were up to the task.  Frequently, a squad of eight Marines, led by a sergeant, patrolled 35 or 40 miles from their company headquarters.

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Joseph H. Pendleton (1860-1942) joined the Marine Corps in 1884 and participated in combat operations during the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, and a series of so-called Banana Republic wars.  He received the Navy Cross for heroic service in combat.  He retired in 1924 as a Major General.  Camp Pendleton, California is named in his honor.

[2] This northern coast operation was devised owing to the fact that there was no passable road for a large force and supply train from Santo Domingo across the central mountain range to Santiago.

[3] Similar in content to the instructions issued by James Mattis before the assault on Iraq in 2003.

[4] Presumably used to convey the regimental staff.

[5] Julian C. Smith (1885-1975) joined the Marine Corps in 1909 and served through 1946.  Lieutenant General Smith was a recipient of the Navy Cross and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  He saw combat service in Vera Cruz, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and in World War II, commanding Marine forces during the Battles of Tarawa and Peleliu.

[6] Hiram Bearss was a charismatic, aggressive leader who never felt the need to waltz when a tango would be more appropriate.  In contrast, Joseph Pendleton was a thoughtful and pragmatic leader who always tried to look at a given situation through the lens of his enemy.

[7] Harry Shepherd Knapp (1858-1923) was an 1878 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy who ultimately reached the position of Vice Admiral.  He commanded USS Charleston, USS Florida, and Cruiser Force, Atlantic Fleet. He served as Military Governor of the Dominican Republic and Military Representative of the United States in Haiti. He served during the Spanish-American War and World War I.  He was the recipient of the Navy Cross.

[8] Dominican provincial capitals contained a stone-built square enclosure called a Fortaleza, which contained a barracks, offices, an armory, and occasionally, a small prison. It functioned as the political as well as military center of provincial government.

[9] Awarded the Medal of Honor.

[10] James Carson Breckinridge (1877-1942) was a member of the prominent Breckinridge family of the United States, which included six members of the House of Representatives, two US Senators, a cabinet member, two ambassadors, a vice president of the United States, college presidents, prominent ministers, military personnel, and theologians in Kentucky and Tennessee.  Colonel Breckinridge received the Navy Cross during World War I for service performed as a Naval Attaché in Russia, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Breckinridge retired from active service in 1941 with the rank of lieutenant general.

Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part I

1917-4 EGAIt is often proclaimed that Christopher Columbus discovered America. He did no such thing.  What he did do is depart Spain with no clear idea about where he was going.  Then he quite miraculously bumped into an island, a large one, located in the present-day Greater Antilles.  At that time, Columbus didn’t know where he was.  He named the island Insula Hispana (Latin) or in Spanish, La Isla Española.  When he returned to Spain, he could not, with any degree of certainty, tell his employers where he’d been.  Clearly, however, Columbus did set into motion the beginning of an almost unbelievable Spanish Empire, both in terms of land and wealth.

The indigenous people of Hispaniola called themselves Arawak/Taino people.  The Arawak originated in Venezuela, traveling to their island paradise around 1200 A.D. Each settlement was a small independent kingdom.  At the peak of this society, there were five separate kingdoms.  There may have been as many as 750,000 people living on Hispaniola.

Typical of Hispanic society, Columbus and all those who came after him enslaved the natives.  It is a sad story, of course and one repeated many times at every location the Spanish conquistadores placed their boots in the Americas.  Also typical of the Spaniards, interest in Hispaniola waned as Spain conquered new regions on the mainland.  In 1665, the French began their colonization of the Island; they called it Santo Domingo.  In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France.  Santo Domingo quickly came to overshadow the eastern two-thirds in both wealth and population.  Under the French, with a system of enslavement used to grow and harvest sugar cane, Santo Domingo became the richest colony in the West Indies. Slavery kept the cost of production low and maximized profits.  It was also an important port for goods flowing to and from France and Europe.

Still, Santo Domingo was no paradise; tropical diseases created a high death-rate among European colonists.  Added to this were a series of slave uprisings in the late eighteenth century.  During the French Revolution in 1791, a major slave revolt broke out on Saint-Domingue. France abolished slavery in their colonies in 1794 and many of the ex-slave army joined forces with France in its European wars.  In 1795, Spain ceded the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola to the French.  It became the Dominican Republic and French settlers began to colonize some areas in the Spanish side of the territory.

In 1802, Napoleon reimposed slavery in most of its Caribbean islands, a decision reinforced by French army garrisons.  Yellow fever [1] ended up killing off many of these soldiers. After the French removed its remaining 7,000 troops in 1803, revolutionary leaders declared western Hispaniola the new and independent nation of Haiti.  France continued to rule Santo Domingo but in 1805, Haitian forces under General Henri Christophe attempted conquest of all Hispaniola.  A show of force by the French caused Christophe to withdraw back to Haiti.  In 1808, following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, the criollos [2] of Santo Domingo revolted against the French and, with the aid of Great Britain, Santo Domingo was returned to Spanish rule.

Concerned about the influence of a society that had successfully fought and won against their enslavers, the United States and European powers refused to recognize Haiti (the second Republic in the Western Hemisphere).  To settle this issue, France demanded a rather substantial payment for compensation to slaveholders who lost their property, the effect of which threw Haiti into debt for many decades.  Haiti became (and remains) one of the poorest countries in the Americas, while the Dominican Republic gradually developed into one of the largest economies of the Central American-Caribbean region.

It was not long before the Dominicans began to regret their return to Spanish authority.  The Spaniards were cruel masters.  In 1821, Santo Domingo joined with other Caribbean and South American territories in declaring independence from Spain.  Initially, the Dominicans expressed a desire to attach their country to the new Republic of Columbia, far to the south.  Instead of that ever happening, independence brought new foreign domination: in 1822, the Haitian government sent troops to conquer its neighbor, which could offer no resistance.  From then until 1844, Haiti ruled Santo Domingo.  During this period, the Haitians made a concerted effort to stifle all Dominican cultural and economic activity.  Santo Domingo was reduced to a nation of economic stagnation and cultural and psychological despair.

In 1844, Dominican nationalists succeeded in throwing off the Haitian yoke of domination.  It was the beginning of the emergence of the modern Dominican Republic.  It was a rough road, however.  Throughout the nineteenth century, the Dominican people experienced a succession of corrupt and arbitrary rulers who maintained themselves in power by playing upon the people’s fears of Haitian domination. The rule of caudillos [3] in Santo Domingo was also not a new story in Hispanic America: caudillos diverted the nation’s meager resources to serve their own personal designs.

Of these, General Ulises Heureaux [4] was among the most destructive. Keeping himself in power by methods that foreshadowed those of modern totalitarian regimes, Heureaux brought modest economic growth and strengthened the armed forces from a centralized government, which is also a consistent element of Hispanic governments.  He also fostered corruption and violence in Dominican politics and vastly increased the national debt by borrowing money from European and American banks —banks that expected their governments to support their claims for repayment and collect debts.

A succession of governments who found themselves in trouble at home made a habit of borrowing money from foreign governments; when the payment on the debts became due (or overdue), corrupt politicians often attempted to play their foreign creditors off against one another as a means of preventing foreign military intervention, which their behaviors in fact invited.

During the 1890s, a group of idealistic young generals and politicians organized to oppose Heureaux’s political machine.  They were led by General Horacio Vasquez.  As a figurehead for their movement, they chose the nation’s wealthiest planter, Juan Isidro Jimenez —a man who some described as completely lacking in character or vision.  After Heureaux’s murder, Vasquez and Jimenez proclaimed a new revolutionary government.  It began a period of political disorder that eventually provoked the United States [5] to intervene in Dominican affairs.

Heureaux’s enemies divided themselves into competing factions —groups loosely associated with Vasquez and Jimenez.  Juan Jimenez soon developed his own taste for power.  The feud led to a series of weak presidents, coup d’état, and counter-coups.  All the while, each successive regime continued to borrow money from foreign banks to purchase arms pay the men who would help them suppress revolution.  The Dominican Republic steadily sank even further into debt and political chaos; foreign creditors began to demand repayment, threatening military intervention if necessary.

Dominican financial delinquency and political upheaval attracted the attention of the United States.  After 1900, concern for the defense of sea approaches to the Panama Canal intensified American interest.  Dominican entanglements with European powers seemed particularly worrisome because, under the guise of upholding the claims of its citizens, a country such as Germany might be compelled to establish a colony and a naval base within striking distance of the Canal.  Combined Anglo-French-German expeditions against Venezuela [6] during the early 1900s caused President Theodore Roosevelt to threaten to send the US fleet to interdict foreign ships. European behavior dismissive of the Monroe Doctrine eventually brought the issue to a head: the United States decided to take strong action [7] to protect the Caribbean.

The Roosevelt Corollary received its first practical application in the Dominican Republic.  At the initiation of the Dominican president, the US and Dominican Republic (DomRep) negotiated a treaty under which American representatives would collect the customs revenues at Dominican ports and divide the proceeds between current government expenses and payments on foreign debt.  In February 1905, the agreement was submitted to both legislative bodies for ratification and, at the same time, the two governments established a modus vivendi, the practical effect of which placed the treaty into immediate operation.

The treaty met significant opposition in the US Senate, resolved in 1907 with DomRep legislature accepting the treaty later that year.  Meanwhile, between 1905-1907 under the modus vivendi, the claims against Dominican creditors were reduced from $30-million to approximately $17-million.  Beyond implementing a customs receivership, the 1907 also treaty provided for the floating of a bond issue of $20-million (at five percent interest) to be devoted exclusively to paying off long-dormant accounts and financing specified public works projects that were designed to reduce domestic discontent.  By 1912, Dominican debt had been reduced to about $14-million.

In 1906, Ramon Caceres was elected president of the DomRep.  He was perhaps the most honest and capable of Dominican leaders during this period.  He fully supported the receivership as the best possible solution to the country’s debt, and he was enthusiastic about using revenues to improve public services and stimulate economic development.  Caceres was assassinated on 19 November 1911 [8] and the internal stability of the DomRep deteriorated —along with its relationship with the United States.  New regimes resorted to their old habit of enriching themselves and borrowing foreign money to suppress revolutions.

In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson sent envoys to the DomRep who were far less capable than those under earlier administration (Roosevelt-Taft).  They began throwing their weight around, making demands to form stable governments.  When this didn’t happen, the United States seized control over all Dominican revenues and began supervising public works projects.  In 1914, with rival politicians fomenting civil war, President Wilson decided that he’d had enough of the squabbling and sent in the U. S. Marines.

The Fifth Marine Regiment (5thMarines) made their presence known aboard ships of the US Navy off-shore.  It was enough to bring about a political truce and an orderly presidential election. Juan Isidro Jimenez assumed the presidency with US guarantees of support against future revolutions.  Of course, the US continued to insist that Jimenez abide by the 1907 Treaty [9].

On 15 April 1916, Jimenez arrested two close associates of the Dominican Minister of War, General Desiderio Arias.  General Arias had been one of the trouble-makers in 1914 and now established himself in the fortress of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital. Supported by his loyal followers, Arias raised the standard of open revolt.  Opponents of Jimenez flocked to join the revolutionary army.  When Jimenez and Arias failed to make a settlement, the American Minister to Dominica called for Marines to protect the US legation.  Then, on 2 May, the Dominican legislature (under pressure from Arias) voted to impeach President Jimenez.  Jimenez then fled to the countryside to gather an army of his own.  Fighting commenced on 5 May 1916.  US Marines came ashore on that same day.

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Marines come ashore at Santo Domingo, 1916 Photo from National Archives

The landing force consisted of two rifle companies (about 150 Marines) from USS Prairie: The 6th Company, under Captain Frederic M. Wise, and the 9th Company, equipped with field artillery, under Captain Eugene Fortson.  Captain Wise, as senior officer present, exercised overall command of the contingent, which was designated a provisional battalion.  Captain Wise was a strict disciplinarian, a no-nonsense officer with a volatile temper.  His orders were to occupy the US legation and consulate, as well as the strategically placed Fort San Geronimo.  Wise was also ordered to assist President Jimenez against Arias’s rebel forces.

In fact, Captain Wise and his Marines found themselves in the middle of a miniaturized civil war.  Some 250 troops loyal to Arias were reinforced by hundreds of civilian irregulars to whom Arias had distributed rifles and ammunition from government arsenals. Arias controlled Santo Domingo City. No sooner had the Marines entered the city, Arias blockaded the principal avenues to deny the Marines access to resupply.  Captain Wise was not a happy man.

Forces loyal to President Jimenez numbered around 800.  They had initiated assaults upon the city from the north and west.  By the time Wise arrived ashore, Jimenez’ attack had already failed; his men running low on ammunition.  Captain Wise acted with a combination of courage and discretion.  Knowing that his 150 Marines could not defeat a thousand Dominicans, Wise put up a brave front.  While his men occupied their objectives, Wise went directly to Arias and demanded safe passage for foreign nationals out of the city, and the right to resupply his Marines.  Arias agreed to both points.  All foreign nationals were evacuated to the USS Prairie; hired civilians hauled supplies from dockside to the Marine positions.

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Lieutenant Colonel Frederic M. Wise, USMC Photo from public domain

Captain Wise then established contact with General Perez, commanding the president’s forces.  Perez asked for 100 rifles and ammunition (Wise refused), and for artillery support for an attack scheduled for the next day, which Wise agreed to furnish. During the night of 5-6 May, Wise deployed his artillery and infantry to support a government advance.

Without consulting with any of his subordinates, President Jimenez resigned the presidency on 6 May, citing as his reason for doing so a refusal to turn American guns on his own people.  Perez was forced to abandon his assault and the Dominican Republic was suddenly without a national leader.  The Congress created a provisional council of ministers to carry out executive functions.

Unsure of what might happen next, Captain Wise requested additional forces from the USS Prairie; 130 sailors were sent ashore to reinforce him.  In conjunction with the US minister and naval commander, Wise arranged a truce between the warring factions.  Arias dismantled many of his fortifications and disbanded the civilian irregulars; most government troops withdrew to Fort San Geronimo just outside of Santo Domingo City.  Wise and his Marines held their original positions and awaited further instructions and reinforcement.

Commanding the Cruiser Squadron, Atlantic Fleet aboard USS Dolphin, Rear Admiral William Caperton [10] arrived offshore on 12 May 1916 and assumed overall command of the operation.  Marines from the 4th and 5th Companies (from Haiti) and a detachment from the 24th Company (from Guantanamo) came ashore on 13 May.  With 400 Marines ashore, Admiral Caperton met with Arias on 14 May and demanded that he disband his army and surrender his arms by 0600 on 15 May —or face a full-scale American assault.  General Arias refused Caperton’s demand but did agree to vacate the capital.  Marines entering the rebel-held area of the city on 15 May encountered no significant resistance.  The salts who had participated in the conflict at Vera Cruz were relieved; not one of them wanted another taste of urban warfare.

Marine strength continued to increase.  USS Panther arrived on 23 May with Colonel Theodore P. Kane commanding the 2nd Regiment of Marines and three additional rifle companies.  Kane assumed command of the land forces, setting up his headquarters in the American Consulate.  He stationed his Marines at key locations throughout Santo Domingo: on the east bank of the Ozama River, the northwestern approaches to the city, and at the Guardia Republicana barracks.  Additional Marines bivouacked at Fort Ozama.  Marines remaining afloat served as a reserve force off the north coast.  USS Sacramento, with two Marine companies, awaited orders off Puerto PlataUSS Panther and USS Lamson with two companies patrolled offshore near Monte Cristi.  By 28 May, Colonel Kane commanded eleven companies, drawn mostly from the 1st and 2nd Regiments in Haiti.  On deck in Santo Domingo were about 750 Marines.  Colonel Kane determined that he required a still larger force if he was to seize the entire country.

Meanwhile, the unresolved revolution had caused the collapse of the Dominican Republic’s civil government in many interior towns.  Some of these were left unprotected when civilian police detachments departed to fight for Jimenez.  Senior US commanders believed that the next step would have to be an occupation of the entire country.  Of concern, General Arias was at large with at least several hundred men.  No matter where Arias was located, his personality became a rallying point for bandits, local caudillos, and malcontents.  There were only about 300 remaining Dominican army troops, men who seemed somewhat unenthused about the possibility of engaging Arias further.

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Yellow fever is a viral disease causing fever, chills, nausea, muscle pain, and severe headache. Liver damage can occur, causing a yellowing of the skin, hence its name.

[2] Criollo (French: Creole) persons are Latin Americans who are full or near full Spanish descent, which distinguishes them from multi-national Latinos and Latin-Americans of the post-colonial period European group.  They were at the top of a long list of social classes in Hispanic societies.

[3] Spanish word for military dictator.

[4] Heureaux ruled from 1882 to 1899 when he was assassinated.  Called Lilís, he was the son of Haitian mulatto parents.  He served as the 22nd, 26th, and 27th president of the Dominican Republic; when he wasn’t president, he control those who were.

[5] Perceiving it’s potential economic and strategic value, President Ulysses S. Grant made an attempt to annex the island republic in the 1870s.  He was unable to gain the support of the Congress, however.

[6] European navies in fact bombarded Venezuelan coastal towns.

[7] In December 1904, President Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The corollary reaffirmed US opposition to European military intervention in any Western Hemisphere country, for any reason, but also assumed responsibility for enforcing international good-behavior of the Latin American nations.  If Latin-American countries would not police themselves, the United States would do it for them.  This was the genesis of the so-called Banana Wars.

[8] Political assassination became a frequent strategy within Latin American countries; being fast, cheap, and permanent, no place on earth has had a greater number of such incidents.

[9] In 1915, US Marines occupied the Dominican Republic’s neighbor, Haiti, in an effort to establish stable government.  Wilson’s stated policy was to “teach the Latin Americans to elect good men.”

[10] Rear Admiral William Banks Caperton, USN (1855-1941) graduated from the USNA in 1875.  He commanded naval force interventions in Haiti (1916), Dominican Republic (1916), and served as Commander, Pacific Fleet (1916-1919).  He participated in the Spanish-American War, and World War I.  He was a recipient of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Allied Invasion of Russia, 1918-20

History never happens in a vacuum.  There are causes, and there are consequences. The seeds of World War I were actually sewn one-hundred years earlier at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), where the ambassadors of European states intended to provide a plan for peace in Europe by settling issues that came from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  After 1815, these same powers tried to maintain a balance of power—to maintain the peace —but what actually transpired was a complex network of political and military alliances.  Also, after 1815, the Ottoman Empire began its decline, the British withdrew into “splendid isolation,” Prussia emerged to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and France was taught a valuable lesson in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. These confrontations led European powers to formulate secret agreements with one another.  The complex network became even more so.

On 28 June 1914, a Bosnian-Serb-Yugoslav nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  The network of secret alliances enlarged the crisis from a bilateral issue in the Balkans to one involving most of Europe and, eventually, the United States of America. Within a month of Ferdinand’s death, the “great powers” of Europe were divided into competing coalitions.  The Triple Entente involved France, Russia, and Great Britain and the Triple Alliance was formed around Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

Ferdinand’s assassination caused Germany and Austria-Hungary to impose demands on Serbia; Russia, itself a Slavic nation, felt obliged to back Serbia.  After Austria-Hungary shelled the Serbian capital at Belgrade, Russia began mobilizing its armies.  Germany and Austria-Hungary followed suit.  France, supporting Russia, mobilized its armed forces in early August.

When the war came, it manifested itself on two fronts.  Germany attacked France in the West, and Russia in the east.  In addition to the countries mentioned above, conflict engaged all of the Balkan states, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.  It eventually spilled over into Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

Initially, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention.  President Woodrow Wilson wanted to avoid conflict while trying to broker peace from the sidelines.  Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 after campaigning to keep America out of the “Great War.”

In January 1917, Germany pursued two aggressive courses of action: (1) It resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, and (2) Germany approached Mexico with a proposal for a military alliance against the United States.  In exchange for Mexico’s participation, Germany offered to finance Mexico’s war effort and, at such time as Germany defeated the United States, promised to return to Mexico its previously held territories in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.  This communiqué was intercepted by British Intelligence, decoded, and transmitted to the United States government.  The Zimmerman Telegram, along with a number of Mexican intrusions into the United States that were an off-shoot of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) generated popular support for America’s declaration of war against Germany in April 1917.

At the time, the United States was not a formal ally of any European power —it was more on the order of an associate-membership in the Triple Entente.  In 1917, the United States Army was small, but after passage of the Selective Service Act, nearly 3-million men were compelled to serve in the U. S. Army.  By June 1917, the US was sending thousands of soldiers to France every month.  To bolster its field of potential soldiers, the US offered grants of citizenship to Puerto Ricans for voluntary service in the US Army.

At the outbreak of World War I, national societies representing ethnic Czechs and Slovaks residing in Russia petitioned the Russian government to support the independence of their homelands.  To prove their loyalty to the Entente cause, these groups advocated the establishment of a unit of Czech and Slovak volunteers to fight alongside the Russian Army. In time, these volunteers became known as the 1st Division of Czechoslovak Corps.  A second division of four regiments was added in October 1917. Known collectively as the Czechoslovak Legion, it consisted of over 40,000 Czech and Slovak volunteers.

In November 1917, Russian Bolsheviks seized power throughout Russia and soon began peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk.  In the face of the Revolution, Russians wanted to withdraw from the war.  The Chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council began planning for the Czech Legion’s withdrawal from Russia and transfer to France, where it could continue fighting against the Central Powers.  Since most of Russia’s main ports were blockaded, the Legion would travel from Ukraine to the Pacific port of Vladivostok.  There, they would embark on ships that would carry them to Western Europe.

In February 1918, Bolshevik authorities granted permission for the Legion to begin a march of 6,000 miles from Ukraine to Vladivostok.  Before departure, however, the German Army launched a massive assault on the Eastern Front as a means of forcing the new Russian government to accept Germany’s terms for peace.  The Legion successfully fought off every German attempt to prevent their evacuation.

After entering Soviet Russia, the Czech National Council continued to negotiate with the Bolsheviks to iron out the details of the Legion’s evacuation.  An agreement on 25 March forced the Legion to surrender most of their weapons in exchange for unmolested passage to Vladivostok.  Neither side trusted the other: Bolsheviks suspected the Czechs were attempting to join the counter-revolutionaries.  Legion commanders were wary of Czech communists who were attempting to subvert the Legion, and also suspected that the Bolsheviks had made a deal with the Central Powers to keep the Legion penned up in Russia.

By May 1918, the Czech Legion was strung out along the Trans-Siberian Railway —their evacuation taking longer than they expected due to dilapidated railway conditions.  In mid-May, Russia’s Commissar for War, Leon Trotsky, ordered the complete disarmament and arrest of the Czech Legion.  The Legion refused to disarm.

Czechs and Bolsheviks engaged at several locations along the railroad.  By June, both sides were involved in full-scale war.  The Legion had taken control of Vladivostok and declared the city an allied protectorate.  By mid-July, the legionaries had seized control of the railway from Samara to Irkutsk.  By the beginning of September, they had cleared Bolshevik forces from the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Legionnaires conquered all the large cities of Siberia.

News of the Czechoslovak Legion’s campaign in Siberia during the summer of 1918 was welcomed by Allied statesmen in Great Britain and France, who saw the operation as a means to reconstitute an eastern front against Germany.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who had resisted earlier Allied proposals to intervene in Russia, and against the advice of the War Department, finally gave in to foreign pressure to support the legionaries’ evacuation from Siberia. In actuality, there were two groups of American soldiers sent to Russia: The American North Russia Expeditionary Force (Polar Bear Expedition) consisted of 5,000 troops who were sent to Archangel; an additional 8,000 soldiers, organized as the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, were shipped to Vladivostok from the Philippines and from Camp Fremont, California.

GRAVES W S 001In the summer of 1918, William S. Graves was a highly motivated career Army officer.  He had been promoted to Major General, and he was designated to assume command of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division. The division would soon depart the United States for France; what career officer does not want to command in time of war?

Unfortunately, Graves received a reassignment on 2 August 1918.  Secretary of War Newton Baker informed him of the following: President Wilson had decided that the United States, still at war in Europe, must intervene in another part of the world to protect its investments.  The US had $1-billion worth of American made guns and equipment strewn along a segment of the Trans-Siberian Railway between Vladivostok and Nikolsk.  Someone would have to protect this equipment from falling into the hands of Germany or the Bolsheviks.  That someone would be General Graves.

Wilson appointed Graves to command the American Expeditionary Force (Siberia).  Graves’ orders, directly from the President, handed to him in the form of an aide-mémoire, included: (1) Facilitate the safe exit of 40,000 members of the Czech Legion [1] from Russia; (2) Guard the $1-billion worth of military equipment stored at Murmansk and Vladivostok; and (3) Help the Russians organize their new government.  Siberia is the coldest and most forbidding part of Russia, and instead of facing off against the German Army, Graves would confront Cossacks, Bolsheviks, and Japanese (who, still gloating over their defeat of the Russians in 1903-04, had their eyes on territorial gains in Siberia).  The Graves Expedition was the first and only time American troops invaded Russian territory.

The international force was formed under Lieutenant General Frederick C. Poole, British Army.  The force main force consisted of British [2], French, and American naval and military organizations. Other participating countries and troops included Italy, Serbia, Poland, and White Russian forces.

In July 1918, the Army’s 339th Infantry Regiment, Colonel George E. Stewart, Commanding, was hastily organized to spearhead the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (also, Polar Bear Expedition).  AEF (Siberia) included the US 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments, elements of the 12th, 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments. To operate the Trans-Siberian Railway, US Army personnel with railroad experience were assigned to this duty.

Initially in 1918, the Bolsheviks controlled only small pockets in Siberia.  International forces arrived unopposed and were deployed to the interior regions along the path of the Trans-Siberian Railway between Vladivostok and Archangel.  In accordance with a plan formalized by General Poole, Tsarist Captain Georgi Chaplin led a coup d’état against the local Soviet government at Archangel on 2 August 1918.  Allied warships seized portages from the White Sea.  In short order, a Northern Region Government was established by Chaplin and the Russian revolutionary, Nikolai Tchaikovsky.  In spite of outward appearances, General Poole was running the show.  The International force began its advance almost immediately, seizing Onega Bay. On 28 August, the British 6th Royal Marine Light Infantry Battalion was ordered to seize the village of Koikori from Bolsheviks as part of a wider offensive into East Karelia.

The first US troops arrived in Vladivostok between 15-21 August 1918.  They were quickly assigned to guard duty along several segments of the railway between Vladivostok and Nikolsk-Ussuriski in northern Russia. General Graves arrived in early September.

For the most part, the Americans stood apart from their Allies in the sense that, while acknowledging their mission to protect American-supplied property, Graves resisted General Poole’s demand for fighting troops to confront Bolshevik elements. He quite often clashed with his British, French, and Japanese counterparts over this issue.

General Graves saw his primary responsibility as making sure the Trans-Siberian railroad stayed operational.  To this end, he brought in a number of railroad experts to manage the railway.  Despite strong pressure applied to Graves to render assistance to Admiral Kolchak, he would not involve himself in the affairs of the Russian revolution and did not contribute any of his men to combat (beyond self-defense).  In fact, General Graves developed a strong dislike of Admiral Kolchak and his “White Russian” government.  Moreover, Graves thought that British, French, and Japanese commanders were pursuing self-serving political ambitions beyond the stated allied goal of protecting supplies that had been paid for by allied taxpayers.  He did embrace the mission to rescue Czechs but stopped short of trying to suppress Bolshevik forces.  Graves suspected that Japan’s involvement had more to do with annexing parts of Eastern Siberia.  He was right.

Operation Polar BearDuty in Russia was difficult, for all kinds of reasons.  US soldiers experienced problems with fuel, ammunition, and food.  Horses were unable to function in the sub-zero Russian climate.  Water-cooled machine guns froze and became worthless. Over a period of 19 months, 474 soldiers died from various causes.

As the Bolsheviks gained in military strength, they began to take a more aggressive stance toward elements of the International expedition.  Graves continued to withhold his men except in cases of self-defense. General Poole’s force (excluding the Americans) began to experience significant losses.  One Royal Marine company refused to fight and were court-martialed.  They were initially given stiff sentences, but the British government lightened or commuted most of them.

In June 1920, the American, British, and remaining allied coalition withdrew from Vladivostok.

The Japanese, however, decided to remain in Siberia thinking that their presence would in some way inhibit the spread of communism so close to the Japanese home islands.  Besides, the Japanese controlled Korea and Manchuria. Eventually, however, the Japanese found themselves in an untenable situation and were forced to sign an agreement with the Bolsheviks in order to be allowed to withdraw peacefully.

The Japanese Army continued to provide military support to the Japanese-backed Provisional Priamur Government (a White Army enclave) based in Vladivostok against the Moscow-backed Far Eastern Republic.  This continued Japanese presence concerned the United States, who had grown ever-suspicious of Japanese motives in Siberia.  Subjected to intense diplomatic pressure by the United Kingdom and United States and facing increased domestic opposition due to the economic and human costs of remaining in Siberia, Japanese Prime Minister Kato Tomosaburo withdrew Japanese forces in October 1922.

Japan’s motives in Siberia were complex and incoherent.  Overtly, Japan sent troops to Siberia for the same reasons as the other countries: to safeguard stockpiled military supplies and rescue the Czech Legion.  However, Japan’s intense hostility to communism and a desire to protect Japan’s northern security, either by creating a buffer state or through outright territorial acquisition, were also factors.  Their patronage of the White Russian Army left Japan in a diminished  position vis-à-vis the government of the Soviet Union, particularly since the Red Army emerged victorious over the White Russian Army.  Moreover, the Intervention had significant internal repercussions which led the Japanese Army and its civilian government to bitter animus and renewed factional strife inside the Army.

Japanese casualties in the Siberian Expedition included 5,000 KIA and expenses in excess of ¥900-million.

Sources:

  1. Humphreys, L. A. The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s.  Stanford University Press, 1996.
  2. Kinvig, C. Churchill’s Crusade: The British Invasion of Russia, 1918-1920.  Continuum Publishing, 2006
  3. Jackson, R. At War with the Bolsheviks.  London, 1972
  4. Wright, D. Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920. Solihull Press, 2017
  5. Long, J. W. “American Intervention in Russia: The North Russian Expedition, 1918-1919. Diplomatic History, 1962

Acknowledgements:

  1. Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)
  2. Mark Yost, The Wall Street Journal: “The Polar Bear Expedition: Frozen doughboys.”

Endnotes:

[1] The Czechoslovak Legion was a volunteer armed force fighting on the side of the Entente powers during World War I.  Their goal was to win the support of the Allied Powers for the independence of bohemia and Moravia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In Russia, the Legion took part in several battles against Central Powers and Bolshevik forces.

[2] A contingent of United States Marines accompanied the British forces, fighting alongside the 1/10th Royal Scots Regiment at Nijne-Toimski along the Dvina River. The Marines may have been part of the Marine Detachment, USS Olympia, but I am unable to confirm this.  Captain Archie F. Howard, while commanding the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, was assigned to serve in Vladivostok to protect the US Consulate.  His Marines participated with the Czech Legion in patrolling the city, but they did not engage any Bolshevik forces.  This duty was terminated early in 1919.  Major General Howard retired from active service in 1946.

U. S. Marines in Urban Warfare

EGA BlackUrban areas (cities and large towns), are important centers of gravity —points of interest that involve a complex range of human activities.  Throughout history military commanders have acknowledged that urban areas are either places that require protection, or they are centers that demand firm control.  These are mankind’s centers of population, transportation and communications hubs, seats of government, the sources of national wealth, and concentrations of industry.  Over the past three-hundred years, humans living in agrarian areas have migrated to towns and cities in ever-increasing numbers.  In just a few years nearly 85% of the world’s population will reside in urbanized areas —which places these areas squarely in the sights of military establishments seeking either to defend or seize them.  Urban areas are also areas where radical ideas ferment, dissenters cultivate allies, where human diversity leads to ethnic friction, and where disgruntled people receive the most media attention.

In its expeditionary role, the U.S. Marine Corps is trained to fight battles within urbanized terrain.  This was not always the case, but in recent history, Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) of various sizes have been deployed to address conflicts in urban areas: Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Beirut, Granada. The acronym for these operations is MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain).  Important for Marines is the fact that 60% of politically significant urban areas (outside allied or former Warsaw Pact territories) are located within 25-miles of littoral areas; 75% within 150 miles; and 87% within 300 miles. In armed conflict, whoever controls the cities exercises de facto control over a country’s natural resources.

MILLER JBHistory demonstrates that there has been an abundance of guerrilla and terrorist operations in built-up areas: Belfast, Caracas, Iraq, Managua, Santo Domingo, Viet Nam come to mind.  Beyond the fact that the control of urban areas offers certain psychological advantages that can affect the outcome of a large conflict, Marine planners are keenly aware that American embassies and consulates are located where host countries concentrate their centers of political and economic activity.  One mission the Marines share with other naval expeditionary forces is the emergency evacuation of US civilians caught up in urban insurgencies. (Photo: Cpl Blake Miller, USMC, Fallujah.  Credit: Luis Sinco, LA Times (Fair Use asserted)).

Urban areas have dramatically expanded over the past 100 years —often going beyond well-defined boundaries into suburban/countryside areas.  Connecting the inner-cities to peripheral areas has been a parallel expansion of transportation: highways, canals, and rail systems.  Industries and markets have grown up along these connectors and there has been an expansion of secondary roadways connecting outlying farms to urban areas —the effect of which further complicates the operational planning for and execution of military operations.  It widens the military footprint needed to deal with emergencies.

Urban warfare takes place in a unique battlespace —one  that provides aggressor and defender with numerous avenues of approach and defensive fields of fire.  In essence, there are four distinct battle areas: buildings, streets, subterranean networks, and air.  These are often fought simultaneously, which makes the urban warfare effort even more complicated.

The Marine’s first urban warfare experience occurred early in the Korean War.  Since then, with lessons learned through actual combat, the Marine Corps has evolved from knowing next to nothing about urban warfare to becoming America’s preeminent expert.  As a demonstration of this transition, I will offer my readers three examples: The Second Battle of Seoul, Korea (1950), The Battle for Hue City, Viet Nam (1968), and the First and Second Battles of Fallujah, Iraq (2003-4). Stay with me; I think you’ll find these interesting and informative.

Seoul, South Korea

The North Korean Army (NKPA) seized Seoul, South Korea during its invasion in late June 1950. After US Marines made their amphibious landing at Inchon in mid-September 1950, General Douglas MacArthur assigned them the mission of liberating Seoul from the NKPA force, which by then was an understrength division.  In any normal situation, the NKPA would have the advantage of defending Seoul —but in this case, the NKPA were facing American Marines, the most tenacious combat force in the entire world —true then, equally true today.

KOREAN WAREven so, the advance on Seoul was slow and bloody.  The Marines faced the 78th Independent Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Brigade, in all, about 7,000 troops.  Moreover, the NKPA decided to put every effort into obstructing the Marine advance until they could be reinforced by units operating south of Seoul.  MacArthur, as Supreme Allied Commander, assigned responsibility for liberating Seoul (Operation Chromite) to his X Corps commander, Major General Edward Almond—who knew as much about urban warfare as he did about rocket ships to the moon.  In any case, MacArthur wanted a quick liberation of Seoul and Almond, a first-class sycophant, applied continue pressure to Major General Oliver P. Smith, commanding the 1st Marine Division, to “hurry up.”  To his credit, Smith would have none of it. (Photo: Marines attack Seoul, South Korea, 25 Sep 1950; DoD Photo (Fair Use asserted)).

Marines entered the city at 0700 on 25 September, finding it heavily fortified.  Buildings were heavily defended with crew-served weapons and snipers.  On the main highway through the city, the NKPA had erected a series of 8-foot-high barricades, located 200-300 yards apart.  Every one of the city’s intersections contained such an obstacle. Anti-tank and anti-personnel mines laced the approaches to these barricades, supported by anti-tank guns and machine guns.  The Marines had to eliminate these one at a time, which took about one hour for each barricade.  Casualties mounted as the Marines engaged in house-to-house fighting.

General Almond declared the city “secure” on the first day.  Clearing operations continued for five additional days, even though effective enemy resistance collapsed by 28 September.  In the aftermath of the Second Battle of Seoul, Korea, there was no time for the Marines to analyze the campaign —such analyses would have to wait for a later time —but here I will pause to reflect on what it must take to succeed in urban warfare: the esprit de corps of fire teams who must, in the final analysis, win or lose the contest.  Private First Class (PFC) Eugene A. Obregon from Los Angeles, California, was awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to enemy machine gun fire to save the life of a wounded Marine on 26 September 1950.

Hue City, Viet Nam

In 1967, the North Vietnamese realized that their war strategy in South Viet Nam wasn’t working out quite the way they had intended.  It was time to try something else.  The government of North Viet Nam wanted a massive offensive, one that would reverse the course of the war.  When defense minister and senior army commander General Vo Nguyen Giap [1] voiced opposition to such an offensive, believing as he did that a major reversal of the war would not be its likely result, the North Vietnamese stripped Giap of his position, gave him a pocket watch, and sent him into retirement.  The politburo then appointed General Nguyen Chi Thanh to direct the offensive.  At the time, Thanh was commander of all Viet Cong forces in South Viet Nam.  When General Thanh unexpectedly died, senior members of the politburo scrambled to reinstate General Giap.

Earlier —in the Spring of 1966— Giap wondered how far the United States would go in defending the regime of South Viet Nam.  To answer this question, he ordered a series of attacks south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with two objectives in mind.  In the first, he wanted to draw US forces away from densely populated urban and lowland areas to a place where he believed the NVA would have an advantage over them.  Second, Giap wanted to know whether the United States could be provoked into invading North Viet Nam.

Both questions seem ludicrous since luring the US/ARVN military out of villages and cities was the last thing he should have wanted, and unless China was willing to rush to the aid of its communist “little brothers,” tempting the US with invading North Viet Nam was fool-hardy.  In any case, General Giap began a massive buildup of military forces and placing them in the northern regions of South Viet Nam.  Their route of infiltration into South Viet Nam was through Laos [2].  General Giap completed his work at the end of 1967; there were now six infantry divisions massed within the Quang Tri Province.

Leading all US and allied forces in Viet Nam was US Army General William C. Westmoreland, titled Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Viet Nam (COMUSMACV or MACV [3]).  Westmoreland responded to Giap’s buildup by increasing US/allied forces in Quang Tri —realizing that if one wanted to dance, they had to go into the dance hall. The one thing that Westmoreland could not do was invade either North Viet Nam or Laos [4].  Realizing this, Giap gained confidence in his notion of larger battles inside South Viet Nam. But even this wasn’t working out as he imagined.  Westmoreland was not the same kind of man as French General Heni Navarre.  For one thing, Westmoreland was far more tenacious.  Besides, meeting the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) outside populated areas would allow Westmoreland to make greater use of air and artillery fire support assets.

In phases, Giap increased North Viet Nam’s military footprint in the northern provinces of South Viet Nam.  One example of this is the NVA’s siege of the Khe Sanh combat base.  President Lyndon Johnson was concerned that the NVA were attempting another coup de guerre, such as Dien Bien Phu, where General Navarre was thoroughly defeated.  Johnson ordered Khe Sanh held at all cost.  With everyone’s eyes now focused on the events at Khe Sanh, Giap was able to launch a surprise offensive at the beginning of the Tet (lunar new year) celebration.  He did this on 31 January 1968.  It was a massive assault: 84,000 NVA and Viet Cong (VC) soldiers who violated the cease-fire accord and executed simultaneous attacks on 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities (including Saigon and Hue), 64 of 242 district capitals, and 50 hamlets.

Giap chose to violate the Tet cease-fire because he knew that many South Vietnamese soldiers would be granted holiday leave.  It was a smart move and one that opened the door for Giap’s early successes.  VC forces even managed to breach the US Embassy enclosure in Saigon.  Within days, however, the offensive faltered as US/ARVN forces were able to defeat the communist onslaught.  Heavy fighting did continue in Kontum, Can Tho, Ben Tre, and Saigon… but the largest of these occurred at the City of Hue [5].  It was the Marine’s longest and bloodiest urban battle up to that time.

In 1968, Hue City was the third-largest city in South Viet Nam.  Its population was around 140,000 souls; about one-third of these lived inside the Citadel, north of the Perfume River which flows through the center of the city. Hue also sat astride Highway-1, a major north-south main supply route (MSR), located about 50 miles south of the DMZ. Hue was the former imperial capital of Viet Nam.  Up to this point, Hue had only occasionally experienced the ravages of war —mortar fire, saboteurs, acts of terrorism— but a large enemy force had never appeared at the city’s gates.  Given the city’s cultural and intellectual importance to the Vietnamese people —as well as its status as the capital of Thua Thien Province— it was only a matter of time.

The people who lived in Hue enjoyed a tradition of civic independence that dated back several hundred years.  Religious monks viewed the war with disdain; few of these religious leaders felt any attachment to the government in Saigon.  What they wanted was national conciliation —a coalition where everyone could get along.

Hue City was divided into two sectors: the Old Imperial City, and the New City.  These two sectors were divided by the Perfume (Hoang) River, which emptied into the South China Sea five miles southwest of the city. On the north bank of the river stood the Citadel, a fortress extending nearly 4-square-miles, shaped like a diamond.  Surrounding the Imperial City were 8-meter high walls that were several meters.  There were eight separate gates, four of which were located along the southeastern side. A winding, shallow canal ran through the Citadel, with two culverts that connected the inner-city canal with those on the outside.

The “New City” was constructed south of the Perfume River; a residential and business center that included government offices, a university, the provincial headquarters, a prison, hospital, and a treasury.  The US Consulate and forward headquarters of the MACV were also located there.

Despite Hue’s importance, there were few ARVN defenders within its limits.  On 30 January 1968, there were fewer than a thousand ARVN troops inside the City.  Part of this was because a large number of troops were on leave to celebrate the Tet holiday with their families.

Hue CitySecurity for Hue was assigned to the First Infantry Division (1st ARVN Division), then commanded by Brigadier General Ngo Quant Truong.  The 1st ARVN was headquartered within the fortified Mang Ca compound in the northeast corner of the Citadel. Over half of Truong’s men were on leave for the holiday when the offensive commenced; General Truong’s subordinate commands were spread out along Highway-1 from north of Hue to the DMZ. The nearest unit of any size was the 3rdARVN Regiment, consisting of three battalions, five miles northwest of Hue.  The only combat unit inside the city was a platoon of 36-men belonging to an elite unit called the Black Panthers, a field reconnaissance and rapid reaction company. Internal security for Hue was the responsibility of the National Police (sometimes derisively referred to as “white mice”).

The nearest US combat base was Phu Bai, six miles south on Highway-1.  Phu Bai was a major U. S. Marine Corps command post and support facility, including the forward headquarters of the 1st Marine Division, designated Task Force X-Ray.  The Commanding General of Task Force X-Ray [6] was Brigadier General Foster C. LaHue, who also served as the Assistant Commander, 1st Marine Division.  Also situated at Phu Bai was the headquarters elements of the 1st Marine Regiment (Stanley S. Hughes, Commanding) and the 5th Marine Regiment (Robert D. Bohn, Commanding).  There were also three battalions of Marines: 1st Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1) (Lt. Col. Marcus J. Gravel, Commanding), 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5) (LtCol Robert P. Whalen, Commanding), and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5) (LtCol Ernest C. Cheatham, Jr., Commanding).

The attacking NVA force included 8,400 well-trained and equipped soldiers [7].  The majority of these were NVA regulars, reinforced by six VC main force battalions (between 300 and 600 men each).  The field commander of these forces was General Tran Van Quang.  The NVA plan of attack called for a division-sized assault on the Imperial City with other units serving as a blocking force.  True to form, the communists knew all they needed to know about their civilian and military objectives within the city.  VC cadres had also prepared a list of “tyrants” who were to be located and terminated —nearly all of these were South Vietnamese civilian and military officials.  Added to the list were US civilians, clergy, educators, and other foreigners.  The communists also knew all they needed to know about weather conditions.

The NVA plan, termed the General Offensive/General Uprising, was designed to incorporate both conventional and guerilla operations intending to destroy any vestige of the South Viet Nam government or western authority, and if not that, then to discredit their enemies and cause a popular uprising among the people. If all worked out according to plan, western allies would be forced to withdraw its forces from Vietnam.

There were a few senior NVA planners who thought that a popular uprising was highly unlikely; a few more expected that ARVN and US forces would drive the NVA out of the city within a few days —but, of course, such defeatist notions were best left unsaid. Meanwhile, the young, idealistic, and gullible soldiers believed the NVA propaganda and went in to combat convinced of a great victory.  When these same young men departed their training camps, they had no intention of returning.  Many wouldn’t.

The NVA assault commenced at 0340 when a rocket and mortar barrage in the mountains in the west served as a signal for the attack to begin.  The assault was over by daybreak and the communists began gathering up “enemies of the people” and killing them.  NVA and VC soldiers roamed the city at will and began to consolidate their gains. Responding to the attack, General LaHue rushed Marines forward with only scant information about the shape of the battle.  Company G 2/5 was pinned down short of the MACV compound.  They eventually forced their way into the compound, but in that process, the company sustained 10 killed in action (KIA).  After linking up with the handful of US Army advisors, the Marines were ordered across the river and fight their way through to the headquarters compound of 1st ARVN Division.  Overwhelming enemy fire forced the Marines back across the bridge. Company G took additional casualties; weather conditions prohibited the immediate evacuation of the wounded.

Soldiers of the 1st ARVN Division were fully occupied; the Marines engaged south of the river.  ARVN I Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Lam met with the III MAF commander, Lieutenant General Robert Cushman to devise a strategy for re-taking the city.  They agreed that ARVN forces would concentrate on expelling communists from the Citadel, and Marines would focus their assets in the New City.  By this time, General LaHue fully realized that his Marines were facing a large assault force.  He dispatched Colonel Stanley S. Hughes, CO, 1st Marines, to assume operational control of US forces.

Battle of Hue 1968A brutal building-by-building, room-to-room campaign was launched to eject communist forces. Untrained in urban warfare, the Marines had to work out their tactics and techniques “on the job.”  Their progress was slow, measured, methodical, and costly.  The progress of the Marines was measured in inches … every inch was paid for in blood.

On 5 February, Company H 2/5 took the Thua Thien Province headquarters compound, which had until then served as the NVA’s 4th Regiment command post.  This loss caused the NVA effort south of the river to begin faltering, but hard fighting continued over the next several days.  By 14 February, most of the city south of the river was once more in US hands but rooting out pockets of resistance would take another 12 days.  The NVA/VC continued sending rockets and mortars into Marine positions; snipers continued picking off American Marines. Operations south of the river had cost the Marines 34 dead and 320 WIA.  It had been even more costly for the communists; over 1,000 NVA and VC soldiers lay dead on the streets of the New City.

The battle continued to rage in the Imperial City.  Despite the insertion of ARVN reinforcements, their advance was stalled among the houses, narrow streets, and alley ways on the northwest and southwest wall.  The communists burrowed deeply into the walls and tightly packed buildings; they maintained control of the Imperial Palace.  They seemed to gain in strength with each passing day.  Somehow, NVA forces were regularly receiving reinforcements.

Battle of Hue 1968-002An embarrassed General Truong was finally forced to appeal to the Marines for assistance. On 10 February, General LaHue moved a Marine battalion into the Citadel.  Two days later, elements of 1/5 made their way across the river on landing craft and entered the Citadel through a breach in the northeast wall. Two South Vietnamese Marine Corps battalions moved into the southwest corner, which increased the pressure on communist forces.  In spite of this, the communists held their positions.  American Marines began an advance along the south wall, taking heavy casualties.  The fighting grew even more savage as Marines brought in airstrikes, naval gunfire, and field artillery; the NVA grew more determined to resist the bloody American assault.  On 17 February 1/5 achieved its objective but doing so cost the battalion 47 KIA and 240 WIA. The battle for the Citadel continued.

On 24 February, ARVN soldiers pulled down the communist banner that had been flapping in the breeze for 25 days.  They replaced it with the RVN national ensign.  The battle was declared at an end on 2 March; the longest sustained battle in the Viet Nam war up to that time.  ARVN casualties included 384 KIA, 1,800 WIA, and 30 MIA.  US Marines suffered 147 dead, 857 wounded.  The US Army reported 74 dead and 507 wounded. NVA/VC losses were: 5,000 communists were killed inside Hue City; an additional 3,000 were killed in the surrounding area by elements of the 101st Airborne and 1st US Cavalry.

Forty percent of Hue City was utterly destroyed.  More than one-hundred-thousand Vietnamese civilians were homeless.  Civilian casualties exceeded 5,800 killed or missing.

From these two experiences, the US Marine Corps developed a doctrine for urban warfare: Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 3-53-3.  Today, Marines are trained in the tactics and techniques for urban warfare. This publication was published in 1998; the Marines would rely on these guidelines and procedures when they were dispatched to Fallujah in 2003 (See also: Fish & Chips and Phantom Fury).

Warfare is both lethal and complex.  Today, field commanders not only have to employ their infantry to win, they also have to consider the non-combat impact of such operations, the health and welfare of citizens, maintaining law and order, address media concerns, employ psychological operational teams, control refugees, guard against urban terrorism, and establish “rules of engagement.”  The enemy in the Middle East may not look like much of a threat, but they do pose a clear and present danger to US combat forces.  It is also true that insurgents exasperate US forces because they so easily blend in with innocent populations.  This is the nature of war in the early 21st century.  This is the danger imposed by domestic terrorists. Islamists are not fools; this enemy effectively uses our own rules of engagement to their advantage.  American politicians have never quite figured this out.

Endnotes:

[1] General Giap defeated the Imperial French after eight years of brutal warfare following the end of World War II.

[2] The reason behind America’s bombing of Laos and Cambodia, referred to by the liberal media as America’s Secret War.

[3] Major component commands included: US Army, Vietnam; I Field Force, Vietnam; II Field Force, Vietnam; XXIV Corps; III Marine Amphibious Force; Naval Forces, Vietnam; US Seventh Air Force; Fifth Special Forces Group; Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support; Studies and Observations Group; Field Advisory Element.

[4] The United States did deploy covert and special forces into Laos at a later time.

[5] Pronounced as “Way.”

[6] Task Force X-Ray went operational on 13 January 1968.

[7] In January 1968, everyone knew something was off-kilter. Tet was approaching.  The people were uneasy.  The cancellation of the Tet Truce and enemy attacks at Da Nang and elsewhere in southern I Corps dampened the normally festive spirit in Viet Nam.  The first indication of trouble came shortly after midnight on January 30-31 —a five-pronged assault on all five of the provincial capitals in II Corps, and the city of Da Nang in I Corps.  VC attacks began with mortar and rocket fire, followed by large-scale ground assaults by NVA regulars.  These were not well-coordinated attacks, however, and by dawn on 31 January, most of the communists in outlying areas had been driven back from their objectives.

 

Leading from the Front

EGA BlackThe post-World War II period was no easy time for the American people.  At the conclusion of the war, Americans were exhausted. They needed a normal economy; they needed peace; they wanted to get on with their lives.  President Harry Truman, in seeking cost-cutting measures, ordered a one-third reduction of the Armed Forces.  Between 1945-50, Washington, D. C. was a busy place.  War veterans were expeditiously discharged, the War Department became the Department of Defense, the Navy Department was rolled into DoD, the US Army Air Force became the United States Air Force, and the missions and structures of all services were meticulously re-examined. In terms of the naval establishment, about one-third of the Navy’s ships were placed into mothballs; in the Marines, infantry battalions gave up one rifle company  —Marine Corps wide, this amounted to a full combat regiment.

There was more going on inside the Truman administration, however.  In 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson produced a study titled United States Relations with China with Special Reference to the Period 1944-1949.  The short title of this document was the China White Paper.  It took Acheson 1,000 pages to explain how America’s intervention in China was doomed to failure.  China’s premier, Mao Zedong was overjoyed to hear of this.  Then, on 12thJanuary 1950, Acheson addressed the National Press Club; in his discussion of the all-important defense perimeter, Mr. Acheson somehow failed to include the Korean Peninsula and Formosa as being places that the United States was committed to defend.  Upon learning of this, North Korea’s premier Kim Il-sung called Moscow and requested a meeting with Joseph Stalin.

Thus, when North Korea launched their attack on South Korea on 25th June 1950, no one in America was prepared to defend our South Korean ally.  There had been no money for combat training, insufficient munitions for live-fire training, not enough fuel for military aircraft, and no replacement parts for military vehicles.  It was a situation that affected every military command, no matter where it was situated.

In Japan, the US military maintained its occupation forces throughout the main islands.  It was good duty: there was no training, only limited flying, and only rudimentary vehicle maintenance.  There were plenty of personnel inspections, though, and lots of liberty for the troops. Senior military officers played golf, company officers learned how to keep out of sight, and unsupervised NCOs engaged in black market activities.  As for the troops, they were content with drinking Japanese beer and chasing skirts (or, if you prefer, kimonos).

As with the Marines, Army units were understrength.  Unlike the Marines, the Army’s rolling stock was inoperable and senior divisional staff were either incompetent or lazy in the execution of their duties.  Quite suddenly, the US was once more at war and the ill-trained occupation forces were rushed into a North Korean Army meat-grinder in South Korea.

In South Korea, American military units were also understrength.  Units located in and around Seoul were mostly administrative, communications, or military police units. Eighth US Army, headquarters in Taegu, included three infantry divisions: 24th, 25th and 1st Cavalry.  All of these units were lacking in men, equipment, and combat experience. Most of the troops were conscripts. Junior officers were a puzzle. Senior officers were hoping to bide their time until retirement.  The Army of the Republic of Korea (ROKA) had a force of about 58,000 men when the North Koreans launched their invasion.  ROKA was ineffective in stopping the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) for several reasons.  These soldiers were armed but had no infantry training; their officers lacked leadership, and every time the ROKA confronted the NKPA, they were soundly defeated.

When the NKPA invaded South Korea, American military units and personnel stationed in Seoul  hightailed it south to avoid capture.  Elements of the 24th Division, fed piecemeal into South Korea, were chewed up almost as soon as they arrived.  No US Army unit was prepared to confront the 80,000-man NKPA invading force, which included ten mechanized infantry divisions.  In mid-July, NKPA forces mauled and routed the 24th Division at the Battle of Hadong, which rendered the 29th Infantry Regiment incapable of further combat service.  NKPA forces also pushed back the 19th Infantry Regiment, which opened up a clear path to Pusan in southern South Korea.

At Camp Pendleton, California, the 1st Marine Division received a warning order.  A regimental combat team was quickly organized around the Fifth Marine Regiment (5th Marines): three understrength battalions under Lieutenant Colonel (Colonel select) Ray Murray.  Marine Aircraft Group 33 was attached as the air element, forming the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Edward Craig.  Craig’s deputy was Brigadier General Thomas H. Cushman, who also headed the reinforced air group.

As the brigade made sail on 14 July 1950, the balance of the 1st Marine Division was rapidly reorganizing: Marines were ordered to immediately report from the 2nd Marine Division, various Marine Corps bases and stations. Recruitment staffs were reduced. Reserve units were activated and dispatched to Camp Pendleton.  Many reserve units included men who had yet to attend recruit training.  The Seventh Marine Regiment (7th Marines) was reactivated.  Marines from all across the United States streamed in to find their slot in either the 1st Marines or 7th Marines.

The Brigade (with its full complement of equipment) arrived in South Korea on 2 August 1950.  Before the end of the day, General Craig led his infantry to establish the 8th US Army reserve at Changwon, 40 miles northwest of Pusan. On 6th August, the 5th Marines were attached to Major General William B. Kean’s 25th Infantry Division and moved an additional 13 miles southwest to Chindong-ni.  On that very night, Company G, 3/5 was rushed forward to defend Hill 342.  The Marines lost 11 men that night but inflicted 30-times that number of enemies killed.  The NKPA suddenly realized that there was a new sheriff in town.

Eighth Army units began to attack but were frequently overrun by counter-attacking NKPA forces.  Whenever this happened, the Marines were sent in to repel the NKPA, seal the gap in the lines, and restore American control over that sector.  This happened so frequently that Marine grunts developed a sense of contempt for the Army.  This attitude wasn’t entirely fair, but completely understandable.  The Marines began calling themselves “the Fire Brigade.”  The fact was that two-thirds of Marine officers and mid-to-senior NCOs in the 5th Marines had served during World War II.  They knew how to fight —they knew how to win battles.

They added to that experience between 15 August and 15 September; the 5th Marines were engaged in bloody combat almost from their first week in South Korea.  Commanding the 1st Marine Division, Major General Oliver P. Smith [1] arrived in theater at the end of August and began planning for an amphibious invasion of Inchon.  It was an audacious plan because of erratic tidal conditions in Inchon.  The Marines would have only so many hours to force their landing, and it would have to be carried out in increments —which meant that the lead units would be without reinforcements for between 12-20 hours.  General Craig’s Brigade was folded back into the 1st Marine Division.  BLT 3/5 under Lieutenant Colonel Bob Taplett spearheaded the Division assault.

After the 1st Marine Division and 7th Infantry Division knocked in the door to Inchon, Eighth Army tasked the Marines with clearing operations inside Seoul.  Urban warfare at its worst.  No sooner had this mission been accomplished, MacArthur placed the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division under Major General Edward Almond, US Army, commanding X Corps.  The Marines landed at Wonson on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on 26 October 1950; 7th Infantry Division landed at Iwon in early November.  Smith’s orders were to establish a base of operations at Hungnam.  For an account of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, click here.

As with many young men of his day, Stanley J. Wawrzyniak dropped out of school to pursue adventure in the US military.  He initially joined the U. S. Navy with service as a hospital corpsman.  As it turned out, the Navy wasn’t Wawrzyniak’s cup of tea, and so he accepted discharge at the end of his enlistment and joined the Marines.  He was serving with the 5th Marines on 25 June 1950. He was one of 2,300 Marines sent to square away the South Korean peninsula.  Since few people could pronounce his Polish last name, everyone just called him “Ski.”

The Silver Star Medal

Silver Star 001On 28 May 1951, while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak’s platoon assaulted a well-defended Chinese communist position.  Without regard for his own personal welfare, while under heavy enemy fire, Wawrzyniak moved forward shouting words of encouragement to his men as they advanced against the hail of enemy mortar and small-arms fire to gain the enemy position.  Although painfully wounded in the assault, Sergeant Wawrzyniak refused first-aid in order that he might remain to supervise the treatment and evacuation of other wounded Marines.  The initiative and aggressiveness displayed by Sergeant Wawrzyniak reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. 

The Navy Cross [2]

Navy Cross 001On 19 September 1951, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak, while serving as Company Gunnery Sergeant, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, led an assault in his company’s final push against a heavily fortified and strongly defended enemy hill-top position.  During the assault, Sergeant Wawrzyniak courageously exposed himself to enemy small-arms and grenade fire while moving and maneuvering his force and marking enemy positions and targets.  As the squad neared the crest of the hill, Wawrzyniak observed an enemy position that threatened the squad’s entire left flank.  Wawrzyniak single-handedly charged the emplacement, killed all of its occupants, and although painfully wounded, he immediately rejoined the attack. Seizing an automatic rifle from a fallen comrade when his own ammunition was exhausted, he aggressively aided the squad in overrunning the enemy position, directed the pursuit of the fleeing enemy, and consolidated the ground position.  By his daring initiative, gallant determination, and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of hostile opposition, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak served to inspire all who observed him, contributing materially to the successes achieved by his company, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The Navy Cross (Second Award) [3]

Gold Star 001On 16 April 1952, while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, an outnumbering enemy force launched an assault upon an outpost position.  The outpost commander and his immediate squad were cut off from friendly lines by intensive hostile fire.  Technical Sergeant Wawrzyniak unhesitatingly assumed command of the remaining Marines and promptly organized an effective defense against fanatical attackers.  With the position completely encircled and subjected to extremely heavy enemy machine-gun, recoilless rifle, mortar, and small-arms fire, Wawrzyniak repeatedly braved the hail of blistering fire to reach the outpost, boldly led the men back into the defensive perimeter, replenished their supply of ammunition, and encouraged them while directing fire against close-in enemy assaults. Although painfully wounded, Wawrzyniak refused medical treatment for himself and aided medical personnel in treating and dressing the wounds of his Marines.  By his outstanding courage, inspiring leadership, and valiant devotion in the face of overwhelming odds, Technical Sergeant Wawrzyniak upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

After the Korean War, Master Sergeant Ski was recommended for a commission as a Marine Corps officer.  In subsequent years, his reputation as a combat Marine followed him from post to station.  He somehow managed to add to his colorful legend with each successive assignment.

In 1960, Ski attended training at the Marine Corps Cold Weather Training Center.  While practicing a glacier rescue technique, he was accidently dropped by his belayer into a crevasse.  The fall caused serious internal injuries.  The only route out of the crevasse required a descent of 2,000 feet and traversing some 3-miles over extremely rough terrain.  Refusing to be carried out, Ski walked the entire way carrying his own rucksack.  During rest stops, Ski urinated blood.  When he later learned that his belayer was being blamed for the injury, Ski defended him, stating, “It wasn’t his fault; it was my fault for not making sure he was ready.”

Some months later, Ski was assigned as a student at the Escape, Evasion, and Survival Training Course.  Ski was assigned to lead an evasion team … which promptly disappeared and was unobserved by any instructor for four days. Ski’s team finished in first place for this training exercise, but then … Ski was used to finishing in first place. In his mid-30’s, he finished first at the Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools.  He didn’t brag about his accomplishments; he simply believed that an older, more experienced Marine ought to have finished first.

One of the duties of an adjutant is to communicate the orders of the commanding officer at assembled formations.  In one instance, Ski was ordered to read a letter of censure aloud at morning formation so that a Marine could be properly chastised for breaking the rules.  The problem was that the words used in the construction of this letter were a bit more than most of the assembled Marines could understand.  Realizing this, Ski shoved the letter into the hand of the Marine being chastised, telling him: “Here—you take this damn thing, read it, and don’t screw up again.”

As Ski was promoted through the ranks, it became a bit obvious to others that his career might be limited.  He was serving as a field grade officer, without a college education.  He also a bit profane; he spoke in a way that one might expect from a company gunnery sergeant, but not from a field-grade officer.  This was never a problem among his enlisted Marines but was a handicap when among senior officers, who regularly complained about Ski’s colorful language.

Typically, general officers like to be pampered —perhaps thinking that having made it all the way to flag rank, they’re somehow entitled to having everyone of lesser grade kiss their ass.  Ski didn’t kiss ass.  How he ever wound up being assigned as the Protocol officer at Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler, Okinawa confused almost everyone who knew him.  It was during this assignment that Ski managed to offend a visiting senior officer.

It was during the Viet Nam War and at that time, Okinawa camps served as staging and transit facilities for combat replacements.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Ski’s boss wasn’t too pleased when this VIP expressed his displeasure over something Ski had (or had not) done.  The Commanding General called Ski in to his office for one of his “get closer to Jesus” moments.  The General pointedly told Ski that if he ever screwed up another senior officer visit, he’d find himself in Viet Nam.  Major Ski could hardly wait for the next general officer visit.

The Bronze Star Medal

Bronze Star 001In Vietnam, Ski was assigned to serve as Executive Officer, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.  During this assignment, Ski was awarded two Bronze Star medals and his fourth Purple Heart.  Ski was always “at the front.”  Why? Because that’s where leaders are supposed to be.  Even as a battalion XO, he would somehow manage to involve himself in such things as security patrols [4].  Ski would never re-enter friendly lines until he was certain that every Marine on patrol had been accounted for.  At the conclusion of one of these missions, an NCO told him, “Sir … you’ve got more balls than brains.”

I served under in Wawrzyniak in 1972-73. He commanded Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, which at the time was located on Okinawa.  In this assignment, Ski wore three hats: Battalion Commander, Division Headquarters Commandant, and Area Commander for Camp Courtney, Okinawa.  I was one of the 1,700 Marines assigned to Wawrzyniak’s battalion, at the time a staff sergeant.  In addition to my regular duties, he assigned me as a platoon commander in the 3rd Marine Division honor guard, which also supported the co-located Headquarters of the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).  Colonel Wawrzyniak always provided feedback after an honor guard detail.  It was either “Good fucking job, Marine,” or “Ya fucked up, didn’t ya?  Get your shit together.”

At this time, III MAF was commanded by Lieutenant General Louis Metzger [5] (who was known by some as Loveable Lou). General Metzger was a no-nonsense general officer under whom I had previously served when he commanded the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

Metzger 001A World War II Era Marine, (then) Brigadier General Metzger demanded perfection from his officers.  His demeanor was gentlemanly, but direct.  He spoke with a baritone voice.  He never spoke at anyone, but rather engaged them in conversation.  Of course, throughout the conversation, he also engaged you with his eyes.  You knew that he was listening carefully to what you had to say —and he knew when someone didn’t know what they were talking about.  Whenever General Metzger asked a question, he expected a frank, honest, and well-thought-out response.  If one happened not to know the answer, all you had to do was say so and then go find out what he wanted to know.  If someone tried to bluff his way through a conversation with Lou Metzger, he’d eat you alive.  He always asked challenging questions —not to embarrass anyone, but because he expected a person of some position to know the answers to such questions..

During the Viet Nam War, 9th MAB had several important missions beyond providing the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with battalion landing teams.  One of these was the continual review of contingency operational plans —necessary at a time when the world situation was in a state of continual flux.  The General also had a photographic memory and the ability to speed read, comprehend, and analyze complex battle plans.  In this process of review, General Metzger wasn’t particularly pleasant whenever a staff officer knew less about these plans than he did —hence the label “Lovable Lou.”  Beyond his directness and his no-nonsense approach to serious matters, Metzger was an exceptional general officer.  One always knew where you stood with him.

Wawrzyniak 001A few years later as a lieutenant general in command of III MAF, Metzger was the senior-most officer of the “general mess,” the dining facility [6] for all officers serving in the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters and III MAF at or above the rank of colonel.  The General Mess included three general officers and around 15 or so colonels.  The only lieutenant colonel permitted to dine in the general mess was the Headquarters Commandant, who was also responsible for managing it.  One night at dinner, a somewhat grumpier than usual General Metzger had taken but a few bites of his salad when he threw his fork down on the table, looked down toward the end of the table where sat LtCol Wawrzyniak and said, “Damn it, Ski … why can’t we ever have fresh vegetables?”

Ski’s reply stunned everyone into silence.  “General, there aren’t any fucking fresh vegetables … so if you don’t like the fucking vegetables, then don’t eat the fucking vegetables.”  No one spoke to General Metzger in such a crude and insubordinate manner.  After what seemed like a very long pause Metzger said, “Okay, Ski … no need to get testy.”

Two very fine Marine Corps officers … both of whom it was my privilege to serve; two legendary Marines now long deceased.  These are the kinds of Marines who most effectively lead Marines to win battles. I think of Metzger and Wawrzyniak often, which in my own mind means that they live still.  How grand it would be to “return” to an earlier time and serve alongside them once more.

Few senior officers today are capable of filling either of these men’s combat boots —which is disturbing to me because our Marines deserve the best leaders— and these were two of the very best in their own unique style of leadership.  What Major Anthony J. Milavic once said about Ski is absolutely true: “Ski was a leader of Marines who knew each of us; communicated to each of us; and, each of us knew that he cared about us.  If he sometimes cursed at us, that was okay because he was always with us: at physical training, climbing a mountain, falling off a cliff, or in a combat zone —always  at the front— he was always with us.

Ski and Metzger are still with us … well, they’re with me anyway.  Memories.

Endnotes:

[1] See Also: Scholar-Warrior.

[2] United States’ second highest award for courage under fire in time of war.

[3] Ski was initially recommended for award of the Medal of Honor for this action.

[4] Security patrols are dispatched from a unit location when the unit is stationary or during a halt in movement to search the local area, detect the presence of enemy forces near the main body, and engage and destroy the enemy within the capability of the patrol.  It is standard to send out such patrols when operating in close terrain where there are limitations of observation and concentrated fires.

[5] Awarded two Navy Cross medals for exceptional courage under fire during World War II; Legion of Merit; two awards of the Bronze Star Medal.

[6] Military officers pay for their meals and other consumables at the end of each month.  Mess bills cost senior officers more than junior officers.