Marine Corps Artillery — Part 4

Post-Korea and Beyond

Post-Korea Reorganization

For U.S. Marines, the Korean Peninsula wasn’t the only dance hall. No sooner had HQMC directed the transfer of three battalions of the 10th Marines to the 11th Marines, than the rebuilding of the 10th Marines with new recruitments and artillery training began.  In the mid-1950s, the 10th Marines played a pivotal role in the Lebanon Emergency, fleet training exercises, and deployments supporting NATO exercises in Norway, Greece, Crete, Gibraltar, the Caribbean, and West Indies. The Cold War was in full swing.

Between 1955 and 1965, Marine Corps artillery battalions trained with new weapons and maintained their readiness for combat.  No one in the Marine Corps wanted to return to the bad old days of the Truman administration.  Should the plague of war revisit the United States, the Marine Corps intended to meet every challenge by maintaining a high state of combat readiness.  Artillery Battalions trained to support infantry regiments and, as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, firing batteries frequently deploy with battalion landing teams (BLTs).  In 1957, new tables of organization increased the size of artillery battalions by adding a 4.2-inch mortar battery.  A new mortar was introduced in 1960, called the “howtar.”  The new M30 4.2-inch mortar was a rifled, muzzle-loading, high-angle weapon used for long-range indirect fire support.  In addition to other “innovations,” cannon-cockers participated in (helicopter-borne) vertical assault training, which given the weight of artillery pieces, was not as simple as it sounds.  The howtar, while still in service, is (to my knowledge) no longer part of the USMC weapons inventory.

Back to East Asia

In the early 1960s, the Cold War showed signs of easing.  The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) seemed to foreshadow a period of détente after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The hope for world peace fell apart with incidents in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — of which the war in Vietnam was an extraordinary event.  From 1954 to 1975, nearly half a million Marines fought in the jungles of Vietnam (See also: Viet Nam: The Beginning).

In 1962, all Marine ground units began counterinsurgency training, which was mostly exercises designed to improve small unit combat patrols and area security operations.  In June, the 11th Marines went through another re-organization.  The 1st and 4th 155-mm Howitzer Batteries, Force Troops, FMF became the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines.  Marine Corps Base, Twenty-nine Palms became the permanent home of the 4th Battalion because its weapons demanded more area for live-firing exercises.

In late July 1964, the US Seventh Fleet assigned the destroyer, USS Maddox, to perform a signals intelligence mission off the coast of North Vietnam.  On Sunday, 2 August, the ship was allegedly approached by three North Vietnamese Navy (NVN) motor patrol boats.  The official story of this incident is that after giving the NVN a warning to remain clear of the ship, the patrol boats launched an assault on Maddox.  Nothing like that actually happened, but it was enough to give President Lyndon Baines Johnson a war in Indochina.[1]

Following this incident, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander, US Pacific Fleet, activated the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9thMEB).[2]  Brigadier General Raymond G. Davis, who was at the time serving as Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Marine Division, was named to command the Brigade.[3]

9thMEB formed around the 9th Marine Regiment (9thMar), including the regimental headquarters (HQ) element and three battalion landing teams (BLTs) —in total, around 6,000 combat-ready Marines.  When the Maddox incident faded away, the US Pacific Fleet ordered the 9thMEB to establish its command post at Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, with its BLTs strategically distributed to Subic Bay, Okinawa, and “afloat” at sea as part of the Special Landing Force (SLF), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), US Seventh Fleet.

Between 28 December 1964 — 2 January 1965, North Vietnamese Army (NVA)/Viet Cong (VC) forces overwhelmingly defeated a South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) battalion and its US military advisors at Binh Gia.  It was a clear demonstration to the Americans that the ARVN could not defend the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).[4]

Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch assumed command of 9thMEB on 22 January 1965. At that point, President Johnson ordered the Marines into Da Nang — their specific mission was to secure the airfield against enemy Viet Cong (VC) intrusions. In late February, VC forces assaulted the US base at Pleiku, killing 9 Americans, wounding 128 others, and damaging or destroying 25 military aircraft. Karch led the 9thMAB ashore on 7 March 1965.  In addition to BLTs 2/9 and 3/9, 9thMEB also absorbed Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16), which was already conducting “non-combat” ARVN support missions at Da Nang (See also: Vietnam, the Marines Head North).

Fox Battery, 2/12, attached to BLT 3/9, was the first Marine Corps artillery unit to serve in the Vietnam War.  The arrival of additional artillery units prompted the formation of a Brigade Artillery Group, which included Alpha Battery, 1/12, Bravo Battery, 1/12, and Fox Battery, 2/12.  These firing batteries employed 105-mm howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars.  The arrival of Lima Battery, 4/12, added a 155-mm howitzer battery and an 8-inch howitzer platoon.[5]  As the number of Marine infantry units increased in Vietnam, so did the number of artillery units.  The I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ) was further divided into Tactical Areas of Responsibilities (TAORs) and assigned to the 3rd Marine Division (from Okinawa) and 1st Marine Division (from Camp Pendleton, California).

In the summer of 1965, most of the 11thMar departed Camp Pendleton and moved to Camp Hansen, Okinawa.  Within mere days of their arrival, 3/11 and Mike Battery, 4/11 proceeded to RVN.  Assigned to Chu Lai to support the 7th Marines, elements of both regiments went immediately into Operation Starlight.  During August, 1/11 moved to Okinawa.  Alpha Battery went ashore in Vietnam with the Special Landing Force (SLF) in December.  HQ 11th Marines arrived in Chu Lai in February 1966, joined by 2/11 from Camp Pendleton.  The battalions of the 11thMar supported infantry regiments, as follows: 1/11 supported the 1stMar; 2/11 supported the 5thMar, and 3/11 supported the 7thMar.  4/11 served in general support of the 1st Marine Division.

The I CTZ was the northernmost section of South Vietnam.  It consisted of five political provinces situated within approximately 18,500 square miles of dense jungle foliage.  The area of I CTZ was by far larger than any two infantry divisions could defend or control, so the Marine Corps developed a tactical plan that assigned its six available infantry regiments to smaller-sized TAORs.  These TAORs were still too large, but it was all the Marines could do under the rules of engagement dictated to them by the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV).  The relative isolation of combat units created a dangerous situation.  Marine artillerists were no exception

Although two artillery regiments operated in Vietnam, they were not equal in size or mission.  By 1967, the 12th Marine Regiment was the largest artillery regiment in Marine Corps history — task organized to support a larger number of infantry units within a much larger TAOR.  All artillery units were assigned to support infantry units throughout the I CTZ; tactical commanders placed these artillery units where they were most effective — fire support bases (FSBs) at strategic locations.

Although originally conceived as a temporary tactical arrangement, several FSBs became long-term (semi-permanent) operating bases.  They were quite literally blasted into existence from heavily forested hilltops.  For as much as possible, the FSB system provided mutually supporting fires, but this was not always possible.  The size of FSBs varied according to the size of the units assigned.  Typically, an FSB hosted a single firing battery (six 105mm or 155mm howitzers), a platoon of engineers, field medical and communications detachments, helicopter landing pads, a tactical operations center, and an infantry unit for area security.  Larger FSBs might include two firing batteries and a BLT.[6]

Beyond their traditional tasks, Marine artillerists were often required to provide for their own defense against enemy probes and outright assaults.  FSBs were also the target of enemy mortar and artillery fires.  When infantry units were unavailable, which was frequently the case in Vietnam, artillerists defended themselves by manning the perimeter, establishing outposts, and conducting combat/security patrols.  VC units foolish enough to assault an FSB may very well have spent their last moments on earth contemplating that extremely poor decision.  The only thing the NVA/VC ever accomplished by shooting at an American Marine was piss him off. Every Marine is a rifleman.

In 1968, the VC launched a major assault on all US installations in Vietnam.  It was called the Tet Offensive because it took place during the Vietnamese new year (Tet).  The tactical goal was to kill or injure as many US military and RVN personnel as possible — playing to the sentiments of the anti-war audience back in the United States and discrediting the US and ARVN forces in the eyes of the Vietnamese population.  Marine artillery played a crucial role in defeating attackers from multiple regions within I CTZ, but the offensive also changed the part of Marine artillery after 1968.  Before Tet-68, supporting fires were routine, on-call, and a somewhat minor factor during USMC ground operations.  After Tet-68, artillery took on a more significant fire support role.  1968 was also a year of innovation as Marine artillery units incorporated the Army’s Field Artillery Digital Computer Center (FADAC) (which had been around since 1961) and the new Army/Navy Portable Radio Communications (25).[7]

In addition to providing tactical fire direction and support to Marine Corps infantry units, USMC artillerists also provided fire support to US Army and ARVN units operating in the I CTZ.  Following the communist’s failed Tet-68 offensive, the Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division (Major General Raymond G. Davis) initiated an offensive campaign to diminish or destroy NVA/VC units operating within I CTZ and demilitarized zones (DMZ).  Marine artillery units joined with Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force attack aircraft, B-52 bombers, and naval gunfire from the U.S. Seventh Fleet to destroy enemy sanctuaries and artillery positions within the DMZ and Laos.  These overwhelming bombardments allowed infantry units to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, reduce the size of their forces, destroy enemy defensive fortifications, and disrupt their logistics efforts.  What transpired within I CTZ was an impressive demonstration of inter-service cooperation that gave US forces the upper hand in RVN’s northern provinces.


Marines continue to learn essential lessons from their many past battles and conflicts.  For example, the Small Wars Manual, 1941, is still used by Marines as a resource for certain types of operations.  The expression Every Marine is a Rifleman is as true today as it was in 1775 — Marine artillerists are no exception.  During Operation Enduring Freedom, Golf Battery, BLT 1/6 performed several essential combat functions, which in addition to fire support missions, included humanitarian assistance, convoy security, area security for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ripley, UN Team security, prisoner security, and its transition into a provisional rifle company.[8]  Given the diverse range of military occupational specialties involved, making that transition was a challenge for Battery officers and NCOs.

Marines representing a wide range of occupational specialties within a firing battery, from cannon-cockers and lanyard snappers to FDC operations specialists, motor transport drivers and mechanics, cooks, and communicators molded themselves into cohesive fire teams, rifle squads, platoons, and ultimately, a responsive and highly lethal infantry company.  The effort and result were the embodiment of task force organization.  Golf Battery formed three fully functional infantry platoons (two rifle and one weapons platoon), each containing the requisite number of radio operators and a medical corpsman.  The effort was fruitful because the individual Marine, adequately led and motivated, is innovative, adaptable, and resourceful in overcoming any challenge.


  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  US Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.


[1] On 7 July 1964, the US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to take any measures he believed were necessary to retaliate against North Vietnam’s aggression and promote peace and security in Southeast Asia.

[2] The 9thMEB was later deactivated and its units absorbed into the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).  In March 1966, the brigade was re-activated as the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9thMAB) reflecting its primary special landing force mission under the US Seventh Fleet.

[3] General Davis (1915-2003) served on active duty in the US  Marine Corps from 1938 to 1972 with combat service in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War.  Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as CO 1/7 during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.  He was also awarded the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart Medal.  General Davis’ last assignment was Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[4] RVN had been in political turmoil since November 1963 when President John Kennedy authorized the CIA to orchestrate the removal of Ngo Dinh Diem as President of South Vietnam.  Diem and his brother were assassinated on 2 November; Kennedy himself was assassinated on 22 November 1963.

[5] The 8-inch howitzer is a 203-mm gun with a range of 20.2 miles; the 155-mm howitzer has a range of 15.3 miles.

[6] Fire Support Base Cunningham at one time hosted five artillery batteries (2 105-mm, 2 155-mm, 1 4.2-inch mortar).

[7] Also, AN/PRC-25 (Prick 25) was a lightweight, synthesized VHF solid-state radio offering 2 watts of power, 920 channels in two bands with a battery life of about 60 hours.  The term “lightweight” was relative.  The radio added 25-pounds to the radioman’s usual combat load.  The PRC-25 was a significant improvement over the PRC-10.  It has since been replaced by the PRC-77.

[8] The official US designation for the War on Terror (7 Oct 2001-28 Dec 2014).

Marine Corps Artillery — Part 3

Post-World War II and Korea

Lessons Learned

Artillery equipment and technology may be an art form, but its application is pure science.  Training Marine Corps cannon-cockers for service in World War II included lessons learned from every engagement in which the Marine Corps participated from the beginning of the First World War.  Colonel Georg Bruchmüller of the Imperial Germany Army, an artillerist, pioneered what became known as accurately predicted fire.  Predicted fire is a technique for employing “fire for effect” artillery without alerting the enemy with ranging fire.  Catching the enemy off guard is an essential aspect of combat.  To facilitate this, the U.S. Army Field Artillery School developed the concept of fire direction control during the 1930s, which the Marine Corps incorporated within all artillery regiments as they came online in the early 1940s.  However, the proximity of artillery targets to friendly forces was of particular concern to the Marines, operating as they did on relatively small islands.  There is nothing simple about providing accurate and on-time artillery support to front-line forces; the performance of Marine artillery units during World War II was exceptional.

Period Note

In early May 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany (but before the collapse of Imperial Japan), President Truman ordered a general demobilization of the armed forces.  It would take time to demobilize twelve-million men and women.  Military leaders always anticipated demobilization following the “second war to end all wars.”  While men were still fighting and dying in the Pacific War, those who participated in the European theater and were not required for occupation duty prepared to return home to their loved ones.  The plan for general demobilization was code-named Operation Magic Carpet.  Demobilization fell under the authority of the War Shipping Administration and involved hundreds of ships.

Men and women of all the Armed Forces were, in time, released from their service obligation and sent on their way.  Many of these people, aided by the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act (1944) (also called the GI Bill), went back to academic and trade schools.  Between 1945 and 1946, America’s war veterans returned home to restart their lives — they married, started families, built homes, and settled down.

But to suggest that life was a bowl of cherries in 1946 would be a gross over-simplification of that time because the transition to peacetime America was difficult.  War costs were tremendous.  President Truman believed he should transfer funds earmarked for the armed forces to social programs.  He and others in his cabinet were concerned that if the government did not pursue frugal policies, the United States might once more enter into an economic depression.

Having been asked to suspend wage increases during the war, the ink was still wet on the surrender documents when labor unions began organizing walk-outs in the steel and coal industries.  Labor strikes destabilized U.S. industries when manufacturing plants underwent a massive re-tooling for peacetime production.  Americans experienced housing shortages, limited availability of consumer goods, an inflated economy, and farmers refused to sell their yield at “cost.”

Still, even in recognizing the administration’s challenges, President Truman’s response was inept and short-sighted.  Our average citizens, the men, and women who the government imposed rationing upon for four years, deeply resented the high cost of consumer goods.  This condition only grew worse when Truman accelerated the removal of mandatory depression-era restrictions on goods and services.[1]  Increased demand for goods drove prices beyond what most Americans could afford to pay.  When national rail services threatened to strike, Truman seized the railroads and forced the hand of labor unions —which went on strike anyway.

But for Some, the War Continued

In the immediate aftermath of Japan’s unconditional surrender, the 1stMarDiv embarked by ship for service in China.  The 11th Marines, assigned to Tientsin at the old French arsenal, performed occupation duty, which involved the disarmament and repatriation of Japanese forces.  Officially, our Marines took no part in the power struggle between Chinese Nationalists and Communists.  What did happen is that the Marines had to defend themselves against unwarranted attacks by Chinese Communist guerrillas.   By the fall of 1945, China was, once more, in an all-out civil war. 

The task assigned to Marines was more humanitarian than military.  By preventing communists from seizing land routes and rail systems, and by guarding coal shipments and coal fields, Marines attempted to prevent millions of Chinese peasants from freezing to death during the upcoming winter months.  But suffering peasants was precisely what the Chinese Communists wanted to achieve, and Marines standing in the way became “targets of opportunity.”

Truman’s rapid demobilization placed these China Marines in greater danger.  As the Truman administration ordered units deactivated, manpower levels dropped, and unit staffing fell below acceptable “combat readiness” postures.  Some replacements were sent to China, but they were primarily youngsters just out of boot camp with no clear idea of what was going on in China.  Losses in personnel forced local commanders to consolidate their remaining assets.  Eventually, the concern was that these forward-deployed Marines might not be able to defend themselves.

In September 1946, for example, the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines (3/11) vacated Tientsin and joined the 7th Marines at Pei Tai-Ho.  Within 30 days, most Marine guards along railways and roadways withdrew, turning their duties over to the Nationalist Chinese Army.  Some of us may recall how Truman’s China policy turned out.[2]

In preparation for the 1948 elections, Truman made it clear that he identified himself as a “New Deal” Democrat; he wanted a national health insurance program, demanded that Congress hand him social services programs, sought repeal of the Taft-Harley Act, and lobbied for the creation of the United Nations — for which the United States would pay the largest share.[3]

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditure on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services.  There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.”

—Sir John “Jack” Slessor, Air Marshal, Royal Air Force

Harry Truman ignored this and other good advice when he decided that the United States could no longer afford a combat-ready military force, given all his earmarks for social programs.  Truman ordered a drastic reduction to all US military services through his Secretary of Defense.[4]

By late 1949/early 1950, Truman and Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson gutted the military services despite multiple warning bells in Korea.  Johnson gave the Chief of Naval Operations a warning that the days of the United States Navy were numbered.  He told the CNO that the United States no longer needed a naval establishment — the United States had an air force.  In early January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, during a speech at the National Press Club, outlined America’s global defensive sphere —omitting South Korea and Formosa.  The Soviet Union, Communist China, and Communist North Korea were very interested in what Mr. Acheson did not say.

In June 1950, budget cuts reduced the entire Marine Corps FMF from a wartime strength of 300,000 Marines to less than 28,000 men.  Most artillery regiments were reduced to an understaffed regimental headquarters and a single battalion with less than 300 men.  After digesting Acheson’s January speech for six months, North Korea (backed by the Soviet Union), invaded South Korea three hours before dawn on 25 June 1950.

New War, Old Place

In March 1949, President Truman ordered Johnson to decrease further DoD expenditures.  Truman, Johnson, and Truman-crony Stuart Symington (newly appointed Secretary of the Air Force) believed that the United States’ monopoly on nuclear weapons would act as an effective deterrent to communist aggression.  There was no better demonstration of Truman’s delusion than when North Korea invaded South Korea.

North Korea’s invasion threw the entire southern peninsula into chaos.  U.S. Army advisors, American civilian officials, South Korean politicians, and nearly everyone who could walk, run, or ride, made a beeline toward the southern city of Pusan.  President Truman authorized General MacArthur, serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) (whose headquarters was in Tokyo), to employ elements of the Eighth U.S. Army to Korea to stop the NKPA advance.  The problem was that the U. S. Army’s occupation force in Japan was not ready for another war.  Truman’s defense cuts had reduced military manpower levels, impaired training, and interrupted the maintenance of combat equipment (including radios, motorized vehicles, tracked vehicles, artillery pieces, and aircraft) to such an extent that not one of the U.S. Armed Forces was ready for the Korean emergency.

The military’s unpreparedness for war was only one of several consequences of Truman’s malfeasance.  U.S. forces in Europe and Asia, whose primary interest was indulging the mysteries of Asian and German culture, were dangerously exposed to Soviet aggression.  Had the Soviet Union decided to launch a major assault on Europe, they would have slaughtered U.S. military forces.  Military personnel had become lazy and apathetic to their mission.  Mid-level and senior NCOs enriched themselves in black market activities, senior officers played golf and attended sycophantic soirees, and junior officers —the wise ones— stayed out of the way.  But when it came time for the Eighth U.S. Army to “mount out” for combat service in Korea, no one was ready for combat — a fact that contributed to the worst military defeat in American military history — all of it made possible by President Harry S. Truman.

In July 1950, General MacArthur requested a Marine Corps regimental combat team to assist in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter.  What MacArthur received, instead, was a Marine Corps combat brigade. HQMC assigned this task to the Commanding General, 1stMarDiv, at Camp Pendleton, California.

The challenge was that to form a combat brigade, HQMC had to reduce manning within every other organization inside the United States and order them to proceed (without delay) to Camp Pendleton.  It wasn’t simply an issue of fleshing out the division’s single infantry regiment, the 5th Marines.  A combat brigade includes several combat/combat support arms: communications, motor transport, field medical, shore party, combat engineer, ordnance, tanks, artillery, supply, combat services, reconnaissance, amphibian tractors, amphibian trucks, and military police.  The brigade would also include an aviation air group formed around Provisional Marine Air Group (MAG)-33, three air squadrons, an observation squadron, and a maintenance/ordnance squadron.

Marine supporting establishments cut their staff to about a third, releasing Marines for combat service from coast-to-coast.  HQMC called reservists to active duty — some of these youngsters had yet to attend recruit training.  All these things were necessary because, in addition to forming a combat brigade, the JCS ordered the Commandant to reconstitute a full infantry division before the end of August 1950.

Within a few weeks, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade formed around Brigadier General Edward A. Craig and his assistant (and the air component commander), Brigadier General Thomas J. Cushman.[5]  Lieutenant Colonel (Colonel Select) Raymond L. Murray commanded the 5th Marines, including three understrength infantry battalions: 1/5, 2/5, and 3/5.

HQMC re-designated the three artillery battalions of the 10th Marines (at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, 11th Marine Regiment, and immediately transported them to Camp Pendleton.  The Korean situation was so dire that the newly appointed Commanding General, 1stMarDiv, Major General Oliver P. Smith, began loading combat units and equipment aboard ships even before the division fully formed.  Again, owing to Truman’s budgetary cuts, the re-formation of the 1stMarDiv consumed the total financial resources of the entire Marine Corps for that fiscal year.

One of the more famous engagements of the 11th Marine Regiment during the Korean War came on 7 December 1950 during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.  Machine-gun fire from a Chinese infantry battalion halted the progress of Marines along the main supply route.  Gulf and Hotel Batteries of 2/11 moved forward.  In broad daylight and at extremely close range, the cannon-cockers leveled their 105-mm howitzers and fired salvo after salvo into the Chinese communist positions.  With no time to stabilize the guns by digging them in, Marines braced themselves against the howitzers to keep them from moving.  When the shooting ended, there were 500 dead Chinese, and the enemy battalion had no further capacity to wage war.  One Marine officer who witnessed the fight later mused, “Has field artillery ever had a grander hour?”

In a series of bloody operations throughout the war, the men of the 11th Marines supported the 1st Marines, 5th Marines, 7th Marines, and the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division.  On more than one occasion, accurate artillery fire devastated Chinese communist forces, made more critical given that poor weather conditions frequently inhibited airstrikes in the battle area.

Despite North Korea’s agreement to open peace talks in June 1951, the brutality of the Korean War continued until 27 July 1953.  North Korea frequently used temporary truces and negotiating sessions to regroup its forces for renewed attacks.  At these dangerous times, the 11th Marines provided lethal artillery coverage over areas already wrested from communist control, provided on-call fire support to platoon and squad-size combat patrols, and fired propaganda leaflets into enemy-held territories.  The regiment returned to Camp Pendleton in March and April 1955.

(Continued Next Week)


  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.


[1] The situation was much worse in Great Britain.  Not only were their major cities destroyed by German bombing, but war rationing also lasted through 1954 — including the availability of coal for heating. 

[2] This might be a good time to mention that all the U.S. arms and equipment FDR provided to Mao Ze-dong, to use against the Japanese, but wasn’t, was turned against U.S. Marines on occupation duty in China.  Providing potential enemies with lethal weapons to use against American troops is ludicrous on its face, but this practice continues even now.

[3] Restricted the activities and power of labor unions, enacted in 1947 over the veto of President Truman.

[4] President Truman had no appreciation for the contributions of the US Marine Corps to the overall national defense; he did not think the nation needed a Corps of Marines, much less afford to retain the Corps, because the US already had a land army (of which he was a member during World War I).  He never accepted the fact that the Marine Corps, as a combat force, provided unique strategic skills and in fact, Truman initiated several efforts to dissolve the Marines prior to the National Security Act of 1947, which ultimately protected the Marine Corps from political efforts to disband it.

[5] See also: Edward A. Craig — Marine.

Marine Corps Artillery — Part 2

The Interwar Years and World War II

In between wars

LtCol E. H. Ellis USMC

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]  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.[4]

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.[5]  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)


  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  US Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.


[1] The Advanced Base Force later evolved into the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).

[2] 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.

[3] 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. 

[4] 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.

[5] Such was the 1st Defense Battalion at Wake Island between 8-23 December 1941.

Marine Corps Artillery — Part 1

The Early Years


— Furnish close and continuous fire support by neutralizing, destroying, or suppressing targets that threaten the success of supported units.  To accomplish this mission, Marine Corps artillery (a) provides timely, close, accurate, and continuous fire support.  (b) Provides depth to combat by attacking hostile reserves, restricting movement, providing long-range support for reconnaissance forces, and disrupting enemy command and control systems and logistics installations.[1]  (c) Delivers counter-fire within the range of the weapon systems to ensure freedom of action by the ground forces.

Historical Note

For half of its 245-years, the U.S. Marine Corps has operated as a task-organized, mission-centered expeditionary force capable of quickly responding to any national emergency when so directed by the national military command authority.  The term “task organized” simply means that the size of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) depends entirely on the mission assigned to it.  A Marine Corps combat team could range from a rifle company to a reinforced brigade.

Before the Spanish-American War, when the mission of the Marine Corps was limited to providing sea-going detachments of qualified riflemen, the size of the Corps depended on the number of ships that required Marine Detachments.[2]  The mission of the Marine Corps has changed considerably since the Spanish-American War.  The U.S. Navy’s evolving role is one factor in the changing Marine Corps mission, but so too is advancing technological development and a greater demand for the Corps’ unique mission capabilities.  One thing hasn’t changed: The Marine Corps has always been —and remains today— essentially a task-organized service.  Today, we refer to all forward-deployed Marine Corps combat forces as Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs).

The Basics

Artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be an ugly brawl.

—Frederick the Great

Artillery is a weapons platform used for launching munitions beyond the range of infantry weapons.  Modern artillery evolved from much-simpler weapons in ancient times — used to breach fortifications and by defensive forces to withstand an enemy assault.  Although not referred to as artillery, siege engines such as the catapult have been around since around 400 BC.  Until the development of gunpowder, the effectiveness of artillery depended on mechanical energy.  If one wanted to increase the effectiveness of such weapons, then one would have to construct larger engines.  Gunpowder changed all that.  For instance, first-century Roman catapults launching a 14-pound stone could achieve kinetic energy of 16,000 joules.[3]  A 12-pound gun in the mid-19th century reached kinetic energy of 240,000 joules.

In the Middle Ages, artillerists adapted their weapons to support land armies.  They accomplished this by constructing horse-drawn wagons to provide mobility to heavy weapons.  Before the 20th century, when artillerists (gun crews) marched along beside the horse-drawn wagons, field artillery was commonly referred to as “foot artillery.”  There was also a distinction between field artillery and horse artillery; the latter was used to support cavalry units, employing lighter guns and, eventually, horse-mounted gun crews.  During World War I, technology changed horse-drawn artillery to wheeled or tracked vehicles.

Marine Corps Artillery: The Early Years

In addition to serving as shipboard riflemen, early Marines also manned naval guns.  This may be the Corps’ earliest connection to the use of artillery.  There are differences between the employment of naval vs. land artillery, but the fundamentals are similar.  Nevertheless, the evolution of Marine artillery is linked to the growth of the Corps, and the modern development of the Corps began at the outset of the Spanish-American War.  Marines have performed amphibious raids and assaults from its very beginning, but only as small detachments, often augmented by members of the ship’s crew (ship’s company).  The Marine Corps formed its first (task-organized) amphibious battalion in the Spanish-American War.  In that episode, the Corps distinguished itself as a naval assault force and proved its usefulness in projecting naval power ashore.  See also: The First Marine Battalion.

As the U.S. Navy grew into a global force, the Marine Corps grew with it.[4]  Within a few decades, the Marine Corps evolved from shipboard detachments and providing security for naval yards and stations to a force capable of seizing and defending advanced bases and forming and employing expeditionary assault forces.  Artillery played a vital role in this evolution. From that time on, innovative thinkers helped make the Marine Corps relevant to the ever-evolving nature of war and its usefulness to our national defense.

The Marine Corps developed tables of organization and equipment (TO/E) to standardize requirements for combat and combat support personnel and their equipment.  For example, all infantry, artillery, and combat support battalions are uniformly organized.  Artillery regiments (generally) have the same number of battalions, battalions have the same number of batteries, and all headquarters/firing batteries are likewise similar in composition.[5]  Organizational standardization remains a key element used by headquarters staff in determining whether or the extent to which Marine Corps units are combat-ready.

Infantry is the mission of the Marine Corps — projecting naval power ashore.  The mission for anyone who is not an infantryman is to support the infantryman.  The mission of Marine Corps artillery reflects this reality.

Following the Spanish-American War (1898), the Marine Corps developed the Advanced Base Force.  This was essentially a coastal and naval base defense battalion designed to establish mobile and fixed bases in the event of major landing operations outside the territorial limits of the United States.  The Advanced Base Force was a significant shift away from the Marine Corps’ mission up to that time.  It marked the beginning of Marine expeditionary forces.

The Advanced Base Force was useful because it enabled the Navy to meet the demands of maritime operations independent of the nation’s land force, the U.S. Army.  This decision was far more than an example of service rivalry; it was practical.  In many cases, troops, and supplies (as the Army might have provided) were simply unavailable at the time and place the Navy needed them.  The General Board of the Navy determined, at least initially, that no more than two regiments of Advance Base Forces would be required from the Marine Corps.[6]  In those days, Advanced Base Battalions had one artillery battery (to provide direct fire support to the battalion) and naval shore batteries to defend against hostile naval forces.

In July 1900, a typical Marine artillery unit was equipped with 3-inch guns and colt automatic weapons.  The Marine Corps organized its first artillery battalion in April 1914 at Vera Cruz, Mexico.  This battalion would become the foundation of the 10th Marine Regiment, which distinguished itself in combat in the Dominican Republic in 1916.

First World War

Global war didn’t just suddenly appear at America’s doorstep in 1917; it had as its beginnings the Congress of Vienna in 1814.  By the time the United States entered World War I,  the war to end all wars was already into its third year of bloody mayhem.  During those three years, the American press continually reported on such incidents as German submarine attacks on U.S. commercial shipping and a German proposal to Mexico for an invasion of states in the U.S. Southwest.  There is no evidence that Mexico ever gave serious consideration to Germany’s proposal.

To prepare for America’s “possible” involvement, Congress authorized an expansion of the Marine Corps to include two infantry brigades, two air squadrons, and three regiments of artillery.  The three artillery regiments and their initial date of activation were: the 11th Marines (3 January 1918), the 10th Marines (15 January 1918), and the 14th Marines (26 November 1918).

Major General Commandant George Barnett wanted to form a Marine infantry division for duty in France; General John J. Pershing, U.S. Army, commanding the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) not only opposed the formation of a Marine infantry division, but he also wasn’t fond of the idea of Marine Corps artillery regiments.[7], [8]

When the Commanding Officer of the 11th Marines became aware of Pershing’s objection to Marine artillery, he petitioned the Commandant to re-train his regiment as an infantry organization.  Thus, in September 1918, the 11th Marines deployed to France as an infantry regiment of the 5th Marine Brigade.  However, once the 5th Brigade arrived in France, General Pershing exercised his prerogative as overall American commander to break up the brigade and use these men as he saw fit.  Pershing assigned most of these Marines to non-combat or combat support duties.  Upon returning to the United States in August 1919, Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) deactivated the 11th Marines.

The Commanding Officer of the 10th Marines also pushed for service in France.  The regiment was equipped with 3-inch guns.  Since there were no 3-inch guns in France, the War Department (Army) barred the 10th Marines from European service.  When the Navy offered to convert 14-inch naval rifles for use as rail guns (mounted on train cars), the War Department conditionally approved the suggestion (along with a 7-inch weapon) — but only so long as the Navy used sailors to man the guns, not Marines.[9]  Eventually, the Navy negotiated a compromise with the Army: sailors would handle the 14-inch guns, and the 10th Marines would service the 7-inch guns.  The 10th Marines began training with the 7-inch guns in early October 1918.  The war ended on 11 November 1918.  On 1 April 1920, the 10th Marine regiment was re-designated as the 1st Separate Field Artillery Battalion, which had, by then, incorporated French 75-mm and 155-mm howitzers.

The 14th Marines, having been trained as both infantry and artillery, never deployed to Europe.  The result of political/in-service rivalry was that no Marine Corps artillery units participated in World War I.

(Continued next week)


  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.


[1] Also, shaping the battle space.

[2] The size of the detachment depended on the size of the ship.

[3] A measure of energy equal to the work done by a force of one newton when its point of application moves one meter in the direction of action of the force, equivalent to one 3600th of a watt hour.  A newton is equal to the force that would give a mass of one kilogram an acceleration of one meter per second – per second.

[4] If there is a “father of the modern navy,” then it must be Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), whom historian John Keegan believes is the most important strategist of the 19th Century and, perhaps, the most influential American author of his time (1890).  Mahan’s writing so influenced Theodore Roosevelt that it led him to pursue modernization of the US Navy as the key to achieving America’s full potential as an actor on the world stage.

[5] Currently, infantry battalions consist of “lettered” rifle companies.  Artillery battalions consist of “lettered” firing batteries.  In the past, when the primary mission of a combat organization was infantry, subordinate units were generally referred to as companies, even when one of those subordinate units was an artillery unit.

[6] Established in 1900, the General Board of the Navy was tasked to anticipate and plan for future tasks,  missions, and strategic challenges and make recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy on matters of naval policy, including the task organization of naval expeditionary forces.

[7] Senior army officers had legitimate concerns with regard to the incorporation of Marines into field armies during World War I.  Beyond the fact that army officers did not see a need for a Corps of Marines, and regarded them as a “waste of manpower” that could be better utilized in the army, the naval forces operated under a different system of laws and regulations.  Perhaps the question in the minds of some senior army officers was whether the Marines would obey the orders of their army commanders.

[8] Prior to World War I, it was common practice for shipboard Marine Detachments to form provisional (temporary) organizations for specific purposes.  In most instances, such organizations involved provisional battalions, but occasionally the Marines also formed provisional regiments and brigades.  When the mission assigned to these provisional organizations was completed, brigades, regiments, and battalions would deactivate, and the Marines assigned to such organizations would return to their regular assignments.  Marine regiments did not have formally structured battalions until after World War I.  Instead, regiments were composed of numbered companies (e.g., 24th Company).  One of the army’s concerns was that the use of Marine formations within Army units would only confuse ground commanders and further complicate the battlefront.  It was during World War I that the Marine Corps adopted the Army’s regimental system.  Rifle companies were formed under battalions, and battalion commanders answered to their respective regimental commanders.

[9] Before 1947, the Secretary of War (Army) and Secretary of the Navy operated as co-equal cabinet posts.  After the creation of the Department of Defense, all military secretaries, service chiefs, and combat forces operated under the auspices of the Secretary of Defense (except the Coast Guard, which at first operated under the Treasury Department and now operates under the Department of Homeland Security).

The War Against the Corps — Part 3

(Continued from last week )

Toward the end of Part 2 of this title, we learned that in 1952, President Harry S. Truman officially acknowledged the U.S. Marine Corps as a separate service of the U.S. Armed Services, a co-equal member with the U.S. Navy within the Department of the Navy, with unique roles and missions.  Now, here it is 70 years later, and the question of the need for a U.S. Marine Corps remains under discussion.

Proceedings is a monthly magazine published by the United States Naval Institute.  Initially launched in 1874, it is one of the oldest continuously published periodicals in the United States.  The magazine covers such topics as global security and includes articles authored by military professionals and civilian experts, historians, and reader commentary.  About one-third of the articles appearing in Proceedings are written by active-duty military officers, a third-by retired military, and a third by civilians with an interest or expertise in some aspect of military or naval service.

In the December 2021 issue of Proceedings, Commander Norman R. Denny, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired), reopened the subject of The War Against the Corps in his article titled How to Absorb the Marine Corps into the Army and Navy.  After summarizing the efforts of President Truman and U.S. Army generals George C. Marshal, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley to disband America’s Marines, Commander Denny begins to offer recommendations about how it could be done.  He imagines that the process could most easily begin with U.S. Marine Corps aviation — because hardly anyone in the United States has any knowledge of Marine Air beyond watching the films Flying Leathernecks (1951) and The Great Santini (1979).

Rebutting Commander Denny’s article was U.S. Marine Corps Major Brian Kerg.  Major Kerg acknowledged Denny’s courage for tackling a topic rife with emotion and parochialism (Marines are protective of their Corps)[1] but very quickly illustrated how short Denny’s article was in offering a compelling case for disbanding the Marine Corps. 

Major Kerg opined that Denny over-estimated the Army and Navy’s capabilities to assume Marine Corps roles and missions.  To do so, both services would have to undergo massive structural changes.  But more to the point, Major Kerg demonstrated that the Marine Corps is one of the more adaptive of the six military services.[2]

As an example of Denny’s misjudgments, Major Kerg wrote, “Commander Denny claims that the Army can assume amphibious assault responsibilities because it performed this role at Normandy.  The Army did indeed conduct several impressive amphibious operations across the European Theater of Operations in World War II, Normandy being one of them.  But the Army was capable of doing this only because the units involved in those operations were manned, trained, and equipped for the task, and they worked closely with the Navy toward this aim.”[3]

Major Kerg is correct to point out that the U.S. Army today is incapable of performing these tasks.  Successful amphibious warfare operations (AWO) and capabilities require a unique organizational structure, complex support mechanisms, specialized equipment, years to develop AWO expertise, knowledge of naval gunfire support, close air support, knowing what to do — and as importantly, what not to do, and how to withdraw.  This knowledge is critical, but so too is the training queue for battalion landing teams of various configurations.  Could Army units be trained to assume Marine Corps roles and missions?  Yes, of course — but not without a significant loss to the Army’s primary mission capabilities.  Expertise in AWO is a perishable skill.

There is no service today that has been more involved in re-evaluating its roles and mission capabilities than the U. S. Marine Corps — and this has been an ongoing activity since the late 1800s.  It has not been uncommon for these evaluations and mission enhancement innovations to fall on deaf ears in the Army hierarchy.  Case in point … close air support.

Close Air Support

The first major surprise of the post-World War II years arrived in late June 1950 when the United States found itself responding to the crisis of the North Korean invasion of South Korea.  In response to urgent requests for American reinforcements from the Far East Command, and as a result of unit offerings and proposals from the United States, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade activated on 7 July 1950.  The Brigade was an air-ground team built around the 5th Marine Regiment and Marine Aircraft Group-33.  The time and space factors in the activation of the brigade and its deployment to Korea were extraordinary.  These Marines were on their way to the Korean Peninsula within five to seven days — they were ready to fight.

In 1950, America’s young army conscript, serving occupation duty in Japan, was suddenly uprooted from his soft duty and sent to the Korean Peninsula.  It wasn’t long before NKPA forces ripped the U.S. combat battalions and regiments to shreds.  Knowledge of close air support might have saved thousands of lives, but U.S. Army ground commanders didn’t have that expertise, and the newly created U.S. Air Force didn’t have the aircraft, training, or interest to provide it.[4]

Only two services understood close air support (also, CAS): the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.  They developed this strategy during World War II.  They attempted to share this knowledge with the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Army, but neither of these services expressed interest.  Why?  Because CAS wasn’t as glamorous as air-to-air battles.  This is an important story because it illustrates the uniqueness of the U.S. Marine Corps.  While constrained by lack of money and hindered by service opposition, the Marines became the most effective fighting organization in the post-World War II period.

During World War I, Marines used their aircraft in various ways, including a few missions of what could be termed CAS.  During the conflicts in Central America in the 1920s, Marine aviators flew reconnaissance and logistical missions to support ground forces.  But it wasn’t until a group of Nicaraguan rebels surrounded thirty-seven leathernecks in Ocotal that Marine aircraft were placed into a CAS role.  Major Russell Rowell led a flight of five De Havilland biplanes from Managua and dropped small bombs on the Nicaraguans, and inflicted enough damage to relieve the surrounded Marines below. These actions set the stage for testing CAS doctrine, which was not written into the Marine Corps Tentative Landing Operations Manual until 1935.

This early attempt to standardize the combined use of forces during amphibious assaults designated naval air priorities as (1) establishing air superiority and (2) supporting the ground forces.  At first, Marine aircraft augmented Navy air operations, but then, as airfields became available ashore, Marines would begin to operate their aircraft from land.  The use of aircraft in the air superiority role over the landing force was the priority, but the manual did not identify the means to establish command and control of aircraft by the landing force commander’s staff.  It was thus necessary to refine amphibious assault tactics and techniques.  Such training exercises, designated Fleet Landing Force Exercises, were held in Virginia, Puerto Rico, and California long before the United States’ involvement in World War II.  These exercises rectified many problems and established basic tactics for the assaulting forces but did not address the Navy and Marine doctrine shortcomings concerning CAS.

The amphibious assault on Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942 was the Marines’ first major combat action of World War II.  The 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv), then commanded by Major General Archibald A. Vandegrift, fought savage jungle battles under extremely harsh tropical conditions to seize the Japanese airfield near the island’s north shore. The plan for air support called for Navy aircraft from the USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise, and USS Wasp to provide air cover for the landing force.  In accordance with prewar doctrines, naval aviation planners prioritized providing air defense over the fleet with no detailed provision for CAS after making the initial assault.

This method of CAS employment resulted from several flaws in existing doctrine and plans. Major General Vandegrift captured the lessons learned from the battle for Guadalcanal in his action report to the Navy Department and provided several recommendations to correct them — most of which were implemented before the Gilbert Islands operations.

During the assault landings at Tarawa in the Gilbert chain in November 1943, air liaison parties (ALPs) were attached to the ground commanders to assist in selecting and identifying targets for CAS.  Air coordinators (the precursor to modem-day Forward Air Controllers, or FACs) were employed to observe the progress of Marines on the ground and identify the target locations for the CAS pilots before their arrival.  The plan also included moving the air command and control element from ship to shore after the tactical situation on the island permitted.  All support was to come from carrier-based aircraft.  These CAS plans were put into action with improved effect.  Compared to the battle on Guadalcanal, CAS used on Tarawa was substantially more effective.

Now, when the U.S. Army invaded Luzon Island in the Philippines in January 1945, close air support for the 1st Cavalry Division was provided by Marine Air Group-24 (MAG-24).  The air group deployed ALPs and established flexible command and control procedures that allowed Army ground commanders to employ Marine aircraft as an integrated maneuver arm.  The result was an effective, responsive, and flexible air-ground team.[5]

Unfortunately, the U.S. Army retained none of these CAS lessons or methods.  By the time the Korean War broke out, both the USAF (formerly USAAC) and the USA had lost all corporate memory of this vital ground combat support element.  Is the U.S. Army capable of assuming any of the Marine Corps’ national defense capabilities?  My answer is no because the capacity of the U.S. Air Force to provide close air support to ground forces is (and has always been) inadequate.[6]

The foregoing doesn’t simply identify a regrettable attitude among supposedly “professional” career military personnel, it also underscores a major difference in service culture.  Marines are always looking for a better way to deliver top-notch defense to the American people.  The question always is, “How can we do it better at less cost to the American taxpayer?”

Future of the Corps

The Marine Corps delivers far more in defensive capabilities than is allocated to it by the Congress of the United States.  The Marine Corps’ share of the Defense Budget is roughly 4%.  The Marine Corps provides a third of the nation’s defense capabilities.

With that said, the answer to the foregoing question is never an easy one.  Much thinking goes into “better at less cost,” along with more than a few professional disagreements.  One of these “disagreements” has recently found its way to the newspapers. 

In 2019, the Commandant of the Marine Corps promulgated his planning guidance for the Fiscal Year 2032.  This document outlined his five priorities: force design, warfighting, education and training, core values, and command and leadership.  Why would he publish goals and objectives ten years hence?  General David H. Berger answers, “We must communicate with precision and consistency, based on a common focus and a unified message.  What is abundantly clear is that the future operating environment will place heavy demands on our Nation’s Naval Services.  The Marine Corps will be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness and prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces to support fleet operations.


General Berger’s plan for the future includes —

• Elimination of three infantry battalions from the current 24, a 14% reduction in frontline combat strength.

• Reduction of each remaining battalion by 200 Marines, taking an additional 4,200 infantry Marines from the frontline combat capabilities.

• Elimination of two reserve-component infantry battalions of the present eight, a 25% reduction of combat strength.

• Elimination of 16 cannon artillery battalions, a 76% reduction, to be replaced by 14 rocket artillery battalions, for use in “successful naval campaigns.”

• Elimination of all the tanks in the Marine Corps, even from the reserves.

• Elimination of three of the current 17 medium tilt-rotor squadrons, three of the eight heavy-lift helicopter squadrons, and “at least” two of the seven light attack helicopter squadrons, which were termed “unsuitable for maritime challenges.”

If General Berger’s plan was primarily designed to return the Marines to their traditional naval roots after two decades of combat operations ashore, assuming the Army’s land warfare mission, then it is a discussion that has become long overdue.  The question now arises, has Berger gone too far?

Does everyone agree with Berger’s “momentous changes” to the structure of the Marine Corps?  No, not by far.  One who does not agree is former Secretary of the Navy, former U.S. Senator, and former Marine Corps infantry officer Jim Webb.  In a recent WSJ Opinion (25 March 2022), Senator Webb tells us that among Marines who know what they’re talking about, there are serious questions about the wisdom and long-term risk of dramatic reductions in the Marine Corps’ force structure, weapons systems, and manpower levels in units that, when committed to combat, would take heavy casualties.  In Webb’s opinion, this is not a time for unilateral decision-making on matters that will have such a dramatic impact on the combat readiness of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mr. Webb reminds us, “The unique and irreplaceable mission of the Marine Corps is to provide a homogeneous, all-encompassing “force in readiness” that can go anywhere and fight anyone on any level short of nuclear war. The corps has fought many political battles to preserve that mission but never from within — until now.  More than a few retired senior Marine officers are unhappy with Berger’s plan for the future, and why such discussions are necessary on matters ten years into the future is the costs involved in putting that structure together.  That process begins now.

Senator Webb explains his angst: “After several unsuccessful attempts by retired senior officers to engage in a quiet dialogue with Gen. Berger, the gloves have now come off.  The traditional deference has been replaced by a sense of duty to the Marine Corps and its vital role in our national security.  Recently, 22 retired four-star Marine generals signed a nonpublic letter of concern to Gen. Berger, and many others have stated their support of the letter.  A working group of 17 retired generals was formed to communicate [their] concerns to national leaders. One highly respected retired three-star general estimated to me that ‘the proportion of retired general officers who are gravely concerned about the direction of the Corps in the last two and a half years would be above 90 percent.’”

In his open letter/opinion, Senator Webb emphasizes general agreement among retired senior officers that Berger is taking the Corps in the wrong direction and reminds us, “There is not much time to stop the potential damage to our national security. Questions should be raised. The law does not give the commandant of the Marine Corps carte blanche to make significant changes in force structure. Title 10 provides that the commandant perform his duties “subject to the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of the Navy,” and that the Navy secretary “has the authority necessary to conduct all affairs of the Department of the Navy including. . . . organizing,” but “subject to the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense.”


We have in the foregoing discussion two examples of “professional discourse.”  In the first, where Commander Denny proposes doing away with the U.S. Marine Corps — for reasons that lack a satisfactory explanation — Major Brian Kerg (of the Marines) first encourages worthy dialogue among professions and then dismantles Denny’s argument because it lacks any substance.  To Kerg, I say, Well done, Major.

We also have a separate (albeit related) opinion, offered by former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, which illuminates the kind of professional dialogue that has been going on inside the Marine Corps for the past 100 years.  The American people deserve their Corps of Marines, and at this stage in our nation’s history, the Marines have well demonstrated they have earned the right to a fair and full examination of their contributions to the Nation’s defense.  What makes Webb’s discussion unusual is that it questions not only certain decisions, but the unwillingness of the decision-maker to engage in a worthwhile dialogue, as well.  Why wouldn’t the Commandant of the Marine Corps be interested in what retired senior officers have to say?[7]   

We know that the Marine Corps continues to evolve — as it should.  Marines are no longer armed with “Brown Bess” rifles, for example.  Times change and the American military must change with it.  The Navy and Marine Corps have been an evolving force for good since the end of the American Civil War — and in doing so, prove their worthiness within our national security structure.  What more could our nation want from its Marines?  I will say that given the Marine Corps’ cost-effective contribution to the security of the United States no reasonably intelligent person would want to disband the Marine Corps or place the force structure into a position where it is likely to fail.


  1. Kerg, B.  Rebuttal to How to Absorb the Marine Corps into the Army and Navy.  U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings December 2021.
  2. Denny, N. R.  How to Absorb the Marine Corps into the Army and Navy.  Military,com.,
  3. Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, online resource.
  4. Webb, J.  “Momentous Changes in the U.S. Marine Corps’ Force Organization Deserve Debate,” Wall Street Journal — opinion, 25 March 2022. 
  5. Rogan, T.  “The Marines Are Reforming to Prepare for War With China,” The Wall Street Journal, 4 April 2022.


[1] Which is not something found in abundance in any of the other military services.

[2] Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock (Pete) Ellis (1880-1923) was one of the more innovative officers in Marine Corps history.  He was an intelligence officer, author of Operation Plan 712: Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia, and the essential elements for training Marine Corps officer candidates at Quantico, Virginia.  See also: Pete Ellis, Oracle.

[3] See also: Marines and Operation Torch.  Senior officers such as Colonel Homer L. Litzenberg USMC (of Chosen Reservoir fame) were responsible for training U.S. Army commands and troops in the art and science of amphibious operations. 

[4] See also: The Fire Brigade.

[5] But why Marines and not navy pilots?  Every Marine Corps officer is first and foremost a ground combat officer.  The Marine pilot knows what the ground troops are going through.  Navy and Air Force pilots haven’t a clue.

[6] Defense Technical Information Center, Final Report, Army Command & General Staff College. 

[7] I won’t suggest to anyone that General Berger has a personality defect, but I will say that he appears excessively focused on the possibility of a future Sino-American war.  I hope that never happens, but if it does, such an event will require far more than an amphibious force of a few battalions of U.S. Marines.  I also hope General Berger’s public obsession with China doesn’t make relations worse between the U.S. and China. 

The War Against the Corps — Part 2

(Continued from last week)

Post-War National Defense Realignment

Following World War II, President Truman (known to harbor anti-Navy and anti-Marine Corps sentiments) directed a realignment of the U.S. defense structure.  Unifying the Army and Marine Corps became a principal effort from the White House down through the Department of War.

Marine Corps Commandant General Alexander A. Vandegrift was well-aware of the behind-the-scenes finagling by Army senior officers.  The Commandant appointed Brigadier General Gerald C. Thomas as his representative in the matter of defense realignment.  According to these initial discussions, Thomas reported that the Army planned to retain their “prerogative” to decide the U.S. Marine Corps’ roles, missions, structures, programs, and budgets — without Congressional oversight.  General Thomas believed that the future of the Corps was in grave peril.

Certain Marine Corps officers almost immediately began creating a defensive strategy.  Their justification for this direct action was, essentially, that “Marine Corps relations with Congress in 1944–1947 were based on the premise that the Corps’ existence as a balanced force of arms depended upon Congress recognizing the need for diverse military forces and military innovation. Traditionally, this recognition had come from Congress.”

The Army’s unification plan also threatened the Navy.  Leaders of the newly created U.S. Air Force argued that, for economy and efficiency, land-based naval aviation should become part of the USAF.  Secretary Forrestal quickly formed a committee under the leadership of Vice Admiral Arthur W. Radford.  Admiral Radford, in turn, assigned Brigadier General Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson (Guadalcanal legend) to serve as the Marine Corps representative to Secretary Forrestal’s committee.

Meanwhile, General Vandegrift formed a research/action committee headed by Colonel Merrill B. Twining, and which included Lieutenant Colonel Victor H. Krulak.  The committee referred to itself as the “Chowder Society.”

Once Eisenhower became Army Chief of Staff, he initiated a long series of anti-Marine Corps essays that Colonel Twining regarded as a “felonious assault” on the exceptional combat record of the Corps.  Twining noted that Eisenhower’s essays “unprofessionally” belittled and demeaned the Marine Corps — even as he knew that Marines were fighters, amphibious warfare experts, and thoroughly dedicated to completing their missions.  Eisenhower knew this because Marines supported Eisenhower in the European Theater of Operations in World War II.  Eisenhower had Marines on his staff, they trained the Army’s divisions in the art and science of amphibious warfare, and they fought behind the lines as members of the OSS.  In attacking the Marines, General Eisenhower was at least disingenuous and, at worst scurrilous.

If Eisenhower had had his way, the new defense structure would limit Marine Corps operations to small naval raids, minor landings, and navy security duties.  Eisenhower argued that Army operations in World War II demonstrated that the Army could “do amphibious operations” as well as the Marine Corps; he apparently forgot that Marines not only trained the army in amphibious operations, but they also wrote the Army’s amphibious warfare doctrine.

During testimony before the House of Representatives, General Vandegrift argued for a Fleet Marine Force — as a matter of logic.  In Twining’s view (having helped prepare Vandegrift for his testimony), the Commandant’s remarks were innocuous — yet inspired nasty articles by “Army operatives” directed at a man who only a few short years before had been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, because Admiral Radford wouldn’t “play ball” with those seeking to destroy the Marine Corps, Secretary Forrestal removed him as Chairman of the Navy Board and replaced him with Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman. Radford’s removal was a brutal blow for the Marines because Sherman would do anything to become Chief of Naval Operations — anything at all.

Following Admiral Radford’s removal, the Marines were on their own.  They had no allies among the post-war Navy brass.  If Sherman harbored an intense dislike for Marines, it was nothing compared to Colonel Twining’s loathing contempt for Sherman.

Despite Forrestal’s earlier laudatory comments about the Battle of Iwo Jima, Colonel Twining suspected that he’d turned his back on the Marines to become the first Secretary of Defense.  James Forrestal did become the first Secretary of Defense but committed suicide in May 1949 after suffering a mental breakdown.

Admiral Sherman did become CNO and, absent Admiral Radford, the Corps’ only chance for survival was to go directly to the Congress on the issue of whether or not the United States needed its Corps of Marines.  Americans love their Marines, but because it is not a sentiment shared by every politician, the Chowder Society turned to the press.[1]

The American press was happy to take up the Marine Corps’ cause, and their support resulted in overwhelming popular support for the Marine Corps.  Truman, who was soon beside himself with all the Corps’ public support, realized that his unification bill could not pass in Congress.  He deferred the matter of Army-Marine Corps unification until 1947.  Following Vandegrift’s testimony in Congress, President Truman summoned him to the White House and threatened him with severe repercussions if he continued to oppose the unification effort.  Disappointingly, Vandegrift subsequently became a wallflower on this issue.

The new legislative session began in January 1947.  The White House, War Department, and Navy Department were all lined up against the Marine Corps.  A senate bill supported the unification measure.  Vandegrift was walking on eggshells, so the task of attacking the bill fell upon Brigadier General Merritt Edson.  Edson appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee wearing his Medal of Honor, two Navy Cross medals, his Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, and the U.K.’s Distinguished Service Order.

Edson, in his testimony, relied upon a speech he and Krulak had prepared for Vandegrift — and then added his own two cents along the way.  Edson tore into the bill’s proposed centralized defense structure as a worrisome measure leaning toward dictatorship, reminiscent of the discredited German General Staff.  He contrasted the long American tradition of civilian control with the concentration of military power in one individual.  He condemned the anti-Marine bias in the highly classified JCS-1478 paper, which remained classified and unavailable to the Senate.  Despite Edson’s courageous effort, he lost that battle. 

The People’s House

Pursuing a “by hook or crook” strategy, pro-Army members of Congress passed the Senate Bill to a known isolationist named Clare Hoffman.  The pro-Army cabal was betting that Hoffman had little-to-no interest in military affairs.  If that were the case, Hoffman would likely refer the Senate Bill to a subcommittee under the chairmanship of pro-Army member James Wadsworth.  Colonel Twining, who was never without an opinion, believed that Wadsworth was more than pro-Army; he was anti-Marine Corps.

However, Representative Hoffman happened to be a friend of the father of a member of the Chowder Society.  Rather than referring the bill to a subcommittee, Hoffman retained the bill and assembled a coalition of pro-Marine Corps representatives to consider it.

The committee battered witnesses called to testify with pointed questions about the concentration of power within the office of the Secretary of Defense, the danger of the JCS becoming German-style general staff, and the attendant usurpation of the authority of Congress.  The committee validated the Chowder Society’s contentions when Hoffman demanded that the Chairman JCS provide the classified 1478 document.

General Vandegrift’s eventual appearance before the committee turned out to be critical to the outcome of the hearing.  Hoffman had a hand in developing the protective amendments (drafted by the Chowder Society) that were presented earlier to the committee.  When Hoffman asked for Vandegrift’s opinion about those amendments, Vandegrift said he was in favor.  In expressing his assent, Vandegrift assumed Hoffman referred to the mild protective amendments rejected by the Senate, which he also proposed in the House.  This was an error that also escaped the attention of Vandergrift’s lawyer.  According to Lieutenant Colonel Krulak, “Whether Hoffman realized the confusion but chose to let the effect stand is unclear.  What is clear is that Knighton (Vandergrift’s attorney) later clarified, for the record, that the Commandant’s testimony concurred with the amendments.”

Another unexpected success occurred during General Eisenhower’s testimony.  After emphatically denying that the Marine Corps had reason to suspect the Army of conspiring to disband the Marine Corps, Hoffman asked him to explain his anti-Marine comments within the JCS-1478 document.  Eisenhower had nothing more to say.

The House committee was a Marine Corps success, but what was needed was a spectacular denunciation of the pending bill.  There was no one better qualified than General Edson, whose statement went far beyond his previous senate testimony.  Hammering the point that civilian control was necessary at the highest levels, he warned that “there can be a monopoly within the military field, just as there can be a monopoly within the industrial or commercial field, and with the same suppressive effects.”

After delivering his address, General Edson retired from active duty.  He was not the only casualty.  Vandegrift also reassigned Brigadier General Thomas to an overseas assignment.  Twining and Krulak believed that General Vandegrift intended to “curb the colonels” by getting rid of the one general officer who understood the seriousness of the Army’s war against the Marine Corps.  General Thomas was disgusted with Vandegrift and believed that the Commandant had lost his moral courage.

A revised bill passed the House, and Truman signed the compromise, which read in part, “The United States Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, shall include land combat and service forces and such aviation as may be organic therein. The primary mission of the Marine Corps shall be to provide fleet marine forces of combined arms, together with supporting air components, for service with the fleet in the seizure and defense of advanced naval bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign.”

The Fight gets Nasty

The National Security Act of 1947 did somewhat unite the armed services.  Yet, despite provisions that recognized the Marine Corps’ unique position as an amphibious force in readiness, the act did not clearly define the service’s status within the Navy Department, and the Commandant still lacked direct access to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  Consequently, the Marine Corps remained vulnerable to the dictates of the other services relative to the Marine Corps’ composition, resources, and operations — and lacked the power to respond to adverse decisions taken outside the Marine Corps.

After succeeding Vandegrift as Commandant in January 1948, General Clifton B. Cates was forced to confront this difficult situation.  In March 1948, at a conference in Key West, Florida, the first Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal, met with the service chiefs to settle their respective roles and missions.  General Cates was not invited to the meeting.  Instead, CNO Admiral Louis E. Denfeld represented the interests of the Marine Corps as part of the Navy.  The group concluded the next “most likely war” would be against the Soviet Union in Europe and that the Army and Air Force would need substantial reinforcement to fight it. To obtain the necessary funds while controlling military costs, they sought economies elsewhere — that is, reduced funding for the Marines, whose expertise in amphibious warfare the service chiefs considered nonessential in the new world order.

The agreement that emerged from the Key West meeting included an understanding that, in the event of war, the Secretary of Defense “would only allow” four Marine infantry divisions (fewer than the six fielded during World War II and far fewer than the Corps’ mobilization capability).  Additionally, that no Marine officer would be given a tactical command above the level of an infantry corps.  Although hardly necessary given the other limitations, the agreement prohibited the Marines from creating a second land army.  Cates protested (in vain) that making such decisions without his participation as Commandant violated the 1947 National Security Act’s intent and harmed the Marine Corps’ ability to fulfill its amphibious mission.  He later told a reporter that his biggest worry was keeping the Marine Corps alive, adding, “There are lots of people here in Washington who want to prevent that, who want to reduce us to the status of Navy policemen or get rid of us entirely.”

Such was politics in the Truman administration that Truman and his acolytes determined that if he could not win the fight by hook, then he’d do it by crook: he would simply defund the Marine Corps until it had no practical purpose — but to appear as if he merely needed to re-channel appropriations to other departments, he also cut funding to the Army, Air Force, and Navy.

In March 1949, dissatisfied with the pace of defense cuts, President Truman fired Defense Secretary James Forrestal.  To replace Forrestal, Truman nominated his long-time crony, Louis A. Johnson.  Johnson was anti-military anyway, but if he couldn’t get rid of the Corps, he’d pare it down to a bare-bones operation.  As a cost-cutting measure, Johnson hoped that the Army would absorb the Marine Corps ground forces, that the Air Force would absorb Marine Corps aviation assets, and the Navy would simply “go away.”  However, Johnson’s first revelation was that all of his proposals were illegal without Congressional approval.  General Merrill B. Twining later explained, “He [Johnson] made Cliff Cates’ life miserable, treated him with contempt.  Cates hated him, and he hated Cates and the Marine Corps.”

President Truman had also learned how to reign in his service secretaries.  He obtained an amendment to the National Security Act that made the Department of Defense a single executive department, with the service secretaries subordinate to Johnson.  The National Security Act also created the position of JCS Chairman as principal military advisor to the President/Secretary of Defense.  The first officer to serve as JCS Chairman was General Omar N. Bradley, who was no friend of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Bradley made sure that the JCS remained glacially hostile to the Marine Corps.

Tensions between the armed services grew during 1949, erupting in the “Revolt of the Admirals.” To cover the considerable cost of the Air Force’s new B-36 long-range bomber program, Secretary Johnson canceled the construction of the Navy’s supercarrier, the USS United States.  Several senior admirals, as well as Navy Secretary Sullivan, resigned in protest.  President Truman replaced Sullivan with Francis Matthews, a politician without scruples or any naval background and completely unsympathetic to the Marine Corps.

By late 1949, interservice discord in the United States was palpable — at least sufficient to justify the intervention of the House Armed Services Committee.  Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Louis E. Denfeld (and other active duty and retired admirals) testified on behalf of the Navy.  General Twining remembered, “Denfeld went over there and told them what sort of heels Matthews, Johnson, and company were.”

General Cates appeared before the committee, as well — offering support for the Navy and supporting his Marines.  He protested the lack of “adequate representation in matters of vital concern both to the Corps itself and the National defense.”  

During his testimony, General Cates noted that former Navy Secretary Sullivan had wanted the Commandant of the Marine Corps to participate in the JCS during discussions involving the Corps and then offered a biting rebuke of Secretary Johnson and the JCS, protesting that “the power of the budget, the power of coordination, and the power of strategic direction of the armed forces have been used as devices to destroy the operating forces of the Marine Corps.”

The House committee also heard from Secretary Johnson: “I cannot see need or justification for giving the Commandant of the Marine Corps a special role which is not accorded to the chiefs of various other arms and services which are considered integral parts of the Army, Navy and Air Force, respectively.”[2]  JCS Chairman Omar Bradley, genius that he was, rejected the need for amphibious operations in future wars.

Although Navy Secretary Francis P. Matthews promised that those who testified could speak freely, Truman demanded Denfeld’s resignation and demoted the other admirals.  Cates was protected by Johnson, who convinced Matthews that action against the Commandant would create a political disaster.

Truman replaced Admiral Denfeld with Admiral Forrest P. Sherman as CNO.  General Twining summed Sherman up in this way: “It wasn’t so much that Sherman was anti-Marine as he was so tremendously egotistical and pro-Sherman, and the Marine Corps simply got in his way.”

Intent on asserting his authority over the Commandant, Sherman obtained authorization from Johnson “to have a free hand in matters regarding the organization and training of the Marine divisions.” Viewing Marine Corps Headquarters as another bureau of the Navy Department, Sherman attempted to interpose himself between General Cates and Navy Secretary Matthews.

January 1950 was bleak for the Marine Corps.  After two years of forced cuts, Johnson and Matthews directed an additional one-third cut to Marine Corps manpower — fewer than 24,000 officers and men, a reduction from 11 to 6 infantry battalions (two regiments), from 23 to 12 aviation squadrons.  Additionally, Johnson cut funding for training, equipment, weapons, munitions, and supplies.  Johnson wouldn’t allow the Marines to equip or train.  Admiral Sherman assigned the bulk of the Navy’s amphibious ships to the Army for training, which limited the Marine Corps’ ability to ready its own combat forces.

As three years before, the Corps’ best hope to avoid being defunded into oblivion was its relationship with the Congress.  Convinced of the correctness of the Marine’s stated cause, Democratic Representative Carl Vinson introduced a bill to extend membership on the JCS to the Marine Commandant.  Although the measure failed, editorials in the Hearst press generated much public support for the Marines. Two unexpected events would turn that burgeoning public support into an irresistible tide.

Bullets and Indiscretion

The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 (Korean time) disproved General Bradley’s expectation about the United States’ next war: it wasn’t with the Soviet Union.  The Truman administration was utterly unprepared for new hostilities.  None of the U.S. Armed Forces was ready for combat.  General Cates offered what ground and air forces the Marine Corps had at their disposal.  The CNO (with the President’s concurrence) authorized the Commandant to activate the Marine Corps Reserve.  Suddenly, President Truman needed Marines.

President Truman had more than a few political foes in Congress — none more so than Republican Congressman G. L. McDonough, who continually wrote letters to President Truman reminding him how the U.S. Marine Corps has repeatedly rushed to the nation’s defense.  He may have been picking at the President’s scab when he reminded the president that as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the president could give the Commandant of the Marine Corps a seat on the JCS.

President Truman responded, in writing: “For your information, the Marine Corps is the Navy’s police force, and as long as I am President, that is what it will remain.” McDonough had irritated Truman, particularly in light of the overwhelming public support accorded to the Marine, because the president continued, “They [the Marines] have a propaganda machine almost the equal of Stalin’s.” Then, making his attitude even clearer, Truman continued: “When the Marine Corps goes into the Army, it works with and for the Army, and that is the way it should be.  The Chief of Naval Operations is the Chief of Staff of the Navy of which the Marines are a part.”

Truman’s intemperate letter to McDonough was a gift to the Republican Party — and the Marine Corps.

McDonough didn’t send the letter to the press; he published it in the Congressional Record.  Journalists picked it up from there, and then the wire services.  Within a short time, Truman’s letter appeared in every major newspaper in the country — and the public reaction was anger. “Their” Marines were fighting in Korea, and the President had the gall to equate them with the communist, Joseph Stalin.  Republicans in Congress ripped into Truman, including Senator Joseph McCarthy.  Syndicated pundits piled on — Truman’s leadership was mediocre.

President Truman’s aides recognized a political disaster when they saw one.  They hastily prepared a letter of apology that the President personally handed to General Cates at the White House, with a copy released to the press.  The Marine Corps League was meeting in Washington at the time and had demanded an apology for the slur; it was decided that Truman would appear there beside Cates. Truman’s apology quieted matters, but he was severely chastened and forced to recognize the strength of public support for the Marines.

Victory for the Corps

In September 1950, the 1st Marine Division made a successful amphibious assault at Inchon, South Korea.  This was the strategy General Bradley had asserted would never again be used in modern warfare — and one that would not work at Inchon.  Along with their successful landing, the Marines score still another victory.  As later explained by Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, “We received some surprising news. President Truman, under heavy fire for the lack of preparedness of American forces . . . and tired of Louis Johnson’s squabbling . . . marched his defense secretary down the plank.  Johnson was fired, and there was genuine rejoicing.  There seemed in this some just retribution.”

But the Marines had a powerful ally in the Army, as well.  Early in the war, special Presidential Envoy Major General Frank E. Lowe visited Korea on a fact-finding tour.  His report to Truman severely criticized U.S. Army leadership, training doctrine, and combat performance un as acceptable.  In contrast, he wrote of the Marines, “The First Marine Division is the most efficient and courageous combat unit I have ever seen or heard of.” General Lowe recommended, as a matter of policy, that the mission to conduct all future amphibious operations be assigned to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, that the government recognize the Marine Corps as the nation’s force in readiness, and permanently structured with three divisions and three air wings.

Considering the public reaction to Truman’s letter, the Marine’s exceptional performance in Korea, and General Lowe’s enthusiastic endorsements, the Marine Corps gained the support of influential members of Congress: Senator Paul Douglas (D), Representatives Carl Vinson, and Mike Mansfield.[3]  Douglas introduced a Senate Bill calling for four permanent Marine divisions and four air wings, membership in the JCS, and the creation of an Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Marine Corps affairs.  Mike Mansfield prepared a similar bill in the House, and the 82nd Congress considered and passed a compromise measure in 1952.

Public Law 416: To fix the personnel strength of the United States Marine Corps and to establish the relationship of the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the first sentence of Section 206 (c) of the National Security Act of 1947 is hereby amended to read as follows: “The United States Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, shall be so organized as to include not less than three combat divisions and three air wings, and such other land combat, aviation, and other services as may be organic therein, and except in time of war or national emergency hereafter declared by the Congress, the personnel strength of the Regular Marine Corps shall be maintained at not more than four hundred thousand.”

Section 2: Section 211 (a) of the National Security Act of 1947 (61 STAT 505), as amended, is hereby further amended by adding at the end thereof the following new paragraph: “The Commandant of the Marine Corps shall indicate to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff any matter scheduled for consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff which directly concerns the United States Marine Corps.  Unless the Secretary of Defense, upon request from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a determination, determines that such matter does not concern the United States Marine Corps, the Commandant of the Marine Corps shall meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff when such matters under consideration by them and on such occasion and with respect to such matter, the Commandant of the Marine Corps shall have co-equal status with the members of the Joint Chief of Staff.”

President Truman signed these amendments into law.  As important was recognizing that the Marine Corps was a separate armed service with specific roles and missions.  The legislation elevated the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the same level as the Chief of Naval Operations, with equal access to the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense.  The first Commandant to take a seat on the JCS was General Cates successor, General Lemuel C. Shepherd.  The CMC became a regular, full-time member of the JCS in 1978. 

Today, the U.S. Marine Corps has three infantry divisions, three air wings, and three combat logistics groups.  We still have the combat power as we did in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War … and the same kind of courageous young men as we always have had, since 1775.  What the Marine Corps is lacking today is quality leadership at its highest echelons.  Replacing the giants of the Marine Corps’ combat history are poor managers and exceptional politicians.  See also: We’ll All Die as Marines Blog.

(Continued next week)


  1. Biles, R.  Crusading Liberal: Paul H. Douglas of Illinois.  The Standard Biography, 2002.
  2. Cook, J. F.  Carl Vinson: Patriarch of the Armed Forces.  Mercer University Press, 2004.
  3. Coram, R.  Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine Corps.  Little, Brown, 2010.
  4. Hoffman, J. T.  Once a Legend: Red Mike Edson of the Marine Raiders.  Presidio Press, 1994.
  5. Keiser, G. W.  The U.S. Marine Corps and Defense Unification, 1944-1947: The Politics of Survival.  National Defense Unification Press, 1982.
  6. Krulak, V. H.  First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. Naval Institute Press, 1984.
  7. Millett, A. R.  In Many a Strife: General Gerald C. Thomas and the U.S. Marine Corps, 1917-1956.  Naval Institute Press, 1993.
  8. Oberdorfer, D.  Senator Mike Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat.  Smithsonian Books, 2003.
  9. Rems, A.  Semper Fidelis: Defending the Marine Corps. U.S. Naval Institute, 2017.
  10. Twining, M. B.  No Bended Knee: The Memoir of General Merill B. Twining.  Presidio Press, 1996.


[1] This was at a time when the United States had a patriotic press. 

[2] According to Robert Heinl, Louis Johnson viewed the Marine Corps as no more separate from the Navy than the Veterinary Corps.

[3] Both Douglas and Mansfield served as United States Marines; Mansfield in World War I, and Douglas in World War II.

The War Against the Corps — Part 1


In 1775, the population of the British Colonies was 2.4 million people.  It sounds like a large number, but it wasn’t.  About a third were fiercely loyal to the British Crown from that seemingly large number.  Another third, at least initially, had no interest in the moaning between loyalists and patriots.  When the Continental Congress authorized George Washington to assemble an army in defense of the American colonies, there were only around 40.000 “able-bodied” men to serve as an armed force — including those associated with colonial militias.  When Congress decided to establish a naval power, Washington well-understood the necessity, but he did not understand the need to create the Continental Marine Corps.  Two battalions of men raised to serve as marines meant two fewer battalions available to General Washington’s field army.

The issue of Army vs. Marines has always been one of service rivalry.  It’s not about their respective missions; they’ve always had a different task.  But it was always about funding.  For every dollar Congress allocated to the Navy and Marines, there was one less dollar for the Continental Army.  There was not a lot of money back then.

With no interest in maintaining a standing army after the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Congress disbanded the Continental Navy and Marine Corps and all but a small army force to address hostilities with native populations.  As conflicts with Indians increased, Congress authorized the establishment of a brigade-sized unit designated the Legion of the United States.  After that, the size of the U.S. Army was dependent upon congressional funding and the demand for frontier defense.  Congress established the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in 1798 to address the Quasi-war with France, and later, the Barbary Coast wars.

While the Army conducted land engagements during the War of 1812, Marines performed their traditional role aboard U.S. Navy ships.  Afterward, Army and Marine Corps units fought together during the Seminole and Creek Indian Wars.

The role of the Marines during the American Civil War was small, although not entirely insignificant.  Still, the fact was that Army units participated in more of the Union’s riverine operations than Marines.  It wasn’t until the Spanish-American War that the Marine Corps demonstrated its capabilities as an amphibious force in projecting Navy power ashore.

Some Background

In 1913, the United States Army consisted of around 127,000 officers and men, its size wholly inadequate to the prosecution of a land war.  The First World War began in 1914; the grueling task of building a world-class army took the United States three years and considerable sums of money.  In 1917, comparatively few Army officers or NCOs had any conventional combat experience — and those with service in hostile environments confronted unconventional battles with native Americans or Philippine insurgents.

Despite its small size, the U. S. Marine Corps was composed of officers and non-commissioned officers with combat experience.  Through the Secretary of the Navy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps offered to make these resources available to the Army for service in France.  The Army’s senior leadership had little interest in involving Marines.  Eventually, however, the Marines did become involved in World War I even though the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Force, General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing harbored misgivings about using the Marines in a combat role.

After reporting to General Pershing, the Marines of the 4th Brigade performed logistics duties and underwent combat training exercises under French tutelage until Pershing decided that they were sufficiently trained for land warfare.  Through the persistence of Brigadier General John A. Lejeune, Commanding General of the 4th Brigade, Pershing finally assigned the Marines to the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division.  Lejeune eventually assumed command of the Army division — the first Marine Corps officer to command an Army combat command.

If General Pershing had anything in common with his counterparts of the Imperial German Army, it was that neither believed that the American Marines would pose much of a threat to the battle-hardened German Army.

The Marines’ second engagement of World War I took place in the wheat fields and forests of a vast hunting preserve named Belleau Wood.  This battle became the hallmark of the Marine Corps’ battle reputation as expert marksmen and their tenacity in combat.  In this one battle, the Fourth Brigade of United States Marines demonstrated that the Americans were not only in France to fight — they were in France to win. 

On 6 June 1918, the 4th Marine Brigade (comprising the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion) attacked the German 237th Infantry Division, which held a line through the heavily wooded Belleau Wood.  In preparing for this assault, the French commander of XXI Corps significantly underestimated the enemy’s strength.  The 237th was a combat-hardened organization.  No one on Pershing’s staff expected the Marines to succeed, but then again, sending them against a numerically superior force would at least provide them with land warfare experience and may even solve Pershing’s problem of dealing with Marines.

Conventional tactical wisdom suggested that for the Marines to prevail in land warfare, they would need a 3-to-1 numerical advantage over the German defenders.  The Marines did not have that advantage.  They also did not have any artillery support.  The Germans should have annihilated the American Marines by every measure, but that’s not what happened.  Overcoming tremendous odds, the Marines persevered and defeated the enemy in their sector. Along with co-located army units, they helped push the Germans back ten miles from their former front-line position.  This massive “upset” convinced the German high command that their strategic clock was running out.

After the Battle of Belleau Wood, American journalists showered the Marines with glowing press reports.  For the first time, the American people learned that there were United States Marines, and they were effective at kicking the hell out of Imperial Germany’s battle-toughened army.

Senior Army officers deeply resented all the press attention paid to the Marines.  It was as if the Army wasn’t even present.  After all, Army officers complained, the Marines were part of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division — not the other way around.  Of course, the Marines didn’t have anything to do with this “good press,” but that didn’t seem to matter.  One of these complaining officers was a captain of artillery by the name of Harry S. Truman.

Interwar Years

For almost 150 years, the Army and Navy conducted their operations cooperatively, when required.  Cooperation meant that Army and Navy commanders would agree whenever they could in matters of coordinated efforts.  This arrangement was workable because the Army was off fighting in the Indians for most of this period, and the Navy was showing the American flag overseas.  In any case, “cooperation” was always personality-dependent.  If the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy could cooperate, they did when it suited them, and if not, they did not.  In one communication between Secretary of War Lindley Garrison and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (Wilson Administration), Garrison wrote:

“Joe, I don’t give a damn about the Navy, and you don’t care a damn about the Army.  You can run your machine, and I will run mine.  I am glad if anyone can convince me I am wrong, but I am damn sure nobody lives who can do it.  I am an individualist and not cut out for cooperative effort.  I will let you go your way, and I will go mine.”

The drive for the unification of the services first took shape following World War I.  The Institute for Government Research (later, Brookings Institute) began a series of studies for the reform of the executive branch, which prompted the involvement of Congress and a proposal that the executive departments follow the “single purpose” principle.  President Harding’s representative, Walter Brown, suggested the consolidation of the Secretaries of War and Navy under a single defense secretary.   Brown further suggested assigning all functions not related to national defense elsewhere.  Ultimately, the effort failed in Congress.

If the U.S. Army wasn’t happy with the Marine Corps in 1918, they were livid with Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in 1925.  Mitchell’s 1925 recommendation for an autonomous air force and his public statements accusing the Army and Navy of intransigence in matters of aviation safety resulted in Mitchell’s court-martial.  General Mitchell resigned from the Army shortly after, but this bruhaha did result in considering the merits of a separate air force.  The so-called Morrow Board wasn’t keen on an independent air force, but it did see the wisdom in creating a somewhat separate Army Air Corps (1926).

Another attempt for unification occurred in 1932, but this was dismissed because Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur vigorously opposed it and because the Depression demanded everyone’s full attention.

The topic of unification didn’t come up again until 1943 when Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall addressed the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a proposal for a post-war unification effort.  Marshall expressed concern for the need for “unity of command” and “economy.”  He proposed a single department under a civilian cabinet secretary.

World War II

The Army’s deep-seated resentment toward the Marine Corps from the First World War reared its head again at the beginning of World War II.  There were the same budgetary arguments, of course, and the Army continued to insist that land warfare was their mission — and the Marines should confine themselves to small naval raids.  Since President Roosevelt’s son was a serving major in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Army’s whinging fell on deaf ears.

President Roosevelt ordered the Army to assume responsibility for land engagements in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Western Europe at the beginning of World War II.  Roosevelt appointed Douglas MacArthur to command U.S. and Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific.[1]

FDR assigned the Central and Northern Pacific area to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command.  While the Central Pacific Island campaigns were principally Navy-Marine Corps operations (augmented by Army air and ground units when required), Marines also augmented MacArthur’s campaign in the Southwest Pacific.  Marines so impressed MacArthur that he would turn to them again — in another war.

The Boiling Point

Many Army officers continued to harbor deep resentment toward the Marines for receiving what they believed was a disproportionate share of the credit during the Battle of Belleau Wood.  Between 1920-1939, the War Department argued for the disbandment of the Marine Corps but working against such arguments was the evolution of a circle of Marine Corps intellectuals — warriors/scholars — who paved the way for a United States victory in the Pacific War beginning in the 1920s.  These officers not only accurately predicted what would happen, but they also pinpointed the enemy and, with that expectation, developed amphibious warfare doctrine, the process for loading/unloading amphibious ships, established the advance base force and associated operations, defense battalions, landing craft, and close air support of ground troops.

In 1943, while serving at Noumea, New Caledonia, Lieutenant Colonel Merrill B. Twining listened to two senior U.S. Army officers expressing their opinion about the recently concluded Guadalcanal campaign and the future organization of the armed forces.  They condemned the Marines for intruding into the Army’s customary land warfare sphere.  One of those officers, Major General J. Lawton Collins, hinted that the days of the U.S. Marine Corps were numbered.

General Collins parroted Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, who believed that if the Marine Corps was needed, it should be a very small organization.  Marshall vowed to “see that the Marines never won another war.”

Having learned of these moaning sessions, Marine Corps veteran officers distrusted and disrespected these Army officers.  Amid World War II, as Japanese Imperial forces were killing Marines, the Marines had discovered a new enemy: the U.S. Army.

A boiling point erupted during the Battle of Saipan when Marine Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, Commanding General, V Amphibious Corps, fired Army Major General Ralph C. Smith, a subordinate commander, who at the time of his relief, commanded the U.S. 27th Infantry Division.

The senior commander of the Saipan operation was Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.  Below Spruance was Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Commander, Northern Attack Force, and LtGen Smith.  Smith exercised command authority over the 2nd Marine Division (2ndMarDiv), 4thMarDiv, and the U.S. 27th.

LtGen Smith’s three-division attack plan assigned responsibility to the 2ndMarDiv for the left flank of the assault.  On the right flank, 4thMarDiv.  In the center, the U.S. 27th.  Both flanking divisions moved steadily forward in the attack, but tenacious Japanese defenders held up MajGen Smith’s advance for two days.  The delay produced a critical situation on two accounts: first, because the longer it takes to defeat the enemy, the more costly the battle becomes.  LtGen Smith was well aware of Admiral Spruance’s expectations about the length of this battle.  Second, MajGen Smith’s delay in the advance placed both the 2ndMarDiv and 4thMarDiv in jeopardy of Japanese assaults on their right and left flanks, respectively.

Despite LtGen Smith’s urgings, MajGen Smith could not seem to move his two assault regiments forward.  Consequently, LtGen Smith, after conferring with Admiral Spruance, relieved MajGen Smith from command and replaced him with Army MajGen Sanderford Jarman.  Everyone in the Navy chain of command viewed MajGen Smith’s relief from duty as a wartime shuffling of ground commanders.  Three other army commanders had been similarly relieved of their duties (two by senior Navy commanders), and there were no interservice repercussions.  However, Smith’s relief created a firestorm that lasted well into the mid-1950s.

Holland M. Smith obtained his Marine Corps commission in 1904.  He was a trained lawyer and a former member of the Alabama National Guard.  Smith was known for his short temper, which was the genesis of his nickname, “Howling Mad.”  He was a professional but abrupt officer who preferred field service to staff assignments.  He was not prone to compromise, particularly in matters relating to his Marines.  Smith’s contemporaries viewed his behavior as unnecessarily combative, often misguided, and almost always counterproductive.  Despite these personality “flaws,” HQMC nominated Smith to attend the Army Staff College and Navy War College.  Before Saipan, Smith commanded the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, and later, the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet.  Under Smith’s firm guidance, the Marine Corps developed its pre-war amphibious assault doctrine.  Before 1941, Smith supervised the amphibious training of the 1stMarDiv, 2ndMarDiv, 3rdMarDiv, and the 1st, 7th, 9th, 77th, 81st, and 96th Army divisions.  General Smith knew how to do his job.

MajGen Ralph C. Smith was undeniably a good and decent man.  He was quiet, calm, and his response always measured.  He was also a highly decorated combat officer and an Army aviator.  He was fluent in French and a graduate of the Army War College and École de Guerre.  Despite his qualifications, Smith was unpopular among his subordinate officers.  They resented “an outsider” taking command of the U.S. 27th (a national guard division) (their division).  Rather than confronting these subordinates, or better yet, leading them by example, he ignored their undisciplined behavior.  The effect of this was that the U.S. 27th Infantry Division performed as “sad sacks” in combat.  There is no environment more critical than combat.  And, on Saipan, Smith’s failures as a leader harmed his troops and those men of the 2ndMarDiv and 4thMarDiv.  Since MajGen Smith wouldn’t do anything about it, LtGen Smith would — and did.

There is little question that LtGen Smith and MajGen Smith had incompatible personalities, but more importantly, there is a substantial cultural difference in the way the Army and Marine Corps view combat operations.  The Army moves much slower in prosecuting land warfare, preferring to use supporting arms rather than infantry assaults.  The core strategy of amphibious operations is the lightning-fast frontal assault (particularly in island operations).  Marines see no value in prolonging an armed confrontation.[2]

At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal noted, “The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”  But even as Forrestal made this statement, the future of the Marine Corps was already in jeopardy.  In Washington, certain Army officials and members of congress conspired to disband the Marine Corps.  The leaders of this conspiracy were President Harry S. Truman and U.S. Army Chiefs of Staff, General George C. Marshal, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General J. Lawton Collins, and General Omar Bradley.  These men focused their post-World War II energies on disbanding the Marine Corps as part of the defense reorganization effort.

(Continued Next Week)


  1. Biles, R.  Crusading Liberal: Paul H. Douglas of Illinois.  The Standard Biography, 2002.
  2. Cook, J. F.  Carl Vinson: Patriarch of the Armed Forces.  Mercer University Press, 2004.
  3. Coram, R.  Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine Corps.  Little, Brown, 2010.
  4. Hoffman, J. T.  Once a Legend: Red Mike Edson of the Marine Raiders.  Presidio Press, 1994.
  5. Keiser, G. W.  The U.S. Marine Corps and Defense Unification, 1944-1947: The Politics of Survival.  National Defense Unification Press, 1982.
  6. Krulak, V. H.  First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. Naval Institute Press, 1984.
  7. Millett, A. R.  In Many a Strife: General Gerald C. Thomas and the U.S. Marine Corps, 1917-1956.  Naval Institute Press, 1993.
  8. Oberdorfer, D.  Senator Mike Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat.  Smithsonian Books, 2003.
  9. Rems, A.  Semper Fidelis: Defending the Marine Corps.  U.S. Naval Institute, 2017.
  10. Twining, M. B.  No Bended Knee: The Memoir of General Merill B. Twining.  Presidio Press, 1996.


[1] Douglas MacArthur served in the U.S. Army from 1903 until his retirement as Army Chief of Staff in 1935.  He was thereafter appointed Field Marshal of the Philippine Army, where he served until FDR recalled him to active duty service with the Army in 1941. 

[2] See also: The Road to Marineistan and Marineistan.

No Excuses — Fight or Die


Archaeologists and historians will say that maritime history dates back “thousands” of years, citing evidence of sea trade between ancient civilizations and the discovery of pre-historic boats, such as dugout canoes developed somewhat independently by various stone age populations.  Of course, fashioning out a handmade canoe and using it to cross a river may not exactly qualify as “maritime.”  Nor should we conclude that Austronesian explorers qualified as a naval force, per se, but it was a start.

Egyptians had well-developed trade routes over the Red Sea to Arabia.  Navigation was known to the Sumerians between 4,000-3,000 B.C., and it was the search for trade routes that led the world into the Age of Exploration and Discovery.

Minoan traders from Crete were active in the Mediterranean by 2,000 B.C., and the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese) became a somewhat substantial maritime culture from around 2,500 to 64 B.C.  What the ancient Syrians, Greeks, and Romans knew of sailing vessels, they learned from the Phoenicians.  At least, that’s what we believe.

Ancient Rome

The Romans were an agricultural/land-based culture.  There is evidence of a “warship” that carried a Roman ambassador to Delphi in 394 BC, but history’s first mention of a Roman navy didn’t occur until 311 B.C.  In that year, citizens of Rome elected two men to serve as “naval officers,” charging them with creating and maintaining a fleet of ships.  They were called Duumviri Navales (literally, “two men for dealing with naval matters).  Each officer controlled twenty ships.  There is some confusion, however, whether these officers exercised command over Roman ships or those of Roman allies. The ships were very likely triremes — a type of galley with three banks of oars (one man per oar).

Because Rome was a land-based culture, its primary defense and expansionist element was its land army.  Maritime trade did become an important element of the Roman economy, but this trade involved privately owned ships who assumed the risk of losses at sea due to storms and pirates rather than “Roman flagged” vessels.  When Rome did incorporate naval warships, they always served in a support role and as part of the Roman Army.  Any career soldier today will tell you that’s the way it should be — but then this would be the same kind of soldier who thought it would be a good idea to use camels in the U.S. Cavalry.

Artist’s rendition of a Roman Galley

Ships capable of survival at sea were always an expensive proposition, and comparatively speaking, there were never large numbers of people standing in line to go to sea.  Men of the ancient world were always fearful of the sea (as they should be even now).  To avoid the expense of building and maintaining ships, a Roman legate generally called upon Greeks to provide ships and crews whenever necessary to impose blockades.

It wasn’t until the Romans set their sights on Sicily in 265 BC that they realized that their land-based army needed the support of a fleet of ships to maintain a flow of supplies and communicate with the Roman Senate.  This realization prompted the senate to approve the construction of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes in 261 B.C.[1] [2]  Note also that quinqueremes were referred to as “the fives” because the rowers were arranged in groups of five. The Romans arranged their ships’ company as centuries (100 men per ship).  Contrary to Hollywood films, Roman crews, particularly the rowers, were seldom slaves.  Roman crewmen were free-born citizens or provincials who signed on as rowers, artisans, riggers, or Marinus (Marines).

To the Marines (naval infantry) fell the task of defending their ship or assaulting an enemy vessel.  This was accomplished by archers, followed by boarders armed with the Roman gladii (short sword).  Thus, the primary tactical objective at sea was to board and seize enemy ships.  What a fantastic experience that must have been.  Boarding activities remained prevalent long after the advent of sailing ships, gunpowder, and massive cannon.

Naval Forces in the Middle Ages

Beginning sometime after 1300 rowed A.D. galleys were replaced by sailing ships armed with broadside-mounted cannons. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this innovation because combining the striking power of massed artillery with shipboard Marines firing from the topsail rigging was an enormous leap forward in naval warfare.  Equally significant, naval power became the means by which Europeans created and maintained their overseas empires.

However, early in the Elizabethan era, ships were thought of as little more than transport vehicles for troops. The goal then was to corral an enemy ship, storm it, and capture it.  There was no value to sinking an enemy ship.[3]  A sea captain could sell a captured ship, its cargo, and occasionally, he could ransom passengers and crew or sell them into slavery.[4]

Beginning in medieval times, the design of ships emphasized resistance to boarders.  A ship’s aft and forecastle, for example, closely resembled towering fortresses bristling with archery and gun slits.  Necessity being the mother of invention, maritime tactics evolved further when it became apparent that defeating the enemy would require “other means.”

The Royal Navy’s Articles of War

What the United States Navy knew about operations at sea it learned from the British Royal Navy, and if we are to understand how the Royal Navy became the world’s most formidable sea power, then we must look to the British Navy’s Articles of War.  The Articles of War governed how men in uniform conducted themselves under almost every set of circumstances, including during combat.

To begin with, a British navy commander’s defeat at sea was never acceptable to either the sovereign, the admiralty, or to the Parliament.  The commanding officer of a British warship must engage the enemy and defeat him, or he must die in the attempt — even if the British ship was “outclassed.”  The standard applied to naval warfare in the 1700s and 1800s was that a British naval commander entrusted with the control of a warship should defeat an enemy ship twice as large as his own.  Fighting the vessel was the British commander’s first critical mission; winning the fight was the second.

Article XII, Articles of War, 1749: 

Every person in the Fleet, who through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection, shall in time of action withdraw or keep, or not come into the fight or engagement, or shall not to do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of His Majesty’s Ships, or those of his allies, which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death.”

Before 1749, British naval officers had demonstrated a tendency to refuse to engage the enemy if there was any possibility that the British ship would be lost.  This behavior was, perhaps, caused in part by common sense and the fact that naval courts refused to inflict severe punishments on such officers.  The Articles of War of 1661 allowed that losses at sea could result from the ill fortunes of nature, but Article XII ruled out all such excuses. 

Nor was there, after 1749, a great deal of “special trust and confidence” in the fidelity and ability of British naval commanders.  We know this because it was the duty of the ship’s First Lieutenant to maintain a log of his captain’s actions — he was the ship’s watchdog.  If the First Lieutenant had formed a too-personal relationship with his captain, other lieutenants were encouraged to watch and record the actions of the First Lieutenant.  The ship’s master also maintained a journal.[5]  The Royal Navy’s intent was clear: there would be no lying or “fudging” journals in His or Her Majesty’s navy.[6]

Nothing was more motivational, however than case law.

The island of Minorca had been a British possession since 1708, captured during the War of Spanish Succession.  In 1748, government cost-cutting measures reduced the Royal Navy to three ships of the line in the Mediterranean Sea.  As the British sought to expand their territory in North America in 1754, hostilities broke out between the British and French (and their Indian allies), quickly spreading to British and French allies in Europe.

In 1755, France began the process of constructing twelve new warships.  British diplomats warned the Home Office that France would soon be in a position to attack Minorca.  Lord High Admiral George Anson, out of his concern of a possible French invasion of England, recalled the Mediterranean squadron and assigned them to patrol duties along England’s long coastline.  The Royal Navy could not afford to lose three ships of the line.

On 11 March 1756, the British Admiralty ordered Admiral John Byng to raise a fleet of ten ships, proceed to Toulon to protect the British garrison at Port Mahon.  However, only six ships were present in Portsmouth, and all of them were in a state of disrepair (not ready for sea).  Moreover, none of those ships were fully manned.  Admiral Byng, realizing that there was no money to repair the vessels or construct four additional ships and because no one in England was willing to enlist in the Royal Navy, struggled to find a solution to the problem.  There were no solutions.  Admiral Byng promptly protested his orders.  What the Admiralty demanded of him was impossible to achieve.

The Admiralty eventually provided funds for ship repairs and instructed Byng to carry out his orders.  When shipwrights informed Byng that repairs would take longer than expected, the Admiralty ordered Byng to outfit channel ships and proceed to Port Mahon in advance of his somewhat diminished fleet.[7]

On 6 April, still short of men, the British army loaned the navy Colonel Robert Bertie’s fusilier regiment, enabling Admiral Byng to set sail from Portsmouth.[8]  While Byng was en route to Toulon, a fleet of French naval vessels escorted 1,000 tartanes and other transports carrying 15,000 French troops to the far western side of Minorca.[9]

Upon his arrival at Gibraltar, Admiral Byng reported to the senior officer, Lieutenant General Thomas Fowke.  In their meeting, Byng presented Fowke with a letter from the British Home Office instructing him to provide Admiral Byng with such troops as he may require toward completing his mission.

When Byng realized that the French had landed a large force of soldiers at Minorca, he requested a regiment of Royal Marines to bolster his forces.  General Fowke refused.  His refusal may have had some justification if, for example, providing the Marines would have reduced Fowke’s ability to defend the British garrison as Gibraltar.  In any case, Admiral Byng’s problem was further complicated because the ship repair facility at Gibraltar was inadequate to the task of repairing his ships.  Frustrated, Byng dispatched a terse note to the Admiralty explaining his situation and then, despite his dire circumstances, sailed toward Minorca to assess the situation first hand.

The Battle of Minorca was fought on 20 May 1756.  Byng had gained the weather gauge[10] and ordered a lasking maneuver[11] but his lead ship, HMS Defiance, rather than steering directly toward the enemy’s front, took a course parallel to that of the French fleet — with HMS Portland, Buckingham, and Lancaster, following in trace.  The delay in getting his ships back into the proper formation allowed the French to make the rest of the battle a running fight.

After a battle of around four hours in duration, the French successfully withdrew from Minorca with 38 dead seamen and 168 wounded.  Admiral Byng suffered extensive damage to one ship and the loss of 43 sailors killed and 173 wounded.  Still, Byng took up station near Minorca for four days.  After holding a council of war with his captains, Admiral Byng decided to return to Gibraltar for repairs, arriving on 19 June.

Before Byng could return to sea, a ship arrived from England with dispatches.  The Admiralty relieved Byng of his command, the Home Office relieved General Fowke of his command, and both men were ordered back to England to face court-martial charges. 

Upon arrival in England, authorities took Byng and Fowke into custody; both men received courts-martial.  The Home Office charged General Fowke with disobeying an order to support Byng with troops.[12]  The Admiralty charged Byng with violating Article XII, failing to do his duty against the enemy.

Admiral Byng’s court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the charge of cowardice, but he was found guilty of failing to exercise command of his fleet and failing to engage the enemy.  He was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Admiral of the Fleet John Forbes, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, was the officer who defeated the French at the Battle of Toulon in 1744.  It fell upon Forbes to sign Byng’s death warrant.  Forbes refused to sign the warrant because he believed Byng’s sentence was excessive and illegal.  King George II refused to grant clemency to Byng and further declined to approve Prime Minister William Pitt’s recommendation for commutation.  Thus, on 14 March 1757, Admiral Byng was escorted to the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch and shot dead by a squad of Royal Marines.

Article XII established the standard for command responsibility, but Byng’s court-martial set the legal precedent: a commanding officer is responsible for the actions of his subordinates.  If a junior officer runs the ship aground, the captain is responsible.  If a ship’s commander fails to maneuver his vessel properly, his senior officer is responsible.  If a captain fails to fight his ship, his admiral is responsible.

The American Navy

The power of Congress to regulate the Army and Navy was first established during the Second Continental Congress, which on 30 June 1775, legislated 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army (which, at the time, also included the Navy).  The Articles of War, 1775, were not identical to the Articles of War promulgated by Great Britain but quite similar.  Congress retained this power in the U.S. Constitution, promulgated within Article I, section 8, stating, “It shall be the power of the Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”

On 10 April 1806, Congress enacted 101 Articles of War.  These were not significantly revised until 1912 and remained in effect until 31 May 1951, when Congress developed and implemented the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Notably, Article 52 of the Articles of War (1806) stated:

 “Any officer or soldier, who shall misbehave himself before the enemy, run away, or shamefully abandon any fort, post, or guard, which he or they may be commanded to defend, or speak words inducing others to do the like, or shall cast away his arms and ammunition, or who shall quit his post or colours [sic] to plunder and pillage, every such offender, being duly convicted thereof, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.”

About navy fighting formations

There were only a few fighting formations of a naval fleet under sail.  Responsibility for selecting which formation (or variation) employed during a sea battle fell to the fleet admiral (or commodore): line ahead,[13] line abreast, and line of bearing.  The admiral also determined sailing order — first ship in line, second, and so forth.  In establishing his combat formation, the fleet admiral would attempt to gain the weather gauge and signal his intent to subordinate commanders through signal flags.

The line ahead formation did not allow for concentration of fire because, for naval guns to be effective on a rolling platform, combatants had to close to 300 — 500 yards of the enemy.  The most devastating assault came from raking fire, initiated either from the bow or stern where cannon shot would do the most damage by traveling the length of the enemy ship.

Admiral Horatio Nelson was the first British officer to break the line in 1797 and again in 1805.  His instruction to his captains was, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of his enemy.”  Breaking the enemy’s line disrupted the enemy’s cohesion and made it possible to overwhelm individual ships and seize them.  Again, the primary aim of the battle formation was to board and capture the enemy’s ships.

Boarding Operations

Boarding Operations may be the world’s oldest example of naval warfare.  The boarding of an enemy vessel, or a friendly one to capture it from pirates and other low vermin, is an example of up close and personal extremism — which more or less defines all close combat.  To achieve cross-ship boarding, the offending vessel needed to sail alongside the enemy vessel and direct an assault onto the enemy vessel.  The individuals performing this operation were sailors and Marines who were (and are) trained for such missions.  In the days of sail, sailors performed the task when the attacking ship was too small for a detachment of Marines.

Armed with swords, cutlasses, pistols, muskets, boarding axes, pikes, and grenades, the boarding party attacked the enemy crew, beginning with the helmsman and officer of the watch, or the ship’s captain if present on the bridge, all gun crews, and any other crewman left alive.  Again, the purpose of boarding operations was to seize the ship, which was always the intent of privateers and pirates — even today.

Captain John Paul Jones conducted a classic example of boarding operations during the American Revolution.  Jones’ Marines assaulted HMS Serapis from the sinking USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779.  Captain Jones’s boarding operation is exemplary because it was the only known fight during the Age of Sail when a ship’s captain captured an enemy ship while losing his own.  In 1813, the British returned the compliment by boarding and seizing USS Chesapeake from HMS Shannon.

Boarding enemy ships was also the purpose of the “cutting out” operations during the Age of Sail.  To “cut out” is to seize and carry off an enemy vessel while at anchor in a harbor or at sea.  The operation would typically target a small warship (a brig, sloop, or a two-masted ship of fewer than 20 guns).  Cutting out operations avoided larger ships because of the crew size (300 or so men).

A cutting-out party would generally include sailors and Marines who began the assault in the dark of night.  For an example of a cutting-out operation, see also At the Heart of the Corps and the capture of the Sandwich during the Quasi-War with France.

Boarding operations are rare in modern times.  U. S. Marines conducted their last boarding operation during the Mayaguez Incident in 1975, which involved a vertical assault from helicopters. Current operations may also involve small submarines and inflatable boats.  The U.S. Coast Guard routinely incorporates boarding operations as part of its maritime drug interdiction operations.

A Final Note

While the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a massive improvement over the articles of war, severe penalties are still prescribed for certain crimes.  The Manual for Courts-martial, Article 99 (Misbehavior Before the Enemy) includes, as offenses: (a) running away from a fight, (b) shamefully abandoning, surrendering, or delivering up any command, unit, place, or military property, which it is a duty to defend, (c) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct, endanger the safety of any command, unit, place, or military property, (d) casting away arms (weapons) or ammunition, (e) displaying cowardly conduct, (f) quitting one’s place of duty to plunder or pillage, (g) causing false alarms, (h) willfully failing to do one’s utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is a serviceman’s duty to do, and/or (i) failing to afford all practicable relief and assistance to troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces of the United States or their allies when engaged in battle.  Any person found guilty of these offenses shall face a maximum punishment of death.


  1. Abbot, W. J.  The Naval History of the United States.  Collier Press, 1896.
  2. Bradford, J. C.  Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two centuries of American Naval Leaders.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1955.
  3. McKee, C.  A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U. S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991
  4. Rak, M. J., Captain, USN.  The Quasi-War and the Origins of the Modern Navy and Marine Corps.  Newport: U.S. Naval War College, 2020
  5. The Library of Congress, Military Legal Resources, online.
  6. Warming, R.  An Introduction to Hand-to-Hand Combat at Sea: General Characteristics and Shipborne Tactics from 1210 BCE to 1600 CE.  Academia College, 2019.
  7. Winthorpe, W.  Military Law and Precedents.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920.
  8. United States Constitution, Article I, section 8.


[1] The quinquereme was the more common Hellenistic-era warship, and the heaviest at that particular time.  The Romans seized a Carthaginian ship, took it back to Rome, reverse-engineered it, and used it as a blueprint for Roman-made ships.  The quinquereme had three to five banks of oars.  The trireme had only three banks of oars but was much lighter and faster. 

[2] Roman commanders of these ships were “Magistrates,” who knew nothing of sailing ships, but they were supported by lower-ranking officers who were seasoned sailors (most likely Greek seamen). 

[3] Sinking ships as a naval strategy didn’t evolve until the mid-1800s when nations began building ironclad ships.

[4] In time, a ship’s captain would share the prize money with his crew as a reward for their victory at sea.

[5] The term “ship’s captain” is the traditional title of the person who serves in overall command of a ship.  The naval rank of that person could be Lieutenant, Commander, or Captain — but no matter what his rank, he is called “Captain.”  A ship’s master is the person who runs the ship (rather than commanding it).  He is the most experienced seaman, and what he doesn’t know about running a ship isn’t worth knowing.    

[6] One could understand this mindset in the British Army, where aristocrats bought and sold commissions.  Under those conditions, there was never a guarantee that a colonel knew what the hell he was doing.  The Royal Navy never sold commissions.  All navy officers were promoted on merit.

[7] Channel ships (or Packet Ships) were medium-sized vessels designed to carry mail, passengers, and cargo.  They were not suitable for sea battles with regular ships of the line. 

[8] A fusil is a flintlock musket; a fusilier is someone who shoots a fusil.  Also, musketeer or in modern parlance, a rifleman.

[9] A tartane was a small coastal trader/fishing vessel.

[10] Position of advantage in sea battles.

[11] A maneuver in which all ships turn into the enemy at once.

[12] King George II dismissed Fowke from the Army.  King George III later reinstated him.

[13] Line-ahead battle formation (also, Ship of the line warfare) was a columnar formation developed in the mid-17th Century whereby each ship followed in the wake of the ship ahead at regular intervals.  This formation maximized the firing power of the broadside and allowed for rapid “melee formation” or, if necessary, disengagement.  Note that a ship of the line was of the largest (most formidable) fighting ship used in the line of battle (formation). 

The Law of War

Some Background


“2.  Purposes of the Law of War   

The conduct of armed hostilities on land is regulated by the law of land warfare which is both written and unwritten.  It is inspired by the desire to diminish the evils of war by:

  • Protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering
  • Safeguarding certain fundamental human rights of persons who fall into the hands of the enemy, particularly prisoners of war, the wounded and sick, and civilians; and
  • Facilitating the restoration of peace.

—U. S. Army Field Manual 27-10: The Law of Land Warfare

While I agree that there must be a standard — a bridge across which no combatant should cross, such as the murder of a POW, rape, and perfidy — I also think it is essential for the American people to realize, as they send their children off to join the US military, that their government offers advantages to the enemy that it denies to their own troops.  The government calls this their “rules of engagement.”

Partial Rules of Engagement Extract

A. Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the commanders’ tools for regulating the use of force, making them a cornerstone of the Operational Law discipline.  The legal sources that provide the foundation for ROE are complex and include customary and treaty law principles from the laws of war.  As a result, Judge Advocates (JA) [military lawyers] participate significantly in the preparation, dissemination, and training of ROE; however, international law is not the sole basis for ROE.  Political objectives and military mission limitations are necessary to the construction and application of ROE.  Therefore, despite the important role of the JA, commanders bear ultimate responsibility for the ROE 

B. To ensure that ROE are versatile, understandable, easily executable, and legally and tactically sound, JAs and operators [combatants] alike must understand the full breadth of policy, legal, and mission concerns that shape the ROE and collaborate closely in their development, implementation, and training.  JAs must become familiar with mission and operational concepts, force and weapons systems capabilities and constraints, War-fighting Functions (WF), and the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), and Joint Operations Planning and Execution System (JOPES).  Operators must familiarize themselves with the international and domestic legal limitations on the use of force and the laws of armed conflict. Above all, JAs and operators must talk the same language to provide effective ROE to the fighting forces. 

C. This chapter provides an overview of basic ROE concepts. In addition, it surveys Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 3121.01B, Standing Rules of Engagement/Standing Rules for the Use of Force for U.S. Forces, and reviews the JA’s role in the ROE process.  Finally, this chapter provides unclassified extracts from both the Standing Rules of Engagement (SROE) and other operations in order to highlight critical issues and demonstrate effective implementation of ROE. 

NOTE: This chapter is NOT a substitute for the SROE. The SROE are classified SECRET, and as such, important concepts within it may not be reproduced in this handbook.  Operational law attorneys must ensure they have ready access to the complete SROE and study it thoroughly to understand the key concepts and provisions.  JAs play an important role in the ROE process because of our expertise in the laws of war, but one cannot gain ROE knowledge without a solid understanding of the actual SROE.

Our Discussion

To place these rules of engagement into their proper perspective, I’ll turn to National Review writer David French, who in December 2015 told us the following story:

“The car was moving at high speed. It had just broken a blockade of American and Iraqi forces and was trying to escape into the gathering dusk. American soldiers, driving larger and slower armored vehicles, mostly the large and unwieldy MRAPs (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles), gave chase.

“They were intensely interested in the target. Acting on intelligence that high-value al-Qaeda leaders might be present, a cavalry troop — working with Iraqi allies — surrounded an isolated village near the Iranian border. The mission was simple: to search the village and kill or capture identified members of al-Qaeda. It was the kind of mission that the troopers had executed countless times before.

“It wasn’t uncommon to encounter “squirters” — small groups of insurgents who try to sneak or race through American lines and disappear into the desert. Sometimes they were on motorcycles, sometimes on foot, but often they were in cars, armed to the teeth and ready to fight to the death. On occasion, the squirters weren’t insurgents at all — just harmless, terrified civilians trying to escape a deadly war.

“This evening, however, our troopers believed that the car ahead wasn’t full of civilians. The driver was too skilled, his tactics too knowing for a carload of shepherds. As the car disappeared into the night, the senior officer on the scene radioed for permission to fire.

“His request went to the TOC, the tactical operations center, which is the beating heart of command and control in the battlefield environment. There the “battle captain,” or the senior officer in the chain of command, would decide — shoot or don’t shoot.

“If soldiers opened fire after a lawyer had deemed the attack outside the rules, they would risk discipline — even [war crimes] prosecution.

“But first, there was a call for the battle captain to make, all the way to brigade headquarters, where a JAG officer — an Army lawyer — was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His job was to analyze the request, apply the governing rules of engagement, and make a recommendation to the chain of command. While the commander made the ultimate decision, he rarely contradicted JAG recommendations. After all, if soldiers opened fire after a lawyer had deemed the attack outside the rules, they would risk discipline — even prosecution — if the engagement went awry.

“Acting on the best available information — including a description of the suspect vehicle, a description of its tactics, analysis of relevant intelligence, and any available video feeds — the JAG officer had to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of “hostile intent” to authorize the use of deadly force. He had to make a life-or-death decision in mere minutes.

“In this case, the lawyer said no — insufficient evidence.  No deadly force.  Move to detain rather than shoot to kill.  The commander deferred.  No shot.  Move to detain.

“So, the chase continued, across roads and open desert. The suspect vehicle did its best to shake free, but at last, it was cornered by converging American forces. There was no escape. Four men emerged from the car. American soldiers dismounted from their MRAPs, and with one man in the lead, weapons raised, they ordered the Iraqis to surrender.

“Those who were in the TOC that night initially thought someone had stepped on a land mine. Watching on video feed, they saw the screen go white, then black. For several agonizing minutes, no one knew what had happened.

“Then the call came.  Suicide bomber.  One of the suspects had self-detonated, and Americans were hurt.  One badly — very badly.  Despite desperate efforts to save his life, he died just before he arrived at a functioning aid station.  Another casualty of the rules of engagement.”

It is certainly true that a suicide bomber killed one of our young men, but it is also true that young man might still be alive were it not for the fact that the United States Army aided and abetted the enemy in his horrendous murder of one of their own.  On what rational basis does US military command authority place a lawyer (of all people) in a position to approve or deny a combat soldier from taking appropriate action to save his own life and the lives of the men and women serving under him?

The foregoing development was not only senseless and stupid, but it is also malfeasant.  The President of the United States forced these rules on the Armed Forces of the United States; civilian secretaries ordered such policies implemented, and flag rank naval and military officers executed them.  These are the men who have blood on their hands — American blood and they act as if such circumstances were the unavoidable consequences of war.  No.  Too many Americans have died because of these foolish policies.

The American people deserve to know that these unacceptable conditions await their children once they join the U. S. Armed Forces.  They need to understand that the US government places a higher value on the enemy than they do on their own troops — which should lead us to ask, why should any American join the All-Volunteer Force?  Loyalty, after all, is a two-way street.

To compound the matter further, the US government has aggressively charged American service members with war crimes — that weren’t — and convicted them and handed down prison sentences for doing no more than what the U. S. military trained them to do: locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.  And it was that very same government who sent them into battles, to fight in wars, that the government never intended to win.

It Gets Worse

Moreover, the United States government has become complicit in perpetuating “crimes against humanity,” if that is a case we wish to pursue.  There are several angles to this argument, at the top of which is that, diplomatically, the US government has been (a) inept in its formulation and implementation of foreign policy, (b) dishonest in announcing its national interests to justify hostilities, (c) too eager to deploy armed forces to foreign countries, and (d) too accomplished in laying the blame for violations of land warfare conventions on US servicemen, whom the US government recruited, trained, armed, and deployed to carry out its flawed foreign policies.

Numerous violations of human rights, if they in fact exist, are directly related to the behavior of nations and their allies in developing erratic and nonsensical policies that are, themselves, predicated on lies, half-truth, and “spin.”  Who are these nations?  Who must we hold accountable for human suffering in the worst places on the planet?  The list of responsible nations is too long, by far.

As one example, invading Iraq may have made some people feel good about ridding the world of Saddam Hussein, but the consequences of that adventure propelled Iran into its current leading role in the Middle East.  No one can argue while keeping a straight face that sending Hussein to hell substantially improved conditions in the Middle East.

We must also understand that Afghanistan between 1980-2001 was entirely the creation of the United States Congress, the American Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Arabia, and its puppet, Pakistan.

In its historical context, this situation presents us with a nonsensical juxtaposition to US national interests that defies rational explanation.  Saudi Arabia is also behind the “civil wars” in Syria and Yemen, both of which are sectarian kerfuffle’s within the Islamist world that makes no sense to anyone who doesn’t own camels or goats, and yet, the US has become a full partner with the Saudis inflicting pain and suffering on people.  Most of them are the unfortunate sods caught between surrogates of both the Saudis and Iranians.

According to Andrea Prasow, a writer for Human Rights Watch, the United States is now under international scrutiny for its long-standing involvement in Yemen.  Notably, under a long list of incompetent secretaries, the State Department has facilitated the provision of arms and munitions without regard to the application of these weapons against civilian populations.  Prasow argues that the State Department may have violated US laws by providing weapons to Saudi Arabia to offer them to Saudi surrogates, which makes the US government “a global arms dealer.”  Of course, no American administration cares about international scrutiny because there are no substantial consequences that the international community could impose.

Similarly, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian (4 Oct 2021) reports that according to sources within the United Nations, war crimes and crimes against humanity are omnipresent throughout the Middle East, Africa, and some in Eastern Europe.  In the present, human rights experts claim reasonable grounds for believing a Russian private military company (The Wagner Group) has committed murders not directly involved in Libya’s internal hostilities.  UN experts also cite reports indicating that the Libyan coast guard, trained and equipped by the European Union, has regularly mistreated migrants and handed them over to torture centers where sexual violence is prevalent.

T. G. Carpenter, writing for Responsible Statecraft, asserted on 12 October 2021 that there are numerous instances where humanitarian intervention has led directly to crimes against humanity.  He cites as examples President Obama’s 2011 air war to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.  Obama publicly asserted his high expectations for a brighter future for the Libyan people.  Since then, feuding factions of cutthroats have created large numbers of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to find sanctuary while Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Russia have become parties to the conflict, each backing their favored to win, and each making substantial contributions to the bloodshed and chaos.

According to the UN report, “Our investigations have established that all parties to the conflicts, including third states, foreign fighters, and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of proportionality and distinction, and some have also committed war crimes.”  The violence, which includes attacks on hospitals and schools, has dramatically affected the Libyan people’s economic, social, and cultural traditions.  The report also documented the recruitment and participation of children in hostilities and the disappearance and extrajudicial killing of prominent women.

All of the preceding offers a stark contrast to Obama’s rosy pronouncement that “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”  Joining Obama, Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham jointly stated, “The end of the Qaddafi regime is a victory for the Libyan people and the broader cause of freedom in the Middle East and throughout the world.”  A short time later, McCain and Graham sponsored bills that provided combat weapons to Libya’s “freedom fighters.”  Astoundingly, these freedom fighters used these weapons to create the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) founded by America’s long-term nemesis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Iraq’s face of Al-Qaeda.  For a short time, Al-Baghdadi was on the target list for US and Coalition forces in Iraq until senior commanders were ordered to “back off.”

On 6 January 2017, UPI writer Struan Stevenson observed that when Obama left the White House, he left behind a legacy of death and destruction in the Middle East.  His primary foreign policy opened Pandora’s Box of conflict and sectarian strife across the entire region.  It wasn’t until it was too late that Obama realized that his “nuclear deal” with Iran and his foolish concessions not only threatened the security of the Middle East but seriously undermined the interests of the United States.  Obama, it appears, the so-called well-spoken and clean-looking Negro, wasn’t the intellectual he thought he was.

As Ted Carpenter wisely observed, “Creating a chaotic environment in which war crimes and massive human rights abuses could flourish did a monumental disservice to the Libyan people, and Washington bears most of the responsibility for that tragedy.  Moreover, it matters little if US intentions were good; the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  [All] policies must be judged by their consequences, not their motives or goals.”

How it plays out

During the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004, the Associated Press reported that US Marines bombed a mosque, killing forty (40) innocent “civilians” gathered for prayer.  From the AP’s initial report, the story took off like gang-busters.  False reporting was so intense that it caused senior military commanders to order the Marines out of Fallujah.  See also: The War Crimes that Weren’t.

Throughout the war in Iraq, western news sources routinely employed Iraqis to cover firefights, battles, and clearing operations. In most cases, however, media focused almost exclusively on events occurring around the capital city of Baghdad and only occasionally in outlying regions such as Ramadi and Fallujah. As in the case cited above, these Iraqi journalists were not disinterested parties to the conflict, and their reporting was not simply flawed; they were, more often than not, outright lies.

But the principal challenges in Iraq, and the greatest American/Coalition victories, were those that the American people know least about — because news media always handpicks the things they want the folks back home to know.


The region was known as the Haditha Triad region in Al Anbar Province.  The triad region consists of the city of Haditha and outlying towns of Haqlaniyah, Barwana, and Albu Hyatt, all of which follow the Euphrates River corridor.

The enemy was Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  Because US and Coalition leaders failed to establish an early presence in Haditha, AQI felt comfortable putting down roots there.  It was a place where new fighters could enter Iraq from Syria, along with weapons, money, and supplies.  Haditha was where these men and materials could proceed unmolested into the Iraqi interior, to other strongholds.

Haditha was also the place where defeated AQI soldiers withdrew following such battles as Fallujah and Ramadi.  Defeated or not, they became battle-hardened veterans whose embellished tales of glory in the service of Allah inspired newly arrived AQI recruits.[1]

The US/Coalition made its first attempt to establish order in the Haditha Triad in 2005.  AQI responded by decapitating several high-ranking Iraqi police officials and murdering members of their families.  To mark their territory, AQI placed the decapitated heads atop stakes at major intersections leading into Haditha.  It was a clear warning to Iraqis and Coalition forces: stay out!  AQI was so successful in their campaign of intimidation that they even established a shadow government in the region and routinely sent out terrorist patrols to keep the locals “in line.”  2005 was also when the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines (3/25) arrived in Haditha as a coalition show of force.  The battalion lost 49 men during its deployment in what became the deadliest deployment for a Marine battalion since the Beirut bombing in 1983.

At 0715 on 19 November, in this environment of decapitated heads sitting atop signposts, and in an area where 85% of the Iraqi residents oppose coalition forces, where citizens actively aid and abet AQI forces, a Marine security patrol from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (Kilo 3/1) escorted a resupply convoy along the main supply route (MSR) when an improvised explosive device (IED) composed of 155mm artillery shells within a container filled with a propane igniter erupted, instantly killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas.  At the instant of the explosion, Lance Corporal James Crossan was thrown out of the Humvee and was trapped under the vehicle’s rear tire.  Private First Class Salvador Guzman was riding in the back of the vehicle.  He was thrown from the vehicle, as well.  Crossan and Guzman were taken to a landing zone for emergency medical evacuation.

Subsequently, First Lieutenant William T. Kallop arrived on the scene.  His arrival coincided with the commencement of enemy fire coming from a nearby cluster of three houses.  Kallop instructed the Marines to “take the house.”  In clearing these houses, Marines employed standard clearing operations, which included the use of hand grenades and small arms fire.  During this action, Marines killed 15 Iraqis.  Lieutenant Kallop stated, “The Marines cleared [the houses] the way they had been trained to clear it, which is frags [grenades] first.  It was clear just by the looks of the room that frags went in, and then the house was prepped and sprayed with a machine gun, and then they went in.  And by the looks of it, they just … they went in, cleared the rooms, everybody was down.”

Significantly, evidence later used during an investigation of the incident included a video captured at the time of the incident by a Hammurabi Human Rights Organization co-founder, which instigated a Time Magazine Reporter’s “armchair” investigative report four months later, on 19 March 2006.  This video shot at the time of the incident strongly suggests a “set up” by AQI affiliates, a common tactic employed by terrorist factions in Iraq.  It was part of an effort by AQI to initiate an incident and use the consequences of that incident to discredit coalition forces. 

Apparently, it worked because military authorities charged eight Kilo Company Marines with violations of the law of war — four enlisted Marines with unpremeditated murder and four officers with dereliction of duty, including the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani.  In the military’s rush to judgment, the lives of all these Marines (and their loved ones) were negatively affected for years into the future.

Of the eight Marines charged, a military court convicted only one individual for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice NOT connected to the Haditha incident.  He pled “guilty” for making a false statement that might have been no more than a lapse in memory.

In 2009, Colonel Chessani’s legal counsel, Richard Thompson (Thomas More Law Center), stated, “The government’s persecution of this loyal Marine officer continues because he refused to throw his men under the bus to appease some anti-war politicians and press, and the Iraqi government. Any punishment of LtCol Chessani handed down by a Board of Inquiry would be a miscarriage of justice because he did nothing wrong, and our lawyers will mount the same vigorous defense in this administrative proceeding as they did in the criminal.”

A military court eventually dismissed the charges as spurious or found them “not guilty” because the accusations — preferred against them by incompetent senior officers in their rush to judgment, who either unwittingly or intentionally conspired with Iraqi enemies of the United States, and with their enabler, Times Magazine journalist Tim McGirk — were unfounded.  The question of why military officials charged these Marines at all, particularly in light of the fact that they complied with the rules of engagement, remains unanswered — except that attorney Richard Thompson was prescient: “ … to appease some anti-war politicians and press, and the Iraqi government.”  Or could it be part of the US government’s intention to destroy the effectiveness of its own Armed Forces or convince young Americans not to join the All-Volunteer Force?


David French’s article (above) offered some food for thought: “Imagine if the United States had fought World War II with a mandate to avoid any attack when civilians were likely to be present.  Imagine Patton’s charge through Western Europe constrained by granting the SS safe haven whenever it sheltered among civilians.  If you can imagine this reality, then you can also imagine a world without a D-Day, a world where America’s greatest generals are war criminals, and where the mighty machinery of Hitler’s industrial base produces planes, tanks, and guns unmolested.  In other words, you can imagine a world where our Army is a glorified police force, and our commanders face prosecution for fighting a real war.  That describes our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

US military policy in the Middle East has been inept and criminally negligent.  There is no rational basis for spending billions of dollars in maintaining a powerful armed force, for spending billions more sending those troops into combat, and then, through inane “rules of engagement,” restricting their ability to defeat the enemy and then prosecuting them for doing what the US military trained them to do.  Such policies present a clear and present danger to the morale and effectiveness of our combat forces and, by extension, demoralize the nation as well.

United States foreign policy is corrupt because the men and women who devise and implement those policies are immoral and inept.  United States domestic policy, particularly as it relates to the laws and regulations governing the nation’s prosecution of war, is equally flawed.  These unacceptable conditions result in unimaginable pain and suffering among those who live in the Middle East.  They cause immeasurable anguish among the loved ones whose husbands, sons, and daughters have died or seriously and permanently injured in a war the US government never intended to win.  These Inane policies have caused death and injury for nothing.  The United States has not “won” a war since the Second World War.  The reason for this is simple: The United States has not had a moral imperative for conflict since the Second World War.  I do not understand why the American people put up with such a government.


[1] Haditha was rife with AQI fighters and, according to one Time Magazine poll conducted in 2007, 85% of resident Sunnis opposed the presence of Coalition forces.

Conspicuously Gallant


One of the things the American armed forces do for our society, a seldom advertised benefit to military service, is that young people with nowhere else to turn may find themselves, that they may find themselves a home, a family, kindred spirits who together, look after one another.  The military offers a place where one is fed and clothed, where they receive quality medical care, where they find a place to lay their head at night — and a lot more.  Education and skill training is part of the package.  Learning teamwork, self-discipline, and esprit de corps.  Marvelous transformations take place inside the military.  People change from being nobody’s to somebody’s — and, for most military veterans, it is a transformation that lasts them the rest of their lives.  Not everyone, of course, but most.  To most such young Americans, the military becomes a doorway, a step up, a directional device to the rest of their lives.

Stepping Up

Joseph Vittori

Joseph Vittori was one such individual.  Born in 1929 in Beverly, Massachusetts (a suburb of Boston), Joe’s father was a small farmer.  Farming is hard work, necessary of course, but quite often thankless work — and we know nothing of Joe’s father.  Not even his name.  We don’t know if he was a good father or abusive, pleasant, angry, sober, or sotted.  We only know that Joe graduated from high school in 1946 and soon after joined the U.S. Marine Corps on a 3-year enlistment.

Joe Vittori attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina, graduating in December 1946.  This was a time when the government proceeded to demobilize the armed forces.  Marine infantry divisions were being placed into cadre status and the Marines reverted to their security duties at naval posts and stations and aboard ship’s detachments.  Joe’s assignments involved that very thing: Joe served security duty at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Marine Detachment, U.S.S. Portsmouth, and the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  He joined the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune in January 1949 serving there until his discharge in October.

A Crisis Develops

Life was tough in 1949, owing to a significant economic recession in 1948.  In this period, unemployment approached 8%, the U.S. GDP fell nearly 2%, the cost of living index fell five points, and department store sales fell 22%.  Nevertheless, Joe Vittori took his discharge and returned to Beverly, working as a plasterer and bricklayer.  The work put money in his pocket, but it wasn’t the same as serving as a U.S. Marine.

On 25 June 1950, North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea, touching off the Korean War.  The incident prompted many young men, in circumstances similar to those of Joe Vittori, to reenlist in the Armed Forces.  Joe rejoined the Marine Corps Reserve in September 1950.  At this time, the Marine Corps was struggling to rebuild a combat-effective infantry division.  The Marines immediately ordered Joe to active duty and sent him to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for pre-deployment combat training.  Within a few months, Joe Vittori joined the 1st Marine Regiment in Korea, assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion.

On 9 June 1951, while fighting with his company near Yang-Gu, Vittori received wounds from enemy fire (earning his first Purple Heart Medal).  Treated at the battalion aid station, Vittori was assigned to police duties while recovering from his wounds.  Within a few weeks, along with promoting Joe Vittori to Corporal, his battalion commander approved the young man’s request to return to his line company.

Battles of the Punchbowl

Battles of the Punchbowl

While battles raged across the entire Korean Peninsula, United Nations (UN) and North Korean (NK) officials attempted to negotiate an equitable settlement to the conflict.  When these efforts fell apart in August 1951, the UN Command decided to launch a limited offensive to restructure defensive lines opposing Chinese Communist (CHICOM) forces.  The effort, designed to deny the enemy key vantage points from which they could easily target key U.N. positions, resulted in the Battle of Bloody Ridge (August-September 1951) (west of the Punchbowl) and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge (September-October 1951) (northwest of the Punchbowl).  See above map.

In late August, the 8th U.S. Army Commander, General James Van Fleet, ordered the 1st Marine Division to maneuver its three regiments around Inje-Gun to support the United Nations offensive by distracting CHICOM and North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) forces from the Battle of Bloody Ridge.  The Marines’ orders were to attack Yoke Ridge and advance to a new defensive line (called the Hays Line) marked by the southern edge of the Soyang River to the north of the Punchbowl.

Phase I

At 0600 on 31 August, the 7th Marines, consisting of its three organic battalions and reinforced by an additional two battalions of the 1st Regiment of Republic of Korea Marines (ROK Marines) launched an assault from Hill 793 up the eastern edge of the Punchbowl toward Yoke Ridge (west) and Tonpyong (east).  Despite poor weather, marked by torrential rains, the Marines resolutely reached their initial objectives and assaulted NKPA positions.

On 1 September the ROK Marines moved along Yoke Ridge, while the 7th Marines moved north, both assault groups clearing out NKPA bunkers with grenades and flamethrowers. The NKPA launched several small-scale counterattacks against the advancing Marines, but these were broken up by the combined arms of US and ROK ground forces. 

On the night of 1-2 September, the NKPA launched a night attack against the ROK Marines on Hill 924, driving them out of their positions, causing the loss of 21 ROK Marines killed and 84 wounded, but the NKPA had given up 291 KIA and 231 wounded.  After sunrise on 2 September, ROK Marines employed heavy artillery in recapturing Hill 924, consolidated their position, and then began moving against their next objective, Hill 1026.  After defeating several NKPA assaults, 3/7 advanced toward Hill 602, seizing that objective by 2:30 p.m. (1430).  The NKPA launched several company-size counterattacks on Hill 602, all defeated — but not without heavy losses on both sides: USMC losses were 75 killed, 349 wounded; communists gave up 450 KIA, 609 wounded, and 15 captured.

At 4 a.m. on 3 September, ROK Marines renewed their attack on Hill 1026, while 2/7 Marines assumed the defense of Hill 924.  As ROK Marines advanced, they encountered a large NKPA force advancing towards Hill 924, attacked them, and by midday, seized Hill 1026.  A short time later, the Korean Marines began their advance toward  Hills 1055 and 930.  When that mission was accomplished, UN forces had secured Yoke Ridge.  Meanwhile, to the west of the Punchbowl, the ROK 35th Infantry advanced unopposed to Hill 450, about 1.5 miles southwest of Hill 1026.

Phase II

Between 4–10 September, the 1st Marine Division and 1st ROK Marines consolidated their positions on Yoke Ridge, established the UN’s Hays Line, and built up ammunition and supplies for the second phase of the attack on Kan mu-bong Ridge.  The ridge was essential to defend the Hays Line and allow the U.S. X Corps to assault the NKPA’s main line of resistance (MLR).  A lull in fighting permitted the NKPA to reinforce their positions on Hill 673, opposite Hill 602.  Both sides engaged in active patrolling, and casualties on both sides were substantial.

The 7th Marines received orders to launch an attack no later than 3 a.m., on 11 September from the Hays Line through a narrow valley, across a tributary of the Soyang River, and then uphill towards Hills 680 and 673 with Hill 749 as a tertiary objective.  The 1st Tank Battalion provided direct fire support to the advancing Marines, while the 11th Marines provided indirect artillery support.  3/7 had the task of capturing Hill 680.  Despite extensive artillery and tank support, the NKPA put up stiff resistance to the Marines, preventing them from reaching the top of the hill before nightfall.  1/7, tasked with capturing Hill 673, also encountered strong opposition, stopping them short of their objective.

Over the night of 11-12 September, Marines from 2/7 moved to the rear of Hill 673, effectively cutting off any chance of escape by NKPA forces on the hill.  By 2 p.m., 1/7 had taken Hill 673, suffering 16 KIA and 35 WIA, killing 33 North Korean communists.[1]  During the night of 12 September, the elements of the 1st Marine Regiment relieved 1/7 and 3/7 on Hill 673.  2/1 relieved 2/7 on Hill 749 on the following day.

On 13 September, 2/1 Marines moved against Hill 749 to relieve 2/7.[2]  Hill 749 proved to be a heavily defended fortress of bunkers, covered trenches, tunnels, and part of the NKPA’s MLR.  2/1 Marines seized the summit just after noon but were soon driven back — finally gaining control of the summit by 3 p.m., but it would be nearly 9 p.m. before they could relieve 2/7 on the reverse slope. 

An abundance of enemy mines and a lack of supporting artillery delayed the 3rd Battalion’s advance toward Hill 751.  Sunset forced the Marines to dig in on the slopes of Hill 751.  In these fixed positions, the Marines endured enemy mortar fire and ten NKPA probing attacks during the night.

On 14 September, the two Marine battalions continued their assaults from the previous day.  2/1 cleared NKPA bunkers in a wooded area to the north of Hill 749 before advancing along the ridgeline towards Hill 812.  By 3:30 p.m., the attack had bogged down in the face of enemy frontal and flanking fire.  During this assault, Private First Class Edward Gomez smothered an NKPA grenade with his body, saving the lives of the rest of his machine gun team.[3]

3/1, supported by accurate airstrikes, seized most of Hill 751 by dusk and had dug in when the NKPA counterattacked at around 10:50 p.m.  Marine losses for the day included 39 killed in action and 463 wounded.  Communist losses were 460 KIA and 405 WIA.

In the early morning of 15 September 3/1, fought off a 100–150 man NKPA counterattack, killing 18 enemies and wounding 50 more.  Marines defeated another communist counterattack at around 3:00 p.m., with tanks subsequently destroying ten bunkers in front of Hill 751.  The Marines of 3/1 were held in place while the Marines of 2/1 were ordered to clear Hill 749.  A bloody slugfest evolved due to delayed artillery, limited air support, and a tenacious NKPA defensive network.  2/1 Marines, held in place by a stout communist defense, withdrew to their previous positions at nightfall.  The battalion gave up 70 wounded Marines.

On 16 September, Fox Company continued its assault on Hill 749.  A vicious enemy counterattack drove back the forward-most platoon, inflicting heavy casualties and causing the Marines to withdraw.  Corporal  Vittori organized an impromptu counterattack with two other Marines.  These three Marines, led by Corporal Vittori, immediately attacked the enemy in hand-to-hand combat to give the withdrawing Marines time to consolidate their new defensive positions.  When the enemy onslaught jeopardized a Marine machine gun position, Vittori rushed forward 100 yards fighting single-handedly to prevent the enemy from seizing the machine gun.  Leaping from one side of the position to another, Corporal Vittori maintained withering automatic rifle fire, expending over 1,000 rounds in the space of 3 hours.  He made numerous resupply runs through enemy fire to replenish ammunition.  When a machine gunner fell, Vittori rushed to take over his gun and kept the enemy from breaching the company’s lines.  Corporal Vittori kept up his stout defense until killed by enemy rifle fire.  On the following morning, Fox Company Marines discovered more than two hundred enemies lying dead in front of Joe Vitorri’s position.

Medal of Honor Citation

Medal of Honor

The President of the United States, in the name of The Congress, takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to:


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Automatic Rifleman in Company F, Second Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced) in actions against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 15 and 16 September 1951. With a forward platoon suffering heavy casualties and forced to withdraw under a vicious enemy counterattack as his company assaulted strong hostile forces entrenched on Hill 749, Corporal Vittori boldly rushed through the withdrawing troops with two other volunteers from his reserve platoon and plunged directly into the midst of the enemy.  Overwhelming them in a fierce hand-to-hand struggle, he enabled his company to consolidate its positions to meet further imminent onslaughts.  Quick to respond to an urgent call for a rifleman to defend a heavy machine gun positioned on the extreme point of the northern flank and virtually isolated from the remainder of the unit when the enemy again struck in force during the night, he assumed the position under the devastating barrage and, fighting a singlehanded battle, leaped from one flank to the other, covering each foxhole in turn as casualties continued to mount, manning a machine gun when the gunner was struck down and making repeated trips through the heaviest shellfire to replenish ammunition. With the situation becoming extremely critical, reinforcing units to the rear pinned down under the blistering attack and foxholes left practically void by dead and wounded for a distance of 100 yards, Corporal Vittori continued his valiant stand, refusing to give ground as the enemy penetrated to within feet of his position, simulating strength in the line and denying the foe physical occupation of the ground. Mortally wounded by enemy machine-gun and rifle bullets while persisting in his magnificent defense of the sector where approximately 200 enemy dead were found the following morning, Corporal Vittori, by his fortitude, stouthearted courage, and great personal valor, had kept the point position intact despite the tremendous odds and undoubtedly prevented the entire battalion position from collapsing.  His extraordinary heroism throughout the furious night-long battle reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.  He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Corporal Vittori’s remains were laid to rest at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts.  Upon his death, Corporal Vittori was 22-years old.

Semper Fidelis


[1] From this engagement, Sergeant Frederick Mausert was awarded the Medal of Honor.

[2] 13 September saw the first operational use of Marine helicopters in combat near Cheondo-Ri, conducting 28 resupply and aeromedical evacuation flights near Hill 793.

[3] Gomez was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for this act of selflessness.