The First to Die

Is it appropriate to argue and jockey for position in announcing the name of the first serviceman to die in Vietnam?  This controversy has been going on now for far too long, but families continue to rush forward to have their relative named as the first to die in America’s most unpopular war.  The problem is some confusion about what it is we’re talking about.  Do we mean to recognize the first serviceman killed in the Vietnam War?  Or do we mean the first serviceman killed in Vietnam?  Or do we mean the name of the first serviceman killed while engaged in combat?

Does it even matter?

Lieutenant Colonel Albert P. Dewey, U.S. Army, was killed by Viet Minh insurgents on 26 September 1945. 

Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbons, Jr., was killed in Saigon, South Vietnam on 8 June 1956 — shot and killed by a fellow airman during off-duty hours.

Captain Harry Griffith, U.S. Army (Special Forces) was killed at Nha Trang, South Vietnam on 21 October 1957, the result of a training accident.

Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sergeant Chester C. Ovnand of the U.S. Army, were both killed at Bien Hoa Air Base when the officer’s mess was attacked by Viet Cong sappers on 8 July 1959.

Specialist Fourth Class James T. Davis, U.S. Army was killed in a Viet Cong ambush on 22 December 1961.

Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr., was born in Stoneham, Massachusetts on 21 June 1920.  During World War II, Fitzgibbon served with the U.S. Navy, but after his discharge, he opted to join the newly created U.S. Air Force.  In the Air Force, Fitzgibbon was promoted to Technical Sergeant (E-6).  At the time of his demise, he was assigned to duty with the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) while attached to Detachment One, 1173rd Foreign Mission Squadron.  Fitzgibbon was involved in the training of Vietnamese Air Force Personnel.

The official date for the beginning of the Vietnam War, 1 January 1961, was officially announced by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson who, at the same time identified Specialist Davis as the first American serviceman killed in that war.

Believing that she had discovered a grievous error, the sister of Fitzgibbons, Ms. Alice Fitzgibbon Rose Del Rossi promptly notified the Department of Defense of its error, bringing to their attention her brother’s death in 1956.  Ah, but the Vice President had already spoken and Johnson was not a man who liked anyone to correct him about anything.  Ms. Del Rossi then petitioned her congressman who asked the DoD to reconsider the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Until then, hardly anyone even knew about Technical Sergeant Fitzgibbons.

After a high-level review by the Defense Department, the start date of the Vietnam War was changed to 1 November 1955, which was the creation date of the U.S. Military Advisory Assistance Group, Vietnam (MAAGV).  This date change resulted in the proposition that (at least chronologically), Sergeant Fitzgibbons was the first American serviceman to die in the Vietnam War — and his name was added to the Vietnam Wall. Fitzgibbons, however, was not the first combat death in Vietnam, nor even the first to die in wartime Vietnam.  Colonel Dewey owns that plank.

The story of the Fitzgibbon family in Vietnam isn’t over.  Lance Corporal Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, U.S. Marine Corps (1944 – 1965) was killed while serving in Vietnam on 7 September.  Father and son are interred next to each other at the Blue Hill Cemetery in Braintree, Massachusetts.

And The Last …

Corporal Charles McMahon from Woburn, Massachusetts, and Lance Corporal Darwin Lee Judge from Marshalltown, Iowa, were both serving with the Marine Corps Security Guard, U.S. Embassy, Republic of Vietnam (Saigon) on 29 April 1975 (the day the Vietnam government collapsed) when they were killed by a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) rocket attack on the embassy.  At the time of McMahon’s death, he had served in Vietnam for less than thirty days; he was 21 years old.  Lance Corporal Judge had served in Vietnam for less than 60 days; he was only 19 years old.

The remains of these two Marines were transferred to the Saigon Adventist Hospital near Ton Son Nhut Air Base, pursuant to the procedures outlined by the State Department, but with the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and the rapid evacuation of the U.S. Embassy, their bodies were left behind during the withdrawal.

It was a year before their bodies could be returned to the United States, and only then because of the intervention of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). Corporal Judge was buried with full military honors in his hometown, however, no one from the American news media covered the burial ceremony.  I have no information about the burial ceremony of Charles McMahon. The Vietnam War was never very popular and it was probably too much trouble to report these sad events in the press.

McMahon and Judge were the last U.S. Servicemen to die in Vietnam; they were not the last young men to die in the Vietnam War.  The term “Vietnam War” includes the U.S. involvement in the so-called Mayaguez Incident, which resulted in another 18 Americans killed in the line of duty (and forsaken by their countrymen).  See also: Mayaguez: Crisis in Command.    

No Greater Love …

James Anderson, Jr.

Every Marine has his (or her) own reasons for joining the U.S. Marine Corps.  I suspect there are so many reasons that it may be impossible to catalog them all.  Jim Anderson was 19 years old when he signed up from Los Angeles, California.  Whatever his reason, Jim had just completed 18 months of college.  Apparently, his sense of duty to his country was more important than staying in college.

As with most “West Coast” Marines, Jim Anderson attended recruit training (boot camp) at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California.  After graduation, he was promoted to Private First Class, and, as with all West Coast Marines, attended Infantry training at Camp Pendleton, California.[1]

In late 1966, the Marines had been fighting in South Vietnam for going on two years.  In December, James joined the 3rd Marine Division, and he was subsequently assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (Fox 3/3).  In February, the elements of five battalions participated in Operation Prairie II — a continuation of Operation Prairie I. which took place under the overall command of Brigadier General Michael P. Ryan, formerly the Commanding General, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade.[2]  Ryan supervised the employment of 2/3, 3/3, 3/4, 1/9, and 2/9.

These operations were necessary because during the Tet Holiday, having agreed to a cease-fire, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) used the temporary truce to infiltrate across the DMZ into the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).  On 25 February, Marine artillery initiated the bombardment of NVA units within (and north of) the Demilitarized Zone (called the DMZ).  The NVA responded by bombarding the area of Con Thiên and Firebase Gio Linh.

On the morning of 27 February, a Marine reconnaissance patrol northwest of the Cam Lo Combat Base attempted to ambush a small unit of NVA soldiers.  As it turned out, the NVA unit was larger than the Marines thought, which became apparent when the NVA suddenly attacked the attackers.  The NVA unit was a rifle company of the 812th infantry regiment.  It didn’t take long for the Marines to get on the radio and call for assistance.  When the request came in for support, Lima Company, 3/4 was in the process of conducting a security patrol north of Cam Lo.  Operational authority diverted Lima Company to aid the recon unit.  Nothing seemed to be working out for the Marines that day because beyond being bogged down by thick vegetation, a company of NVA regulars attacked Lima Company, which stalled the effort to save the Recon Marines.

In view of these circumstances, Ryan ordered Golf Company, 2/3 from Camp Carroll to extricate the beleaguered recon patrol.  Golf Company linked up with the recon Marines at around 2340 that night.

At 0630 on 28 February, the NVA hit Lima Company’s position with more than 150 mortar rounds.  The communists followed their artillery bombardment with a major ground attack against three sides of the Lima Company’s perimeter.  Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into both Marine tanks supporting the company but remained in operation.  Within a period of two and a half hours, Lima Company repulsed three separate attacks.  In that time, the company lost four Marines killed and 34 wounded.  Ryan dispatched Marines from Fox Company 3/3 to reinforce Lima 3/4.  Fox Company linked up with Lima Company at around 1030.  Meanwhile, Golf Company 2/3 formed a blocking position on Hill 124.  En route to the blocking position, the Golf Company Marines found themselves engaged by NVA from both sides of their route of march.  The battle lasted well into the afternoon — with Golf Company losing seven killed, and 30 wounded.

At 1430, the 2/3 command element under Lieutenant Colonel Victor Ohanesian[3] moved with Fox Company from Lima Company’s position toward Hill 124.  Jim Anderson’s platoon had the point position.  This movement triggered an NVA ambush, and the Marines were hit with intense small arms and automatic weapons fire.  The platoon reacted quickly, forming a hasty defense, and mounting a stiff resistance.

PFC Anderson found himself bunched together with other members of his squad twenty yards in front of the enemy line.  As the battle intensified, several of Anderson’s squad members received debilitating gunshot wounds.  When an enemy grenade suddenly landed in the midst of the squad near Anderson’s position, Jim Anderson unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, reached out, grasped the grenade, and pulled it under his chest to shield his fellow Marines from shrapnel.  PFC Anderson’s personal heroism saved members of his squad from certain death.  In an instant, Private First Class James Anderson, Jr., gallantly gave up his life for his fellow Marines.[4]

When Operation Prairie II concluded on 18 March 1967, U.S. Marines had suffered 93 killed in action, and 483 wounded.  In this one operation, American forces killed 694 NVA regulars.  The fight continued under Operation Prairie III on 19 March.

Richard Allen Anderson

Richard was born in Washington, D.C. on 16 April 1948 but raised in Houston, Texas, graduating from M. B. Smiley High School in May 1966.  Richard Anderson also attended college before dropping out to join the Marines on 8 April 1968.  After graduating from boot camp in San Diego, California, and infantry training at Camp Pendleton, California, the Marine Corps ordered Richard to Sea School in San Diego.  Promoted to PFC on 1 July 1968, Richard completed his training in October and proceeded to Okinawa, Japan, where the Marine Corps assigned him to the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade and assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.

In January 1969, Marine Headquarters assigned Anderson to Company E, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion where he served as a platoon scout and later, as an Assistant Fire Team Leader.  The Marines promoted Anderson to Lance Corporal on 1 June 1969.

In the early morning hours of 24 August 1969, Anderson’s recon team came under heavy automatic weapons fire from a numerically superior and well-concealed NVA ambush.  Although knocked to the ground by the enemy’s initial fire and painfully wounded in both legs, LCpl Anderson rolled into a prone shooting position and began to return fire into the enemy’s ranks.  Moments later, he was wounded for a second time by an enemy soldier who had approached within eight feet of the Marine defensive line. 

Undeterred by his wounds, LCpl Anderson killed the enemy soldier and continued to pour a relentless stream of fire into the enemy.  Observing an enemy hand grenade land between himself and members of his fire team, Anderson immediately rolled over onto the grenade and absorbed the full impact of its deadly explosion.  Through Richard’s indomitable courage and selflessness, he saved his fellow Marines from certain death.  In that instant, Lance Corporal Richard A. Anderson gallantly gave up his life for his fellow Marines.

Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends

Conclusion

James and Richard Anderson, though sharing a last name, were unrelated — except that both were United States Marines.  Both men were in their twenties; both Marines distinguished themselves through virtuous behavior on the field of battle.  Both Marines were posthumously awarded the nation’s highest recognition: the Medal of Honor.  There was but one difference in these young men: their skin color.  Both of these young men gave all they had to give — and did it in order to save the lives of their Marine brothers.

Endnotes:

[1] Traditionally, honor graduates from recruit training receive promotions to Private First Class upon graduation.  It is likely that Anderson was so recognized in his graduating platoon.

[2] Michael P. Ryan, a former enlisted Marine, served at Iceland, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian during World War II.  For service at Tarawa, Ryan was awarded the Navy Cross medal for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as a company commander and provisional battalion commander on Betio Island.

[3] Killed in action.

[4] James Anderson was the first black Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.


Operation Allen Brook

Background

The Republic of Vietnam was divided into four corps-sized tactical zones during the Vietnam War.  Generally, a corps consists of three infantry divisions and additional supporting units.  This is not to say that three infantry divisions were always present inside each tactical zones (also known as CTZs), but rather, how war planners in Saigon decided to manage the war in South Vietnam.  The northernmost of these CTZs was the I Corps Tactical Zone (also, I CTZ).

In terms of square miles, I CTZ was a massive area — the size of which necessitated dividing the zone into smaller regions labeled Tactical Areas of Responsibility (TAOR).  The senior American military commander in I CTZ was the Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force.  His command included two Marine Divisions, two Marine Air Wings, a U.S. Army infantry division, several Army aviation companies, and a substantial logistical footprint.  Within each of the “major command” TAORs were smaller TAORs, usually assigned to brigades or regiments and broken down further into battalion TAORs.

Form follows function

This arrangement was complex but necessary because the war itself was problematic.  Not only were there U.S. Army and Marine Corps units fighting in Vietnam, but there were also U.S. Navy and Air Force units — and all of these were operating along with South Vietnamese military units (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force).  What made this even more confusing was that Marine Corps regiments (three battalions each) frequently “loaned” their battalions to other regiments, either as reinforcing organizations or as a replacement for battalions that had suffered significant numbers of casualties (making them ineffective in combat).  So, for example, battalions of the 5th Marines, 7th Marines, and 27th Marines might operate under the control of the Commanding Officer, 7th Marines, or just as easily be assigned to serve under another regiment’s TAOR.  In this story, elements of all three regiments operated together in a single combat operation known as ALLEN BROOK in the spring of 1968.

At the beginning of 1968, both the Marines at Da Nang and the communists operating in Quang Nam Province were preparing to launch offensive operations against one another.  Initially, the enemy confined its activities to guerrilla-styled warfare; information from Marine Corps reconnaissance forces (known as Stingray) seemed to indicate that the communists were re-infiltrating previously held positions in I CTZ.  Of particular concern to the Marines was the repopulation of communist forces in the area of Go Noi Island.  The island was formed by the confluence of the Ky Lam, Thu Bon, Ba Ren, and Chiem Son Rivers, some 25 13 miles south of Da Nang.

Here’s what happened

One might note that U.S. Marines are good at many things, including finding suitable names for God-forsaken places.  Vietnam offered an almost unlimited opportunity for Marines to identify and then name some of the worst places on the earth.  They named one of these places Dodge City.  They called it that because it was an area where gunfights were almost a daily occurrence.

Dodge City was a flat area crisscrossed by numerous canals and small waterways — an area of around 23 square miles located 13 miles south of Da Nang, west of Highway One.  Go Noi Island lay just south of Dodge City.  The island became a stronghold and logistics base for hundreds (if not thousands) of Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars of the R-20, V-25, and T-3 Sapper Battalions and the 36th NVA Regiment.  Communist forces had the overwhelming support of local villagers, so recruiting VC fighters was never a problem.

The terrain of Go Noi Island was relatively flat, but the island’s several hamlets were linked together by thick hedges, well-concealed paths, and barriers to rapid movement.  The net effect of hedges, pathways, and obstructions was a solid defensive network.  U.S. Marines operating within the 7th Marine Regiment were knowledgeable of Go Noi Island, having conducted Operation JASPER SQUARE — with only minimal results.  The Marine Corps standard for any endeavor exceeds “minimal,” which might explain the Commanding General’s overall unhappiness with the 7th Marines’ performance in Go Noi — so the 7th Marines would have to give it another try.

On the morning of 4 May 1968, Company E, Company G 2/7, [1] and a platoon of tanks crossed the Liberty Bridge onto the island. Their main task was to evacuate 220 civilians (mostly women, children, and the elderly) from Dai Loc, the district capital. For the first few days, the Marines experienced only light resistance. Afterward, 2/7 aggressed eastward along the main north-south railroad track, experiencing light but increasing resistance from local VC fighters.

Company A 1/7 relieved Company G 2/7 on 7 May.  Company K 3/7 reinforced Mueller’s battalion on the morning of 8 May.  In those four days, Marines killed 88 communists at the cost of 9 Marines KIA and 57 WIA.  Around 1830 on 9 May, Marines sweeping west of the railroad track came under heavy small arms, machine guns, and mortar fire near the hamlet of Xuan Dai.  The sudden assault resulted in one Marine killed and 11 wounded.

After air and artillery strikes, Marines pushed into the hamlet, killing an additional 80 communists.  A few minutes later, a Marine Corps reconnaissance team (called a Stingray Team) noted the movement of 200 or so enemies moving southwest of Xuan Dai and called additional artillery and air strikes.  The air strike set off a secondary explosion of unknown origin.

Over the next four days, Marines met with only token resistance and encountered no regular NVA units.  This was a bit strange to Marine operations officers because earlier, the Marines discovered evidence of the 155th Battalion of the 2nd NVA Regiment.  Colonel Mueller assumed the NVA battalion was only a temporary infiltration group rather than a regular infantry battalion.

It was at this time that Operation ALLEN BROOK was reoriented to an east-to-west sweep.  On 13 May, General Robertson (Commanding General, 1stMarDiv) directed that India Company 3/27 reinforce Mueller’s battalion (2/7).  Accordingly, Marine helicopters airlifted India Company to an LZ in the Que Son Mountains (north and overlooking Go Noi Island).  On the morning of 14 May, India Company moved to a blocking position near the Ba Ren River, soon joined by additional companies of 2/7.

On 15th May the reinforced 2/7 reversed across the Liberty Bridge as part of a deception campaign, indicating that the Marines were abandoning Go Noi Island.  Then, at 1800, Marine helicopters airlifted Echo Company 2/7 and Colonel Mueller’s command group out of the operational area.  Lieutenant Colonel Roger H. Barnard, commanding 3/7, assumed command of the remaining forces assigned to ALLEN BROOK.

At midnight on 16 May, Barnard’s command group with Alpha Company 1/7, Golf Company 2/7, and India Company 3/27 recrossed the Liberty Bridge and moved in single file under cover of darkness.  At some point in the early morning, Barnard repositioned his companies, two online with one in reserve, and continued moving southward in a search and destroy mission.

At 0900, 3/7 encountered a suspected NVA battalion in the hamlet of Phu Dong, some 4,000 meters west of Xuan Dai.  Barnard’s battalion had disrupted a hornet’s nest of communists.  Both forward companies walked into deadly small arms and machine gun fire.  Barnard attempted to flank the communist defenders, but he didn’t have enough men for that maneuver.  Not even Marine artillery or mortar fire could dislodge the stubborn NVA unit.  Finally, massive air support (50 air strikes) dislodged the communists, and by early evening, Marine rifle companies were able to push the remaining enemy out of Phu Dong.  But that didn’t happen without numerous Marine casualties.

Operating with Golf Company was a nineteen-year-old U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman (Third Class) by the name of Robert Michael Casey from Guttenberg, New Jersey. Doc Casey distinguished himself by exhibiting extraordinary heroism as a field medic.  As Golf Company moved into Phu Dong, they encountered overwhelming defensive fires from an estimated four hundred enemy, imposing a substantial number of casualties on the advancing Marines.

Casey unhesitatingly moved forward through the hail of bullets to render medical assistance to wounded and dying Marines.  Within fifteen minutes, Doc Casey was hit four times by enemy rifle fire. Each time he was struck by enemy bullets, Casey refused to leave his post and continued to render medical assistance to “his Marines.”  But U.S. Marines love their corpsmen; G Company Marines tried to convince Casey to fall back where he could receive medical treatment. Casey steadfastly refused, stating that he had Marines to treat. Casey continued to refuse evacuation until the Company Commander ordered him to withdraw. Casey moved to the rear, as ordered, but at his new location, Doc Casey continued to aid and comfort his wounded comrades.  Then, hearing a Marine calling for help, he crawled to that individual and began administering medical treatment.  It was at that time that Casey received his final wound and died.

Robert M. Casey Branch Clinic

Doc Casey’s unwavering courage, selfless concern for the welfare of his comrades, and steadfast devotion to duty brought great credit upon himself and the United States Navy.  Doc Casey’s next of kin later received the posthumous award of the nation’s second highest combat decoration: the NAVY CROSS.  More recently, the Marine Corps honored Doc Casey further by naming the Navy Branch Medical Clinic at Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan, in his honor (pictured right).[2]

Golf Company had taken on a battalion-sized enemy organization and defeated them. In this fight, the Marines lost 25 dead and 38 wounded — one of whom was Doc Casey.  After seizing the hamlet, the company commander discovered the evacuated headquarters of an NVA regiment and vast quantities of enemy supplies.

The following day, the Marines vacated Phu Dong to continue their sweep toward another hamlet named Le Nam.  India Company 3/27 was the lead element of the column.  Before mid-morning, India Company’s advance element walked into a concealed, well-placed ambush, offering almost no time for the Marines to fall back and reorganize for a coordinated attack.

PFC R. C. Burke, USMC

The NVA positions were solid, preventing the other companies from assisting India Company.  While India Company called for artillery and air strikes, Colonel Barnard put together a two-company air assault. Elements of Kilo Company and Lima Company initiated their attack around 1500, an effort that finally broke through the enemy’s main line of defense at about 1930. 

Marine successes prompted yet another enemy withdrawal.  By the end of the day, the Marines had lost another 39 KIA and 105 WIA. Private First Class Robert C. Burke (pictured above right), assigned to India Company as a machine-gunner, was later posthumously awarded the MEDAL OF HONOR.[3]

The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, replaced 3/7, and the Commanding Officer 3/27 assumed operational control of ALLEN BROOK on 18 May 1968.[4]  At the same time Woodham took control of the operation, Colonel Adolph G. Schwenk, Jr. assumed overall operating authority from the 7th Marines.  At that time, Woodham had only two rifle companies: Kilo and Lima Company.  Company M was assigned security duties at Da Nang, and Company I was still attached to Barnard’s battalion.

Operation ALLEN BROOK continued until 27 May 1968.  It was more or less a series of conventional battles against a well-entrenched, well-armed, and well-trained enemy force of North Vietnamese regulars.  Casualties on both sides had been heavy, with Marine losses of 138 KIA, 686 WIA, and another 283 heat casualties (noting that the battle took place in 110-degree heat).  Enemy losses were estimated to be around 600 killed and wounded.  The deceptive tactics employed by the Marines resulted in defeating the enemy’s plan to launch a major offensive against the Da Nang airfield and surrounding area before the end of May.

Sources:

  1. Kelley, M.  Where We Were in Vietnam.  Hellgate Press, 2002.
  2. Shulimson, J.  U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1968: The defining Year.  HQMC Washington, D.C., 1997.

Endnotes:

[1] Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Mueller, Commanding.

[2] Information provided to me by Master Sergeant George Loar, Jr., USMC (Retired).

[3] PFC Burke was the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam  War.  At the time of his courageous action, he was 18 years of age.

[4] 3/27 was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Tullis J. Woodham, Jr.


Operation Urgent Fury — Part 2

The Invasion of Grenada

(Continued from Last Week)

Land the Landing Force

Reveille sounded for the Marines at 0100.  They consumed their traditional pre-assault breakfast, drew live ammunition, and the squad and fire team leaders began checking their men.  ACE flight crews made ready to launch aircraft.  Only a few of the pilots in HMM-261 (or their enlisted men) had previous combat experience.  Twenty-one helicopters lifted off at 0315.  Marine pilots maintained radio silence and navigated using night vision goggles.  Intermittent rain showers delayed the launching of aircraft.

Company E 2/8, under the command of Captain Henry J. Donigan III, was “first in.”[1]  Their helicopters went ashore with AH-1 Cobra escorts.  The company’s target was LZ Buzzard, an unused race track south of the Pearls airfield.  Colonel Smith accompanied the lead element.  Smith ordered one platoon to take Hill 275, an anti-aircraft gun site.  Even though Grenadians manned the hill, they opted not to engage the Marines — which they demonstrated by dropping their weapons and fleeing down the other side of the hill.

With Hill 275 secure, Smith ordered Echo Company to push along a road toward the West side of the airfield.  Rugged terrain delayed the Marine’s progress by two hours.  As Echo Company was about to move toward the air terminal, they began receiving enemy mortar fire.  Two or three rounds landed near the terminal complex: five more landed in the vicinity of LZ Buzzard.  There were no casualties, and the firing soon stopped.

Following Echo Company an hour later, Fox Company went ashore just outside the town of Grenville.  The terrain was much rougher than reflected on aerial photographs, and the pre-designated landing site proved unsuitable.  Colonel Amos determined the only alternative landing site was an adjacent soccer field.  The problem with the soccer field was that it had a high brick wall that surrounded it.  Potentially, the field was a kill zone, but because the people of Grenada seemed welcoming of the Marines, Amos approved the landing and designated the soccer field as LZ Oriole.

Local citizens treated the Marines of Echo and Fox Companies as liberators.  In the minds of these civilians, Grenada had been cursed by thugs for far too long.  The locals led Marines to the homes of members of the Revolutionary Army; they pointed out members of the local militia.  They told the Marines where they could find concealed arms and munitions.  Locals even loaned the Marines their private vehicles to carry away dangerous munitions.

Marine Air/Army Rangers

Lieutenant Colonel Smith, who had gone ashore with Echo and Fox companies at Pearls/Grenville, was having a difficult time establishing radio contact with USS Guam.  He suspected that Colonel Faulkner was planning a surface landing at Grand Mal Bay or possibly at Gouyave, but he couldn’t know Faulkner’s intent without radio contact.  At around 1500, Smith received a radio message from his reconnaissance platoon commander informing him of the new plan.  Smith, with only sporadic radio contact, was confused.  He boarded a resupply helicopter, leaving his XO in charge, and returned to Guam.

Back aboard the ship, Smith received an update/briefing from the MAU operations officer, Major Tim Van Huss.  The objective of the Grand Mal Bay operation was to relieve Golf Company of its special mission.  The plan called for an amphibious landing at Grand Mal with Fox Company transferring by helicopter from Grenville — scheduled for execution that very evening.  Smith requested and received permission to delay the landing by two hours.

Captain R. K. Dobson, commanding Golf Company, was becoming irritated.  His company had been “on deck” since 0430; each time he received a “go” order, it was put on hold, rescheduled, or canceled.  Finally, after standing by inside the amphibious tractors for several hours aboard USS Manitowoc, Dobson ordered his Marines out of the tractors and informed them that they would go ashore by helicopter.  From 1330, the company was staged on the flight deck of the LST; Dobson fidgeted because he had no clear idea where his company would be employed — but then, neither did anyone else.

By 1750 it was growing dark; Captain Dobson instructed his platoon commanders to secure all weapons and ammunition return the men to their berthing spaces for much-needed sleep.  No sooner had Dobson given these instructions, he was called to the bridge.  Company G would go ashore at Grand Mal Bay in forty minutes; the amphibious landing was back on.  Marines were mustered and loaded aboard the AAVs … the first tractor left the ship precisely at 1830.  It was by then completely dark — there was no moon to navigate by reckoning.  The track vehicles headed for the beach in single file.  Thirty-one minutes later, the first tractor went ashore on the narrow beach with no opposition.  Captain Dobson was finally ashore, but he still had no instructions.  There was no radio communication with the BLT commander.

At around 1930, Navy LCUs began bringing in tanks, jeeps, and heavy weapons.  Within a short time, the narrow beach became congested with combat Marines and equipment.  Captain Dobson established area security with roadblock positions on the coastal road some 200 meters north and south of LZ Fuel.  After establishing flank security, Dobson sent his recon platoon to reconnoiter the roadway.

At 2300, Dobson could hear the sound of approaching helicopters.  Marines quickly rigged the LZ with red lights and a strobe to guide the aircraft, a Huey UH-1 bearing the MAU air liaison officer (ALO), Major William J. Sublette.  Sublette brought Dobson up to date on the operation and told him that there was a strong enemy force between G Company’s present position and St. George’s.  He also informed Dobson that Fox Company would arrive at his position sometime after midnight.  Dobson asked the major to contact Colonel Smith, give him Dobson’s present position, and request the battalion commander’s orders.

Lieutenant Colonel Smith arrived in a CH-46 an hour later.  The beach was so narrow, the helicopter had to unload its passengers with its back wheels in the surf; Smith and his staff had to wade ashore through the surf.  So far, the operation had been a communications disaster.  When the CH-46 returned to the ship, it carried a message to Colonel Amos asking that he airlift Fox Company from Grenville to Grand Mal Bay.

Smith directed Dobson to begin the process of moving Golf Company to the Queen’s Park Race Track; Fox Company began making its airlift movement from Grenville to LZ Fuel for a link-up with Golf at 0400 — the small LZ could only accommodate two CH-46s at a time, so the movement lasted until near daylight.  With Dobson receiving only light resistance from the Grenadians, Smith directed that he proceed to the Governor-General’s house to reinforce a 22-man special mission team and help evacuate Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon, his wife, and nine other civilians to USS Guam.

Once the Scoon party had safely departed Grenada, Smith ordered Dobson to proceed to and seize Fort Frederick, which dominated the entire area of St. George’s.  En route, local civilians informed Dobson that there remained a company-size unit and a large supply of ammunition inside the fort.

Captain Dobson sent a reinforced platoon to seize the high ground adjacent to Fort Frederick where they could provide supporting fire if needed.  With the balance of the company, Dobson proceeded through dense foliage along the ridgeline.  Nearing the fort, the Marines observed several men climbing down the outside wall as if abandoning their positions.  Within a short time, Captain Dobson’s company entered the fort unopposed, where they found randomly discarded uniforms — a suggestion that perhaps the Grenadian military had taken early retirement from active military service.[2]

Golf Company Marines quickly seized a large store of weapons and ammunition.  Additionally, in a lower chamber inside the fort, Captain Dobson discovered numerous documents purported to be arms agreements with Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union, along with detailed maps of the disposition of Grenadian armed forces.  As Golf and Fox company consolidated their positions at Fort Frederick, the Marines of HMM-261 began preparing for the evacuation of American medical students.

Grand Anse

Colonel Amos was organizing additional lift support for BLT 2/8 when he received a directive from Admiral Metcalf to provide airlift support to the Army for NEO evacuations from the Grand Anse area.  Amos proceeded to the Salines airfield where he conferred with the CO 2nd Ranger Battalion (2/75th), Lieutenant Colonel Ralph L. Hagler, Jr., who, as it happened, was a classmate of Colonel Amos at the Virginia Military Institute.  Amos and Hagler sat down and planned the evacuation operations for the next day.  The beach at Grand Anse was narrow in width, short in length, and overgrown with heavy vegetation extending almost to the water’s edge.

The evacuation plan called for CH-46s carrying Rangers to land on the beach in three flights of three helicopters.  Four CH-53s would follow the 46s to pick up medical students.  Once the students had been taken off the beach, the 46s would return for the Rangers.  Amos would personally direct the airlift operation from an airborne UH-1 and coordinate additional air support from the Navy’s A-7 squadron from USS Independence and the USAF AC-130 detachment.  Naval gunfire would provide additional on-call fire support.

At 1600, CH-46s began airlift operations from Salines.  Artillery, mortars, and overhead aircraft opened up on suspected Grenadian and Cuban military positions five minutes later.  The bombardment continued until about twenty seconds before the first flight of 46s touched down on the beach.  The helicopter landings prompted a steady increase of enemy small arms fire. Waist gunners returned fire with their .50 caliber machine guns.

The narrowness of the beach forced the last CH-46 too close to an overhanging palm tree.  When a rotor blade contacted the palms, the pilot had to shut the aircraft down and order the crew to abandon the damaged helicopter.   

As soon as the Rangers exited the aircraft, they sprinted to the medical school dormitories.[3]  When the last of the remaining eight aircraft had departed, Colonel Amos ordered in the CH-53s.  Despite increasingly heavy fire from the Grenadians/Cubans, all students were safely evacuated.  As soon as the last 53 lifted off, the downed 46 became the focus on the enemy’s attention — which pissed off Lance Corporal Martin J. Dellerr, the downed helicopter’s crew chief.  When Dellerr saw that his helicopter was being peppered with small arms fire, he sprinted to the bird, conducted a full inspection of the aircraft, and then sprinted back to the pilot and announced that the bird could fly.[4]  The aircraft was shaking more than usual during takeoff, but it did return to Salines without further mishap.

Back to the Northeast

While Fox and Golf companies were operating in the southwest, Captain Donigan’s Echo Company continued operations in the north.  During the late afternoon of D Day, the company commander received information that armored vehicles, including one tank, were approaching from the north.  It was a false report, but it did cause Company E to suspend its operations and prepare for an armored attack.  Locals offered to help the Marines erect anti-vehicle obstacles, but the Marines urged them to vacate the area.

On 27 October, Colonel Smith ordered Captain Donigan to carry out a reconnaissance in force to the Mount Horne area, a little over two miles from Greenville.  Captured documents from Fort Frederick identified Mount Horne as the location of the headquarters element of the People’s Revolutionary Army Battalion.  Donigan led a reinforced rifle platoon to that location, encountering no enemy resistance.  On the contrary, local civilians welcomed the Marines and pointed them to two buildings that had served as a battalion command post.  One building housed a complete communications center, island maps, and modern radios.

Acting on information from residents, Donigan dispatched another reconnaissance on Mount St. Catherine, where a suspected enemy force controlled a television and microwave station.  En route, Marines weathered a heavy rain squall.  Their approach to the communications station prompted a handful of enemy soldiers to make a rapid withdrawal in the opposite direction.  The Marines discovered and confiscated several mortar and anti-tank munitions.

Smith directed Donigan to check out a report of a large cache of arms stored at the Mirabeau Hospital.  Once more, local civilians helped direct Donigan’s Marines to a large cave thought to contain ammunition.  The cave was empty, so Marines proceeded toward the hospital.  At the crest of a hill, the Marines encountered three Cubans who attempted to flee.  Marine riflemen wounded two of these men and placed them in custody.  In the fading light of day, unknown persons began firing at the Marines from a densely wooded ridgeline, but the enemy broke off contact after a few minutes.  There were no casualties among the Marines.  Donigan led his Marines back to Pearls the following morning.

St. George’s

Following the capture of Fort Frederick, Fox and Golf companies continued seizing the strong points around St. George’s.  The Marines destroyed one Soviet BTR-60 armored personnel carrier blocking the road between Fort Frederick and the Governor-General’s residence.  On 27 October, Smith was ordered to seize Richmond Hill Prison, Fort Adolphus, and Fort Lucas.  Captain Dobson’s Marines quickly took the prison, which had been abandoned, and organized his company for an assault on Fort Adolphus.  Dobson observed human activity inside the fort and reported this by radio to Smith during his approach.  After discussing the employment of prep-fire into the Fort, Smith decided against it because he believed, given the tendency of the Grenadians to flee, pre-assault fire may not be necessary.

Dobson’s Marines cautiously approached the fort.  Along the way, the Marines encountered the Ambassador to Venezuela, who informed the Marines that Fort Adolphus was, in fact, the Venezuela Embassy.  Smith’s discretion had avoided a serious international incident.

There was no enemy resistance as Marines from Fox Company entered St. George’s.  Once more, local civilians helped the Marines to discover caches of weapons and munitions and took into custody suspected members of the People’s Revolutionary Army.

Confusing Tactical Areas of Responsibility

To allow the Marines to continue their southward advance, Admiral Metcalf changed the boundary line between 82nd Airborne units (TF 121) and Marine Amphibious forces (TF 124).  The new line ran from Ross Point on the east coast to Requin Bay on the west.  This vital information never reached the Army’s operating elements and, to make matters worse, Marine and Army units had not exchanged liaison officers.   Radio call signs had not been disseminated for joint fire control center operations.  Both Marine and Army units remained unaware of their close proximities.

With the boundary shift, Colonel Smith’s Marines were no longer an adequate-sized force for controlling the new area of operations.  Since his artillery battery had remained aboard ship, Smith employed these Marines as part of a provisional rifle company and tasked them with area security in and around St. George’s.  Smith’s decision allowed him to employ Fox and Golf companies in other areas.

Smith received a report that as many as 400 Canadian, British, and American nations were located at the Ross Point Hotel, on Mattin’s Bay, south of St. George’s, and eagerly awaiting evacuation.  Fox Company Marines arrived at the hotel just after dark.  They discovered less than two dozen foreign nationals, mostly Canadians with no Americans.  Moreover — no one wished to be evacuated.

At the end of the second day, there was still no sign of Army units, so Fox Company set up a night defense around the Ross Point Hotel.  The next morning, the lead element of the 2nd Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment (2/325th), reached the hotel.  No one in 2/325 was aware of the boundary shift, and insofar as they knew, the area of the Ross Hotel was a “free-fire zone.”  The only army people aware of the boundary shift were the division and brigade commanders, who had not passed the word to their subordinate units.  Smith became concerned that his Marines might become the targets of US Army units operating “in the dark.”

Mopping Up

By the end of the third day, peacekeeping forces from allied Caribbean nations began to arrive and take up their stations in the St. George’s area.  Smith’s provisional company continued to arrest and detain enemy personnel and confiscate arms and other equipment.  By this time, the number of “enemy” leaders had grown considerably, and these individuals also needed to be turned over to the peacekeepers.  Included in the detained number were the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Mobilization, and Lieutenant Colonel Liam James of the New Jewel Movement.

Marines began preparing to turn over their positions to the 82nd Airborne Division units.  The 22nd MAU was needed in Beirut. 

Finalizing the North

On the fourth day, Captain Donigan’s Marines prepared to seize Sauteurs … an operation interrupted by the discovery of the PRA leader in the northern sector of Grenada, someone calling himself Lieutenant George.  Donigan’s first platoon took George into custody in Greenville.  With George’s surrender peacefully accepted, Echo Company moved out for Sauteurs at around 0300 the following day.  Donigan split the company into two teams.  Donigan intended his raiding team to assault the PRA camp near Sauteurs before the general advance on the town.  The company mortar section was set up on Mount Rose, halfway between Sauteurs and the Pearls airfield, and communicators set up a radio relay station at the same place.  The company’s second team readied for entering the town.

Donigan launched his raid at 0530; the camp seized without any resistance.  With no shots fired, residents awakened to find U.S. Marines in control of their town without resorting to violence.  Having been made aware that the people of Sauteurs were short on food, Captain Donigan took with him enough rations to feed the town for several days.  Red Cross workers undertook to effect fair distribution of these rations.  The goodwill of the Marines toward the town folk resulted in a cooperative attitude, and local people were happy to identify local members of the PRA.  Captured PRA couldn’t sing long enough or loud enough about other members and the locations of arms and munitions.

Meanwhile, Colonel Faulkner planned to move Fox and Golf companies to Gouyave and Victoria on the northwest coast — the only sizeable towns not already under Marine control.  Colonel Smith objected to removing Fox Company away from St. George’s, so Golf Company moved to the two towns alone.  There was no opposition in either of these towns, and both were peacefully seized.

Admiral Metcalf had one final concern: the island of Carriacou, one of two inhabited islands between Grenada and St. Vincent. Naval intelligence reported unconfirmed information that a North Korean military presence existed on Carriacou and that some PRA members had fled to the island.  Accordingly, Metcalf ordered the Marine Amphibious Unit to seize the island before daylight on 1 November 1983.  Once army units had replaced the Marines at Sauteurs, Pearls, St. George’s, Gouyave, and Victoria, the MAU returned to the sea and prepared for an amphibious/vertical landing at Carriacou.

The early morning landing at Carriacou was unopposed.  There were no North Korean soldiers on the island.  All PRA members voluntarily surrendered, and the citizens could not have been happier to see the American Marines.  One native asked if the island had become part of the United States and seemed disappointed with the negative response.  Army units arrived on 2 November to replace the Marines — which brought their role in Urgent Fury to an end.  The 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit Marines then proceeded to relieve the shattered battalion in Beirut, Lebanon.

Post Script

If the invasion of Granada proved anything at all, it was that the National Security Act of 1947 did not resolve age-old problems associated with joint missions’ interoperability.  The military services have different missions, but they also had dissimilar chains of command, incompatible equipment, different ways of completing similar tasks, and, always-present, interservice rivalry.

Service competition, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines take great pride in their service affiliation.  And, the fact is that interservice rivalry has existed since the Spanish-American War.  It continued through two world wars, the Korean War and Vietnam.  But at some point, an unhealthy rivalry is self-defeating.  During the invasion of Granada, Army Rangers had no way of communicating with Marine or Navy forces.  Senior army and air force officers routinely treated the Navy and Marine Corps as second-class citizens — as if only the Army and Air Force knew how to fight a war — and the Navy and Marines deeply resented it.[5]  Even now, under the unified command system, there is a cultural divide between Army and Marine forces, and nowhere is that better illustrated than the story of Marineistan. 

To fix this problem in 1985, Senator Barry Goldwater and Representative William Flynt Nichols developed a bill to reorganize the Department of Defense (Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, 1986).  The Act essentially streamlined the military chain of command, designated the Chairman, JCS as the principal advisor to the President, National Security Council, and Secretary of Defense.  It also changed how the various services organize, train, equip, and fight.  The first test of Goldwater-Nichols was the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

Sources:

  1. Adkin, M.  Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada: The Truth Behind the Largest U.S. Military Operation since Vietnam.  Lexington Books, 1989.
  2. Cole, R. H.  Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada.  Washington: Pentagon Study, 1997.
  3. Dolphin, G. E.  24 MAU 1983: A Marine Looks Back at the Peacekeeping Mission to Beirut, Lebanon.  Publish America, 2005.
  4. Moore, C.  Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith in London, Washington, and Moscow.  New York: Vintage Books, 2016
  5. Russell, L.  Grenada, 1983.  London: Osprey Books, 1985. 
  6. Spector, R. H.  U. S. Marines in Grenada.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1987.
  7. Williams, G.  US-Grenada Relations: Revolution and Intervention in the Backyard.  Macmillan, 2007.

Endnotes:

[1] Echo 2/8 was my first line unit (1963-1964)

[2] A captured Grenadian captain explained that none of the Grenadians expected a combined surface/vertical assault.  Observing U. S. Marines coming toward them from different positions became a psychological shock to defenders and senior officers alike.

[3] [3] The pilot of the last helicopter of the first flight misjudged the distance to an overhanging palm tree; when the rotor blade brushed against it, the pilot was forced to shut down his engines and abandon the bird where it came to rest on the beach.  The beach area had then become even tighter — another helicopter would have a similar problem.  

[4] Marine Corps crew chiefs become attached to their aircraft and crews.  

[5] Particularly in light of the hard feelings that existed from the earliest days of the Korean War when army units were unprepared to fight.


Operation Urgent Fury — Part 1

The Invasion of Grenada

Introduction

Grenada was (and continues to be) a member of the British Commonwealth, but that didn’t stop President Reagan from ordering a military invasion of that island in 1983.  To achieve the President’s objectives, the U.S. Department of Defense employed the following military and naval units:

U.S. Army Units

  • 1st and 2nd battalions, 75th Ranger Regiment
  • 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment,
  • 1st and 2nd Battalions, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
  • 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 508th Infantry Regiment,
  • 27th Engineer Battalion,
  • 548th Engineer Battalion,
  • 1st Battalion, 320th Artillery Regiment,
  • 160th Aviation Battalion,
  • 269th Aviation Battalion,
  • 1st and 2nd Battalion, 82nd Airborne Regiment,
  • 65th MP Company,
  • 118th MP Company,
  • 411th MP Company,
  • 35th Signal Brigade,
  • 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion,
  • 319th Military Intelligence Battalion,
  • 9th Psychological Operations Battalion,
  • 7th Transportation Battalion,
  • 44th Medical Services Brigade, and
  • The 82nd Finance Company.

U.S. Air Force Units

  • Detachment, 136th Tactical Airlift Wing
  • Detachments, Air National Guard Tactical Fighter Squadrons
  • Detachment, 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing 
  • 26th Air Defense Squadron, NORAD
  • 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing
  • 437th Military Airlift Wing
  • 1st Special Operations Wing
  • Detachment, 317th Military Airlift Wing 

U.S. Naval Units

  • U.S. Navy Independence Carrier Battle Group
  • 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit.

At the end of the first day, U.S. Marines from the 22nd MAU controlled 75% of the island’s 135 square miles.  It was a condition that prompted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army General John Vessey, to inquire of Major General Edward Trobaugh, Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, “We’ve got two companies of Marines running around all over the island and thousands of Army troops doing nothing.  What the hell is going on?”

Background

Erick Gairy (1922-1997), Chief Minister of Granada, could have been a stand-in for American actor/comedian Eddie Murphy.  Gairy was a trained school teacher and served in that capacity from 1939-1941.  For several years afterward, he worked for Largo Oil and Transport Company on the Island of Aruba.  By the time Gairy returned to Granada, he’d become a political radical of the Marxist bent.

In 1957, Gairy’s radicalism prompted the British government to ban him from political activity until 1961.  Popular among the people of Granada, however, Gairy returned to politics in the election of 1961 and, owing to his party’s majority in the legislature, became Chief Minister.  When Gairy’s party lost the election of 1962, Gairy became the legislature’s opposition leader through the end of the legislative session of 1967.

In 1967, Gairy won the general election and formed a new administration as Premier of the Associated State of Grenada, which he led until 1974.  When Grenada achieved its independence from the United Kingdom in 1974, Gairy became the Island’s first Prime Minister.  A series of civil disturbances marked his administration.  His so-called Mongoose Gang (a secret police organization) used violence and threats of mayhem to intimidate voters and political opponents alike.  Despite international observers declaring the election fraudulent, Gairy was narrowly reelected in 1976 by a thin margin, and the civil violence continued.  Gairy’s primary opponent in 1976 was Maurice Bishop, who formed and headed the New Jewel Movement (NJM).  Maurice Bishop led an armed revolution and overthrew the government when Gairy was out of the country.  Bishop suspended the constitution and ruled by fait accompli until 1983.[1]

Contentious Issues

In 1954, the British government proposed the construction of a new international airport.  The project was a cooperative effort involving Great Britain, Cuba, Libya, and Algeria; the project took shape under Bishop’s administration.  Canadians designed the airfield, the UK funded it, and a London firm won the contract for building it.

The United States objected to the airport’s construction because the 9,000-foot runway could accommodate large Soviet aircraft and facilitate Soviet-Cuban military buildups in the Caribbean.  In the view of the U. S. Secretaries of Defense and State, the Point Salines Airport would easily facilitate the transfer of weapons from the Soviet Union to Cuba and several Central American rebel groups.  CIA sources confirmed that Granada was receiving regular arms shipments from the Soviet Union, which was part of a communist scheme to destabilize the region.  Unsurprisingly, California Democrat Ron Dellums (another black radical) traveled to Grenada (at the request of Bishop) and publicly announced that, in his opinion, US concerns were unwarranted.

In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a series of warnings about the Soviet Union’s threat to the United States and its Caribbean allies.  CIA analysts concluded that the Point Salines airport did not require an excessively long landing strip or quite as many fuel storage tanks to accommodate regular commercial air traffic.  Nevertheless, the airport became operational in May 1983, officially named Maurice Bishop International Airport.

In October, Granada Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard initiated a coup d’état and placed Bishop under house arrest.  Mass protests facilitated Bishop’s escape, enabling him to vocally reassert his authority.  Bishop, however, was tracked down and murdered along with his conjugal partner, several government officials, and loyal supporters of the labor union movement.  With Bishop out of the way, General Hudson Austin, head of the People’s Revolutionary Army of Grenada, seized power and established himself as the head of government.[2]  Austin placed British Governor-General Paul Scoon under house arrest.

On 23 October, Governor Scoon sent a secret message to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) asking for help.  The OECS, Barbados, and Jamaica made a joint appeal to the United States for assistance in dealing with “the current anarchic conditions, the serious violations of human rights, bloodshed, and the consequent threat to the peace and security of the region.”  Beyond these conditions, approximately 1,000 American medical students attended St. George’s University Medical School.  General Austin isolated them as hostages against any action the United States might take against his regime.

Military Intervention

Captain Carl R. Erie, U. S. Navy, served as Commander, Atlantic Amphibious Task Force.  His command included Amphibious Squadron-4 (PhibRon-4) and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (22ndMAU).[3]  Colonel James K. Faulkner, USMC, commanded the MAU, which consisted of a ground combat element (GCE), an air combat element (ACE), and a combat service support element (CSSE).  The GCE was Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines (2/8) under Lieutenant Colonel Ray L. Smith, USMC.  Serving as the ACE was Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261 under Lieutenant Colonel Granville R. Amos, USMC.  Major Albert E. Shively commanded the CSSE.  The task force was en route to the Mediterranean as part of a regular US presence there.

Once the U.S. National Command Authority decided that military intervention in Grenada was appropriate and warranted, the Chief of Naval Operations directed Captain Erie to take up station at a point five-hundred miles northeast of Granada and await further instructions.  After consulting with Colonel Faulkner, Erie assumed that the mission, if directed, would involve a non-combat evacuation operation (NEO).  At that time, Erie had no specific information about the number or location of potential evacuees.

On 23 October, the U.S. military had no worthwhile information about Grenada.  None of Captain Erie’s ships had maps of Grenada.[4]  USS Guam did have outdated nautical charts produced by the United Kingdom in 1936, but their usefulness to a modern navy was marginal.  However, Commander Richard A. Butler, USN, who was then serving as Captain Erie’s chief of staff, did have personal experience as an amateur yachtsman in the waters surrounding Granada, and he was somewhat familiar with the area — including an awareness of coastal features, tides, surf, and beaches.  It was also fortunate that Lieutenant Colonel Smith had studied Granada while an Armed Forces Staff College student.

However, until Captain Erie received specific orders, there could be no planning because a NEO requires names and national affiliations of potential evacuees.  Beyond the estimate of “about 1,000 medical students,” Captain Eric was not receiving any information from the U.S. State Department.  Faulkner’s planning would encompass more than force landing, force security, and force extraction if the amphibious group were ordered to conduct something beyond a NEO.

Captain Erie finally received instructions to dispatch a helicopter to Antigua to pick up “advisors” and return them to PhibRon-4.  Still anticipating a NEO, senior Navy and Marine Corps officers assumed these people could be State Department representatives.

At 22:00 on 22 October, Captain Erie received another message directing PhibRon-4 to proceed to Grenada; a supplemental message provided general information on Grenadian military forces’ expected strength and disposition.  Erie was told to “stand by” for intelligence updates.

Ultimately, Captain Erie learned that the Grenadian military numbered around 1,200 men.  Military hardware included 12.7mm and 37mm anti-aircraft batteries provided by the Soviet Union.  Intelligence analysts warned Erie that a Grenadian reserve/militia force of between 2,000-5,000 men and 300-400 armed police could be expected to back the Army.  US intelligence also estimated between 30 to 50 Cuban military advisors, an unknown number of Cuban civilians, and around 600 Cuban construction workers.[5]

Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, serving as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet (COMUSSECONDFLT) (serving also as Commander, Joint Task Force 120) (CJTF-120), messaged Erie to advise him that land operations, whatever they might entail, would fall under the authority of the U. S. Army commander.[6] An airborne assault would involve the 82nd Airborne Division, reinforced by U.S. Army Rangers.  Given this new information, Colonel Faulkner assumed that any mission handed to the Marines would be in support of Army forces, possibly in reserve.

When Erie’s helicopter returned from Antigua on 23 October, no state department personnel were onboard.  Instead, the aircraft’s passengers were U.S. Atlantic Fleet intelligence officers carrying updated information about Grenada and a draft operation order identifying Admiral Metcalf’s operational components: the 82nd Airborne Division, reinforcing components, and the Navy/Marine Corps Amphibious Force (Task Force 124).[7]

The urgency of the intervention compressed the time frame for the operation.  Still, much of the information Captain Eric needed to plan an amphibious assault remained unknown.  To Colonel Faulkner’s surprise, the operation order directed TF-124 to seize the Pearls Airport, the port of Grenville, and neutralize any opposing force within that operating area.  Army units (TF-121 and TF-123) would secure points on the island’s southern end, including the Bishop International Airport at Point Salines.  The carrier battle group (Task Group 20.5) and the U. S. Air Force elements would support the ground forces.

Colonel Faulkner, Lieutenant Colonel Smith, and Lieutenant Colonel Amos received Admiral Metcalf’s guidance a mere 30 hours before “H” Hour.  Faulkner intended to employ a combined air and surface assault to seize his assigned objectives, but he still didn’t have sufficient information to complete his assault plan.  The MAU operations officer wanted to give the GCE maximum strength and flexibility so that Smith could deal with whatever opposition might be waiting ashore.  Still, there remained questions about the suitability of a surface landing on the eastern beaches due to high winds and heavy surf.

Admiral Metcalf decided that D Day would occur on 25 October but added one constraint: no landing would occur before 0400 on D Day.  Colonel Smith and Colonel Amos wanted to launch their assault at first light to minimize the anti-aircraft threat; Metcalf’s restriction simply made that window even smaller.  Moreover, Admiral Metcalf’s rules of engagement (ROE) restricted gunplay to “… only those weapons essential for the mission’s success.”  Metcalf’s instructions ordered ground commanders to avoid disrupting the local economy as much as possible.  Marines were told to establish friendly relations with the Grenadian people whenever possible.  Colonel Smith emphasized this to his company commander: “We are liberating the Grenadians, not attacking them.”

The Marines completed their operational planning on 24 October.  Early that morning, Metcalf met with his boss and the Army commanders.  From this meeting, Admiral Metcalf changed H Hour to 0500.  PhibRon-4 rendezvoused with TG-20.5 off the coast of Barbados, and Metcalf arrived onboard USS Guam at 1745 to assume direct command of the joint task force.  Metcalf approved the operation plan.

At midnight, Navy SEALs went ashore to conduct beach reconnaissance operations.  The task force entered Grenadian waters at around 0200.  At 0400, SEALs reported a marginal beach for landing craft and tracked vehicles.  Accordingly, Captain Erie decided that the primary landing force would go in vertically.  Helicopters would land two rifle companies on the East Coast to seize Pearls Airport and the town of Grenville.  Once these Marines were “feet dry,” Erie would entertain Faulkner’s recommendation for an amphibious landing if the Marines could find a suitable beach.  As the MAU operations staff made last-minute preparations, grunts watched a film on the mess deck — The Sands of Iwo Jima.

(Continued Next Week)

Sources:

  1. Adkin, M.  Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada: The Truth Behind the Largest U.S. Military Operation since Vietnam.  Lexington Books, 1989.
  2. Cole, R. H.  Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada.  Washington: Pentagon Study, 1997.
  3. Dolphin, G. E.  24 MAU 1983: A Marine Looks Back at the Peacekeeping Mission to Beirut, Lebanon.  Publish America, 2005.
  4. Moore, C.  Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith in London, Washington, and Moscow.  New York: Vintage Books, 2016
  5. Russell, L.  Grenada, 1983.  London: Osprey Books, 1985. 
  6. Spector, R. H.  U. S. Marines in Grenada.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1987.
  7. Williams, G.  US-Grenada Relations: Revolution and Intervention in the Backyard.  Macmillan, 2007.

Endnotes:

[1] Maurice Bishop was a Marxist revolutionary and head of the Marxist/Leninist/Black Liberation Party.

[2] Austin had the tacit approval of the Soviet government to proceed with the coup d’état and take over the government.  Contrary to Congressman Dellums’ assessment, the threat to the United States and Caribbean allies was real.  Austin also had close ties to Communist Cuba, as did several members of the NJM movement, including Bishop, Coard, and Scoon.

[3] Today, Marine Amphibious Units are referred to as Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs).  MEU commanders exercise operational and administrative supervision of battalion landing teams (BLTs) (reinforced battalions task organized for a specific type of mission) and composite air squadron (with vertical lift aircraft), and an expeditionary service support (logistics) group.

[4] USS Guam (LPH-9), USS Trenton (LPD-14), USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30), USS Barnstable County (LST 1197) or USS Manitowoc (LST-1180).

[5] In reality, Cuban military forces included around 800 men, a quarter of whom were regular military.

[6] Major General Edward Trobaugh commanded the 82nd Airborne Division; Major General Jack B. Farris serving as deputy commander XVIII Airborne Corps exercised overall command of ground operations during Operation Urgent Fury.

[7] On Sunday morning, 23 October 1983, terrorist bombers attacked International Peacekeepers in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen, 58 French military, and 6 civilians.  The Marines and Corpsmen were members of BLT 1/8, sister battalion of the GCE of the 22nd MAU (which before the Grenada warning order, were en route to relieve 1/8 on station Beirut.


Marine Fighting Spirit

Introduction

Valor, audacity, and fortitude are words used to describe America’s Armed Forces.  The histories of the military services are replete with examples of individual and organizational esprit de corps.  What these men and organizations do in combat mirrors their mission and training; how well they do it reflects the quality of their leaders and the unit’s fighting spirit — their willingness to improvise, adapt and overcome — their ability to sustain serious injury and keep on fighting.

America’s Marines have been at this now for going on 250 years.  The history book of the U.S. Marines is awash with examples of courage under fire, refusal to quit, and victory without fanfare.  We don’t know very much about the kind of training the Continental Marines experienced in preparing them for war with Great Britain in 1775, but we do know that despite the small size of the Corps back then, that handful of Marines distinguished themselves and laid the foundation for what a United States Marine Corps should one day become.

They were American Marines.  Their successes in battle far outnumbered their failures, and while they may have been forced to withdraw from the field of battle, they never quit the fight.  Within two weeks of mustering on the stern of the Continental Navy’s flagship USS Alfred, these early Marines were en route to their first battle — which occurred at New Providence, Nassau, on 3 March 1776.  It wasn’t the bloodiest of battles, but they did their part in helping the navy accomplish its mission.  That’s what Marines do.

The British overwhelmed the Marines at Bladensburg during the War of 1812, but by that time, every other American military unit had already left the field of battle.  The American Marines acquitted themselves so well that the British honored them by sparing the Marine Barracks in Washington (then the headquarters of the United States Marine Corps) from destruction.  The Marine Barracks was the ONLY government building spared — and this explains why Marine Barracks, Washington, is the oldest structure inside the nation’s capital.

Outside this blog’s small number of readers, few Americans today know the Marine Corps’ battle history.  As naval infantry, American Marines protected their country’s interests from the coast of North Africa, throughout the Caribbean, in the Falkland Islands, Sumatra, West Africa, and in the Seminole Wars.  During the Mexican War, Marines seized enemy seaports along the Gulf and the Pacific Ocean.  A battalion of Marines fought under General Winfield Scott at Pueblo and carried the fight all the Halls of Montezuma.” During the American Civil War, Union Marines fought on land and sea.

The farther Marines get from one battle, the closer they get to their next.

The Cold War

At the conclusion of World War II, President Harry S. Truman wasted no time demobilizing the armed forces.  He was intent on making a smooth transition from a wartime economy to one that fulfilled the needs of a nation at peace.  Veterans were returning home from four long years of horror; they needed jobs, and Truman believed that it was the government’s duty to do what it could to help create those jobs.  It was also a time of restructuring of the Armed Forces.  The War Department was disbanded; in its place, a Department of Defense incorporated the service secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  But, in achieving these goals, Truman placed the military services on the chopping block.  Every service experienced sharp cuts in manpower and equipment.  Suddenly, there was no money to repair airplanes, tanks, or radios.  There was no money for annual rifle requalification, no training exercises, and hardly any money to feed, clothe, and see to the medical needs of active duty troops.

During this time, the Marine Corps had but one advantage over the other services.  They all “gave up” one-third of the wartime strength, of course, but while combat veterans in the Army, Navy, and Air Force dwindled to about twenty percent of their total force, the Marine Corps retained half of their combat officers and noncommissioned officers — the men who had led the way through the Pacific, and somehow miraculously survived.

Boiling Korea

When the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) invaded South Korea in the early morning hours of 25 June 1950, they did so in overwhelming numbers.  It was a mechanized/combined arms force involving thirteen infantry divisions, an armored division of well-trained, superbly equipped troops, and a full aviation division to back them up.  Various sources tell us that the number of invading troops was between 90,000 —150,000 men.  An additional 30,000 North Korean soldiers were held “in reserve.”

General Douglas MacArthur, serving as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East, was headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.  Within this United Nations (U.N.) The command consisted of several subordinate commanders, including Commander, U. S. Seventh Fleet, Commander, U.S. Eighth Army, and Commander, U.S. Fifth Air Force.

Commanding the Eighth Army was Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, U. S. Army.  His subordinate commands included the U.S. 24th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, and the U.S. 25th Infantry Division — all of which were stationed in Japan as part of the post-war Allied occupation force.  At the end of June 1950, because of Truman’s cuts to the military services, not one of the Army’s occupation divisions was prepared for a national emergency.[1]  In the Republic of Korea, the South Korean (ROK) armed forces numbered less than 70,000 men.  The one thing the South Koreans shared with the U.S. Eighth Army was that the men were poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly led.

Eventually, all U.N. ground forces were organized under the U.S. Eighth Army.  By the time General Walker was able to organize an armed response, the NKPA had already overrun 90% of the South Korean peninsula.  The only terrain in possession of U.N. forces was a 140-mile perimeter around the port city of Pusan (southeast South Korea).  Throughout July and August, General Walker’s forces suffered one defeat after another.  Casualties were mounting, and the morale of these “U.N.” forces was at an all-time low.  Within thirty days, the U.S. Army suffered 6,000 casualties.  The losses borne by the ROK Army were massive.[2]

General MacArthur asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) for a Marine regiment to help stem the tide of the invading NKPA.  To clarify: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur wanted a regiment of Marines to stem the tide of 150,000 communist troops — when the NPKA had already mauled two Army infantry divisions in 30 days.  What MacArthur received, instead, was a Marine combat brigade — which became the lead element of a re-constituted 1st Marine Division.

A Marine expeditionary brigade is an awesome organization because it incorporates ground, air, and service support elements designed to make the brigade a self-sustaining combat powerhouse.  The 1st (Provisional) Marine Brigade (1stMarBde) began forming at Camp Pendleton, California, on 7 July, its core element was the 5th Marine Regiment (with reinforcing elements: artillery, tanks, engineers, communications) and Marine Aircraft Group 33 (three fixed-wing squadrons and a helicopter squadron).

What made the 1stMarBde extraordinary was the circumstances under which it was formed.  Truman’s cuts were so devastating to the Marine Corps (owing to its already small size) that on 25 June 1950, there was but one infantry regiment at Camp Pendleton — in reduced strength.  The regiment had three battalions (and a headquarters element), but each was short one rifle company; each rifle company was short one rifle platoon.  These reductions simply meant that the Marines would have to fight harder.

The brigade pulled into Pusan Harbor on 2 August; what the Marines discovered was that they were outnumbered and out-gunned by a formidable enemy.  US Marine combat commands during the Korean War operated within the Eighth Army.  General Walker decided to use these Marines as a stop-gap force.  Whenever the NKPA mauled and routed an American Army unit, Walker sent Marines to re-capture the Army’s forfeited positions.  Were it not for this handful of Marines, the Pusan Perimeter would have collapsed, and the NKPA would have succeeded in pushing the tip of America’s spear into the sea.

As previously mentioned, the Marine Brigade was dangerously understrength — but what the Marines brought to the table was exceptional officer and NCO leadership, combat experience, and an unparalleled fighting spirit.  When the NKPA met the US Marines for the first time, they quickly realized that they had foolishly underestimated the lethality of the Marine Corps Air/Ground Team. 

The Fire Brigade began combat operations almost immediately inside the Pusan Perimeter.  The North Korean Army may have had their way with our poorly trained army, but the Marines would have none of it.  US Marines introduced many NKPA soldiers to their worst (and last) day.

Overall command of the brigade fell to Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, USMC.  His assistant was Brigadier General Thomas J. Cushman, who commanded Marine Aircraft Group-33.[3]  Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray (selected for promotion to colonel) served as Commanding Officer, 5th Marines.[4]  Below Murray, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (also, 1/5) was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George R. Newton;[5] Lieutenant Colonel Harold S. Roise led 2/5,[6] and 3/5 was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Taplett.[7]  The skill and determination of these field commanders and the fighting spirit of their men won every battle.  When the Marines of the fire brigade went to Korea, they went with the finest combat commanders available, with combat-tested Noncommissioned Officers and a body of men who exhibited the highest qualities of the United States Marines.

First Encounter

General Walker assigned the brigade to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division (U.S. 25TH) on 6 August; Craig’s orders were to move forward and reinforce thinly spread elements of the Army’s 5th Regimental Combat Team (5 RCT) and the 27th Infantry Regiment (27 INF).  The 5 RCT tried to organize an assault against NKPA forces on 7 August; 27 INF was moving to the rear to serve as 8th Army Reserve.  To facilitate early relief of the 27th, Taplett’s 3/5 accelerated its departure from Changwon and arrived at Chindong-ni less than two hours later.  Serving with 3/5 were elements of 1st Battalion, 11th Marines (1/11) (artillery), and a platoon of engineers.  Murray ordered Taplett to relieve 2/27 INF on Hill 255.

Colonel Taplett was aware of increased enemy activity within his assigned tactical area of responsibility (TAOR).  With only two rifle companies available, Taplett established his area defense with wise use of attached units.  Slowly, additional units began to arrive from the Brigade, including Captain Kenneth J. Houghton’s Reconnaissance Company and a mortar platoon.  Because of the location of the units, Taplett fell under the operational control of Colonel John H. Michaelis, commanding 27 INF.

After reporting to Michaelis, Taplett did his due diligence by pre-registering artillery and mortar on the northern approaches to Chindong-ni and set his battalion in for the night.  Shortly before midnight, a heavy enemy assault on Hill 342 mauled the U.S. Army company defending it.  Michaelis ordered Taplett to send a reinforced platoon to relieve the beleaguered company.  Initially, with only six rifle platoons, Taplett begged off.  Rather than ordering Taplett to execute his last order, Colonel Michaelis deferred the matter (tattled) to Major General William B. Kean, commanding U.S. 25th.[8]

Hill 342 (342 meters above sea level) (1,100 feet) abutted another hill formation that exceeded 600 meters.  The NKPA wanted possession of the hill to facilitate cutting off the U.N.’s main supply route (MSR).  Taplett assigned this mission to Golf Company (1stLt Robert D. Bohn, Commanding), who detailed the mission to Second Lieutenant John H. Cahill, commanding the 1st Platoon.[9]

Bohn reinforced Cahill’s platoon with a radio operator and a machine gun squad.  Moving westward along the MSR, Cahill reached Michaelis’ command post (C.P.) within an hour.  Michaelis’ operations officer instructed Cahill to proceed 700 yards further down the MSR, where a guide would meet him and lead him to the 2/5th RCT for further instructions.

Lieutenant Cahill met his guide without difficulty, but apparently, the guide had become disoriented in the darkness.  After some delay, Cahill’s platoon reached the base of Hill 342.  Two shots rang out; two Marines fell wounded.  The Army guide advised Cahill to withhold his climb to the summit until daybreak.  Shortly after first light, Cahill discovered that U.S. soldiers had shot his men — nervous young men who were unaware that friendly units were moving through their security area.

Cahill and his Marines began their ascent at daybreak.  Shale rock made footing treacherous on the steep hill; the Marines struggled in full combat gear.  The sun burned down upon the Marines, and because they had not yet learned how to conserve their water ration, they soon found themselves approaching heat exhaustion.  Despite the heat, Cahill and his NCOs kept the Marines moving.  Two-thirds of the way to the top, enemy small-arms and machine gun fire added to their misery.  Nearing the top, Cahill instructed his NCOs to keep the Marines moving while he increased his pace; he needed to liaise with the army company commander.  Cahill ignored the enemy fire and proceeded to the top of the hill.

By the time the Marines struggled into the Army perimeter, they’d been climbing for more than three hours (342 meters = 1,122 feet).  Enemy machine gun fire killed one Marine and wounded six others (including Cahill’s platoon sergeant and his platoon guide).[10]  Eight additional men became heat casualties.  Of the 52 Marines that began the climb, only 37 remained combat effective.

Cahill and his remaining NCOs set their Marines in among the Army’s already established defensive perimeter — a wise move because service pride enjoined each man to maintain a high standard of military conduct.  The enemy killed two more Marines as their sergeant set them into defensive positions.  At noon, the fight atop Hill 342 became a siege.

As North Korean soldiers moved slowly to encircle the Americans, defending soldiers and Marines conducted themselves with determination, good discipline, and accurate defensive fire.  Since there was no infantry/artillery coordination in the Army, Cahill used his radio net to obtain artillery support from the 11th Marines to suppress enemy mortar fire.

If enemy small arms and mortar fire wasn’t enough, soldiers and Marines atop Hill 342 began running out of water and ammunition.  Cahill radioed 3/5 requesting air resupply.  When USAF R4Ds delivered the much-needed water and munitions, they dropped them behind enemy lines.  A second airdrop delivered by MAG-33’s VMO-6 was more successful, but not by much.  When the water cans came into contact with mother earth, they exploded.  Marines and soldiers nevertheless retained their precarious positions — but it wasn’t as if they had much choice in the matter.  The Americans had no way out.

Back on Hill 255

Throughout the early morning of 7 August, Colonel Taplett’s front around Chindong-ni became the focus of enemy shelling, ending at around 0400.  Cahill’s first reports to Taplett’s headquarters caused some anxiety.  Taplett concluded that the operation was quickly turning into a goat rope.  At around 0200, LtCol Roise’s 2/5 departed Changwon in a convoy that was too long and too slow.[11]

Roise reached Chindong-ni at around 0500 and entered a schoolyard at the base of Taplett’s hill.  The schoolyard became a bottleneck of vehicles, and the North Koreans used this opportunity to inflict injury and confusion with a steady barrage of mortar fire.  Roise’s battalion suffered one man killed and eleven more wounded; the accuracy of enemy fire kept the Marines undercover.  Murray’s headquarters element, following Roise’s unit, was held up on the road far outside Chindong-ni; had the enemy known this, the 5th Marines CP would have been a sitting duck.

Colonel Murray regained operational control of his battalions once he arrived at Hill 255.  Considering the enemy situation on Hill 342 and hostile activity north of the village, Murray ordered 2/5 to occupy and defend the expanse of Hill 255 above Taplett’s Company H and directed Newton’s 1/5 to occupy Hill 99.  This decision relieved Taplett’s Company G to support 3/5’s lower perimeter on Hill 255.  General Craig’s arrival at 0700 was heralded by renewed enemy shelling.

Craig’s advance hinged on 5 RCT’s success at the Tosan junction.  General Craig arranged for land lines to the Army regiment.  News from the front was not good.  5 RCT jumped off at 0630 — but not for long.  The NKPA 6th Division sat waiting just forward of the regiment’s line of departure. 

The situation atop Hill 342 kept the 5 RCT’s second battalion occupied with a fight for the Chinju Road.  The battalion progressed, but the roadway was choked with men, equipment, and refugees.  Shortly after 0700, Kean ordered Craig to provide a battalion for the relief of an Army unit at Yaban-san.  This would free 5 RCT to make a strike at the road junction two miles further west.  Murray ordered Roise to relieve the men atop Hill 342 and seize the rest of the problematic hill formation.

At 1120 Kean ordered Craig to assume control of all troops in the area of Chindong-ni until further notice.  Craig went forward to conduct personal reconnaissance, ascertaining that enemy resistance was relatively light but with few friendly gains because of the scattered and confused nature of the fighting.  The MSR between Sangnyoung-ni at the base of Hill 342 and the Tosan junction was still jumbled up, and well-placed enemy snipers confused the situation even more.

When Roise’s battalion reached the road junction where Cahill had met his Army guide the night before, he ordered Captain John Finn, Jr., commanding Company D, to ascend the North fork, which traced the eastern spur of Hill 342 and seize the entire hill.  Roise ordered First Lieutenant William E. Sweeney, commanding Company E, to pass behind Sangnyoung-ni and capture the western spur.  Roise took a chance with this maneuver because his battalion was dangerously understrength.

A determined enemy wasn’t the Brigade’s only problem.  The Marines had been constantly on the move since 3 August; they were reaching an exhaustive state — made worse by high daytime temperatures.

Enemy fire began pouring in on Finn’s Marines; Captain Finn ordered his men to take cover in the rice fields bordering the roadway.  He had no valuable intelligence about the enemy’s battle plan, but he instructed his platoon commander to ignore the enemy fire coming from the direction of Tokkong-ni and focus on their advance on Hill 342.  Finn ordered Lieutenant Wallace to lead his Platoon through Taepyong-ni and climb the spur at its junction; Lieutenant Emmelman’s 3rd platoon would take the hill on the left of the spur; Lieutenant Oakley’s 1st platoon would hold the company’s right flank and climb the southern slope of Hill 342.  Finn’s Executive Officer (XO), First Lieutenant Hannifin, would establish the company C.P. and set up 60-mm mortars on the hill overlooking Taepyong-ni.

Captain Finn led his men forward over the same route taken by Lieutenant Cahill twelve hours earlier.  Terrain prevented him from hearing or observing the exertions of his men.  A few hundred yards from the summit, Finn radioed Roise to advise that his men were exhausted from their climb.  While Finn’s assault had scattered the enemy, the company lost five Marines injured by enemy wife, and twelve men had collapsed from heat exhaustion.  As Finn rested his men, Lieutenant Oakley climbed to the summit, met with Army and Marine commanders, and led them to Finn’s position.  The Army commander advised Finn to hold his men in place, rest them, and continue their climb in the morning  Roise approved the delay by radio.

Lieutenant Sweeney’s ascent was no easier.  Company E received sporadic enemy fire, but it was mostly ineffective.  The real enemy was the heat.  Sweeney rested his Marines at dusk; he had advanced midway to the summit of Hill 342.

Dawn Attack

During the hours of darkness, NKPA forces inched their way around the summit of Hill 342.  Just before dawn, the NKPA greeted defending soldiers and Marines with short bursts of automatic weapons and rifle fire.  The defenders returned fire and hurled grenades down the steep slope, but a small enemy force came close enough to mount an attack on the Northeast section of the defensive triangle.  After fierce hand-to-hand fighting at the point of contact, the American defenders forced an enemy withdrawal.  One of Cahill’s men died from bayonet and gunshot wounds; several other defenders received serious injuries.  Brushing aside light enemy resistance, Company D moved up to the summit.  Just as Company D entered the perimeter, the NKPA unleashed withering fire from positions that ringed the defensive area.

Finn set his company into the perimeter and ordered the Army and Marine units to withdraw.  Lieutenant Cahill had lost six killed and 12 wounded — a third of his original contingent of men, but the two beleaguered units managed to frustrate the NKPA’s effort to establish an observation post on Hill 342.

Company D fared no better in consolidating its control of the hill.  Captain Finn lost Second Lieutenants Oakley and Reid.  Lieutenant Emmelman received a serious head wound while directing machine gun fires, and Captain Finn was himself wounded in the head and shoulder.  As Navy corpsmen evacuated Finn and Emmelman, Lieutenant Hannifin, on the way up with mortars, learned that he was now the Company D commander.  Reaching the summit, Hannifin never had time to organize his defensive positions before the NKPA initiated a second assault.  Concentrated fire from the Marines pushed the communists back, but Company D had suffered six killed in action and 25 wounded men.

Enemy fire slackened off around mid-day.  While speaking with Roise on the battalion radio net, Hannifin collapsed from heat exhaustion.  Master Sergeant Harold Reeves assumed command of the company; Second Lieutenant Leroy K. Wirth, an artillery forward observer, assumed command of the company’s mortar section.  Reeves and Wirth continuously ranged forward of the company perimeter to call in air and artillery strikes.  Company D remained steady, and the NKPA lost interest in trying to dislodge them.  Captain Andrew M. Zimmer was dispatched from the regimental staff to assume command of Company D.

Company E relocated to a position 100 yards along the western spur and dug in.  NKPA harassment continued, but there was no more hard fighting on the crest of the hill.  Major Walter Gall, commanding Roise’s Weapons Company, dispatched a small patrol to see if they could dislodge enemy machine guns inside Tokkong-ni.  After a brief slug match, the enemy remained in control of the village.  After Gall’s patrol withdrew from Tokkong-ni, First Lieutenant Ira T. Carr unleashed his 81-mm mortars on the village, which brought enemy resistance to an end.

After 8 August, NKPA forces gave the Marines a wide birth.  Company D was withdrawn from Hill 342 on the afternoon of 9 August, replaced by a battalion of the 24 INF.  Members of the brigade who had no World War II experience could now claim they were combat veterans.  The Americans learned from enemy documents later captured that the soldiers defending Hill 342 had held off elements of two North Korean regiments of the 6th NKPA Division.

Lieutenant Cahill later offered a conservative estimate of 150 enemy dead on the slopes of Hill 342.  Colonel Roise estimated an additional 400 enemy KIA after its fight.  The North Koreans learned from the Marines in the Pusan perimeter that there was a new sheriff in town.  Marines would continue killing North Koreans in large numbers for the next several weeks.

Sources:

  1. Chapin, J. C.  Fire Brigade: U. S. Marines in the Pusan Perimeter.  Washington: Marine Corps Historical Center, 2002.
  2. Geer, A.  The New Breed.  New York: Harper Brothers, 1952.
  3. Daugherty, L. J.  Train Wreckers and Ghost Killers: Allied Marines in the Korean War.  Washington: Marine Corps Historical Center, 2003.
  4. Montross, L. And Canzona, N. A. U. S. Marine Corps Operations in Korea, 1950-53 (Vol.  I): The Pusan Perimeter.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1954.

Endnotes:

[1] See also, From King to Joker.

[2] Battles are not won purely on the size of opposing armies; they are won by the skill of their commanders and the fighting spirit (and capacity) of their men.  None of these conditions existed within the US/UN armed forces on 25 June 1950.

[3] Lieutenant General Thomas J. Cushman (1895-1972 ) was the recipient of two Legions of Merit medals and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

[4] Major General Murray (1913-2004) was a highly decorated officer, having won two Navy Cross medals, four Silver Star Medals, a Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Purple Heart Medal.  Murray commanded 2/6, 3rd Marines, 5th Marines, 1st Infantry Training Regiment, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC.  He fought at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Inchon, Seoul, the Chosin Reservoir, and the Vietnam War.

[5] Colonel Newton (1915-2003 ) was a graduate of the USNA, class of 1938, retiring in 1962.  While serving with the US Marine Legation Guard in Peking China, he was captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war (1941-1945).  He was awarded the Silver Star medal for conspicuous gallantry on 23 September 1950 and the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service while commanding the 1stBn 5thMar  7 July – 12 September 1950.

[6] Colonel Roise (1916-91) was the recipient of two Navy Cross medals in the Korean War.  He served on active duty from 1939 until 1965 with combat service at Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Pusan, Inchon, Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir.

[7] Taplett was awarded the Navy Cross medal for his gallant service at the Chosin Reservoir.

[8] MajGen Kean assumed command of the US 25th Infantry Division in 1948.  The failure of his division to perform in combat rests directly with him.

[9] Bohn retired from active duty as a Major General in 1974.  Bohn was awarded two Silver Star medals, two Legions of Merit, two Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal.

[10] The platoon guide is responsible for the resupply of ammunition, rations, and water.  He processes casualties, manages prisoners, and assumes the duties of the platoon sergeant when necessary.

[11] South Korean “roads” were unpaved, single-lane affairs that winded around the base of hills.  Driving at night was treacherous because vehicles drove in total darkness.  Added to the congestion of military vehicles was a steady stream of civilians trying to get out of the way of two conflicting armies.  Hidden among those civilian refugees were North Korean sappers.  “Goat Rope” was an adequate description of the activities on 7 August 1950.


Battleground Saigon — 1968

Background

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a general uprising and major escalation of the Vietnam War.  It was one of the largest campaigns launched by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) targeting the Republic of Vietnam Army (ARVN) and the United States military forces.

Communist forces launched the Tet Offensive prematurely in the early morning hours of 31 January.  It was a well-coordinated, country-wide assault involving more than 80,000 communist troops.  They attacked more than 100 towns and cities, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district headquarters, and the capital in Saigon.

Communist leaders in the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi decided to launch the offensive in the belief that it would trigger a popular uprising leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government.  Although the initial attacks stunned the allies, causing them a temporary loss of control over several cities, American and South Vietnamese forces quickly regrouped beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on NVA/VC forces.  A popular uprising never occurred.

Earlier, on 15 December 1967, U.S. forces communicated their confidence in the South Vietnamese military forces by turning over to them the authority and responsibility for defending the capital city.  From that day forward, U.S. forces present in Saigon would only be responsible for defending themselves and their facilities within the confines of the capital city.

On the night of 30 January 1968, four South Vietnamese police (Cảnh Sát) posts provided an outer line of defense for the United States Embassy.  Two military policemen from the 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, guarded the vehicle entrance on Mac Dinh Chi Street.  Two U.S. Marines of the Embassy’s Marine Security Guard stood post inside the Chancery Building: Sergeant Ronald W. Harper and Corporal George B. Zachuranic.  Another Marine stood post on the roof of the Chancery Building; his name was Sergeant Rudy A. Soto.

The Fight

Shortly after midnight on 31 January, Viet Cong (VC) sappers from the C-10 Sapper Battalion gathered at a VC safehouse in the rear of a car repair facility at 59 Phan Thanh Gian Street to receive their weapons and receive their final briefing before their planned assault.  Two of these men were employed by the U.S. Department of State.  Their orders were to seize the embassy grounds, break into the chancery building, and seize hostages.  The sappers were told that hundreds of anti-war and anti-government university students would converge on the embassy and stage a sit-down strike — thereby aiding the sappers in maintaining control of the Embassy.

Sappers approached the embassy in a truck with its lights off.  Cảnh Sát sighted the vehicle, but rather than acting they took cover.  As the vehicle off Mac Dinh Chi onto Thong Nhut the occupants opened fire on the military policemen guarding the vehicle gate.  U.S. Army Specialist-4 Charles L. Daniel and Private First Class William E. Sebast returned fire, closed, and locked the steel gate, and radioed that they were under attack.  Hearing the gunfire, Sergeant Ron Harper, who was at the rear of the Embassy, ran back through the rear door of the Chancery, across the lobby, past Corporal Zahuranic (who was in the process of calling for reinforcements), pulled a Vietnamese night watchman into the Embassy, and then closed and bolted the heavy teak doors to the Chancery.

The VC blew a hole in the perimeter wall at 0247 and gained access to the embassy compound.  Daniel and Sebast killed the first two VC through the breach.  Daniel radioed to his command that the VC were breaching the perimeter.  While on the radio, a VC armed with an automatic rifle emerged from the rear parking lot and killed Daniel and Sebast.  A second man carrying a rifle came around the building and the two men later determined to be the two employees of the State Department, joined the other VC on the front lawn.

On the Chancery roof, Sergeant Soto observed the VC coming through the wall and attempted to fire on them with his 12-gauge shotgun.  The weapon jammed.  He then emptied his .38 caliber revolver, but the fire was inaccurate from that distance.  Inside the Embassy grounds, the VC opened fire on the Chancery Building with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).  Several RPGs penetrated the walls of the Chancery, wounding George Zahuranic and destroying two radios in the guard post.  Soto tried unsuccessfully to contact the lobby guard post and assumed that the Marines were dead or otherwise incapacitated.[1]

The Commanding Officer of the 716th MP Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon D. Rowe, received the distress call from the Embassy and dispatched several jeep patrols to investigate what was happening.  The first two vehicles took routes that passed through to the south of the rear vehicle gate, arriving at the base of an unfinished high-rise building — where the attacking VC had decided to shelter during the assault.  The VC destroyed these vehicles, killing two MPs and wounding three.  A third jeep reached the Embassy’s pedestrian gate without incident but was unaware of the situation.  VC gunners cut down Army Sergeant Johnnie B. Thomas and Specialist Owen E. Mebust as they exited their vehicle to investigate.

In addition to the three Marine Security Guards, there were two Vietnamese and six American civilians inside the Chancery building at the time of the assault.  The Americans armed themselves with .38 revolvers, Beretta pistols, and available M-12 shotguns — and then waited for the VC to enter the building.

Outside, the VC were unsure of their next move because MPs Daniel and Sebast had shot and killed the leaders of both sapper teams.  Together, the sapper teams had more than forty pounds of C-4 explosives and could have blown their way into the Chancery, had they thought of it.  Instead, they took up positions in or near the circular planters on the Embassy grounds and returned fire at the growing numbers of Americans shooting at them.

Major Robert J. O’Brien, USMC

Five blocks away from the U.S. Embassy, at “Marine House,” Captain Robert J. O’Brien received word of the attack from Corporal Dennis L. Ryan at around 0250.[2]  O’Brien mustered off-duty security guards, Sergeant Richard G. Frattarelli, Sergeant Patullo, Sergeant Raymond E. Reed, and Corporal Timothy P. Inemer, and headed for the Embassy.  Arriving at the Embassy, Captain O’Brien and his men immediately engaged the VC inside the compound but were driven to seek cover by the superior firepower of the enemy.  At around 0300, two civilian security officers (Mr. Crampsey and Mr. Furey) reinforced the Marine reaction force.  Attempts to shoot off the locks of the gates were unsuccessful in the darkness.

Meanwhile, according to Captain O’Brien’s after-action report, his reaction force and the two civilian security officers began receiving fire from the Cảnh Sát station 200 yards further distant from the Embassy.[3]  Cảnh Sát targeting U.S. Marines put the OIC out of communication with Marine House for about three and one-half hours until around 0630.

About 0300, Army MPs stopped O’Brien and Staff Sergeant Banks and their small team at the corner of Hai Ba Trung Street and Thong Nhut Boulevard near the Norodom Compound Gate.  O’Brien and Banks decided to split their force leaving one group at Norodom.  O’Brien led one group along the Embassy wall toward the main front entrance.  Enemy automatic weapons and RPGs drove them back toward Norodom Compound.  Remaining outside the compound, SSgt Banks integrated the Marines into existing firing positions.  He placed some of his men on the Consular section roof from where they could bring fire to bear on the Viet Cong inside the Embassy grounds.

About 0350, a group of about six or seven MPs arrived at Norodom and joined in the firefight with the Marine Security Guard.  At about this time, some of the Marine Security Guard had worked their way behind the Consular Buildings and found the rear gate by the maintenance shacks open.  Both Marine Security Guards and MPs tried to get into the Embassy Compound through this gate but were prevented from doing so by enemy automatic weapons and RPG fire from inside the Embassy compound.

The Norodom gate is where Sgt Jimerson was hit by enemy fire while trying to get through the gate.  The Viet Cong had this entrance covered from positions behind parked cars in the Embassy parking lot.  Sgt Jimerson was quickly evacuated to the 17th Field Hospital.  While this action was taking place other Marine Security Guards and MPs were exchanging fire with Viet Cong from the Norodom roof.

At around 0400, the VC fired several rockets at the Norodom roof, which injured Corporal Ryan, who was also evacuated to the hospital.  Corporal James C. Marshall, Corporal Wilson, and two Army MPs remained on the roof and continued to fire at the VC.  Marshall was hit with shrapnel from an RPG explosion but remained in place and continued to engage the enemy until killed by automatic weapons fire.

Sergeant Scheupfer, who remained at ground level, received a shrapnel wound to his hand.  O’Brien and Crampsey climbed onto the rooftops of buildings along the rear wall of the Embassy Compound facing the Mission Coordinator’s House.  From that position, O’Brien and Crampsey brought two or three VC under fire.  Meanwhile, an aide to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker contacted the head of the Saigon Police and demanded reinforcements.  The officer commanding the first precinct (nearest the Embassy) blatantly refused to move his men in the darkness of the early morning.[4]

SSgt Banks notified GySgt Allen Morrison at the Marine House of the difficulty he was having in trying to gain entrance to the embassy.  Morrison advised Banks to hold in place until daylight when reinforcements and resupplies could be moved up.  This was a sound tactical decision.  By this time, Banks had learned from Harper that no Viet Cong had gotten inside the building, but Corporal Zahuranic was wounded.  Additional MPs began to arrive at the time and began taking up positions in the vacant lot across the street from the Embassy.

At 0420, General William Westmoreland, Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV), ordered the 716th MP Battalion to clear the embassy as their first priority.  Colonel Rowe, lacking armored vehicles or helicopters, moved reinforcements by truck and jeep to cordon off the Embassy.  The tactical situation was confused and hampered by darkness and lack of communications between allied forces (Marines inside and outside of the Embassy, Marines with supporting Army MPs, Americans with Vietnamese police).  In any event, it was easier to locate a herd of unicorns than it was any presence of Cảnh Sát around or near the U.S. Embassy over the next 18 hours.

At 0500, a helicopter carrying troops from the 101st Airborne Division attempted a landing on the roof of the Embassy, but enemy fire drove it off.  An hour later, another helicopter landed on the roof of the Embassy, picked up Corporal Zahuranic, and dropped off three cases of M-16 ammunition.  Since the Marines didn’t have M-16s, the resupply was a wasted effort.

At dawn, MPs were able to shoot the locks off the Embassy gate on Thong Nhut Boulevard and ram open the gates with a motor vehicle.  Once the gate was open, Army MPs and Marine Security Guard reinforcements charged into the Embassy compound.  The second team of MPs stormed the rear parking area.  Within a few moments, all remaining VC were either killed or dying from gunshot wounds.  At about this time, a helicopter carrying troops from the 101st Airborne landed on the roof and began the task of clearing the building.

After the U.S. Embassy buildings and grounds were declared secure, General Westmoreland and his security detail arrived by car to inspect the grounds.  Ambassador Bunker directed that the Embassy reopen for business at mid-day.

(Continued next week)

Endnotes:

[1] Marine Security Guards were armed with either .38 caliber revolvers, 9mm pistols, or M-12 semi-automatic shotguns.  Handguns (or side arms) are not accurate beyond 20 yards and shotguns are “close-in” weapons.  While the Marines did return VC fire, their weapons were not suitable for a sustained firefight with men armed with AK-47 automatic rifles.

[2] Lieutenant Colonel Robert Joseph O’Brien (1931 – 2020) served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.  He passed away on 23 January 2020, 52 years after the battle of the U.S. Embassy.  He was survived by his wife Joanne and three grown children.   

[3] O’Brien’s report may have been edited to avoid any allegation that Vietnamese police were in acting in accordance with Viet Cong sappers — but if two Embassy employees were involved with the sappers, it is not inconceivable that the police were also aiding the enemy.  

[4] Out of a contingent of 300 National Policemen in Saigon, only 25 reported for duty during the Tet Offensive.





No Peace to Keep — Part II

Somalia, 1992-95

The Ongoing Threat

Somalia remained a dangerous place because of the randomness of armed assaults.  Marines and soldiers on patrol could never be sure when they might walk into a factional firefight or run into a gang of thugs.  On 12 January 1993, a security patrol was making a routine sweep along the southwest corner of the Mogadishu airfield.  At 2140, the patrol walked into an ambush and engaged in a firefight with several Somalis.

PFC Domingo Arroyo, a member of the security patrol, was mortally wounded.  Arroyo’s military occupational specialty was “field wireman,” primarily assigned to Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines (artillery).  His participation in the security patrol was in keeping with this Marine Corps tradition: Every Marine is a Rifleman.  PFC Arroyo was the first Marine killed in Somalia.

General Wilhelm realized that to carry out his security mission, Mogadishu would have to be stabilized.  He wanted an aggressive plan to develop intelligence sources to enable Marines to become better prepared for their dangerous duties.  The result was a four-phase plan within which each phase would turn simultaneously, like the wheels in a timepiece.

The phases were (a) collect information about the human population (clans, where they lived, location of gang leaders, etc.), (b) Increased foot patrols and checkpoints, increase the visibility of the troops, (c) direct action as required, and (d) evaluation, assessment, and formulating an updated plan for ongoing actions.

The units involved in this new process, organized within the MARFOR Mogadishu Task Force under Colonel Jack W. Klimp, were 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 3rd Light Armored Infantry Battalion, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.

The task force numbered 2,000 Marines with its CP at the sports stadium in the northern section of the city — where most of the factional conflicts took place.  Its main activity was patrolling, which enabled Marines to gather intelligence and demonstrate their constant presence.  Patrolling reduced violence and reassured citizens of the Marine’s benign intent.  Patrols also raided arms merchants within the outdoor markets and confiscated firearms whenever encountered.[1]

Shift in Mission

In January 1993, Bill Clinton assumed the presidency.  What Mr. Clinton understood about military operations would fit entirely on a post-it note.  Worse, all Clinton had available to advise him was Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Chairman of the JCS, General John Shalikashvili, and Commander, Central Command, General Joseph P. Hoar.

In early March 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali submitted to the UN Security Council his plan for returning Somali operations to the United Nations.  He acknowledged that the US-led peacekeeping/humanitarian missions were successful.  However, there was still no national government, police, or national army, and tribal factions continued to threaten the stability of the Horn of Africa.  To that end, the Secretary-General authorized UNOSOM II to establish a more secure environment throughout Somalia to achieve national reconciliation and a democratic state.

At a National Reconciliation Conference in Somalia, all fifteen Somali factions agreed to restore peace and democracy.  However, within a month, General Aideed’s faction had another think and decided not to cooperate with UNOSOM.  Aideed began broadcasting anti-UN propaganda over Radio Mogadishu, which prompted the Commander, UNOSOM II, Lieutenant General Cervik Bir, to shut down the radio station.

Meanwhile, UNOSOM’s principal staffers were all Somalis with no direct benefit in the success of the UN mission.  This explains how the UNOSOM organization became saturated with factional spies.  Aideed, for example, knew what UNOSOM was planning almost before General Bir.  After Aideed’s forces assaulted a Pakistani peacekeeping force, killing 24 and wounding 57 (also wounding 1 Italian and 3 American soldiers), the UN ordered the arrest and prosecution of General Aideed.

The search for Aideed began in earnest on 12 June.  Despite a house-to-house search for Aideed, he was never located.  On 12 July (Bloody Monday), US forces assaulted a house believed to contain Aideed.  Killed in the attack were several tribal leaders who, post mortem, were said to have been discussing peace arrangements with other factions — but that isn’t the information US forces had before the attack.  They believed Aideed was present at that “meeting of elders.”  Whatever the truth, the International Red Cross stated that 54 Somalis died in the attack, with an additional 161 wounded.  Aideed was not among the casualties.[2]

On 8 August, Aideed’s forces detonated a remote-controlled bomb against a US military vehicle, killing all four of its occupants.  Two weeks later, another bomb killed or injured seven more soldiers.  President Bill Clinton responded by ordering a Special Forces Task Force, including 400 Army Rangers, to deal with Aideed.  The Special Forces unit arrived in Somalia on 22 August 1993.  A month later, forces under Aideed shot down a Black Hawk Helicopter in the New Port area of Mogadishu.  All three crewmen died in the explosion/crash.

The Battle of Mogadishu

Also referred to as Operation Gothic Serpent, the battle began as a military quest by the U.S.-led peacekeeping and humanitarian coalition to capture Mohamed Farrah Aideed.[3]  General Aideed’s assault against coalition forces was part of a larger scheme by Saudi Arabia-funded Al-Qaeda to discredit the American armed forces and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East/Africa.

As part of the operation, led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), coalition troops were deployed to arrest two of Aideed’s lieutenants.  It quickly evolved into the Battle of Mogadishu (22 August-13 October 1993) and resulted in an unmitigated disaster for coalition troops and a strategic victory for Al Qaeda and the Somali National Alliance.  It was one of the most devastating battle losses in U.S. history.  By using the phrase “battle losses,” I do not refer simply to the 19 American, 25 Pakistani, or 1 Malaysian soldier killed; I refer to the fact that President Bill Clinton’s weak leadership, his lack of resolve, and the imposition of overly-restrictive rules of engagement allowed barely armed Somalis to hand the U.S. military a resounding defeat.

On 3 October, the joint-task force commander dispatched 160 combat troops, twelve vehicles, and 19 aircraft to make the arrest.  Aideed’s lieutenants were soon taken into custody and, along with an injured soldier, loaded into vehicles for transportation back to the mission command post.  However, armed militiamen surrounded by women and children converged on the target area from throughout the city.  Gunfire erupted, resulting in one Somali and one coalition death.  The radio report “stunned” the operational commander because “they expected no casualties.”[4]

In the violence that followed, Somali insurgents shot down two Black Hawk Helicopters, killing crew members and rescuers.  Somalis also quickly surrounded the reaction force dispatched to the scene.  A bloody battle ensued as coalition troops became overwhelmed by civilian men, women, and teenagers closing to within a few feet to give a fight.  In addition to the twenty coalition troops killed in action, 82 others received combat wounds/injuries.  Of the Somalis, coalition troops killed an estimated 1,000 and wounded 3,000.  These “estimates” remain questionable, however.

The Aftermath

Under the auspices of a UNO Peacekeeping/Humanitarian effort, the United States entered Somalia in December 1992 to stop the imminent starvation of millions of people.  For a time, these substantial efforts succeeded in feeding the hungry, but neither the UNO nor its surrogate, the United States, managed to broker peace among warring factions.

It was a poorly organized, ineffectually managed nation-building operation.  American officials, demonstrating either their incompetence or naivete, expected gratitude for their humanitarian efforts.  That did not happen because U.S. officials were blind to the reality of Saudi Arabia’s behind-the-scenes Wahhabist activities.  Nation-building did not work in South Vietnam; it did not work (again) in Somalia — and yet, the United States still had not learned any valuable lessons from this by the time of the Iraqi War in 2003.

In the long-term, UNO and United States diplomatic and military efforts failed to achieve its mission: peace and security in Somalia and starvation relief for its 10 million people.  It wasn’t even a good try.  It was a case of diplomatic and military ineptitude combined with numerous Somali factions trying to out-jockey one another for supreme control.  The Somali people proved themselves their own worst enemy.  Still, America gave up 42 of its young men.  Despite its superiority in armaments and technology, it allowed stone-age people to divert them from a worthwhile mission and force them to capitulate.

American military power allowed the United States access to conditions that might have led to conditions for peace amid famine and bloodshed, but the various factions were not yet exhausted from fighting, and they were themselves unwilling to stop the carnage. Ignoring the befuddled actions of UNO/American operational managers (who acted more like senior civilian officials and lieutenants than they did senior civilian officials and general officers), the troops did their best under the worst possible conditions. Simply stated, there was no peace in Somalia to keep. We must learn that the best soldiers in the world can only deliver up a foundation for peace — they cannot create peace itself.

Sources:

  1. Allard, K.  Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned.  National Defense University Press, 1995.
  2. Bowden, M.  Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare.  Atlantic Monthly Press,1999.
  3. Mroczkowski, D. P.  Restoring Hope: In Somalia with the Unified Task Force, 1992-1993.  HQMC History Division, 2005.
  4. Sangvic, R. N.  The Battle of Mogadishu: Anatomy of Failure.  Army Command and General Staff School, 1998.
  5. Wright, L.  The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.  Knopf Publishing, 2006

Endnotes:

[1] The arms merchants weren’t “gun dealers.”  Arms merchants sold RPGs, assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, tank rounds, and weapons from nearly every manufacturer in the world.  In the first raid, Marines confiscated 1,500 assorted weapons.  Of course, the market raids merely drove the markets underground, but the word was out, and it made the city a safer place for everyone.

[2] Four western journalists (Dan Eldon, Hos Maina, Hansi Kraus, and Anthony Macharia) rushed to cover the story.  An angry Somali mob turned on these journalists and killed them — so the day wasn’t a total loss. 

[3] “General” Mohamed Farrah Aideed was killed by another Somali faction on 5 August 1996.  His son, Hussein Mohamed Farrah (Aideed) is a naturalized US citizen and a former U. S. Marine (1987-1995).  Corporal Farrah subsequently served as Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia.  He now lives in Eritrea.

[4] It is inconceivable to me that any military commander would send 160 troops, 19 aircraft, and 12 vehicles on a mission and not anticipate the possibility of casualties … particularly in light of the incident on 8 September when a large Somali force attacked coalition troops at a roadblock location.  Two additional assaults occurred on 16 and 21 September.  Crumbs.


No Peace to Keep — Part I

Somalia, 1992-95

Introduction

For well over seventy years, the United Nations Organization (UNO) has continuously involved itself in so-called peacekeeping/humanitarian operations — at best with mixed, but at worst with disastrous results.  It is a complex conversation because, over those seventy years, the nature of armed conflict has changed dramatically, and the challenges peacekeepers face have evolved into highly complex if not impossible-to-accomplish missions.  Warfare is always complicated, of course, but making matters worse is the utter incompetence of UNO officials and, in the case of the United States (in its past role in such operations), the unbelievable ineptitude of executives and members of both parties of the United States Congress.

In 2019, 14 separate UNO peacekeeping missions involved well over 100,000 soldiers, police, and senior UNO civilians.  The cost of these operations in 2019 exceeded $7 billion.  The United States paid out $2 billion as its “fair share” of keeping the peace.

To understand the “complexity” of UNO peacekeeping operations, it is first necessary to divide them into categories.  The oldest of these are operations that attempt to resolve border disputes.  A second category involves multi-dimensional operations, such as might include civil war.  A third type, the most difficult, involves protection and stabilization missions — which are further complicated by cultural factors.  I am writing now about the cultural influences of the people to whom the aid is directed and the UNO culture responsible for overseeing such missions (particularly when UNO surrogates incorporate globalist/socialist thinking into mission structure, which obfuscates matters even further).

Of the third type, in addition to the complexities mentioned, we must add peacekeeping operations in the face of violent extremism.  Generally, UNO effectiveness is only possible when opposing interests invite the participation of the UNO, when the UNO remains strictly neutral in facilitating the conflict, and when the use of force is limited to self-defense of peacekeeping units. Operational disaster is the result of the UNO’s failure to adhere to these principles.  Two examples stand out: The Congo in 1960 and Somalia in 1991-95.  The reality of the fiasco in Somalia was that the UNO (and its surrogate, the U.S. government) quite miserably failed to realize (or acknowledge) that there was no peace to keep.  It was a doomed-to-fail effort before it began, made worse along the way with poorly conceived shifts in mission.

In the case of Somalia, the UNO became involved as a response to inhumane conditions of starvation and forced migration.  In both instances, millions were affected … with forced migration causing tribal conflicts with fifteen separate rebel groups. Rushing to take advantage of the situation was the Saudi-funded Al Qaeda organization which sought to damage the credibility of the UNO, the U.S. government, and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, the global situation is not improving.  Neither the UNO nor the United States has learned valuable lessons from their past mistakes.  Despite the impropriety of U.S. involvement in Somalia, the Department of State continues to spend billions of the taxpayer’s money “ … in developmental assistance [in Somalia] to support economic, political, and social sectors to achieve greater stability, establish a formal economy, obtain access to basic services, and attain representation through legitimate, credible governance.” The wording comes from the writers of the popular television series Madam Secretary.  “The United States works closely with other donor partners and international organizations to support social services and the development of an effective and representative security sector, including military, police, and justice organizations while supporting ongoing African Union peacekeeping efforts.”

Whenever the UNO wants to divorce itself from costly peace-keeping/humanitarian assistance operations, it mismanages such efforts so horribly that it becomes only a matter of time before a progressive American president steps in to relieve the UN of it’s responsibility.  Somalia is an excellent example.  The price paid by the American people to maintain this irrational facade is the bloodshed of American servicemen, a lifetime of woe by the parents, wives, and children of slain soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and adding the costs of war to the backs of American taxpayers.

Some History

Geographically, Somalia sits on the Horn of Africa at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.  Bordering states include Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  The people who live in these border regions number around 9 million; 98% are Somali tribesmen.  About 45% of Somalia’s population is under 15 years of age.  Seventy percent of the Somali people are nomads who travel at will with their clans and livestock through Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  This migratory pattern generates land disputes between Somalis and their neighbors.

Civil war and massive starvation in Somalia prompted UN and Organization of African Unity (OAU) interventions in 1991 because half of the nation’s 10 million people were starving to death.  Between January and March 1992, at least three-quarters of a million Somalis died from starvation; another 3 million fled the country as refugees.  Nothing about this situation was unusual in East Africa in 1991.

The area of present-day Somalia was one of the first places Islamic conquerors stopped at the beginning of their murderous campaigns in 700 A.D.  From that point on, East Africans have suffered one war after another, beginning around 900 A.D.  Nothing improved in the lives of native people after Italian and British imperialists began warring with one another over possession of the Horn of Africa.  Following World War II, the United Kingdom placed British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland under its protection.

In 1960, both trust territories united to form the Somali Republic, with Great Britain and Italy deciding the location of its borders.  A formal government took shape under the auspices of the Somali National Assembly through a national referendum that excluded 70% of the Somali people.  The fun began nine years later with a series of assassinations of government leaders and a military coup d’état.  Between 1969-1991, the Somali government fell under the control of the so-called Supreme Revolutionary Council — under which Somalia became known as the Somali Democratic Republic.  Culturally, the SDR was closely linked to the Arab world and joined the Arab League in 1974.  Somali government leaders abandoned democracy in 1976 to establish a one-party scientific-socialist government based on Marxism and Islamism.

War broke out between Somalia and Ethiopia in 1977.  The issue of contention was the placement of Somalia’s western border.  Initially, the Somalis gained an advantage over their enemy until the Soviet Union intervened with “advisors” and 20,000 Cuban mercenaries. The USSR’s involvement in East Africa prompted the Somali government to ask for American assistance. U.S. diplomats were over-joyed; they’d wanted a piece of East Africa since around 1960.  Thanks to the American taxpayer (who hadn’t a clue about any of this), Somalia created the largest army on the African continent.[1] 

By the 1990s, mainly due to the end of the Cold War, East Africa no longer offered any strategic value to either the new Russian federation or the United States.  Left to its own devices, Somalia began a steep spiral into authoritarianism.  Through clever instigation, Ethiopia started rebel movements throughout Somalia, which led to civil war, food and fuel shortages, and a period of cripling inflation.  Somali government leaders clamped down even more by establishing curfews and surveiling and harassing foreigners.

Libya assisted in overthrowing the Somali government and installing a loose confederation of tribalists to replace it.  An international group consisting of Egyptians, Arabians, and Italians subsequently determined that Ali Mahdi Mohamed should serve as the President of Somalia.  Unfortunately, Mohamed was only capable of controlling the capital city; tribal groups divided up the rest of the country.

Enter the United Nations

The time was right for the United Nations to stick its nose under the Somali tent.  The United Nations Organization Somali Command (UNOSOM) attempted to arrange several “cease-fire” agreements — emphasis on attempted. A fifty-man detachment of UN Peacekeepers tried to stabilize the country enough to conduct humanitarian relief operations. Such a small detachment had no chance of success, so the UN increased its military footprint to around 500 troops.

However, rebel factions in Somalia ignored all previously agreed-to cease-fire agreements, and the fighting continued.  According to its own guidelines, the UNO should have withdrawn all military and civilian aid workers from Somalia. 

In August 1992, the UN Security Council discussed sending an additional 3,000 troops to Somalia.  Discussing the proposition was as far as the proposal ever got.  Conditions in Somalia worsened as tribal factions splintered into even smaller groups and then splintered again.  As the fighting became nastier its effects grew worse. For example, rebel factions used UN forces for target practice, attacked ships laden with food stores, and cargo aircraft became targets of opportunity.  If aid workers knew what was good for them, they hired bodyguards.

By November 1992, General Mohamed Farrah Aideed tired of the fun and games and ordered all UN forces (the so-called Unified Task Force (UNITAF) out of Somalia.  There is probably a no better example of UN failure than this — and it was at this point that President George H. W. Bush demonstrated his brilliance as a national leader for the second time (appointing April Glaspie as Ambassador to Iraq was his first).  Bush volunteered the U.S. military to lead a “multinational” force to secure humanitarian operations in Somalia.

The UN General Secretary became so giddy that he authorized the American-led force (designated Operation Restore Hope) to use all necessary means to ensure the protection of UNITAF relief efforts.  Eventually, UNITAF involved personnel from 24 countries (but mainly from the United States).  The plan was simple enough: the U.S. military protected civilian aid workers while UNOSOM continued its efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting and distribute food stores.[2]

Land the Marines

Training and readiness have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps since the Revolutionary War.  In the Marines, training and operational planning are continuous and concurrent.  President Bush made his televised announcement on 4 December 1992; planning for Somali operations began on the morning of 5 December.

U.S. planners at the U.S. Central Command envisioned four operational phases.  First, deploy troops to secure harbors and airfields.  Second, establish and expand security zones throughout southern Somalia.  Third, expand the security zone and secure land routes for humanitarian missions.  Fourth, return Somali operations to the UN (presumably so that the UN could undo all of the U.S. military’s accomplishments).[3]

Mission planners also struggled with their assessment of the enemy.  As previously mentioned, the Somali “enemy” were splintered tribalists.  The answers to such questions as “how well is he armed,” and “under what conditions can he best employ his power” were largely unknown because Marines could face a different enemy every day.  But in addition to “enemy” capabilities, there was also the issue of rampant lawlessness.  Under the best of circumstances, U.S. operations in Somalia were volatile in the extreme. 

After extensive “special operations” training, Headquarters I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) designated the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9) as the lead battalion within the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15thMEU), earmarked for humanitarian assistance operations in Somalia.[4]  These Marines would spearhead the mission ashore as part of the UN mandate.[5]   Fox Company “raiders” went in first to secure the seaport, the Recon detachment, followed by Golf Company, secured the Mogadishu airport.

15th MEU became an integral part of Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Tripoli, including USS Tripoli, USS Juneau, and USS Rushmore.  ARG Tripoli was on station off the coast of Somalia on 3 December.  The initial landing commenced at 0540 with Marines and Navy Seals going ashore at Mogadishu, where the dolts from CNN had set up television cameras and bright lights to offer advantages to the enemy, should they care to resist the landing.  With that one significant glitch in violation of operational security, the landing proceeded quickly and smoothly.

2/9 Marines proceeded to the U.S. Embassy compound, where they secured the chancery.  Colonel Greg Newbold set up his command post (CP) at the airfield.  Also, on that first day, the first coalition partner arrived and joined the Marine security plan: a company from the 2nd French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment, which came by aircraft from Djibouti.

The Marine’s “overwhelming show of force” allowed them to seize, hold, and expand their control.  They discovered in Mogadishu a modern-looking city reflecting the effects of two years of warfare: anarchy, terror, no electricity, running water, or sanitation.  There were no police officers.  Public buildings had been damaged, looted, and stood vacant.  With closed schools, gangs of youths roamed the streets looking for things to pillage.  Crowded refugee camps filled every parcel of open land.  The only visible civic activities were those involving the burial of human remains.

Toward the end of the first day, a vehicle containing nine Somalis ran a roadside checkpoint manned by French Legionnaires. They opened fire at the fleeing automobile — killing two and wounding seven others.  Afterward, Somali snipers added UN Peacekeepers to their list of potential targets.  They weren’t hitting anyone, but the shooting was bothersome and worrisome.

On 10 December, Major General Charles E. Wilhelm, USMC, assumed command of Marine Forces (MARFOR), Somalia.  MARFOR provided the basic structure around which the Unified Task Force evolved.  Behind the Marines, the most prominent American force was the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, eventually forming the centerpiece for Army Forces, Somalia (ARFOR).  General Wilhelm’s command authority included the 15thMEU and French forces.  Wilhelm focused his attention on securing ports of arrival and departure and the Embassy compound.  When 1st Battalion, 7th Marines arrived, Wilhelm expanded his control over areas outside Mogadishu — notably into Bale Dogle.  Wilhelm assigned that mission to BLT 2/9 (supported by HMM 164), which they accomplished within 48 hours.

The first U.S. Army unit into Somalia was Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry (deployed with 2/87), which flew into the Bale Dogle airfield.  Upon arrival, Alpha Company relieved the Marines and assumed control of the airfield.

The first direct attacks on UNITAF members occurred in two separate incidents on 12 December.  Three aircraft of HMM 164 received fire from unknown persons with damage to their rotors.  Marines returned fire with 20mm guns and missiles, destroying two “technicals” and damaging one US-made armored personnel carrier.[6]

On 6 January 1993, unknown persons fired on a convoy moving through Mogadishu from two authorized weapons storage facilities belonging to General Aideed’s faction.  The unified commander, Lieutenant General Robert B. Johnston USMC, decided to take decisive action, or the danger to coalition forces would only increase.  He tasked General Wilhelm to develop a plan of action.  He wanted it simple and dramatic.

Mohamed Aideed

During the night of 6-7 January, Kilo Company 3/9 and Charlie Company 1/7 surrounded the two weapons sites.  LAVs from the 3rd LAI Battalion screened the area.  Snipers took positions in the high ground surrounding Aideed’s turf.  A two-company reserve force formed at the Embassy compound.  PsyOps personnel from the U.S. Army’s 9th Psychological Operations Battalion augmented each rifle company.  At 0553 on 7 January, PsyOps broadcasters began to issue warnings to the Somalis that they were surrounded, instructing them that they would not be harmed if they surrendered.

At that moment, helicopters assumed a hovering position around the ammunition sites.  Somalis in storage site No. 8 surrendered.  The men in site No. 2 decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  Helicopter crew chiefs reported that one tank inside the compound was turning over, and two Somalis had operated a heavy anti-aircraft machine gun.  Guns were cleared for snipers to take out the two machine gunners.  Within mere seconds, two machine gunners discovered the path to Allah, and then for good measure, the sniper rendered their machine gun inoperable.

The engagement that followed was loud, sharp, and somewhat short.  Initially, the Somalis opened up with a heavy volume of machine guns, recoilless rifles, and small arms.  At 0615, helicopters were cleared to engage targets inside the compound.  They fired for 30 minutes.  At 0647, U.S. tanks entered the compound, followed by Kilo Company Marines, who systematically cleared storage site No. 2.  Helicopters continued to receive periodic sniper fire.

General Wilhelm ordered Marines to confiscate all firearms. It turned into a long day as Marines inventoried 4 M47 Tanks, nine howitzers, 13 APCs, three anti-aircraft guns, 11 mortars, and one recoilless rifle.  In addition to losing several tons of weapons and munitions, General Aideed lost his self-esteem.

Despite this demonstration, coalition forces continued to receive sniper fire from “who knows where.”  Brigadier General Anthony C. Zinni opined that sniping was simply the Somali way of testing the resolve of U.S. personnel — emphasis on “opinion.”[7]

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Allard, K.  Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned.  National Defense University Press, 1995.
  2. Bowden, M.  Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare.  Atlantic Monthly Press,1999.
  3. Mroczkowski, D. P.  Restoring Hope: In Somalia with the Unified Task Force, 1992-1993.  HQMC History Division, 2005.
  4. Sangvic, R. N.  The Battle of Mogadishu: Anatomy of Failure.  Army Command and General Staff School, 1998.
  5. Wright, L.  The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.  Knopf Publishing, 2006

Endnotes:

[1] This wasn’t the first time the U.S. government spent its treasure propping up a Communist-Islamic dictatorship.

[2] One of UNOSOMs grand ideas was to pay out over $130 million to purchase guns from Somali rebels.  It was a great deal for the Somalis, who never seemed to run out of guns to sell. 

[3] When CENTCOM planners asked the UN to identify “implied tasks” that would help planners assess mission fulfilment, no one in the UN had a clue.  In other words, no one in the UN had any idea how to measure operational successes.

[4] Commanding Officer, Colonel Gregory S. Newbold.

[5] Actually, some forces were already in place before the Marines arrived.  Teams from special operations command provided some security at several airfields, providing security for air combat control teams.  Charlie Company, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) provided sniper support to the U.S. Special Envoy while in Mogadishu. 

[6] “Technical” (also, Non-Standard Tactical Vehicle) (NSTV) is the term used to describe ordinary and four-wheel-drive pickup trucks converted to carry heavy weapons.  The term “technical” originated in Somalia. 

[7] Anthony Zinni was one of those “political generals” who ingratiated himself with Democratic Party elites.  He retired from active service in 2000.  In 2004, Diana B. Henriques of the New York Times identified Zinni as one of a cabal of “retired military people” recruited to deceive active duty military personnel and veterans into investing in the corporations they were paid to represent.  Specifically, First Commercial Financial Planning, Inc., tried to deflect the charge, but a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation confirmed the allegation that First Commercial Financial Planning used “retired flag rank officers” to perpetrate fraud against military veterans.


Marine Corps Artillery — Part 4

Post-Korea and Beyond

Post-Korea Reorganization

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

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

Back to East Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Sources:

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

Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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