Hold High the Torch, Part II

The Continuing story of the 4th Marines

EGA BlackThe size and scope of Operation Iceberg —the Battle for Okinawa, given the island’s size and terrain, was massive.  Iceberg included the Tenth US Army’s XXIV Corps (four infantry divisions) and the III Marine Amphibious Corps (1st, 2nd, and 6th Marine Divisions), the Fifth US Fleet (Task Force 58, 57, and the Joint Expeditionary Force), involving a combined force of 541,000 personnel (250,000 of which were combat troops).  Tenth Army was uniquely organized in the sense that it had its own tactical air force (joint Army-Marine Corps aviation).

The Tenth Army faced 96,000 Japanese and Okinawan belligerents.  Between 14,000 to 20,000 Americans died on Okinawa; between 38,000 to 55,000 Americans received serious wounds.  Japanese losses were between 77,000 to 110,000 killed with 7,000 captured alive.  Approximately half of the entire civilian population living on Okinawa were killed out of an estimated island-wide population of 300,000.

Iceberg was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War.  The 82-day battle had but one purpose: seize the Kadena air base for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands.  The Japanese put up one hell of a fight in their defense of Okinawa but in doing so, they sealed their own fate: the ferocity of the Japanese Imperial Army convinced Washington politicians that dropping its new secret weapon (an atomic bomb) was far better than trying to take the Japanese home islands by force of arms —and costing the Americans an (estimated) additional one-million casualties.

The landing force demanded a massive armada of ships.  The Navy would have their hands full with Kamikaze aircraft from mainland Japan. The 6th Marine Division’s mission was to capture Yontan airfield in the center part of the Island.  The first assault wave came ashore at 0837, and the 4th Marines (less its 2nd Battalion, held in reserve) was among the first units to hit the beach.  What shocked the Marines was that they encountered no resistance from Japanese defenders.  Accordingly, the American advance was rapid; significant territorial gains were achieved on that first day.  In the absence of Japanese resistance, 2/4 came ashore at noon and rejoined the regiment. Yontan was taken ahead of schedule and then, according to the game plan, the 6thMarDiv turned north.  Marine progress continued unimpeded until 7 April when the Marines encountered Japanese defenders on the Motobu Peninsula.

The defense of this peninsula included several Japanese obstacles along the Marine’s likely avenues of approach. Terrain favored the Japanese. Mount Yaetake formed the core of the Japanese defense.  The mission of pacifying Mount Yaetake was assigned to the 4th Marines, reinforced by 3/29.  The 22nd Marines and the balance of the 29th Marines moved to seal off the peninsula.  There is no sense in having to fight the same enemy twice.

The 4th Marines attack commenced on 0830 on 14 April.  2/4 and 3/29 made the preliminary assault on a 700-foot ridge.  The Marine advance was bitterly contested until 16 April; it was a classic search and destroy mission but the Japanese weren’t going quietly. On 16 April BLT 3/4 was brought into the line.  Marines from Company A and Company C boldly charged through the enemy’s heavy barrage of mortar and machine gun fires to seize the crest by mid-afternoon.  Once the Marines secured and consolidated their positions, the mission continued to eliminate pockets of resistance. Combined, the two-company assault resulted in the loss of 50 Marines killed and wounded.

The 6thMarDiv pushed on and the peninsula was pacified on 20 April.  Organized resistance in northern Okinawa ended on 21 April 1945.  Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., commanding the division, declared his sector secure and available for further operations.  In the southern sector of the Island, all American progress came to a halt at the Shuri Line [1].

General Buckner ordered III Amphibious Corps (Lieutenant General Roy Geiger, commanding) to redeploy his Marines to the left of XXIV Corps; the US 27th Division replaced the 6thMarDiv in its mopping up operations.  Shepherd’s Marines were in place by 6th May.  Buckner ordered another advance and the 6thMarDiv was tasked with capturing the city of Naha.  4th Marines began their engagement on 19 May after relieving the 29th Marines, who by this time were fought-out.  It was a brutal form of war —up close and personal: Marines had to dislodge the Japanese in hand to hand combat.  By the time the 4th Marines reached Naha, they were ready to come off the line and were replaced by the 29th Marines.

Okinawa 1945
4th Marines assault on Naha, Okinawa. DoD picture from the public domain.

On 4 June, the 4th Marines assaulted the Oroku Peninsula, the location of the Naha airfield. It was an amphibious assault involving BLTs 1/4  and 2/4 under a blanket of naval gunfire and field artillery support.  BLT 3/4  came ashore a few hours later as the reserve force.  That afternoon, the 29th Marines came ashore and lined up next to the 4th regiment.  It was a slug-fest with a well-entrenched enemy; the battle lasted for nearly two weeks. Torrential rains and thick mud hampered the progress of Marines —mud and slime not even tracked vehicles could penetrate.  On 12 June, the outcome of the battle became self-evident.  The Japanese continued fighting, of course, but their back was to the water and there was no possibility of escape.  By this time, the Marines weren’t keen on taking prisoners. The 22nd Marines closed the back door by moving into a blocking position at the base of the peninsula.  The Japanese had but two choices: surrender or die. Most opted for the second option. General Shepherd informed III Amphibious Corps on 13 June that the peninsula belonged to the American Marines.

Following this battle, 6thMarDiv proceeded south to link up with the 1stMarDiv in the final engagement of the battle.  4th Marines returned to the front on 19 June and commenced their advance on the next morning.  The Marines encountered some resistance, but not much —the Japanese were fought out, too.  All organized resistance ended on 21 June 1945.  The 4th regiment’s casualties in the Battle of Okinawa exceeded 3,000 killed and wounded.  With Okinawa in American hands, the 4th Marines headed back to Guam for rest, retraining, and refit.  Everyone was thinking of the planned assault on the Japanese home islands; no one was happy about such a prospect.

US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place in early August.  I’m not sure most Marines knew what an atomic bomb was back then, but even among those who might have had an inkling I doubt whether many were remorseful.  Planners began to consider final preparations for occupation. With Japanese acceptance of the terms of surrender on 14 August, Task Force Alpha began to organize for seizure of key Japanese positions, including the naval base at Yokosuka in Tokyo Bay. The main element of Task Force Alpha was the 4th Marine Regiment.  The decision to assign the 4th Marines to this duty was a symbolic gesture to avenge the capture of the “old” 4th Marines on Corregidor.

The US 4th Marine regiment was the first American combat unit to land on the Japanese mainland.

As the Marines transitioned from transport ships to landing craft at 0430 on 30 August, they no doubt expected treachery from their war time foe.  No matter —the Marines were prepared for any eventuality.  First ashore was BLT 2/4, which landed at Cape Futtsu.  The Marines were the first foreign invasion force ever to set foot on Japanese soil.  Upon landing, the Marines quickly neutralized shore batteries by rendering them inoperable. After accepting the surrender of the Japanese garrison, BLT 2/4 reembarked to serve as a reserve force for the main landing at Yokosuka.  BLTs 1/4 and 3/4 landed at around 0900; 3/4 seized the naval base, and 1/4 took over the airfield.  Demilitarization of all Japanese installations was initiated as a priority; it would be better not to have loaded weapons in the hand of a recently conquered army.  For all of that, all landings were unopposed.  Japanese officials cooperated with the Marines to the best of their ability.

Task Force Alpha was disbanded on 21 September 1945 and all 6thMarDiv units were withdrawn from Japan —except one.  The Fourth Marines were placed under the operational control of the Eighth Army and the regiment was assigned to maintain the defense of the Yokosuka naval base.  This included providing interior guard and the disarming Japanese (who appeared in droves to surrender their weapons).  This duty continued until November.  President Truman had ordered rapid demobilization of the US Armed Forces. Operational control of the 4th Marines passed from Eighth Army to Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific on 20 November. At the end of the month, BLT 1/4 was ordered to proceed to Camp Pendleton, California, where it was deactivated on 29 December 1945.  The regiment’s remaining elements (except for the regimental headquarters and BLT 3/4) departed Japan on 1 January 1946.  These units were deactivated at Camp Pendleton on 20 January.  BLT 2/4 was deactivated on 31 January 1946.  BLT 3/4, still in Japan, was deactivated at Yokosuka and these Marines formed the core of a newly created 2nd Separate Guard Battalion.  They would remain in Japan to guard the naval base.

4th Marines return to China, 1945. DoD Photo from Public domain.

Headquarters 4th Marines departed Japan on 6 January for Tsingtao, China.  After four years, The China Marines had returned from whence they came.  In China, 4th Marines headquarters was re-attached to the 6th Marine Division, but the regiment really only existed on paper until 8 March 1946.  On that date, all three battalions and weapons company were reactivated in China, a matter of shifting personnel from the 22nd and 29th Marines, which were deactivated.

Occupation duty in China presented an uneasy situation for everyone concerned.  Truman wanted a smaller military, and he wanted it now, even as Marines confronted an aggressive Communist Chinese Army in North China.  The 6th Marine Division was deactivated  on 31 March.  All remaining Marine Corps units in China were re-organized as the 3rd Marine Brigade. The core element of the 3rd Brigade was the 4th Marine Regiment.  Initially, 4th Marines was the only Marine Corps regiment to retain its World War II combat organization of three battalions.  Then, on 10 June 1946, the 3rd Marine Brigade was also deactivated; operational control of the 4th Marines was transferred to the 1stMarDiv.

Truman’s reductions kept the Marine Corps in a constant state of flux.  In the second half of 1946, the 4th Marines (less its 3rd Battalion) was ordered back to the United States.  BLT 3/4 was placed under the operational control of the Commander, Naval Port Facilities, Tsingtao.  Meanwhile, the regiment’s arrival at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on 1 October was the first time the 4th Marines had set foot inside the United States in twenty years.  As most of its veterans were discharged or reassigned, the regiment was once more reduced to a paper tiger.  In May 1947, the 1st Battalion was reactivated.  BLT 3/4, which was still in China was deactivated.  In November 1947, 4th Marines lost its traditional structure and became a four-company size organization: Headquarters Company, Company A, Company B, and Company C.  This significantly reduced structure remained in place for the next two years.  Even so, these rifle companies participated in a number of post-War exercises in the Caribbean.

In September 1948, what was left of the 4th Marines was again sent overseas aboard vessels of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.  Cold War antagonism between the Soviet Union and United States threatened to erupt into a full-scale war.  By this time, President Truman may have realized that downsizing the US Department of Defense [2] while at the same time challenging the power of the Soviet Union wasn’t a very good idea.  Suddenly realizing the ominous consequences of a Soviet-dominated Europe, Truman began sending military and economic aid to nations menaced by Communist aggression.  Truman also decided to maintain a US presence in the Mediterranean to help ease the pressure on such countries as Greece and Turkey.  In furtherance of this policy, the Marine Corps maintained a battalion landing team (BLT) as part of the Mediterranean fleet.  The 4th Marines was re-activated from this BLT beginning in September 1948 and lasting until January 1949.  America’s “show of force” included a landing at Haifa, Palestine in October.  This detachment was ordered to proceed to Jerusalem to perform temporary guard duty at the American Consulate.

A few months after returning to the United States, the 4th Marines deployed to Puerto Rico for training exercises.  The regiment was once again deactivated on 17 October 1949.  Less than one year later, the military weakness of the United States along with other Truman administration blunders encouraged the North Koreans to invade the Republic of South Korea.

Next week: From Harry Truman’s War to the Streets Without Joy

Sources:

  1. Organization of the United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP) 5-12D. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 2015.
  2. Santelli, J. S. A Brief History of the Fourth Marines.  Washington: U. S. Marine Corps Historical Division, 1970

Endnotes:

[1] The Shuri-Naha-Yanabaru Line was a defensible series of positions held by the Japanese Imperial Army. It was so formidable, in fact, that during the contest, Marine Corps Commandant suggested that Tenth Army commander General Simon B. Buckner consider using the 2ndMarDiv in an amphibious assault on the southern coast of Okinawa, thereby outflanking the Japanese defenses.  Buckner rejected the proposal, which left only one strategy: frontal assault.

[2] The Department of Defense was created through the National Security Act of 1947, a major restructuring of the US military and intelligence agencies.  This act merged the War Department (renamed as Department of the Army) and Navy Department into the National Military Establishment, headed by the Secretary of Defense.  It also created the Department of the Air Force and United States Air Force and established the United States Marine Corps as a separate service under the Department of the Navy.

Hold High the Torch, Part I

The story of the Fourth Marine Regiment

EGA BlackA provisional military unit or organization is formed on an ad hoc basis for specific operations and, at the time of its creation, is never intended to become a permanent command. The Marine Corps has had several provisional organizations in the past, and in the sense of its present-day operations, continues to do this as part of the Marine-Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). A MAGTF is an expeditionary organization formed with a specific mission or range of similar contingency operations [1].  The more complicated the mission, the larger the MAGTF.  At the conclusion of the assigned mission, ground, air, and combat support elements are returned to their parent (major) commands of the U. S. Marine Corps (e.g., divisions, wings, logistics commands).

In the Marine Corps, an infantry division provides necessary forces for amphibious assaults or in the execution of other operations as may be directed by competent authority.  A Marine Division must be able to provide ground amphibious forcible-entry capability to an amphibious task force and conduct subsequent land operations in any operational environment.  As the ground combat element of a Marine Expeditionary Force, the Marine Division may be tasked to provide task-organized forces for smaller operations.

There are three infantry regiments within a Marine Corps infantry division.  The primary mission of an infantry regiment is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or to repel his assault by fire and close combat. The infantry regiment consists of a headquarters company and two (or more) infantry battalions—normally, three such battalions.  Infantry battalions are the basic tactical unit with which the regiment accomplishes its mission.  The Marine Infantry Regiment is the major element of close combat power of the Marine Division.  Infantry regiments (with appropriate attachments) are capable of sustained, independent operations.  When the regiment is combined with other combat support and combat service support elements, it will form a Regimental Landing Team (RLT).  The Fourth Marine Regiment is one of these.

4th MarinesThe 4th Marines was initially activated in April 1911 to perform expedition duty.  Later re-designated a Provisional Battalion, the organization was deactivated in July of that same year.

Diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States were strained beginning in 1910, when a series of revolutions, counter-revolutions, civil conflict, and outright banditry resulted in several incursions by Mexicans into US territory, notably in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  This was a period during which Texas sent companies of Texas Rangers into the Rio Grande Valley to protect ranches and homesteads from Mexican depredations.

In April 1914, a number of American sailors were on liberty in Tampico, Mexico from USS Dolphinwhen they were arrested by Mexican authorities.  We do not know why they were arrested, but having observed sailors on liberty in foreign ports, I have my own theory.  The Mexicans soon released the sailors and issued an apology for the arrest.  An outraged Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo demanded that Mexican authorities render honors to the United States flag as Dolphindeparted port —this they refused to do.

Eleven days later, the United States learned that a German vessel was about to off-load a quantity of arms and munitions at Vera Cruz, Mexico.  This was a violation of an embargo against the shipment of arms to Mexico, imposed by the United States because (1) the United States failed to recognize the legitimacy of the regime of General Victoriano Huerta, and (2) the bloodshed and turmoil associated with the Mexican civil wars/revolution.  Mexico’s violation of the embargo gave President Wilson the excuse he needed to intervene.  On 21 April 1914, Wilson ordered the Navy to land the Marines and seize the customs house at Vera Cruz.

One consequence of Wilson’s directive was the re-activation of the 4th Marines at Puget Sound, Washington.

Col Pendleton 004The newly re-formed 4th Marines was initially composed of its headquarters company and the 24th, 26th, and 27th rifle companies.  Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton, with considerable experience commanding expeditionary units, was ordered to assume command of the regiment.  Within only two days, the regiment embarked aboard USS South Dakota and sailed for San Francisco, California.  At Mare Island, four additional companies joined the regiment: the 31st and 32nd companies boarded South Dakota, and the 34th and 35th companies embarked aboard USS Jupiter.  Both ships set sail almost immediately after loading the Marines.

On that same day, 21 April, USS Prairie landed 502 Marines in Vera Cruz from the 2nd Advanced Base Regiment.  Marine Detachments and 295 sailors (bluejackets) from USS Florida and USS Utah also went ashore as a provisional battalion.  The Mexican commander at Vera Cruz was General Gustavo Maass who, owing to a great deal of common sense, withdrew his forces from the city.  The American landing force was unopposed but taking control of the city was not as easy. Fierce fighting began when cadets of the Vera Cruz Naval Academy, supported by fifty-or-so Mexican soldiers and untrained citizens resisted the US invasion force.  Naval artillery destroyed the Naval Academy and its cadets. Afterward, the Marines took complete control of the city with little difficulty.

South Dakota and Jupiter arrived at Mazatlán on 28 April 1914, with South Dakota ordered to proceed further south into Acapulco harbor.  Within a week, USS West Virginia arrived at Mazatlán with reinforcements, the 28th and 36th rifle companies.  The 4th Marines was now comprised of ten rifle companies (three battalions) and all of its forces were in Mexican waters primed for action while stationary off the West Coast of Mexico.

The naval force remained in Mexican waters through June 1914.  The 4th Marines would only be put ashore if the situation demanded it.  By the end of June, Wilson had decided to support his own dictator of choice and with the election of Venustiano Carranza, tensions between Mexico and the United States eased.  Wilson permitted the supply of arms and munitions to Carranza; the 4th Marines were withdrawn from Mexican waters.

Upon return to the United States, most of the regiment established its base of operations at San Diego, California; 1st Battalion (Major John T. Myers, Commanding) was (initially) ordered to return to Mare Island.  The 1st Battalion later relocated to San Francisco, where a “model camp” was established on the grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition [2].  Meanwhile, regimental headquarters and four rifle companies occupied a new camp on North Island. Owing to the success of the 1st Battalion’s model camp in San Francisco, Colonel Pendleton was tasked to do the same at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego.  The 2nd Battalion, operating under the command of Major William N. McKelvy [3] was designated to assume this assignment.

Then, in 1915, marauding Indians threatened the lives and property of Americans living in the Mexican state of Sonora. As Mexico had not taken any worthwhile measures to prevent these attacks, or to defend the Americans, relations between the US and Mexico were once more strained.  USS Colorado was dispatched with BLT 2/4(-) [4], arriving off Guaymas on 20 June.  Again, the Marines were withheld from going ashore.

In November 1915, Mexican revolutionaries and Yaqui Indian depredations prompted the dispatch of Marines to Mexico, this time involving the regimental headquarters and BLT 1/4 reinforced by the 25thand 28thcompanies.  USS San Diego anchored off shore adjacent to Topolobampo, which exerted pressure on Mexican authorities to act in ending threats to American lives and property.  Again, the Marines did not execute a landing in Mexico.

In the spring of 1916, civil war broke out in the Dominican Republic.  Once more, by presidential order, Marines were ordered to intervene.  See Also: Dominican Operations (in three parts).  The regiment remained in the Dominican Republic until August 1924.

After returning to San Diego, California, the 4th Marines began receiving Marines from a recently deactivated 7th Marine Regiment.  With so many years of peace keeping and constabulary duties in the Dominican Republic and the arrival of new personnel, the regiment began a series of training operations to reorient the Marines to their intended purpose: landing force operations, which have always been a complex undertaking.  Training included maneuvers in the Hawaiian Islands.  Normal peace time operations were interrupted in 1925 when 2/4 was dispatched to aid local authorities in Santa Barbara, California. An earthquake had severely damaged the city.  Duty for these Marines involved general assistance to the civil government and for augmenting law enforcement agencies in restoring order, guarding property, and preventing looting.

In October 1925, the 4th Marines was reorganized to include a third rifle battalion, but for whatever reason this battalion was deactivated within nine months.  In 1926, following a series of mail robberies, the President ordered the Secretary of the Navy to assign Marines to mail protection duties.  The United States was divided into two zones of operations.  Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler was placed in overall charge of the western operations and the 4th Marines became America’s mail guards.  Units of the 4th Marines were deployed throughout the western states.  Their mission not only included guarding trains and postal trucks, but also post-office guards and railway stations.  See also: General Order Number One.  Not even the American mob wanted to tangle with Marines; by 1927, the number of mail robberies had dropped to nearly zero and, as the postal department had created its own system of armed guards, the 4th Marines were sent back to San Diego, California.

Our world is not now and has never been free of conflict.  In early 1927, threats to the security of the International Settlement in Shanghai, China sent the 4th Marines to deal with the problem.  The 4th Marine Regiment subsequently spent so much of its time in China that they became known throughout the Corps as “The China Marines.” Of the number of Marine officers assigned to China with the 4th Marines, six went on to serve as Commandant of the Marine Corps: Alexander A. Vandegrift, Clifton B. Cates, Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Randolph M. Pate, David M. Shoup, and Wallace M. Green.  See also: The China Marines (series).

Tensions within the International Settlement in Shanghai never quite subsided, particularly since the Japanese adopted an aggressive stance in China.  See also: Pete Ellis-Oracle.  With a large contingent of Japanese forces located on the outside of Shanghai, their command authority embarked on a systematic program to undermine the position of the Western powers in the International Settlement.  It then became the mission of the Marines to thwart any Japanese attempt to change the status quo of the American sector.  The reality of the situation, however, was that should the Japanese have made an overt attempt to seize the American sector, the Marines would receive no assistance from other foreign military contingents. The atmosphere in China after the outbreak of the European war in 1939 was tense; the future of China uncertain. Italy, at the time an official ally of Japan, placed no value in preserving the International Settlement.  The situation worsened in 1940 when Italy became actively involved as an ally of Germany against Great Britain and France. It was a downward spiral: The Vichy government of France ordered French forces not to interfere with Japanese military intentions in Shanghai, whatever they might be.  At this time, the only obstacle to Japanese aggression in the International Settlement was the 4th Marine Regiment.

In early 1941, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Fleet concluded that war with Japan was inevitable. Accordingly, on his own initiative, he began withdrawing his most exposed units.  He recommended to President Roosevelt the withdrawal the 4th Marines, as well.  Roosevelt still had not made his decision by September 1941; the situation had by then become dire.  US intelligence sources uncovered evidence that Japan was planning to implement a series of incidents that would give them an excuse for seizing the American sector of the International Settlement.  Roosevelt finally acted and ordered all naval personnel out of China —including, finally, the 4th Marines.  Complete evacuation of the American sector was ordered on 10 November 1941.

On 27 November, Headquarters 4th Marines and the 1st Battalion embarked aboard SS President Madison.  The rest of the regiment boarded SS President Harrison the next day: destination, Philippine Islands. The situation was serious enough to cause the navy to assign four US submarines to escort these contracted troop ships to the Philippines.  Not so amazingly, the Japanese knew the full details of the Navy’s withdrawal operations, including the names of the ships and their destinations —even before either ship arrived in Chinese waters.  One reminder to all hands during World War II was, “Loose lips, sinks ships.”

The unhappy story of the 4th Marines in the Philippine Islands is provided as part of a series titled On to Corregidor. As a result of this debacle, the regimental commander, Colonel Samuel L. Howard ordered the United States Flag and the Regimental Colors burned to avoid their capture by Japanese forces in the Philippines.  At that moment, the 4th Marine Regiment ceased to exist.  The date was 6 May 1942.

American Marines are a proud lot.  There was no way on earth that Marine Corps leadership would allow the 4th Marines to pass into history.  On 1 February 1944, the 4th Marine Regiment was reactivated, reconstituted from units of the 1st Raider Regiment.  What the Marines needed more of at this stage of the Pacific war was infantry battalions, and fewer “special purpose” battalions.  In any case, the reactivation of 4th Marines was unique in the sense that the lineage and honors of both the “old” 4th Marines and 1st Raider regiment were passed on to the “new” 4th Marine Regiment.  The regiment’s  first operation was the seizure of Emirau Island in the St. Mathias Group.  America needed  airfields, and since you can’t construct these with Japanese soldiers running all over the place, the Marines were send to terminate all Japanese forces with extreme prejudice.  The Japanese, having anticipated that the Americans wanted this island withdrew some time before the landing.  The 4th Marines first amphibious landing was unopposed. There was no need for these Marines to worry, though.  Marine Corps leadership found something for them to do —they went to Guam.  The Battle for Guam is presented in sections.

Next on the agenda for the 4thMarines was the Battle for Okinawa—a brutal slog-fest lasting from 1 April 1945 to 22 June 1945.  In this awful battle, the 4thMarines would serve alongside the 15thMarines, 22ndMarines, and 29thMarines and part of the 6thMarine Division.  That story will continue next week.

Sources:

  1. Organization of the United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP) 5-12D. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 2015.
  2. Santelli, J. S. A Brief History of the Fourth Marines.  Washington: U. S. Marine Corps Historical Division, 1970

Endnotes:

[1] Navy task forces operate on a similar basis.

[2] Commemorating 400thanniversary of Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the opening of the Panama Canal.

[3] Colonel McKelvy (1869-1933) received his commission as a Marine officer after graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1893.  McKelvy served during the Spanish-American War and was awarded the Brevet Medal for extraordinary courage under fire during his service in Cuba, 1898.

[4] (-) indicates that some portion of the battalion’s organic assets have been detached.

Operation Beleaguer

China Marines — the Final Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K E ROCKEY 001
LtGen K. E. Rockey USMC

In China, 1945-49

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

In Hopeh Province

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Shantung Province

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

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

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

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

Combat ensues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes:

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

[2] A staunch anti-Communist.

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

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

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

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

Leading from the Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silver Star Medal

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

The Navy Cross [2]

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

The Navy Cross (Second Award) [3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bronze Star Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes:

[1] See Also: Scholar-Warrior.

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

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

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

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

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

A Damn Fine Pilot

EGA 1868Here is the story of an exceptional Marine who enlisted when he was still very young —17-years of age.  I find it interesting that no matter what part of the country these young men and women come from, they all have similar reasons for “joining up.” If you asked these young people why they decided to enlist, I believe their answers would be remarkably consistent. The number one response, I believe, would be “opportunity.”  Most enlistees come from modest environments.  They probably did well enough in school but are not ready to continue with higher education.  Perhaps they can’t afford to attend college; military service will help with that. Maybe they have a sense of adventure; military service will help with that, too.  Possibly, they sense a need for some discipline in their lives; the military will definitely help with that.  Other reasons might include dismal job prospects after high school, to obtain top-notch training, gain a sense of accomplishment, a desire to travel or more simply, to get out of the house.

No matter what their reasons, they come to us by the thousands.  I do not intend to in any way degrade any of the other services, but the fact is that very few applicants have what it takes to become a United States Marine. Getting into the Marines is difficult —getting through basic training is even more difficult— and intentionally so.

Here we have a young man by the name of Kenneth Walsh. He was born on 24 November 1916. He came from Brooklyn, New York graduating from Dickinson High School, Jersey City, New Jersey in 1933.  He was probably a smart kid, graduating at the age of 17 years —about a year ahead of his peers.  Within a few months of his graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina.  Afterwards, he trained to become an aircraft mechanic and a radioman.  He served at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.  Then, in 1936, he entered naval flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.  His rank upon entering flight school was private.  Upon obtaining his gold wings as a naval aviator, he was promoted to corporal.

He was assigned to fly scout-observation aircraft and over the next four years, he served on three aircraft carriers.  He was subsequently assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 in North Carolina.  At the time of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Walsh was serving as a master technical sergeant.  He was appointed as a Warrant Officer (designated a Marine Gunner) on 11 May 1942. A year later he was commissioned a First Lieutenant.

What made Walsh unique at this point was that he was among only a handful of Marine Corps officers who were qualified to serve as landing signal officer aboard U. S. Navy aircraft carriers.  He was also one of the most experienced Marine Corps pilots at the time.  Remaining assigned to VMF-124, Walsh flew the Vought F4U Corsair.  This aircraft was distributed to VMF-124 beginning in October 1942.  Marines found that these aircraft needed a few important refinements.  It was also a difficult aircraft to fly, but the refinement/learning curve was short.  The F4U aircraft had the range that the Pacific theater Grumman F4F Wildcats didn’t have.  Only the P-38s and F4U’s had the required combat range.  The fact was that these men and their flying machines were needed in the Pacific theater yesterday.

VMF-124’s Corsairs were sent to Espiritu Santo in the jeep carrier USS Kitty Hawkin January 1943. Upon arrival, VMF-124 was sent immediately to Guadalcanal, arriving on 12 February 1943.  The aircraft landed and while they were being refueled, their pilots were getting their first combat brief.  The mission: to escort a PBY Catalina which was assigned a search and air rescue mission for downed Wildcat pilots in hiding on Vella Lavella. On their first day in combat, the pilots logged 9 flight hours.

What Ken Walsh and his squadron mates wanted most was to familiarize themselves with the air combat area: islands, enemy locations, weather patterns.  They wouldn’t get the time for this.  The next day, Lieutenant Walsh led a four-plane element escorting B-24s to Bougainville —300 miles up the slot.

Another day, another mission.  Walsh had his first exposure to actual combat on 14 February. Again, his section was assigned to escort B-24’s to Bougainville … but this time, Japanese Zeros were waiting for them.  The Japanese had their own coast watchers.  The Americans lost eight aircraft that day; the Japanese lost three.  The incident was dubbed “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

As one of the first Corsair squadrons, VMF-124 was anxious to establish a tactical doctrine that later arriving squadrons could build upon. This is how things are done in Marine aviation.  VMF-124 pilots turned to an experienced Wildcat pilot for his advice.  “What is the best way to approach combat with the Japanese?”  His answer was simple:  “You gotta go after them.”  The Corsair had an advantage over the Zero; it was something Walsh learned early on: altitude.  He also learned to avoid slow speed engagements because the Zero had superior maneuverability at speeds below 260 knots.

On 1 April 1943, Walsh was on patrol over the Russell Islands.  The Corsairs circled their assigned area quietly for two hours and then were relieved by a section of P-38 Lightening’s.  No sooner had the Corsairs departed the pattern, Zeros jumped the P-38’s. Walsh alerted his flight to return to assist the P-38s.  A wild melee was taking place and at first, the Zeros didn’t notice the Corsairs. Walsh lined up one Zero for a deflection shot but missed.  His wingman scored the kill.  They approached a second Zero; Walsh splashed him.

Walsh scored three more kills on 13 May 1943.

On 10 August, Walsh’s aircraft had been badly shot up. The plane was on fire, and Walsh had limited ability to control flight.  A Zero lined up to finish him off, but Walsh’s wingman splashed him, saving Walsh’s life.  Walsh managed to reach an emergency strip at New Georgia, but his landing was shoddy. He crashed into another Corsair on the line, but he survived.

By mid-August, VMF-124 had been moved to Munda, a recently captured Japanese airstrip.  Walsh was flying CAP over the invasion beaches at Vella Lavella when the flight director warned him of inbound bogeys.  Some Zeros and Vals (Aichi D3A Type 99 Carrier Bombers) soon arrived. Walsh shot down two before a Zero clobbered him, hitting his starboard wing tank.  The plane could still fly, and Walsh headed for home and ended up landing safely.  Battered, yes, but the Corsairs had prevented the Vals from reaching their airfield. By this time, Walsh had increased the number of his victories to 10.

WALSH - FDR 001On 30 August, Walsh fought an incredible battled against fifty Japanese aircraft, destroying four enemy fighters before he had to ditch his damaged Corsair.  Next, assigned to escort bombers headed toward Bougainville, Walsh’s plane developed engine problems.  He made an emergency landing at Munda and secured a replacement Corsair and soon went off to rejoin his section —flying alone.  From his vantage point, he saw Zeros attacking the B-24s.  Walsh shot down two of these.  On his return to base, he picked up a message from other B-24’s in trouble over Gizo.  He flew off to help, again downing two Zeros—but not before he was hit himself. He was forced to ditch off Vella Lavella.  It was his third water landing in six months.

Ultimately, Ken Walsh score 21 kills, 17 of which were Zeros —second only to Colonel Greg Boyington in air combat victories.  He lost five aircraft.  He was shot down on three occasions.  He ended his first combat tour in September 1943.  On 8 February 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Captain Walsh with the Medal of Honor.

Citation:

USN MOH 001For extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron 124 in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area.  Determined to thwart the enemy’s attempt to bomb Allied ground forces and shipping at Vella Lavella on 15 August 1943, First Lieutenant Walsh repeatedly dived his plane into an enemy formation outnumbering his own division 6 to 1 and, although his plane was hit numerous times, shot down 2 Japanese dive bombers and 1 fighter.  After developing engine trouble on 30 August during a vital escort mission, First Lieutenant Walsh landed his mechanically disabled plane at Munda, quickly replaced it with another, and proceeded to rejoin his flight over Kahili.  Separated from his escort group when he encountered approximately 50 Japanese Zeros, he unhesitatingly attacked, striking with relentless fury in his lone battle against a powerful force.  He destroyed 4 hostile fighters before cannon shellfire forced him to make a dead-stick landing off Vella Lavella where he was later picked up.  His valiant leadership and his daring skill as a flier served as a source of confidence and inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect the highest credit upon him and the United States Naval Service.

Walsh K A 001Walsh returned for a second combat tour with VMF-222 flying the advanced F4U.  Between 28 April and 12 May 1945, Walsh was awarded seven (7) Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism during service in the Philippine Islands.  He scored his last victory on 22 June 1945 downing a Kamikaze over northern Okinawa.  Following the US victory over Imperial Japanese forces, Walsh was assigned to duty as the MAG-14 Assistant Operations Officer on Okinawa.  He returned to the United States in March 1946.

During the Korean War, Walsh served as a C-54 (transport) pilot with VMR-152 (15 July 1950 to November 1951).  He was promoted to Major in 1955, and to Lieutenant Colonel in 1958.  Having completed thirty years of honorable and faithful service, Colonel Walsh retired from the United States Marine Corps on 1 February 1962.

Colonel Walsh passed away on 30 July 1998, aged 81 years.  He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

The Samoan Crisis of 1899

Samoa consists of two main islands and four smaller islands.  Human beings have inhabited these islands for around 3,500 years. The Samoan people have their own unique language and their own cultural identity.  Owing to the seafaring skills of the Samoan people, early European explorers began to refer to these islands as the “Navigator Islands.”

Contact with Europeans began in the early 18thCentury.  Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen first sighted the islands in 1722.  He was followed by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768.  European contact was limited before 1830, but in that year British missionaries and traders began to arrive, led by John Williams (London Missionary Society) who traveled there from the Cook Islands.  Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Samoa from 1889 to 1894.

Of all the European explorers, Germany alone demonstrated a keen interest in the commercial development of the Samoan Islands, particularly in the processing of copra and cocoa beans on the island of Upolu.  The United States also had an interest in Samoa, particularly in the establishment of a coaling station at Pago Pago Bay.  To this end, the Americans forced alliances on the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a, which later became American Samoa.  Not to be undone, the British sent troops to protect their business interests, harbor rights, and consulate offices.  During an eight-year civil war, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States provided arms, training, and in some instances, combat troops to the warring Samoan natives.  The Samoan Crisis came to a head in 1889 when all three colonial competitors sent warships into Apia harbor; a larger war seemed imminent until a massive typhoon destroyed the warships in the harbor.

A second civil war came in March 1898 when Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over which of these should control the Samoan Islands.  The first battle involved British and American forces seeking to prevent a rebel takeover of the city of Apia.  When rebel forces (urged-on by the Germans) launched their attack, Anglo-American forces responded by directing naval gunfire against rebel positions surrounding Apia, which ultimately forced the rebels to retreat to the stronghold of the Vailele plantation.

American and British naval forces included cruisers USS Philadelphia, HMS Tauranga, HMS Porpoise and the corvette HMS Royalist.  On 1 April, Philadelphia, Tauranga, Porpoise and Royalist landed an expedition totaling 26 Royal and American Marines, 88 Royal and US sailors, and 136 Samoans for an attack on the landward side of Vailele.  Royalist was sent ahead to bombard the two fortifications guarding the Vailele plantation.  As the landing force moved inland, it no longer enjoyed the protection of naval gunfire. Upon their approach to Vailele, British and American troops were overwhelmed by rebel forces.  It was a defeat for the British and Americans, but three of America’s combatants are of particular interest.

Monaghan J 001U. S. Navy Ensign John R. Monaghan was born in Chewelah, Washington on 26 March 1873.  He was in the first graduating class of Gonzaga University and later graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1895. After graduation, he served as a midshipman aboard USS Olympia (flagship of the US Asiatic Station) where he was commissioned an ensign in 1897.  Monaghan was later transferred for duty aboard the monitor Monadnock and the gunboat USS Alert.  During the Spanish-American War, Ensign Monaghan was transferred to USS Philadelphia, flagship of the Pacific Station [1].

Lansdale PVH 001Lieutenant Philip Van Horne Lansdale was born in Washington, D. C., on 15 February 1858. He was commissioned an ensign on 1 June 1881 and subsequently served on Asiatic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Stations.  Promoted to lieutenant in 1893, he became the executive officer (second in command) of Philadelphia on 9 July 1898.  After participating in the ceremonies which transferred sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, Philadelphia was dispatched to Samoa, arriving off Apia on 6 March 1899.  Lansdale was the officer commanding the landing force on 1 April 1899.

Hulbert JL 001Private Henry Lewis Hulbert was born in Kingston Upon Hull, East Yorkshire, England on 12 January 1867.  He was raised in a cultured home environment, he was well-educated, and he was adventurous. He entered the British Colonial Civil Service and was posted to Malaya.  While there, he married Anne Rose Hewitt, but it was a nasty marriage and one that ended in a publicly visible, very embarrassing scandal.  Hulbert left Malaya and traveled directly to the United States.  At the age of 31-years, Hulbert joined the U. S. Marine Corps on 28 March 1898.  After completing his initial training at Mare Island, California, he was assigned to the Marine contingent aboard Philadelphia.  Private Hulbert was one of the 200-man landing force on 1 April 1899.

Philadelphia arrived at Apia, which was the main port on the island of Upolu (largest of a group of six islands) on 8 March 1899, and the center of the Samoan disturbance.  A conference was held at once between British and American naval commanders, their respective consuls, and local government officials.  They were looking for ways to preserve the peace.  German interests were not represented at this meeting owing to the fact that the Germans were behind the rebellion.  On 11 March, Rear Admiral Kautz, having assumed responsibility for joint operations, issued a proclamation addressed to the Samoan high chiefs and residents of the island, both native and foreign.  In general, he called for all concerned to return to their homes and obey the laws of Samoa.  Every effort was made to influential citizens to prevail upon warring factions to obey the proclamation and to recognize the authority of the Chief Justice of Samoa.

It was on 13 March 1899 at about ten o’clock p.m. that the rebel leader answered the proclamation by attacking Apia and concentrating their fire upon British and American consulates and at Mulinu’u Point, where women and children had taken refuge.  Within moments, US Marines and blue jackets went over the side and headed for Mulinu’u Point to protect the defenseless women. A series of well-aimed volleys dispersed the rebels at that location, but the Americans received sniper fire throughout the night.

Over the next several days, US and British forces constructed trenches and breastworks extending along the outskirts of Apia; nights were occupied fighting off rebel forays attempting to discover weak areas along the defensive perimeter.

On 31 March, Lieutenant C. M. Perkins, Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Philadelphia, led a reconnaissance force consisting of sixteen riflemen and a machinegun crew into the jungle outside Apia.  Perkins encountered a vastly superior force of rebels, forcing him to withdraw back to the edge of town, to the American Consulate.

Rear Admiral Kautz ordered that a larger landing force be organized for the next day.  Commanding the landing force was Lieutenant Freeman, Royal Navy. The Americans would serve under Lieutenant Philip Lansdale, who was assisted by Lieutenant C. M. Perkins and Ensign John Monaghan.  Accompanying the combined force were an additional 136 natives, indifferently armed, poorly disciplined, with some of these men suspected rebel sympathizers.  British and American forces did not trust them and established a “color line” across which no Samoan could be allowed to cross.

On 1 April, the expedition had only just crossed the point at which the previous day’s battle had taken place when they were engaged by an estimated 1,200 rebels who had concealed themselves in the thick forest.  Lieutenant Freeman was almost immediately killed; shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Lansdale was shot in the leg, rendering him unable to walk.  In spite of his painful wound, Lansdale continued to fire at the rebels who were rapidly approaching him with rifles and beheading knives.

Realizing Lansdale’s dangerous predicament, Ensign Monaghan organized a number of blue jackets to form a defensive perimeter around their fallen leader.  Monaghan struggled to remove his superior from the battle area; the sailors fought off the savages for as long as they could, but they were being overwhelmed. Finally realizing the hopelessness of his situation, Lansdale ordered a general retreat.

As the force began its extraction, Private Hulbert stepped up calmly delivering deadly fire upon the approaching Samoan forces.  The Lansdale party slowly worked their way to the rear in withdrawal, but Lieutenant Lansdale received a gunshot wound to the chest.  It was a mortal wound from which would not recover.  Seaman N. E. Edsall joined Hulbert in laying down accurate fire as Monaghan continued in his attempt to remove Lieutenant Lansdale’s body from the field. Moments later, both Monaghan and Edsall were killed.  Private Hulbert executed a fighting withdrawal.

Private Hulbert survived the battle and received a commendation from the Secretary of the Navy on 22 May 1899, which stated in part, “The gallantry of Private Henry L. Hulbert, who remained behind at the fence till the last and who was with Lansdale and Monaghan when they were killed, I desire especially to mention.”

Private Hulbert was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for this engagement; he was later killed at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in France on 4 October 1918.  He was, at the time of his death, a 51-year old First Lieutenant, already slated for promotion to Captain.  His personal decorations include the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre.

Notes:

[1] Rear Admiral Albert Kautz, U. S. Navy, Commander, Pacific Station.