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.


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.


Conspicuously Gallant

Introduction

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

Stepping Up

Joseph Vittori

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

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

A Crisis Develops

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

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

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

Battles of the Punchbowl

Battles of the Punchbowl

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

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

Phase I

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

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

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

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

Phase II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medal of Honor Citation

Medal of Honor

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

CORPORAL JOSEPH VITTORI
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

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

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

Semper Fidelis

Endnotes:

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

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

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