Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part III

cropped-cropped-ega-flags.jpgBrigadier General Pendleton served in the Dominican Republic until October 1918.  He was followed by a succession of fine Marine officers, including: Brigadier General Ben H. Fuller [1], Brigadier Logan Feland [2], and Brigadier General Charles G. Long [3].  They each served in command for about one year.  Brigadier General Harry Lee [4] replaced long in August 1921, serving until the Marines were withdrawn in 1924.

Despite a plethora of exceptional accomplishments by Marines in the Dominican Republic, they were not then (and are not now), free of chinks in their armor.  One of the problems shared among senior officers in the DomRep was a shortage of junior officers, and of those who they did have, a scant few who were prepared to lead Marines during an insurgency war.  According to one company commander, in late 1918 he was stationed in the hills of eastern Santo Domingo with only two lieutenants for 150 enlisted men.  He was forced to relieve one of these lieutenants from duty in the field due to officer misconduct.  We don’t know what that misconduct was, and it may not be important.  He may have thought that as a lieutenant, he knew more about leadership than his sergeant, which is almost never the case —even today.

The caliber of enlisted Marines serving in the DomRep also changed over time.  Initially, the NCOs were old salts; men who had served in the Spanish-American or Philippine Insurrection.  These were often tough old bastards who liked to drink but were always able to carry out their duties with courage and intellect.

After the commencement of a military draft in 1917, not all enlisted men had the temperament needed for independent duty. In fact, some of these Marines were so poorly trained that they were dangerous to themselves and their fellow Marines.  Serving in the 15th Regiment was a First Lieutenant (temporary captain) named Edward A. Craig [5].  When Craig joined his company in 1919, he found his men lacking in certain areas of fieldcraft, in marksmanship, in discipline, and in ability.  To correct this deficiency, Captain Craig gathered together two experienced NCOs and told them to “fix the damn problem with these Marines.” They did, and Craig’s company later distinguished itself in the Dominican country side.  There is no substitute for good NCO leadership.

And then there were the Marines who volunteered for service in World War I only to find themselves assigned to a Dominican backwater.  They were a disgruntled lot and didn’t care who knew it.  All of these Marines lived in the field —very few of them getting to pull liberty in Santo Domingo City.  Their homes were the villages and small towns.  They lived in primitive tent camps or in insect-infested native huts. Their rations were meager, consisting mostly of canned meat, vegetables, bacon, flour, and other nonperishables.  Typical of Marines even today, they often traded their government rations with natives for fresh eggs and chickens, if the poor natives had any to spare.  Occasionally an enterprising Marine encountered a cow being held against its will and liberated it.

Food and water became a serious problem during extended patrols.  Marines took with them food and water rations, of course, but if these ran out the Marines were forced to forage for food on their own.  Even with hunger pangs, the Marines were always mindful of not taking food from the mouths of local native —but one does have to survive.  And, despite Colonel Pendleton’s stern letter about what he expected of his Marines, those who served in the countryside sometimes engaged in illegal activities —the things Pendleton expressly forbade.  A few Marines extorted money and goods from the natives, made arbitrary arrests, fought with civilians or among themselves, and stealing government property sold it to the natives.  Whenever Marines were caught doing such things, they were court-martialed and severely punished.

Captain Charles F. Merkel was accused of severely beating and disfiguring a native prisoner, and for ordering four other Dominicans shot near Hato Mayor in the Eastern district. Major Robert S. Kingsbury conducted an investigation and based on his findings of fact, arrested Merkel and confined him to quarters awaiting trial.  Merkel took his own life before trial.

Clearly, however, most Marines acquitted themselves with honor and distinction during the occupation of the Dominican Republic. They were well-disciplined, law-abiding, and they discharged their duties at levels at or above their pay grade under the most difficult of conditions. They exhibited skill, patience, and esprit-de-corps in the fulfillment of suppressing banditry, training native constabulary, and civil administration.

Throughout the Marine Corps experience in the Dominican Republic, hardly a month went by when there wasn’t a clash between Marines and “bandits.”  Back then, “bandit” was a label attached to anyone suspected of being an enemy —much in the same way Marines applied the label “VC” to Vietnamese civilians (whether or not true), if they looked at a Marine with hateful or suspicious looks. A civilian may think that suspicion is a horrible way to live your life —and this may be true— but Marines aren’t paranoid when people really are trying to kill them.

In the DomRep, bandits were not homogeneous. Some were highway men (gavilleros), others were politicians who used natives to advance their own ambitions.  Some were unemployed laborers whose level of poverty drove them into a bandit camp. Some were common peasants pressed into service.  And then there were the professional criminals: murderers, kidnappers, and thieves. Most of the Dominican people were none of these.

Bandit bands seldom ever exceeded around 200 in number; most around 50 in number.  They robbed and terrorized rural communities, extorted money, confiscated ammunition, stole supplies from the sugar plantations, and some even had the courage (or stupidity) to attack a Marine patrol.  For the Marines, the bandits seemed ever present.  It was stressful duty.  And while many of the bandits were little more than hoodlums, there were also quite dangerous warlords.  When bandit groups of any size believed that they had an advantage over the Marines, they would fall upon them with machetes and knives.  Marine rifle and machine gun fire usually worked to discourage such attacks, but not always.

DH4B USMC 001In addition to courageous skill in the combat arms, the Marines had another advantage: Marine Aviation. The 1st Air Squadron joined the occupation force early in 1919.  The squadron commander was Captain Walter E. McCaughtry, a pilot of some skill who had risen from the warrant officer ranks.  Initially, the squadron was equipped with six JN-6 (Jenny) bi-planes. Air operations began from an airstrip hacked out of the dense jungle near Consuelo, 12-miles from San Pedro de Macoris.  When the squadron was moved to a field outside Santo Domingo City, it was re-equipped with DeHaviland (DH)-4Bs.  The DH-4B was a single engine, two-seat bi-plane improved from World War I day bombers. It was sturdy, maneuverable, and versatile.

In December 1920, 1st Air Squadron received a new commanding officer, Major Alfred A. Cunningham —the Marine Corps’ first aviator.  Cunningham had organized and led the 1st Marine Aviation Force in France during World War I.  He was transferred to the DomRep after serving as Director of Marine Corps aviation. Cunningham was later replaced by Major Edwin A. Brainard, who remained with the squadron until the end of occupation duty.  1st Air Squadron had an average strength of 10 officers and 130 enlisted men. It took a lot of men to keep six aircraft operational.

Flying combat missions in the Dominican Republic was no piece of cake.  Mountainous terrain made flying conditions difficult and dangerous.  With a lack of airfields, an in-flight emergency could produce disastrous results.  At this time, there were no navigational aids and the difficulties of aircraft maintenance were complicated by the logistics train.

On 22 July 1919, Second Lieutenant Manson C. Carpenter and his observer/rear gunner, Second Lieutenant Nathan S. Noble undertook a mission communicated to them by telephone of a skirmish near Guaybo Dulce.  A Marine patrol reported 30 mounted bandits fleeing across an open meadow. Carpenter conducted a strafing attack, diving from an altitude of about 100 feet and then maneuvering in such a way that brought both his front and rear cockpit guns to bear.  As Carpenter climbed to regain altitude before beginning another run, the bandits scattered into the tree-line.  During his second pass, Carpenter counted six bodies.  It was a successful mission —but the truth is that these kinds of engagements were rare.  There were no sophisticated air-to-air/air-to-ground communications —and this meant there was also no transmission of timely intelligence, no coordination of field operations.  But this was in the early stages of Marine Aviation and all of this would change in the not-too-distant future.

Marine Aviation’s greatest value lay in its support role.  1st Air Squadron carried mail and passengers from major cities to outlying districts and towns.  They also delivered much-needed supplies to remote units and evacuated wounded Marines —the first application of aeromedical evacuation. By 1922, Marine aviators were helping ground commanders control operations in widely dispersed areas by dropping messages to them from the air and keeping the regimental headquarters informed of the whereabouts of ground elements.  Marine pilots also conducted aerial surveys of the Dominican coastline, mapping important rivers, and developing photographic maps.  The regiments also sent newly arrived company officers up in planes to orient them to the areas they would later patrol on foot. Dominican operations were significant, too, in another respect: they enabled the Marine aviators to demonstrate their value to Marine ground forces.  DomRep was the birthplace of the Marine Corps Air-Ground team.

In mid-1922, the 2nd  Brigade commander summarized operations since 1916.  His report concluded that the Marines had engaged with bandits on 467 occasions.  Bandit losses exceeded 1,100 killed or wounded, with Marine loses of 20 killed and 67 wounded.  Most of these contacts transpired from within the Eastern District.  With the passage of time, bandits became more difficult to engage because they rarely attacked Marine security patrols.  It was easier (and safer) for bandits to focus their attentions on unarmed peasants.  The problem for Marines were three: (1) a paucity of accurate and timely intelligence; (2) a lack of communications with and among scattered units —noting that field radios were sent to the Marines in late 1921; (3) the absence of effective planning and coordination of security patrols.  Normally, regimental headquarters had no clear idea where their Marines were located.  Frequently, patrols from two or three commands were discovered operating in the same area, each of these unaware of the other’s presence.

By 1921, senior Marine commanders realized that time was running out and they still had not solved the bandit problem. Brigadier General Harry Lee wanted to step up ground operations.  Colonel William C. Harllee [6], then commanding the 15th Regiment, launched a systematic drive to finish off the bandits operating in the Eastern District.  Between October 1921 and March 1922, Harllee employed his entire regiment, reinforced by the newly created Policia Nacional, in a series of large-scale cordon operations in Seibo and Macoris. Harllee’s scheme involved a series of encirclements that were coordinated through the use of newly received field radios and air-dropped messages.

Harllee’s search and destroy maneuvers dispatched more than a few bandits and netted 600 or so “suspected” bandits.  General Lee halted the cordon operations, however, because they proved unpopular with the local peasantry.  Harllee reverted to security patrols, better coordinated by the introduction of field radios, and these resulted in seven enemy engagements.

In March 1922, General Lee implemented the formation of “home guard” units at Consuelo, Santa Fe, La Paja, Hato Mayor, and Seibo.  Home guard units consisted of around 15 men each, accepted for service upon the recommendation of municipal officials.  They were generally men who had suffered depredation at the hands of bandits and were therefore eager to serve their communities.  Trained, armed, and led by Marines, home guard units patrolled their own localities.  Two or three Marines armed with automatic weapons reinforced home guards units. General Lee’s plan was the precursor to Combined Action Platoon (CAP) operations used in the Viet Nam War.

Between 19-30 April 1922, home guard units effectively destroyed six bandit groups.  General Lee believed that these home guard units, more than any other single factor, broke up banditry in the Eastern District.  In late April, prominent Dominicans acting under the authority of the Military governor negotiated the surrender of one of the more prominent bandit leaders.  Subsequently, seven more of these brigands surrendered to the Marines —along with 170 of their followers.  In exchange for voluntarily surrendering, they received suspended sentences so long as they maintained good behavior.  In June 1922, General Lee reported that all banditry in the Eastern district had ceased.  The Dominican Republic was pacified.

With the success of anti-bandit operations, the Marines could then concentrate on the training of an efficient national constabulary.  It was a necessary step in safeguarding all the hard work that had been theretofore accomplished.  Previously, the Dominican Guardiahad been untrained, prone to loyalty toward charismatic leaders rather than to their duly elected national authority.  Most, if not all, Guardia officers were corrupt.  Those who shared their booty with their men were most popular of all.  More than this, Guardia officers were too easily persuaded to become the useful tools of corrupt politicians.  It was President Henriques’ refusal to accept the creation of an American-trained constabulary that led to American occupation to begin with.  Corruption was so deeply engrained that the only possible solution was to completely disband the Guardia.

This was accomplished on 7 April 1917, when the military governor created a new national police force, called the Guardia Nacional Dominicana (GND).  The GND replaced the Dominican Army, Navy, Guardia Republicana, and frontier guard.  The GND would be staffed with 88 officers and 1,200 enlisted men.  Initially, the GND was placed under the command of a Marine officer, who answered to the Commanding General, 2nd Brigade.  Over time, the GND created its own headquarters staff and territorial organization, which paralleled the organizational structure of the Marine brigade. One company of GND was assigned to each province.  In 1920, half of the GND’s officers were still U. S. Marines, officers and NCOs [7] who accepted Dominican commissions. Developing native officers was a long process of reforming attitudes and teaching them good leadership principles. Culture (corruption) was always an impediment to this process.

The GND enlisted force was entirely composed of natives.  They earned $17.00 per month, which was a hefty amount of money considering that they were accustomed to working for twenty-five cents per day, or around $7.50 per month.

Part of the difficulty of training the GND was the frequent reassignment of its senior (Marine) officers.  Generally, assignment to the GND involved a seven-month rotation. Added to this, all Marine officers were overloaded with additional duties.  Under these circumstances, combined with rapid deployments of GND forces to deal with bandits in outlying areas, effective training was significantly impaired.  Budget cuts were another stopgap to effective training.  At one point in 1921, the GND was reduced by 346 men simply because there was not enough money to pay them.  Arming the GND was another problem —that and providing them with horses and motorized transportation.

Despite so many handicaps, the GND ably assisted US Marines in their campaign against banditry and then taking pacification to the next level: security for all.  In 1921, the United States committed itself to an early withdrawal from the Dominican Republic.  Marines intensified their efforts to develop the GND into a fully professional force. The GND was renamed Policia Nacional Dominicana (PND) to emphasize the character and mission of the organization.  A new recruiting effort began, along with an effort to weed out less desirable veterans.  By August 1922, the PND fielded a force of 800 men, its ceiling remaining at 1,200.

No one did more to guarantee the success of the PND than Lieutenant Colonel Presley Marion Rixey [8] who served as its commandant from 1921 to 1923. Rixey was a superb combat commander and administrator who served on the Brigade staff before assuming command of the PND.  He transformed the PND into a highly mobile and strategically placed police agency and was responsible for the creation of two police training centers which included a five-month course of instruction for mid-level officers, including administration, tactics, weapons, topography, first aid, hygiene, and agriculture.

Training courses were also designed for enlisted men lasting two months.  Training emphasized guard duty, discipline, personal cleanliness, hygiene, and marksmanship.  An emphasis on marksmanship gave the PND a distinct advantage over bandits and other criminals.  Marines worked hard to inculcate unit pride and esprit de corps with emphasis on winning the confidence of the Dominican people, treating them fairly and consistently, offering them more than protection, but also justice.

Nevertheless, it had come time for the United States to return control of the Dominican Republic to the people.  President Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, worked to end the occupation —which was something he promised to do during his campaign for the presidency.  In 1924, the Marines packed up and went home, leaving behind them a nation with a stable economy, a countryside free of bandits, and a national police organization capable of maintaining the peace.  Would these police officials acquit themselves with honor and integrity?

Rafael L TRUJILLO 001One of these young police officers was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who was in the first class to graduate from the academy at Haina.  Trujillo was born near San Cristobal in 1891.  Most of his youth was spent drifting in and out of minor jobs and petty crime.  In 1916, he obtained a respectable job as a security officer on a sugar plantation. He was attracted to the exciting life, so in 1918, he applied for a commission in the GND.  He was sworn in as a second lieutenant in January 1919. Stationed with the 11thGuardia Company at Seibo, Trujillo earned good efficiency reports from his superiors.  On one occasion, however, he was placed under arrest for allegedly attempting to extort money from a civilian.  These charges were dismissed before trial.

After graduation, Trujillo rose rapidly through the ranks of the PND.  After the Marines departed the Dominican Republic, Trujillo was advanced from second lieutenant to major.  In 1924, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assumed the post of chief of staff of the PND.

In the elections of 1924, the Dominican people elected Horacio Vásquez.  Vásquez had cooperated with the American occupation force. He gave the Dominican Republic six years of stable and successful government, one in which political and civil rights were respected and the economy became vibrant in a country with a peaceful atmosphere.

Under Vásquez, Trujillo was advanced again to Colonel Commandant of the PND.  In 1930, when Vásquez attempted another term as president, his political opponents made a deal with Colonel Trujillo.  The deal was that Trujillo would stand back and do nothing if Rafael Estrella Ureña overthrew the Vásquez government.  As promised, Trujillo ordered his men to remain confined to barracks as Ureña marched on the capital.  After Ureña was proclaimed acting president, he appointed Trujillo to command the national police and armed forces.  In this capacity, Trujillo announced himself as a candidate as Presidency of the Dominican Republic.  During the “campaign,” Trujillo unleased his police and army forces to repress all political opponents.  He was elected president unopposed, ascending to power in August 1930.  Trujillo become the Caribbean’s longest-lived and more feared dictators.  He was assassinated on 30 May 1961.

In February 1963, Juan Bosch was elected president of the Dominican Republic.  He was overthrown on 24 April 1965.  After nineteen months of military rule, the people revolted.  US President Lyndon Johnson, concerned that communists may seize power and create a second Cuba, sent the Marines back to the Dominican Republic to restore order. As part of Operation Powerpack, Johnson authorized the US 82nd Airborne to occupy the DomRep.  They were soon joined by a small military contingent from the Organization of American States.  Foreign military forces remained in the DomRep for well over a year, departing after supervising presidential elections in 1966.  President Joaquin Balaguer remained in power for 12 years.

In retrospect, the performance of the United States Military Government (of which the  2nd Marine Brigade was its most conspicuous agent) and the American policy of Caribbean intervention, remains controversial.  By improving communications, transportation networks, promoting education and public health, and improving police and other government agencies, the Marines did much to establish an infrastructure for success.  There was one failure, however.  No matter how much money was expended improving local conditions, the United States Marines could not have created a stable Dominican democracy. This can only be accomplished by a people who most desire it and who have the means and the will to achieve it [9].  It is a lesson unlearned by modern American diplomats and senior military advisors in Washington, D. C.

Today, the Dominican Republic has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and the largest economy in the Caribbean/Central American region, bolstered by construction, manufacturing, tourism, and mining.  The Dominican people have achieved what most other Hispanic societies in the Americas never have: a political environment within which a free and independent people may succeed.

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Ben Hebard Fuller (1870-1937) initially joined the US Navy (1889-1891) and then served in the Marine Corps (1891-1934).  His final post was Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1930-1934. General Fuller was laid to rest next to his son, Captain Edward C. Fuller of the 6th Marines, who was killed in action during the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I.

[2] Logan Feland (1869-1936) initially served in the Volunteer Infantry (1898-1899) and served as a US Marine (1899-1933).  Among his several duty stations, General Feland served during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and several of the so-called Banana Wars.  Feland retired as a Major General commanding the Department of the Pacific.  He was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Distinguished Service Medal (Army), Distinguished Service Medal (Navy), five Silver Star medals, and the French Legion of Honor.

[3] Charles G. Long (1869-1943) served in the USMC from 1891-1921.  Major General Long served in the Philippine-American War, Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion, World War I, and during the so-called Banana Wars. General Long was the recipient of the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Navy Cross.

[4] Harry Lee (1872-1935) served in the Marine Corps from 1898-1933.  Lee commanded the 6thMarine Regiment, Marine Barracks, Parris Island, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, and the 2ndProvisional Brigade while serving as Military Governor of the Dominican Republic.  He served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and during the so-called Banana Wars.  Retiring as a major general, Lee was the recipient of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star medal, and Legion of Honor.

[5] See also: Edward A. Craig—Marine.

[6] William Curry Harllee (1877-1944), referred to as Bo by his friends, was a large man who stood over 6’2” tall and weighed 200 pounds.  His military service began with some difficulty.  He was expelled from the Citadel for having accumulated excessive demerits, and later expelled from the U. S. Military Academy (where he ranked second in his class) for being too willful and too independent for military service.  In 1899, Corporal Harllee distinguished himself during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 while serving with the 33rdUS Volunteer Infantry.  In 1900, he finished first among applicants for a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps.  He was nearly court-martialed in 1917 for repudiating the “dead wood” in charge of the US military.  Harllee was advanced to Brigadier General upon his retirement and is remembered as a no-nonsense, tough, and completely politically-incorrect ground officer. Harllee was laid to rest next to John A. Lejeune at Arlington National Cemetery.

[7] The GND officer corps also consisted of US civilians having a law enforcement background in the United States.

[8] Presley Marion Rixey (1879-c.1949) was the nephew of Rear Admiral Presley M. Rixey, USN, Surgeon General of the United States Navy and personal physician to Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.  Colonel Rixey served in the Marine Corps from 1900-1936 serving variously as Commanding Officer, 2nd Marines, 1st Marine Brigade, and Commander of the Legation Guard, Peking, China.  Colonel Rixey’s son was Brigadier General Presley Morehead Rixey, USMC (1904-1989).

[9] Most Hispanic societies in the Americas continue to struggle —this has been the over-arching legacy of Spanish culture.

Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part II

1917-4 EGAOn 1 June 1916, Marines aboard USS Sacramento, USS Panther, and USS Lamson went ashore to seize the strategic ports at Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi.  Monte Cristi was taken without any resistance, but the Marines at Puerto Plata had to fight their way into the town, which was defended by 500 irregular forces supporting General Arias.  Captain Herbert J. Hershinger, leading the Marines at Puerto Plata was killed; the first Marine killed in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican loses were estimated as light because the Marines exercised great restraint while entering the city.  Colonel Kane added four rifle companies as reinforcements for the Marines at Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata.

Admiral Caperton messaged the Navy Department for additional Marines for the Dominican Republic campaign.  On 4 June, Major General Commandant George Barnett ordered the 4th Marine Regiment to proceed from San Diego, California to New Orleans. A week later the 4th Marines, Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton [1] (Uncle Joe), commanding, embarked aboard USS Hancock for passage to Santo Domingo.  The regiment arrived in DomRep on 21 June and by his seniority, Colonel Pendleton assumed command of all land forces.  The colonel and his staff began preparations for an assault against Arias’ stronghold at Santiago.

PENDLETON J 001
Brigadier General Pendleton USMC National Archives

Pendleton planned for two columns of Marines to converge simultaneously on Santiago.  The 4th Marines with artillery would march by road from Monte Cristi; a second column consisting of the 4th and 9th companies, reinforced by Marines from ship’s detachments aboard USS Rhode Island and USS New Jersey would follow a rail line inland from Puerto Plata [2].  These two groups would form up at Navarette and aggress Santiago.  The first column, the largest number of Marines —with the longest route of march, would temporarily halt its march at a half-way point to rest and resupply.  The second column would seize the railroad connecting Santiago with the seacoast, thus establishing a main supply line for the combined force in its assault and later occupation of the Santiago.

Before commencing operations, Colonel Pendleton issued specific orders to his men that defined their mission and the principals that would govern their conduct in the Dominican Republic [3].

“… our work in this country is not one of invasion; we are here to restore and preserve peace and order, and to protect life and property, and to support the Constituted government.  Members of this command will therefore realize that we are not in an enemy’s country, though many of the inhabitants may be inimical to us, and they will be careful to so conduct themselves as to inspire confidence among the people in the honesty of our intentions and the sincerity of our purpose.  Officers will act toward the people with courtesy, dignity, and firmness, and will see that their men do nothing to arouse or foster the antagonism toward us that can be naturally expected towards as armed force that many interested malcontents will endeavor to persuade the citizens to look upon as invaders. Minimum force should be used at all times, but armed opposition or attack will be sharply and firmly met and suppressed with force of arms.”

—Joseph H. Pendleton, Colonel, Commanding

Colonel Pendleton’s Marines, consisting of 34 officers and 803 enlisted men began their 75-mile march on 26 June 1916.  He organized his force with the expectation of ambush and combat.  An advance guard of Marines mounted on locally procured horses led the column along the Santiago Road.  They preceded the main body at a distance of 800-1,000 yards.  The supply train consisted of 24 mule-pulled carts, 7 motorized trucks with trailers, 2 motorized water carts, a water wagon, a tractor pulling four carts, with eleven Ford touring cars [4] followed the main body of troops. Supplies were guarded by the 6th Company.  A signal detachment maintained a tenuous telephone line between Colonel Pendleton’s headquarters and the coastal base.

On day one, the Marines marched sixteen miles without meeting enemy resistance. That night, however, one of the trucks that had been dispatched for water came under fire.  Corporal Leo P. Carter, from the 13th Company, received serious wounds.

DomRep Marines 002
Marines march to Santiago

A major engagement occurred on the next day near Las Trencheras.  Dominican rebels had prepared trenches on two hills, one behind the other, which blocked the road to Santiago.  It was a strong position, but disadvantaged by flat ground, covered with thick brush high enough to conceal advancing Marines —yet, not thick enough to dissuade the Marine advance.  On 27 June, Captain Chandler Campbell of the 13th Company, placed his field artillery at a position commanding the enemy’s trenches.  The field guns were reinforced by machine gun squads. At 0800, Campbell opened fire on the trenches; under this fire, Marine riflemen advanced.  At about 1,000 yards, the Marines encountered heavy (but inaccurate) fire.  With few casualties, the Marines fixed bayonets and assaulted the Dominicans. The insurgents, not willing to engage the Marines in close combat, fled to their secondary positions.  Campbell adjusted his fires and the Marines continued their assault.  The battle lasted barely 45 minutes before the enemy executed a rapid withdrawal. They left behind five dead comrades. Marines experienced 1 killed and four wounded.

Withdrawal from advancing Marines was a pattern established for most engagements with Dominican insurgents.  The Marines had superior arms, employed small unit maneuver, and deadly accurate fire.  No Dominican rebel would hold their position against such a force.  Still, the Marines had several disadvantages: there were insufficient Marines to cover such a large territory, lacked mounted or motorized transportation, communications were poor, and the Marines had no way of forcing the enemy to stand and fight.  Time after time, the enemy broke ranks and ran away, only to return later to harass the Marines with sniper fire.

After Las Trencheras, Colonel Pendleton’s column pushed on toward Santiago. Aside from sniper fire and an occasional night attack, the enemy offered no substantial resistance.  Poor roads and inadequate bridging did more to slow Pendleton’s progress than did any rebel defense.  Despite its challenges, the supply train kept pace with the main body. Fuel was sparse, but so too was forage for animals.

The insurgents made their second major stand on 3 July at Guayacanas.  A decisive engagement in the advance to Santiago, the Marines once more faced an entrenched enemy and thick undergrowth in the advance to contract.  This time, field guns could not locate the concealed enemy, but machine gunners displayed laudable gallantry.  They hauled their heavy guns through the brush to within 200 yards of the opposing line and laid down deadly accurate fire.  First Sergeant Roswell Winans, trying to clear his jammed Colt machine gun, stood up under fire to clear a stoppage and keep his weapon in action.  He was the first Marine of the 4th Regiment to win the Medal of Honor.

Infantry and machine gunners pressed the frontal attack while the 6th Company under Captain Julian C. Smith [5], fought off a rebel force that had slipped around the Marines in an attempt to attack the supply train.  As before, the enemy broke ranks and fled, leaving behind 27 dead and 5 men who surrendered to the Marines.  The Marines lost one man killed and ten wounded.  Colonel Pendleton’s force reached Navarette during the next day.

The second column, commanded by Captain Fortson, marched along the rail line repairing bridges, track, and roadbed.  Many of these men rode in improvised military trains consisting of four boxcars and a dilapidated locomotive.  In front, the Marines pushed along a flatcar, upon which they had mounted a 3-inch gun.  The gun proved devastatingly effective in disbursing insurgents at Llanos Perez.  Captain Fortson was replaced in command by Major Hiram Bearss [6] who was remembered by Marines as someone with a peculiar fondness for force marches.

BEARSS 001
Hiram Iddings Bearss Photo from Public Domain

Major Bearss resumed the advance on 29 June, but shortly encountered a force of about 200 rebels entrenched across the railroad line at Alta Mira.  Bearss sent the 4thCompany over a mountain trail to turn the defender’s right flank, while the rest of his force, supported by the train, advanced along the railroad.  This combination of frontal and flank assault forced the insurgents back to a secondary blocking position in front of a railroad tunnel.  As lead elements began their assault, Bearss and 60 men charged through the 300-yard-long tunnel to prevent the rebels from damaging or destroying this crucial link in the rail line.  When Bearss and his Marines emerged from the tunnel, they observed the enemy running in full retreat toward Santiago.  The engagement lasted about 30 or 40 minutes.  Two Marines received wounds, including Second Lieutenant Douglas B. Roben.  The enemy losses included 50 dead.

After making extensive repairs to the rail line and constructing a bridge, the rail column, which encountered no further resistance, joined Colonel Pendleton’s main force at Navarette on 4 July 1916.  With his force united, Pendleton was poised to enter Santiago. On 5 July, civic leaders of that city sent a peace commission to Pendleton to inform him that Arias had concluded an accord with Admiral Caperton to cease all resistance.  As General Arias was in the process of discharging his followers, the peace commissioned asked the Marines to delay their entry into the city, which they assured Colonel Pendleton, would be unopposed. Colonel Pendleton agreed to the delay but using caution (should Arias change his mind), rushed his Marines forward to occupy the remaining defenses between his camp and the city.

The rebels did capitulate, and on 6 July, the Marines marched into Santiago to establish the 4th Regiment’s headquarters and communications with other Marine units in Santo Domingo City.  With organized resistance broken, Marine detachments took up the mission of finding and arresting rebel leaders.  It was easier assigned than accomplished, however, as there was no distinction between bandit and bandit leader.  Beyond arresting malcontents, the Marines began helping local communities in the reconstruction of the nation’s economy.  Major Bearss and Captain Wise were instrumental in organizing a freight and passenger transportation entity.  It wasn’t a glamorous arrangement, but reestablishing rail transportation was far better than having no operational railroad at all.

Before the end of July, the Marines were well into controlling the Dominican military situation, but the political situation remained dicey.  On 25 July 1916, the Dominican Congress elected Dr. Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal as provisional president.  Henriquez promised not to seek reelection when his six-month appointment expired. His government, however, was supported and influenced by pro-Arias factions in the legislature.  President Henriquez refused to agree to two conditions set by the United States for granting his regime diplomatic recognition, which the US believed were indispensable to political stability in DomRep. First, that the Dominicans must allow American authorities to collect and disburse all of the country’s revenues, and second, that the Dominican military be replaced by a national constabulary under American supervision.  It was a deadlock that lasted into the fall of 1916.  Then, despite his earlier assurances, Henriquez decided to run for reelection.

Henriquez’ intransigence along with an increase in violent clashes between Marines and Dominican insurgents foreshadowed a reemergence of political deterioration within or near the capital city.  The most serious of these occurred at Villa Duarte on 24 October.  A detachment of Marines attempted to apprehend a noted bandit by the name of Ramon Batista, who seized a rifle and resisted arrest.  Other Dominicans rallied to his aid and a shoot-out ensued during which Captain Low and Sergeant Frank Atwood were killed, along with Batista and three Dominicans.  Continued public disorder and political obstinacy led the United States to conclude that it was time to take the next step.  On 29 November, Captain Harry S. Knapp [7], USN (having succeeded Admiral Caperton commanding US forces) issued a proclamation placing the Dominican Republic under the military jurisdiction of the United States.  Knapp asserted that the Dominican government stood in violation of the Treaty of 1907.

The US military government mission included returning DomRep to a condition of internal order that would enable it to observe the terms of the Treaty, and the obligation of restoring DomRep to the family of nations.  The United States thus assumed control of all Dominican finances, law enforcement, judiciary, and its internal administration.  According to Knapp’s proclamation, Dominican laws were to continue in effect so far as they did not conflict with the objectives of the occupation.  Ordinary administration of both civil and criminal justice would remain the responsibility of Dominican courts and officials, except in cases involving American military personnel and/or any resistance to the military government. In those cases, matters would be resolved by US tribunals.  Captain Knapp enjoined all Dominicans to cooperate with the American government, promising that occupation forces would respect the personal and property rights of all citizens and lawful residents.

As might be anticipated, most Dominicans received this news somewhat unenthusiastically, but Knapp anticipated less violence as its result. In Colonel Pendleton’s opinion, most people wanted an intervention, but were afraid to say so.  Whatever they actually believed, most Dominicans seemed content to comply at least passively with Knapp’s decrees.

Of course, resistance did flare up, most of it isolated and minor, with the most serious incident taking place at San Francisco de Macoris where the governor, Juan Perez and a band of his pro-Arias followers, occupied the Fortaleza [8] in the provincial capital and refused to surrender their weapons to American forces.  Governor Perez, in violation of an order to disarm, now became the focus of the Marines.  On the night of 29 November 1916, First Lieutenant Ernest C. Williams [9] led a detail of twelve Marines from the 31st and 47th Rifle Companies, 4th Regiment, in a surprise assault against the Fortaleza.  The two companies awaited the opportunity to support Williams as he and his hand-picked men rushed the gate, opened it, and rushed inside before guards could erect a barricade.  Insurgents opened fire, wounding eight of Williams’ party, but within ten minutes, Perez and his followers had either surrendered or fled.

Other scattered clashes resulted in Marine casualties, including Captain John A. Hughes, who suffered severe leg injuries during a routine patrol near San Francisco de Macoris on 4 December.  By the end of the year, senior military officials believed that the Dominicans were quieting down and settling in to American occupation.  As an indication of this belief, Marine companies of the Provisional Regiment retired from service in DomRep, leaving behind the 4th Regiment in occupation of northern Santo Domingo with its headquarters at Santiago.  1st Regiment headquarters and staff remained at Santo Domingo City while subordinate organizations were returned to the United States. Redesignated 3rd Provisional Regiment, this headquarters controlled the Marine units remaining in the southern part of the country.  Together, 3rd and 4th Regiments constituted the 2nd Provisional (Marine) Brigade under recently promoted Brigadier General Pendleton.

From late 1916 onward, the 2nd Brigade performed as an army of occupation to enforce the decrees of the military government and maintain public order. Initially, the DomRep was divided into two military districts: Northern District (4th Regiment) at Santiago, and Southern District (3rd Regiment) at Santo Domingo City.  In 1919, the military government created a third Eastern District to address the provinces of El Seibo and Macoris, which had become centers of banditry and political unrest.  The Eastern District fell under the auspices of the 15th Regiment, initially commanded by Colonel James C. Breckinridge [10].  The 15thRegiment had a strength of 50 officers and 1,041 enlisted men.  With the addition of the 15th Marines, the 2nd Brigade reached a peak strength of 3,000 officers and men.

The Marines assigned to the Dominican Republic had a wide range of duties and responsibilities and to ensure that they were able to carry them out with the most flexibility, the regimental commanders had wide latitude in deploying these Marines.  There were always a strong contingent stationed at important seaports because these Marines safeguarded the country’s economic and political centers, protected main lines of supply, and protected the customs houses, which remained the primary source of government revenue.  Marines were also stationed in the interior regions to protect Dominicans from bandits. The DomRep is a large country, which meant that the Marines had to be dispersed over wide areas.  It also meant that senior NCOs often had to make important, split second, far-reaching decisions that might otherwise be made by commissioned officers.  Marine NCOs were up to the task.  Frequently, a squad of eight Marines, led by a sergeant, patrolled 35 or 40 miles from their company headquarters.

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Joseph H. Pendleton (1860-1942) joined the Marine Corps in 1884 and participated in combat operations during the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, and a series of so-called Banana Republic wars.  He received the Navy Cross for heroic service in combat.  He retired in 1924 as a Major General.  Camp Pendleton, California is named in his honor.

[2] This northern coast operation was devised owing to the fact that there was no passable road for a large force and supply train from Santo Domingo across the central mountain range to Santiago.

[3] Similar in content to the instructions issued by James Mattis before the assault on Iraq in 2003.

[4] Presumably used to convey the regimental staff.

[5] Julian C. Smith (1885-1975) joined the Marine Corps in 1909 and served through 1946.  Lieutenant General Smith was a recipient of the Navy Cross and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  He saw combat service in Vera Cruz, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and in World War II, commanding Marine forces during the Battles of Tarawa and Peleliu.

[6] Hiram Bearss was a charismatic, aggressive leader who never felt the need to waltz when a tango would be more appropriate.  In contrast, Joseph Pendleton was a thoughtful and pragmatic leader who always tried to look at a given situation through the lens of his enemy.

[7] Harry Shepherd Knapp (1858-1923) was an 1878 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy who ultimately reached the position of Vice Admiral.  He commanded USS Charleston, USS Florida, and Cruiser Force, Atlantic Fleet. He served as Military Governor of the Dominican Republic and Military Representative of the United States in Haiti. He served during the Spanish-American War and World War I.  He was the recipient of the Navy Cross.

[8] Dominican provincial capitals contained a stone-built square enclosure called a Fortaleza, which contained a barracks, offices, an armory, and occasionally, a small prison. It functioned as the political as well as military center of provincial government.

[9] Awarded the Medal of Honor.

[10] James Carson Breckinridge (1877-1942) was a member of the prominent Breckinridge family of the United States, which included six members of the House of Representatives, two US Senators, a cabinet member, two ambassadors, a vice president of the United States, college presidents, prominent ministers, military personnel, and theologians in Kentucky and Tennessee.  Colonel Breckinridge received the Navy Cross during World War I for service performed as a Naval Attaché in Russia, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Breckinridge retired from active service in 1941 with the rank of lieutenant general.

Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part I

1917-4 EGAIt is often proclaimed that Christopher Columbus discovered America. He did no such thing.  What he did do is depart Spain with no clear idea about where he was going.  Then he quite miraculously bumped into an island, a large one, located in the present-day Greater Antilles.  At that time, Columbus didn’t know where he was.  He named the island Insula Hispana (Latin) or in Spanish, La Isla Española.  When he returned to Spain, he could not, with any degree of certainty, tell his employers where he’d been.  Clearly, however, Columbus did set into motion the beginning of an almost unbelievable Spanish Empire, both in terms of land and wealth.

The indigenous people of Hispaniola called themselves Arawak/Taino people.  The Arawak originated in Venezuela, traveling to their island paradise around 1200 A.D. Each settlement was a small independent kingdom.  At the peak of this society, there were five separate kingdoms.  There may have been as many as 750,000 people living on Hispaniola.

Typical of Hispanic society, Columbus and all those who came after him enslaved the natives.  It is a sad story, of course and one repeated many times at every location the Spanish conquistadores placed their boots in the Americas.  Also typical of the Spaniards, interest in Hispaniola waned as Spain conquered new regions on the mainland.  In 1665, the French began their colonization of the Island; they called it Santo Domingo.  In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France.  Santo Domingo quickly came to overshadow the eastern two-thirds in both wealth and population.  Under the French, with a system of enslavement used to grow and harvest sugar cane, Santo Domingo became the richest colony in the West Indies. Slavery kept the cost of production low and maximized profits.  It was also an important port for goods flowing to and from France and Europe.

Still, Santo Domingo was no paradise; tropical diseases created a high death-rate among European colonists.  Added to this were a series of slave uprisings in the late eighteenth century.  During the French Revolution in 1791, a major slave revolt broke out on Saint-Domingue. France abolished slavery in their colonies in 1794 and many of the ex-slave army joined forces with France in its European wars.  In 1795, Spain ceded the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola to the French.  It became the Dominican Republic and French settlers began to colonize some areas in the Spanish side of the territory.

In 1802, Napoleon reimposed slavery in most of its Caribbean islands, a decision reinforced by French army garrisons.  Yellow fever [1] ended up killing off many of these soldiers. After the French removed its remaining 7,000 troops in 1803, revolutionary leaders declared western Hispaniola the new and independent nation of Haiti.  France continued to rule Santo Domingo but in 1805, Haitian forces under General Henri Christophe attempted conquest of all Hispaniola.  A show of force by the French caused Christophe to withdraw back to Haiti.  In 1808, following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, the criollos [2] of Santo Domingo revolted against the French and, with the aid of Great Britain, Santo Domingo was returned to Spanish rule.

Concerned about the influence of a society that had successfully fought and won against their enslavers, the United States and European powers refused to recognize Haiti (the second Republic in the Western Hemisphere).  To settle this issue, France demanded a rather substantial payment for compensation to slaveholders who lost their property, the effect of which threw Haiti into debt for many decades.  Haiti became (and remains) one of the poorest countries in the Americas, while the Dominican Republic gradually developed into one of the largest economies of the Central American-Caribbean region.

It was not long before the Dominicans began to regret their return to Spanish authority.  The Spaniards were cruel masters.  In 1821, Santo Domingo joined with other Caribbean and South American territories in declaring independence from Spain.  Initially, the Dominicans expressed a desire to attach their country to the new Republic of Columbia, far to the south.  Instead of that ever happening, independence brought new foreign domination: in 1822, the Haitian government sent troops to conquer its neighbor, which could offer no resistance.  From then until 1844, Haiti ruled Santo Domingo.  During this period, the Haitians made a concerted effort to stifle all Dominican cultural and economic activity.  Santo Domingo was reduced to a nation of economic stagnation and cultural and psychological despair.

In 1844, Dominican nationalists succeeded in throwing off the Haitian yoke of domination.  It was the beginning of the emergence of the modern Dominican Republic.  It was a rough road, however.  Throughout the nineteenth century, the Dominican people experienced a succession of corrupt and arbitrary rulers who maintained themselves in power by playing upon the people’s fears of Haitian domination. The rule of caudillos [3] in Santo Domingo was also not a new story in Hispanic America: caudillos diverted the nation’s meager resources to serve their own personal designs.

Of these, General Ulises Heureaux [4] was among the most destructive. Keeping himself in power by methods that foreshadowed those of modern totalitarian regimes, Heureaux brought modest economic growth and strengthened the armed forces from a centralized government, which is also a consistent element of Hispanic governments.  He also fostered corruption and violence in Dominican politics and vastly increased the national debt by borrowing money from European and American banks —banks that expected their governments to support their claims for repayment and collect debts.

A succession of governments who found themselves in trouble at home made a habit of borrowing money from foreign governments; when the payment on the debts became due (or overdue), corrupt politicians often attempted to play their foreign creditors off against one another as a means of preventing foreign military intervention, which their behaviors in fact invited.

During the 1890s, a group of idealistic young generals and politicians organized to oppose Heureaux’s political machine.  They were led by General Horacio Vasquez.  As a figurehead for their movement, they chose the nation’s wealthiest planter, Juan Isidro Jimenez —a man who some described as completely lacking in character or vision.  After Heureaux’s murder, Vasquez and Jimenez proclaimed a new revolutionary government.  It began a period of political disorder that eventually provoked the United States [5] to intervene in Dominican affairs.

Heureaux’s enemies divided themselves into competing factions —groups loosely associated with Vasquez and Jimenez.  Juan Jimenez soon developed his own taste for power.  The feud led to a series of weak presidents, coup d’état, and counter-coups.  All the while, each successive regime continued to borrow money from foreign banks to purchase arms pay the men who would help them suppress revolution.  The Dominican Republic steadily sank even further into debt and political chaos; foreign creditors began to demand repayment, threatening military intervention if necessary.

Dominican financial delinquency and political upheaval attracted the attention of the United States.  After 1900, concern for the defense of sea approaches to the Panama Canal intensified American interest.  Dominican entanglements with European powers seemed particularly worrisome because, under the guise of upholding the claims of its citizens, a country such as Germany might be compelled to establish a colony and a naval base within striking distance of the Canal.  Combined Anglo-French-German expeditions against Venezuela [6] during the early 1900s caused President Theodore Roosevelt to threaten to send the US fleet to interdict foreign ships. European behavior dismissive of the Monroe Doctrine eventually brought the issue to a head: the United States decided to take strong action [7] to protect the Caribbean.

The Roosevelt Corollary received its first practical application in the Dominican Republic.  At the initiation of the Dominican president, the US and Dominican Republic (DomRep) negotiated a treaty under which American representatives would collect the customs revenues at Dominican ports and divide the proceeds between current government expenses and payments on foreign debt.  In February 1905, the agreement was submitted to both legislative bodies for ratification and, at the same time, the two governments established a modus vivendi, the practical effect of which placed the treaty into immediate operation.

The treaty met significant opposition in the US Senate, resolved in 1907 with DomRep legislature accepting the treaty later that year.  Meanwhile, between 1905-1907 under the modus vivendi, the claims against Dominican creditors were reduced from $30-million to approximately $17-million.  Beyond implementing a customs receivership, the 1907 also treaty provided for the floating of a bond issue of $20-million (at five percent interest) to be devoted exclusively to paying off long-dormant accounts and financing specified public works projects that were designed to reduce domestic discontent.  By 1912, Dominican debt had been reduced to about $14-million.

In 1906, Ramon Caceres was elected president of the DomRep.  He was perhaps the most honest and capable of Dominican leaders during this period.  He fully supported the receivership as the best possible solution to the country’s debt, and he was enthusiastic about using revenues to improve public services and stimulate economic development.  Caceres was assassinated on 19 November 1911 [8] and the internal stability of the DomRep deteriorated —along with its relationship with the United States.  New regimes resorted to their old habit of enriching themselves and borrowing foreign money to suppress revolutions.

In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson sent envoys to the DomRep who were far less capable than those under earlier administration (Roosevelt-Taft).  They began throwing their weight around, making demands to form stable governments.  When this didn’t happen, the United States seized control over all Dominican revenues and began supervising public works projects.  In 1914, with rival politicians fomenting civil war, President Wilson decided that he’d had enough of the squabbling and sent in the U. S. Marines.

The Fifth Marine Regiment (5thMarines) made their presence known aboard ships of the US Navy off-shore.  It was enough to bring about a political truce and an orderly presidential election. Juan Isidro Jimenez assumed the presidency with US guarantees of support against future revolutions.  Of course, the US continued to insist that Jimenez abide by the 1907 Treaty [9].

On 15 April 1916, Jimenez arrested two close associates of the Dominican Minister of War, General Desiderio Arias.  General Arias had been one of the trouble-makers in 1914 and now established himself in the fortress of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital. Supported by his loyal followers, Arias raised the standard of open revolt.  Opponents of Jimenez flocked to join the revolutionary army.  When Jimenez and Arias failed to make a settlement, the American Minister to Dominica called for Marines to protect the US legation.  Then, on 2 May, the Dominican legislature (under pressure from Arias) voted to impeach President Jimenez.  Jimenez then fled to the countryside to gather an army of his own.  Fighting commenced on 5 May 1916.  US Marines came ashore on that same day.

Marine in DomRep 001
Marines come ashore at Santo Domingo, 1916 Photo from National Archives

The landing force consisted of two rifle companies (about 150 Marines) from USS Prairie: The 6th Company, under Captain Frederic M. Wise, and the 9th Company, equipped with field artillery, under Captain Eugene Fortson.  Captain Wise, as senior officer present, exercised overall command of the contingent, which was designated a provisional battalion.  Captain Wise was a strict disciplinarian, a no-nonsense officer with a volatile temper.  His orders were to occupy the US legation and consulate, as well as the strategically placed Fort San Geronimo.  Wise was also ordered to assist President Jimenez against Arias’s rebel forces.

In fact, Captain Wise and his Marines found themselves in the middle of a miniaturized civil war.  Some 250 troops loyal to Arias were reinforced by hundreds of civilian irregulars to whom Arias had distributed rifles and ammunition from government arsenals. Arias controlled Santo Domingo City. No sooner had the Marines entered the city, Arias blockaded the principal avenues to deny the Marines access to resupply.  Captain Wise was not a happy man.

Forces loyal to President Jimenez numbered around 800.  They had initiated assaults upon the city from the north and west.  By the time Wise arrived ashore, Jimenez’ attack had already failed; his men running low on ammunition.  Captain Wise acted with a combination of courage and discretion.  Knowing that his 150 Marines could not defeat a thousand Dominicans, Wise put up a brave front.  While his men occupied their objectives, Wise went directly to Arias and demanded safe passage for foreign nationals out of the city, and the right to resupply his Marines.  Arias agreed to both points.  All foreign nationals were evacuated to the USS Prairie; hired civilians hauled supplies from dockside to the Marine positions.

WISE F M 001
Lieutenant Colonel Frederic M. Wise, USMC Photo from public domain

Captain Wise then established contact with General Perez, commanding the president’s forces.  Perez asked for 100 rifles and ammunition (Wise refused), and for artillery support for an attack scheduled for the next day, which Wise agreed to furnish. During the night of 5-6 May, Wise deployed his artillery and infantry to support a government advance.

Without consulting with any of his subordinates, President Jimenez resigned the presidency on 6 May, citing as his reason for doing so a refusal to turn American guns on his own people.  Perez was forced to abandon his assault and the Dominican Republic was suddenly without a national leader.  The Congress created a provisional council of ministers to carry out executive functions.

Unsure of what might happen next, Captain Wise requested additional forces from the USS Prairie; 130 sailors were sent ashore to reinforce him.  In conjunction with the US minister and naval commander, Wise arranged a truce between the warring factions.  Arias dismantled many of his fortifications and disbanded the civilian irregulars; most government troops withdrew to Fort San Geronimo just outside of Santo Domingo City.  Wise and his Marines held their original positions and awaited further instructions and reinforcement.

Commanding the Cruiser Squadron, Atlantic Fleet aboard USS Dolphin, Rear Admiral William Caperton [10] arrived offshore on 12 May 1916 and assumed overall command of the operation.  Marines from the 4th and 5th Companies (from Haiti) and a detachment from the 24th Company (from Guantanamo) came ashore on 13 May.  With 400 Marines ashore, Admiral Caperton met with Arias on 14 May and demanded that he disband his army and surrender his arms by 0600 on 15 May —or face a full-scale American assault.  General Arias refused Caperton’s demand but did agree to vacate the capital.  Marines entering the rebel-held area of the city on 15 May encountered no significant resistance.  The salts who had participated in the conflict at Vera Cruz were relieved; not one of them wanted another taste of urban warfare.

Marine strength continued to increase.  USS Panther arrived on 23 May with Colonel Theodore P. Kane commanding the 2nd Regiment of Marines and three additional rifle companies.  Kane assumed command of the land forces, setting up his headquarters in the American Consulate.  He stationed his Marines at key locations throughout Santo Domingo: on the east bank of the Ozama River, the northwestern approaches to the city, and at the Guardia Republicana barracks.  Additional Marines bivouacked at Fort Ozama.  Marines remaining afloat served as a reserve force off the north coast.  USS Sacramento, with two Marine companies, awaited orders off Puerto PlataUSS Panther and USS Lamson with two companies patrolled offshore near Monte Cristi.  By 28 May, Colonel Kane commanded eleven companies, drawn mostly from the 1st and 2nd Regiments in Haiti.  On deck in Santo Domingo were about 750 Marines.  Colonel Kane determined that he required a still larger force if he was to seize the entire country.

Meanwhile, the unresolved revolution had caused the collapse of the Dominican Republic’s civil government in many interior towns.  Some of these were left unprotected when civilian police detachments departed to fight for Jimenez.  Senior US commanders believed that the next step would have to be an occupation of the entire country.  Of concern, General Arias was at large with at least several hundred men.  No matter where Arias was located, his personality became a rallying point for bandits, local caudillos, and malcontents.  There were only about 300 remaining Dominican army troops, men who seemed somewhat unenthused about the possibility of engaging Arias further.

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Yellow fever is a viral disease causing fever, chills, nausea, muscle pain, and severe headache. Liver damage can occur, causing a yellowing of the skin, hence its name.

[2] Criollo (French: Creole) persons are Latin Americans who are full or near full Spanish descent, which distinguishes them from multi-national Latinos and Latin-Americans of the post-colonial period European group.  They were at the top of a long list of social classes in Hispanic societies.

[3] Spanish word for military dictator.

[4] Heureaux ruled from 1882 to 1899 when he was assassinated.  Called Lilís, he was the son of Haitian mulatto parents.  He served as the 22nd, 26th, and 27th president of the Dominican Republic; when he wasn’t president, he control those who were.

[5] Perceiving it’s potential economic and strategic value, President Ulysses S. Grant made an attempt to annex the island republic in the 1870s.  He was unable to gain the support of the Congress, however.

[6] European navies in fact bombarded Venezuelan coastal towns.

[7] In December 1904, President Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The corollary reaffirmed US opposition to European military intervention in any Western Hemisphere country, for any reason, but also assumed responsibility for enforcing international good-behavior of the Latin American nations.  If Latin-American countries would not police themselves, the United States would do it for them.  This was the genesis of the so-called Banana Wars.

[8] Political assassination became a frequent strategy within Latin American countries; being fast, cheap, and permanent, no place on earth has had a greater number of such incidents.

[9] In 1915, US Marines occupied the Dominican Republic’s neighbor, Haiti, in an effort to establish stable government.  Wilson’s stated policy was to “teach the Latin Americans to elect good men.”

[10] Rear Admiral William Banks Caperton, USN (1855-1941) graduated from the USNA in 1875.  He commanded naval force interventions in Haiti (1916), Dominican Republic (1916), and served as Commander, Pacific Fleet (1916-1919).  He participated in the Spanish-American War, and World War I.  He was a recipient of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Marine Detachments (1775-1998)

Resolved, That two Battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or insisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required: that they be insisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

Continental Congress, 10 November 1775

OLD EGA 001This was the instrument that created the Marine Corps.  The entire purpose of the Marines back then was to serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy —its original purpose and duty, but the concept of such employment goes back much further in history.  Roman ships had detachments of naval infantry whose purpose it was to take the battle to the decks of enemy ships, but seagoing marines have been a fact of naval warfare long before then —which is to say marines in some form or fashion, even if not referred to as such.

We cannot speak of American Marines 2,500 years ago, of course, but we do know that the first American Marines were British colonialists who first served as such under Colonel Alexander Spotswood and Colonel William Gooch (both of whom served as lieutenant governors of the colony of Virginia) during the War of Jenkin’s Ear in 1741.  Four battalions were raised for this purpose, but the enterprise did not end well for those men.  Most were defeated by rampant tropic diseases, which made them ineffective as a fighting force.

After the Congress’ authorization for a Corps of Marines, Tun Tavern [1] in Philadelphia became the main recruitment office for Marines.  Here, able bodied seamen were lured into Marine Corps service for six and two-thirds dollars per month, a daily ration of bread, one pound of pork or beef, potatoes or turnips, or a half-pound of peas, and a half-pint of rum.  Recruits were also promised butter once a week, pudding twice each week, and an allotment of cheese three times a week. Their uniforms included green overcoats and white trousers —so long as clothing was available.

Samuel_Nicholas
Captain Samuel Nicholas

In 1775, the owner of the Inn was a man named Samuel Nicholas [2].  Nicholas was commissioned a captain of Marines and charged with the initial recruitment effort.  He was responsible for leading the first 300 Marines in a raid at New Providence Island in the Bahamas to seize war materials greatly needed by General George Washington.  Ultimately, the Marines seized two forts in the face of almost no British resistance and helped themselves to available guns, powder, cannon balls, mortars, and various caliber of shells.  Marines did receive three rounds of British cannon fire, but no one was injured.

On their return voyage, the Continental Navy suddenly faced the twenty or so guns HMS Glasgow at Block Island.  When the smoke cleared, seven Marines lay dead and four others required treatment for serious wounds.  British casualties included four killed or wounded.

Seagoing Marines (also referred to as seadogs) were involved in many of the battles in the American Revolution.  Marine sharpshooters stationed on platforms above the masts delivered devastating fire to the decks of enemy ships. Occasionally, the Marines would conduct raids ashore along America’s long coastline.

When peace finally came in 1783, the Congress decided that it could no longer afford a naval establishment and the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded.  Up until then, the Continental Marines had consisted of 124 officers and 3,000 enlisted men.  There was no naval force in the United States between 1783 and 1794; in that year, Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, all of which would have stationed aboard them detachments of US Marines.  They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was with the reemergence of the Navy and Marine Corps.  Moorish raiders operating in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard had begun seizing US flagged vessels and holding them, their cargoes, and crews, for ransom.  In 1793 alone, the US lost eleven merchantmen to Barbary pirates.  Added to this, European wars continued to involve American ships and the newly-created United States of America was forced to break free of its isolationist policies.

Three frigates were launched in 1797; they were christened USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution.  A congressional act on 1 July of that year reactivated the Marine Corps.  The Act called for five lieutenants, eight sergeants, eight corporals, three drummers, three fifers, and 140 privates to man these ships in Marine Detachments.  From this point forward, the strength of the Marine Corps seagoing Marines continued to grow.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the American Navy, decided that the country could ill-afford to maintain the naval establishment.  Ships were decommissioned or dismantled, and the Marine Corps was cut to 26 officers and 453 enlisted men.

Yet, even as the President was looking to reduce America’s debt, the Navy-Marine Corps team had managed to create turmoil among French privateers operating in the West Indies during the so-called Quasi-War [3] (1798-1800).  The war was “quasi” because it was undeclared.  The French were surprised by the fighting skills of America’s fledgling Navy, among whose senior officers included Stephen Decatur, Silas Talbot, and William Bainbridge.

Overwhelmed at sea, French ships withdrew to littoral areas of the West Indies and adopted the tactics of ambushing American commercial ships.  Undaunted, the US Navy pursued the French into shallow waters.  USS Delaware was the first American warship to claim a French prize.  USS Constellation captured the French ship Insurgente, a 40-gun ship of the line, on 7 February 1799.  Constellation also captured the 52-gun Vengeance after a five-hour battle in 1800.  Both of these vessels sustained heavy damage, however.

Lieutenant Bartholomew Clinch commanded the Constellation’s Marine Detachment during both sea battles; his Marines were recognized for delivering devastatingly accurate fire upon the French ship.  Lieutenant James Middleton led a landing party of Marines from USS Merrimack and USS Patapsco to defend the port of Curacao from a French raid.  Marines were also employed to seize an English ship being held under heavy cannon fire at Puerto Plata in Santo Domingo.

Suffering these depredations at the hands of the American Navy and Marines, the French soon signaled their interest in ending the war —but not before Marines from USS Enterprise captured nine French privateers, defeated a Spanish brig, and re-captured eleven American vessels.  In December 1800, Enterprise also defeated L’Aigle and Flambeau with much credit given to Marine sharpshooters.

Firing Pennsylvania
Firing the Philadelphia

President Jefferson’s frugality campaign came to an end when he realized that Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Tripolitan raiders were costing the Americans several million dollars a year, or roughly one-fifth of the nation’s income, paid either as ransom for captured Americans, or in bribes paid to allow US merchantmen to sail in Mediterranean waters.  In 1805, Tripoli’s pasha foolishly declared war on the United States by capturing USS Philadelphia and imprisoning its crew, which included 44 Marines.  To prevent the Tripolitans from using Philadelphia against the American Navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a raid into the harbor aboard the captured French ketch, USS Intrepid, boarded Philadelphia, overpowered the pirates, and burned the ship to its waterline. An eight-man squad of Marines participating in this raid was led by Sergeant Solomon Wren.

One of the more audacious actions during the Barbary Wars was the overland expedition led by William Eaton and Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, who had recruited mercenaries and marched six-hundred miles through the Libyan desert to attack the fort at Derna.  After heavy fighting, during which Eaton was wounded, O’Bannon’s remaining force assaulted the fort and defeated it.  This was the first time the United States flag was raised over foreign territory and the origin of the words to the Marine Corps Hymn, “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Seven years later, during the War of 1812, Marine Lieutenant John Marshal Gamble became the only Marine Corps officer to command a U. S. Navy ship, the captured British whaling ship Greenwich.  Lieutenant Colonel Gamble retired from active service in 1834.

During the War of 1812, a young officer by the name of Captain Archibald Henderson served aboard USS Constitution, distinguishing himself in engagements with HMS Java, Cyane and Levant.  He was brevetted to Major in 1814.  Colonel Henderson was later appointed to serve as the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps, a post he would retain for 38-years.  He was brevetted to Brigadier General in January 1837.

Numerous men of Marine Corps fame served as seagoing Marines, including Henry Clay Cochrane, John Twiggs-Myers, Smedley D. Butler, and John Quick.  An overview of combat service involving ship’s Marine Detachments includes:

  • Barbary Wars
  • Florida Indian Wars
  • Operations in Haiti
  • Firefighting at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
  • Falkland Islands engagement
  • Slave suppression operations in South America
  • Diplomatic security in Japan
  • Operations ashore in China to protect American lives and property
  • Fiji Island raids to avenge the murders of American seamen
  • Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War
  • Combat operations in Korea, 1870s
  • Peace-keeping missions in Haiti and Egypt
  • Spanish-American War (Philippines and Cuba)
  • Panamanian revolution and construction of the Canal

With the outbreak of the so-called Great War, Marine Corps senior officers began planning for a significant increase in troop strength.  The demand for amphibious/land forces began to outpace the requirement for shipboard detachments.  These continued, of course, but in smaller numbers.

During World War II, Marine Detachments performed strategic raids as part of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.  In 1942, the Marines serving aboard USS Philadelphia (CL-41) landed at Safi, French Morocco to secure the airfield until relieved by Army units.  On 6 June 1944, shipboard Marines participated in the Normandy invasion by detonating floating mines blocking the path of US Navy ships operating in the English Channel.  They also manned secondary batteries aboard Navy cruisers and battleships.  On 29 August 1944, during the invasion of southern France, Marines from USS Philadelphia (CL-41) and USS Augusta (CA-31) went ashore to take charge of 700 Germans who had been manning fortified garrisons around the French harbor in Marseilles.  In the Pacific, the seadogs manned naval guns as Japanese kamikaze bombers attempted to destroy Navy vessels operating off the coast of Okinawa.  On 2 September 1945, Marines aboard the USS Missouri participated in ceremonies accepting Japan’s unconditional surrender to allied forces in Tokyo Bay.

The end of World War II propelled the world into the atomic age and cold war with the Soviet Union and China.  With war at an end, the United States reexamined its military footprint.  Under President Truman, the size of the military was sharply reduced.  Both the Navy and Marine Corps were reduced by one-third of their operating forces. The National Security Act of 1947 (Title 10, United States Code 5013) reaffirmed the seagoing mission of the Marine Corps: “… the Marine Corps shall provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the U. S. Navy and shall provide security detachments for the protection of naval property at naval stations and bases.”

Due to significant cutbacks in the operating forces under the Truman administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were barely able to respond to North Korean aggression in 1950.  Ships that had been mothballed were reactivated.  The same carriers, battleships, and cruisers that had served in World War II were brought back for the Korean War.  There would be no sea battles, however.  Off shore navy platforms provided air support and battleships and cruisers provided naval gunfire support to the land forces.

The cold war produced significant advances in technology.  The US Navy continued to protect sea lanes throughout the world and participated in operations in Lebanon, Santo Domingo, Formosa, Cuba, and a then relatively unknown placed called Viet Nam.  Marine Detachments continued to serve aboard cruisers, battleships, and carriers, but their roles were changing.  Some of these ships had been transformed into nuclear powered vessels; additional security was needed to safeguard “special weapons.”

On 29 July 1967, while serving at Yankee Station, an aircraft aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-49) exploded setting off a series of fires and secondary explosions.  This was another important function of seagoing Marines: firefighting. Among the casualties from this incident were 134 sailors killed, 64 seriously wounded.  On 14 January 1969, another fire erupted aboard USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) while operating off the coast of Hawaii, resulting in 28 deaths, 128 injuries, the destruction of 15-aircraft, and a monetary loss of more than $128-million.  Few events are more deadly at sea than a shipboard fire.

In the post-World War II period, the duties of seagoing Marines were set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations (1047): “A Marine Detachment detailed to duty aboard a ship of the Navy shall form a separate division thereof.  Its functions shall be (1) Provide for operations ashore, as part of the ship’s landing force; or as part of the landing force of Marines from ships of the fleet or subdivisions thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations.  (2) To provide gun crews.  (3) To provide internal security of a ship.  (4) To provide for the proper rendering of military honors.  In addition to these duties, Marines also provided the ship’s captain with a Marine orderly, brig sentries, and guards for special weapons.

Eventually, the Navy replaced their deck guns with guided missiles and computer-controlled weapons systems.  There was no longer a need for Marines to man antiquated naval guns.  USS Oklahoma (CL-91) was the Navy’s last gun cruiser.  She was retired in the late 1970s, replaced in 1979 by the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).  Her sister ship was USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), placed in service in 1981. Initially, both of these ships had Marine Detachments, but because of their mission of directing amphibious operations, and because these ships incorporated Marines especially trained for planning and conducting amphibious operations, the detachments were deemed excess to requirements and were removed.

In small but steady increments, ship’s detachments were reduced in the Navy fleet. In 1979, the Commandant of the Marine Corps changed the mission of seagoing Marines.  From that time, Marine duties involved little more than providing security for special weapons storage spaces, the transfer of such weapons aboard ship, provide security for the ship, provide gun-crews as required, and such other duties as may be assigned by competent authority.  Marines no longer performed landing operations or brig security.  In 1986, the Commandant specifically precluded Marines from performing any duty that would detract from their primary role of safeguarding special weapons.

Between the early 1980s and 1990s, the battleships USS New Jersey and USS Iowa were reintroduced into naval fleets.  When one of the gun turrets of the Iowa exploded, killing 47 crewmen, Marines helped in firefighting and damage control operations.  Still, the accordion effect of manpower management caused the Navy and Marines to again reevaluate the Marine Detachments.  By the early 1990s, the United States entered another dangerous period: international terrorism.  In meeting this demand, Headquarters Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Security Forces (MCSF) with the stated mission of providing trained personnel and cadres to security departments at designated naval installations. The MCSF also provided mobile training teams to support anti-terrorism training at navy bases.

Detachments of Marines served exceptionally well aboard US Navy vessels since Corps’ very beginning; this ended in 1998. The last Marine Detachment bid farewell to the USS George Washington (CVN-73) on 1 May 1998.  A 223-year tradition of service at sea came to an end. Time marches on.

MARDET CINCLANT
Marine Detachment CINCLANT

Personal note: it was my privilege to serve at Marine Detachment, CINCLANT/ CINCLANTFLT/SACLANT in Norfolk, Virginia from June 1964 to October 1966.  Today, the detachment is known as Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment, U. S. Fleet Forces Command.  At that time, it was the only non-seagoing detachment in the Marine Corps.  The two detachment commanders during this period were Major Figard and Major Kraynak. The executive officers were 1stLt Gaumont and 1stLt Ahern.  The First Sergeant was Donald A. Whiteside (retired in grade of Captain).  I was promoted to corporal and sergeant while stationed in Norfolk.

Endnotes:

[1] Tun Tavern was established in 1686 by Joshua Carpenter, the brother of Samuel who was a wealthy Quaker merchant.  The brewery and pub was located on King Street (later, Water Street) and Tun Alley, a caraway that led to Carpenter’s wharf.  The word “Tun” comes from old English meaning barrel or keg of beer.  The tavern became an early meeting place for a number of notable groups, including Freemasons in early America.

[2] While not officially appointed as such, Nicholas is traditionally regarded as the first Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[3] This conflict erupted during the administration of John Adams.  After the French monarchy was abolished in September 1792, the United States determined that its debt to France was cancelled. The French Republic thought otherwise and began to seize American ships and sell them as repayment of America’s debt.  The war was fought almost entirely at sea.