The true story of how Sergeant Montgomery became a private
Bad noncommissioned officers are good for only one thing: they demonstrate to their juniors what not to do if they are ever promoted to corporal or sergeant.I’ve suffered under a few bad NCOs, and about the only thing I could do about it, given the Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ), was to keep my mouth shut and resolve never to be like them.
I recall with not much fondness one of our sergeants, a guard section leader at the Marine Detachment.Had George Baker not begun his cartoon strip titled Sad Sack during World War II, one might imagine that he modeled his character on Sergeant Montgomery, who truly was a sack — of something.
All of us snuffs could deal with Montgomery’s meanness; those of us who were unfortunate enough to end up in Montgomery’s section merely looked upon our assignment as just another bite from the cesspool sandwich of life.But what irritated us most was not so much that he was dumber than a pile of rocks, but that the Detachment CO and guard officer thought Montgomery was an “ideal Marine.”We were a squared away section, all right, but that had nothing to do with our section leader.There were only two explanations for following Montgomery: the first was, as I mentioned earlier, that the UCMJ demanded it, and the second was idle curiosity.
In those days, it was difficult for a squared away corporal to achieve promotion to sergeant.How Montgomery ever made corporal was the subject of several theories.Our consensus was that even a blind squirrel can find a nut.
One Marine in our section was Private Mitchell — our most squared-away looking Marine.The man’s appearance was impeccable.He could have easily appeared on any Marine Corps recruiting poster.He was film-star handsome, polite to everyone, personable, exuded genuine friendliness to almost everyone, and he was funnier than hell.Well, I suppose I should say that Mitchell was polite to everyone except Montgomery, whom he hated with unbridled passion.
Mitchell had another enviable attribute: the most devious mind of anyone I have ever met.For instance, realizing how important annual rifle re-qualification was to our CO (because he constantly reminded us of it), Mitchell intentionally went “unqualified” by a single point — for no other reason than to put Montgomery at odds with the CO.Private Mitchell was an expert rifleman.He also didn’t care what the CO thought of him.He had no intention of remaining in the Corps past the end of his enlistment (and accumulated “bad time”).You see, Mitchell was one of those Marines who refused to accept a promotion to Private First Class because he didn’t want the added responsibility.In any case, the college-educated Private Mitchell didn’t need the paltry sum of money the Marine Corps paid him because his father owned several radio stations.
The Marine Detachment had two missions.We provided armed security for our compound, and we performed honors and ceremonies for a stream of visiting dignitaries.We had several uniform combinations, from dress blue trousers and khaki shirts to modified dress blues, which is to say our dress blue blouses with white trousers.We were always changing from one uniform into another.When falling out for honors ceremonies, we carried M-1 Rifles with 18-inch chrome-plated bayonets.We banged the butt of our rifles on the deck during close order drill performances as part of the manual of arms. Except for our detachment armorer, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing the banging sound.
Early one morning, word came down that we would be performing an honor guard ceremony for the Vice President of the United States, who at the time was the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey.We dressed in our dazzling uniforms, fell out for inspection, drew our weapons, and boarded a US Navy bus over to the Naval Air Station.During the 30 or so minute ride, Montgomery offered one surly comment after another about how worthless we were; we were an embarrassment to the Marine Corps, to our Commanding Officer, to him personally, and of course, none of us would ever make it to corporal because he’d make damn sure that never happened.Most of us accepted his abuse in silence.Private Mitchell laughed.
Then there we were — standing in formation, two platoons organized according to height … the color guard placed in the center.Sergeant Montgomery, because of his height, was the second or third man in the first rank.Private Mitchell stood three men down the rank from Montgomery.
While standing at “order arms,” on the command, “fix-bayonets,” all honor guard members moved the muzzle of their rifle to the left front and re-grasped the barrel with their left hand.They reached across their torso with their right hand to take hold of the bayonet handle and withdrew it from its scabbard.With the point of the bayonet skyward, they attached the bayonet to the weapon, engaging the bayonet stud and then, grasping the handle, applied downward pressure until seating the bayonet on the bayonet stud.The “click” sound signifies the locking of the bayonet to the bayonet stud.Marines are taught to apply slight upward pressure on the bayonet to ensure the bayonet is properly seated and locked.One distinctive click from the entire honor guard reflects the precision of movement.It is a prideful sound.Then, once the Marines “fixed” bayonets, they returned to the position of “order arms.”
This is essentially what happened — except in the case of Sergeant Montgomery, whose bayonet was not properly seated. As the Vice President was making his way toward the honor guard commander, our Commanding Officer, he executed an about-face and ordered “Present Arms.”Every Marine was standing at the position of “order arms” (their rifles resting on the deck next to their right foot), their right hand grasping the forward edge of the barrel guard.We smartly lifted our rifles off the deck to execute the movement, bringing it front and center of our body.It is a two-count movement, snap and pop.But then, at that very instant, Sergeant Montgomery’s bayonet went sailing through the air, struck Private Mitchell on his right cheek, and fell to the deck with a loud clatter.
Some people claim that our Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor.I disagree.
Private Mitchell’s immediate reaction was magnificent.He screamed out in feigned pain (there was some blood, but not much) in character with any Hollywood production of world war combat and then collapsed to the ground next to Montgomery’s bayonet.I’m not sure how impressed the Vice President of the United States was with Mitchell’s performance, but I can say with certitude that we snuffs were damned impressed.The CO was impressed, as well, but in another vein.
Navy corpsmen whisked Mitchell off to the dispensary (he had a band-aid wound).Later in the day, after all the ranting and raving ceased (CO, XO, First Sergeant, and Guard Chief), Sergeant Montgomery visited the CO at nonjudicial punishment and became a corporal once more.Mitchell could not have been more pleased with himself.The event still makes me laugh when I think about it.But even as a corporal, Montgomery outranked Mitchell —as everyone did— and Corporal Montgomery made it known to Mitchell that his life would be hell from that point on.
Over the next several weeks, Private Mitchell ended up with every “shit detail” Corporal Montgomery could think of.Mitchell didn’t seem to mind; “shit details” are what privates do for a living.It was about 40 or so days after the bayonet fiasco that a package arrived addressed to the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.Opening the package, the First Sergeant found an assemblage of documents that appeared to suggest, indeed prove, that Corporal Montgomery was simultaneously married to two women.It was an amazing revelation because Montgomery was an unlovely person.A fact-finding investigation conducted by the executive officer determined that wife number two knew nothing about wife number one, living “back home” in Kentucky.She was no doubt surprised to learn about wife number two, with whom Montgomery cohabitated locally.The Commanding Officer referred Corporal Montgomery to a special court-martial.The court found Montgomery “guilty as charged” (bigamy, making false official statements, defrauding the government) and reduced him to Private.The court also sent Montgomery to the Camp Allen Brig for a few months.
Mitchell could not have been happier.With Montgomery’s reduction to private, Mitchell outranked him.
My friend in the administrative section confided to me over a beer or two, or three, at the local slop-chute, that he thought the envelope’s handwriting resembled Mitchell’s.He told me he compared the writing on the envelope with Mitchell’s service record book (SRB).Now personally, I liked the idea that Mitchell was clever enough to uncover Montgomery’s perfidy. Still, I concluded that maybe my buddy in “admin” was full of … er, making up the story.What did I know?Nothing, actually — but we snuffs lived for rumor and innuendo.
Every Marine, regardless of military occupational specialty, is a rifleman. There are specialists in the Marine Corps, of course —people trained to perform a specialized task, which, when combined with all other specialties, form the Marine Corps Team. The Marine team has but one purpose: winning battles. In contrast to the United States Army, which consists of several corps (three infantry divisions and supporting elements form a single corps, three such corps form a field army), the Marines are a single corps (three divisions, three air wings, and supporting elements).
Because the Marine Corps is a much smaller organization, which is the way we like it, Marines do not have the luxury of employing cooks or communicators that only cook and communicate. Every Marine is a rifleman, including combat pilots, administrators, supply pogues, truck drivers, field engineers, and computer technologists. Whether a general or a private, the Corps trains every Marine to pick up a rifle and kill an enemy. The notion that every Marine is a rifleman makes the Marine Corps unique among all U.S. Armed Services. The Corps’ distinctive training creates a common bond between Marines: officer and enlisted, men and women, whether ground, air, or logistics combat elements. Marine aviators, for example, are hell on wings; they are also a lethal force on the ground should it become necessary. Every Marine earns the title, Marine.
Marine Corps aviation began on 22 May 1912 when Marine First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham reported to the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis, Maryland, for duty under instruction. He was the nucleus of what would become the Marine Corps’ air combat element. A few short years later, Congress declared war against Imperial Germany, and the United States entered the First World War. This event became the catalyst for the Navy and Marine Corps air arm, and a greatly accelerated growth in both Navy and Marine Corps manpower and combat technologies.
In those days, responsibility for procuring aircraft fell under the Navy Department’s Bureau of Aeronautics (Also, BuAer). Marine graduates of the U.S. Navy Flight School, Pensacola, Florida, became Naval Aviators. Since those early days, the Navy and Marine Corps have developed aviation equipment, strategies, and tactics common to their unique “naval” mission of protecting the fleet through air superiority and projecting naval power ashore. Marine pilots, however, provide close air support to ground forces —and this they do better than any other aerial arm of the Department of Defense.
At the beginning of the First World War, the entire Marine Corps consisted of a mere 511 officers and 13,214 enlisted men. At the end of the “war to end all wars,” 2,400 officers and 70,000 men served as Marines. Initially, HQMC assigned Captain Cunningham to command the Marine Aviation Company at Philadelphia. Since there was only one aviation company, this simple designation was enough. These early aviators’ mission was traditional, which is to say, attack and destroy enemy aircraft and provide intelligence on enemy forces’ location and movement. Suddenly, the Marine Corps incurred a separate mission requiring different equipment types and a different aeronautical skill set.
With the expansion of Marine aviation, Captain Cunningham’s Aviation Company became the 1st Marine Aeronautic Company (1stMAC) with a workforce ceiling of ten officers and 93 men. 1stMAC’s mission was flying anti-submarine patrols in seaplanes. HQMC approved a new aviation unit, designated as 1st Aviation Squadron (AS-1), to support the Marine Brigade in France. AS-1’s mission was to provide reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. The strength of the 1st Aviation Squadron was 24 officers and 237 enlisted men.
Following the war in Europe, Navy and Marine Corps planners distributed aviation personnel and equipment to Naval stations to support operating forces throughout the east coast of the United States and those in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In the post-war environment, with less money available to sustain air combat forces, the Marine Corps began its desperate struggle to convince Congress that it should maintain, as a minimum, prewar levels of aviation personnel, bases, and equipment. Leading the charge in this endeavor was Major Cunningham, who strenuously argued for Marine Corps aviation’s permanent adoption.
Congress officially limited the Marine Corps’ strength to one-fifth that of the U. S. Navy, in total, approximately 27,000 Marines. Due in no small measure to Cunningham’s efforts, Congress approved an additional 1,100 Marines for aviation units. Congress also approved permanent Marine Corps Air Stations at Quantico, Virginia, Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California. On 30 October 1920, Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune approved an aviation table of organization for four squadrons, each consisting of two flights. Simultaneously, the 1st and 4th Aviation Squadrons supported combat operations in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the 2nd and 3rd Aviation Squadrons trained at Quantico, Virginia. By 1924, the Marine Corps had two air groups, each consisting of two squadrons. The second air group took up station in San Diego, California.
As previously mentioned, the Marine Corps petitioned Congress for funds to maintain its air arm. Part of this effort involved demonstrating to Congress and the American public the utility and worthiness of Marine Corps aviation. To this end, the Marine aviators found it necessary to combine tactics and air strategy with headline-hunting public exhibitions. One of these involved a march of 4,000 Marines from Quantico, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In this demonstration, the ground combat element maintained constant contact with aircraft along the route of march and provided air resupply of the men on the ground.
Additionally, Marine pilots continually tested new equipment and flying techniques, including record-breaking long-distance flights and air show competitions. In the 1920s, air races became an American institution. Marines sometimes flew navy aircraft in these competitions. Sometimes, they flew their own squadron’s aircraft. They occasionally flew experimental planes, testing not only their endurance but also the reliability of aircraft prototypes. During this period, Notable pilots included First Lieutenant Ford O. Rogers, Major Charles A. Lutz, and Captain Arthur H. Page, Jr.
Arthur Hallet Page, Jr. was the first Naval Academy graduate to enter the Marine Corps Aviation program. He may have been typical of aviators in his day, or at least he seems to have been the sort of fellow popularized in Hollywood films of that period —the flamboyant devil-may-care fellow. From available sources at the USNA, we believe Captain Page had a colorful personality, a remarkable character, and was the embodiment of mature judgment. He was good looking; a natty dresser had a good singing voice, possessed a near-professional dancing ability, and was frequently in the company of beautiful women.
Page was also a daring, foolhardy risk-taker —but a man others might describe as lucky as hell. He graduated from the USNA, Class of 1918 (one of fourteen graduates) a year early due to the emerging European War. Second Lieutenant Arthur H. Page, Jr., became a Naval Aviator (No. 536) on 14 March 1918. His aviator number tells us how many Navy and Marine Corps pilots preceded him.
Today, we have few details about Page’s military career. For the most part, early assignments appear typical of young officers. He received his wings at the NAS Pensacola (1918). He then served several tours of duty attached to the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia —which may not have had anything to do with base security or operations (1919-20, 1923-24), service with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in Haiti —likely duties involving flight operations (1920-21), assignment as a flight instructor at NAS Pensacola (1924-25), as a student at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico (1925-26), service with the 3rd Marine Brigade in China (1926-28), an assignment at Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California (1928), and duty with the East Coast Expeditionary Force (1929). His final assignment was at Headquarters Marine Corps (1929-30), during which time he engaged in flying exhibitions (previously discussed).
We also know that the Marine Corps established its first balloon detachment on 28 June 1918 under Captain Page’s command, very likely at Quantico. The detachment’s mission artillery spotting in support of the 10th Marine Regiment (artillery), which in 1918 trained at Quantico for service with the American Expeditionary Forces. After the Armistice on 11 November 1918, there being no need for the 10th Marines in France, HQMC deactivated the regiment in April 1919.
An aside: Change within the Navy and War Departments, particularly involving aviation, was never easy. Senior officers within both departments were simply the product of their training and experience and somewhat intractable in their national defense views. Even following the First World War, Army and Navy leaders remained unconvinced that aviation should assume a more significant national defense role. They may have maintained this view had it not been for the relentless efforts of William Lendrum Mitchell (1879-1936), an Army aviator. Mitchell believed that “floating bases” was necessary to defend U.S. territories against naval threats, but the CNO, Admiral William S. Benson, dissolved navy aeronautics in 1919 (a decision later reversed by Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt). It was a bit of service rivalry that senior navy aviators argued that land-based pilots no more understood naval aviation demands than ground commanders understood airpower capabilities. They resisted any alliance with Mitchell. Despite these attitudes, Mitchell urged the development of naval air service, arguing that air-delivered bombs would become a serious threat to enemy ships. Not even Roosevelt agreed with Mitchell’s proposals in 1919.
Convinced that he was right on this issue, Mitchell became publicly critical of the Army and Navy’s senior leadership, judging them as “insufficiently far-sighted” regarding airpower. Despite their misgivings, the secretaries of War and the Navy agreed to a series of joint Army/Navy exercises that incorporated captured or decommissioned ships as targets. Mitchell believed that the nation’s spending on battleship fleets was a waste of money; he intended to demonstrate how easily aircraft could defeat the Navy’s dreadnaughts. Mitchell received public support for the joint exercise when the New York Tribune revealed that the Navy had cheated on its test results.
Despite his popularity with the press, Mitchell’s criticism of Army/Navy leadership made him a pariah in both departments. Nevertheless, the joint exercise proceeded with bombing attacks on a former German battleship by Army, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots armed with 230, 550, and 600-pound bombs. Air-delivered bombs’ success and the German ship’s sinking caused the Navy to suspend shipbuilding and focus more on the possibilities of naval air power, but there were also political ramifications. For starters, the Navy’s perceived weaknesses embarrassed President Harding —the blame of which fell at Mitchell’s feet.
As for Mitchell, his prickly personality left him with few friends in the Army hierarchy, a condition that only grew worse after Mitchell appeared before a Congressional committee and criticized his superiors and senior Navy officers. In 1925, a tragic accident involving the airship Shenandoah prompted Mitchell to accuse senior Army/Navy leaders of gross incompetence and treasonable administration. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Coolidge ordered Mitchell court-martialed. The court-martial proceeding was more on the order of a media circus. Mitchell’s defense attorney was a sitting congressman. Of the thirteen officers detailed as judges, which included Major Douglas A. MacArthur, none had an aviation background. In its deliberations, the court ruled that the truth or falsity of Mitchell’s accusations were immaterial to the charge against him: Violation of the 96th Article of War, “Bringing disgrace and reproach upon the military services,” which included six specifications. When the court found General Mitchell guilty of the charge and all specifications, he resigned his commission.
Despite Mitchell’s pissing-contest with Army/Navy leaders, the Marine Corps continued its experimentation with aviation platforms and aerial balloons. Between 1924-29, the Marine Corps established a balloon observation squadron (designated ZK-1M). Captain Page, meanwhile, continued evaluating experimental aircraft while challenging his aeronautical skills. He flew the Curtiss F6C-3 plane to victory in the Curtiss Marine Trophy Race on 31 May 1930, defeating a field of mostly Navy pilots. The F6C-3 was a member of the Hawk family of biplane fighters that, because of its performance evaluations by Navy/Marine Corps aviators, went through a series of design modifications to make it suitable for naval service. Captain Page lost his life while participating in the Thompson Air Race in 1930. There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots; there are no old bold pilots.
By the spring of 1940, planners at HQMC were acutely aware of the problems associated with defending advanced bases against enemy air attack. To address these issues, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) convened a board of senior officers to study air defense aspects. It became the duty of the Anti-Aircraft Defense Board to formulate policies suitable to both the Navy and War Departments. One agreement concerned the division of responsibility for barrage balloons and kite defenses protecting U.S. military installations. Under this agreement, the Army assumed air defense responsibility for permanent naval bases. Simultaneously, the Navy would develop shipboard defenses and “at such advanced bases as are not defended by the Army.”
On 27 December 1940, the Secretary of the Navy assigned responsibility for anti-air defenses (not defended by the Army) to the Fleet Marine Forces. From that point forward, Marine advanced base battalions assumed responsibility for the anti-aircraft defense mission at Guantanamo, Midway, Johnson Island, Palmyra, Samoa, Wake, Guam, and “any future location seized by American forces.” The CNO subsequently asked various bureaus and offices to comment or offer suggestions on the extent to which the Marine Corps should enter the barrage balloon field. There were two views:
The Director, Navy War Plans Division opined that balloons were unreliable anti-air defense mechanisms and noted that the small size of several advanced base locations (islands) meant that balloon defenses would be ineffective except against dive bombers. Moreover, the placement of such balloons would have to be so as not to interfere with friendly air operations, which would require moveable barge platforms. At no time did the War Plans Division mention any reliance on carrier-based attack aircraft.
The Director, Fleet Training Division expressed confidence in the efficiency of balloon defenses. He relied on the United Kingdom’s experience in London’s defense; it appeared to him that 50-100 balloons would provide adequate anti-air defenses. Based on this one assumption, the Director envisioned that the Marine Corps would require two to four squadrons of 24 balloons each and around 200 men per squadron. There was also the problem of availability because requisitions for Army balloon equipment strained industrial production capacities.
The CMC took immediate steps to procure balloons, not only for the initial issue but also for replacement balloons. HQMC also recalled to active service retired Major Bernard L. Smith and placed him in charge of the Corps’ barrage balloon development. During World War I, while serving as an assistant naval attaché in France, Major Smith’s study of lighter-than-air craft made him an “expert” in the field of balloon defense mechanisms.
In late April 1941, Major Smith (assisted by Captain Aquillo J. Dyess and Captain Robert S. Fairweather) established a training school at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia. Smith led his officers and ten enlisted men to the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey, for a two-week course of instruction in the art of flying British-made Mark-5 and Mark-6 balloons. Returning to Quantico, Smith and his Marines prepared course curriculum and liaised with balloon manufacturers. When, more than a year later, Smith and his staff had yet to receive their first student, HQMC directed Smith to move his cadre to New River, North Carolina, where it became part of the Marine Corps Training Center, Camp Lejeune.
Still without students, Smith’s “school” essentially became a balloon research/development center; the Navy’s Anti-Aircraft Defense Board provided Smith with several varieties of British prototypes. Smith was also involved in the study of rockets and fuses suspended from aloft balloons. By late 1941, the arrival of balloon equipment allowed Smith to commence teaching balloon defense’s art and science. Concurrently, HQMC directed the establishment of the 1st and 2nd Barrage Balloon squadrons to further order that defense battalions incorporate these squadrons into training and operations. Typically, HQMC wanted to review the defense battalion’s evaluations of the practicality of barrage squadrons. By early December, Smith advised HQMC that the 1st Barrage Balloon Squadron (designation ZMQ-1) was ready for deployment. In late December, Smith’s report was timely because the Army requested the Marines provide a squadron to defend the Panama Canal Zone. Administratively, ZMQ-1 fell under the Fifteenth Naval District; operationally, the squadron supported the Army’s artillery command. ZMQ-1’s “temporary” assignment lasted through mid-September 1942.
Meanwhile, ZMQ-2, under Captain Henry D. Strunk, joined the 2nd Marine Brigade in Samoa. War with Japan led the Marine Corps to activate six additional Barrage Balloon Squadrons, although planners estimated a need for as many as twenty squadrons by 1944. To meet this demand, HQMC increased Smith’s training unit’s size to five officers and 43 enlisted men. In April 1942, HQMC assigned ZMQ-3 to the Pacific command; by September, the squadron was operating on the island of Tulagi —but with significant restrictions. Concerned that deployed balloons would attract enemy aircraft to vital airfields and logistics storage areas, senior Navy and Marine Corps officers curtailed the use of balloons at Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Instead, squadron personnel performed ground defense (infantry) duties. ZMQ-3 departed Tulagi for Noumea, where it joined with ZMQ-1, ZMQ-5, and ZMQ-6. HQMC ordered the deactivation of ZMQ-4, serving in Samoa, on 20 February 1943. The unavailability of helium at forward bases hindered squadrons’ performance, as in Noumea’s case, forcing unit officers to alter their tactics: they only launched their balloons when an enemy attack was imminent.
Shortages of helium wasn’t the only problem plaguing ZMQ squadrons. The task of logistical resupply in the Pacific was incredibly difficult. Since senior commanders in the Pacific questioned barrage balloons’ utility, balloon squadrons had a lower priority for resupply than did the most-forward units. Army logisticians paid scant attention to the needs of the attached Marines. Back in Washington, the demands placed on BuAer to prioritize the resupply of aircraft squadrons similarly left the balloon squadrons only marginally effective. For example, each balloon squadron required 4,000 high-pressure hydrogen cylinders. The Marine’s demand for 14,500 cylinders per month fell considerably short, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. To help coordinate balloon activities and address logistical shortfalls, HQMC ordered Major Charles W. May to assume command of the Marine Barrage Balloon Group on 10 January 1943.
One wartime epiphany was the Marine Corps’ realization that anti-aircraft guns had a greater effect on the enemy than the barrage balloons did. In the spring of 1943, the Marine Corps’ Commandant asked the U.S. Army to assume full responsibility for aerial balloon activities. The Commandant’s decision made perfect sense because, at that time, all Marine balloon squadrons served under the operational control of the U.S. Army. In June, the Army agreed to absorb the balloon mission, making 60 officers and 1,200 enlisted Marines available to serve in other (more critical) combat units. Beginning in March 1943, Marines of ZMQ-5 began training with 90mm anti-aircraft guns; ZMQ-6 followed suit. By August, manning anti-aircraft guns became the primary focus of training and operations. ZMQ-2 disbanded on 21 August, with all its Marines joining the 2nd Defense Battalion.
All barrage balloon squadrons ceased to exist by December 1943, and all Marines assigned to them transferred to the Marine Corps’ defense battalions. Luckily, these Marines were not only skilled balloonists; they were also deadly as hell in their new assignment as anti-aircraft gun crewmen and as a rifleman, the essential role of every Marine.
Updegraph, C. L. S. Marine Corps Special Units of World War II. Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1972.
Barrage Balloons, Aerospace Power Journal, Summer 1989.
Hillson, F. J. When the Balloon Goes Up: Barrage Balloons for Low-Level Defense. Maxwell AFB: U.S. Air Force Command and Staff College, 1988.
 The purpose of military tables of organization (and equipment) (also, T/O and T/O&E) is to standardize the personnel staffing of military units according to their mission and includes the numbers and types of weapons and accoutrements required by such organizations to complete their mission.
 Major Smith was the 6th Marine officer designated as a naval aviator.
There are many positive things to say about the American Republic —along with a few deserved criticisms. One of my criticisms is that we Americans seem never to learn important lessons from history —so we are continually forced to relearn them. This relearning process is too often painful for our nation —for its complex society. Maybe one day we’ll smarten up, but I’m not holding my breath.
Speaking of lessons unlearned, given their experience with the British Army the founding fathers were distrustful of standing armies. I find this odd because the British Army’s presence within the thirteen colonies prevented hostile attacks against British settlements. Years later, at the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812, observing how the American militia cut and run when confronted with a well-trained British Army, President James Madison remarked, “I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force if I had not witnessed the scenes of this day.”
Our reliance on state or federal militia to defend our homeland was one of those unlearned lessons. War is not for amateurs. Federalized state militias during the American Civil War were not much of an improvement over the Revolutionary War minute men. History shows us, too, that finding enough resources to fight a war against Spain in Cuba was very close to becoming an unmitigated disaster. There was only one combat force ready for war in 1898; the U. S. Marine Corps was able to field a single (reinforced) battalion —one that was engaged with the enemy before the Army figured out which of its senior officers was in charge. Who knows how many horses drowned because the Army couldn’t figure out how to unload them from transport ships and get them to shore.
The United States was still unprepared for combat service at the beginning of the First World War. Politicians —those geniuses in Washington— had little interest in creating and maintaining a standing armed force. Worse, our military leaders were incompetent and complacent, and as a result of this, the US military lacked modern weapons. When Congress declared war against Imperial Germany, the American army was forced to rely on weapons provided by Great Britain and France. It wasn’t that the United States had no weapons, only that our arsenal was a mishmash of firearms requiring an assortment of munitions that were both inadequate and inefficient for the demands of general war. In particular, the United States arsenal included ten different revolvers of varying calibers, 12 rifles of foreign and domestic manufacture, and six variants of automatic weapons/machine guns.
The world’s first rapid-fire weapon was the brainchild of James Puckle (1667-1724), a British inventor, a lawyer, and a writer, who in 1718 invented a multi-shot gun mounted on a wheeled stand capable of firing nine rounds per minute. The Puckle Gun consisted of six flintlock barrels, operated manually by a crew. The barrel was roughly three feet long with a bore measuring 1.25 inches (32mm). The weapon was hand loaded with powder and shot while detached from its base. To my knowledge, this device was never used in combat.
Today, we classify machine guns as either light, medium, or heavy weapons. The light machine gun (with bipod for stability) is usually operated by a single soldier. It has a box-like magazine and is chambered for small caliber, intermediate power ammunition. Medium machine guns are general purpose weapons that are belt-fed, mounted on bi-or tripods, and fired using full power ammunition. The term “heavy machine gun” may refer to water-cooled, belt-fed weapons, operated by a machine gun team, and mounted on a tripod (classified as heavy due to its weight), or machine guns chambered for high-powered ammunition. Heavy machine gun ammunition is of larger caliber than that used by light and medium guns, usually .50 caliber or 12.7mm.
One example of America’s use of rapid-fire weapons was the weapon designed by Richard J. Gatling in 1861, which seems to follow the Puckle design. Called the Gatling Gun, it was the forerunner of the modern machine gun (and of modern electric motor-driven rotary guns and cannons). It saw only occasional use during the American Civil War, and only sporadic use through 1911. It was not an easily transportable weapon.
Wide use of rapid-fire (machine) guns changed the tactics and strategies of warfare. Magazine or belt fed ammunition gave opposing armies substantial increases in fire power. No longer could soldiers advance in a frontal assault without incurring massive casualties, which then led to trench warfare. Machine guns would never have been possible without advances in ammunition —a shift away from muzzle loading single-shot weapons to cartridges that contain the round, propellant, and means of ignition.
The first recoil-operated rapid-fire weapon was the creation of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1884, a British-American inventor. The Maxim gun was used by the British in several colonial wars between 1886-1914. Maxim’s work led to research and development by Hotchkiss, Lewis, Browning, Rasmussen, Mauser, and others.
First World War
The only machine guns available to the United States at the beginning of World War I were the Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié, the Chauchat M1915, M1918 (pronounced Show-sha), which was a light machine gun made in France, Belgium, and Poland, the Colt-Vickers (called the potato digger) was a British water-cooled .303 caliber gun, the Hotchkiss 1914, and the Lewis gun. While the Lewis gun was designed in the United States in 1911, no one in the Army’s Ordnance Department was much interested in it, which caused inventor Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis to seek license for its production in the United Kingdom in 1914.
Some of these machine guns were more dependable than others; they are, after all, only machines. But one consequence of faulty weapons was the needless combat-related deaths of many young men, whose weapons failed to work at critical moments. Whenever combat troops lose confidence in their weapons, they become less aggressive in combat; they lose their determination to win —they lose battles.
America’s War Department in 1914 was inept. Not only were the Army’s senior leader’s incompetent, the entire organization was ill-prepared to carry out the will of Congress. Of course, the Congress might have taken note of these conditions before declaring war on Germany in 1917, but it didn’t. Before America could go to war, it was necessary to increase the size of the Army through conscription, complete re-armament was necessary, and massive amounts of spending was required to satisfy the needs of general war. Until that could happen, until war technology could be developed, the American soldier and Marine would have to make do with French and British armaments.
In 1917, John Browning personally delivered to the War Department two types of automatic weapons, complete with plans and detailed manufacturing specifications. One of these weapons was a water-cooled machine gun; the other a shoulder fired automatic rifle known then as the Browning Machine Rifle (BMR). Both weapons were chambered for the US standard 30.06 cartridge. After an initial demonstration of the weapons capabilities with the US Army Ordnance Department, a second public demonstration was scheduled in south Washington DC, at a place called Congress Heights.
On 27 February 1917, the Army staged a live-fire demonstration that so impressed senior military officers, members of Congress, and the press, that Browning was immediately awarded a contract for the production of the BMR and was favored with the Army’s willingness to conduct additional tests on the Browning machine gun.
In May 1917, the US Army Ordnance Department began this additional testing of the machine gun at the Springfield Armory. At the conclusion of these tests, the Army recommended immediate adoption of Browning’s weapon. To avoid confusing the two Browning automatic weapons, the rifle became known as the M1917 Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning. Over time, the weapon was referred to as simply the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR.
What was needed then was a company capable of producing the weapons in the quantities needed to arm a field army —which is to say, three infantry corps, each consisting of three infantry divisions, each of those having three regiments, and each regiment consisting of three infantry battalions. It would be a massive undertaking. Since the Colt Firearms Company was already under contract to produce the Vickers machine gun for the British Army, Winchester Repeating Arms Company was designated the project’s primary manufacturer. Winchester, after providing invaluable service to Browning and the Army in refining the final design to the BAR, re-tooled its factory for mass production. One example of Winchester’s contribution was the redesign of the ejection port, which was changed to expel casings to the left rather than straight up.
The BAR began arriving in France in July 1918; the first to receive them was the US 79th Infantry Division. The weapon first went into combat against German troops in mid-September. The weapon had a devastating impact on the Germans —so much so that France and Great Britain ordered more than 20,000 BARs.
The Marines, always considered the red-headed stepchildren of the U. S. Armed Forces, now serving alongside US Army infantry units, were never slated to receive these new weapons. Undaunted, Marines of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment developed a bartering system with co-located units of the 36th Infantry Division. The Marines traded their Chauchats to the soldiers in exchange for the new BAR. Given what I know of the average Marine’s ability to scavenge needed or desired resources, I have no doubt that the Marines were able to convince the doggies that one day, the soldiers would be able to retain the French guns as war souvenirs, whereas the BARs would have to be surrendered after the war. Unhappily for the Marines, senior Army officers learned of this arrangement and the Marines were ordered to surrender the BARs and take back their Chauchats.
The BAR was retained in continual use by the US Armed Forces (less the Air Force, of course) from 1918 to the mid-1970s. The BAR’s service history includes World War I, Spanish Civil War, World War II, Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, Indonesian Revolution, Korean War, Palestinian Civil War, First Indochina War, Algerian War, and in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cyprus, and the Thai-Laotian Border War.
The BMG and BAR were not Browning’s only accomplishments.
John Moses Browning was born into a Mormon family on 23 January 1855. His father, Jonathan, was among literally thousands of Mormon pioneers that made their exodus from Illinois to Utah. The elder Browning established a gun shop in Ogden in1852. As a Mormon in good standing, Jonathan had three wives and fathered 22 children.
John Browning began working in his father’s gun shop at around the age of seven where he learned basic engineering and manufacturing principles, and where his father encouraged him to experiment with new concepts. He developed his first rifle in 1878 and soon after founded the company that would become the Browning Arms Company. In partnership with Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Browning developed rifles and shotguns, from the falling block single shot 1885 to the Winchester Model 1886, Model 1895, the Model 1897 pump shotgun, and Remington Model 8. He also developed cartridges that were superior to other firearm company designs.
Browning Arms Company is responsible for the M1899/1900 .32 ACP pistol, M1900 .38 ACP, M1902 .38 ACP, M1903 Pocket Hammer .38 ACP, M1903 9mm Browning Long, M1903 Pocket Hammerless .32 ACP, M1906/08 Vest Pocket .25 ACP, M1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP, the US M1911A1 .45 ACP, Browning Hi-Power 9mm Parabellum, the Colt Woodsman .22 long rifle, and BDA handguns in .38 and .45 ACP. He developed ten variants of shotgun, eleven rifles, six machine guns, and was awarded 128 patents.
What it takes to win battles is reliable weapons expertly employed against the enemy. John Browning gave us expertly designed, quality manufactured weapons to win battles.
We no longer rely on state militias to fight our wars, but we have taken a turn toward including more reserve organizations in our poorly chosen fights. The US also has, today, a robust weapons development program to give our Armed Forces a battlefield advantage. Despite past failures in providing our frontline troops quality weapons, the US Marines have always succeeded against our enemies with the weapons at their disposal. Occasionally, even entrenching tools were used with telling effect against the enemy.
If American Marines have learned anything at all about warfare since 1775, it is that success in battle depends on never taking a knife to a gunfight.
Borth, C. Masters of Mass Production. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1945.
Browning, J. and Curt Gentry. John M. Browning: American Gunmaker. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Gilman, D. C., and H. T. Peck (et.al.), eds. New International Encyclopedia. New York: Dodd-Mead.
Miller, D. The History of Browning Firearms. Globe-Pequot, 2008.
Willbanks, J. H. Machine guns: An Illustrated History of their Impact. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004.
 Benjamin B. Hotchkiss (1826-1885) was an American who, after the American Civil War, with the US government little interested in funding new weapons, moved to France and set up a munitions factory he named Hotchkiss et Cie.
 Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schouboe designed a machine gun that was adopted by the Danish Minister of War, whose name was Colonel Wilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen. They called it the Madsen Machine Gun.
 The invention of Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis in 1911 that was based on the initial work of Samuel Maclean. The US Army’s ordnance department was not interested in the Lewis Gun because of differences between the Chief of Ordnance, Brigadier General William Crozier and Colonel Lewis.
 Larceny has been a Marine Corps tradition since the 1890s. During World War II, Marines were known to steal hospital sheets from adjacent Navy hospitals, make “captured Japanese flags” out of them, and sell them to sailors and soldiers as war souvenirs. During the Vietnam War, anything belonging to the Army or Navy that was not tied down and guarded 24-hours a day was liable to end up on a Marine Corps compound. In 1976, three Marines were court-martialed for stealing two (2) Army 6×6 trucks, attempting to conceal the thefts by repainting the trucks and assigning them fraudulent vehicle ID numbers. In 1976, our Marines were still driving trucks from the Korean and Vietnam War periods. Despite overwhelming evidence that these three Marines were guilty as hell, a court-martial board consisting of five Marine officers and a Navy lieutenant, acquitted them. Apparently, no one sitting as a member of the court thought it was wrong to steal from the Army.
 Franklin Roosevelt’s “lend-lease” program provided thousands of US made weapons to the Communist Chinese Army during World War II. The Communists under Mao Zedong hid these weapons away until after Japan’s defeat, and then used them to good advantage against the Chinese Nationalists. Some of these weapons were used against American soldiers and Marines during the brief “occupation” of China following World War II. The United States government continues to arm potential enemies of the United States, which in my view is a criminal act.
Aviation history began before there were airplanes and the first use of aviators actually began with lighter-than-air balloons. In 1794, French observation balloons were used to monitor enemy troop movements. Balloons were also employed during the American Civil War, as part of the Army Signal Corps, for observing enemy movements and artillery spotting, and this in turn necessitated the development of a system for communicating between aviators and ground personnel.
In 1906, the Commandant of the Army Signal School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Major George O. Squier, began studying aeronautical theory and lectured student-officers on the Wright flying machine. One of his fellow instructors was a captain by the name of Billy Mitchell, whose expertise included the use of balloons in reconnaissance missions. Mitchell also became interested in aeronautical principles.
Major Squier later served as an executive assistant to the Army’s Chief Signal Officer, Brigadier General James Allen. In 1907, at Squier’s urging, Allen created the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. In December of that year, the Signal Corps requested bids for a heavier-than-air flying machine. Not everyone in the Army agreed with this development, but ultimately, the Aeronautical Division became the world’s first military aviation organization when it purchased the Wright Model A aircraft in 1909.
American naval interest in aviation followed the Royal Navy’s interests in developing aviation capabilities in 1908, when Prime Minister H. H. Asquith approved the formation of an Aerial Subcommittee within the Imperial Defense Committee. At this time, the British were primarily interested in dirigible airships for over-water reconnaissance.
In 1910, American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss contracted with the U. S. Navy to develop and demonstrate an aircraft utility for ships at sea. One of Curtiss’ pilots, Eugene Ely, took off from the cruiser USS Birmingham anchored off the Virginia coast in late November 1910. Then, in January 1911, Ely demonstrated the ability to land on a navy ship by setting down aboard the USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay —efforts which validated Curtiss’ theory. At the time, landing and takeoff platforms were crude temporary constructs. On 27 January 1911, Curtiss further demonstrated the suitability of naval aviation by piloting the first sea plane from San Diego Bay. The next day, Navy Lieutenant Theodore G. Ellyson became the first Naval Aviator when he took off in a Curtiss grass cutter.
Marine Corps aviation began on 22 May 1912 when First Lieutenant Alfred Austell Cunningham reported to the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis, Maryland “for duty in connection with aviation.” Lieutenant Cunningham became the first Marine aviator in August of that year when he took off in a Burgess Model H aircraft, presented to him by the Burgess Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts.
In those early days, the Navy and Marine Corps had different concepts of naval aviation and they were substantial enough to lead Marine aviators to conclude that the Marines should have their own section within the Navy Flying School (created in 1914). In the next year, the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the creation of a Marine Aviation Company for duty with the Advanced Base Force. The company, manned by ten officers and forty enlisted men, was assigned to the Navy Yard, Philadelphia.
A major expansion of the Marine air component came with America’s entry into World War I. Wartime enlargements resulted in renaming organizations and a substantial increase in personnel. In July 1918, Marine Aviation Company was divided and renamed First Aeronautic Company and First Marine Air Squadron. The aeronautic company deployed to the Azores to hunt for German submarines, while air squadrons were activated and assigned to the 1st Marine Aviation Force in France.
In France, Marine aviators in provided bomber and fighter support to the Navy’s Northern Bombing Group. Within the short time span of America’s participation in World War I, Marine aviators recorded several aerial victories and credit for dropping in excess of fourteen tons of ordnance on enemy forces. In total, the 1st Marine Aviation Force included 282 officers and 2,180 enlisted men operating from eight squadrons. Second Lieutenant Ralph Talbot was the first Marine Corps aviator to earn the Medal of Honor for action against the Luftstreitkräfte, the air contingent of the German Imperial Army.
By the end of the First World War, Marine aviators had gained aeronautical expertise in a wide range of air support roles, including air to air, air to ground, close air support for ground troops, and anti-submarine patrolling. Congress authorized an aeronautical force of 1,020 men and permanent air stations at Quantico, Parris Island, and San Diego. From that time forward, whenever and wherever Marines confronted an enemy, their aviation arm accompanied them —at the time, in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and in Nicaragua. It was during the Banana Wars that Marine Corps pilots expanded their unique application air air-ground tactics, resupply of ground forces in remote locations, and air-to-ground communications.
If there was one area where Marine aviation stood apart from the other services, it was in the number of enlisted men serving as pilots, especially in time of national emergency/war. Enlisted pilots were not a “new” concept. The French air services employed enlisted men as pilots, but if there was a general rule, it would have been that commissioned officers were the primary source for aviators. The Navy implemented its (enlisted) Naval Aviation Pilot designation in 1919. The Marines, as part of the Naval Services, also authorized enlisted men to serve as pilots. First Sergeant Benjamin Belcher was the first Marine enlisted man to serve as a NAP in 1923. Some of these men later received commissions, such as Marine Ace Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh, who scored 21 kills and earned the Medal of Honor during World War II. Walsh served as an enlisted pilot in the 1930s until he was commissioned in 1942. In that year, there were 132 enlisted pilots serving in front line (fighter/bomber) squadron. In later years, enlisted pilots flew helicopters and jet aircraft.
Technical Sergeant Robert A. Hill, USMC performed 76 combat missions as the pilot of an OY aircraft. Hill earned the moniker “Bulletproof” because he often returned to base after a combat mission with massive amounts of bullet holes in his bird. Hill was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for evacuating wounded Marines near the Chosin Reservoir while under heavy enemy fire. Enlisted pilots also flew R4D transports, which were also used to medevac wounded men and the remains of men killed in action.
During the transition from propeller to jet aircraft, enlisted pilots trained in the Lockheed P-80 (also, TO-1) but only after 1949 and not without some objection by a few squadron commanders who did not want enlisted men flying high performance aircraft. It was a bit confusing and difficult. Some of the enlisted pilots in the Korean War had been commissioned during World War II and then reverted to their enlisted ranks in the post-war demobilization period. Some of these temporarily commissioned pilots left the Marine Corps after World War II and then later regretted doing so. It was possible for these men to re-join the Marine Corps, but only as enlisted men. Reenlistment within 90 days entitled these men to rejoin at the rank of Master Sergeant (in those days, E-7), and if beyond 90 days, they could be accepted as Technical Sergeant (E-6).
VMF-311 was ordered into the Korea War with its F9F Panthers and several NAP pilots. Master Sergeant Avery C. Snow was the first NAP to complete 100 combat missions in a jet aircraft. Snow achieved the rank of captain during World War II while serving with VMSB-232.
In 1952, Master Sergeant Lowell T. Truex was ordered to fly over an area near the Yalu River. During his pre-flight briefing, Truex was told that Air Force F-86s would fly escort for his mission. He was not at all happy to learn that he had no escort and he was flying alone in Indian Country. When Truex spotted several MiG-15s taking off, he started sweating. He hurriedly completed his photo-reconnaissance mission and returned to base. Truex had a few unkind things to say about the Air Force during his post-Op debrief, but he was reassured that the Air Force birds were on station and had kept a close eye on the MiG’s. The problem was service-rivalry; Air Force pilots had little regard for Marine Corps enlisted pilots, so they occasionally went out of their way to make the flying sergeants feel uncomfortable.
Master Sergeant James R. Todd completed 101 combat missions before rotating back to the States. He flew 51 missions in Banshees, 10 in the F9F, 23 in the F7F, 13 in F4U-5Ps, and four escort missions in F4U-4Bs. The F4U-4B was an armed aircraft, but in all the others, Todd had only his sidearm for self-defense —and a high-performance engine. Like many of his contemporaries, Todd had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in World War II. He was mustered out in September 1946 but returned to active duty in November of the same year. He resigned his commission as a first lieutenant and then enlisted as a private. After the ceremony, he was advanced to the rank of master sergeant. He received photo reconnaissance training at NAS Pensacola, Florida so that by the time the Korean War broke out, he was well-experienced recon pilot. It was a skill that would come in handy in the Korean conflict.
Note that in addition to their flying duties, NAPs also shared responsibility for supervising their squadron’s various divisions (flight line, powerplant, airframes, avionics, tool shed, and supply sections).
Enlisted Marines also flew combat missions in the Vietnam War, but by this time there were only a few remaining NAPs. In 1973, there were only 4 NAPs on active duty; all four of these men retired on 1 February 1973: Master Gunnery Sergeant Joseph A. Conroy, Master Gunnery Sergeant Leslie T. Ericson, Master Gunnery Sergeant Robert M. Lurie, and Master Gunnery Sergeant Patrick J. O’Neil.
A colorful era in Marine Corps aviation ended with the retirement of these flying sergeants.
 Cunningham (1882-1939) from Atlanta, Georgia, served in the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War. Following his voluntary service, he worked as a real estate agent in Atlanta for ten years until 1903. In 1909, he received a commission to second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps. His enthusiasm for aviation was contagious and he soon convinced the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General William P. Biddle, that aviation was well-suited to the concept of the advanced base concept.
 An autonomous region of Portugal, an archipelago consisting of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic.
 Ralph Talbot (1897-1918) from South Weymouth, Massachusetts, joined the U. S. Navy in 1917. Owing to his participation in college level artillery reserve training, the Navy appointed him as a Seaman 2nd Class. After ground training and flight training, he was appointed Naval Aviator #456. At the time, the Marine Corps was having problems recruiting aviators so Talbot (and a number of other Navy pilots), in realizing that he would be in a better position to receive a combat assignment in the Marine Corps, resigned his navy commission and accepted a commission in the USMC. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Aviation Force for duty with “C” Squadron. Talbot was killed in an accident during takeoff at La Fresne aerodrome, France.
 At the beginning of World War II, the Royal Air Force would have been even worse off during the Battle of Britain were it not for their enlisted pilots.
 This aircraft became a workhorse for America. From its first design, the aircraft had several service and mission designations, including DC-3, R4D, C-47, Skytrain, Dakota, RC-47, SC-47, Spooky, EC-47, C-53, C-117, and C-129.
 In 1949, the highest enlisted grade was Master Sergeant (E-7).
As with most military officers of the 19th century, George Dewey was born into a prominent family that offered him the resources and support that he needed to achieve great success in life —and George Dewey did exactly that. George’s father Julius was a physician in Montpelier, Vermont; an astute businessman (one of the founders of the National Life Insurance Company), and a devoted Christian. George had two older brothers and a younger sister—all of whom received a good education. When George reached his fifteenth birthday, his father sent him to the Norwich Military School (now Norwich University), where he studied for two years.
In 1854, George received an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy; it was a time when the cadet corps was small —averaging only around one-hundred midshipmen per class. Of course, the naval and military academies aren’t for everyone; each class experienced a significant attrition rate, which made the graduating class about a small percentage of its freshman populations. George’s graduating class advanced fourteen young men, with George finishing fifth. From then on, George Dewey served with distinction on several ships. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Dewey served as an executive lieutenant on the USS Mississippi, a paddle steamer frigate assigned to the Gulf Blockading Squadron and later participated in operations at New Orleans, Port Hudson, and Donaldsonville. In 1864, Dewey was transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for service on USS Colorado under Commodore Henry K. Thatcher. Colorado took part in the two battles at Fort Fisher (Wilmington, North Carolina). It was during the second battle that Dewey’s tactical ability and courage under fire led to favorable mention in the New York Times.
Following war time service, Dewey followed the normal progression of a naval officer. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, Dewey served as the executive officer of the USS Colorado, served at the USNA at Annapolis, and as a shore survey officer with the Pacific Coast Survey. While serving in this billet, George lost his wife due to complications of childbirth.
After four years of survey work, Commander Dewey received orders to Washington where he was assigned to the Lighthouse Board. It was an important assignment and one that gave him access to prominent members of Washington society. By every account, Dewey was popular among the Washington elite. The Metropolitan Club invited him to apply for membership; it was a leading social club of the time.
In 1882, Dewey assumed command of USS Juniata with the Asiatic Squadron. Promoted to Captain two years later, he assumed command of USS Dolphin, which was one of the original “white squadron” ships of the Navy. In 1885, Dewey was placed in command of USS Pensacola, where he remained for three years. Pensacola was the flagship of the European squadron. From 1893-96, Dewey served as a staff officer at Naval headquarters. He was advanced to Commodore in 1896.
When the navy began looking for a new Asiatic Squadron commander, no one seriously considered Commodore Dewey because he was too junior in rank. As it turns out, though, Dewey’s Washington-area assignments and his membership in the Metropolitan Club paid off. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt interceded with President McKinley for Dewey’s assignment as Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron. It was a fortunate turn of events for the United States.
Dewey assumed command of the Asiatic Fleet in January 1898 and departed for Hong Kong to inspect US warships at the British colony. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, Dewey learned of the destruction of USS Maine in Havana Harbor. Even though skeptical of the possibility that the United States would go to war against Spain, Dewey readied his squadron for war. Washington dispatched USS Baltimore to Hong Kong and Dewey purchased the British colliers Nanshan and Zafiro, retaining their British crewmen.
At the time Congress declared war against Spain, the United States military was a shamble. The Army was barely capable of confronting hostile Indians in the American west, much less a major European power. The Army was understrength, underequipped, undertrained, and worse than this, an incompetent officer corps led it. The Navy was in a rebuilding process (thanks to Roosevelt), and the strength of the Marine Corps was small and widely distributed throughout the world. The only edge the United States had against Spain was that the Spanish military was in far worse shape.
When the United States declared war, the United Kingdom quickly asserted its neutrality. As a neutral power, the British governor ordered the US fleet out of the harbor. Dewey removed his squadron into Chinese waters near Mirs Bay, north of Hong Kong.
The congressional declaration came on 25 April, retroactive to 21 April. Five days before the Congressional declaration, however, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long ordered the formation of an expeditionary battalion of Marines. By 21 April, the First Marine Battalion was already embarked aboard ship and headed for Key West, Florida for staging and final preparations for war. Meanwhile, the US Army was still trying to figure out how to organize regiments for duty in the field.
On 27 April, Dewey sailed from Chinese waters aboard his flagship USS Olympia with orders to attack the Spanish Fleet at Manilla Bay. Three days later, the Asiatic Squadron was poised at the mouth of Manilla Bay. He gave the order to attack at first light on the morning of 1 May 1898. Dewey’s squadron soundly defeated the Spanish in a battle that lasted only six hours. The Spanish fleet was either sunk, captured, or scuttled; fortifications in Manilla were rendered moot. Only one American sailor died in the assault, an older chief petty officer who suffered a heart attack. Owing to his success at Manilla, Dewey was advanced to Rear Admiral on 1 May 1898.
The U. S. Coast Guard Joins the Fight
At the time of the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, US Coast Guard Revenue Cutter McCulloch was at sea on an extended shakedown cruise from Hampton Roads to her assigned station at San Francisco. On her arrival in Singapore orders were received to proceed with all possible speed to Hong Kong and report to Commodore Dewey for further duty. The ship arrived on 17 April and sailed with the fleet for Mirs Bay and a week later, to Manila. While a smaller vessel and not built for naval service she was a very welcome and valuable addition to the Asiatic Squadron. McCulloch performed excellent patrol and dispatch services throughout the period of hostilities and until November 1898 when she resumed her voyage to San Francisco.
On 29 June 1898 McCulloch received a signal from Olympia; which read “Spanish gunboat sighted bearing north-west apparently attempting to reach Manila, intercept and capture.” McCulloch broke her record getting under way and set a course to get between the gunboat and the foreign shipping of Manila. The unidentified ship changed her course to meet the cutter head on flying a flag at the fore, a pennant at the main, and a flag at the gaff, all of which were indistinguishable because of the light. However, upon closing with the ship, McCulloch discovered that she was flying a white flag at the fore. After heaving to, a boarding officer discovered that the ship was the Spanish gunboat Leyte, which had escaped during the early morning of 1 May. Leyte had remained in hiding in one of the numerous rivers emptying into the bay but could neither escape to sea or avoid the attacks of the Filipino insurgents and so her commanding officer decided to surrender.
McCulloch’s prize crew hauled down the Spanish flag and raised the US flag. The prize crew promptly proceeded to Olympia and anchored off her starboard quarter. McCulloch accompanied her and sent a whale boat to the Leyte to take her commanding officer and the prize master to the flagship.
That morning, McCulloch had refueled in a manner customary to the Coast Guard, but not to the Navy. Moreover, a heavy rain squall had kicked up a choppy sea. When the whale boat came alongside Olympia, the prize master and captured Spanish captain mounted the gangway and were promptly escorted to Admiral Dewey, who was sitting, as usual, in a wicker chair on the quarter deck. The prize master saluted and said, “Sir, I have to report the capture of the Spanish gunboat Leyte. I herewith deliver the officer commanding on board.” If the prize master anticipated a hero’s welcome, he was disappointed. Admiral Dewey looked up sharply and said, “Very well, sir … and I want to tell you that your boat’s crew pulls like a lot of damn farmers.”
From that wicker chair on the quarterdeck there was very little that went on in Manila Bay that escaped Admiral Dewey’s sharp eyes. His tongue was known as rapier sharp.
All was not going well for the Americans in the Philippines. With the defeat of Spain, Philippine nationalists revealed themselves and they were not entirely pleased about having to exchange one colonial master for another. In 1895, Emilio Aguinaldo joined other nationalists seeking to expel Spanish colonials and achieve national independence through armed force. While Dewey was attacking the Spanish from the sea in 1898, Aguinaldo was attacking them from land. Initially, Dewey and Aguinaldo enjoyed a cordial relationship, but within six months, Dewey was threatening to shell Aguinaldo’s forces in order to allow the unopposed arrival of US Army forces under the command of Major General Wesley Merritt who was tasked to take formal possession of Manilla on 13 August 1898.
In May, Major General (of volunteers) Elwell S. Otis, U. S. Army was dispatched to the Philippines with reinforcements for Merritt. In late August, Otis replaced Merritt as Commander, Eighth Army and military governor of the Philippines. As the military governor, first Merritt and later Otis were supreme in all matters ashore. Because the Philippine Islands was America’s first extraterritorial possession, there was an associated learning queue; mistakes were made, and occasionally, American arrogance got in the way.
Of issues pertaining to jurisdiction and policy in the Philippines (generally) and to the local vicinity of Manila (particularly), there was no single point of view and not all questions were settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Under these circumstances, there were occasions when someone stepped on someone else’s toes Admiral Dewey had wanted to subdue Manilla, but in lacking enough land forces to achieve it, had no other option than to wait for the arrival of the US Army.
The affairs of the newly acquired territory were conducted by a joint board in which Admiral Dewey and General Otis were its most influential members. Meetings were held on shore and were usually agreeable affairs, but not always. Admiral Dewey had little patience for long-winded discussions; on one occasion, having listened to blather long enough, stormed out of the meeting and returned to his ship.
In order to properly police the Pasig river and the adjacent back country it was necessary to have an efficient riverine force. This duty fell to the Army. Four vessels were so employed: the Oeste, a large tug given to the Army by the Navy; the Napindan, the Covadonga and the larger Laguna de Bay, which served the river patrol’s flagship. The two latter-named boats were chartered or commandeered vessels. Laguna de Bay had sloping casemated upper works and looked like a small edition of the confederate Merrimack [later, CSS Virginia]. All four vessels were protected with boiler plate and railroad iron. This small fleet was manned by the 3rd US Artillery.
Occasionally this non-descript collection of river boats, which were mission-sufficient (but far from “ship shape”) would come out of the Pasig river for a turn in the bay on some business or other. Now, since the waters of the bay were within Admiral Dewey’s domain, each time one of the river craft went beyond the lighthouse Dewey became apoplectic with rage and would order them back. It happened too frequently, which prompted Dewey to send Otis a terse note warning him that the next time he found a river craft operating in the bay, the Navy would sink it. The river craft never again reappeared in Manilla Bay. General Otis was the better man in this instance by not challenging Dewey’s warning.
Admiral Dewey was ordered back to the United States on 27 September 1899. Upon arrival, he received a hero’s welcome, which involved parades in New York City and Boston. By an act of congress, Dewey was promoted to the special rank of Admiral of the Navy in 1903, his date of rank retroactive to 1899. The congressional act provided that when such office became vacant, upon Dewey’s death, the office would cease to exist. He was, therefore, the only officer of the United States Navy to serve in that rank, one he retained until his death on 16 January 1917. George Dewey served as a naval officer for 62 years.
Adams, W. H. D. Dewey and Other Great Naval Commanders, a Series of Biographies. New York: G. Routledge, 1899.
Albion, R. G. Makers of Naval Policy 1798-1947. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980.
Barrett, J. Admiral George Dewey: A Sketch of the Man. New York: Harper, 1899.
Dewey, G. Autobiography of George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1987.
Ellis, E. S. Dewey and Other Naval Commanders. New York: Hovendon Press., 1899.
Love, R. W. Jr. History of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1941. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1992.
 The squadron of evolution (white squadron) was a transitional unit in the late 19th century. It was composed of protected cruisers (Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago) and dispatch boats (Dolphin and Yorktown). Bennington and Concord joined the squadron in 1891. USS Chicago served as the squadron admiral’s flag ship. Having both full rigged masts and steam engines, the White Squadron was influential in the beginning of steel shipbuilding.
 In 1896, Commodore was a one-star rank junior to Rear Admiral. In 1899, the navy abandoned the rank (revived during World War II) and used it exclusively as a title bestowed on US Navy captains placed in command of squadrons containing more than one vessel or functional air wings not part of a carrier air wing. Today, the equivalent rank for commodore is Rear Admiral (Lower Half), and even though such persons wear two stars of a Rear Admiral, they are equivalent to the one-star rank of brigadier general in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
 Dewey believed there was little to gain from a war with Spain. Dewey had a short view of the situation because there was much at stake in this conflict.
 Five days before the declaration of war, Acting Secretary of the Navy John D. Long ordered Major General Charles Heywood, Commandant of the Marine Corps, to organize one battalion of Marines for expeditionary duty with the North Atlantic Squadron. The battalion was named the First Marine Battalion and placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington, a 40-year veteran of service as a Marine.
 It is the responsibility of seniors (officers or enlisted men) to lead and mentor their subordinates. There can be little doubt that Admiral Dewey was an irascible fellow; I have worked under such men myself. But I believe Dewey’s snappishness resulted from his own training, his uncompromising insistence that subordinates exhibit pride in their seamanship and strive for perfection in the art and science of the naval profession.
 Story related and passed down from Captain Ridgley, U. S. Coast Guard, who at the time served aboard McCulloch.
 Merritt served in the Civil War as a cavalry officer with additional service in the Indian wars and the Philippine-American War. After Dewey’s destruction of the Spanish Fleet, Merritt was placed in command of the newly formed Eighth Army Corps. Merritt, with all available troops in the United States, departed for the Philippines form San Francisco in early June 1898. In August 1898, Merritt became the first American military governor of the Philippine Islands.
 It was no small matter to train artillerymen to operate water craft.
The purpose of the United States Navy is to defend America’s shores; the best way of doing that is by prosecuting war in the other fellow’s backyard. American sea power achieves its greatest advantage by keeping an enemy’s main force away from America’s shore. Our Navy controls the oceans for America’s use; it denies to our every foe access to the oceans and skies. The enemy’s coastline is America’s naval frontier. Our history over the past few hundred years tells us that our Navy’s strategy has worked out quite well for the American people.
The U. S. Navy is no one-trick pony and naval warfare isn’t confined to vast oceans or hostile coastlines. Whether projecting naval power at sea, in the air, or ashore, the Navy is prepared to employ the full spectrum of its arsenal: surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, naval guns, sophisticated aircraft, missiles, and shallow draft watercraft. And then, whenever our enemies need a real ass-kicking, the Navy asks for a handful of Marines.
Our understanding of the past helps us to better serve the future. Naval technology in our early days was somewhat limited to ships of the line, cutters, barges, experimental submarines, and small boats (craft suited to rivers and estuaries). Today we refer to combat operations on rivers as “Riverine Warfare,” and the US Navy has been doing this since the Revolutionary War. In the modern day, watercraft intended for this purpose is designed and constructed for a specific operational environment. In earlier times, watercraft used for riverine operations involved whatever was readily available at the time.
The first significant example of riverine operations occurred on Lake Champlain in 1775-76. Lake Champlain is a 136-mile long lake with connecting waterways north into Canada and southward toward New York City. They were waterways that offered a prime invasion route to early settlements and colonies and involved a bitter struggle through the end of the War of 1812. Our revolutionary-period leaders understood that the British would attempt to separate New England from other colonies by controlling Lake Champlain waterways. Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold seized Ticonderoga on 19 May 1775 and Crown Point a few days later. These were audacious operations that provided American patriots with badly needed cannon and munitions.
Arnold made a bold move to control Lake Champlain. He hastily armed a captured schooner, pressed north to St. John’s on the Richelieu River, and in a pre-dawn riverine raid, surprised the British garrison. He captured a 70-ton British sloop, seized numerous small boats, and helped himself to military stores, provisions, and arms before returning to Lake Champlain. In one stroke, the Americans had gained control of Lake Champlain, which thwarted British plans for their upcoming campaign season.
Arnold’s success at St. John’s was followed up with failure at Quebec, which precipitated the American evacuation of that city. British and American interests initiated a vigorous ship/boat-building effort on Lake Champlain. In the British mind, control of Lake Champlain had not been finally settled, but they did look upon Arnold as someone who needed their close attention. For the British to utilize the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River highway to split the colonies, they had to first dispose of Arnold’s naval force.
From their base at St. John’s, the British rapidly constructed 29 vessels (some had been built in England and assembled in St. John’s). The British squadron included Inflexible, Maria, Carleton, Thunderer, Loyal Convert, twenty gunboats, and four long boats. Under Captain Thomas Pringle, the squadron commander, were 670 well-trained sailors and Marines. In total, Pringle commanded 89 6-24-pound cannon.
The arms race of 1776 was on. Spurred by the restless driving force of Benedict Arnold, the Americans sought to keep pace with the British at their Skenesborough shipyard, near the southern end of Lake Champlain. They worked with scant resources, green timber, and a hastily assembled force of carpenters. Drawing on his own experience as a sailor and his newly acquired knowledge of the waters in which he would fight, Arnold prepared specifications for a new type of gondola particularly suited to his task. He wanted a small vessel of light construction that would be fast and agile under sail and oar. He hoped to offset the disadvantages of restricted waters with greater maneuverability against the slow moving, deeper draft British ships whose strength he could not match.
In all, Arnold fought fifteen American vessels, including the sloop Enterprise, the schooners Royal Savage, Revenge, and Liberty, eight of his newly designed gondolas, and three galleys. He manned his squadron with 500 men from troops made available to him by General Philip Schuyler and from whatever was available from along waterfront taverns. With pitch still oozing out from the planking in his ships, Arnold, now a brigadier general, set a northward course. On 10 October, Arnold stationed his flotilla west of Valcour Island where the water was deep enough for passage yet narrow enough to limit British access. Pringle’s main failure was in conducting a proper reconnaissance of the area, so his fleet sailed past Valcour Island under a strong north wind, which required that he return direction from a leeward position. The battle raged for most of the afternoon. Arnold expended 75% of his munitions and his ships were badly cut up. Taking advantage of the north wind and a foggy night, Arnold slipped through the anchored British ships and escaped. By the 13th, British ships began to overhaul Arnolds fleet, or ran them aground. Arnold managed to escape to Ticonderoga with six ships and the loss of (an estimated) 80 men.
Having regained control of Lake Champlain, the British quickly seized Crown Point. General Horatio Gates and Arnold prepared to defend Ticonderoga but the British instead returned to Canada and went into winter quarters. Circumstantially, Arnold had been thoroughly beaten on the “inland sea” but had scored a strategic victory. A British advance southward was delayed for another year and the Continental Army had additional time to build its strength.
During the War of 1812, restricted naval warfare was again seen on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. This strategy also focused on inland waterways. Initially, the British controlled the Great Lakes, which facilitated their capture of Detroit and the invasion of Ohio. In September 1812, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, USN took command of the lakes along the Erie-Ontario frontier in order to thwart a British invasion from that direction. Both sides strengthened their positions. Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry, USN assumed command of all naval activity on Lake Erie, under the direction of Commodore Chauncey from Lake Ontario. Commanding British naval forces was Commodore R. H. Barclay, RN operating on Lake Erie. Barclay and Perry both began vigorous ship-building programs; neither side could well afford men or supplies, so corners were cut whenever possible. Barclay had an advantage over Perry in ships, but through remarkable leadership and effort, Perry closed that gap.
On 10 September 1813, Perry joined Barclay in a desperate battle. Perry had nine ships to Barclay’s six and an advantage in weight of broadside. Barclay’s guns had a greater range, however, and Perry was always in danger of being destroyed. In fact, Perry’s star came very close to setting on Lake Erie. One of his two heavy ships failed to close with the British, rendering Perry’s flagship Lawrence a shamble. Decks ran red with blood; 80% of his crew became casualties; defeat seemed inevitable—but not to Master Commandant Perry. Embarking with a courageous boat crew, he rowed across the shot-splashed water, boarded the uninjured Niagara issued his orders, and steered the ship to victory. Within a few short months, Perry had assembled a fleet, gave the United States control of Lake Erie, the upper lakes, all adjacent territory, and guaranteed to the United States its freedom of movement on these vital waterways. Through Perry’s efforts, the United States also laid claim to the Northwest Territory.
Commodore Joshua Barney distinguished himself during the War of 1812, as well. See also: The Intrepid Commodore.
In the defense of New Orleans, Commodore Daniel T. Patterson demonstrated keen insight and raw courage against attacking British ships. Patterson correctly predicted that the British would assault New Orleans rather than Mobile and further, that their advance would be along the shortest route, through Lake Borgne and Lake Ponchartrain. He deployed a riverine force of five gunboats, two tenders, and his two largest ships as a means of forcing the British to delay their arrival in New Orleans. In doing so, he gave General Andrew Jackson time to complete his defensive works in Chalmette. See also: At Chalmette, 1815.
The shoreline of the modern United States is 12,383 miles. Even in America’s early days, the US shoreline was a considerable distance to protect and control. Before and after the War of 1812, buccaneers, filibusters, and other intruders plagued the United States. Using longboats, the Navy hunted down pirates through coastal estuaries, Caribbean inlets and lagoons, or waging guerrilla war against hostile Indians. Their mission took sailors and Marines into the dank and dangerous swamps and bayous of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Whether employing large ships, ironclads, tin cans, rafts, or canoes, the Navy proved time and again that it had flexibility and adaptability in riverine operations, which has become part of the Navy’s proud heritage.
Pirates had long infested the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, fueled in no small measure by the rapid growth of American commerce. In the early 1820s, pirates attacked merchant ships nearly 3,000 times. The associated financial losses were staggering; murder, arson, and torture were commonly inflicted upon American seamen. Commodore James Biddle, USN, took on the pirates, filibusters, and free-booters. In command of the West Indies Squadron, Biddle mounted raids in open longboats, manned by sailors for days at a time in burning sun or raging storm. He reached into uncharted bays, inlets, and small but treacherous rivers—to locate, close with, and destroy the buccaneer menace.
Biddle utilized his heavy ships as the backbone of his riverine force and as sea-going bases for smaller craft. This strategy steadily reduced piracy through such stellar efforts of Lieutenant James Ramage, USN and Lieutenant McKeever, who commanded the Navy’s first steamship to see combat action on the high seas, USS Sea Gull. McKeever levelled the pirate base at Matanzas, Cuba in April 1825. When buccaneers realized that their occupation was becoming less profitable and increasingly hazardous, they started looking around for other work.
Between 1836-42, Seminole and Creek Indian wars in the Florida Everglades produced a conflict uncannily like that waged in Southeast Asia 125 years later. In 1830, the US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act to remove Florida tribes to reservation lands west of the Mississippi River. Shockingly, many of these Indians refused to cooperate with the Congress. Unsurprisingly, a band of Seminoles attacked and massacred a US Army detachment under the command of Major Francis Dade. The event occurred in Tampa in December 1835. Almost immediately, the US government moved more soldiers into Florida and Commodore A. J. Dallas’ West Indies Squadron landed parties of Marines and seamen to add weight to the military presence there.
The frustration of fighting a shadowy enemy who was completely at home in the swampy wilderness and rivers in West Florida prompted the Army to ask for naval assistance delivering supplies, establishing communications, and mounting operations along the Chattahoochee River. One of the first naval units assigned was led by Passed Midshipman J. T. McLaughlin. In addition to his duties, McLaughlin served as Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant Colonel A. C. W. Fanning. McLaughlin was seriously wounded by Indians at Fort Mellon in February 1837.
As the pace of war quickened, the Navy’s riverine force grew. The Navy purchased three small schooners in 1839, which operated in the coastal inlets to chart the water, harass the Indians, and protect civilian settlements. In addition, McLaughlin, then a lieutenant, commanded many flat-bottomed boats, plantation canoes, and sharp-ended bateaux which he used to penetrate the Everglade Swamps. In effect, McLaughlin commanded the “mosquito fleet,” a mixture of vessels manned by around 600 sailors, soldiers, and Marines.
Affield, W. Muddy Jungle Rivers: A River Assault Boat’s Cox’n’s Memory of Vietnam. Hawthorne Petal Press, 2012.
S. Army Field Manual 31-75: Riverine Warfare. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Army, 1971
Friedman, N. US Small Combatants.
Fulton, W. B. Vietnam Studies: Riverine Operations, 1966-1969. Washington: Department of the Army, 1985
Joiner, G. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
Marolda, E. J. Riverine Warfare: U. S. Navy Operations on Inland Waters. Annapolis: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2006
Rowlands, K. Riverine Warfare: Naval War College Review, Vol 71, No. 1. Art. 5., Annapolis: Naval War College, 2018
 In 1830, Democrats controlled the US House of Representatives. Another shocker.
 In the 19th century, this term was used to describe a midshipman who had passed the examination for appointment to ensign but was waiting for a vacancy in that grade. A passed midshipman was also occasionally referred to as a “sub-lieutenant,” but neither of these were ever official naval ranks.
No one foresaw any geo-political problems from the small backward and completely landlocked Kingdom of Laos in 1945. It was a land inhabited for the most part by hill tribes who were generally peaceful and quite happy with their lifestyle. But there developed a rivalry between somewhat obscure princes that evolved into a serious international crisis and ultimately, an East vs. West military confrontation. A minor feud, generally meaningless to the rest of the world, was altered by North Vietnam’s policy of extending its control over the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and its use of Laos as a steppingstone to achieve undetected infiltration into South Vietnam. Behind the scenes was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) who had begun supplying military aid to the Pathet Lao —the army of the leftist Prince Souphanauvong. To counter these Communist-inspired activities, the United States had extended its military assistance effort to the anti-Communist Prince Boun Oum. As this minor struggle continued (from around mid-1950), Prince Souvanna Phouma, who had previously proclaimed neutrality, sided with the Pathet Lao. It was thus that the tiny Kingdom of Laos became a pawn on the chessboard of international politics.
US military assistance in Laos did very little to slow the escalation of Pathet Lao activities. In early 1960, the Pathet Lao joined forces with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to seize control of the eastern portion of the country’s long, southward panhandle. In 1961, aided again by NVA, the Pathet Lao opened an offensive on the Plain of Jars in central Laos. Boun Oum’s forces proved unable to contain this Communist push into the Laotian central region. By March 1961, the situation had become critical enough for President John F. Kennedy to alert the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), Admiral Harry D. Felt, for a possible military deployment to Laos.
Admiral Felt selected Major General Donald M. Weller, then serving as Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division, to additionally serve as Commander, Task Force 116. Weller’s command primarily consisted of US Marine ground and air forces, augmented by selected (mission essential) units of the US Army and US Air Force. As Weller organized his task force, President Kennedy successfully arranged a cease-fire in Laos. The crisis cooled further when fourteen governments agreed to reconvene the Geneva Conference to consider neutralization of the Laotian kingdom. Kennedy called off the alert and General Weller’s task force was deactivated.
Negotiations in Geneva proved to be long and tedious and the ceasefire was at best tenuous; sporadic fire fights continued to erupt in various areas, usually localized, but over time growing in their frequency. In the opening weeks of 1962, widespread heavy fighting broke out again, precipitating a more intense crisis. US observers agreed that by May 1962 the situation reached a critical point. Pathet Lao and NVA forces routed a major element of anti-Communist Laotian forces at Nam Tha, a town located along the Mekong River in northwestern Laos. As a result, General Phoumi Nosavanled his army in a general withdrawal into northern Thailand. In doing so, Phoumi risked widening the conflict into Thailand.
Afterward in control of the east bank of the Mekong, the Pathet Lao were poised for a drive into Thailand, which at the time was a member in good standing of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Additionally, General Phoumi’s defeat threatened the US negotiating position at the on-going Geneva accords. Accordingly, Kennedy ordered the re-activation of Task Force 116. This time Admiral Felt selected Marine Major General John Condon to serve as its commander. A Marine battalion landing team (BLT) joined the US 7th Fleet amphibious ready group as its special landing force. Combat elements of TF 116 promptly sailed into the Gulf of Siam. The US demonstration had two purposes: (1) send an important signal to Pathet Lao and NVA forces that the United States would not countenance an invasion into Thailand, and (2) assure the government of Thailand that the United States was committed to its defense.
After President Kennedy authorized a deployment of US military forces to Thailand, US Army Lieutenant General John L. Richardson assumed command of TF 116 with orders to execute military operations in Laos. Richardson’s orders were clear: exercise his command in a way that left no doubt as to American intentions to defend Thailand. He would accomplish this by positioning his force in a manner that would allow them to respond to any armed Communist threat to Thailand. At the same time, General Harkins (COMUSMACV) was ordered to also assume command of USMACTHAI and to exercise supervisory authority over TF 116.
One element of TF-116 already in Thailand was 1st Brigade, US 27th Infantry Division. US war plans called for an additional Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The Brigade would consist of a regimental landing team (RLT) (three BLTs), an attack squadron, a helicopter squadron, and various other supporting units of varying size. Marine air assets would operate out of the air base at Udorn, Thailand, which also served as the country’s provisional capital some 350 miles northeast of Bangkok. Udorn hosted a 7,000-foot runway suitable for high performance aircraft and aviation support units. The first attack squadron to arrive in Thailand was VMA 332, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harvey M. Patton, who’s 20 A-4 Skyhawks arrived at around noon on 18 May 1962.
Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Adams, commanding BLT 3/9 and Lieutenant Colonel Fred A. Steele, commanding HMM-261, both units forming a key element of the Special Landing Force, disembarked from ships of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) at Bangkok. Aviation support detachments began arriving at Udorn from Okinawa. To coordinate all aviation units and responsibilities, a provisional Marine Air Group was formed under Colonel Ross S. Mickey. On 19 May, Brigadier General Ormond B. Simpson, commanding the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (3rdMEB) (formerly, Assistant Division Commander, 3rdMarDiv) arrived at Udorn. As the brigade commander, Simpson would command all USMC air and ground elements deployed to Thailand. Simpson additionally carried the designation Naval Component Commander, which gave him responsibility for all Navy and Marine forces operating under JTF-116.
Elsewhere, US forces increased with additional USAF tactical fighter bombers, refueler aircraft, and two air transport squadrons. The US 27th Infantry was reinforced by Hawaii-based units and a logistics support command was activated near Bangkok. Major General Weller joined the staff of JTF-116 as LtGen Richardson’s chief of staff.
With the numbers of American forces sharply increasing, General Simpson implemented a civic action program with the people of Thailand. Civil action programs were performed by Marines when they were not involved in field or weapons training programs. Officers introduced local citizens to the English language while Marine engineers and Navy Seabees helped to repair buildings. Navy medical and dental personnel attended to physical ailments and injuries.
In Laos, Communist forces cautiously observed an ever-enlarging US military footprint in Thailand. The Pathet Lao and NVA halted their advance toward the Thai border.
JTF-116 headquarters was set up at Korat. General Weller established a rear-element in Bangkok and concentrated on coordinating the activities of the JTF with the Joint US Military Assistance/Advisory Group (JUSMAAG), Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Thailand (COMUSMACThai), and the US representatives of SEATO. At this time, Colonel Croizat, formerly the first Marine Corps advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Corps, served as senior US military representative to the SEATO planning staff in Bangkok. Weller and Croizat were familiar with the JTF structure, its capabilities, and its functions.
Portions of the Marine Corps contingency operation plan for Laos were later incorporated into operational planning for service in the Republic of Vietnam. One key provision of the plan was its emphasis on command relationships, an important aspect of Marine Corps and Air Force tactical support operations. In Laos, the CG 3rdMEB exercised operational control over all Marine tactical aircraft, an integral part of the air-ground team, which the Marines had nurtured since the mid-World War II period.
In Laos, training and acclimatization for combat operations began almost immediately at Udorn and Nong Ta Kai. While aviators became accustomed to working in the joint-tactical environment, ground pounders familiarized themselves with the terrain, working alongside Thai army units. Coordinated air-ground maneuvers publicized the presence of the Marines. Throughout this period of area familiarization, the Marines confined themselves to areas approved by the government of Thailand so as to minimize their contact or interference with local populations.
Once Pathet Lao and NVA commanders realized that the United States was seriously committed to Thailand, their offensive operations in northwest Laos came to a screeching halt. By late June 1962, US officials reported progress in negotiations in Geneva and Vientiane. President Kennedy, in a show of good faith, ordered major combat elements of JTF-116 to withdraw from Thailand. A month later, quarreling factions in Laos agreed to participate in a coalition government headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma and form a neutralist state. Within this protocol, agreed to and signed by the United States, Soviet Union, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Burma, Great Britain, France, Canada, India, China, Thailand, Poland, the Kingdom of Laos, and Cambodia, all foreign troops were prohibited from entering or operating within the borders of Laos. By 31 July 1962, all Marine Corps combat forces were withdrawn from Thailand/Laos, the 3rdMEB was deactivated, and the first deployment of the Marine Air-Ground task force to Southeast Asia came to an end.
The Laos Problem illustrated the value of the U. S. Marine Corps (a) as a force capable of supporting American foreign policy objectives on short notice, (b) its ability to partner with Navy, Army, Air Force units, and the militaries of foreign allies, (c) its ability to operate at will within remote areas, and (d) its ability to establish culture-sensitive civil action programs. The lessons learned by the Marines in Thailand/Laos would be taken off the shelf in another war in the not-too-distant future.
Diplomatically, Kennedy’s solution to the Laotian problem was a failure on many levels —not least of which were the convictions of both South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem and U. S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Frederick Nolting, that a neutral Laos would only serve the interests of North Vietnam. Both Diem and Nolting knew that Prince Phouma was weak and untrustworthy. Diem’s solution was hardly realistic, however: he wanted to partition Laos into a pro-communist/pro-capitalist country. President Kennedy wanted a diplomatic solution to the Laotian problem —sooner rather than later— and that’s what he got. Despite the agreement on Laos, which North Vietnam almost immediately violated, Laos did become the primary infiltration route of North Vietnamese men and materials into the Republic of (South) Vietnam. Equally significant, perhaps, was the fact that Ho Chi Minh had taken an adequate measure of John F. Kennedy and the man who would succeed him: Lyndon B. Johnson.
(Next week: Marine Advisors in Vietnam)
Castle, T. At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U. S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975. Columbia University Press, 1993.
Conboy, K. J. War in Laos, 1954-1975. Squadron/Signal Publications, 1994.
Freedman, R. Vietnam: A History of the War. Holiday House, 2016.
Hastings, M. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75. Canada: HarperCollins, 2018.
Hitchcock, W. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World of the 1950s. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018
Karnow, S. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking/The Penguin Group, 1983
Sturkey, M.F. Bonnie-Sue: A Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron in Vietnam. South Carolina: Heritage Press International, 1996
Whitlow, R. H. S. Marines in Vietnam: The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era, 1954-1964. History & Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C., 1977
 Admiral Felt (1902-92) was a naval aviator who led US carrier strikes during World War II. He served as CINCPAC from 1958-64. Felt, was an unremarkable graduate of the US Naval Academy. He spent five years at sea before applying for flight training. Felt went on to become one of the more accomplished Navy aviators in its entire history.
 Weller, an artillerist, became the Marine Corps’ foremost expert on naval gunfire support and authored several books on the topic. During World War II, Weller served under (then) Brigadier General Holland M. Smith, commanding the 1st Marine Brigade, as his artillery and naval gunfire support coordinator. Weller retired from active duty in 1963 while serving as Deputy Commander, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific.
 A battalion landing team is an infantry battalion reinforced by additional units sufficient to enable the team to accomplish its assigned mission. In this case, 3/9 was reinforced by an artillery battery, a tank platoon, an amphibious tractor platoon, a pioneer platoon, a motor transport platoon, an anti-tank platoon, and air and naval gunfire liaison teams.
 General Simpson (1915-1998) later commanded the 1stMarDiv during the Vietnam War.
 See also, final paragraph. Had the North Vietnamese adhered to their agreement, they would not have established the logistics corridor through the eastern length of Laos that became known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. Without it, the War in Vietnam might well have had a different outcome.
Military and naval officers serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. The President nominates officers for advancement (confirmation is required by the United States Senate), and depending on their seniority, it is the President who approves their assignments . Whenever an officer cannot, in good faith, serve the President, two things must occur: an officer with integrity must either resign his or her commission, or the President must relieve them from their duty assignment and send them away (either into retirement or reassign them to another duty). Generally, there are two reasons for presidential dismissal: insubordination, or professional disgrace (such as suffering considerable losses in war) .
James O. Richardson was born in Paris, Texas. He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1898 and graduated fifth in his class in 1902. His first assignment placed him in the Asiatic Squadron where he participated in the Philippine Campaign with later assignment to the Atlantic Squadron. Between 1907-09, while serving as a lieutenant, he was assigned command of the torpedo boats Tingey and Stockton, and later commanded the Third Division of the Atlantic Torpedo flotilla. Between 1909-11, he attended the Navy’s post-graduate Engineer School, then served as an engineer on the battleship USS Delaware. He was promoted to lieutenant commander and received an assignment to the Navy Department where he was charged with supervising the Navy’s store of fuel.
Promoted to commander, Richardson served as a navigator and executive officer of the battleship USS Nevada between 1917-19. Between 1919-22, Richardson was assigned to the Naval Academy as an instructor. In 1922, the Navy assigned Richardson command of the gunboat USS Asheville. Under his leadership, Asheville was dispatched to Asiatic waters where he also commanded a division of ships assigned to the South China Patrol. After his promotion to Captain, Richardson was reassigned to Washington from 1924-27, where he served as Assistant Chief, Bureau of Ordnance —afterward commanding a destroyer division of the Atlantic Squadron and then returning to Washington for service with the Bureau of Navigation.
In 1931, Captain Richardson took charge of the new heavy cruiser USS Augusta and commander her for two years. After attending the Naval War College (1933-34), he was promoted to Rear Admiral (Lower Half) and rejoined the Navy Department as its budget officer. His first command as a flag officer was the scouting force, cruiser division, Atlantic Squadron. He then served as an aide and chief of staff to Admiral J. M. Reeves, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, and afterward as Commander, Destroyer Scouting Force. In 1937, he became Assistant Chief of Naval Operations under Admiral William D. Leahy. In this position, he coordinated the search for Amelia Earhart and dealt with the Japanese attack on the USS Panay. In 1938, Richardson assumed the duties as Chief, Bureau of Navigation and aided in the development of Plan Orange. In June 1939, Admiral Richardson took command of the Battle Force, US Fleet, with temporary promotion to the rank of admiral.
In January 1940, Richardson was assigned as Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet . According to journalist John Flynn , Admiral Richardson was one of the Navy’s foremost flag officers —a man who had made the study of Japanese warfare his life’s work and an outstanding authority on naval warfare in the Pacific and Japanese naval strategy.
One will note that in the 1930s, the European powers were moving rapidly toward another world war and Japan was rapidly increasing its power and prestige in Asia. The Sino-Japanese conflict in Asia continued unabated. In the United States, resulting from a lack of attention and funding, the army and navy were in a shamble. For the navy specifically, new ships, while ordered, were still under construction. In 1937-38, the United States was not ready for either of the world’s emerging conflicts; should something happen before new ships came online, the USN would have limited effectiveness in a two-ocean war. The organization of the United States fleet in 1939 reflects the Navy’s overall unreadiness for war. To correct this deficiency, the Navy began to re-commission ships from the mothball fleet, some of which were turned over to the British as part of the Lend-Lease Program.
In this environment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet to move the Pacific Fleet from San Diego, California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His purpose in making this decision was to “restrain” Japanese naval activities in the Pacific Ocean Area. Roosevelt made this decision without asking Admiral Richardson (who not only had responsibility for the US Fleet, but also a broad base of knowledge about Japanese naval warfare) for his opinion. Admiral Richardson was not a happy sailor.
Admiral Richardson protested Roosevelt’s decision. He not only took his concern directly to the president; he went to other power brokers in Washington, as well. Richardson did believe that advance bases in Guam and Hawaii were necessary, but inadequate congressional funding over many years made these advance bases insufficient to a war time mission. Richardson firmly believed that future naval conflicts would involve enemy aircraft carriers; to detect these threats, the US Navy would require an expanded surface and aviation scouting force.
Admiral Richardson was worried because he realized how vulnerable the US Fleet would be in such an exposed, vulnerable, and exposed location as Pearl Harbor. Moreover, he knew that logistical support of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor would be a nightmare, made worse by slim resources and an inadequate logistical organizational structure. Admiral Richardson believed that Roosevelt’s decision was impractical and strategically inept —that Roosevelt had no business offering US naval support to Great Britain when in fact the US Navy was barely able to stand on its own two feet. It was also true that the Navy had little in the way of adequate housing, materials, or defensive systems at Pearl Harbor. What Admiral Richardson wanted was to prepare the fleet for war at San Diego. Then, once it was ready for war, the Navy could return to Pearl Harbor.
Most of the Navy’s admirals agreed with Richardson —the Pacific Fleet should never berth inside Pearl Harbor where it would become a sitting duck for enemy (Japanese) attack. Admiral Richardson believed that Pearl harbor was the logical first choice of the Japanese high command for an attack on the United States because Pearl Harbor was America’s nearest “advanced base.” Since the 1930s, the US Navy had conducted several training exercises against the Army’s defenses at Pearl Harbor; in each episode, the Navy proved that Pearl Harbor did not lend itself to an adequate defense. Richardson communicated this information to President Roosevelt.
He also informed the President that, in his studied opinion, the United States Navy was not ready for war with Japan. When Richardson’s views were leaked to the Washington press, President Roosevelt fired him. On 1 February 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel replaced Richardson as Commander, US Pacific Fleet, and Admiral Ernest J. King replaced Richardson as Commander of the US Atlantic Fleet. Fired by the President of the United States, Richardson reverted to Rear Admiral and served as a member of the Navy General Board until his retirement in October 1942.
Admiral Richardson predicted war with Japan and where the Japanese would strike. What the admiral knew ended up getting him fired from high command. It is my opinion that Admiral Richardson’s story tells us much about Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Richardson, J. O. On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral J. O. Richardson, as told to Admiral George C. Dyer, Vice Admiral, USN (Retired). Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, Washington, DC, 1973
Steely, S. Pearl Harbor Countdown: The Biography of Admiral James O. Richardson. Gretna: Pelican Press, 2008
 Permanent flag rank ends at major general/rear admiral (upper half). Advancements beyond major general/rear admiral (paygrade 08) are temporary assignments (lieutenant general/general, vice admiral/admiral). A major general who assigned as a corps commander will be temporarily advanced to lieutenant general for as long as he or she serves in that billet. Should this officer retire from active service after three years, he or she will revert to permanent grade of major general (although he or she may be entitled to a higher rate of pay on the retired list under the “high 36” pay scale for flag rank officers).
 The first officer charged with treason was Brigadier General Benedict Arnold of the Continental Army. During the War of 1812, Brigadier General William Hull, US Army, was court-martialed for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Hull was sentenced to death, but President Madison remitted the sentence owing to his former “good” service. President Lincoln fired several generals for their failure to win battles, Franklin Roosevelt fired several, Harry Truman famously fired Douglas MacArthur, Jimmy Carter fired Major General John K. Singlaub, George Bush fired three generals, and Barack Obama fired several.
 Plan Orange was a series of contingency operational plans involving joint Army-Navy operations against the Empire of Japan. Plan Orange failed to foresee the significance of technological changes to naval warfare, including submarine, the importance of air support, and the importance of the employment of aircraft carriers. Part of the navy’s plan was an island-hopping campaign, which was actually used during World War II. Note: the Japanese, who were obsessed with the “decisive battle,” ignored the need for a defense against submarines.
 The organization of the U. S. Navy has changed considerably since the 1900s. In 1923, the North Atlantic Squadron was reorganized into the US Scouting Forces, which (along with the US Pacific Fleet) was organized under the United States Fleet. In January 1939, the Atlantic Squadron, US Fleet was formed. On 1 November 1940, the Atlantic Squadron was renamed Patrol Force, which was organized into “type” commands: battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and training/logistical commands. Then, early in 1941, Patrol Force was renamed US Atlantic Fleet. The Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet exercised command authority over both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. At that time, the Chief of Naval Operations was responsible for navy organization, personnel, and support of the fleet—and administrative rather than having any operational responsibility.
The U. S. Marine Corps is part of the naval service organized under the Secretary of the Navy.Since the American Revolution, the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps have maintained a close relationship.In the days of sail, U. S. Marine Detachments served aboard Navy ships as sharpshooters, gunners, shipboard security, and as a landing force.Shipboard Marines served the ship’s captain and received their orders through their detachment commander, whose rank depended on the size of the ship.The Navy and Marine Corps have a long history of conducting expeditionary operations at sea and on foreign shore in furtherance of United States foreign policy, noting that the Navy-Marine Corps do not make foreign policy; they implement it.
Over these many years, the Navy and Marine Corps developed a distinct naval culture that based on their shared operational experiences, while at the same time retaining their own distinct character.It has not always been a bed of roses, as significant differences emerged between the Navy and Marines in the period leading up to the Spanish-American War.Through the Civil War, Marine Officers were often commissioned through patronage rather than through examination and demonstrated leadership potential.The Marine Corps addressed this problem, and solved it.
When the Navy transitioned from sail to steam, some senior naval officers argued that Marines were no longer needed aboard ship; they would be better employed if formed into expeditionary battalions for use within the fleet.This particular controversy continued into the early twentieth century.The fact was that at this time, the Marines did not have a unique mission that only they could perform—only traditional roles that could be as easily performed by sailors or soldiers.
The first employment of Marines as a landing force occurred during the Spanish American War when the Secretary of the Navy directed the formation of a landing battalion for service in the Caribbean.The battalion was formed with six rifle companies; its commander was Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington, and his mission was to secure an advanced base near Santiago, Cuba for use by the Navy as a coaling station.Soon after going ashore, Huntington and his Marines were confronted by a sizable Spanish force in a nearby village.Supported by naval gunfire, Huntington defeated the Spanish garrison at Cuzco—and the Marine Corps’ unique mission was at last revealed: amphibious warfare.
There is nothing simple about amphibious operations; it is a highly complex operation and if Mr. Murphy ever had a home, it was tucked away in amphibious warfare.It was after the Spanish-American War that the Navy and Marine Corps began to develop amphibious warfare doctrine.This work began in earnest in the Caribbean in 1902 and 1903, and in the Philippine Islands in 1907.In that same year, Marine Corps planners began to consider a possible war with Japan, which involved the defense of the Philippines.This planning and training helped the Marine Corps identify inadequate military weapons and equipment.Important lessons were being learned, but few in Congress, which controls military expenditures, took any notice of these deficiencies or the need for modernization.
In 1910, the Secretary of the Navy directed the Commandant of the Marine Corps to establish an Advance Base School to train Marine Corps officers in the defense of advanced naval bases.This work was tested in the Atlantic Fleet exercises in 1913-14.Subsequently, the Marine Corps formed an Advance Force Brigade whose mission was to assault from the sea, establish a defense on shore, and repel any attack by opposing forces.
World War I interrupted this work, but it was restarted in the 1920s.In addition to reorganizing the Marine Corps to satisfy its Advance Force framework, other officers began projecting the likely need for amphibious warfare troops.One of these was Earl Hancock (Pete) Ellis, who actually predicted what the Japanese would do in future decades, and almost precisely when they would begin to do it.
This was the work accomplished prior to World War II, which was uniquely suited to the U. S. Marine Corps.The officers who re-activated the 8th Marines were all trained in amphibious operations.
After general demobilization of the Armed Forces following World War I, the United States military was little more than a cadre force.No one back then believed that the United States needed a standing army.The outbreak of general war in Europe in the fall of 1939 prompted the United States to rethink this proposition.President Roosevelt and the US Congress began funding a rebuilding and strengthening of the Army-Navy-Marine Corps.Beginning in 1940, the Marine Corps began to increase the number of its units on active duty.The first major organization established was the 8th Marines [Note 1].
8th Marines was re-activated on 1 April 1940 at San Diego, California.The regiment then consisted of a headquarters company and two infantry battalions.Each battalion consisted of a headquarters company and four lettered companies.It strength was slightly over 1,000 officers and men.The 8th Marines was initially assigned to the 2nd Marine Brigade and training began immediately.A third battalion was added on 1 November 1940.
In February 1941, two Marine Divisions were activated: the 1st Marine Division in the Caribbean from the then existing 1st Marine Brigade, and the 2nd Marine Division at San Diego from the then existing 2nd Marine Brigade.The 8th Marines has been part of the 2nd Marine Division ever since.The 8th Marines (and other regiments) engaged in intensified training at San Clemente Island, off the coast of California, until 7 December 1941 when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.The 2nd Marine Division (less the 6th Marines garrisoned in Iceland) was initially instructed to defend the area from the border of Mexico to Oceanside, California against a possible Japanese attack.
Once the initial fear of a Japanese attack abated, the 8th Marines returned to San Diego and prepared for deployment.The 8th Marines, augmented by 1/10 (an artillery battalion) was detached from the 2nd Marine Division to form the nucleus of a new 2nd Marine Brigade.On 6 January 1942, the Brigade proceeded to American Samoa to preserve vital communications between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand [Note 2].The Marines went ashore on 19 January.1/8 was assigned the job of beach defenses.When this task was completed, Marines began jungle warfare training.By the summer, the 8th Marines shifted from a defensive role to preparation for offensive operations against the Empire of Japan.
The 1st Marine Division commenced operations on Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942.Included in the Guadalcanal campaign were Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Florida, Gavutu, and tanambogo in the southern Solomon Islands.This was America’s first amphibious assault in World War II and the initial allied ground offensive in the Pacific Ocean Area.For these Marines, Japanese infantry were only part of the problem.They also faced oppressive heat, heavy rainfall, malaria, dengue, and fungus.It would have been nice if the Marines had all of their food stores, but the Navy had landed the Marines and then departed with most of what the Marines needed to sustain themselves in the Solomons.Lack of adequate nutrition made the Marines more susceptible to disease and the effects of heat and humidity.
By mid-October 1942, it was time to replace the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal.The US Americal Division began arriving at this time, and they would be reinforced by the 8th Marines, who after 9 months in Samoa, were already acclimatized for jungle warfare.The 8th Marines landed at Lunga Point on 4 November 1942.1/8 began clearing operations east of the Tenaru River almost immediately.2/8 and 3/8 moved to Point Cruz on 10 November where they linked up with the 2nd Marines and elements of the US 164th Infantry Regiment.This combined force aggressed the village of Kokumbona, encountering sporadic opposition from the ever-willful Japanese soldier.This advance was halted on 11 November and the Americans recalled across the Matanikau River in preparation for Japanese counter-attack.General Vandegrift wanted to reinforce Lunga Point.
Vandegrift’s intelligence was golden.The Japanese Navy were moving thousands of fresh troops to Guadalcanal to confront the Americans.On the night of 12-13 November, a Japanese covering force for a troop convoy en route to Guadalcanal collided with US Navy escorts for a convoy transporting the US 182nd Infantry Regiment.The Navy lost two light cruisers and four destroyers; the Japanese lost one battleship and two destroyers.Navy and Marine aircraft discovered 11 enemy troop transports steaming toward Guadalcanal on 14 November.American air so pounded these transports that out of 10,000 Japanese troops, only 4,000 came ashore.That same night, the Japanese lost another battleship and two heavy cruisers.These engagements all but decided the outcome of the Guadalcanal campaign.
Despite serious losses, the Japanese continued fighting on Guadalcanal into early 1943.On 18 November 1942, the 8th Marines provided flank security to Army units aggressing the Matanikau River.A few days later, the 8th Marines passed through the Army and assumed the offense.On 23 November, the regiment encountered strong opposition.Casualties were light, but General Vandegrift halted the assault to avoid needless casualties.Instead, the 8th Marines began a series of combat patrols, which included night ambushes and lightening forays into enemy-held areas.In the first week, the 8th Marines suffered 111 casualties.
On 12 December, the 8th Marines linked up with the 2nd Marines and began a series of hit and run attacks, designed to keep the Japanese off balance.
General Vandegrift passed overall command of Guadalcanal forces to Major General Alexander M. Patch, commanding the Americal Division.The 1st Marine Division began retrograde operations to Australia.No offensive operations took place until 10 January 1943.At that time, General Patch assigned three divisions to drive out the Japanese who remained on Guadalcanal: US Americal Division, US 25th Infantry Division, and the 2nd Marine Division.The 2nd Marine Division (now including the 6th Marines) and the Americal Division had orders to seize Cape Esperance by driving along the northern coast.The 25th Division would approach Cape Esperance by an inland route.The 25th Division led off the assault followed by the 2nd Marine Division on 13 January.The 2nd Marines was followed by the 8th Marines.
While the Marines made good progress through the jungle setting, 3/8 encountered withering fire from an entrenched enemy position and all progress came to a halt.Captain Henry P. Crowe [Note 3], a former enlisted man, commanded the regimental weapons company.He rushed forward to find out what the problem was and found 3/8 Marines taking cover and somewhat disorganized.While the Marines thought that Crowe has lost his temper, he was actually rallying them to continue their assault.At one point, he yelled at the Marines, telling them, “God-damn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole.Follow me!”Crowe led them in a charge that overwhelmed the Japanese position.Afterward, “Follow Me” became the 2nd Marine Division’s motto.
Patch’s offensive succeeded in pushing the Japanese westward.The 8th Marines, with naval gunfire support, hammered the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and it was the Marine’s first real test of naval gunfire support of forces in the attack.On 15 January, the Marines encountered stiff resistance and rushed flame throwers to the point of contact.It was the first time the weapon was used in the Pacific war.
The 8th Marines were pulled off the line between 16-18 January, serving as Division Reserve.On 23 January, the US 27th Infantry captured Kokumbona.By this time, the Japanese realized the futility of trying to hold out against an ever-strengthening American military.General Patch was so certain that the Japanese were defeated that the 8th Marines began their withdrawal from the Solomons on 31 January.Weapons Company and 1/8 embarked aboard the USS Crescent City (AP-40) and sailed for New Zealand.
The Japanese began withdrawing their forces from Guadalcanal on 1 February; some 11,000 IJA troops were evacuated during the night of 7-8 February and the island was declared “secure” on 9 February.On that date, the rest of the regiment boarded USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27) and USS American Legion (AP-35) and sailed for Wellington, arriving on 16 February 1943.
As with every American serving on Guadalcanal, the Marines were undernourished.Arriving in New Zealand, the 8th Marines were feed up to five meals a day and they consumed massive quantities of steak, eggs, and mutton.Hunting parties went into the wilderness and helped themselves to the local deer, which at the time was significantly overpopulated.Venison was added to the mess hall menu.They also consumed large quantities of milk, which put a strain on local dairies.The genuine friendliness of the New Zealanders probably explains why hundreds of Marines ended up marrying local ladies.
Next week: Tarawa
Santelli, J. S.A Brief History of the 8th Marines.Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1976
Rottman, G. L.U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45.Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
The Marine Corps replaced the word “regiment” with “Marines” in the 1930s.The designation 8th Marines means the 8th regiment of Marines.Subordinate units within the regiment are designated by the number of the battalion slash the number of the regiment to which they belong.1/8 is the designation for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.The designation of companies within battalions follows a similar arrangement.Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines would be abbreviated A/1/8 or sometimes Alpha 1/8.
The 8th Marines was the first Marine Corps regiment to deploy overseas to the Pacific theater in World War II.
Crowe was awarded both the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for his courage under fire on Guadalcanal.He had previously served in Haiti, Nicaragua, and China.
It took the United States a few years to enter into the conflagration we today call World War I, but when the Congress authorized military action, an immediate expansion of the Marine Corps was ordered.A number of regiments were brought into existence for employment in Europe and in areas outside the war zone.By late 1918, the Marine Corps had 14 active regiments.Only four of these would serve in Europe; the rest were ordered for service in the Caribbean, or remained stationed in the United States.
The Eighth Marine Regiment (8th Marines) was activated at Quantico, Virginia on 9 October 1917.The regiment initially consisted of four units: Headquarters Company, and the 105th, 106th, and 107th Rifle Companies [Note 1].The regiment was augmented by the 103rd, 104th, 108th, 109th and 110th Rifle Companies on 13 October.Two additional companies were organized on 22 October: 111th and 112th Companies.Major Ellis B. Miller was designated as the regimental commander.He was a 37-year old Marine from Iowa.
At this time, Marine Corps regiments lacked a battalion structure, but in 1917, the Marine Corps adopted the deliberate policy of shaping its regiments to conform to the US Army’s regimental structure.The reason for this was that Major General Hugh L. Scott, serving as Army Chief of Staff, insisted that Marines deployed to France be organized identically with US Army units [Note 2].This made perfect sense in terms of deploying combat forces on the Western Front.Marine regiments would henceforth be organized with a headquarters company and three infantry battalions.Each battalion would consist of a command element and four rifle companies.The size of regiments would average 3,000 men.
The first orders received by the 8th Marines indicated that it could be sent to Texas for a possible thrust into Mexico.
Relations between Mexico and the United States had been strained since the Mexican-American War (1846-48).Since then, Texas and other border states had been subjected to bandit raidsfrom Mexico and insurrections from within Hispanic communities in South Texas.The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) only increased these tension.
In 1914, Mexican authorities arrested nine sailors while their ship was anchored in Tampico.The Mexicans released the sailors, but the US Naval commander demanded an apology and a 21-gun salute.The Mexicans did apologize, but refused to offer the 21-gun honors.As President Wilson consulted with Congress over the matter of a possible invasion of Mexico, US intelligence assets learned that a steamer with German registry was attempting to deliver weapons and munitions for Victoriano Huerta, who had seized control of the Mexican government [Note 3].In response, Wilson authorized the Navy to seize the port city of Veracruz.
In 1916, the Mexican Bandit Pancho Villa crossed the US border with a sizable force and attacked the New Mexico town of Columbus.Villa assaulted the resident detachment of the 13th Cavalry Regiment, burned the town, seized 100 horses, and made off with other military supplies.Eighteen Americans died during the assault; Villa lost about 80 of his banditos.
In January 1917, British Intelligence intercepted a cable from the German Foreign Office addressed to Mexico’s president proposing a military alliance; should the United States enter the war against Germany, a Mexican invasion of the southern portion of the US border would be rewarded by the recovery of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.President Carranza referred the matter to a military commission, which concluded that the proposed invasion of former Mexican territory would be neither possible or desirable.
With this as a backdrop, the 8th Marines were ordered to Fort Crockett near Galveston as a contingency force should it be necessary to seize and hold the oil fields at Tampico.The regiment departed for Galveston aboard the USS Hancock on 9 November.A week later, the Marines were creating a campsite at Fort Crockett.
In August 1918, the 9th Regiment and Headquarters, 3rd Provisional Brigade arrived at Fort Crockett.The 8th Marines became part of that Brigade.The Marines remained at Fort Crockett until the end of the war with Germany, but it was not necessary to deploy these Marines into Mexico.Meanwhile, Mexican officials were well aware of the presence of these Marines and their purpose.The placement of these Marines may have materially avoided further conflict with Mexico.
The regiment returned to Philadelphia on 25 April and was deactivated the next day.By the end of 1919, a decision was taken to reactivate the 8th Marines for service in Haiti—an intervention that would not go away [Note 4].A reorganization of Marine Corps units in Haiti, precipitated by an overall reduction in the post-war strength of the U. S. Marine Corps, began in December 1919.The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (3/2) was redesignated 1/8 with its field and staff [Note 5], 36th, 57th, 63rd, 65th, 100th, 148th, and 196th rifle companies.8th Marine headquarters was not activated until the following month.
On 5 January 1920, the 8th Marines command element was activated at Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti.Field and Staff, 1/8 was deactivated and its personnel transferred to Headquarters Company, 8th Marines.8th Marines headquarters assumed control of subordinate numbered companies. This was the organization of the 8th Marines for the next five years.The regiment operated with less than 600 men; it’s commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Louis M. Little.Colonel Little was an asset in Haiti because he was fluent in the French language.
The Marines were well-aware of a rumor that Cacos bandits were planning to assault the capital city.The attack came at 0400 hours on 15 January 1920.Three-hundred bandits assaulted in three separate columns.Second Lieutenant Gerald C. Thomas commanded an urban patrol of twelve Marines.This patrol and a 50-man group of bandits surprised each other on one of the city’s side streets.Thomas ordered his Marines to hold their fire as the bandits marched toward them.When the bandits had advanced further, they opened fire on the Marines, but Thomas ordered his men to hold until the Cacos were directly in front of their position.The concentrated fire from the Marines literally destroyed the bandit formation, killing 20 insurgents.Thomas’ Marines suffered three wounded.The bandits retreated from the city [Note 6].
In pursuit of the bandit leader Benoit Batraville, Colonel Little adopted aggressive “search and destroy” operations.Marine patrols were constantly in the field looking for a confrontation with the insurgents.This attention forced the rebels to be constantly on the move.Batraville, however, managed to elude capture, which made the Marines even more determined to find and arrest him.
On 4 April 1920, the Marines experienced two significant encounters with the Cacos.At 0700, Sergeant Laurence Muth observed a group of bandits on the summit of Mount Michel.Muth instantly ordered his men to take firing positions and open fire.Unexpectedly, another group of bandits, who were planning to ambush the Marines, opened fire on Muth’s right flank.Sergeant Muth was killed in the first volley; in the ensuing firefight, ten bandits were dispatched but the Marines, being overwhelmed in numbers, withdrew.Sgt. Muth’s body was left behind.An enraged Colonel Little immediately dispatched 21 patrols, with himself leading one of them to the place where Muth was killed.Catching a group of Cacos off guard, the Marines initiated a firefight that resulted in 25 enemy killed.After the fight, Little discovered Sgt. Muth’s remains.He had been decapitated and his heart had been cut out.
Commanding the 100th Company, 8th Marines in the area of Marche Canard, Captain Jesse L. Perkins led his Marines into the countryside to search for Batraville.Personally leading a squad of eleven Marines on 19 May, Perkins became aware of a large Cacos camp within a six hour march.He proceeded to the location with the assistance of native guides.At 0600, Perkins and his Marines encountered an outpost a short distance from the enemy’s main camp.Perkins sent Second Lieutenant Edgar G. Kirkpatrick with seven Marines to envelop the camp site.Captain Perkins, Sergeant William F. Passmore, Sergeant Albert A. Tauber, and Private Emery L. Entrekin [Note 7] assaulted the camp.Although greatly outnumbered, Perkins gambled on the element of surprise.Panic ensued once the Cacos observed the Marines rushing toward their position. Disregarding enemy fire, Perkins and his Marines rushed forward while firing their weapons, momentarily stunning the rebels.Benoit Batraville then appeared to take charge of the rebels.Recognizing Batraville, Sergeant Passmore turned and fired at Batraville with his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), killing him instantly.
At the sound of the rifle fire, Lieutenant Kirkpatrick immediately led his seven Marines into a flanking assault.The firefight lasted another 15 minutes resulting in 10 enemy killed and several more seriously wounded. Sergeant Muth’s pistol was found on Batraville’s body.
Although the Cacos leader had been killed, the Marines continued to conduct patrols in order to keep the rebels from reorganizing around a new leader.Many of these patrols were conducted on horses and mules, since these animals were an excellent form of transportation over rough terrain [Note 8].
Problems with Cacos insurgents abated over time, but the hills were infested with bandits who traditionally preyed on defenseless women who were taking their wares to market.To solve this problem, Colonel Little had his Marines disguise themselves as women.When attacked by robbers, the Marines drew their weapons and resolved the problem.After a few of these encounters, Haitian thieves left the women alone.
As the insurgency died down, the Marines undertook other duties, such as mapping the countryside, road construction, building sanitation facilities, and training the local constabulary.When the 8th Marines was no longer needed in Haiti, it was once again deactivated and all assigned Marines were transferred to the 2nd Marine Regiment.We will not hear of the 8th Marines again until the outbreak of World War II.
Santelli, J. S.A Brief History of the 8th Marines.Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1976
Rottman, G. L.U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45.Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
At this time, rifle companies were numerically designated.
Regiments not ordered for service in Europe maintained the traditional Marine Corps structure.After World War I, Marine Corps regiments gradually adopted the Army’s regimental system.
A portion of the munitions shipment had originated with the Remington Arms Company.
Naval forces had been sent to Haiti in 1915 to protect American and other foreign interests.A series of revolts and disturbances led to an insurrection of Cacos bandits.The intervention dragged on for years as Marines struggled to bring stability to a Republic in shambles.Given what we know about Haiti today, the effort was a waste of American lives, time, and money.
At this time, field and staff was the accepted title for what would later become Headquarters & Service Company.
Thomas later served as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and retired in 1956.He passed away in 1984.
Perkins, Passmore, Taubert, and Entrekin were awarded the Navy Cross medal.
While Marines did use horses and mules, at no time were Marines employed as cavalry units. Of further interest, the US Army never developed a cavalry organization until after the Civil War. Before that, the Army employed dragoons, which were mounted infantry.