Operation Beleaguer

China Marines — the Final Chapter

EGA BlackDuring World War II, China was a battlefield with three opposing armies: Nationalists, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.  When World War II ended in 1945, more than 650,000 Japanese and Korean military personnel and civilians were still in China and in need of repatriation.  There is an interesting prequel to this event.

In 1912, Imperial China was overthrown and replaced by a Republic under President Sun Yat-sen.  The Republic had a short lifespan, however.  General Yuan Shi-Kai (commanding the New Army) forced Sun from office and proceeded to abolish national and provincial assemblies.  In late 1915, Yuan declared himself Emperor. This too was a short-lived government. Overwhelming opposition to imperial rule forced Yuan from office in March 1918.  He died a few months later.

Yuan’s abdication created a power vacuum in China —one almost immediately filled with local or regional warlords.  Whatever China’s skeptics thought of government in 1918, negative popular opinion grew steadily worse over time.  A nation-wide protest movement among anti-Imperialists in 1919 developed out of the government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which ceded Chinese territory to Japan —the consequence of which made China a victim of Japan’s expansionist policies— aided and abetted by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  These protests sparked a sudden upsurge in Chinese nationalism, the creation of populism, and a move toward radical socialism.  It was the birth of China’s “new culture movement.”

Repudiating western political philosophy, the Chinese became even more radicalized, inspired as they were by the Russian Revolution and the tireless efforts of Russian agents living in China at the time.  The result of this was the growth of irreconcilable differences between the political left and right —a condition that dominated Chinese political history for most of the rest of the twentieth century.

In the 1920s, former-President Sun Yat-sen established a revolutionary base in south China.  His mission was to unite China’s fragmented society.  Influenced and assisted by the Soviet Union, Sun formed an alliance with the Communist Party of China.  Sun, who passed away in 1925, was eventually replaced by one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang seized control of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and having brought most of south and central China under his rule, then launched a military campaign called the Northern Expedition.  It was Chiang’s intent to secure the allegiance of northern warlords.  In 1927, Chiang turned his attention to the Communist Party, pursuing them relentlessly in a campaign history recalls as the “White Terror.”  In addition to killing off as many communists as possible, he also rounded up political dissidents  —killing as many of them as he could find.

Communist leader Mao Zedong led his followers into northwest China, where the established guerrilla bases in Yan’an.  A bitter struggle between Chiang and Mao even continued through the 14-year long Japanese occupation of China (1931-1945).

During this period, Chiang and Mao nominally formed a united front to oppose the Japanese, the so-called Second Sino-Japanese War, which became part of World War II.  In reality, Mao made every effort to avoid contact with the Japanese during World War II —even despite the fact that he was regularly receiving US-made military equipment.

At the conclusion of World War II, Chiang and Mao wanted nothing to do with repatriating Japanese soldiers to their homeland.  US President Harry S. Truman therefore ordered the Navy and Marine Corps into China.  Their assigned mission was to (1) accept the surrender of Japanese forces, (2) arrange and affect their shipment back to Japan (or Korea), and (3) assist Chinese Nationalists in reasserting their control over areas previously occupied by Imperial Japan.  After four years of a bloody Pacific War, US Marines were handed another combat assignment.

K E ROCKEY 001
LtGen K. E. Rockey USMC

In China, 1945-49

The US 7th Fleet and III Amphibious Corps (III AC) were assigned to duty in China.  By presidential order, Marines were prohibited from taking sides during the Chinese civil war.  They were, however, authorized to defend themselves against any hostile assault. Major General Keller E. Rockey [1] commanded III AC.  He answered to the China Theater commander, Lieutenant General Albert C. Wedemeyer [2], U. S. Army.

In Hopeh Province

The 1st Marine Division occupied positions in the vicinity of Tang-Ku, Tientsin, Peking, and Chinwangtao; the 6th Marine Division was assigned to Tsingtao.  The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing established air base operations at Tsingtao, Tientsin, and Peking.  General Rockey was assigned to command the Shanghai Corps region as an additional duty. III AC began its relocation to China on 15 September 1945.  The 3rd Marine Division at Guam and the 4th Marine Division in Hawaii were designated as area reserve forces.  The operation was designated BELEAGUER.

The Marine’s arrival in China was met by joyful crowds of Chinese civilians.  Brigadier General Louis R. Jones, then serving as the Assistant Division Commander, 1stMarDiv immediately met with port officials in Tang-Ku to make arrangements for the surrender of the Japanese garrison.  Scenes of elated Chinese, anxious for liberation from Japanese control, was repeated wherever the Marines came ashore.

On 1 October 1945, Lieutenant Colonel John J. Gormley at Chinwangtao was faced with desultory fighting between Chinese Communist (Chicom) and Japanese Imperial troops, who had yet to be disarmed.  Gormley, commanding the 1stBattalion, 7thMarines (1/7) ordered the Japanese troops with withdraw from the town to a bivouac he designated and then detailed his Marines to establish a buffer-zone on the outskirts of the city.  Initially, the Chicom seemed satisfied, but cooperation between the Marines and Chicom didn’t last very long.  Before the end of October, Chicom elements began sabotaging railroads leading into Chinwangtao and ambushing American held trains.  Eventually, Chinwangtao became a major center for communist resistance to American peace-keeping operations.

Japanese Imperial soldiers had also had their fill of war.  They were ready to return home, so most Japanese military personnel surrendered to the US Marines within days of their arrival in China.  On 6 October, General Rockey accepted the surrender of 50,000 Japanese at Tientsin. An additional 50,000 Japanese surrendered to General Lien Ching Sun, Chiang’s personal representative, four days later.  The Marines assigned all surrendering Japanese to bivouac or barracks near the seacoast.  Because the number of American personnel was insufficient to the task assigned to them, some Japanese Imperial troops were re-armed and utilized as area guards until they could be replaced by Chiang’s Nationalist forces.

Trouble began on 5 October when a Marine reconnaissance patrol traveling along the Tientsin-Peking road found 36 unguarded roadblocks.  An engineer section and a rifle platoon were called up to dismantle the obstructions and restore the highway to usefulness.  The next day, at a point about 22-miles northwest of Tientsin, these 35-40 Marines were attacked by an estimated 50-60 Chicom soldiers.  A brief firefight forced the Marines to withdraw with their wounded.  Another detachment of Engineers was sent back the next day to complete the removal of roadblocks —this time accompanied by an infantry company reinforced by tanks and on-station air support.  The road was reopened and, from that point on, Marines were detailed to provide a regular motorized patrol of the vital roadway.

In Peking, the 5th Marines who established themselves in the old Legation Quarter, co-located Brigadier General Jones’ advance command post.  A rifle company was placed at each end of the Peking airport.  The 1st Marines and 11th Marines under overall command of Colonel Arthur T. Mason set in at the Tientsin airfield.  The Taku-Tang-Ku area was garrisoned by 1/5.  Battalions 1/7 and 3/7 (with necessary attachments) were assigned to protect the Tang-Ku-Chinwangtao railroad.

C A LARKIN 001
Maj Gen C. E. Larkin USMC

1stMAW units under Major General Claude E. Larkin established control over the Tientsin airfield.  Flight echelons were assigned to airfields at Tsingtao, Peiping, and Tientsin.  However, due to adverse weather conditions in Japan, Marine air operations were initially limited between 9-11 October 1945. The first extensive use of airfields under American control was made by Chinese Nationalist forces.  Between 6-29 October, fifty-thousand Chinese Nationalist forces were airlifted to Peking from central and southern China by the 14th Army-Air Force.

The Chicom 8th Route Army observed these movements with interest. Communist raids and ambushes against the Marines soon became a regular occurrence.  President Truman had set the Marines down in the middle of a fratricidal war with ambiguous instructions to abstain from participating in the civil war, while at the same time “cooperating” with Nationalist Chinese forces.  It was a very thin tightrope, but in time, President Truman made things even worse.

In November 1945, Chiang Kai-shek began preparing for a campaign to take control of Manchuria.  General Wedemeyer, who also served at Chiang’s military advisor, warned him to secure his hold on the vital provinces in northeastern China before entering Manchuria because military operations there would require an overwhelming force. Disregarding this advice, Chiang pulled his Nationalist troops out of Hopeh and Shantung, leaving them unprotected from Chicom guerrillas, who quickly seized control.  Chiang’s operation into Manchuria was the beginning of his end on the mainland.

In Shantung Province

A much larger Communist force controlled most of the countryside and coastal regions in Shantung.  Tsingtao remained a Nationalist stronghold, but they were little more than an island in a Communist sea.  Japanese guards controlled the rail line leading from Tsingtao.  Until Nationalist troops were able to relieve them, there was no hope of rapid repatriation.  Shortly after General Rockey accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in Tientsin, he departed for Chefoo, more or less as an advance party for the 6thMarDiv. General Rockey wanted to investigate conditions at that port city.  Upon arrival, Rockey discovered that Chicom elements had already taken control of the city. Moreover, the Communists were determined not to cooperate with the American Marines.

Prior to General Rockey’s arrival, Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, commanding the US 7th Fleet, messaged the Communist commander requesting that he withdraw his men.  The Communist-installed Mayor demanded terms that were unacceptable to Admiral Kinkaid. Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, Commander, VII Amphibious Force, recommended that the landing of 6thMarDiv be postponed.  General Rockey agreed.  The 6thMarDiv came ashore at Tsingtao on 11 October.

6MARDIV 001On that very day, 6thMarDiv’s reconnaissance company preceded the main body and moved through the city’s streets lined with flag-waving citizens to secure the Tsang-Kou airfield, located ten miles outside the city.  On the following day, Marine observation aircraft landed at the airfield.  On 13 October, a Communist emissary arrived in Tsingtao with a letter for the Commanding General, 6th Marine Division —Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd [3].  In this letter, a Chicom official offered to cooperate with the Marines to destroy the remaining Japanese Imperial Army and the rest of the “traitor” (Nationalist) army.  The official expected that in return for his cooperation, the Marines would not oppose his forces.  General Shepherd’s response included a reaffirmation that his Marines were not present to destroy either the Japanese or any Chinese force.  Shepherd also clearly stated that a Communist occupation of Tsingtao was undesirable because the city was peaceful.  Moreover, he would not cooperate with Chicom forces and assured this official that should it become necessary to employ his Marines against anyone, they were capable of coping with any situation.

The 6thMarDiv was fully disembarked by 16 October.  A formal surrender of the 10,000-man Japanese garrison at Tsingtao was affected on 25 October 1945.  Again, despite their surrender, Japanese troops were retained to help defend Tsingtao against Chicom aggression.  Clashes between Chicom and Japanese Imperial troops was a frequent occurrence.  Marine Aircraft Group 32 (MAG-32) commenced regular reconnaissance missions on 26 October. MAG-32 landed at Tsingtao on 21 October, soon joined by MAG 25.  MAG 12 and MAG 24 took possession of the Peking airfield.  Major General Louis A. Woods replaced General Larkin as air wing commander on 31 October.

Combat ensues

On 14 November 1945, Chicom elements attacked a train carrying General Dewitt Peck and a component of the 7th Marines near the village of Ku-Yeh. An intense battle lasted for more than three hours.  Chinese fire from the village was so powerful that the Marines were forced to called in air support.  Unfortunately, since Marine aircraft could not clearly distinguish the enemy’s positions, and because of the risk to civilians, permission to fire was not granted.  In time, the Chicom forces withdrew and as there were no Marine casualties and the train proceeded.

General Peck’s train was ambushed again the next day.  This time, Chicom forces had ripped up 400-yards of the track. Workers sent to repair the line were killed or wounded by land mines.  Since repairs would take longer than two days, General Peck returned to Tangshan and boarded a flight to Chinwangtao.  In the minds of the Marines, what was needed in this area was a strong offensive by Chinese Nationalists.  Commanding the Northeast China Command, General Tu Li-Ming agreed to drive back Chicom forces in order to keep the Marines from becoming involved in the conflict.  In return, General Peck agreed to assign Marines to guard duty at rail bridges between Tang-Ku and Chinwangtao —a distance of 135 miles.  The problem was that the 7th Marines were already under-manned. General Shepherd transferred the 29th Marine Regiment to Tsingtao to serve under the operational control of the 7th Marines.

On 7 July 1946, China’s communist party issued a statement condemning US policy toward China.  Within a short time, Chicom troops launched two minor attacks against the Marines. The first occurred on 13 July when a Chicom unit ambushed Marines who were guarding a bridge fifteen miles outside Peitai-ho.  The Marines were overwhelmed and taken prisoner.  After some negotiation with American officials, these Marines were released unharmed.  Then, on 29 July, a small convoy was ambushed near the village of An-ping by a sizeable well-armed force of uniformed Chicom soldiers.  The ensuing battled lasted approximately four hours.  Marine aircraft were called in to provide support to the beleaguered Marines and a relief force was also dispatched.  The Marine commander intended to encircle the Chicom force, but the reinforcing unit failed to arrive before the Chicom force has withdrawn.  Four Marines were killed, including the platoon/convoy commander, Lieutenant Douglas Cowin, Corporal Gilbert Tate, and PFCs Larry Punch and John Lopez. An additional twelve Marines were wounded in the action.  This was a serious incident and a signal for the Marines that peace in China would be next to impossible to obtain.

Six miles northwest of Tang-Ku, Hsin-ho was the location of a 1stMarDiv ammo depot.  On the night of 3 October 1946, Chicom raiders infiltrated the depot intending to steal munitions.  A sentry from 1/5 discovered the intrusion and opened fire on the infiltrators.  A Marine reaction force responded immediately but was ambushed.  A firefight of some 40 minutes resulted and, once again, the Chicom raiders withdrew before additional reinforcements could arrive.  An investigation conducted immediately after the incident discovered the body of one Chicom raider and revealed that several cases of ammunition had been taken [4].  One Marine was wounded during this engagement.

Another engagement at Hsin-ho occurred on the night of 4-5 April 1947.  A company size Chicom force initiated a well-planned, well-coordinated attack on three isolated ammo-storage areas within the Depot.  A small guard force attempted to defend the depot but was overwhelmed. Within the guard detachment, five Marines were killed, eight more were wounded, and the Chicom force successfully intruded the depot and hauled away a considerable store of ammunition.  Marine reinforcements were delayed by the clever placement of landmines, preventing a rapid deployment of combat/reaction forces. An additional eight Marines of the reaction force received serious wounds.  Nationalist Chinese assumed control of this ammunition storage site at the end of April.  The second engagement at Hsin-ho was the last hostile engagement between Chicom and Marine forces in China.

President Truman’s attempt to reconcile Communist and Nationalist parties, to achieve peace and promote economic recovery, was an utter failure. It was not Truman’s last failure. He would fail again in 1950 —and 38,000 more Americans would die in the Korean War.  Not even the formidable George C. Marshall could save China from herself.  Nevertheless, the “Committee of Three [5]” began a series of meetings on 7 January 1946.  A cease-fire was proclaimed, and yet, for the Marines in China, there was never a time when a guard detachment considered itself “safe” from Chicom ambush or assault.

Only half of the estimated 630,000 Japanese and Koreans in China had been repatriated between March-April 1946.  Chiang Kai-shek demanded the stores of weapons and ammunition that had been taken from the Japanese prisoners, but General Wedemeyer refused Chiang’s request until Nationalist forces had officially assumed control of the repatriation program.  As this work continued, Marines were assigned to guard duty watching over the Japanese and Koreans embarking aboard ships to take them home.  There was one other mission the Marines performed: that of protecting American lives and property in China, which is precisely what the Marines had always done in China.

Even though President Truman had tasked the Marines with a nearly impossible mission, he almost immediately began a general demobilization of the Armed Forces.  Marines serving in China were eligible to return home for discharge under Operation Magic Carpet.  This sudden reduction in force left the China occupation force in a quandary: how to achieve their objectives with far fewer troops.

Truman’s decision and timing placed the Marines in a dangerous situation.  General Wedemeyer was notified on 13 December 1945 that the 6th Marine Division would be deactivated.  Major General Shepherd was ordered back to the United States.  He was relieved by Major General Archie F. Howard [6], who was soon ordered into retirement.  Including grunts and air-wingers, there were not enough Marines left in China to man a regiment: 1/29 was disbanded; the third battalion of each infantry regiment was deactivated along with the last lettered battery of each artillery battalion within the 1stMarDiv.

The Fourth Marine Regiment, the historic backbone of the China Marines would be the only regiment in the Corps left intact with three infantry battalions—it was only a temporary reprieve.  1stMAW deactivated the Headquarters and Service squadrons of MAG-12, which also lost VMFN-541, and VMTB-134.  Control of the south end airfield at Peking was turned-over the US Army Air Force.

On 1 April 1946, the 3rdMarDiv was redesignated as 3rdMarine Brigade.  Of the remaining 25,000 Marines in China, most were young, inexperienced replacements. With their back to the wall, Marine leaders immediately began training them for possible combat.

Control of the Chinese theater was reassigned to the Commander, US 7th Fleet.  While still facing the possibility of hostile acts by Chicom forces, the Marines were ordered to begin their withdrawal from China in the summer of 1946.  The process of organizational shrinkage continued: 3rd Brigade Marines merged with the 4th Marine Regiment.  III Amphibious Corps was deactivated.  Officers and troops were either reassigned in-country or returned to the United States.  1stMarDiv regiments in China became battalions.  Ultimately, the 4th Marine Regiment was ordered back to the United States —its last organization departing on 3 September 1946.  Battalion 3/4 was ordered detached from the 4th Marines and served as a separate battalion under the operational control of the fleet commander.

Within two years, the Nationalist Chinese forces were on the verge of collapse.  Chicom forces were taking control of China in leaps and bounds.  Accordingly, Marine units were continually shifted to avoid being isolated by Chicom military units.  When the Chinese communists captured Nanking, on 24 April 1949, the Chinese Revolution was essentially over.  The last American Marines to leave China departed on 16 Mary 1949.

In total, Marine ground forces lost 13 KIA and 43 WIA in clashes with Chicom forces.  During this same period, Marine Corps Aviation lost 14 aircraft and 22 aircrewmen.

Endnotes:

[1] LtGen Rockey (1888-1970) commanded the 5thMarDiv during the Battle for Iwo Jima.  He is a recipient of the Navy Cross and three Distinguished Crosses.  Prior to his retirement, he served as CG FMFLant and Assistant CMC.  General Rockey retired in 1950.

[2] A staunch anti-Communist.

[3] Twentieth Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps (1 Jan 1952-31 Dec 1955).  Shepherd served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. He was a recipient of the Navy Cross, the last World War I veteran to service as Commandant, the first CMC to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as Commandant during the Korean War.

[4] During World War II, President Roosevelt’s lend-lease program was extended to both Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists in equal measure.  The apparent hope was that both forces would use this equipment against the Japanese in China.  The Communists, however, stored these arms and equipment in caves located in northwest China, intending to use them against the Nationalist forces at the conclusion of the war.  Chicom raiders wanted to steal US caliber ammunition because it was suited their American-provided weapons.  In essence, American Marines were being killed and wounded by US manufactured equipment, provided to a potentially enemy by a President of the United States.

[5] The Committee of three consisted of General Marshall, representing President Truman, General Chang Chung, representing Chiang Kai-shek, and Zhou Enlai, representing the Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong.  The purpose of the committee was to establish a framework within which good-faith negotiations could proceed to achieve peace in China.  It didn’t work out that way.

[6] Captain Archie F. Howard served in the Polar Bear Expedition to China 1918-1919.

A Great Naval Officer

I feel privileged to have been part of our country’s naval establishment.  In my years as a Marine, I have known and worked with superb Navy officers.  So, I enjoy relating stories about the best of the lot, as opposed to officers (of any service) who allowed politics to interfere with their obligations as officers: we have had too many instances of this in our history going all the way back to the Revolutionary War—some of these more recent.

In my opinion, one of the great Naval officers in our history was Bowman Hendry McCalla (1844-1910), a man who was not only proficient in the application of naval power, but also one who demonstrated personal courage in the face of the enemy, and an officer who knew how to best utilize his Marines.  He wasn’t a perfect man; he made mistakes, as we all have from time to time, but he was a good man who did his best to serve the United States of America.

McCalla was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in November 1861.  At that time, the USNA was temporarily located at Newport, Rhode Island (note 1).  In November 1864, young McCalla graduated fourth in his class.  After graduation, he was assigned to the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron.

Following the Civil War, McCalla served successively with the South Pacific Squadron, the Home Squadron, and the European Squadron through 1874.  Within this ten year period, McCalla was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.  Upon completion of his tour with the European Squadron, he was assigned to serve as an instructor at the US Naval Academy.  He afterward served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the steamer USS Powhatan, and from 1881 to 1887, as assistant bureau chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation.  He first came to public notice in April 1885 when he led an expeditionary force of Marines and Sailors in Panama to protect American interests during an uprising against Colombian control.  

From 1888 to 1890, then Commander McCalla served as Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise, which was then part of the European Squadron.  Known as a strict disciplinarian, McCalla crossed the line in his dealings with subordinates and, as a result, faced a highly publicized court-martial upon his return to the United States.  Among other charges, he was accused of striking an enlisted man.  Convicted of all charges, McCalla was suspended from duty for three years, which caused him to lose several numbers on the navy’s seniority (lineal precedence) list.  He was restored to duty in 1893 and served three years as the equipment officer at the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco, California —it was not a great assignment, but McCalla had to demonstrate that he had learned his lesson.

In 1897, Commander McCalla assumed command of the Montgomery-class cruiser USS Marblehead (note 2).  With the beginning of the Spanish American War, McCalla was placed in command of Navy Forces blockading Havana and Cienfuegos, Cuba.  He shelled the port city of Cienfuegos on 29 April 1898.  Then, on 11 May, members of the ship’s crew, along with sailors from the USS Nashville, cut two of the three telegraph cables located at Cienfuegos.  McCalla later made arrangements with local Cuban insurgents regarding ship-to-shore communications, but he erred in failing to so inform his superiors.  This oversight caused a significant delay in Commodore Winfield Scott Schley’s ability to blockade the enemy’s naval forces, then under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete at Santiago de Cuba.

USS Marblehead participated in the blockade before being detached to reconnoiter and seize Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.  McCalla bombarded Spanish positions there on 7 June, capturing the outer harbor for use as a supply base for the American blockading squadron.  He then provided material support to the amphibious assault by the 1st Marine Battalion on 10 June.  With the Marblehead, McCalla remained on station while the Marines solidified their positions, and, having done so, taking an instrumental part in the effective bombardment of a Spanish fort at Cayo del Toro in Guantanamo Bay.  In appreciation of his actions, the Marines honored the commander by naming their encampment after him —Camp McCalla.

Owing to his courage in the face of the enemy, McCalla was advanced six numbers in grade, restoring him to the seniority he had held before his court-martial.  

McCalla was promoted to Captain in 1899 and ordered to assume temporary command of the Norfolk Navy Yard; he assumed command of the USS Newark in September for service on the Asiatic Station.  Arriving on station, McCalla participated in the naval campaign against Filipino insurgents during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).  It was during this time that Newark was directed to provide reinforcements and needed supplies to the American Legation in Peking. 

Captain McCalla afterward led 112-sailors and Marines, reinforcing the Seymour Expedition; as senior US Naval officer, Vice Admiral Seymour appointed McCalla to serve his deputy commander.  Confronted by overwhelming Chinese forces, the Seymour Expedition was unsuccessful in reaching Peking, but during a series of engagements, Captain McCalla was cited for displaying calm and steady courage under fire despite being wounded.  Captain McCalla was later commended for bravery by the Congress of the United States, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and King Edward VII of Great Britain.

McCalla completed his sea service as Commanding Officer of the battleship USS Kearsarge and, as an additional duty, serving as Chief of Staff to the Commander, North Atlantic Squadron.  He was then assigned to command the Mare Island Navy Yard.  Promoted to Rear Admiral on 11 October 1903, McCalla oversaw the Navy’s immediate response to the San Francisco earthquake in April 1906 —which involved ordering ships, sailors, and Marines to aid the stricken city.  

Rear Admiral McCalla retired from active naval service in June 1906.  He remained in the San Francisco area after retirement; in 1908, he helped welcome the ships of the Great White Fleet to San Francisco Harbor.  

Admiral McCalla passed away in Santa Barbara, California on 6 May 1910.

Sources:

  1. Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War, Morrow, 1992
  2. Coletta, Paolo. Bowman Hendry McCalla: A Fighting Sailor, University Press of America, 1979
  3. Feuer, A.B. The Spanish American War at Sea: Naval Action in the Atlantic, Praeger, 1995
  4. Marine Corps Museum, Manuscript Register Series No.1, Register of the Henry Clay Cochrane Papers (1809-1957) 
  5. Trask, David F.  The War with Spain in 1898, University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
  6. Tucker, Spencer C., Ed. Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, ABC-CLIO LLC 2009

Notes:

1Following the Baltimore Riot on April 19, 1861, pro-Confederate Marylanders took action to stop the movement of Union volunteers through the city on their way to Washington.  Telegraph wires were cut, and railroad bridges were destroyed.  USNA Superintendent George S. Blake, who was concerned about the possibility of a Confederate attempt to occupy the Naval Academy, decided to relocate the school to Newport, Rhode Island on 25 April 1861.

2 USS Marblehead was an unprotected cruiser commissioned on 2 April 1894.  She was decommissioned on 21 August 1919.  An unprotected cruiser was in common use during the late Victorian period; she was little different from a large gunboat.

Send in the Marines!

Chinese Imperial Colors

The United States’ first interest in China was demonstrated in 1784 when an American flagged merchant ship departed from New York bound for Canton, China. Denied access to British markets, which, given the number of ports then controlled by Great Britain, had a stifling effect on an emerging American economy.  Americans went to China looking for new markets to buy goods.  They were well received by the Chinese, and in fact some historians have suggested that the Chinese preferred dealing with Americans who wanted to purchase Chinese made goods, while the European nations were only interested in selling to the Chinese.

By the mid-1800s, Sino-American relationships had grown.  The interest in markets continued, but so too did an interest in converting millions of Chinese to the Christian faith.  Christian missionaries were among the first Americans to study Chinese language, culture, and history—and it was these missionaries that helped to shape America’s overall perceptions of Imperial China.

As for the Chinese, America was seen as a land of opportunity.  Thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States during the California gold rush, and labor was in high demand to help build transcontinental railway systems.  Some Chinese leaders were so inspired by the American political system that they sought to model a new China on the American Republic.

Thus, for much of America’s history, relationships between the United States and China were positive. In the late Nineteenth Century, however, European powers and Imperial Japan were expanding their colonial interests. Some of these wanted to break China up into colonies, each of these controlled by one European power or another.

The Chinese “Boxer”

Discontent with foreigners had been on the rise in China since 1898, when the “I Ho Ch’uan Society” (Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) began gaining popularity in northwest China. This group, commonly referred to as Boxers, opposed foreign influence and developed strong opposition to Christian missionaries.  As the Boxers became better known, their ranks swelled with farmers and laborers who were adversely affected by droughts that had come on the heels of devastating floods.  The Boxers believed that these misfortunes were the result of foreigners and Christian missionaries.

Over time, Boxer activity spread to additional provinces; provincial leaders, as well as the Imperial Court were inconsistent in their stand relative to the issues.  On some occasions, Chinese authorities sought to protect foreigners and Christians.  At other times, these same officials stood by and watched the resentment escalate.  Tzu Hsi, the empress dowager of the Manchu Dynasty, was publicly anti-Boxer, but privately she encouraged the Boxers.

Turn of the Century cartoon depicting Uncle Sam dictating the Open Door Policy to European and other interests.

In the fall of 1899, the United States was a late arrival in China.  Nevertheless, the US wanted to maintain what Secretary of State John Hay called an “open door” policy in China.  That is to say, a proposal that China keep its door open to foreign trade, but at the same time barring any foreign nation from controlling the internal affairs of China.  If the Boxers succeeded in pushing the United States and other foreign countries out of China, this newly opened door could soon be shut.  Secretary Hay maintained that it was in America’s best interests to maintain an independent China.  Nevertheless, maintaining an open door in China was a challenge, since nations seeking to colonize and control China pursued their own interests irrespective of what the United States thought.

In the next year, a crisis erupted in China as Boxers increased their resistance to foreign influence and presence.  This increased violence served as an impetus to the alliance of eight nations: Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States.  Each of these nations maintained legations in Peking.  As the Boxers became progressively violent, hundreds of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians began flocking into that city asking for the protection of the foreign legations.

On 28 – 29 May 1900, Boxers burned several strategically placed railroad stations.  Receiving word of this, the foreign legations wisely suspected that they were being systematically isolated, and it wasn’t long before they telegraphed for help.  The 8-nation alliance responded immediately.

LtCol John Twiggs Myers

On 31 May, Captain John Twiggs Myers, USMC [1] arrived in Peking in overall command of two ship’s detachments of American Marines.  This newly formed Legation Guard consisted of Myers’ twenty-five Marines from the USS Oregon along with Captain Newt Hall, USMC and twenty-three marines, five sailors, and an assistant surgeon from the USS Newark.  Also arriving in Peking were 350 sailors and naval infantry from other foreign nations.

A second multi-national force was organized on 10 June under the command of British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour —the largest contingent of which were British, with but 112 American sailors and Marines.  US Navy Captain Bowman McCalla [2] was detailed to serve as Admiral Seymour’s second in command.  The Seymour Expedition traveled north, rebuilding the railroad line as they went—and did so with the Chinese government’s authorization.  The Chinese government knew that the railway lines between Tianjin and Peking had been severed —in fact, had ordered it done. It was a set up.

In Peking, the first Boxer was seen in the Legation Quarter on 11 June 1900.  The German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, ordered his soldiers to capture the Boxer, who was but a young lad.  Inexplicably, Ketteler ordered the boy’s execution.  The boy’s death served as the catalyst of a massive attack by thousands of Boxers into the walled city, who commenced a systematic campaign of pillaging and burning Christian churches and cathedrals.  Captured Christians (foreign or Chinese) were burned alive.  American and British missionaries took refuge inside the Methodist Mission and an attack there was repulsed by US Marines.

The blood-letting continued as soldiers at the British and German Legations shot and killed several Boxers, further alienating the Chinese population, and the effect of which nudged the Qing government toward supporting the Boxers.  Vengeance-seeking Moslems soon joined the Boxers in attacking and killing Chinese Christians.

Vice Admiral Edward Seymour, Royal Navy

Seymour received news about the Chinese attacks on foreign legations on 18 June; he decided to continue his advance.  The expedition had come within 25-miles of Peking when it was set upon by overwhelming Chinese forces.  By the next day, Chinese resistance was so severe that Seymour was forced to withdraw. Two-hundred of his men had been either killed or wounded.  The expedition was low on food, ammunition, and medical supplies.  It was at this point that the expedition discovered a cache of munitions at an arsenal.  Seymour captured the arsenal, occupied it, and decided to wait for reinforcements.

Also on 18 June, the Chinese government informed the foreign ministers that a state of war would soon be in effect, unless the legations withdraw from China within the next 24-hours. As a plum, the Chinese government promised safe passage as far south as Tientsin.  On the following day, the foreign ministers announced that they had no intention of leaving China.  Thus, on 20 June 1900, as promised, the empress dowager issued her declaration of war that included praise for the Boxer insurrectionists.  A siege of the city began on that very day.

U. S. Marine Corps field uniform, c. 1900.

Chinese artillery and small arms fire became a constant form of harassment, although initially, there were no organized attacks against the foreign legations, but each agreed to form pro-active, mutually supporting military defense.  On 25 June, Marines placed themselves at a critical position on the Tartar Wall—otherwise, the entire legation would have been subjected to devastating fires from the Chinese rebels.

The Boxers constructed barricades some distance from the front of the Marine position.  During the night of 28 June, Private Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by crawling on his hands and knees to the Chinese position, and in so doing, gathered vital intelligence about Boxer activities.  Each day, the Chinese moved their barriers closer to the Marine position on the Tartar Wall and by 2 July, these barricades had become unacceptably close to the Marine position.

Captain Myers responded by attacking the Chinese barricade.  At a time when the Chinese least expected it, Myers led an attack against the barricades on the Tartar Wall.  The Chinese fell back to another barricade hundreds of yards further on.  During the engagement, two Marines were killed, and Myers received a serious wound to his leg from a Chinese lance.  With Myers seriously wounded, Captain Hall assumed command of the Guard.  An informal truce was made on 16 July, although Chinese harassment continued until the foreign legations were relieved on 14 August 1900.

American Marines participated in several actions after Myers’s force reached Peking.  After the failure of the Seymour Expedition, the United States quickly scrambled additional troops to help end the siege of Peking. Two separate detachments of Marines left Cavite in the Philippine Islands and joined up near Taku, China. The first detachment consisted of 107 Marines from the 1stMarines, who left Cavite on USS Solace.  A second detachment of thirty-two marines sailed from Cavite aboard USS Nashville.  These two detachments were combined to form a battalion under the command of Maj. Littleton W. T. Waller.  On 20 June, the Marine battalion, augmented by approximately four hundred Russian soldiers engaged the Chinese near Tientsin.

Although the marines served as the spearhead of the American-Russian attack, they had scant success against the greater Chinese force.  Following an overwhelming counterattack, Waller decided to withdraw. The Marines formed the rear guard of the retreat, in which they were pursued for four hours, ending up where they started, suffering three killed and seven wounded.

Two days later, Waller’s battalion and the Russian force were strengthened to two thousand men with the arrival of British, Russian, German, Italian, and Japanese troops.  This enlarged force went on the offensive the next day and took all but the inner walled city of Tientsin.  On 28 June, the international force relieved Seymour’s expedition, which had been held up for a month at the Hsi-Ku Arsenal north of Tientsin.

The 9thUS Infantry arrived on 6 July, joining the allied force near Tientsin.  The number of Marines serving in China increased when 318 men under the command of Colonel Robert L. Meade arrived on 10 July from the Philippines.  Meade’s Marines moved from the coast to Tientsin, where it joined Waller’s battalion with Colonel Meade assuming command of the all Marine forces.

The next day, the allied force launched an attack against Tientsin to rid the walled inner city of any remaining Boxer forces.  The attacking force, commanded by a British general officer, included American Marines, the 9th US Infantry, British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian infantry.  Fighting took place most of the day, but there was little to show for it.  Of the 451 Marines engaged in this action, seventeen enlisted men and four officers became casualties.  A Japanese night attack finally broke through the Chinese defenses, which allowed the international force to enter the walled city of Tientsin.

General Chaffee, U. S. Army

On July 30, US Army General Adna R. Chaffee [3] arrived in Tientsin and assumed command of all US forces in China.  Arriving with Chaffee was another battalion of Marines under the command of Major William P. Biddle [4], two battalions of the 14thUS Infantry, the 6thUS Cavalry, and one battery from the 5thUS Artillery.

The mission of the China Relief Expedition was to relieve the legations in Peking and protect American interests in China.  On 4 August 1900, the international force of approximately 18,000 combat troops left Tientsin for Peking.  Chaffee’s force of 2,500 Americans included 482 Marines.

On 5 August, Japanese infantry engaged and defeated a Chinese force at Pei-tsang.  The next day, Marines fought successfully at Yang-stun. The international force reached Peking and relieved the foreign legation on 14 August but experienced several casualties from heat exhaustion during the 85-mile march to Peking.

Upon reaching Peking, Marines aggressed the north gate to destroy Chinese snipers and set up an observation post.  Two enlisted men, along with First Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler, were wounded in the assault. By the time the siege was lifted, the Legation Guard suffered eighteen casualties: 7 were killed, 11 wounded, which included Captain Myers and the assistant surgeon.

Marines advanced to the Imperial City on the next day, but light resistance to the presence of foreign military forces continued throughout China for several months.  A Boxer Protocol was finally signed in September 1901. Afterwards, US Marines returned to their former assignments and locations.

Of those who served during the Boxer Rebellion, 33 enlisted men were awarded the Medal of Honor, including the first posthumous award of the Medal of Honor: Private Harry Fisher was killed on 16 July while engaged in combat on the Tartar Wall.  Private Dan Daly received his first Medal of Honor for heroic action on the night of 15 July.

Brevet Medal

At this time, military officers were not eligible for the award of the Medal of Honor; instead, those noted for courage under fire were distinguished by advancement of numbers in grade, or on occasion, they were awarded brevet rank [5].  Captain John T. Myers was brevetted Major; First Lieutenant Butler was advanced to brevet captain, and First Lieutenant Henry Leonard was advanced two numbers in grade.  Three officers who served during the Boxer Rebellion would become commandants of the United States Marine Corps.

In its aftermath, there was an unfortunate downside to the Boxer Rebellion.  A few civilians and members of the news media [6] first claimed and then reported that Captain Newt Hall was “over cautious” in the defense of the legation by abandoning the barricades —the suggestion being that in doing so, he jeopardized the safety of members of the legation [7].  The fact was that Captain Hall was a somewhat taciturn individual who was not especially liked by members of the legation, whereas Captain Myers was both personable and popular.  With his name sullied and given the competitive nature of service in the Marine Corps, Captain Hall demanded a court of inquiry.

RAdm Bowman H. McCalla, USN

Captain Bowman McCalla, USN, who, according to Marine Corps historian Colonel Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., was “neither fool nor faint of heart,” unreservedly recommended Hall for a brevet promotion for his conduct under fire in Peking [8].

Captain Hall’s court of inquiry convened on 1 March 1901 in Cavite, Philippine Islands.  It cleared Captain Hall of any malfeasance, but the wording of the court noted that he was not charged “for the reasons that he has already suffered enough for the worldwide publication and criticism for his conduct in Peking.” This was clearly a case of damnation by faint praise.

The Secretary of the Navy further confounded the issue when he approved brevet promotions for Myers and Hall but, in advancing Captain Myers four numbers in grade for eminent and conspicuous conduct, failed to give a similar compliment to Hall.

Nevertheless, Captain Hall served a full and distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, retiring in grade of Colonel in 1929.

Notes:

[1] The story of Handsome Jack of the Marines is told here.

[2] McCalla, later to serve as a Rear Admiral, was cited for conspicuous gallantry during this expedition.

[3] Adna Romanza Chaffee (April 14, 1842 – November 1, 1914) played a key role in the US Civil War, the Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and the Boxer Rebellion.  He rose to the rank of lieutenant general, United States Army and served as Chief of Staff from 1904 to 1906.

[4] William P. Biddle served as a United States Marine from 1875 to 1919.  He participated in the Spanish-American War, Battle of Manila Bay, Boxer Rebellion, China Relief Expedition, Philippine-American War, and World War I.  He was the 11th Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1910 to 1914.

[5] A warrant that gave commissioned officers a higher title in rank in recognition for gallantry or meritorious conduct in battle without conferring authority, precedence, or pay of actual rank/promotion.  An officer so promoted was referred to as Brevet Major or other ranks.  An officer so promoted would be noted as Bvt. Major Harold Jones.

[6] G. E. Morrison, The London Times, as one of the complainants.

[7] The late Marine historian, retired Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr., in Soldiers of the Sea, wrote, “Other charges circulated that Hall had hesitated to lead his men forward over the barricade on the final day when relief was in sight.  Ugly talk it was,” noted Heinl. The talk came to the attention of U.S. Army Major General Adna R. Chaffee, who commanded all U.S. forces in China.  He detailed Captain William Crozier, who had distinguished himself in the relief column, to look into it. Crozier found that virtually all the complaints were from civilians (who would not know courage if it bit them on the leg) and recommended no further action.

[8] It was at about this same time that Century Magazine published a slanderous, attack on Hall by a civilian named W. N. Pethick, who had been at Peking during the siege.

 

Among the Old Breed

As with many of the so-called old breed, Littleton W. T. Waller was an authoritarian officer whose initial commission as second lieutenant of Marines occurred on 24 June 1880.  These old breed Marines were of a different type from those wearing the uniform today.  In the late 1800’s, Marine officers and enlisted men lived hard, drank hard, and fought hard.  Their near-legion consumption of liquor was part of the norm, but with that said, there was no tolerance for an inebriated Marine on duty.  The Marines of Waller’s time were trained by strict disciplinarians … the old salts that accepted no excuses for less than stellar performance; they demanded results and left an indelible mark on their subordinates.  If officer candidates survived their harsh training, they became officers; if they failed, they were dismissed from the Corps.

I have described Waller’s exploits as a battalion commander in the Philippine Islands in two earlier posts (here and here); he became a controversial figure owing to two significant events: his march across Samar, and his court-martial.  Some historians have argued that even though he achieved the rank of major general, his court-martial (although acquitted) may have kept him from serving as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Others have said that the court-martial was not a factor[1].

Waller was born in York County, Virginia.  Both sides of his family originated in England, migrating to the Americas during the colonial period.  They were wealthy, well-educated, and politically astute.  His ancestors included men with military titles, lawyers, justices, and politicians.  Some of these men served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses; one served on the Virginia delegation to consider the Declaration of Independence.

Referred to as “Tony” by his friends, Waller was regarded as bright, but he was no scholar.  He was an outdoorsman who was fond of hunting, fishing, and riding.  As with many others in his own time, Waller was intimately familiar with three works: The King James Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  The evidence for this appears in his writing of reports from foreign shore where he incorporates phrases from each of these.  In their own memoirs, Major General Smedley D. Butler and Colonel Frederick M. Wise, described Waller as an eloquent speaker and a fascinating story-teller.

Wallers initial tours of duty were shore-based commands.  The first at the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, Virginia, and the second at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C.  He then embarked on his first tour at sea, assigned as executive officer under Captain Henry Clay Cochrane, commanding the Marine Detachment, USS Lancaster.  Lancaster was the flagship of the European squadron, and Cochrane was a veteran of the American Civil War (you don’t get more “old school” than this).

In 1882, Cochrane and Waller were present at the British naval bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt and participated in an amphibious landing of mixed bluejackets and Marines.  As the French had withdrawn their forces from the city, American Marines and sailors were needed to provide protection to the US Consulate, American citizens, and displaced foreign nations.  The landing force consisted two companies: one consisting of sixty-nine sailors under the command of Lieutenant Frank L. Denny, USN and 63 Marines commanded by Lieutenant Waller, USMC.  The overall landing force commander was Lieutenant Commander Charles Goodrich, USN, Captain Cochrane served as Goodrich’s executive officer.

Denny and Waller approached the city center with due caution, reaching the Square of Mehmet Ali (location of the US Consulate).  Designating this location as their headquarters, Marines and sailors began to patrol the city streets.  Subsequently, Waller and his Marines were placed under the command of Lord Charles Beresford’s British forces protecting the European quarter.  The anticipated rebel attack never materialized, however, and after ten days a four-thousand-man British force arrived to relieve the American company.  The Times of London later reported, “Lord Charles Beresford states that without the assistance of the American Marines, he would have been unable to discharge the numerous duties of suppressing fires, preventing looting, burying the dead, and clearing the streets.”[2]

As there was no wireless radio in those days, and the telegraphic cable office in Alexandria was not functioning, the Squadron Commander had approval to land the naval force, but once ashore Goodrich had been on his own. It was he who made the decision to stay with the British rather than follow in trace behind the French.  As one of only four officers in the landing force, Waller would have been present as important decisions were made.  It was an experience that stood him in good stead in later years.

During the Spanish American War, Captain Waller served aboard the battleship USS Indiana as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.  He was present during the battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.  Indiana’s position in the American fleet precluded her participation in the initial chase of the Spanish Navy, but Waller’s Marines did participate in naval gunnery against the Spanish ships Pluton and Furor.  Waller’s Marines pulverized the Spanish ships.  Waller later said that the only problems he encountered during this engagement was in keeping Marines not engaged in gunnery under appropriate cover.

It wasn’t long before the Spanish Navy fell to American naval fires; it may have been one of the most lopsided engagements in naval history: every Spanish ship was destroyed and no US ship suffered more than minor damage.  Within a period of a single hour, Waller’s gunners fired five-hundred rounds from their six-inch guns.  In their hour of triumph, however, the American then performed acts of mercy.  Indiana’s commander, Captain Robley D. Evans, directed Waller to launch the ship’s whaleboats to pick up as many of the shipwrecked Spanish sailors as possible.  With sailors at the oars and Marines in the bow and stern to haul in swimmers, Waller’s detail worked throughout the day.  Here were men already weary from passing ammunition during a naval engagement now sunburned and hands swollen and cracked from salt water, saving their enemy from sure death.  The squadron commander, Admiral William T. Sampson, wrote of Waller’s service to the Secretary of the Navy: “… This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and gallant conduct of the day.  The [Spanish] ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammunition were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazines.  In addition to this a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships.  But no risk deterred our officers and men until their work of humanity was completed.”

Waller later wrote of this service: “After working for hours with the wounded, we took the prisoners on board ship; there were on board my ship, two hundred and forty-three in all.  We issued clothes to the naked men, and the officers gave up their clothes and beds to the Spanish officers.  Only a few months ago I received a letter from the widow of one of the officers of Admiral Cervera’s staff, telling me of her husband’s death, and saying that it was his wish that she should thank me for all that I had done for him; and I have received many tokens and letters besides this in grateful acknowledgement of the mercy shown.”

Waller later received recognition for this service by award of the Specially Meritorious Service Medal; he is believed to be the only Marine to receive this award.

In early 1900, Major Waller was assigned at the Naval Station, Cavite, Philippines.  He was ordered to command a detachment of Marines assigned to take part in an expedition to relieve the siege of Peking, China—then Imperial China’s capital city.  The city, with its enclave of foreign legations, was besieged by a mixed force of Boxers, so called because their official group moniker was “Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” and the Chinese Imperial troops egging them on.  Waller and his Marines arrived at Taku, China on 19 June 1900, soon afterwards moving inland where they linked up with a Russian column of some 400 men.  On 21 June, the Americans and Russians set out for Tientsin, an enemy-held city.  Their route took them through areas estimated to contain between 1,500 to 2,000 hostile Chinese.  Coming under heavy enemy fire, the column was forced to withdraw with the Russians in the vanguard, and Waller faced with a desperate rearguard struggle.  Waller, leaving behind the dead, dragged along his wounded and fought off numerically superior forces to reach safety.  The Marine Detachment immediately returned to duty, however, and was attached to a British column led by Commander Christopher Craddock.  On 24 June, an international contingent consisting of Italian, German, Japanese, Russian, British, and American forces, again set off for Tientsin.

After participating in the final battle for the City of Peking on 13-14 July, Waller’s Marines took possession of the American sector and brought order out of the chaos caused by the Chinese retreat.  Waller was subsequently promoted to Brevet[3] Lieutenant Colonel and advanced two numbers on the lineal precedence list of officers.  Waller thus became one of only twenty Marines to receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal when the decoration was created in 1921.  The Brevet Medal was replaced by the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

It was during Waller’s service in China that he began a long-running friendship with a Lieutenant by the name of Smedley D. Butler.  Butler was the only Marine officer to receive two awards of the Medal of Honor.  In 1905, Waller served as best man at Butler’s wedding.  These two Marines remained close friends for the rest of Waller’s life.

Tony Waller was promoted to Brigadier General in 1916, and advanced to the rank of Major General (temporary) in 1918.  However, having failed for selection to the post of Commandant of the Marine Corps, there was very little else Waller could do but retire.  On 22 March 1920, Waller appeared in front of the Marine Corps Retirement Board.  The board concluded that Waller was incapacitated for further service due to arterial sclerosis, that the incapacity was the result of military service, and recommended retirement in grade of Major General.  The White House approved the recommendation and ordered Waller retired effective 22 May 1920.  However, at the direction of President Woodrow Wilson, Waller was retained on active duty until 16 June 1920.  According to at least one military historian, Waller took part in more actions than any other Marine Corps officer of his period.  He lived out the remainder of his days in Philadelphia, passing away on 13 July 1926 at the age of 69-years.  General Waller is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] Selection to serve the post as Commandant of the Marine Corps was highly political in the period before 1940.  Military aide to both Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, Captain Archibald Butt, U. S. Army, indicated that the Samar incident had nothing at all to do with Waller’s non-selection to the highest post in the Corps; rather there were forces in the Senate that worked feverishly to have their own man advanced as Commandant.  Still, the anti-Imperialist press did maul Waller at every opportunity, suggesting very heavily that a man lacking concern for his fellow man didn’t deserve to represent the entire Marine Corps.  The politicians won the day.

[2] In these times, there was no wireless radio and the telegraphic cable in Alexandria was not functioning.  The US Naval Commander had obtained the approval of Washington D. C. to land the mixed company of Marines and Sailors, but once ashore Lieutenant Commander Goodrich was entirely on his own.  Goodrich made the decision to remain with the British rather than to return his men to their ship.  Waller, as one of only four officers, would have been privy to all decisions being made ashore.  As a 24-year old lieutenant, Waller learned about independence of command; it would stand him in good stead in future years.

[3] A brevet promotion entitles an officer to wear the rank insignia of the next higher grade, albeit without any increase in pay.  It the Marine Corps, a brevet promotion only came as the result of exceptionally meritorious service or gallantry during a period of combat.

 

On to Corregidor —Part VIII

Most of the men assigned to Company A ended up fighting the Japanese on their own initiative during the night of 5/6 May 1942. Lieutenant Harris was forced to withdraw from Cavalry Point once Mercurio’s position was overrun. PFC Nixon got into a bayonet dual with one Japanese soldier, and after wounding him, continued moving toward the sound of gunfire.

IJA CommanderMost of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry came ashore within fifteen minutes; within 30 minutes, Japanese infantry were moving toward Marine positions. The plan concocted by Colonel Gempachi Sato (pictured right conferring with his staff) seemed to be working, but the 785 men of the reinforced 2nd Battalion were not quite as successful. The current worked against them, and when the landing force neared North Point, where all defensive positions were intact, within ten minutes of the first assault, the Marines were ready and waiting. This fight raged for 35 minutes; Japanese lost 9 of their 10 landing craft. Most of the Japanese officers were killed within a few moments and the soldiers that did make it ashore were trapped behind rocks that were nestled into the beach sand. One machine gunner declared, “It’s like shooting ducks in a rain barrel.” He no doubt experienced adrenalin-induced euphoria. It wouldn’t last.

Once the Marines realized the extent of the Japanese Army successes, they initiated a counterattack designed to eject them from the area of Denver Battery. This was the location of the heaviest fighting; it was where Imperial Japanese soldiers came face to face with the American defenders. A few reinforcements did make their way to the frontline of the 4th Marines, but the battle became a duel of obsolete World War I weapons against accurate Japanese knee mortars. The defenders were outmatched.

Colonel Howard committed his last reserves at 0430 … some 500 Marines, sailors, and soldiers of a provisional fourth battalion. Movement forward was very costly because Japanese snipers took positions of great advantage to themselves. An additional force of 900 Japanese soldiers arrived at 0530. The Marine regiment was able to hold its position at some locations, while losing ground in others. The Japanese, running short of ammunition, resorted to bayonet charges; the Marines were happy to accommodate them, but any successes were strictly temporary.

The battle raged for several hours, a final blow coming around 0930 when three Japanese tanks landed and went into action. The defenders of Denver Battery withdrew to the ruins of a concrete trench just as Japanese artillery delivered a massive barrage. Fearful of the consequences should the Japanese be forced to take the Malinta tunnel, especially owing to the fact that the tunnel contained 1,000 sick and wounded men, and realizing that the defenders outside the tunnel were unable to hold back the Japanese assault for much longer, Lieutenant General Wainwright decided to surrender his men as a means of saving their lives.

General Wainwright sent a radio message to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.”

Colonel Howard dutifully burned the National Ensign and the Battle Color of the 4th Marine Regiment. He then led his men into captivity.

US-USMC ColorsIn the defense of the Philippine Islands, the 4th Marine Regiment gave up 72 killed in action, 17 who died of wounds, 167 wounded in action, and 474 died in captivity. The regiment would remain decommissioned until 1 February 1944.

End of series; next week, a miracle.

 

On to Corregidor —Part VII

Corregidor Marines 004Initially, the area of responsibility assigned to 1/4 was heavily wooded and dotted with coastal artillery barracks and other buildings; by early May the entire region was completely barren of any vegetation and the buildings were mere remnants; dust a foot thick covered the entire area, the result of heavy pummeling by Japanese bombs. The Marines (a term which now includes all other assigned personnel, regardless of their service affiliation) were constantly repairing beach defenses. Enemy fire was so accurate that the troops could only be fed at night. Shown right, LtCol Curtis T. Beecher and his battalion runner.

Casualties began to mount, including the officers. Major Harry Lang, commanding Company A was killed; Captain Paul Brown and one of his platoon commanders in Company B received serious wounds. Company D lost one Marine officer and three Army officers to Japanese bombs. While Army officers were quickly appointed to command these companies, they had scant knowledge about infantry tactics or how to lead men in combat. The troops had little confidence in them, but this wouldn’t matter for very long.

Colonel Howard reported to General Wainwright and briefed him about the condition of the 4th Marines. After delivering his report, General Wainwright informed Howard, “We will never surrender this command to the Japanese.” Colonel Howard realized that Wainwright was under tremendous pressure. “The matter of surrender never came up; I was on there to brief him about the effectiveness of my command.”

Early in the evening of 5 May 1942, a Philippine civilian arrived in a small fishing boat on the beach at Corregidor. He carried a message from Philippine intelligence on Bataan. He was promptly taken to LtCol George Hamilton, the regimental intelligence officer. The message warned of a Japanese amphibious assault on the night of 5/6 May 1942. The Japanese plan was to land the 61st Infantry Regiment during the evening of 5 May, seize the airfield, and then capture Malinta Hill. A second regiment of the 4th Infantry Division would land on Morrison and Battery Points. The two forces would then join for the capture of topside.

IJA landing Corregidor 1942At 2240 hours artillery shelling concentrated on the north shore beach defenses, in the sector of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. At 2300, supplies of food and water were just reaching the beach positions when landing boats were reported offshore. Then, a second concentration of artillery pounded the beach for just under ten minutes; the barrage ended with phosphorous shells —no doubt a signal for the landing force to proceed. The landing consisted of 790 men of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. Captain Lewis Pickup of Company A watched as the landing craft angled toward his company’s position. He ordered searchlights turned on and Marines began pouring fire into the landing craft with 37mm guns, machine guns, and individual rifle fire. The Japanese troops struggled in the mire created by layers of oil from the ships that had been sunk earlier. PFC Barnes and one other position were the only remaining automatic weapons of 13 positions—the rest destroyed by enemy bombardments.

First Lieutenant Bill Harris passed the word to his Marines, “Fix bayonets.” Master Gunnery Sergeant Mercurio ordered one of his Marines to go forward observe and report the location of the Japanese. When PFC Nixon got to the beach, the Japanese were only 30 yards away. In the darkness, Japanese infantry were able to by pass the Marine positions, which were spread too thin to be effective. Fighting quickly became hand-to-hand. Corporal Franklin remembered, “It was damn bloody.” A grenade went off close to Franklin, who sustained shrapnel wounds to the face and head. Stunned, he laid down on the ground and hazily saw a Japanese coming at him with a bayonet. Franklin suddenly jumped up, and with his own bayonet, attacked the Japanese soldier. Franklin received a bayonet wound to his chest, but he managed to kill his enemy. Afterward, Franklin ran up the trail past another enemy soldier, who shot him in the leg, but the Marine kept moving until he reached the safety of Malinta Hill.

Continued next week

On to Corregidor —Part VI

Battery A moved to Corregidor on 17 February 1942. Remaining on Bataan was the Marine Air Warning Detachment, the USAFFE Guard, and Battery C. Disease became a significant problem: malaria began to take its toll, along with the heat and insufficient food to keep the Marines going.

Washington relieved MacArthur of his duties in the Philippines on 22 February. Major General Wainwright assumed command of the newly designated US Forces in the Philippines (USFIP).

The Japanese knew what they were doing: cleverly timed aerial bombardments kept the Marines from getting badly needed rest. After 24 March, air raids increased in their frequency; throughout the night, Japanese artillery harassed the Marines every 25 to 30 minutes. In one typical 24-hour period, two periods of shelling began at 0950 and 1450; six bombing raids began at 0400 and spaced throughout the day. PFC Kenneth R. Paulin of Company M was killed during the day by shellfire from the Cavite shore. Bombing raids ended at 2205, but began again at 0100.

Corregidor Marines 003By the end of March 1942, rations had been reduced to 1,000 calories per day and Wainwright discovered that all food stores on Corregidor would run out by the end of June. He radioed to MacArthur in Australia, but there was nothing MacArthur could do. No ship could get through the Japanese line. At the beginning of May, the defenders of Corregidor consumed only 30 ounces of food per day: 8 ounces of meat, 7 ounces of flour, 4 ounces of vegetables, 3 ounces of beans and cereals, 2 ounces of rice, and 3 ounces of milk. PFC Ben Lohman recalled that they ate mule meat whenever the Japanese bombing killed one of the animals. In the 4th Marines, some of the men had lost 40 pounds as a result of reduced rations and the stress of Japanese bombardments.

Very slowly, the Marines were being deprived of the energy needed to resist the Japanese assault.

Bataan fell to the Japanese on 9 April 1942; 75,000 American soldiers were taken prisoner.

As men subsequently became available from disintegrating units, they were integrated into the 4th Marines and assigned to support the beach defense. Fifty-eight sailors from the USS Canopus were organized into a reserve company and received training by Marine platoon sergeants. Ten Marines and an additional 40 sailors were added to the company after the fall of Bataan. The largest group of reinforcements involved 72 officers and 1,173 enlisted men from more than 50 different organizations —all of these assigned to the 4th Marines, which may have transformed the regiment into the most unusual organizations in the history of the Corps. They involved Navy, Army, Philippine Army, and Philippine Scouts. Ordinary seamen found themselves alongside Army engineers, tankers, and aviation mechanics. By the end of April, the 4th Marines numbered 229 officers, 3,770 men —of whom only 1,500 were Marines.

Lieutenant Colonel Beecher now commanded 360 Marines, 500 Filipinos, 100 American sailors, and 100 American soldiers. He armed them with the 1903 Springfield rifle, hand grenades, Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), four 37mm guns, and eight 30-caliber machine guns. A few mortars and .50 machine guns were also available from cannibalized ships. But all these weapons wouldn’t do these defenders any good if the troops became ineffective due to a lack of fresh water.

Continued next week