The start date for history is that first moment in time when a human being recorded some past event — that, were it not for the record of that event, we could not know about it. In Panama, that moment occurred in 1501, when Rodrigo de Bastidas began his exploration of the Isthmus of Panama’s east coast. This is not to say that there were no human beings in Panama — only that we don’t know very much about them beyond the guestimates of archeologists and anthropologists.
Christopher Columbus’s fourth voyage in 1502 took him in a southeasterly direction from the upper region of Central America to the areas of Bocas del Toro, Veragua, the Rio Chagres and Portobello (named by Columbus). In these early times, Spanish explorers referred to the Isthmus of Panama as Tierra Firme.
Several years later, the Spanish Crown granted Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa the right to colonize the area between the Gulf of Uraba (northern Colombia) and present-day Honduras. The plan was to create a unitary administration somewhat similar to what later became Nueva España (New Spain (Mexico)). Tierra Firme was later appointed to control over present-day Jamaica and several other Caribbean islands. Vasco Nunéz de Balboa created the first permanent settlement, called Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien (later, Dariena) (northern Colombia) in 1513, from which he began his famed expedition — one that made him the first European to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean — which he named the South Sea.
It was Balboa’s fantastical descriptions of the isthmus that prompted King Ferdinand II to name this new territory “Golden Castile.” Ferdinand appointed Pedro Arias Divila (also Pedrarias) (a veteran soldier) as its governor. He arrived in the New World in June 1514 with 22 ships and 1,500 men. In 1519, Pedrarias moved his capital to Castilla del Oro, founding a new location for a city he named Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá (Panama City). Without any concrete evidence to support this contention, the origin of the word “Panama” is believed of native origin, its meaning “many fish.” Pedrarias was also instrumental in settling present-day Nicaragua.
Panama remained part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years. In the total of the Americas, no other region would prove to be as strategically or economically important. Encroachment attempts by other European countries to seize Panama prompted the Spanish Crown to establish the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1713 and Panama was placed under its protection. Unfortunately, the capital of New Granada was located at Santa Fe de Bogotá — its remoteness was a major obstacle in effective governance. Equally problematic was the competition between the Viceroyalty of Bogotá and the Viceroyalty of Peru — a somewhat infantile competition that lasted for over a hundred years.
The Spanish Empire reached its zenith under Habsburg rule in the late 18th century. But as order unraveled in Europe in 1808, political instability in new world colonies increased as well. It was the beginning of the Latin American independence movement that swept through Spanish-American colonies like a cholera pandemic.
New Granada finally achieved full independence from Spain in 1819, freeing Panama as well. The citizens of Panama considered uniting with Peru or other Central American federations but eventually joined Gran Colombia at the urgings of the much-admired Simón Bolívar. Panama declared its independence in 1821.
The very notion of a man-made canal between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea originated in the 1500s when Señor Balboa envisioned a shortcut across the narrow isthmus. But at the time, such an undertaking was deemed impossible — which is where the matter stood until around 1826 when U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay considered the advantages of a canal across the newly independent Federal Republic of Central America. By this time, of course, American engineers had bragging rights over the construction of the Erie Canal — demonstrating that men were not just dreamers, they were also doers.
Secretary Clay’s idea (and those of others) was to cut across Nicaragua to the lake of the same name, which would, he supposed, provide a ready supply of water for a canal with locks to raise and lower ships for the journey from the Pacific and Atlantic. Congress, however, turned Clay down because of Nicaragua’s political instability. There was some talk about the likelihood that Nicaragua would separate into a half-dozen countries. If this should happen, the instability would interfere with American ambitions. In fact, political power in Colombia changed several times.
In 1843, Great Britain announced its plans to embark on a canal project, focusing its attention on Panama. Compared to Nicaragua, the distance in Panama coast-to-coast was less, but it too was a fleeting idea — one taken up by the famed engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal.
In 1846, the United States signed the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty with New Granada (Colombia y Panama) — a mutual cooperation treaty granting the U.S. significant transit rights within the isthmus, as well as certain military powers to suppress social conflicts and independence struggles targeting Colombia. Over the years, the United States intervened in Panama many times — usually confronting rebellious civilians, peasant guerrillas, or independence struggles.
From the beginning of the California Gold Rush (1848), the U.S. spent the next seven years building a trans-isthmian railway, a project which (according to the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty), granted the U.S. political and economic access to Panamanian affairs. The province of Panama, of course, was part of New Granada — later an independent country of the same name.
In March 1885, Colombia reduced its military presence in Panama by reassigning troops to quell disturbances in Cartagena. Panamanian insurgents, with fewer soldiers to shoot at them, took full advantage of the situation, and this, in turn, triggered U.S. intervention pursuant to the Treaty of 1846.
Between 1869 – 1877, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant ordered seven survey expeditions to study the feasibility of a cross-isthmus canal. As travel and trade in the Western hemisphere increased, the desirability of a canal increased. The distance between New York and San Francisco around Cape Horn, through treacherous seas, was 13,000 miles. The journey took months.
The War of the Pacific
This conflict involved Chile vs. the Bolivia-Peruvian alliance that lasted between 1879 – 1884. It was a territorial dispute that eventually increased the territory of Chile. Initially, the argument involved Bolivia and Chile; Peru was dragged into the fray because of its alliances with Bolivia. Chilean armed forces occupied the Bolivian port city of Antofagasta on 14 February 1879.
Oddly, hostilities weren’t declared between Chile and Bolivia until 1 March, and another month passed before Peru joined the fight. Initially, the fight was a naval campaign with Chile struggling to establish a seaborne supply corridor for forces operating in the world’s driest desert. Subsequently, Chile’s land campaign became overwhelming. Bolivia withdrew after late May 1880, and Chilean forces occupied Peru’s capital in January 1881. Afterward, the fight became a guerrilla war that simply wore down Peruvian forces to the point of agreeing to territorial concessions. The three countries signed peace accords in 1883 and 1884.
The U.S. Navy had no part in this war, but this is not to say that there was no connection to the United States. During the war, a lone U.S. Navy ship sat in the harbor at Callao, Peru — ostensibly to protect American interests during the war’s final stages. The ship was U.S.S. Wachusett (commissioned in 1861), and its commanding officer was a somewhat mediocre seaman named Alfred Thayer Mahan. Sitting in a foreign port isn’t a very exciting duty, although it was probably great fun for the crew. As for Captain Mahan, he spent his time reading books in the English Gentleman’s Club. Historians tell us that it was at Callao that Mahan began to formulate his concept of sea power.
The Chilean Navy had recently acquired a protected cruiser from a British shipbuilder known as Armstrong-Mitchell in 1882 or 1883. A protected cruiser is constructed in such a way as to provide maximum protection to that area of the ship most critical to its operation: the propulsion plant and its magazines. The Chilean navy commissioned this ship Esmeralda and proclaimed her the swiftest and most powerfully armed cruiser in the world. In 1885, Esmeralda appeared along the coast of Panama to observe U.S. activities ashore. The ship was, in its time, an awesome sight, particularly when compared to the wooden-hulled ships of the line of the United States Navy.
President McKinley and Roosevelt’s Canal
In 1897, President McKinley became the 25th President of the United States. He was an advocate of protectionist policies and tough diplomacy. Within twelve months, McKinley took the United States to war with a major European power (although one on standing on its last Imperial legs). The United States won the Spanish-American War (in record time), but that feat had more to do with Spanish incompetence than American might. The war might have gone “the other way” had it not been for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps … and one very talkative Assistant Secretary of the Navy whose name was Theodore Roosevelt.
The condition of the American navy following the Civil War was abysmal. The Navy’s ships were rotting at the waterline. The Navy and Congress were guilty of criminal neglect. The Navy for not raising holy hell about the state of its ships, and Congress for failing to provide sufficient funds to maintain the fleet. Worse, perhaps, the Navy didn’t have much of a mission, and its officers were retired on active duty. In short, the U.S. Navy was a disgrace.
How bad was it, really? In 1884, a French naval officer visited a U.S. Navy ship and complimented its captain for the ship’s brilliant display of antique weaponry — suggesting, of course, that an American ship of the line was a floating museum. A year later, President Grover Cleveland’s first message to Congress was a scorching indictment of the U.S. Navy. In the President’s opinion, what made the state of the Navy humiliating was that Italy, Spain, and Holland boasted a more powerful navy than the United States — and Chile had more powerful ships, as well. Captain Mahan must have been deeply embarrassed.
The impetus for a modernized, stronger Navy capable of projecting U.S. power overseas was competition for colonial possessions, the creation of numerous coaling stations, and an 1889 war scare between the United States and Germany over territorial claims in the Samoan Islands. Two years later, a Chilean mob attacked U.S. sailors on shore leave in Valparaiso, killing 2 and wounding 17. President Benjamin Harrison tried to take a hard line, but as soon as the President understood that Chile had a stronger navy than his own, he soon backed off.
In 1897, the U.S. Navy was not ready for war — simply “more ready” than the Army, and that wasn’t saying much. The one service that was ready for war was the U.S. Marine Corps. See also First Marine Battalion.
The one thing the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps did not lack in 1898 was a strategic vision. Even though the U.S. and Spain had been at peace for over 80 years, Navy and Marine Corps thinkers imagined and contemplated war with Iberia and planned for it. These men were keen observers of the conflict between Spain and the Cuban revolutionaries (1868 – 1878).
President McKinley, of course, was assassinated in 1901, which propelled Theodore Roosevelt into the presidency. Arguably, the most important action President Theodore Roosevelt ever took in foreign affairs related to the construction of the Panama Canal. It was controversial abroad —it was controversial at home. Those who opposed the canal claimed that Roosevelt’s actions were unconstitutional. The charge was possibly true — the denizens of Washington never worry about such things as violations of the U.S. Constitution. Roosevelt, of course, was a man of action.
Driven by patriotic fervor, supported by the investments of a hundred-thousand investors and the expectation of great wealth, the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique began work that would cross the Colombian isthmus of Panama and unite the Atlantic with the Pacific. There was ample evidence that Lesseps had done his due diligence.
The Panama Railway had made in excess of $7 million in the first six years of its operations. The railroad, which had cost upwards of 6,000 human lives to build, failed to dampen Mr. Lesseps’ enthusiasm. The project would be a sea-level canal dug along the path of the Panama Railroad. It would extend fifty miles in length (half as long as the Suez Canal), and it would cost around $132 million. Lesseps estimated a project lasting 12 years.
The canal became a French project on 1 February 1881, but ultimately, it was another failed attempt. Neither Lesseps nor any of his company was prepared for the harsh Central American environment. Ultimately, Mr. Lesseps gave up 22,000 workers who died of one cause or another; all the money spent on the project was wasted, and the project ended in 1888.
Shortly after ascending to the presidency, Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the Panama Canal in a speech to Congress. He argued enthusiastically, “No single great material work which remains to be undertaken on this continent is as of such consequence to the American people.” The President acted quickly. In 1902, the United States reached an agreement to buy the rights to the French canal and property and its equipment for a sum of $40 million. The U.S. then began to negotiate a treaty with the government of Colombia. The U.S. Department of War would direct the excavation. The American public sensed a scandal in the making — or worse, good money is thrown after bad.
In a short time, Colombia grew reticent in its negotiations. Roosevelt and Panamanian business interests collaborated on the instigation of a revolution. The battle lasted only a few hours because Colombian troops in the city of Colón accepted bribes to lay down their arms. On 3 November 1903, the Colombian province of Panama became the independent country of the same name. And, since the U.S. initiated the hullaballoo in the first place, it assumed a parental interest in Panamanian affairs. Members of the Roosevelt administration prepared Panama’s Constitution in advance of the “revolution,” the wife of a prominent Panamanian lobbyist sewed the country’s first flag (her husband became the Panamanian ambassador to the United States), and a treaty was signed that were favorable to American interests. The United States promptly deposited $10 million to the Panamanian government.
(Continued next week)
Wicks, D. H. “Dress Rehearsal: United States Intervention on the Isthmus of Panama, 1886. Pacific Historical Review, 1990
Collin, R. H. Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (1990)
Graham, T. The Interests of Civilization: Reaction in the United States Against the Seizure of the Panama Canal Zone, 1903-1904. Lund Studies in International Relations, 1985.
Nikol, J. and Francis X. Holbrook, “Naval Operations in the Panama Revolution, 1903.” American Neptune, 1977.
Turk, R. “The United States Navy and the Taking of Panama, 1901-1903.” Military Affairs, 1974.
 The idea of a canal across Nicaragua did not end in the mid-1800s. The United States ordered a survey in 1916 as a hedge against the unworkability of the Panama Canal, and the People’s Republic of China evaluated prospects in 2012. Concern for the safety of Lake Nicaragua settled the matter — for now.
The act of mutiny occurs whenever a group of people (especially soldiers or sailors) refuses to obey orders and (or) attempts to take control away from their lawfully appointed officers or senior NCOs. In all, there were 19 mutinies in the Royal Navy. Two of these occurred in 1797, known as the Spithead and Nore mutinies — the first in an increasing number of outbreaks of maritime radicalism in the so-called Atlantic passage. At the first, the Spithead mutiny was peaceful and successfully addressed common economic grievances. The Nore mutiny was just the opposite.
A Word About Marines
Historically, as a principal duty, marines serve as naval infantry. The word is French for “by sea,” which is probably why the French have always referred to English troops as marines. They always arrived by sea.
Initially, a ship’s crew assumed the tasks of marines at sea. They were, first, sailors. There was not much distinction between sailors and soldiers aboard ships because, for the most part, the crews of vessels fighting one another met in close combat, and it was a melee. Sailors had to know how to fight. But they also had to know how to fight once they reached their destinations.
In antiquity, Roman soldiers fought on Roman combat ships as marines. The Italians were the first to employ specially trained sailors to serve as naval infantry (c. 1200s). The chief magistrate of Venice assigned ten companies of these specialized troops to a naval squadron and sent them off to address some disagreement with the Byzantines. The mission went well for the Italians, and so they decided to retain such men and called them “sea infantry.” Soon after, the idea caught on with other countries. The Spanish Marine Corps, founded in 1537, is the world’s oldest (still-active) corps of marines. The Netherlands created its corps of marines in 1665. In most cases, though, modern marines are specially trained sailors.
The British Royal Marines were the first naval infantry who were NOT sailors. During the 1600s and 1700s, the Royal Navy would form regiments of marines by taking soldiers from the British Army and disbanding them when no longer needed on active service. In 1775, the American Congress formed Marine battalions modeled on the role of their British counterparts — to serve as naval infantry. Today, U.S. Marines are trained from the beginning of their commissions/enlistments to serve as naval infantry — although the Continental Congress stipulated in the recruitment of marines “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required.”
The employment of Marines as general handymen and orderlies for flag officers of the Navy is no innovation. So ingrained had this idea become by 1881 that a naval encyclopedia in that year defined the word “orderly” as “a Marine private detailed as a messenger for the commanding officer.” The admiral’s orderly, therefore, had to be a leatherneck — a bluejacket wouldn’t do. And it became the role of marines, not engaged in combat at sea, to preserve order aboard ship. In port, sentinel posts were established to prevent desertion — and at all times, marines kept an ear cocked for the faintest rumblings of mutiny.
Mutiny at sea was always problematic — and in 1797, what made it so was the fact that Great Britain was at war with Revolutionary France. The Royal Navy was a primary component of the war effort. There were also concerns among home offices — that the mutinies might be part of broader attempts at revolutionary sedition instigated by “troublemaking organizations,” such as the London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen (see also: “Conclusion”).
Spithead was an anchorage near Portsmouth, and at anchor were sixteen ships under the command of Admiral Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport. No country has done a marvelous job caring for its Navy’s ships or the men who handle them, and the United Kingdom is no exception. And the men were not happy. Between 16 April to 15 May, the men of the channel fleet protested against the living conditions aboard ship, they demanded more pay for their services, better food, increased shore leave, and compensation for sickness and injury.
On 26 April, a supportive mutiny broke out on the additional 15 ships, each of which sent delegates to Spithead to participate in negotiations. It was probably about time for a review of pay accorded to the men of the sea. Their pay tables dated to 1658. The pay was still reasonable for those times — even through the Seven Years’ War. But in the last decades of the 18th century, nations experienced high inflation rates. Sailors with families to support were struggling to make do.
Another sore point for the Navy was the fact that, in recent years, the government granted pay increases to the British Army, to militia forces, and even to naval officers. But another issue affecting morale — and perhaps the Royal Navy’s budget- was its new practice of coppering the hulls of its warships. In 1761, coppering meant that combat ships no longer had to return to port as often to have their hulls scraped. The additional time at sea significantly altered the sea service rhythm, yet the Admiralty had made no adjustments. Senior officers were slow to grasp the difficulty of the deck-hands work. Impressment was a common practice suggesting that some of the crew served against their will.
Finally, in the war with France, the British Admiralty announced a new quota system known as the Quod. More than one clever politician discovered that sending convicted criminals to serve with the Navy was convenient. Generally, these “conscripts” did not mix well with a ship’s company. Dissention aboard ship was one of the items on a marine’s to-do list.
The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay, demanding an end to the so-called 14-ounce purser’s pound. And the men wanted to get rid of a few officers, as well. No one mentioned flogging or impressment … but they could not abide an ass wearing an officer’s uniform. Throughout the mutiny, the crews maintained their regular naval routines aboard their ships and their discipline, and they consented to allow some ships to leave Spithead for convoy escort duties or combat patrols and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.
Negotiations broke down over such issues as pardons for mutineers, and some minor incidents broke out with a few unpopular officers. When the situation calmed down again, Fleet Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe (brother of Major General Sir William Howe) intervened to negotiate an agreement to obtain a royal pardon for all crews, the reassignment of some unpopular officers, a pay raise, and abolition of the purser’s pound.
The Nore Mutiny
The Nore is a long bank of sand and silt running along the south-central portion of England’s final narrowing of the Thames Estuary. Until 1964, it was the seaward limit of the Port of London. It was so dangerous that the world’s first lightship was established there in 1732.
Inspired by the example of their comrades at Spithead, the sailors at The Nore also mutinied an incident that began on 12 May 1797. The sailors of HMS Sandwich seized control of the ship, and several other ships within call’s reach followed their example. Other ships quietly slipped away despite gunfire from the ships in rebellion. Scattered ships make it difficult to organize mutinies among other ships, but each involved vessel quickly elected its delegates. The men of HMS Sandwich elected Seaman Richard Parker to serve as President of the Delegates of the Fleet.
Seaman Parker was a former master’s mate who was reduced in rank at a court-martial for insubordination and subsequently discharged. Life was hard for Parker in Exeter, and he fell into debt. This situation caused the county council to nominate Parker for duty with the Navy, and he found himself as an ordinary seaman aboard Sandwich. He had only recently joined the crew when the mutiny broke out. Parker, an older and more experienced man, fully aware of the squalid conditions aboard Sandwich, took no part in the mutiny, but he did empathize with the crew, and he agreed to represent them with the officer commanding — even though he exercised no control over the actions of the mutineers.
Crewmen formulated a list of eight demands and, on 20 May 1797, presented them to Admiral Charles Buckner. They wanted pardons, increased pay, and modifications of the Articles of War and demanded that the King dissolve Parliament and make immediate peace with France. As one might imagine, the demands infuriated the Admiralty, which offered nothing in return except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty. By the first of June, mutinied ships formed a blockade of the Thames.
Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, commanding HMS Neptune in the upper Thames, put together a flotilla of fifty loyal ships and determined to use them to prevent mutineers from reaching the City of London. It was essentially Gower’s intentions that made the mutineers at Nore begin to waiver, but not before they made the wrong decision to blockade London, which prevented merchant vessels from entering port. Parker then decided to move the mutinied ships to France — which infuriated the regular English sailors and caused them to take back a few ships.
Among most of the mutineers at The Nore, if anyone was thinking about treason, it was only a few. Most men simply wanted less squalid living conditions, better food, and better pay. Parker issued orders to allow passage to merchant ships on the Thames but ordered the detention of the Royal Navy’s victualling ships. Historians claim that Parker wanted the Admiralty to have a good impression of the mutineer’s intent; other academics argue that it was a bit more complex than that. And, in any case, Parker was out of his depth.
After the successful resolution of the Spithead mutiny, the Admiralty was not inclined to make any further concessions, mainly as they felt some leaders of the Nore mutiny had political aims beyond improving pay and living conditions. The rebellion fell apart when Parker signaled ships to sail to France. When the mutineers (on most ships) observed the signal, they refused.
It did not take long for the Royal Navy to convict Seaman Parker — of treason and piracy. It also did not take the Royal Navy to hand him from the yardarm of Sandwich. Shown at right is Parker’s death mask.
Following Parker on the yardarm were 29 other seamen. An additional 29 went to prison. Nine men received a flogging, and several more found themselves headed for the penal colony in Australia. Most men, however, received no punishment — which until then was unheard of in the Royal Navy.
One tidbit: posting the watch
Ship’s crews stand their watches (periods of duty) according to the hour of the day. In the days of sail, watches were divided into two sections: port and starboard. Each of these was on duty for four hours, and then they were off duty for four hours. One stroke of the bell indicates the first half hour of the watch. An additional bell strikes for each succeeding half-hour. Eight bells indicate the end of a four-hour watch. Whenever the time calls for two or more bells, they are sounded in groups of two.
The first five watches
First watch: 20:00 to 00:00
Middle watch: 00:01 to 04:00
Morning watch: 04:01 to 08:00
Forenoon watch: 08:01 to 12:00
Afternoon watch: 12:01 to 16:00
Following the afternoon watch, the next four hours are divided into two “Dog Watches.” The first dog watch occurs from 16:01 to 18:00, and the second dog watch from 18:01 to 20:00. The dog watch can be changed every day so that each watch gets a turn at eight hours of rest at night. Otherwise, each crew member would be on duty for the same hours daily.
Before The Nore mutiny, Royal Navy vessels sounded five bells to signal the end of the last dog watch; after The Nore mutiny, five bells no longer signified the last dog watch because that was the signal aboard Sandwich to begin the mutiny.
There have seldom been what one might call “good feelings” between the English and the Irish. The Society of United Irishmen was a sworn association in the Kingdom of Ireland formed after the French Revolution to secure “equal representation” of all the people. In 1798, the society instigated a republican insurrection in defiance of the British Crown. Espousing principles they believed had been vindicated by the American Revolution, and the French Declaration of the rights of man, Presbyterian merchants who formed the organization in Belfast vowed to make cause with their Catholic brethren. In 1800, England abolished the Irish legislature, and everything went downhill from that point forward.
At the time of the Spithead and The Nore mutinies, British politicians assumed that the United Irishmen were behind these troubles as part of a plot to overthrow the British monarchy and establish in its place a British Republic. This was not true, of course, but given their turbulent past, everyone (Irish or British) was prepared to believe it.
Nalty, B. Certain Aspects of Manpower Utilization in the Marine Corps: Historical Background. Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1959.
Roulo, C. Why Are Marines Part of the Navy? U.S. Department of Defense, online publication.
Manwaring, G. E. The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797. Harcourt-Brace, 1935.
Woodman, R. A Brief History of Mutiny. Carroll & Graff, 2005.
 Introduced by Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) in 1795. The system required every British county to provide a certain number of men for service in the Royal Navy. The quota depended on the population of the counties. In some cases, county commissions found it difficult to meet their quota, so they offered bounties to landsmen, which created some dissension among regular swabbies. The system lasted through 1815, when the British decommissioned most of its navy.
 The purser’s pound was an arrangement where the ship’s purser was allowed to keep 2 ounces of food for every 16 ounces of food sold to the crew.
 Howe commanded HMS Baltimore during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745.
 Master’s Mate is no longer a rank in the British or American navies. Originally, the master’s mate was an experienced senior petty officer who assisted the ship’s master but was not in line for an officer’s commission. By the mid-18th century, though, this rate was a senior midshipman awaiting a commission to lieutenant.
Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers. It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).
Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other. France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces. Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results. Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.
The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain). At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain also aligned with France (1761). Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.
Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare. These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later. In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent. Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.
Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful. As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.
Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power. Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.
What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare. Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders. Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great. At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.
What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.
Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions. It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution. For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”
Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament. His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature. But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare. The doctrine belongs to him alone.
There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.
Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.” Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement. He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment. His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation. The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations.
His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war. Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability. He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat. Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.
The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship. There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years. Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea. But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754. And opportunities that no one imagined. Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years. It had simply not reached its full potential.
We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques. This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey. It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history. Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years. Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks. At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece. They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.
At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul. He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine. To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast. He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque. Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.
In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar. The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy). There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.
With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul. In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult. None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however. Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.
Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion. He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer. A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.
The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships. Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline. The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations. The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective. But the Veneti ships were also slower. The Romans were engineers. They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships. The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water. The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae. After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword. From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore. However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners. See also: Mare Nostrum.
Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries. The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people. In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England). But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful. Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.
The Marines and their Corps
The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas. The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start. Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.
While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore. Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.
U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts. In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.
Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916). As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace. Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments. This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.
Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested. Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.
To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well. In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.
By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine. These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.
After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned. At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles. Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific. For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.
In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high. Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort. Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943). The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war. Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.
When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan. They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater. No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.
The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly. Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns. The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy. They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy. This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.
And one did
Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”
One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old. He was from the “old school” American military. He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument. But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action. And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war. If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along. This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.
Two significant facts about this decision stand out. First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten. They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago. Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten. Two. There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.
When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended. The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years. Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years. While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East. In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949. In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).
Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations. As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.
For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil. ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic. One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.
When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past. They could not have been more wrong about that. The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.” The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it. Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help. The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.
The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action. It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years. What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done. It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong. While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea. On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.
Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas. In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group. The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).
More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet. Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year. Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.
Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur. Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.
During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements. Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations. Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.
No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement. At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.
Anderson, F. The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books, 2006.
Baden, C. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Brill Publishing, 2010.
Blanning, T. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Yale University, 2016.
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War. Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
Fowler, W. H. Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America. Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare. Marine Corps University, 2020.
Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
Ricks, T. E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Press, 2012.
Savage, M. U.S. Marines in the Civil War. Warfare History Network, 2014.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918. Oxford Press, 1954.
Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922. Indiana University Press, 2009.
 “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.
 Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Random House, 2007.
 The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad). The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years. Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.
 After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim. For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled. That would be the Marines, of course. For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.
 For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage. This may be true. There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II. On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?
 In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation.
Anyone who believes that the American Revolution was a war easily fought doesn’t know enough about American history. We might argue that the revolution first occurred as an idea in the heads of British citizens who began to wonder if they could forge their future without the interference of the king or parliament. Fighting the revolution was an entirely different matter. Still, before we get to that discussion, we need to explore what else was happening in the world besides men muttering over their mead in a Massachusetts pub about burdensome taxes.
In the last years of the Seven Years’ War (also called the French and Indian Wars), British fleets and armies ranged across the world stage, dismembering France and Spain’s colonial empires. But in London, from around 1750, British ministers had to consider the prospect of defending British territories from a wide range of enemies.
Looking at North America, it was logical to assume that some colonies could defend themselves, but there were questions about the other colonies. Nova Scotia would be a problem — French catholic priests would see to that. In any case, if the British knew anything about the French from the previous 400 years, it was that the French could not be trusted. One could always tell when a French diplomat was lying because his lips were moving. In any case, if the French seized Halifax, all the other British American colonies could be rolled up without much effort.
The Virginia colony was always reliable and well-populated with men who knew how to fight. Pennsylvania’s Quaker politicians would open their doors to the French without a quibble. No one knew where the ethnic German colonists would come down on the question of war with France. Georgia and South Carolina could not defend themselves against the Cherokee, much less French marines. In the West Indies, enslaved Black people outnumbered British Army regulars and colonists. The thought of a slave revolt was disturbing, indeed. This was only the tip of the iceberg.
Yes, the French Bourbons were threatening, but so too were the highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and North American Indians, and there was this ongoing and highly perturbing talk inside England about republicanism. British politicians decided it was time to act. Highlanders became the flower of the British Army, and Irish Catholics were recruited as well. In Pennsylvania, German colonists formed two regiments of Royal American infantry. Amazingly, 21,000 American colonists stepped up to defend the British colonies in 1758. Before 1763, most native Indian tribes had sided with the British. Arcadian troublemakers found themselves deported to Louisiana. There was even some talk of forming a pro-British French militia.
And yet, the preceding concerns were only half of the problem. North America had no four-lane highways to move large numbers of troops. Those troops would have to be transferred by ship if that were necessary. The Atlantic coastline was the only highway. Additionally, there were no “fast means of communication.” Coordinating widely dispersed military forces was difficult in the extreme.
The revolutionary campaigns were complex, made so by weather, climate, the distances between cities, thick foliage, and the lack of adequate roads to move troops, artillery, and supply wagons. The British Army was, in 1775, the world’s premier land army. Who, in their right mind, would challenge it?
In those days, armies depended on foraging to feed the men and animals. There was no question that the British Army could forage; the king owned everything — he could take what he needed. His subjects might be compensated, or they may not. The Continental army had to rely on the patriotic spirit of local farmers. A third of these farmers were British loyalists, with another one-third opportunists who would offer forage to whoever paid the highest.
The American Revolutionary War was a complicated series of campaigns. It is hard to imagine the distances in an age where automobiles can travel five hundred or more miles in a single day. It would take an American or British soldier 33 days to march 500 miles in 1775. Granted, the number of men who participated in the American Revolution pales compared to modern warfare, but the number of combatants was significant for those days. As with all armed conflicts, whatever could have gone wrong, did.
American land forces included (in total over seven years) 200,000 patriots. American naval forces included 106 Continental and State-owned ships. We don’t know how many men served in the navy, but Continental Marines had 132 officers and 2,000 enlisted men. The Americans were aided by 53 French navy ships and an unknown number of French land forces. Including all losses (Continental Army/State militia and civilian populations), the Americans gave up 70,000 war dead, 6,100 wounded in action, 17,000 losses from disease, and around 130,000 additional deaths attributed to smallpox.  The total of French allied dead was 2,112. Setting aside America’s war dead, the average life expectancy for a white male adult in 1780 was 39 years.
Opposing the Americans during the revolution were 48,000 British troops, 30,000 German troops, 25,000 loyalist troops, and 13,000 American Indians. What we know of British casualties is limited. Historians contend that British combat dead totaled 5,500 men; German allies lost 7,774 men, of which 1,800 died in battle. Nearly 5,000 German troops deserted in North America. Of British loyalists, 7,000 died during the American Revolution, including 1,700 combat dead and 5,300 from unspecified diseases.
American Marines were created upon the recommendation of the Naval and Marine Committees of the Second Continental Congress in October and November 1775. The officer commissioned to recruit the two Marine battalions was Samuel Nicholas, a native of Philadelphia. Nicholas was born in 1744 (d. 1790), the youngest of three children of Anthony and Mary Chute-Cowman Nicholas. Anthony was a blacksmith; Mary’s uncle Attwood Shute was the mayor of Philadelphia from 1755-58. Samuel graduated from the College of Philadelphia (present-day University of Pennsylvania) in 1759. On 28 November 1775, Sam Nicholas was commissioned by the Second Continental Congress to serve as Captain of Marines. He was the first officer commissioned in the Continental Naval Service.
Upon confirmation of his appointment, Captain Nicholas started planning his recruitment campaign around the number of ships that would require a complement of Marines. Captain Nicholas’ secondary assignment was the command of the Marine Detachment aboard USS Alfred. In this capacity, Captain Nicholas answered to Commodore Esek Hopkins.Alfred sailed on 4 January 1776 for Nassau (See also, The Marine’s First Amphibious Raid). Nicholas returned to Philadelphia in April 1776 and resumed command of the Marine battalions. In June, Congress promoted Nicholas to Major Commandant Continental Marine Corps.
In October 1776, the people of Philadelphia speculated that when British General Sir William Howe was tired of chasing patriots in New York, he would march his army to invade their fair city. Fearing such an eventuality, the Continental Congress organized committees and met with various members of the Pennsylvania legislature to plan a defense of the city. A Pennsylvania committee submitted its recommendations to the Continental War Board. They proposed that Congress permanently assign four companies of Marines in Pennsylvania or at Trenton to defend Philadelphia from British or Loyalist troops. The Pennsylvania committee also suggested an additional two Virginia militia battalions and a German militia battalion.
Contrary to the general concerns of Philadelphia citizens, British General William Howe was already engaged in Westchester County and, for the time being, posed no threat to Philadelphia. Major Nicholas and his staff continued recruiting and training Marines in Philadelphia through the fall of 1776. By then, the First Battalion was well-organized, disciplined, and (more or less) functional. Nicholas adequately provided for their nutritional needs and saw they were accorded comfortable billets. Still, some Marines deserted from their service responsibilities, with few returning to face the consequences.
Private Henry Hassan took his punishment but, within a month, deserted for a second time. Even then, the Marine Corps was not everyone’s cup of tea. One Marine who returned may have regretted his decision when, having been found guilty at a court-martial of desertion and quitting his post without authority, received fifty lashes on his bareback for desertion and twenty-one additional lashes of the whip for quitting his post.
The Marines Mobilize
Suddenly, in mid-November, Philadelphia was abuzz with rumors of an approaching British fleet. Congress directed the Marine Committee to arrange its naval forces in the Delaware River. Accordingly, USS Randolph was made ready for sea. Major Commandant Nicholas ordered Captain Shaw to select Marines from the First Battalion, prepare them for duty at sea, and report to the officer commanding the frigate.
Captain Shaw’s Marines reported to Randolph before the ship’s crew. In 1776, few mariners were interested in serving in the Continental Navy with British sloops of war roaming the American coastlines and taking station in busy seaports. The rumor of an approaching British fleet was only that; the fleet was actually several British merchantmen, but Randolph’s preparations continued.
Meanwhile, the land war was turning against General Washington. After defeats at Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee, General Washington began his long retreat through New Jersey. He was in desperate need of veteran soldiers. The British Army’s march to Trenton posed a real threat to Philadelphia. By late November, General Washington was in a precarious situation; the British pushed him from Harlem Heights to Upper Westchester County. He crossed the Hudson on 13 November and began his painful and embarrassing withdrawal to Hackensack, Newark, Elizabeth Town, and Brunswick.
From Brunswick, Washington sent a letter to President (of Congress) John Hancock begging for immediate reinforcements. Hancock wanted to help, but with common knowledge that 10,000 British troops were enroute, there were no long queues of volunteers at the recruiting offices. Washington led his under-staffed army out of Brunswick on 2 December, marching them through Princeton and finally halting them on the banks of the Delaware River.
When General Howe occupied Brunswick, everyone still above the ground inside Philadelphia went into cardiac arrest. All Philadelphia shops and schools closed by order of the Council of Public Safety. All able-bodied citizens and militia took up arms to defend the city. What actually happened was that the good citizens of Philadelphia, able-bodied or not, ignored the Council of Public Safety, loaded their wagons, and deserted the city. There was much to accomplish in such a short period of time, and defending the city was not very high on anyone’s agenda.
Once city officials realized their fellow citizens were gutless wonders, they urgently appealed to the Congress for Continental Marines. Responding to the will of Congress, Major Nicholas detailed three companies of Marines for the defense of Pennsylvania. Company officers inspected their men and readied them for service in the field. With orders to report to General Washington, Major Nicholas marched his Marines down to the waterfront to board gondolas.
The Marines’ departure from Philadelphia did nothing to bolster the morale of its few remaining citizens. While Major Nicholas proceeded to General Washington’s camp, city officials formed a regiment of militia — three battalions — in all, around 1,200 men. These were citizens who didn’t get away from Philadelphia fast enough. They were well-clothed but poorly armed. Within a few days, the regimental commander, Colonel John Cadwalader, was ordered to proceed and report to General Washington.
General Washington was happy to receive reinforcements — even Marines — but he wasn’t sure what to do with them. This problem was solved when Colonel Cadwalader arrived on 5 December. Since Cadwalader and Major Nicholas were Philadelphians, Washington asked Cadwalader to absorb the Marine battalion into his regiment, along with the USS Delaware and USS Washington crews under captains Charles Alexander and Thomas Read. Colonel Cadwalader’s regiment became a de facto brigade with these additional forces.
However, General Washington had far more on his plate than personnel issues. For one thing, Washington was puzzled by General Howe’s delay in Brunswick. Washington decided to march his men toward Princeton on 7 December. Informants cautioned Washington that he was walking into a collision with the British. Since it was not the time or place of his choosing, General Washington again retreated to Trenton and withdrew across the Delaware River. In this process, Washington ordered his men to remove or destroy anything valuable to the enemy.
General Washington did not know that Similar problems plagued general Howe. He did not have timely or reliable information about his enemy. Wisely, Howe was cautious in his pursuit of Washington but unwisely divided his force into two corps. The first, under Major General James Grant, Howe ordered to Trenton. The second corps, under Major General Charles Cornwallis, General Howe ordered to Maidenhead — a position halfway between Trenton and Princeton.
The vanguard of Grant’s force reached Trenton just as the last of Washington’s army crossed the river into Pennsylvania. General Cornwallis’ troops reached the East bank of the river 15 miles above Trenton, but Washington had wisely removed all boats from that location and positioned his field canon on the west bank. These measures brought General Grant’s advance to a screeching halt.
Once General Howe became aware that Grant and Cornwallis lost their momentum, he abandoned his immediate plan for a Pennsylvania campaign. Instead, he ordered Grant and Cornwallis to establish winter camps. Ultimately, these cantonments stretched from Hackensack to Burlington on the Delaware River. General Howe then went to his winter camp.
Observing British forces constructing bridges and river-side docks, Washington logically concluded that Howe’s delay was only temporary. Desperate for reliable knowledge concerning British activities, General Washington sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Council of Safety asking them if it would be possible to send Commodore Thomas Seymour upriver to reconnoiter the area. He also ordered Colonel Cadwalader to send a battalion to Dunk’s ferry. The battalion’s two-fold mission was to guard the crossing and scout the area of Bordentown across the Delaware River.
On 11 December 1776, Hessian Colonel Carl E. U. von Donop departed Trenton with a force large enough to seize Bordentown and Burlington. Von Donop encountered only light resistance from local militia, but his presence forced Washington’s scouting party back across the river. The Germans had no problem occupying Burlington, but local Loyalists complained that his presence would only attract the attention of the Continental Navy. Von Donop organized a delegation of Burlington citizens to confer with Commodore Seymore to receive his assurances and gain information from Seymour that might benefit General von Donop. Meanwhile, Hessian troops began patrolling inside the town.
Commodore Seymour met with citizen delegates and, to his credit, was direct in response to their inquiries. Seymour would have no sympathy for Burlington if von Donop occupied it. As soon as he observed the Hessian town patrols, Seymour opened fire, forcing von Donop’s army to withdraw northward and aggravating the ulcers of the townspeople.
On 12 December, Marines from USS Hancock, serving under Marine Captain William Shippin, occupied Burlington. Reports from Seymour and his scouts confirmed Washington’s suspicions. Consequently, Washington established a defensive perimeter on the West Bank of the Delaware south of Burlington. Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson secured Yardley’s Ferry and tied his defense line with that of Brigadier General James Ewing. Colonel Cadwalader’s force tied in with Ewing from Hoop’s mill to Dunk’s Ferry.
While General Washington created his line of defense, militia General Israel Putnam supervised the defense of Philadelphia. In the middle of these preparations, such as they were, HMS Roebuck anchored just inside Delaware Bay. Roebuck’s position prohibited ships from reaching the open sea. Congressional delegates ordered the Marine Committee to send warnings of Roebuck’s station to local merchantmen.
The Committee then considered the employment of Randolph and Hornet — both ship’s captains received instructions placing them under General Putnam’s orders. Congress offered a $10,000 bounty to the crew and Marines of Randolph if Captain Nicholas Biddle could bypass HMS Roebuck and get into the open sea.
Having done its duty in defense of Philadelphia, Congress promptly removed itself to Baltimore. Congressional delegate Robert Morris, however, remained behind as a congressional liaison to General Putnam. He advised Putnam to send Randolph and Hornet to sea without delay. Putnam agreed and ordered both frigates readied for sea. Morris’ idea was to send Biddle to sea in search of British ships operating off the coast of New York. Despite Biddle’s recruitment of sailors from the city prison to man his ship, he did not have a full crew complement and was reluctant to shove off without an entire crew.
Captain James Nicholson, commanding Hornet, received different instructions. Since Hornet had a barely adequate crew, Morris and Putnam ordered Nicholson to sail to South Carolina and, once clearing the capes, proceed to Martinique, where he might find crewmen and military stores needed for Washington’s army.
Both Continental ships set sail on 14 December, setting a course for Hog Island. The following day, a messenger vessel overtook them with instructions to put into Chester to await the arrival of merchantmen destined for France. While anchored in Chester, another boat arrived from Philadelphia, recalling both ships. After Morris learned that HMS Falcon and two bomb ketches (ships rigged for firing mortars) had arrived to reinforce Roebuck, he recalled Randolph and Hornet, fearing their loss to the Royal Navy.
Morris was also concerned about Captain C. Alexander’s frigate Delaware; he asked Washington to release the ship back to Philadelphia. Colonel Cadwalader, under whose command Delaware was placed, concurred. Major Nichols formed a detachment of Marines for service on Delaware, placing them under the command of First Lieutenant Daniel Henderson and Second Lieutenant David Love. The shifting of officers led to the temporary appointment of Sergeant James Coakley to First Lieutenant. The loss of 20 Marines from Cadwalader’s command had little effect on Washington because, on 14 December, the British had gone into winter quarters.
The Marines under Major Nicholas numbered around 130 officers and men. While under Cadwalader’s command, the Marines shared the usual service duties with the brigade, including guard duty. Cadwalader, well aware of General Washington’s concerns about gaining intelligence about enemy movements/intentions, assigned his guard units the additional task of obtaining information and passing it up the chain of command. Guard units were also instructed to harass the enemy whenever possible.
Washington appreciated Cadwalader’s foresight. He constantly fretted over the possibility of a sudden attack by Howe’s forces, particularly since Washington’s army was weak and under-equipped. An army collapse at that point would be a disaster for the patriot cause. Of additional concern to Washington was that most of his army’s enlistments would expire on 31 December 1776. These factors prompted General Washington to seize the initiative against Howe while he still had an army. News of Howe’s withdrawal and the scattering of his forces encouraged Washington’s line of thought. By 24 December, General Washington had formulated a plan for offensive operations.
Washington’s primary objective was Trenton. His plan called for crossing the Delaware River at three locations, executed by Cadwalader’s brigade, Hitchcock, Ewing, and a militia company under Captain Thomas Rodney. Captain Rodney would cross the river near Bristol and join Colonel Griffin, who was already in New Jersey. Together, this force would march on Trenton and join Washington’s main body. Ewing would cross the river at Trenton Ferry to the north of Cadwalader. Ewing’s primary task was to capture the Assunpink Bridge to prevent the Hessians from escaping Trenton. Washington commanded 2,400 troops and decided to cross at McKinley’s Ferry, ten miles above Trenton. Once his three brigades reformed in New Jersey, Washington intended to march on Princeton and Brunswick.
Trenton was under the control of Hessian Colonel Johann Gottlieb. In keeping with German tradition, Gottlieb’s regiment celebrated Christmas with feasting and strong drink. Washington readied his men in Pennsylvania, but a fierce winter storm set in as the day progressed. Snowfall was dense, and the temperature was agonizingly bitter. Nevertheless, by 1800, Washington had sent his advance force across the Delaware River. Poor weather, dropping temperatures, and coagulating river ice impeded Washington’s operations by midnight. By then, Washington’s operation was already three hours behind schedule.
The army wasn’t assembled and ready to march until 0400. Throughout the night, the storm worsened. General Washington divided his command into two corps. Brigadier General Nathanael Greene led the first of these toward the left and seized the Pennington Road, while Colonel Arthur St. Clair proceeded southeast, down the river road.
Within a mile of Trenton, Greene deployed his men to form a half-circle around the town. Greene’s approach alerted the Hessians. A number of pickets retreated to an area north of town. Washington launched his main assault at around 07:00. Patriot artillery opened fire into the ranks of Hessians, whom Gottlieb had formed to repel the patriot force. The barrage decimated the Hessians, and they withdrew to the edge of town. German officers rallied their men, reformed the ranks, ordered “fix bayonets,” and started back to confront Washington’s force. Soon aware that they were outnumbered, the Hessians began a fighting withdrawal. Unhappily for the Germans, they withdrew into elements of Ewing’s force at the Assunpink Bridge. With their officers dying right and left, the German troops became confused and soon surrendered.
The second group of Hessians rallied under Major von Dechow to re-take the bridge, but they were soon defeated. The battle lasted barely two hours. Washington suffered the loss of one man killed and three wounded. The Hessians lost 22 killed, 83 wounded, and 891 captured. Six hundred Germans managed to escape capture and moved rapidly toward Bordentown.
As it turned out, Washington’s force assaulted the Hessians without the support of either Cadwalader or Ewing’s full complement. As Cadwalader attempted to cross the Delaware River, the storm increased in intensity; dangerous ice impeded his movements. Out of concern that the storm might cause the loss of his canon, Cadwalader delayed sending his main force across the Delaware River.
General Ewing faced the same predicament and, with the exception of his initial advance guard, made no further attempt to cross the river. General Washington, meanwhile, was unaware of any of these circumstances. Having defeated the Hessians, his mission accomplished, General Washington returned across the Delaware River. He dispatched a force to accompany his prisoners to Philadelphia and resumed his defense of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Robert Morris had no success recruiting crews for Pennsylvania’s militia Navy. Service at sea with low pay may have been too much to ask. Captain Biddle grew obstinate about not having a full crew, but with Washington’s victory at Trenton, there was no longer a reason to send Randolph to sea.
Late in the day on 26 December, General Washington received a letter from Cadwalader explaining his reasons for failing to complete his mission. When General Cadwalader wrote his letter, he did not know where Washington was. He informed Washington that he intended to cross the Delaware River “the following morning.” By then, Washington had returned to Newtown, Pennsylvania. Washington’s reply asked Cadwalader to delay crossing the river until the two men could confer. Of course, except for one regiment under Colonel Hitchcock, Cadwalader had already crossed.
Having received General Washington’s instructions, Colonel Hitchcock canceled his planned movement across the river. He dispatched a messenger to Cadwalader advising him of recent events and instructions. Cadwalader conferred with his officers. Ultimately, Cadwalader decided to remain in New Jersey and make an attack against Burlington. He sent Colonel Joseph Reed ahead with a small scouting force. At 0400 on 28 December, General Cadwalader marched to Bordentown and took possession of the military stores abandoned by the Hessians. There being no food for his men, however, Cadwalader proceeded to Crosswicks, where he located food stores.
Major Nicholas’ Marines, being attached to Cadwalader’s brigade, did not participate in the Battle of Trenton, but they would not have long to wait for their first taste of land warfare. From Crosswicks, Cadwalader rejoined Washington outside of Princeton on the night of 2 January 1777. Washington attached Cadwalader’s brigade to Brigadier General Greene’s Division. At dawn on the morning of 3 November, Major Nicholas’ Marines arrived at the outskirts of Princeton. Green placed the Marines in reserve.
General Washington’s plan called for a dawn assault on Princeton, but at dawn, he was still two miles from the town. Intending to delay Cornwallis, Washington sent 350 men under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Brook. Shortly before 0800, Washington wheeled his army to the right through Clarke’s farm and proceeded to enter Princeton through an undefended section.
En route to Stony Brook, Mercer’s brigade encountered two British infantry regiments and a cavalry unit under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood. This collision of combatants was the initiating engagement in the Battle of Princeton. Mercer and his men put up a stout defense against overwhelming forces. The British, mistaking Mercer for Washington, quickly surrounded him and demanded his surrender. Incensed, Mercer drew his sword and attacked his captors. Defending themselves, the enemy beat him to the ground and bayoneted him repeatedly.
With Mercer’s executive officer dead, junior officers and troops became disorganized. Having observed the fight, General Washington rallied what troops remained of Mercer’s force and pushed the British back.
Upon hearing the clatter of muskets, Brigadier General Cadwalader led his 1,100 men against Colonel Mawhood, whose men at the time were disorganized. Mawhood rallied his men, reorganized them, and put them into ranks for an assault or defense. Cadwalader’s brigade was mostly composed of untrained, inexperienced, poorly armed militia. Nicholas’ Marines occupied the brigade’s right flank, but observing Mawhood’s battle line, the militia on the left began to falter.
General Washington, observing Cadwalader’s hesitance, ordered Colonel Edward Hand to move his sharpshooters forward to the right of the Marines. Washington courageously rode amongst the young militiamen and encouraged them. Colonel Hitchcock’s regiment soon arrived and took a position to Colonel Hand’s right. The Americans advanced against Mawhood’s left and center, forcing the British to withdraw and scatter. Despite Mawhood’s efforts to rally his men, the British line was defeated.
Washington’s Continentals controlled Princeton within an hour, and the British withdrew to Maidenhead. Washington estimated enemy casualties were around 500 incapacitated and 100 left dead on the field. Of his own, Washington reported 30-40 slain, including Brigadier General Mercer, Colonel John Haslet, Captain Daniel Niel, Ensign Anthony Morris, Jr., and Marine Captain William Shippin.
The Battle of Princeton was the first time in the Revolution that General Washington’s army saw the fleeing backs of British Redcoats — and the Continental Marines had their first taste of land battle. General Howe regarded Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton as minor inconveniences, but to the Americans, having taken on the world’s greatest land army, the victories proved that the British could be beaten. In writing of the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, modern British historian Sir George Trevelyan observed, “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
Collins, V. L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton, 1776-1777. New York: Arno Press, 1968.
Fischer, D. H. Washington’s Crossing. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Ketchum, R. The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton. Holt Publishing, 1999.
McCullough, D. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Smith, C. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Washington: Headquarters U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
 Most of the 17,000 dead due to disease involved Americans imprisoned on British prison ships. British prison ships were obsolete, captured, or damaged ships used to house American prisoners of war. Conditions aboard these ships were appalling; far more men died as British prisoners than died in actual combat. The men languished in frigid conditions without adequate nourishment or clean water. According to historian Edwin G. Burrows, disease and starvation killed half of those taken on Long Island and as many as two-thirds of those captured at Fort Washington in 1776 — a realistic estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 men in the space of two months. British guards harassed and abused the men constantly. Of the total, 10,000 men died from simple neglect. When they died, the British simply threw their bodies overboard into the New York harbor. Well over 1,000 prisoners were transported to England, where they performed forced labor in the mines. The British released some prisoners after they agreed to serve in the British Navy.
 Commodore was an honorary title (not a formal rank) bestowed on navy captains serving in command of two or more vessels of the Continental (later U. S.) Navy. Esek Hopkins was forced out of the Navy in 1778.
 There were around 80 Marine privates in a company and five companies of Marines in a battalion. It is amazing to imagine that the war board imagined that ten companies of Marines could defend against one or more British regiments.
 A Revolutionary War (period) gondola (also a gunboat) was a 54-foot, 29-ton boat armed with a single 24-pound bow canon.
 During the period from the Revolutionary War to the end of World War II, the Army operated under the War Department, and the naval forces operated under the Navy Department. When Nicholas reported to General Washington, the Army Commander-in-Chief was uncertain that the naval forces were reliable (or useful) — one problem was that they had no obligation to obey Washington’s orders. They were in the Navy Department with a completely different chain of command.
 On 6 July 1776, Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety authorized the purchase of ships for the defense of Philadelphia. By October, thirteen small ships had been constructed, six of which were operational by August: Bulldog, Burke, Camden, Congress, Dickinson, Effingham, Experiment, Franklin, Hancock, Ranger, and Warren. Deciding overall command of the fleet was contentious, however. The first commodore was Thomas Caldwell, who resigned due to ill health. Caldwell was replaced by Samuel Davidson, a junior captain whose appointment ahead of more senior men nearly caused a mutiny of officers. Davidson was removed from naval service and replaced by Thomas Seymour. Captain John Hazelwood objected to serving under Seymour owing to his advanced age. Eventually, the Committee of Safety removed Seymour and appointed Hazelwood in his place.
 This reflects that even in these early days of American Marines, the Marine Corps placed tremendous trust and confidence in their noncommissioned officers and offered the most exceptional among them advancement into the officer ranks.
 Washington promoted Cadwalader to Brigadier General.
 Mercer, later discovered on the battlefield, was rushed to the home of two Quaker women. They nursed Mercer for nine days until he passed away.
 Actual British casualties were 270 men of all ranks.
Since the Marine Corps’ earliest years, it has been the duty of senior noncommissioned officers to drill, drill, inspect, and drill again the young men who profess a desire to become a United States Marine. In the days of sail, the arts and sciences of Marine Corps training included instruction about history and traditions, discipline, marksmanship, sword drill, close order drill, physical fitness training, the care and cleaning of uniforms, equipment, and small arms, service at sea, and the fundamentals of naval artillery. There was then, in the olden days, as there is now, much to learn about serving as a Marine — but there is not much time to learn it. So, recruit training is as relentless as it is rigorous. Only the best-qualified recruit is allowed to graduate into that sea of faces we sometimes call the ranks of a Marine Brigade.
To young recruits, seasoned NCOs represent the “old Corps.” Of course, the expression “old corps” is somewhat of an old saw — and to some Marines, “old corps” was last year. Marine NCOs are men who possess corporate knowledge of how the Marine Corps works — the often complex workings of the operating forces on land and at sea. The process of training recruits has changed over the years, of course, but the well-established tradition does continue. In time, some of these young recruits will become Drill Instructors themselves. Of course, for that to happen, a Marine has to have the stuffing to remain in the Corps long enough to become a seasoned NCO. Not everyone has staying power — and the mission becomes even more, demanding with seniority. The Marine Corps has never been an organization for lightweights.
In the days before recruit depots, most recruit training occurred at designated Navy Yards in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or at the Marine Barracks on Eighth & I Streets — just down the street from the Washington Navy Yard. Back then, all training was localized. The quality of the training received had everything to do with the quality of the NCO trainer, and even though the Marine Corps demanded formal training for recruits since around 1804, there was no money for textbooks or other written materials. Additionally, since Congress placed a ceiling on enlisted strength levels and made no allowance for drill instructors, trainers had to come from locally available personnel.
Marine Corps staffing levels were such that the Corps could ill-afford to squander what they had available for their assigned mission. The Marine Corps has never had “an abundance” of NCOs suitable for service as drill instructors. But before 1900, recruit training fell upon the shoulders of NCOs assigned D.I. duty. For the most part.
In 1860, the United States began to prepare for a war between the states. Everyone knew that war was likely. Some people even looked forward to war. Washington politicians had tried diplomacy since 1820 and failed — maybe it was simply time to “get on with it.”
These preparations included recruiting additional men for service in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. In July, youngsters began streaming into the Washington Navy Yard for recruit training in Washington. But in mid-July, the Army needed men to confront rebels forming at Manassas — so, trained or not, Marine NCOs at the Navy Yard mustered their recruits and marched them off to join the picnic.
The First Battle of Manassas was no picnic — even though several members of Congress packed picnic lunches and escorted their wives to watch the fun.
Those young Marines did have initiative, but they were of little use in the fight beyond carrying ammunition to support Army artillery units. In 1861, Marines were trained for service at sea, not on land. In 1861, amphibious warfare doctrine was still sixty years into the future.
In 1911, Major General Commandant William P. Biddle standardized recruit training for all Marines, coast-to-coast: drill, physical exercise, hand-to-hand combat, and intensive marksmanship training. Biddle established four recruit training depots: Philadelphia, Norfolk, Puget Sound, and Mare Island. The depots at Philadelphia and Puget Sound were closed. Four years later, in 1915, the Norfolk training depot was moved to its present location, Parris Island, South Carolina.
As the United States began moving toward its involvement in the European war, the number of recruits-in-training at any one time surged from 835 to 13,286. After “boot camp,” Marines went to Quantico, Virginia, for their pre-deployment (unit) training. There to greet them, undoubtedly, were the NCOs — most of whom had served in combat during U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America. Once in France, Marine units underwent additional “land warfare” training.
Boot Camp is where the Marine Corps makes Marines — and has been for the past 111 years. The people who make these Marines are called Drill Instructors (DIs). When most civilians think of the Marines (which probably isn’t often), they probably think of a recruiting poster, such as the one on the right. DIs are the stuff of legends — among the most professional leaders in the Marine Corps. The primary candidate for Drill Instructor School are sergeants and staff sergeants. Anyone eligible to serve as a drill instructor can be directed to appear before a Drill Instructor Screening Board — but not every NCO can become a DI. The Screening Board only selects the most qualified NCO to attend Drill Instructor School. Why? Because it is the solemn duty of the DI to transition undisciplined civilians into United States Marines — there’s no room for error.
What makes these Marines among the best in the Corps? They have to be exceptional in their regular MOS, they have to meet height/weight criteria, they have to look sharp in their uniforms, they have to be among the Corps’ top sharpshooters, and they have to achieve a near-perfect physical fitness score. If they’re married Marines, they have to have a stable family life and be financially secure. To become a DI, they must be even-tempered, judicious, and informed decision-makers. There are no “crazies” walking around under DI covers. Marine DIs might appear unhinged to the recruit standing in front of them, but that DI anger is all part of a carefully cultivated act — an act they learn at DI School.
Today, the two major recruit training depots (MCRDs) are located at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California. There are DI Schools at each location. The coursework is tough, the physical training relentless, and there are uniform inspections every single day. There is no such thing as an un-squared away Marine Corps Drill Instructor. If an applicant is selected for DI School at PISC, his DI duty assignment will also be at PISC — that is, if they graduate. Not everyone does.
For that reason, DI candidates aren’t permitted to take their families with them to the MCRD until after they’ve graduated and received their first DI assignment. The work of a DI is relentlessly difficult, but so too is the life of a DI’s wife. Rocky marriages don’t last a single tour of DI duty.
DI duty is demanding. Whatever Marine Corps training demands of its recruits, it demands five times that of its drill instructors. If the recruits are awakened at 0500, the DIs are up at 0400. Recruits are put to bed at 2200, but their DI is up past midnight. Recruits may look ratty by the end of the day, but their DI always looks poster-perfect. They change into fresh uniforms three or four times a day.
Each recruit platoon has between 60-80 recruits. Because these recruits demand their DI’s full attention 24 hours a day (times forever), DIs work in teams of three or four — generally as follows:
Each platoon will have two or three Junior Drill Instructors (J.D.I.’s). These NCOs instruct in the training and discipline of troops; make sure that recruits are up on time, march to chow at the right time, march to medical and dental periods on time, march to training sessions on time, get showered, and hit the rack on time. J.D.I.’s also make sure their recruits write home to the folks regularly.
The Senior Drill Instructor (S.D.I.) is responsible for the platoon and the J.D.I.’s. The senior can be just as terrifying as the others but is also considered the “adult in the room.” If something goes wrong (no matter what) — it’s the SDI’s fault. It can be career-ending if something goes wrong (no matter what).
What most people don’t realize is that officer candidates have DIs too. They aren’t called DIs, but most have completed a successful tour of DI duty. At Navy and Marine Corps officer candidate schools, D.I.’s are called Sergeants Instructors.
NCOs have much to say about who may graduate and receive a Navy and Marine Corps commission. This situation may seem strange — but one of an NCOs most important responsibilities is to help train, assist, and advise Navy and Marine Corps officers. This relationship between officers and NCOs is a long-held tradition that lasts for an entire career. Even general officers and admirals have senior enlisted advisors. Competent officers listen carefully to what their NCOs have to say. The not-so-bright officers will probably never make it past captain — which is not bad.
Marine Corps Drill Instructors take a solemn pledge:
“These recruits are entrusted to my care. I will train them to the best of my ability. I will develop them into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Marines, thoroughly indoctrinated in love of Corps and country. I will demand of them and demonstrate by my example the highest standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill.”
How Important is Boot Camp?
Twenty-four hundred Marines were killed or wounded on the first day of Operation Detachment. Historian J. A. Colon recently asked, “Was the Marine Corps’ success at Iwo Jima a matter of leadership, bravado, or fundamental training? What prompted the Marines of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions to succeed in a ruthless battle lasting 36 excruciating days? In this study, Colon examined the efficiency of recruit training (boot camp), replacement training, and unit training as it related to the success of the Iwo Jima campaign, noting in that study that one-quarter of all Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during World War II were earned on Iwo Jima.
Colon deduced that boot camp training proved far more essential than pre-operation or replacement training, a conclusion reached not through historiographical studies but through the personal testimonies of the Marines who fought that dreadful battle. Where the pre-operational training was incomplete, lacking realism, and the SWAG of operational planners, Marines retained their knowledge of boot camp training from the start of the operation to its conclusion. Boot camp imbued Marines with their sense of duty, gave them confidence in their weapons, and brought them to the point where they could endure the physical and mental stresses of bloody combat. What allowed the Marines to succeed at Iwo Jima, indeed, every Pacific combat operation was their self-discipline, self-confidence, and the esprit de corps instilled in them by their Marine Corps Drill Instructor.
To clarify — talk to anyone who has successfully served in the Marine Corps, and they will assure you that their boot camp training has remained with them all the days of their lives since graduation.
Drill Instructors, Platoon 224 Company E, 2ndBn RTR MCRD PISC
Sergeant J. S. Schweingruber
Sergeant R. S. Winston
Sergeant S. M. Nikolopoulos
Corporal J. D. Baker
Except for (Sergeant Major) Nikolopoulos, it’s been 60 years since I’ve seen these men. They were my drill instructors. That’s how significant Marine Corps Recruit Training is.
 The only service of the U.S. Armed Forces to use the term “drill instructor” is the U.S. Marine Corps. In both the Navy, and Marine Corps, Marine Corps Drill Instructors train officer candidates, while Recruit Division Commanders (R.D.C.’s) train Navy enlisted personnel. Air Force recruits are trained by Military Training Instructors(M.T.I.s). In the Army, they are called drill sergeants.
 The drill instructor appearing in this 1968 recruiting poster is Sergeant Charles Taliano, USMC (Deceased) (1945-2010). He was a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He left the Marine Corps in 1968 to work in the publishing industry. He retired in 1999 and relocated to Beaufort, South Carolina in 2001. There, he served as the manager of the MCRD PISC gift shop. He was buried at the Beaufort National Cemetery.
Courage, pluck, grit, and sand — all have similar colloquial meanings. They are terms one might have overheard in a conversation between two men (not among the ladies). They are words that refer to someone who has stamina, is physically and mentally tough, someone with a strength of character.
Author Mark Twain used such terms as grit and sand. In Huckleberry Finn, Clemens wrote, “She had the grit to pray for Judas if she took the notion — there warn’t no backdown to her, I judge. You may say what you want to, but in my opinion, she had more sand in her than any girl I ever seen; in my opinion, she was just full of sand.”
Words reflect how we think, and Americans seem to admire someone who demonstrates a strength of character and physical and mental toughness. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Mr. Clemens wasn’t the first to use such expressions. They were slang in common use as early as 1862 and 1825, respectively.
Years ago, a cartoon circulated where I worked depicting a tiny mouse sitting hunched on its two hind legs, looking up into the sky. A shadow appeared over the little mouse; it was an outline of a bird of prey. Seconds before its demise, the little mouse displayed its pluck by giving the bird “the finger.” The cartoon was very popular. I may even have a copy of it among my papers.
We marvel at the toughness and resolve of our fellow man because such characteristics and attributes are part of America’s values. This is why we read novels and develop affinities for the “good guys” who fight for justice or defend the weak. Well, we at least used to admire such qualities.
Speaking of Pluck
The U.S. Medal of Honor is the highest combat award bestowed upon members of the Armed Forces to recognize gallant conduct in combat. There are three medals, one each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The U.S. Navy was the first to award a medal of honor in 1861. The last Medal of Honor issued was in December 2021. In total, the Medal of Honor has recognized the gallantry of 3,525 Americans, 618 of those posthumously.
Nineteen servicemen have received two Medals of Honor — of those, five “double recipients” received both the Army and Navy Medal of Honor for the same action, all of which occurred during World War I. Fourteen men received two medals of honor for separate actions. Two of those men were U.S. Marines: Major General Smedley D. Butler and Sergeant Major Daniel J. Daley. Numerous others received the Navy’s two highest awards: the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. One of these men was John Arthur Hughes.
John Arthur Hughes had grit. Some might even argue that he had True Grit.
Born on 2 November 1880 in Brooklyn, John Arthur Hughes was the son of William H. T. Hughes, a director of the Ward Steamship Line, and his wife, Olive. John was educated at the prestigious Berkeley School, graduating in 1900. Although John received a congressional nomination to attend the U.S. Military Academy, he failed the entrance examination. By then, his father had died — leaving attendance at college out of the question. Joining the U.S. Marine Corps was not out of the question.
Curious to type
John Hughes joined the Marines on 7 November 1900. He stood roughly five feet ten inches tall, weighed less than 136 pounds, and had a slender build — which was not altogether different than most other young Americans. Initially, Private Hughes was serious about his role as a Marine. He focused on his duties and earned high praise from his superiors. In 1901, John Hughes sewed on the rank insignia of a Marine corporal — and four months after that, the Marines promoted him to sergeant.
The early twentieth century was a period of opportunity in the Marine Corps. In 1898, the Marine Corps had taken an unexpected turn from that of a group of sea-going bellhops to an amphibious force of lethal capabilities while projecting naval power ashore. See also the First Marine Battalion, 1898. In 1901, John Hughes was what the Marines in the 1960s might describe as “A.J. Squared Away.”
Following the American Civil War, the primary source of Marine Corps officer commissions came from graduating students of the U.S. Naval Academy. But it was also a time when naval power projection became exceedingly complex. The Navy had transitioned from sail to coal-fired ships, demanding sophisticated operating systems with keen instruments and electrical capacities throughout their ships. The navy required a steady stream of highly qualified naval architects and engineers to operate and maintain these ships. This meant that the navy could no longer afford to offer Marine Corps commissions to Naval Academy graduates; they needed men wearing the navy uniform. But the Marines needed qualified officers, too.
In 1898, Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood petitioned the Secretary of the Navy for permission to offer commissions to well-educated individuals from civilian life (not associated with a service academy) and to highly qualified enlisted men who had proven themselves as noncommissioned officers. With the sizeable expansion of the Navy after 1900 came the growth of the Marine Corps, as well. In 1900, the Marine Corps needed 18 Second Lieutenants. Congress directed that only eight of these entrants could be civilian college graduates — the remaining ten had to come from either the Naval Academy or the enlisted ranks. Since all of the Naval Academy’s graduates went to service with the Navy in 1900, Colonel Heywood turned to the Marine Corps NCO.
An insurrection was going on, and the American government needed its Marines to stop it. Sergeant John A. Hughes took his oath of office as a Second Lieutenant 0n 21 December 1901. During the swearing-in ceremony, Hughes stood next to another former NCO named Earl H. Ellis, whom everyone called “Pete.” After their training as newly commissioned officers, Hughes and others joined a replacement battalion bound for the Philippine Islands.
Upon arrival in the Philippines, Marine officials posted 2ndLt Hughes to the Marine Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mancell C. Goodrell and the battalion under Major Constantine Perkins, a graduate of the Naval Academy. John Hughes’ impetuousness and unpredictability caused both Goodrell and Perkins some discomfort — much like too much gas after dining for a week on navy beans — because they had little patience for Hughes’ penchant for playing pranks. Moreover, Lieutenant Hughes drank too much and did not appear to take to heart efforts to reform him in the mold of the Old Corps. It was then that Hughes’s reputation for “grit” began. Some Marines began to refer to Hughes as Johnny the Hard; as we’ll see, he was one tough hombre.
According to researcher Colonel Merrill Bartlett, Major Perkins (of whom little is known) rated Hughes as an average officer, observing that Hughes was reckless and careless with a disposition toward boisterousness. Apparently, Lieutenant Hughes and his running mates liked to sing loudly at 3 a.m., which irritated the senior officers billeted in officer’s quarters.
Despite his somewhat lackluster fitness reports, Hughes passed his examination for promotion, and a promotion board recommended him for advancement to First Lieutenant. By this time, Hughes had become known, by reputation, as a hard ass. He preferred to resolve minor disciplinary problems with his men through one-on-one instructional periods, often involving fisticuffs and somewhat harsh language. This type of behavior was the one drawdown among mustang officers: they knew what worked for them as sergeants and took those “successes” with them into the officer ranks — where they were not appreciated. In the modern Marine Corps, Hughes would likely face a court-martial for such conduct. The Marine Corps has every right to expect better of its commissioned officers.
After leaving the Philippines, Hughes reported to the Marine Barracks, Boston, where he served for two years as an assistant quartermaster and commissary officer. In 1906, the Commandant posted Hughes aboard the U.S.S. Minneapolis and later detached him to constabulary duty with the 1st Provisional Regiment in Cuba.
Despite Hughes’ unwillingness to change his irresponsible behaviors, the Marine Corps promoted him to Captain in 1909 and ordered him to the Marine Barracks in New York City. A short time later, Marine officials assigned him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, via the troop ship U.S.S. Hancock.
In Cuba, Hughes and his men transferred to the auxiliary cruiser U.S.S. Buffalo, which transported the leathernecks to Panama in March 1910. Just thirty days later, while assigned to the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Hughes participated in the bombardment and assault of Coyotepe Hill, Nicaragua.
The Marine Corps was a small service in the early 20th century; the officer corps was small enough that nearly every officer knew every other officer — particularly since these were men with whom they competed for promotion and assignment. In this kind of environment, it wasn’t long before everyone knew about the incident involving Captain Hughes and his commanding officer, Major Smedley D. Butler.
These two officers, each colorful in their own peculiar way, detested each other. Butler opined that while Captain Hughes was efficient and knowledgeable, he was excitable and disloyal (to his commanding officer). In April 1912, Hughes’ superior ordered him confined to quarters because of getting into a fistfight with a brother officer. Fighting among officers was strictly prohibited.
The Commandant is watching
In June, Hughes earned five days’ suspension from duty for “assumption of authority and insubordination.” The nature of Hughes’ alleged offense is lost to history, except as noted on his next fitness report. But then, less than a month later, the impulsive Leatherneck absented himself from duty without authority and received another suspension from duty due to “unwarranted evasion of orders.”
Besides noting that he had been suspended from duty, Hughes’ reporting senior added that “he knows his profession thoroughly, but he is excitable and not always loyal, in his attention to duty, manner, and bearing, to his commanding officer.” But the incident that raised the hackles of his superiors occurred in April 1912, when Hughes was confined to his quarters as a result of a fistfight with a brother officer. We believe the identity of this “brother officer” was Smedley D. Butler.
Major Butler cabled the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Colonel William P. Biddle, stating that he considered Hughes a menace to the welfare of his command and requested that the Commandant order his return to Washington under arrest or a transfer out of his command with a preference for sending him as far away from Central America as possible — even to the extent of recommending the Philippines. But Butler did more than that. He turned to his father, U.S. Congressman Thomas S. Butler, who served on the House Naval Affairs Committee.
Congressman Butler turned to the Secretary of the Navy for assistance in relieving his son from the challenges caused by the unrepentant Captain Hughes. Secretary Meyer was in no mood for tattling or seeking special favors. He denied the congressman’s request and directed the Commandant to inform Butler that he’d have to learn to deal with his challenges without the help of his father. Secretary Meyer also noted that Major Butler had attempted to embellish the charges against Captain Hughes by adding previous incidents for which he had already been punished.
Nevertheless, at the end of 1912, officials ordered Captain Hughes to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for service with the Marine Barracks. Within a year, however, the Commandant ordered all East Coast Barracks to provide the human resources needed to man two regiments of the Advance Base Force (A.B.F.) (forerunner to the Fleet Marine Force).
Captain Hughes reported to the Commanding Officer, 2nd A.B.F., at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where his commanding officer appointed him to command a rifle company. The A.B.F. Commander was Lieutenant Colonel John A. Lejeune.
The purpose of these Navy-Marine Corps exercises was to test the concept of the A.B.F. Still, a secondary objective, owing to declining political conditions, was to serve as a force in readiness for possible operations in Mexico. With naval maneuvers judged successful, the A.B.F. set sail for New Orleans on 9 February 1914. On 5 March, the A.B.F. received orders to proceed to Veracruz.
In 1914, the Mexican-American War had been over for 66 years. Still, diplomatic relations between those two countries remained strained — and the truth is that Mexicans, Texicans, and Americans had never gotten along. Today, it is doubtful that they ever will. U.S. policy toward Mexico hasn’t made many efforts to improve these relations, but neither has Mexico.
In 1913, after assuming the office of president, Woodrow Wilson withdrew the United States’ official recognition of the government/presidency of Victoriano Huerta. Wilson’s reasons for taking this action were that Huerta was using borrowed funds to purchase armaments and munitions for use against the people of Mexico to maintain his power over them.
Conditions deteriorated even more when Wilson imposed an arms embargo on Mexico in August 1913. The final straw was the Mexican officials arrested nine U.S. sailors in Tampico, Mexico, for entering areas of the city marked as off-limits to foreign military personnel. When this matter was not resolved to Wilson’s satisfaction, he ordered a naval force to capture Veracruz.
Captain Hughes led his 15th Rifle Company ashore on 21 April as part of the landing force. For his conduct between 21-24 April, Captain Hughes was cited for conspicuous gallantry and was nominated to receive the Medal of Honor.
Major Butler was another nominee. To his credit, Butler pleaded with his superiors to withdraw the medal, insisting he did nothing to deserve such a high-level award. This issue of awarding the medal of honor to Marine officers had become political, and Butler’s complaints weren’t helping matters. Irritated, Butler’s superiors in the chain of command ordered him to stop moaning and wear the damn thing. Butler’s discomfort increased, however, when he learned that his superiors had also nominated Captain Hughes for the Medal of Honor. Modern historians believe Butler despised no man more than John A. Hughes.
While the Marine brigade was en route back to the north, Captain Hughes received orders that he would proceed to the Marine Barracks, Portsmouth. In his final fitness report, despite his nomination for the Medal of Honor, Major Randolph C. Berkeley (also a Medal of Honor nominee) rated him poorly in leadership — for treating his men harshly.
In 1916, while serving as the Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, U.S.S. Delaware, Hughes landed with his Marines in response to civil unrest and banditry in the Dominican Republic. President Wilson made a Marine presence in the Dominican Republic permanent after late October that year.
Meanwhile, Captain Hughes became eligible for promotion to major by achieving fifteen years of honorable service. Amazingly — or possibly not, the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels denied Hughes’ advancement. Historians suggest that usually, the Secretary of the Navy would take no hand in the matter of a Marine officer’s promotion, but in this case, it would seem that through his father, Smedley D. Butler was involved in urging Daniels to “do the right thing” for the Corps (and for Butler).
At this time, the Commandant, Major General George Barnett, received a telegram reporting that Captain Hughes had become a combat casualty — wounded by gunshot. Barnett promptly took the telegram to Secretary Daniels and demanded that he release his hold on Captain Hughes’ promotion.
The Marine Corps promoted Hughes to Major on 16 March 1917. Accompanying his promotion was a strongly worded memorandum from Secretary Daniels. Merrill Bartlett tells us that the memo warned Hughes against any future drunkenness or harshness toward his men.
After Hughes recovered from his wound, he served as a staff officer at the headquarters of the A.B.F. in Philadelphia. When the United States entered World War I, Hughes proceeded to Quantico, Virginia, to prepare for a substantial increase in Marine Corps manpower.
An Interesting Aside
Shortly after the U.S. entered the European war, Brigadier General John A. Lejeune wrote to this friend, Major Smedley D. Butler (then serving as a major general in the Haitian constabulary), informing him that he (Lejeune) expected to command a Marine brigade in the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.). Should that happen, Lejeune wrote, he would offer Butler command of an infantry battalion.
Subsequent planning revealed that the A.E.F. commander, General “Black Jack” Pershing, reduced the Marine Corps’ footprint to a single regiment. Lejeune was sad to advise Butler that a colonel would command a single regiment and he had no further say in the matter.
Colonel Bartlett assures us that Lejeune’s letter to Butler was somewhat less than honest. By then, Butler had burdened HQMC with a constant stream of requests for relief from his duty in Haiti and assignment to the A.E.F. in France. Commandant Barnett was unsympathetic. He first informed Butler that his position was vital to American interests in Haiti. Secondly, he reminded Lejeune that Butler had used all of his political leverage to gain the coveted post to command the Gendarmerie d’ Haiti and that he could damn well remain there.
But General Barnett had a problem that needed a resolution. He required the names of qualified officers for service in the A.E.F. He needed Lejeune’s advice — and one of the officers suggested by General Lejeune was Major John A. Hughes.
When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the U.S. Marine Corps included 462 commissioned officers, 49 warrant officers, and 13,214 enlisted men. Of those, 187 officers and 4,546 enlisted men served outside the continental limits of the United States. Six weeks later, the Marine Corps had organized the 5th Marine Regiment (consisting of around one-sixth of the Corps’ total strength). When the regiment sailed for France in June 1917, U.S. Marines accounted for one-fifth of the A.E.F.’s expeditionary force.
Closely following the 5th Marines in July and August 1917 was the 6th Marine Regiment and 6th Machine gun Battalion (M.G.B.) Within one year of America’s entry into the war, the Marine Corps had placed as many enlisted Marines in France as had served on active duty at the outbreak of the war. President Wilson’s policies in Central America and the Caribbean Sea demanded a massive increase in the number of Marines serving on active duty. In June 1918, the authorized strength of the Marine Corps was 1,323 officers and 30,000 enlisted men. The number of Marines serving on that date was 1,424 officers and 57,298 enlisted men.
Colonel Albertus W. Catlin assumed command of the 6th Marine Regiment. Catlin assigned Major John A. Hughes to command the 1st Battalion, Thomas Holcomb (later, Commandant of the Marine Corps) to command 2/6, and Berton W. Sibley to command 3/6.
Upon arrival in France, Major Hughes settled his battalion at St. Nazaire. He joined his fellow officers for temporary duty under instruction at the I Corps School of Infantry at Gondrecourt. Hughes’ performance as a student prompted the Army to extend his temporary assignment through February 1918 so that he could serve as an instructor. In mid-February, Hughes asked the Army to send him back to his battalion, and they refused — so Major Hughes packed his kit and returned to his battalion without orders. The Army high command was unhappy with Hughes, but Colonel Catlin sorted it all out.
On 27 May 1918, Imperial Germany launched the third of its spring counteroffensive operations to bring the war to a close before the United States committed the total weight of its Army to the fight. Within four days, German soldiers reached the Marne River at Château-Thierry. Until this point, General Pershing had consistently refused to release any American forces to serve under foreign command, but with Imperial German troops sitting a mere 35 miles from Paris, Pershing rushed three American infantry divisions to Château-Thierry to halt the German advance. One of those divisions was the U.S. Second Infantry with the 4th Marine Brigade.
Catlin’s 6th Marines occupied a position along the Paris-Metz highway, south of a small forest called Bois de Belleau (Belleau Wood), with orders to dig in and hold at all costs. Having halted the German advance, the Brigade received new orders: expel the Germans from Belleau Wood. Thus began the Battle of Belleau Wood, one of the Marine Corps’ most contested and bloodiest fights. Before the end of this battle, the Marine brigade suffered a 50% casualty rate — and it was during this fight that Major John A. Hughes earned both the Navy Cross and Silver Star. He also suffered the effects of poisoned gas, thereby earning his second Purple Heart medal.
Following the Battle of Belleau Wood, the German high command foolishly decided to cut the highway between Soissons and Château-Thierry. The Marines deployed south of Soissons on 18 July. After two days of bitter fighting, the Brigade gave up an additional 2,000 casualties — with most of the dead and wounded from the 6th Marine Regiment. One of those injured Marines was Major Hughes.
By this time, Johnny the Hard was a physical wreck. His previous wound had opened up and made walking difficult and painful. His gas-seared lungs sapped his strength, and he had reached the limit of his endurance. But despite his pain and discomfort, he did his duty and persevered until his superiors ordered him returned to the United States.
Before that happened, however, again, according to Colonel Bartlett, Major Hughes took a nasty fall as a bunker collapsed. The major cussed and asked the Marines, “Say, any of you birds got a pair of wire cutters?” Using those wire cutters, Major Hughes sat down and cut off a shard of bone protruding from his leg.
Second Medal of Honor Recommendation
Major Hughes’ promotion to lieutenant colonel, effective 28 August 1918, finally caught up with him — along with another Silver Star medal and two French Croix de Guerre. But one Marine Corps icon thought that Hughes deserved more. Colonel Hiram I. Bearss (shown right), believing that Hughes earned the Medal of Honor for his performance at Soissons, put that recommendation in writing and sent it directly to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
In writing his recommendation, Bearss reported, “During the engagement east of Vierzy, on the 19th of July 1918, Lieut. Col. Hughes (then major) conducted his battalion across open fields swept by violent machine-gun and artillery fire. His entire commissioned and non-commissioned staff were either killed or wounded. Though suffering the severest pain from an old wound, he led his battalion forward and, by his dauntless courage, [and] bulldog tenacity of purpose, set an example to his command that enabled [it] to hold [its] position against the enemy throughout the day [and] night, though without food or water and with very little ammunition. Major Hughes’ battalion had been reduced to about 200 men, but due to this magnificent example of gallantry and intrepidity, this remnant of a battalion held a front of over 1,200 yards. As a battalion commander, he risked his life beyond the call of duty.”
The Commandant returned Bearss’ recommendation, noting that it should have been submitted through the chain of command to Headquarters, A.E.F., but by then, too much time had elapsed, and Hughes did not receive a second Medal of Honor for his World War I service.
After five months in the Army hospital in France, Colonel Hughes was ordered back to the United States for further treatment at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Philadelphia. After an additional two months of treatment, Hughes attempted to ask for an assignment to the A.B.F., but to no avail. Colonel Hughes was no longer medically qualified for Marine Corps service. The Commandant transferred Hughes to the disability retired list on 3 July 1919.
In retirement, Hughes joined his brothers in the Hughes Trading Company but left two years later to work for Mack Trucking in Cleveland — and later the first director of the Ohio Liquor Control Department. In 1936, the square-jawed Marine became the Director of Safety at the Great Lakes Exposition. Ill health relating to his military service forced Hughes to retire again in 1937, and he moved to Florida. Johnny the Hard passed away on 25 May 1942 while undergoing treatment at the Veterans Hospital.
Meanwhile — back in July 1918 — Smedley Calls His Daddy
At about the time Colonel Hughes had fought his last battle in France, Smedley Butler finally made his way to France — but only after side-stepping the Commandant of the Marine Corps and calling on his father to help him achieve an assignment in the A.E.F. Congressman Thomas S. Butler spoke with Secretary of the Navy Daniels, who ordered the Commandant to send Butler to France with the next replacement draft. This interference resulted in Butler’s meteoric rise from major to full colonel and command of the 13th Marine Regiment.
In the summer of 1918, Secretary of War Newton Baker and his senior staff had no interest in another Marine Brigade in France, but on 15 September, within only a few weeks of his father’s interference, Colonel Butler and the 13th Marines embarked for France.
To Butler’s profound disappointment, however, General Pershing decided to break up the 5th Marine Brigade and use the Marines as replacements and for logistical duties behind the lines. When Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler arrived in France, General Pershing placed him in charge of a supply depot. Within only a few months, Butler was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star — no doubt arranged for by his daddy in recognition of his non-combat service. General Butler continued to cry on his father’s shoulder for the balance of his career.
No pluck, no sand, and no grit.
Bartlett, M. L. The Spirited Saga of Johnny the Hard. Naval History, U.S. Naval Institute, 2007
Catlin, A. With the Help of God and a Few Marines: The battles of Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood. Blue House Books, 2016.
Sweetman, J. The Landing at Veracruz, 1914. U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1968.
“A Brief History of the Medal of Honor, U.S. Army Center of Military History, online.
 During World War I, Marines served with the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.), which placed these men under the operational authority of the Department of War, even though at the time, they were regularly assigned to the Department of the Navy. It was a bit confusing back then, so it was possible for a Marine to receive a medal of honor from both the Army and the Navy. After the war, service regulations changed to reflect that a medal of honor can only be awarded once for a single action. It is still possible to receive two such medals, but only for separate actions.
 The process of commissioning enlisted men to serve as officers resulted in the term “mustang,” denoting an individual who “came up through the ranks” rather than someone who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth. A mustang was a feral animal, not a “thoroughbred.” Over many years, the Armed Forces found that in terms of leadership, raw determination, and professional knowledge, former enlisted men made better officers. A few former enlisted men found their way to general officer status, but for the most part, accession to flag rank was reserved for graduates of the service academies.
 My primary source for this information is retired Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett. Were it not for his fine writing at Naval History Magazine, I would never have heard of Colonel Goodrell or Major Perkins.
 Certain individual Marines had severe drinking problems at the turn of the century; more than one officer succumbed to the effects of alcoholism, including Pete Ellis — which remarkably all seemed to originate in the Philippines.
 The incident suggests that despite his demonstrated courage in combat, Smedley Darlington Butler would have made a perfect centerpiece for a bouquet of assholes.
 The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the Congress of the United States — hence, the medal is often termed the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” After the incursion into Mexico, Congress amended its legislation for the Medal of Honor to include naval officers. Within the Department of the Navy, the conflict provided an opportunity to shower the Medal of Honor on selected participants at Veracruz. Of the Navy contingent deployed to Veracruz, 28 officers and 18 enlisted men earned the award — and nine Marine Corps officers.
 History tells us that ultimately the Marines did provide an infantry brigade to the A.E.F, but in the planning stages, Pershing did all that he could to avoid having Marines in his command.
 The two regiments and separate battalion formed the 4th Marine Brigade, with an authorized strength of 258 officers and 8,211 enlisted men. The brigade fought in eight major engagements and suffered 12,000 casualties. At the same time, the Corps maintained the 5th Marine Brigade in the A.E.F. reserve, provided the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division with staff officers and enlisted men, and provided officers to command U.S. Army infantry and aviation units.
 Bearss, himself a holder of the Medal of Honor, commanded an Army infantry regiment and the U.S. 51st Infantry Brigade in France. His moniker in the Marine Corps was “Hiking Hiram,” famous for his trek across the Island of Samar in the Philippines in 1901.
 Source, LtCol Merrill L. Bartlett, USMC (Retired) Naval History Magazine, 2007.
 General Barnett was right, of course. The recommendation should have been submitted through the chain of command. It is also possible that Barnett knew that Secretary Daniels would never allow the approval of the Medal of Honor for Hughes.
 In retirement, Colonel John A. Hughes provided a falsified dossier for “Pete” Ellis’ ill-fated spy mission to the Central Pacific in 1923. (Ellis assumed the identity of a salesman for the Hughes Trading Company as a cover for his undercover and somewhat bizarre escapade).
One of the greatest gifts bestowed on the American people during their formative period was the wisdom of the nation’s founding members to create, establish, and maintain a small but elite corps of individuals so imbued with patriotism and devotion that they willingly gave up their lives in the service to their country — and to one another. They called themselves Marines. In 1775, they were called Continental Marines. They have never relinquished their sense of duty, or their honor since their creation on that blustery early November day 247 years ago.
The Marine Corps Hymn is both a chronicle of the story of American Marines and an ongoing pledge to the purpose of the U.S. Marine Corps — to which all Marines subscribe.
Although we do not know the name of the individual who penned the words to the Hymn, the words are much easier to trace (historically) than the music, which many scholars seem willing to attribute to the French composer, Jacques Offenbach. Offenbach’s opera was called Geneviève de Brabant. Geneviève’s story is believed to rest on the events surrounding Marine de Brabant, the wife of Louis II, Duke of Bavaria and Count Palatine de Rhine. Marie was suspected of infidelity and subsequently tried by her husband, found guilty, and beheaded (18 January 1256). When the verdict was shown in error, religious officials required Louis to atone, which did very little for Marie, by then long dead. The change in the name from Marie to Geneviève may relate to the so-called cult of Geneviève, patroness of Paris, France.
The opera was first performed in 1859 (or thereabouts). But there are those who claim that Offenbach’s tune originated from a Spanish folk song long before 1859. This too is interesting because Spanish classical music was already in decline by the beginning of the 18th century, replaced in many instances by post-renaissance Italian classical constructs in the 19th and 20th centuries. If we address this question-mark, then we must also understand that symphonic music was never important to Spaniards, who preferred solo instrumental (guitar and piano) and vocal operas by local (regional) composers and then to this, we must add the fact that musically, there are twelve distinctive Spanish cultural regions. Questions of music aside, the words to this song are exclusive “American Marine” — we simply do not know who.
Continental Marines ceased to exist when the U.S. Congress decided that a standing naval and military force was no longer needed in the newly created United States of America — following the war with Great Britain in 1783, of course. But within ten years, it became apparent to President Washington that the United States could not defend its sovereignty at home or abroad without a naval presence on the high seas, or a land army at home to address Indian unrest. See also: At Tripoli.
It was in response to intolerable insults to the United States by various leaders of the Turkish Empire and the barbary states that America’s first three presidents instituted somewhat hesitant and mostly inadequate policies directed at the Barbary States. At Tripoli (Part I) describes the background and naval campaign implemented to address Islamist blackguards and wastrels. In recognition of the extraordinary courage and patriotism of Captain William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, the Marine Corps Hymn recalls … “to the shores of Tripoli.”
During the Mexican-American War (1846-48), American Marines served alongside the U.S. Army under General Winfield Scott. Following the battle of Mexico City, known as the Battle of Chapultepec, American forces captured the Chapultepec Castile, also known as the Halls of Montezuma. It was this victory, in 1847, that effectively ended the war with Mexico.
In 1942, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, serving as 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps, authorized a change to the fourth line of the first stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn to include a reference to Marine Corps aviation. The line, originally written “On the land as on the sea,” was changed to “In the air, on land, and sea.”
The Battle Colors of the United States Marine Corps
The official Battle Colors of the U.S. Marine Corps are maintained at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., the oldest organization in the Marine Corps. A duplicate battle color is retained in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. What distinguishes the Battle Colors of the United States Marine Corps from all other Marine Corps battle colors is that they contain the battle streamers of every battle fought by Marines since 1775. The flags found in regular Marine Corps units, maintained in the office of battalion commanders and above (air squadrons, regiments, aviation groups, infantry divisions, air wings, and fleet Marine Force headquarters organizations, is that they contain battle streamers only of the battles those units participated in. For example, a battalion that did not participate in World War I would not have any battle streamers associated with World War I.
The Battle Colors of the U.S. Marine Corps contain fifty-five battle streamers; they represent U.S. and foreign decorations and awards for combat service, expeditions, and campaigns since the American Revolution. During the Marine Corps’ first 150 years, Marines in the field carried a variety of flags. It was not until 18 April 1925 that Marine Corps Order Number 4 designated gold and scarlet as the official colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. These colors, however, were not reflected in the official Marine Corps flag until 18 January 1939 when a new design incorporating the new colors was approved. This design was essentially that of today’s Marine Corps standard and was the result of a two-year study concerning the design of a standard Marine Corps flag, and the units to which such a flag should be issued.
The 55 colored streamers which adorn the Battle Color represent the history and accomplishments of the Marine Corps. The newest streamers to be added to the Battle Color are the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Inherent Resolve Campaign Streamers.
The Importance of Symbols
The Marine Corps is one of the nation’s smallest services, its size dependent upon missions assigned to it. So, when we look back into its history, we won’t see vast numbers of Marines killed or wounded in battle. But to provide some context, I want to offer some overall numbers reflecting the size of the Corps at various times along with the numbers of casualties (killed and wounded) in several conflicts.
Battle casualties KIA/WIA
Quasi-war with France
War of 1812
Creek & Seminole War
Civil War (Union)
Boxer Rebellion (China)
Mexican Intervention (1914)
Dominican Rep (1916-1920)
World War I (1917-1918)
World War II (1941-1945)
Korean War (1950-1953)
Dominican Rep (1965)
Lebanon Intervention (1984)
Persian Gulf (1988)
Persian Gulf War (1991)
Afghan War (2001-2015)
Iraq War (2003-2016)
As with all the other military services, every Marine killed, wounded, and maimed in the service to their country signifies yet another mother/father, brother/sister, or wife/child with a broken heart. War always affects more than those wearing a military uniform. Those who elect to remain home where it is safe and comfortable during times of crisis never seem to understand this reality. There are some Americans who do not even care. It wasn’t always that way in America — but welcome to 2022. But these symbols, our hymn, and the battle colors of the U.S. Marine Corps serve as important reminders of who we are and what we represent — and our commitment to God, Country, and each other. So … Here’s health to you and to our Corps — which we are proud to serve.
Happy Birthday, Marines!
 Note that the opening line of the Marine Corps Hymn is, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli…” Whoever wrote the hymn has these events out of sequence, but I’ve tried it the other way around and it simply doesn’t work — so we will have to acknowledge some poetic license and I vote we keep the hymn the way it is now.
 The United States did not declare war during World War II until the Japanese first attacked the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941. In 1940, however, the U.S. sent a regiment of 1,000 Marines to Iceland to help prevent an invasion by Nazi Germany. This event inspired another unofficial stanza to the Marine Corps Hymn. It was: “Again in nineteen forty-one, we sailed a north’ard course, and found beneath the sun the Viking and the Norse. The Iceland girls were slim and fair, and fair the Icelandic scenes, and the Army found in landing there, the United States Marines.”
 Source of data: United States Marine Corps University.
The Gurkha (also Gorkhas) are soldiers native to the Indian sub-continent residing in Nepal and some areas of Northeast India. As a combatant, they are a tremendous force. They are small in stature, but the reader will not discover a body of men possessing more tenacity and esprit de corps or less regard for their safety. It is such that these small men appear as giants on the battlefield — or, if not that, their ferocity is enough to cause the blood of their enemies to run cold, drop their weapons, and run like hell. The Gurkha signal to attack has caused heart attacks in twenty-year-old men.
Most military historians rate Gurkhas among the finest combat soldiers in the world. They believe that the only way to defeat a Gurkha combat is by killing every man in his unit and then shooting them again just to make sure.
John Watts and George White were two very enterprising Englishmen who, sometime between 1598-1600, came up with the idea of forming a joint-stock company that would focus on trade with India. The company came into being on 31st December 1600 as the East India Company (EIC) — but over many years had several names. Eventually, people began calling it the John Company. In 1712, Dr. John Arbuthnot created a satirical character named John Bull, which became a national personification of the United Kingdom, generally, and England in particular.
But in 1600, no one imagined that EIC would acquire vast tracts of the Indian subcontinent. By 1740, the English competed with the French and Spanish for supremacy inside the Indian Ocean area. The competition was keen — there was no prize for second place. To gain (and retain) trade advantages, EIC relied heavily on the British Army to pacify the Indian population and the Royal Navy to protect trade routes and valuable cargoes.
Since it was economically impractical to permanently assign English regiments to India, EIC created its own army — one composed of native riflemen led by British officers and NCOs. EIC used this army to subdue uncooperative Indian states and principalities and to protect its economic interests. By 1800, the East India Company employed over 200,000 native soldiers, making it twice as large as the British Army.
In the early years, company management was both efficient and economical — but over time, incompetence, mismanagement, and other circumstances far beyond the company’s control (such as widespread famine in India) led the nearly bankrupt company to request financial aid from the British Parliament. After much debate, the government reasoned that such a commitment would benefit the nation’s long-term interests and approved EIC’s request — but not without having something to say about the company’s management. Parliamentary regulation and oversight of EIC began in 1773. In 1784, Parliament seized control of all Indian political policies through The India Act.
The John Company ceased to exist in 1858 when the Parliament forced it to cede all of its territories and holdings in India to the British Crown, which included massive parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and mid-Eastern Gulf colonies. Before incorporation, however, the EIC managed to recruit Nepalese to serve the company as part of its private army. They became known as Gurkhas. It was a relationship that began after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816).
The Gurkha War
The Malla Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of the Kathmandu Valley (1201 – 1779) and one of the most sophisticated urban civilizations in the Himalayan foothills and a key destination in the India-Tibet trade route.
In 1766, when the Gurkha King invaded Kathmandu (which at the time belonged to the Malla Confederacy), the Malla appealed to the EIC for help and armaments. The company responded by sending an ill-equipped, poorly trained force of 2,500 men under a very young Captain, George Kinloch. By any measure, the expedition was an unmitigated disaster. Out of his depth as a military commander, Captain Kinloch had the additional misfortune of a malaria pandemic in the ranks. The Gurkhas quickly overpowered Kinloch’s demoralized troops, and since dead men did not need British-manufactured firearms, the Gurkhas collected the weapons and put them to good use against their other enemies.
Gurkha aggression toward Tibet over long-standing trade eventually involved Imperial Chinese troops between 1789-1792. It was then that the Gurkha (by then calling themselves Nepalese), in recognizing a common interest in territorial expansion, appealed to the British Governor-General for his assistance against the Chinese. Governor-General Lord Warren Hastings had no desire to engage Imperial China, but he was never averse to exploiting regional commercial opportunities. Moreover, the company was at the center of a cash-flow problem — an issue that Hastings could resolve by selling rare wools to English markets. Tibet was the only place on earth where Kashmir existed, and the only way to obtain it was through the mountain passes in Nepal — and this was only possible through the strategy of “political safety,” or territorial control and military pacification.
The Anglo-Gurkha War (1812-1816) involved two separate British military campaigns with seven major engagements and an extraordinary expenditure of money. Despite Nepal’s initial interest in involving the British in their dispute with China, which was not forthcoming, certain elements of the Gurkha hierarchy distrusted the British (with good reason), particularly after the British gained control of a neighboring principality. This event prompted the Nepalese to annex buffer territories of their own, which they were fully prepared to defend. In preparing for war with the British, the Nepalese suffered no illusions about the stakes of such a confrontation. One tribal chieftain advised his Nepalese lord, “They will not rest without establishing their own power and will unite with the hill rajas, whom we have dispossessed. We have hitherto hunted deer; if we engage in this war, we must prepare to fight tigers.”
The Anglo-Gurkha war ended with the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. It required Nepal to relinquish all buffer territories west and east of its formal border and accept a permanent British representative in Kathmandu. Initially, the Nepalese objected to the treaty until General David Ochterlony offered the Nepalese a deal they could not refuse, which was that they could either agree to the treaty or Ochterlony would destroy them. It was thus that Nepal became a British-protected state.
Incorporating the Gurkhas
General Ochterlony and political agent William Fraser (1784-1835) were the first to recognize the potential of Gurkha soldiers in British service. During the war, Ochterlony employed Gurkha defectors as irregular forces. He and Fraser were impressed with these fighters and had no qualms about their devotion to the British cause. Fraser proposed that Ochterlony form the Gurkhas into a battalion under a British officer and key noncommissioned officers. This battalion later became the 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles. About 5,000 Nepalese men entered British service after 1815, most of whom were Himalayans from three ethnic groups: Kumaonis, Garhwalis, and Gorkhalis — all of which quickly assimilated into a unique Gurkha identity.
Over time, the Gurkhas became the backbone of the British Army, forming ten regiments of two battalions each. The British called them the Brigade of Gurkhas or, more simply, The Gurkha Rifles. Between 1857-1918, the British employed Gurkha units to address conflicts in Burma, Afghanistan, the Indian frontiers, Malta, Cyprus, Malaya, China, and Tibet — with the Gurkhas serving with great distinction in each of them.
Eventually, the British raised twenty Gurkha battalions and formed them into ten regiments. During the First World War, the number of Gurkha battalions increased to 33, totaling approximately 100,000 men. Of these, 20,000 were either killed or wounded. More than 2,000 Gurkhas received combat decorations for their exceptional courage and gallantry. So steady were these men that they were among the first to arrive during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign — and they were the last to withdraw.
The Gurkha fought in the Third Afghan War (1919) and numerous campaigns in the Northwest regions, notably in Waziristan. At the end of the world war, the British returned its Gurkha regiments to India, keeping them away from the internal strife of urban areas and placing them instead on the Indian frontier, where fiercely independent tribesmen were a constant source of unrest. The mission of the Gurkha along the frontier was more on the order of a constabulary: keeping the peace by confronting lawlessness among the Pathan tribes.
In 1939, there were ten Gurkha regiments (twenty pre-war battalions). After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the Nepalese government offered to increase the number of Gurkha battalions to 35. Eventually, that number rose to 43 battalions, adding two battalions to each regiment and a fifth battalion to the 1st, 2nd, and 9th Gurkha Rifles (also, 1 GR, 2 GR, and 9 GR). To accomplish this expansion, Gurkha training battalions increased to five. The Nepalese raised two additional battalions for peace-keeping duty in India. In total, a quarter-million Nepalese men served in 40 Gurkha battalions, 8 Nepalese Army battalions, as well as in parachute, training, garrison, and logistical units against German/Italian forces in Syria, North Africa, Italy, and Greece, and Japanese forces in Burma, northeast India, and Singapore. Of all Imperial combat forces, Gurkhas earned 2,734 medals for bravery at the cost of 32,000 casualties in all theaters.
The pattern of Gurkha military ranks followed those of the Indian Army. Three levels included privates, noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers. Commissioned officers within the Gurkha regiments held Viceroy’s commissions (while British officers held King’s or Queen’s commissions). Thus, any Gurkha holding a Viceroy’s commission (VCO) was subordinate to any British officer, regardless of rank. After Indian Independence in 1947, Gurkha officers reassigned to the British Army received King’s or Queen’s Gurkha Commissions (also known as KGO or QGO). The Crown abolished KGO/QGO in 2007. One notable difference between Gurkha officers and British officers is that no Gurkha can achieve a direct commission; Gurkha officers may only receive commissions through the enlisted ranks — they are all “mustangs.”
Today, Gurkhas serve in two separate armies: British and Indian. There is one Gurkha Regiment in the British Army and 12 battalions (6 regiments) in the Indian Army.
Ferocity in Combat
The Indian Rebellion of 1857
The problem of rebellion began as early as 1772 when Lord Hastings started to recruit for the British East India Company. Because many Bengalis opposed the BEIC in combat, Hastings avoided them during his recruitment efforts. He instead recruited higher castes, such as the Rajput and Bhumihar, from outlying regions. Ostensibly, the Madras and Bombay armies’ recruits were caste-neutral, but high-cast men were avoided below the surface. These caste-centered recruiting limitations continued through 1855.
The domination of higher castes in the Bengal army was one of the problems that led to the rebellion. For example, to avoid being polluted by the unclean lower caste, high-caste soldiers in the Bengal army dined separately — a situation that works against the concept of military teamwork. Hindu culture consumed the Bengal army, and higher-caste men were accorded privileges not extended to those of the lower-caste Bengali or the other company armies. For example, the company exempted Bengal soldiers from any service that took them beyond marching distance from their homes. The exemption excused Bengali soldiers from overseas service.
The final spark of discontent within the armies involved the ammunition used in the Enfield 1853 rifle/musket. The weapons fired mini-balls, and because the bore was smaller in diameter (tighter) than earlier muskets, pre-greased paper cartridges were needed to facilitate ramming the ball down the bore. In loading the weapon, sepoys (Indian soldiers serving in the British Army) had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. Rumors began circulating that the grease on these cartridges came from beef. Biting into beef grease would be offensive to devout Hindus, and if the lubricant came from pork lard, another rumor, biting into the cartridge would offend Muslims. Added to these rumors was the claim that British/Company officers intended to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. To quell the first rumor, Colonel Richard Birch ordered the manufacture of greaseless cartridges; the sepoys could grease the cartridges themselves using whatever substance they preferred. Colonel Birch’s common sense solution only caused many simple-minded soldiers to conclude that the rumors were true.
Unhappiness among civilians was more complicated. Three groups of rebels were feudal nobility, rural landlords, and peasants. The nobility was unhappy because they had lost titles and domains under company regulations that denied adopted children as legal heirs. Landlords had lost their lands to peasant farmers due to company land reforms. At the outset of the rebellion, landlords quickly re-occupied lost lands — without much complaint from the peasants, who oddly enough also joined the rebellion. There was also the issue of forced indebtedness. When peasant landowners could not pay their taxes, they borrowed money from loan sharks at high-interest rates. Peasants lost their land to these money lenders when they could not repay borrowed money.
In the spring and summer of 1857, Indian soldiers refused to obey the orders of company officers, and native officers declined to arrest or discipline them. Initially, it was more a matter of silent contempt than open mutiny. However, when all but five 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry soldiers refused to accept cartridges, their British commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, ordered courts-martial. Most of these men received sentences of ten years imprisonment with hard labor. Before marching the convicted men to jail, Smythe ordered them publicly stripped of their uniforms and shackled.
The opening of the rebellion occurred the next morning when rebels attacked and ransacked officers’ quarters. Several British officers were killed, along with four civilian men, eight women, and eight children. Crowds in the bazaar rebelled by attacking off-duty soldiers, beating to death fifty Indian civilians who served British officers, and attacked the post-jail, releasing the recently court-martialed soldiers. News of this uprising fostered other rebellions across India at Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow.
Not everyone opposed the British East India Company, and neither were the Gurkhas alone in suppressing the mutiny. Sikh princes supported the British, along with the princes of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, Kashmir, and Rajputana. But the mutiny was unexpected and spread rapidly. When the British began to deploy Gurkha forces, rebels panicked — as well as they should have.
The Gurkhas could not understand such disloyalty, and it angered them. The last thing any reasonable person wants is an angry Gurkha standing before him. The Gurkhas were unrelentingly ruthless toward the rebellious. In one instance, a single Gurkha soldier chased down a dozen or more Wahhabi extremists; when the Gurkha was done with them, the Muslims lay dismantled in the gutter.
But the Gurkhas did not escape the 18-month-long insurrection unscathed. They suffered terrible casualties. The difference was, and what set them apart, is that no Gurkha, no matter how badly wounded, would leave his post. Not even when offered safe conduct for medical attention would they leave the side of their battling comrades. All other “loyal” units paled in comparison to the Gurkhas. No one had the “jolly recklessness” of the Gurkha private.
The rebels of Lucknow paled when they learned that the Gurkhas would oppose them. The fighting lasted for several months, but even from the first day, the rebels knew they were dead men walking. Again — as always — the Gurkha was both relentless and unmerciful.
The Malayan Emergency
Gurkha battalions operated continuously throughout the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). During this time, the Gurkha soldier proved again, as he had done in Burma, that the Gurkhas are superb jungle fighters. The Gurkhas were among 40,000 regular British Commonwealth troops participating in the Malayan Emergency. 250,000 Malayan Home Guard troops augmented these men.
The Malayan Emergency was part of the post-World War II nationalist movements. These were conflicts initiated by communist insurgents against pre-war colonial powers. The initiating event in June 1948 was the murder of three Europeans during a communist assault on rubber plantations and the colonial government’s subsequent declaration of an emergency.
As in French Indochina, many of Malaya’s fighters were previously engaged as anti-Japanese nationalists, men trained and supplied by the British government during World War II. Most communist rebels were ethnic Malayan or Chinese poorly treated by British colonial administrators over several decades. The insurgents, when organized, began a series of assaults against British colonial police, military installations, tin mines, rubber plantations, and terrorist acts upon small, isolated villages. At such time as the British had had enough of the murder and mayhem created by communist rebels, they sent in commonwealth forces, including the Gurkhas, to end it.
Organized as the 48th Gurkha Brigade (later, the 17th Gurkha Division), the British sent fighters from all four (then) existing Gurkha regiments (2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th) and expanded (modernized) Gurkha fighting units by creating such combat support forces as engineers, signals, and transportation regiments.
The Gurkha’s arrival in Malaya was a seminal event because it marked the beginning of the end of the communist insurgency there. Unlike the US military in their later engagement in Vietnam, Gurkhas did not waste valuable time or effort trying to win the hearts and minds of the Malayan people. They weren’t there for that … they were there to locate communists and kill them. It was a mission-centered enterprise. If there were going to be a contest for the hearts and minds of civilians, it would have to be won by the government’s civil administration. Throughout their involvement in Malaya, the Gurkhas had few interactions with the civilian population. At no time were Gurkhas deployed to protect villages. They were after the “killer gangs” who behaved less as nationalist patriots than the armed thugs of jungle warlords.
For the Gurkhas, jungle time was slow time. Long-range patrols typically lasted two or three weeks (a few exceeded 100 days). Soldiers carried a pack weighing around 90 pounds; it was all he needed for the duration of the patrol. The Gurkhas dumped these heavy packs in a cache, mounting patrols in light order to sneak and peek. The basic patrol unit often consisted of three men but sometimes involved as many as twelve. The largest reconnaissance in force involved company-sized teams.
There was never any micro-management from a higher authority. Unit commanders simply told their patrol leaders to “get on with it,” which gave these seasoned fighters maximum leeway in deciding how to proceed. One of the favored Gurkha tactics was the ambuscade; some of these lasted from ten days to two weeks. Such operations demand an unparalleled degree of self-discipline because an ambush is only successful when there are no unnecessary movements to reveal the ambusher’s position. In truth, most ambushes yielded nothing at all. Gurkhas killed most insurgents through chance encounters while patrolling.
Gurkhas relentlessly pursued their enemy for as long as it took until they rounded up or killed the communists. Psychologically, such tenacity and commitment destroyed the communist’s self-confidence. He could run, but he could not hide from the Gurkha combat patrol. This was part of the strategy adopted by the British forces … keep the communists on the run. Some of these forays lasted for twenty or more days, the limiting factor being the amount of ammunition carried by each soldier (sixty rounds).
What the Gurkhas accomplished in twelve years was extraordinary within the context of the overall strategy. There was only limited use of artillery, and although the British employed light observation aircraft to support ground movements, there were no overwhelming air bombardment campaigns. What fighting the Gurkha did, they did with their standard issue firearm, kukri knives, and their fighting spirit. At the end of the day, Gurkha units didn’t need B-52s, artillery, or tanks. They were in Malaya for one essential purpose: locate the enemy and kill him — and the way to do that most effectively was to terrorize the terrorists. This is how the Gurkha won the Malayan Emergency.
Presently, the Gurkha contingent of the British Army includes the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the King’s Gurkha Signals (five squadrons), King’s Gurkha Engineers (two squadrons), the 10th King’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment, the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Gurkha Company, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, a company at the Infantry Battle School, and one company at the Land Warfare Center.
In 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was stationed in a trench with only two other men when over 200 Japanese soldiers opened fire. Gurung’s comrades were severely wounded in the opening fusillade. As hand grenades fell on the Gurkhas, Gurung tried to throw each one back one after another. He was successful with the first two, but the third exploded in his right hand. His fingers were blown off, and his face, body, and right arm and leg were severely wounded. As the Japanese stormed the trench, Gurung used his left hand to wield his rifle, defeating 31 enemies and preventing the Japanese from advancing. Gurung survived his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1949, the British selected former Gurkha soldiers for service in the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, which replaced the Sikh unit that existed before Japan’s occupation of Singapore. These police are well-trained and highly disciplined. They mainly perform as riot police and as an emergency reaction force. In Brunei, a Gurkha Reserve Unit serves as a special guard and elite shock force of around 500 men.
In 2008, Taliban insurgents ambushed a squad of Gurkhas, hitting Private Yubraj Rai. Captain Gajendera Angdembe and Riflemen Dhan Gurung and Manju Gurung carried Rai across 325 yards of open ground under heavy fire. The Gurkha leave no soldier behind – ever. In 2010, Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun single-handedly fought off thirty Taliban soldiers. It took him an hour, but all the enemy lay dead in the end. Pun received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
The highest and most prestigious decoration in the British honors system is the Victoria Cross. The qualification for this decoration is exceptionally valorous conduct “in the presence of the enemy,” with posthumous awards authorized when appropriate. At one time, all member states of the British Empire participated in the British honors system, but since the beginning of the British Commonwealth of Nations, many such countries have devised their own honors system. The Australians, for example, created The Victoria Cross for Australia —which looks similar to the British Victoria Cross.
So far, British authorities have awarded 1,358 Victoria Crosses to 1,355 men. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses awarded for valorous conduct on a single day was 24 for individual actions on 16 November 1857 at Lucknow and Narnoul. The most medals awarded in a single conflict was 658 during World War I. There are five living holders of the VC: one RAF (World War II), three British Army (Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War), and one Australian Army (Vietnam War). Of the total awarded, 26 went to men serving with Gurkha regiments, 13 of whom were native Nepalese enlisted men. Britain’s second highest award “for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, not in the presence of the enemy” is the George Cross. Gurkha enlisted men have earned two such medals.
Barber, N. War of the Running Dogs. London: Collins Press, 1971.
Barthorp, M. Afghan Wars, and the North-West Frontier, 1839-1947. Cassell Publishing, 2002.
Chauhan, S. V. The Way of Sacrifice: The Rajput. University of Toronto, 1996.
Cross, J. P. and Buddhiman Gurung. Gurkhas at War: Eyewitness Accounts from World War II to Iraq. Greenhill Books, 2002.
Masters, J. Bugles and a Tiger: Autobiography of the life and times of a British officer serving with the Gurkha Regiment in India in the run-up to World War II. Handley, 1956.
Parker, J. The Gurkhas: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Feared Soldiers. Headline Books, 2005.
Thompson, R. Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. London, Praeger Publishing, 1966.
 Warren Hastings (1732-1818) served as governor of Bengal, head of the Supreme Council of Bengal, and along with Robert Clive, was responsible for the foundation of the British Empire in India. Hastings achieved this by siding with one ethnic group against another and then conquering both — which eventually expanded British influence over the entire subcontinent.
 Major General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825) was a Massachusetts-born EIC officer who eventually served as Ambassador in Residence in Delhi, India.
 The number of combat decorations issued to Gurkhas is significant because traditionally, the British military is niggardly in awarding them.
 A VCO lieutenant colonel was subordinate to a KCO second lieutenant.
 The company recruited on behalf of three separate “presidential armies”: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal.
 A social stratification characterized by heredity, occupation, ritual status, and customary social interactions and exclusions based on such cultural notions as purity and pollution. Although not confined to India, most people think of India when they think of caste systems. Dating back 3,000 years, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories, and this is determined by what they were in their past life. These beliefs persist to the present day because they are deeply rooted in the Hindu religion.
 More recently, it was claimed that American PsyOps programs floated rumors among Muslims that American soldiers dipped their small-arms ammunition in pork fat before loading their magazines — thus guaranteeing that the shot Muslim would go to hell.
 Sikhism is a hybrid between Hindu and Islamic belief systems.
 Malayan communists based their strategy on the fanciful assumption that communist victory in China would in some way presage Mao Zedong’s liberation of the much-maligned Chinese ethnics in Southeast Asia. When the communists understood that a communist China gobbling up huge chunks of Southeast Asia was little more than madcap fantasy, the morale of Malayan killer gangs and jungle fighters collapsed. This stands in stark contrast to the Vietnam War, where the communists were ethnic Vietnamese whose singular purpose was the reunification of the nation under a communist flag.
John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great-grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War. Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, the Marine Corps offered Jack Myers a commission as a second lieutenant.
Despite the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, Hollywood film producers have portrayed this colorful Marine officer in two popular films that were loosely based on his exploits as a “tall, roguishly handsome, global soldier of the sea.” The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding American Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, The Wind and the Lion, actor Steve Kanaly played the role of Captain Jerome. In the actual event, Jerome was John Twiggs Myers.
After completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Marine Corps ordered Jack Myers to active duty. As Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Charleston, Myers participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed to the Philippine Islands, where he was transferred to USS Baltimore.
During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents, notably at the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River. His courage under fire in both engagements earned him recognition as an exceptional officer. The Marine Corps promoted Myers to captain toward the end of 1899.
In May 1900, Captain Myers accompanied the USS Newark to China. Upon arrival, his navy commanding officer ordered Myers ashore to command a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors. Myers’ assignment in Peking was to protect the American Legation. Because of his reputation for intrepidity under fire, the most vulnerable section of Legation’s defense, the so-called Tartar Wall, became Myers’s responsibility.
The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet with a bulwark of around forty feet in width that overlooked the foreign legation. Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).
Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position (and their American counterparts), leaving the Marines to defend the entire section. At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall. During this engagement, Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg. As a result of his tenacity under extremely dire conditions, the Marine Corps advanced Myers to the rank of Major and later awarded him the Brevet Medal (See notes), which in 1900 was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers. At that time, Marine officers were ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor.
While recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa. He was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Bremerton, Washington.
In 1904, Myers commanded the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, sent to Tangiers, Morocco to address the Perdicaris Incident. Afterward, Major Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months. In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines. One year later, the Marine Corps ordered Myers to serve aboard USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet. In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and after graduating from the Army War College in 1912, Myers assumed command of a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A year later he served in command of the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.
In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918. He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.
In 1921, the Marine Corps appointed Colonel Myers to serve as Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific — serving in that position for three years. In 1925, Myers assumed command of the 1st Marine Brigade in Haiti. Following his service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific in 1935, with 46 years of adventurous service, Major General Myers retired from active service. In recognition of his distinguished service in 1942, the Marine Corps advanced Jack Myers to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.
John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.
1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.
In seeking to reduce military expenditures between 1921 and 1941, the U.S. government demobilized (most) of its armed forces. Although somewhat reduced in size following the First World War, the Marine Corps served as an intervention force during the so-called Banana Wars. While roundly criticized by anti-Imperialists, the Banana Wars nevertheless prepared Marines for the advent of World War II. Had it not been for those interventions, there would have been no “seasoned” Marine Corps combat leaders in 1941. Moreover, had it not been for the efforts of Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, author of a thesis written at the Navy War College concerning advanced naval bases (1910) and later, the author of Operation Plan 712: Advanced Base Force: Operations in Micronesia, there would have been no amphibious warfare doctrine in 1941, which was critical to the defense of American interests in the Pacific leading up to World War II.
On 7 December 1933, the Secretary of the Navy established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF). Its purpose was to modernize the concept of amphibious warfare — initially published and implemented as the Tentative Landing Operations Manual, 1935. This manual was a doctrinal publication setting forth the theory of landing force operations, organization, and practice. The Landing Operations Manual prescribed new combat organizations and spurred the development of state-of-the-art amphibious landing craft and ship-to-shore tractors. The document also addressed aerial and naval support during amphibious landings. To test these new ideas, the Secretary of the Navy directed a series of Fleet Landing Exercises (FLEX). FLEXs were conducted in the Caribbean, along the California coast, and in the Hawaiian Islands. All FLEX exercises were similar to, or mirror images of exercises undertaken by Colonel Ellis in 1914.
The Marine Corps continued this work throughout the 1930s by identifying strategic goals for the employment of FMF units, along with training objectives for all FMF-type units: infantry, artillery, aviation, and logistics. Oddly, during this period, Major General Commandant Ben H. Fuller decided that the Marine Corps did not need organic artillery. Fuller reasoned that since landing forces would operate within the range of naval gunfire, artillery units were an unnecessary expense.
General Fuller’s rationale was seriously flawed, however. The Navy could be depended upon to “land the landing force,” but the safety of combat ships in enemy waters prevented naval commanders from committing to the notion of “remaining on station” while the Marines conducted operations ashore. Accordingly, the Secretary of the Navy overruled Fuller, directing that FLEX exercises incorporate Marine Corps artillery (provided by the 10th Marines), which at the time fielded the 75-mm pack howitzer.
With its new emphasis on amphibious warfare, the Marine Corps readied itself for conducting frontal assaults against well-defended shore installations — with infantry battalions organized to conduct a sustained operation against a well-fortified enemy. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced a “limited national emergency.” Doing so permitted the Marine Corps to increase its recruiting to authorized wartime strength — including Advance Defense Battalions (ADB).
At first, ADBs operated as expeditionary coastal artillery units capable of occupying an undefended beach and establishing “all-around” sea-air defenses. The average strength of the ADB was 1,372 Marines; their armaments included eight 155-mm guns, 12 90-mm guns, 25 20-mm guns, and 35 50-caliber machine guns. The staffing demand for twenty (20) ADBs initially fractured the Marine Corps’ artillery community, but approaching Japan’s sneak attack on 7 December 1941, HQMC began organizing its first infantry divisions, including a T/O artillery regiment.
World War II
During World War II, the Marine Corps formed two amphibious corps, each supported by three infantry divisions and three air wings. In 1941, the capabilities of artillery organizations varied according to weapon types. For instance, the 10th Marines might have 75mm pack howitzers, while the 11th Marines might field 155-mm howitzers. But, by 1942, each artillery regiment had three 75-mm howitzer battalions and one 105-mm howitzer battalion. An additional 105-mm howitzer battalion was added to each regiment in 1943. By 1945, each artillery regiment hosted four 105-mm battalions.
The Marine Corps re-activated the 11th Marines on 1 March 1941 for service with the 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv). The regiment served on Guadalcanal (1942), Cape Gloucester (1943), Peleliu (1944), and Okinawa (1945). At the end of World War II, the 11th Marines also served in China as part of the Allied occupation forces, returning to Camp Pendleton, California, in 1947.
HQMC re-activated the 10th Marines on 27 December 1942. Assigned to the 2ndMarDiv, the 10th Marines served on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 10th Marines served as a reserve artillery force. After Japan’s surrender, the 10th Marines performed occupation duty in Nagasaki, Japan. The regiment returned to the United States in June 1946.
HQMC activated the 12th Marines on 1 September 1942 for service with the 3rdMarDiv, where it participated in combat operations at Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima. The 12th Marines were redeployed to Camp Pendleton, California, and de-activated on 8 January 1946.
The 14th Marines reactivated on 1 June 1943 for service with the 4thMarDiv. The regiment served at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. Following the Battle of Iwo Jima, the 14th Marines returned to Hawaii, then to Camp Pendleton, where it disbanded on 20 November 1945.
HQMC activated the 13th Marines for service with the 5thMarDiv on 10 January 1944. Following operations on Iwo Jima, the regiment performed as an occupation force at Kyushu, Japan. The 13th Marines deactivated at Camp Pendleton, California, on 12 January 1946.
The 15th Marines was activated to serve with the 6thMarDiv on 23 October 1943. This regiment participated in the Battle of Okinawa and later as an occupation force in Tsingtao, China. The 15th Marines deactivated on 26 March 1946 while still deployed in China.
(Continued Next Week)
Brown, R. J. A Brief History of the 14th Marines. Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
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 The Advanced Base Force later evolved into the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).
 Embarking a Marine combat force aboard US Navy ships or conducting amphibious operations is not a simple task. The officers and men who plan such operations, and those who implement them, as among the most intelligent and insightful people wearing an American military uniform.
 In August 1942, the threat to the Navy’s amphibious ready group by Imperial Japanese naval forces prompted Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 61, to withdraw his force from Guadalcanal before the 1stMarDiv’s combat equipment and stores had been completely offloaded. Fletcher’s decision placed the Marines in a serious predicament ashore, but the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August proved that Fletcher’s decision was tactically sound.
 A howitzer is a rifled field gun that stands between a cannon and a mortar. Howitzers are organized as “batteries.” The 75-mm Howitzer (M-116) was designed in the 1920s to meet the need for a field weapon capable of movement across difficult terrain. In other words, the weapon could be “packed” into barely accessible areas and used to provide direct artillery support to infantry units.
 Such was the 1st Defense Battalion at Wake Island between 8-23 December 1941.