A Master of Naval Warfare

A favored saying among historians is that our failure to learn the lessons of history condemns us to repeat it.  There are several variations of this, of course, most are a misquotation of the original by George Santayana (1863-1952), who in Volume I of The Life of Reason, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  While the statement has a negative connotation, there are many positive things to learn from history and the people who made it.

Among the on-going discussions within the Navy and Marine Corps is how to best prepare for the next international conflagration.  In his 2007 professional article published in the Marine Corps Gazette, Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Sinclair noted, “The greatest challenges and most far reaching opportunities of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commander will lie in his ability to orchestrate and synchronize the efforts of numerous, diverse entities along a single path toward an overarching campaign adjective.”  Sinclair was not the first to make such an observation.  Admiral Raymond A. Spruance isolated the “single naval battle” in the Pacific during World War II.  In 2012, Admiral John C. Harmony explained [1], “’The Single Naval Battle’ is a framework, or lens, for thinking about, planning for, and executing naval operations.  Everything that occurs in the maritime battlespace affects everything else in that battlespace —so every aspect of Navy and Marine Corps doctrine and operations must consider the impact across the whole naval force.”

There is nothing simple about warfare.  Quadruple that statement when it comes to naval warfare.  Before World War II, Raymond A. Spruance began to train his mind to imagine the single battlespace.  He was part of an organization that created and maintained the extraordinary culture in which learning, experimenting, and innovation was demanded and then rewarded through promotion and assignments.  Admiral Spruance was an engineer; a man thoroughly knowledgeable of the technologies of the day: radar, processing combat information, air power —and how to effectively employ it.  He thought long and hard about what his enemy was thinking and what they were likely to do.  Spruance may have been the most intellectual of all senior naval officers of his day; his mental capacity back then may even dwarf that of modern-day admirals and generals.  Something to think about because we haven’t seen the end of war.

Ray Spruance 001Raymond Ames Spruance (1886-1969) became one of the greatest admirals in United States naval history.  Although born in Maryland, he was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1907 and later pursued advanced degrees in electrical engineering.  Typical of the Navy, Spruance had to learn about sea service from the bottom rung of the officer rank structure.  He initially served as a junior officer aboard the battleships USS Iowa and USS Minnesota.  He later transferred to the destroyers USS Bainbridge and USS Osborne, and then back to the battleship flotilla.  In 1916, Spruance helped to fit out USS Pennsylvania and served aboard that ship during its initial voyages.  He later served as the Assistant Engineering Officer at the New York Naval Shipyard (1917-1918).

As an officer in command, Spruance was known for maintaining a quiet bridge.  Chit-chat was prohibited.  Whatever was spoken in the performance of duty must be said in clear and concise language.  There was never any room on the bridge for confusion or lack of focus.  Given the several recent at-sea mishaps involving our navy’s ships, this would seem to be a policy that contemporary commanders should be reimplement.

Spruance graduated from the Naval War College in 1927.  He subsequently served as the executive officer of the USS Mississippi, several engineering assignments, staff intelligence, and as an instructor at the Naval War College.  He later commanded the battleship USS Mississippi (1938-1939), receiving his promotion to rear admiral in 1939.  His first flag assignment was as Commandant of the Tenth Naval District in Puerto Rico through August 1941.  In the first few months of World War II, Admiral Spruance commanded Cruiser Division Five making his flagship the USS Northampton.  His force was constructed around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which was then commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey. Halsey’s task force conducted a series of hit and run raids against the Japanese in the Western Pacific —notably in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in February 1942, Wake Island in March, and facilitating the Doolittle Raid in April.  In reality, the raids achieved little more than raising the morale of the people of the United States, who were devastated by Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor —but they also set the tone for a more aggressive stance by naval commanders in the Pacific.

Yamamoto 001In late May 1942, naval intelligence confirmed Japan’s intent to invade Midway Island.  The attack was the brainchild of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto [2], who intended his combined fleet to expand the Japanese Navy’s outer perimeter in the Central Pacific.  Yamamoto was convinced that an overwhelming attack at Midway would threaten the United States at Hawaii and cause the United States to sue for peace with Japan.  For all of Yamamoto’s exposure to American culture, his thinking revealed that he did not know the American people.  Commanding the United States Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz realized that his primary task was to destroy Japan’s air power in the Pacific.  To do that, he would need to destroy the Japanese carrier fleet.  This would become Vice Admiral Halsey’s mission.

Two days before Admiral Halsey was to set sail from Pearl Harbor, he was hospitalized with what we today refer to as Shingles.  Halsey recommended that Spruance replace him as commander of the task force.  Spruance had no prior experience employing carrier-based air combat.  At first, Nimitz questioned Halsey’s choice, but Halsey was adamant, even insistent, but he also advised Spruance to rely on his chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning [3], a battle-tested expert in carrier warfare.  Despite his personal trepidations, Admiral Spruance assumed command of Task Force 16, which included USS Enterprise and USS Hornet.  In this capacity, Spruance served under the overall command of Vice Admiral Jack Fletcher, whose flagship was the USS Yorktown; Yorktown had been badly damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea but was quickly repaired and returned to active service in time for the defense of Midway.

The navy’s intercept force consisted of the three carriers, seven heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, fifteen destroyers, 233 carrier-based attack aircraft, 127 land-based aircraft, and sixteen submarines.  The battle group would face off against a two-battle group Japanese invasion force.  The first group consisted of four carriers, two battleships, two heavy-cruisers, one light cruiser, twelve destroyers, 248-carrier based aircraft, and sixteen float planes.  The surface support force (second group) involved four heavy cruisers, two destroyers, and twelve seaplanes.  Japanese occupation forces served under Admiral Nobutake Kondo.  Yamamoto exercised over-all command from the IJN ship Yamato.

Midway 001
Battle of Midway

Admiral Yamamoto devised a complex plan for seizing Midway.  What made this scheme complex was the coordination of multiple battle groups over several hundred miles.  He named his scheme Operation MI.  Yamamoto’s plan, however, was based on erroneous assumptions —specifically that the Americans would field only two carriers.  He knew that Lexington was sitting at the bottom of the Coral Sea, and assumed that the Americans had lost the Yorktown, as well.  Admiral Yamamoto also underestimated American morale.

Yamamoto dispersed his attack force to mask their presence from the American navy.  He then sought to lure the Americans into a trap, defeat the US Navy and land-based aircraft by overwhelming air power, and then bring up his second group to place the final nail in the coffin of what remained of the American navy.  It was a doctrinal tactic popular among the major navies of the world at the time.  It might have worked had the US Navy not broken the Japanese Naval Code (JN-25), which allowed Admiral Nimitz to read Yamamoto’s mail.  Moreover, Yamamoto’s dispersal plan precluded one battle group from supporting the other.  Additionally, Yamamoto’s light carriers and battleships were unable to keep up with his fleet carriers.

Yamamoto’s plan also involved a compromise with the Japanese Army.  The IJA would support Yamamoto’s Midway operation if Yamamoto agreed to support the army’s invasion of the Aleutian Islands.  The Army felt that their invasion was necessary in order to keep mainland Japan out of the range of US land-based aircraft in Alaska.  Japan’s invasion of the Aleutian Islands was the first time a foreign nation had occupied American territory since the War of 1812.  The Americans had no choice but to confront the Japanese in the Aleutians for the same reason: to prevent Japanese bombers from attacking the West Coast of the United States.  The invasion of the Aleutians (designated Operation AL) reduced Yamamoto’s combat fleet by two carriers, five cruisers, twelve destroyers, six submarines, and four troop transport ships.  Accordingly, Admiral Nagumo’s Carrier Division Five was two-thirds short of his original carrier fleet.  Beyond this, the Japanese fleet suffered from what some historians have identified as a glass jaw.  The Japanese could throw a pretty good punch, but it couldn’t take one.

At Midway on 4 June, the U. S. Navy had four squadrons of PBY aircraft (31 birds) for long-range reconnaissance, six TBF Avengers, nineteen Marine Corps [4] SBDs, seven F4F Wildcats, seventeen SB2U Vindicators, and twenty-one Brewster F2As (Buffalos).  Army aircraft included seventeen B-17s, four B-26 Marauders equipped with torpedoes.  Overall, 126 aircraft.  Piloting a PBY, Ensign Jack Heid spotted the Japanese force at about 0900.  He plotted their position as 580 miles west of Midway.  What Heid observed was the occupation force, not the main battle force.  Nine B-17s departed Midway just after noon to attack the force identified by Ensign Heid.  Three hours later, the B-17s found their target and released their bombs.  None of these munitions struck a Japanese ship.  In fact, the only successful hit was from a PBY that delivered a torpedo into a Japanese oil tanker at 0100 on 5 June.  Bombarding navy ships from the air was no easy task.

Japanese aircraft and shipboard anti-aircraft fires were intense, resulting in the defeat of several waves of US aircraft —at Midway and at sea en route to the Japanese task force.  American dive bombers from Spruance’s air wing located the Japanese carriers at a most-inopportune time.  Japanese fighter-bombers were in the process of refueling on the decks of carriers; planes detailed to provide air cover were overwhelmed with American torpedo bombers.  It did not go well for the Japanese.

True … Admiral Spruance’s attack was a gamble —but not a foolish one.  The United States Navy was at the time led by intellectual warriors.  In June 1941, 83 of the Navy’s 84 admirals had completed the Naval War College.  Through training and study, the US Navy-Marine Corps team had foreseen everything that in fact transpired during World War II.  Admiral Spruance was one of these men.  What set him apart from his peers was his display of intellectual independence and the courage to call a spade and spade.  Admiral Spruance displayed his exceptional talent at Midway.  If we could break it down, then we should observe that the outcome at Midway was a combination of luck, hubris, and exceptional leadership.  The Americans were lucky to break the Japanese Naval Code (JN-25); Japanese national pride and ethnocentric arrogance got in the way of common sense, and Admiral Spruance was an extraordinary leader at a most critical moment in history.

After the task force’s initial success, Spruance was challenged by the question, “What next?”  He knew that Japanese carriers had been gravely wounded.  Should he exploit this success by pursuing the Japanese to take advantage of their diminished capability?  Should he withdraw his task force back toward the east, beyond the reach of the Japanese fleet?  The U. S. Navy had three aircraft carriers in the entire Pacific Ocean area; two of these were under Spruance’s command.  Spruance knew as well as anyone that the U. S. Navy remained inferior to its Imperial Japanese counterpart both in numbers and in efficiency at sea [5].  Admiral Nimitz’ directive to Spruance was two-fold: Protect Midway and its land-based aviation capability; inflict maximum damage to the Japanese carrier force.  He did that … but what next?

Spruance withdrew toward the east while maintaining a watchful eye over Midway Island.  Despite scathing criticism from senior admirals [6], Spruance made the right decision.  He knew that the Japanese were bloodied, not beaten.  Defending Midway had been a risky endeavor; should Spruance have risked a night engagement with IJN forces that were still in the area?  It would have placed limited assets at an unacceptable risk.  Where Admiral Spruance stood out is his ability to see the “single naval battle.”  Admiral Spruance ignored his critics.  He was comfortable in his own skin; he had confidence in the capabilities of his subordinates.

Following the Battle of Midway, Rear Admiral Spruance was pulled back to Pearl Harbor to serve as Admiral Nimitz’ chief of staff and later, as Deputy Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet.  Nimitz needed someone of Spruance’s intellectual capacity to advise him.  Spruance remained in Hawaii until August 1943 when he was appointed to command of the Central Pacific Force —later designated US 5th Fleet [7].

In August 1943, Admiral Nimitz instituted a plan that was designed to make maximum use of his limited naval forces.  Nimitz called it his “Big Blue Fleet.”  Naval assets were alternated between Admiral Halsey (designated Third US Fleet) (Task Force 38) and Admiral Spruance (designated Fifth US Fleet) (Task Force 58).  When not in command of their designated fleets, the admirals and their staffs were assigned to Pearl Harbor where they planned future operations.

Bill Halsey USN 001
William F. Halsey

The differences between Halsey and Spruance were as night and day.  “Bull” Halsey [8] was aggressive and brash; Spruance was calculating and cautious.  The rank and file were proud to serve under either of these men, but the senior officers preferred the leadership style of Spruance.  Under Admiral Spruance, the senior staff knew what they were going to do, and when they were going to do it.  Halsey, on the other hand, made his senior officers nervous.  They never knew from one moment to the next what he would order them to do.  For this reason, Admiral Spruance became known as the “admiral’s admiral.”

In February 1944, Admiral Spruance directed Operation Hailstone, the US assault against the Japanese naval base at Truk.  Spruance’s Fifth Fleet destroyed twelve Japanese warships, 32 merchant ships, and 249 aircraft.  The assault on Truk took place at the same time Admiral Kelly Turner’s amphibious force attacked Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  When Japanese naval forces withdrew from Truk, Admiral Spruance commanded the task group that pursued them.  It was the first time a four-star admiral took part in a sea action aboard one of the engaged ships.  Spruance commanded his force with deadly precision.  In addition to the destruction of Japanese ships at Truk, Spruance sunk the light cruiser Katori and the destroyer Maikaze.  In June, while screening for the US invasion of Saipan, Admiral Spruance defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, sinking three carriers, two oilers, and an estimated 600 Japanese aircraft.  Spruance mauled the Japanese so badly that afterwards, Japanese carriers were used solely as decoys because there were no aircraft or aircrews to fly them.  Again, in the aftermath of the battle, Spruance was criticized for not being aggressive enough … but once more, Spruance made the right call.

USS Indianapolis 001
Artist’s rendition of the USS Indianapolis

For most of the war, Admiral Spruance preferred to use the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis as his flagship.  It was named in honor of his hometown.  After Indianapolis was struck by Kamikaze aircraft off the coast of Okinawa, Spruance moved his flag to the USS New Mexico.  On 12 May 1945, two Kamikaze aircraft struck New Mexico; afterwards, the Admiral was could not be located.  He was discovered manning a firehose amidships, helping deck hands to fight the fire.  As the ship was not too badly damaged, Spruance maintained his flag aboard USS New Mexico.  For his actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Admiral Spruance was awarded the Navy Cross.

In November 1945, Admiral Spruance succeeded Admiral Nimitz as Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet.  Spruance was later awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the capture of the Marshall and Marianas Islands.  After the war, Spruance was not awarded five-star rank due to the limited number of Fleet Admirals authorized in the Navy.  Instead, he was awarded five-star retirement pay for life.  Admiral Spruance later said that he felt that Admiral Halsey was more deserving of the fifth star and was happy he received it.

From February 1946 to July 1948, Admiral Spruance served as President of the Naval War College.  After retirement, Admiral Spruance served as US Ambassador to the Philippine Islands, serving from 1952 to 1955.  Raymond Spruance passed away at Pebble Beach, California on 13 December 1969.  He was laid to rest at Golden Gate National Cemetery alongside his wife, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and Admiral Charles A. Lockwood.

I lament that we no longer have fighting admirals of Ray Spruance’s caliber serving on active duty.

Sources:

  1. Marine Corps Gazette, the Professional Journal of U. S. Marines, Marine Corps Association & Foundation.
  2. Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Washington to Tokyo, 1922-1945.  University of Indiana Press, 2010.
  3. Buell, T. B. The Quiet Warrior: a biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.  Boston, Little-Brown, 1974.

Endnotes:

[1] Admiral Harvey, J. C. and Colonel Philip J. Ridderhof.  “Keeping our Amphibious Edge.”  U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Annapolis, Maryland, 2012.

[2] See also: The Truly Reluctant Admiral (in several parts).

[3] Browning served as a navy surface warfare officer in World War I, later attended flight school at NAS Pensacola, and served aboard the USS Langley.  He later evolved into one of the Navy’s most courageous combat pilots.  He retired as a Rear Admiral in 1947.

[4] Marine F2A and SB2U aircraft were already obsolete, but it was all the Marine Corps had at the time.

[5] There was no better demonstration of this than the Naval Battle of Savo Island.  The US Navy lacked the number of surface vessels and the training needed to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy.

[6] Vice Admiral William S. Pye (1880-1959) issued a stinging rebuke of Spruance for his failure to pursue the Japanese Fleet.  Pye was no intellectual and, despite his service in two world wars and his seniority, Admiral Pye had no combat experience.  It was Admiral Pye who failed to relieve the Marines at Wake Island in December 1941.

[7] Admiral Nimitz devised a program of rotating senior officers (and staffs) in and out of the Central Pacific.  Nimitz called it the “big blue fleet.”  When Admiral Halsey commanded the US Third Fleet (Task Force 38), Spruance and his staff returned to Pearl Harbor to plan future operations.  When Spruance activated the US Fifth Fleet (Task Force 58), Halsey and his staff would rotate back to Pearl Harbor.

[8] On 13 October 1942, William F. Halsey was abruptly ordered to “immediately” assume command of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Forces.  Admiral Ghormley had become reticent and a lackluster senior officer.  Halsey’s appointment improved the morale of all naval, air, and ground forces in the South Pacific area … particularly among Marines on Guadalcanal, who suffered under Gormley’s command.

Remembering the Ladies

Adams A 001
Abigail Adams

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency.  And by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.  Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.  If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Abigail Adamsin a letter to her husband John, 31 March 1776.

Johnson OM 001
Opha May Johnson (1878-1955)

Opha May Jacob was born on 4 May 1878 in Kokomo, Indiana.  She graduated from the shorthand and typewriting department of Wood’s Commercial College in Washington, D. C. at the age of 17.  In 1898, she married a gentleman named Victor H. Johnson. Victor was the musical director at the Lafayette Square Opera House and Opha worked as a civil servant for the Interstate Commerce Commission.

And then, World War I came along.  Women have always been involved during times of war.  For centuries, women followed armies—many of whom were the wives of soldiers who provided indispensable services to their men, such as cooking, laundry, and nursing wounds.  World War I involved women, too … albeit in a different way than at any previous time. Thousands of women in the United States formed or joined organizations that worked to bring relief to the war-torn countries in Europe even before America’s official entry into the war in April 1917.  American women weren’t alone in this effort; thousands of women in the United Kingdom followed a similar path —the difference being that Great Britain had been engaged in World War I from its beginning.

After the United States entered World War I, women continued to join the war time organizations and expand the war effort.  They were highly organized groups, much like the military, and this helped women to gain respect from their fellow citizens and have their patriotic endeavors recognized and respected.  The key difference between the efforts of women during World War I and previous wars was the class of women involved.  Typically, women who followed the armies in earlier times were working-class women, but during World War I, women from all classes of society served in many different capacities.  So-called upper-class women were primary founders of war time organizations because they could afford to devote so much of their time (and money) to these efforts. Middle and lower-class ladies were more likely to serve as nurses, telephone operators, and office clerks. And for the first time in American history, women from every part of the social spectrum stepped up to serve in the military.

The first women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps on 13 August 1918 was Opha May Johnson.  She became the first woman Marine because when the recruiting doors were opened to enlist women for the first time, Opha Johnson was standing first in line —the first among 300 women accepted for enlistment in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Given her background as a civil servant, Private Johnson’s first duty was clerical at Headquarters Marine Corps. Within one month, Johnson was promoted to sergeant and therefore became the Marine Corps’ first female sergeant and the highest-ranking woman in the Marine Corps.

Streeter RC 001At the end of World War I, women were discharged from the services as part of general demobilization.  Opha May Johnson remained at Headquarters Marine Corps as a civil service clerk until her retirement from in 1943.  She was still working at Headquarters Marine Corps in 1943 when the Marine Corps reinstituted the Women’s Reserve for World War II service.  At the time of her enlistment in 1918, Opha May Johnson was 40 years old.  In 1943, the Marine Corps appointed its first Director of the Women Reserve, a lady named Ruth Cheney Streeter (shown right).  At the time of Streeter’s appointment as a reserve major, she was 48-years old.  In those days, the age of the applicant would not have affected enlistment or appointment eligibility because, with few exceptions, women did not perform their duties at sea or foreign shore.

As Abigail Adams admonished her now-famous husband, we should always remember the ladies and give them due credit for their patriotism and service to the United States of America. Women have been an integral part of the United States Marine Corps since 1948 when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act gave them permanent status in the regular and reserve forces. During World War II, twenty-thousand women served as Marines in more than 225 occupational specialties.  Eighty-five percent of the enlisted jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps in World War II were filled by women; two-thirds of the permanent personnel assigned to Marine Corps posts and stations in the United States were women Marines.

Womens Reserve USMCThe first woman Marine to serve in a combat zone was Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky, who served on the MACV Staff in Saigon, Vietnam in 1967 [1].  Since then, women Marines have taken on new roles, from combat aviators [2] to rifleman.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, women Marine officers commanded combat service support units in combat zones and served on the staffs of forward deployed headquarters. By every account, these women acquitted themselves very well.  Still, the issue of women serving in the combat arms, while authorized and directed by the Department of Defense, remains a contentious issue.  Prominent women Marines have spoken out about this, with more than a few claiming that while women do perform well in the combat environment, such duties have a deleterious effect on their physical health —more so than men— and that it is therefore unnecessary to employ women in the combat arms in order to maintain a high state of readiness in combat units and organizations.

Endnotes:

[1] American women have served on the front line of combat since the Revolutionary War, primarily as nurses, medics, and ambulance drivers, and provisioners.  The US Army Nurse Corps was established in 1901, and the Navy Nurse Corps was created in 1908.  Prohibitions of women serving aboard navy ships (excluding hospital ships) resulted in most Navy nurses serving in field hospitals ashore and not within a battle area; Army nurses similarly served in field medical hospitals on foreign shore.

[2] See also: Wings of honor.

Allied Invasion of Russia, 1918-20

History never happens in a vacuum.  There are causes, and there are consequences. The seeds of World War I were actually sewn one-hundred years earlier at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), where the ambassadors of European states intended to provide a plan for peace in Europe by settling issues that came from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  After 1815, these same powers tried to maintain a balance of power—to maintain the peace —but what actually transpired was a complex network of political and military alliances.  Also, after 1815, the Ottoman Empire began its decline, the British withdrew into “splendid isolation,” Prussia emerged to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and France was taught a valuable lesson in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. These confrontations led European powers to formulate secret agreements with one another.  The complex network became even more so.

On 28 June 1914, a Bosnian-Serb-Yugoslav nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  The network of secret alliances enlarged the crisis from a bilateral issue in the Balkans to one involving most of Europe and, eventually, the United States of America. Within a month of Ferdinand’s death, the “great powers” of Europe were divided into competing coalitions.  The Triple Entente involved France, Russia, and Great Britain and the Triple Alliance was formed around Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

Ferdinand’s assassination caused Germany and Austria-Hungary to impose demands on Serbia; Russia, itself a Slavic nation, felt obliged to back Serbia.  After Austria-Hungary shelled the Serbian capital at Belgrade, Russia began mobilizing its armies.  Germany and Austria-Hungary followed suit.  France, supporting Russia, mobilized its armed forces in early August.

When the war came, it manifested itself on two fronts.  Germany attacked France in the West, and Russia in the east.  In addition to the countries mentioned above, conflict engaged all of the Balkan states, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.  It eventually spilled over into Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

Initially, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention.  President Woodrow Wilson wanted to avoid conflict while trying to broker peace from the sidelines.  Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 after campaigning to keep America out of the “Great War.”

In January 1917, Germany pursued two aggressive courses of action: (1) It resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, and (2) Germany approached Mexico with a proposal for a military alliance against the United States.  In exchange for Mexico’s participation, Germany offered to finance Mexico’s war effort and, at such time as Germany defeated the United States, promised to return to Mexico its previously held territories in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.  This communiqué was intercepted by British Intelligence, decoded, and transmitted to the United States government.  The Zimmerman Telegram, along with a number of Mexican intrusions into the United States that were an off-shoot of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) generated popular support for America’s declaration of war against Germany in April 1917.

At the time, the United States was not a formal ally of any European power —it was more on the order of an associate-membership in the Triple Entente.  In 1917, the United States Army was small, but after passage of the Selective Service Act, nearly 3-million men were compelled to serve in the U. S. Army.  By June 1917, the US was sending thousands of soldiers to France every month.  To bolster its field of potential soldiers, the US offered grants of citizenship to Puerto Ricans for voluntary service in the US Army.

At the outbreak of World War I, national societies representing ethnic Czechs and Slovaks residing in Russia petitioned the Russian government to support the independence of their homelands.  To prove their loyalty to the Entente cause, these groups advocated the establishment of a unit of Czech and Slovak volunteers to fight alongside the Russian Army. In time, these volunteers became known as the 1st Division of Czechoslovak Corps.  A second division of four regiments was added in October 1917. Known collectively as the Czechoslovak Legion, it consisted of over 40,000 Czech and Slovak volunteers.

In November 1917, Russian Bolsheviks seized power throughout Russia and soon began peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk.  In the face of the Revolution, Russians wanted to withdraw from the war.  The Chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council began planning for the Czech Legion’s withdrawal from Russia and transfer to France, where it could continue fighting against the Central Powers.  Since most of Russia’s main ports were blockaded, the Legion would travel from Ukraine to the Pacific port of Vladivostok.  There, they would embark on ships that would carry them to Western Europe.

In February 1918, Bolshevik authorities granted permission for the Legion to begin a march of 6,000 miles from Ukraine to Vladivostok.  Before departure, however, the German Army launched a massive assault on the Eastern Front as a means of forcing the new Russian government to accept Germany’s terms for peace.  The Legion successfully fought off every German attempt to prevent their evacuation.

After entering Soviet Russia, the Czech National Council continued to negotiate with the Bolsheviks to iron out the details of the Legion’s evacuation.  An agreement on 25 March forced the Legion to surrender most of their weapons in exchange for unmolested passage to Vladivostok.  Neither side trusted the other: Bolsheviks suspected the Czechs were attempting to join the counter-revolutionaries.  Legion commanders were wary of Czech communists who were attempting to subvert the Legion, and also suspected that the Bolsheviks had made a deal with the Central Powers to keep the Legion penned up in Russia.

By May 1918, the Czech Legion was strung out along the Trans-Siberian Railway —their evacuation taking longer than they expected due to dilapidated railway conditions.  In mid-May, Russia’s Commissar for War, Leon Trotsky, ordered the complete disarmament and arrest of the Czech Legion.  The Legion refused to disarm.

Czechs and Bolsheviks engaged at several locations along the railroad.  By June, both sides were involved in full-scale war.  The Legion had taken control of Vladivostok and declared the city an allied protectorate.  By mid-July, the legionaries had seized control of the railway from Samara to Irkutsk.  By the beginning of September, they had cleared Bolshevik forces from the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Legionnaires conquered all the large cities of Siberia.

News of the Czechoslovak Legion’s campaign in Siberia during the summer of 1918 was welcomed by Allied statesmen in Great Britain and France, who saw the operation as a means to reconstitute an eastern front against Germany.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who had resisted earlier Allied proposals to intervene in Russia, and against the advice of the War Department, finally gave in to foreign pressure to support the legionaries’ evacuation from Siberia. In actuality, there were two groups of American soldiers sent to Russia: The American North Russia Expeditionary Force (Polar Bear Expedition) consisted of 5,000 troops who were sent to Archangel; an additional 8,000 soldiers, organized as the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, were shipped to Vladivostok from the Philippines and from Camp Fremont, California.

GRAVES W S 001In the summer of 1918, William S. Graves was a highly motivated career Army officer.  He had been promoted to Major General, and he was designated to assume command of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division. The division would soon depart the United States for France; what career officer does not want to command in time of war?

Unfortunately, Graves received a reassignment on 2 August 1918.  Secretary of War Newton Baker informed him of the following: President Wilson had decided that the United States, still at war in Europe, must intervene in another part of the world to protect its investments.  The US had $1-billion worth of American made guns and equipment strewn along a segment of the Trans-Siberian Railway between Vladivostok and Nikolsk.  Someone would have to protect this equipment from falling into the hands of Germany or the Bolsheviks.  That someone would be General Graves.

Wilson appointed Graves to command the American Expeditionary Force (Siberia).  Graves’ orders, directly from the President, handed to him in the form of an aide-mémoire, included: (1) Facilitate the safe exit of 40,000 members of the Czech Legion [1] from Russia; (2) Guard the $1-billion worth of military equipment stored at Murmansk and Vladivostok; and (3) Help the Russians organize their new government.  Siberia is the coldest and most forbidding part of Russia, and instead of facing off against the German Army, Graves would confront Cossacks, Bolsheviks, and Japanese (who, still gloating over their defeat of the Russians in 1903-04, had their eyes on territorial gains in Siberia).  The Graves Expedition was the first and only time American troops invaded Russian territory.

The international force was formed under Lieutenant General Frederick C. Poole, British Army.  The force main force consisted of British [2], French, and American naval and military organizations. Other participating countries and troops included Italy, Serbia, Poland, and White Russian forces.

In July 1918, the Army’s 339th Infantry Regiment, Colonel George E. Stewart, Commanding, was hastily organized to spearhead the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (also, Polar Bear Expedition).  AEF (Siberia) included the US 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments, elements of the 12th, 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments. To operate the Trans-Siberian Railway, US Army personnel with railroad experience were assigned to this duty.

Initially in 1918, the Bolsheviks controlled only small pockets in Siberia.  International forces arrived unopposed and were deployed to the interior regions along the path of the Trans-Siberian Railway between Vladivostok and Archangel.  In accordance with a plan formalized by General Poole, Tsarist Captain Georgi Chaplin led a coup d’état against the local Soviet government at Archangel on 2 August 1918.  Allied warships seized portages from the White Sea.  In short order, a Northern Region Government was established by Chaplin and the Russian revolutionary, Nikolai Tchaikovsky.  In spite of outward appearances, General Poole was running the show.  The International force began its advance almost immediately, seizing Onega Bay. On 28 August, the British 6th Royal Marine Light Infantry Battalion was ordered to seize the village of Koikori from Bolsheviks as part of a wider offensive into East Karelia.

The first US troops arrived in Vladivostok between 15-21 August 1918.  They were quickly assigned to guard duty along several segments of the railway between Vladivostok and Nikolsk-Ussuriski in northern Russia. General Graves arrived in early September.

For the most part, the Americans stood apart from their Allies in the sense that, while acknowledging their mission to protect American-supplied property, Graves resisted General Poole’s demand for fighting troops to confront Bolshevik elements. He quite often clashed with his British, French, and Japanese counterparts over this issue.

General Graves saw his primary responsibility as making sure the Trans-Siberian railroad stayed operational.  To this end, he brought in a number of railroad experts to manage the railway.  Despite strong pressure applied to Graves to render assistance to Admiral Kolchak, he would not involve himself in the affairs of the Russian revolution and did not contribute any of his men to combat (beyond self-defense).  In fact, General Graves developed a strong dislike of Admiral Kolchak and his “White Russian” government.  Moreover, Graves thought that British, French, and Japanese commanders were pursuing self-serving political ambitions beyond the stated allied goal of protecting supplies that had been paid for by allied taxpayers.  He did embrace the mission to rescue Czechs but stopped short of trying to suppress Bolshevik forces.  Graves suspected that Japan’s involvement had more to do with annexing parts of Eastern Siberia.  He was right.

Operation Polar BearDuty in Russia was difficult, for all kinds of reasons.  US soldiers experienced problems with fuel, ammunition, and food.  Horses were unable to function in the sub-zero Russian climate.  Water-cooled machine guns froze and became worthless. Over a period of 19 months, 474 soldiers died from various causes.

As the Bolsheviks gained in military strength, they began to take a more aggressive stance toward elements of the International expedition.  Graves continued to withhold his men except in cases of self-defense. General Poole’s force (excluding the Americans) began to experience significant losses.  One Royal Marine company refused to fight and were court-martialed.  They were initially given stiff sentences, but the British government lightened or commuted most of them.

In June 1920, the American, British, and remaining allied coalition withdrew from Vladivostok.

The Japanese, however, decided to remain in Siberia thinking that their presence would in some way inhibit the spread of communism so close to the Japanese home islands.  Besides, the Japanese controlled Korea and Manchuria. Eventually, however, the Japanese found themselves in an untenable situation and were forced to sign an agreement with the Bolsheviks in order to be allowed to withdraw peacefully.

The Japanese Army continued to provide military support to the Japanese-backed Provisional Priamur Government (a White Army enclave) based in Vladivostok against the Moscow-backed Far Eastern Republic.  This continued Japanese presence concerned the United States, who had grown ever-suspicious of Japanese motives in Siberia.  Subjected to intense diplomatic pressure by the United Kingdom and United States and facing increased domestic opposition due to the economic and human costs of remaining in Siberia, Japanese Prime Minister Kato Tomosaburo withdrew Japanese forces in October 1922.

Japan’s motives in Siberia were complex and incoherent.  Overtly, Japan sent troops to Siberia for the same reasons as the other countries: to safeguard stockpiled military supplies and rescue the Czech Legion.  However, Japan’s intense hostility to communism and a desire to protect Japan’s northern security, either by creating a buffer state or through outright territorial acquisition, were also factors.  Their patronage of the White Russian Army left Japan in a diminished  position vis-à-vis the government of the Soviet Union, particularly since the Red Army emerged victorious over the White Russian Army.  Moreover, the Intervention had significant internal repercussions which led the Japanese Army and its civilian government to bitter animus and renewed factional strife inside the Army.

Japanese casualties in the Siberian Expedition included 5,000 KIA and expenses in excess of ¥900-million.

Sources:

  1. Humphreys, L. A. The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s.  Stanford University Press, 1996.
  2. Kinvig, C. Churchill’s Crusade: The British Invasion of Russia, 1918-1920.  Continuum Publishing, 2006
  3. Jackson, R. At War with the Bolsheviks.  London, 1972
  4. Wright, D. Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920. Solihull Press, 2017
  5. Long, J. W. “American Intervention in Russia: The North Russian Expedition, 1918-1919. Diplomatic History, 1962

Acknowledgements:

  1. Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)
  2. Mark Yost, The Wall Street Journal: “The Polar Bear Expedition: Frozen doughboys.”

Endnotes:

[1] The Czechoslovak Legion was a volunteer armed force fighting on the side of the Entente powers during World War I.  Their goal was to win the support of the Allied Powers for the independence of bohemia and Moravia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In Russia, the Legion took part in several battles against Central Powers and Bolshevik forces.

[2] A contingent of United States Marines accompanied the British forces, fighting alongside the 1/10th Royal Scots Regiment at Nijne-Toimski along the Dvina River. The Marines may have been part of the Marine Detachment, USS Olympia, but I am unable to confirm this.  Captain Archie F. Howard, while commanding the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, was assigned to serve in Vladivostok to protect the US Consulate.  His Marines participated with the Czech Legion in patrolling the city, but they did not engage any Bolshevik forces.  This duty was terminated early in 1919.  Major General Howard retired from active service in 1946.

Brigadier General McCawley

Enlisting in the Marines today is essentially as it has always been, normally achieved through a Marine Corps recruiter, being examined in various ways through record checks, medical tests, aptitude tests, and so forth.

Obtaining a Marine Corps commission, on the other hand, has changed over the years.  Today, an applicant is able to pursue several venues to obtain a commission, including NROTC program, graduating from the US Naval Academy, the Platoon Leaders Class, and Officer’s Candidate Class.  In the early days, obtaining a commission was more often than not a matter of your father’s political connections —noting that average people didn’t have political connections, so wealthy parents gave an applicant a “leg up” on the process. 

McCawley CL 001Charles Laurie McCawley was one of those “favored” individuals who achieved a commission in the United States Marine Corps in 1897 in a most unusual fashion.  McCawley was born in 1865, the son of Charles Grymes McCawley, in Massachusetts.  In 1881, Charles Laurie applied for and became the chief clerk of the Marine Corps, serving in that position until 1897.  His father served as Colonel Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1 November 1876 until 29 January 1891.

On the day following his father’s retirement, aged 26-years, Charles Laurie received an appointment to the rank of captain in the US Marine Corps while continuing to serve as Chief Clerk of the Marine Corps, a post that he held until 1897.

In the following year, Captain McCawley was transferred to the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, where he served as Quartermaster, 1st Marine Battalion.  A few days later, the battalion was assigned to duty with the North Atlantic Squadron.  It embarked on 22 April 1898 aboard the USS Panther and proceeded to Key West, Florida in support of operations in Cuba.  Captain McCawley participated in battles with the Spanish Army and Cuban irregulars between 11-13 June 1898 near Camp McCalla (Guantanamo Bay).

Later embarked aboard USS Resolute, Captain McCawley participated in the bombardment of Manzanillo, Cuba, in preparation for an amphibious assault on 12 August.  The landing was cancelled, however, when President McKinley announced an armistice with Spain.

In the following month, McCawley was ordered back to Marine Corps headquarters where he was assigned to duty as Assistant Quartermaster of the Marine Corps.  McCawley was promoted to major on 3 March 1899.  In April, Major McCawley was ordered to duty in the Philippine Islands, where he arrived on 23 May—only to be transferred again to Mare Island, California where he was ordered to inspect public buildings at Mare Island and Puget Sound, Washington.

McCawley again reported to the Commandant of the Marine Corps for duty on 20 November 1899.  Upon his arrival back in Washington, McCawley was informed that he had received a brevet promotion to Major as a result of his gallant conduct during the Spanish-American War —apparently, it had taken several months for this correspondence to catch up with him.  Since he had already been promoted to major, the brevet promotion had no effect on his status, but it did later qualify him for the award of the Marine Corps Brevet Medal. 

From 1 July 1900, McCawley served primarily as an administrative/logistics officer at various locations: Office of the Quartermaster of the Marine Corps, Protocol Officer, US Army Office of Buildings and Grounds (for duty with the White House), and Assistant Quartermaster of the Marine Corps.  He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and in July, 1908 he became the Marine Corps Quartermaster.  He was promoted to colonel in 1913, and to Brigadier General in 1916.

In September 1918, as Quartermaster of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General McCawley accompanied the Commandant of the Marine Corps on an inspection tour of Marine Corps units in France.  President Woodrow Wilson awarded McCawley the Navy Distinguished Service Medal on Armistice Day, 1920.  Then, having reached the mandatory retirement age (64-years), McCawley was retired from active service on 24 August 1929. 

Brigadier General McCawley passed away at his home in Washington DC on 29 April 1935.

Navy DSMThe citation for the Navy Distinguished Service Medal reads as follows: 

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Brigadier General Charles Laurie McCawley, United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility in the organization and administration of the Quartermaster’s Department of the Marine Corps during World War I. Through his energy and efficient management this Department was able successfully to meet the various emergencies and difficulties connected with the transportation, subsistence, housing and clothing of the personnel of the Marine Corps \throughout the period of the war [World War I].

 

Armistice Day, 2018

World War I ended 100 years ago today —at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month 1918.

Below, you will find two poems that define the war’s impact upon those who served then.  None of us should ever forget their sacrifices, and if there were to be a fitting memorial to those sacrifices, it would be that there would never again be a war of any kind.  Sadly, none of our politicians are very bright, so we must gird ourselves for more of the same.

For the Fallen

Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) was moved by the opening of the Great War and the already high number of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914.  In 1915, despite being too old to serve in the military, Binyon volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers.  He returned in 1916 to help care for soldiers wounded during the Battle for Verdun.

Within this poem is the Ode of Remembrance (the third and fourth stanzas).  This poem is recited during the United Kingdom’s annual observance, on Remembrance Day.  Note: If you have never seen the annual Remembrance Day observance in the United Kingdom, you owe it to yourself to view it.  You can find it at You Tube.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

In Flanders Field

LtCol John McCrae (1872-1918) was a Canadian Army medical doctor.  Colonel McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Let us never forget.

 

A bucket of shrimp

They say old folks do strange things. At least, I think that is what young people say about us when they talk about us at all —which isn’t all that often. I think this is because we old folks are a bother. I think this must explain why younger people want to place us in nursing homes.

In any case, this story unfolded every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the wide blue ocean.

Seagull Feeding 001Old Ed would come strolling along the beach to his favorite pier.  Clutched in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp.  Ed walked out to the end of the pier, where it seemed he almost had the world to himself.  The glow of the sun was a golden bronze; except for a few joggers on the beach, everyone had gone.  Standing at the end of the pier, Ed stood alone with his thoughts —and his bucket of shrimp.

It was not long before Ed was no longer alone.  Up in the sky a thousand white dots came screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier.  Dozens of seagulls enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly.  Ed stood calmly tossing shrimp to the hungry birds.  As he fed the birds, if you listened closely, you could hear him say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

The bucket was empty in a few short minutes, but Ed did not immediately leave; he stood there lost in thought, as if transported to another time and place.

When Ed finally turned around for his walk back to the beach, a few of the birds would hop along behind him.  Old Ed then quietly made his way down to the end of the beach and onward home.

If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck, or to onlookers, just another old codger lost in his own weird world. Imagine, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.

Eddie RickenbackerTo casual observers, rituals such as this can look very strange. They can seem altogether unimportant —perhaps even nonsensical. Most people would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida —and that would be too bad. They would have done well to know him better.

His full name was Edward Vernon Rickenbacker. In World War I, he won the Medal of Honor, eight distinguished service crosses, the French Legion of Honour, and three awards of the Croix de Guerre. He was America’s first fighter ace, with 26 victories. After the war, he started an automobile company. He purchased and operated the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the 1930s, he clashed with Franklin D. Roosevelt —he thought Roosevelt was a socialist, and bad for America. It turns out he was right about that.  Oh, and he also founded Eastern Airlines.

During World War II, Rickenbacker supported the war effort as a civilian. In 1942, he toured training bases and offered suggestions about training, air operations, and equipment.  In October 1942, President Roosevelt sent him on a mission across the Pacific. After leaving Honolulu in a B-17D Flying Fortress, the aircraft drifted off course and had to ditch into the sea.  Miraculously, although suffering injuries, all of the men survived the initial crash.  They crawled out of the plane, and climbed into a life raft.

Rickenbacker and the crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific.   They fought the sun.  They fought sharks.  Most of all, they fought hunger and thirst.  After three days, they ran out of food and water.  They were hundreds of miles from land, and no one knew where they went down, or even if they were still alive.  The men needed a miracle.

On the eighth day at sea, the men held a simple devotional service and prayed for that miracle.  They tried to nap in order to conserve energy.  Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose to snooze.  All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.

Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap.  It was a seagull!

Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck.  He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal of it —actually, a small meal for eight men.  Then they used the bird’s intestines for bait.  With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait . . . and the cycle continued.  With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the severities of the sea until found and rescued off the island of Tuvalu after 24 days at sea.

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull. He never stopped saying, “Thank you” for that miracle. That is why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.

Odd old duck? I don’t think so …

Armistice Day

Today is Veterans Day —an annual observance intended to honor military veterans. It includes all persons who served in the Armed Forces of the United States.

Originally, the observance was titled Armistice Day (also called by some Remembrance Day). It marked the end of World War I, which ended at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918.

Today, other allied nations continue to observe this momentous occasion —in the UK, everyone stops for a two-minute period of silence at the eleventh hour.  They do this out of respect, and to reflect on the sacrifices made during the war.  These sacrifices, by the way, were not only made by brave young men.  They were also made by mothers and fathers, wives and sweethearts, and by the children left with only one remaining parent.

We don’t see that kind of reflection here in America, and herein lies my issue, because  I think our failure to remember the sacrifices of our troops and their allied brothers is a travesty of the first order.  Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. Combat service during the very bloody First World War is not equivalent of serving in uniform during periods of tranquility.  I think we owe it to the memory of these fallen to make the distinction between serving in combat, and service in war time.

I would urge our government to return 11 November to a day that remembers and honors World War I Veterans; let’s find another day to acknowledge the service of honorably discharged or retired Americans who served their country, voluntarily or not, at a later time.

As for the sacrifices of World War I …

Hat tip for visual: My good friend Pablo.