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.

Hard Drinking Fellows

As a youngster watching Saturday-afternoon matinee films, I never gave much thought as to the social implications of alcohol in western or war film presentations.  Nor did anyone ever suggest to me that I should refrain from watching John Wayne films, given that by reputation, he was a hard-drinking fellow in real life.  I do recall in several Wayne films in which he (as a crusty old cavalry officer) and Victor McLaglen (as an equally crusty old top sergeant) were able to consume copious amounts of whiskey and still perform their duties as military leaders.  In one film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Sergeant Stryker had been busted in rank from sergeant-major —this the result of a drinking problem no one in the Marine Corps would countenance (from a senior enlisted man).

The scenario I have described above was not beyond the pale; I have seen this very same thing happen in real life where the Marine Corps reduced senior NCOs with significant alcohol problems to a lower pay grade, or forced them into retirement.  Of course, such punishments were never gleefully effected and certainly not without due and appropriate warnings and if we are honest, circumstances were almost always more than merely drinking to excess.  The range of difficulties frequently involved civil or military arrest for driving under the influence, spouse abuse issues, showing up for duty while inebriated, or maybe not showing up for duty at all.

None of these sorts of things bode well for a careerist —unless you happened to be an officer with a den-daddy.  Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. Ellis was one of these —protected by none other than two Commandants of the Marine Corps, Major Generals George Barnett and John A. Lejeune.  Lejeune, in fact, protected Ellis so well that Ellis eventually drank himself to death.

As previously mentioned, Marines were long known for their hard-drinking (and fighting among themselves in the absence of soldiers or sailors), but in fairness, hard drinking was quite normal in all services, and apparently, in most westernized nations.  For many years, rum rations were issued to the crews of American and British warships.  The American navy halted this practice in 1862; the British navy followed suit nearly 100 years later.  Booze was also issued to ground troops, but suspended during periods of temperance movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

A decision to reintroduce rum rations during the harsh winter of 1914-1915 caused a fierce controversy in the United Kingdom.  Medical doctors were divided between those who saw rum rations a morale-boosting measure, and those who considered it harmful to health and performance.  I wasn’t there of course, but from what I read about the trench warfare of World War I, a daily tot of rum was the least of their problems —and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would send an inebriated rifleman/sniper out on a critical mission.  On the other hand, under circumstances of such stress, one can see the likely calming effect from a tot of rum.  Of the total numbers of British and American troops killed in World War I, the percentage of those who died from exposure to rum must be miniscule.

Still, there is a favorite argument among temperance fanatics and teetotalers to the effect that anyone unable to control his (or her) intake of alcohol lacks spiritual strength.  I’ve heard the same argument about those who smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence of the health risks.  No doubt, Marcus Aurelius would agree; several of his fourteen virtues would seem to make that argument.  Still, should we assume that a drinking man is without any virtues at all?

Let me now introduce you to a fellow by the name of Hiram Eddings Bearss.  In his day, Marines nicknamed him “Hiking Hiram.”  As a youth, Hiram hated his name; he much preferred being called “Mike.”

Bearss was born in 1875 in Peru, Indiana.  He was a troublesome young man, prone to fighting and not doing very well in school … but he did well enough to finish his education (if that is ever possible).  In his youth, he had a knack for horsemanship and sports.  Over several years, Bearss attended college at Notre Dame, Perdue, Depauw, and Norwich Military, where it seems he finally settled down.  Most of his problems at university stemmed from the fact that he liked rough and tumble sports and the kind of drinking associated with those interests.  At age 21 Bearss had finally learned how to learn, and while he was known as a bright young man, this only applied to the things that held his interest.  Bearss’ father wanted him to study law, and he did that for a period of about 18 months.  Although he gained admission to the bar in Indiana, the law did not hold his interest.  A restless Bearss began looking around for something more exciting to do with his life.  A news headline captured his attention:  The Maine Blown Up!

Inspired to serve his country, Bearss organized a volunteer company from among his friends in Peru and together, with bands playing and flags flying, they marched off to Indianapolis to offer their services to the United States.  Not a single individual was accepted for military service, however, and Bearss decided to enlist as a private.  He was refused that, as well.  His family finally appealed to a local congressman by the name of George Steele, who in turn offered Bearss an appointment at the U. S. Naval Academy.  Bearss turned this offer down: he was not going to waste another four years of his life in yet another college.

Bearss 001A few weeks later, Steele telegrammed Bearss that he had secured for him an appointment as a temporary second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  Like many Americans back then, Bearss wasn’t sure what a Marine was; Steele advised him, “It is as close to committing suicide as you will ever get.”  After successfully passing stringent examinations at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC, Bearss was accepted for a commission in late May 1898.  With his appointment at the age of 23, he was no longer referred to by his nickname.  He simply became Mr. Bearss, Lieutenant Bearss, or Hiram (shown right, 1898). Within a year, owing to the end of the Spanish-American War, the military services began downsizing to a peace time strength; Lieutenant Bearss was ordered home and then, in February, the Marines discharged him from further service.

There were important consequences to the Spanish-American War; one of these was a decision by Congress to spend more money on an adequate wartime structure, especially since the United States had inherited the Philippine Islands —and not all was going well there.  Naval bases had to be defended and an expanded Navy meant an expanded Marine Corps.

On 2 June 1899, Bearss received his commission to first lieutenant and four days after that he reported for duty aboard the USS New York.  After several weeks of public relations stops along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in October 1899, Bearss was ordered to report to Major Littleton W. T. Waller, Commanding the 3rd Battalion of Marines being formed at the Washington Navy Yard for service in the Far East.

The voyage to the Philippine Islands was a rough one, but it was here that Bearss and Frederick Wise first met and established their life-long friendship.  Of Bearss, Wise wrote: “It was on the USS Solace that I first did duty with Hiram I. Bearss, then, like myself, a second lieutenant.  There never was another like old Hiram in the world.  Wild as you make them.  Irresponsible to an incredible degree.  Absolutely fearless.  Seldom in funds.  Always with some scheme afoot.  He never had the proper clothes.  He was forever playing practical jokes.  His energy knew no control.  He was always borrowing anything and everything from everybody he could.  Yet, he was loveable beyond words to describe.”  What Wise didn’t tell us was that Bearss was one of those drinking fellows; over time, his drinking became legendary.

bearss 002By the time Waller’s battalion arrived in the Philippines, the United States had been engaged with insurrectionists for quite some time.  The Filipino did not appreciate being under the thumb of the Spanish before 1898; they didn’t care about being under the thumb of the Americans afterwards, either.  What Bearss found upon arrival in these islands was a brutal guerrilla war.  Hiram Bearss is shown right while likely serving as a Major, U. S. Marine Corps.

Within his twenty years of service, Bearss received four of our nation’s highest awards for distinguished conduct during combat operations, including the Medal of Honor[1].  He additionally received high honors from France, Italy, and Belgium.  That he was a hard fighter there can be no doubt; he was one of the most decorated officers to serve at that time.  During World War I, Bearss briefly commanding the 5th Marine Regiment, and later served as executive officer of the 6th Marines, but most of his combat service was with Army units.  He commanded two separate battalions within the 9th US Infantry, commanded the 102nd US Infantry Regiment and 51st US Infantry Brigade.  Bearss was so effective as a combat leader that General Pershing attempted to promote him on several occasions, but since Bearss was a Marine officer, Pershing had no influence with the Marine Corps’ promotion system.

As previously mentioned, Bearss was also a hard drinker and this likely explains his difficulties not long after he returned home from France.  Bearss was assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia.  Bearss found the barracks unacceptably lax and Bearss, a strict disciplinarian, refused to tolerate any organization that failed to maintain the high standards for Marines.  Within a short time, subordinate officers filed charges against Bearss, claiming he was drunk on duty, that he used profanity while berating his officers in front of enlisted men.

Whether true, a hearing was convened at the orders of Major General George Barnett, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  At the time, it was well-known that Barnett did not like Bearss (in the same way he protected Ellis), and the issue suddenly became an internal political struggle.  Bearss had his highly-placed supporters, Barnett had his.

Bearss 003Still, after twenty-years of service, Colonel Hiram Bearss (shown right) suffered from the maladies attributed to almost any Marine with two or three decades of hard service, but in the case of Hiking Hiram, he’d been seriously injured from a fall from a horse, suffered injuries from the explosion of a mortar during the war, and suffered from painful feet.  The solution to this unhappy disciplinary problem was to order Bearss into medical retirement.  Colonel Bearss’ difficulties with Barnett (and others) may explain why he was never advanced to flag rank until 1936 (well after his retirement from active military service).  In any case, Colonel Bearss accepted a medical discharge in 1919.  He was killed in an automobile accident in 1938.

Two excellent accounts of Bearss can be found in two books by George B. Clark.  They are titled Hiram Iddings Bearss, U. S. Marine Corps: Biography of a World War I Hero, and His Road to Glory: the life and times of Hiking Hiram Bearss, Hoosier Marine.  Both books make excellent companions to such other works as The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U. S. Marines in World War I by Dick Camp and A Marine Tells It to You, by Colonel Frederick M. Wise.

Notes:

[1] The Medal of Honor was awarded to him for service in the Philippine Islands in 1901; at the time of this action, Bearss was serving as a captain.  The medal was not awarded to him until 18 years later when Bearss was serving as a colonel.

Who Was Willoughby?

In February 1942, General Douglas MacArthur (shown left) (who formerly served as Army Chief of Staff and then after retirement, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army) scampered away from the Philippine Islands and headed toward Australia, thereby avoiding capture by a massive Japanese invasion of the Philippines.  He did this at the direction of the President of the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt).  When he departed aboard U. S. Navy patrol/torpedo boats and seaplanes, MacArthur took with him his family, his personal staff, and his intelligence officer —Colonel Charles Willoughby, Army of the United States (AUS)[1].  Willoughby continued to serve on MacArthur’s staff until that fateful day on 10 April 1951 when President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur of his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East and sent him into retirement.

Charles Andrew Willoughby (depicted right), born on March 8, 1892, died October 25, 1972, eventually served as a Major General in the United States Army.  He was born in Heidelberg, Germany as Adolph Karl Weidenbach, the son of Baron T. Tscheppe-Weidenbach—but this was disputed by a New York Journal reporter in 1952[2].  Some uncertainty remains about who this man was, as well as his family lineage.  What we are certain about is that Willoughby migrated from Germany to the United States in 1910.

In October 1910, Willoughby enlisted in the U. S. Army, and over the next three years he served with the US Fifth Infantry Division, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In 1913, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army and attended college at Gettysburg College.  Having already attended three years at the University of Heidelberg and the Sorbonne (Paris), Willoughby enrolled as a senior, graduating in 1914.  Actually, we do not know for certain that he actually did attend Heidelberg University, or the Sorbonne.  In any case, Willoughby received a commission to second lieutenant in in the officer’s volunteer reserve, U. S. Army, in 1914.  At this juncture, his name was Adolph Charles Weidenbach[3].  He spent three years teaching German and military studies at various prep-schools in the United States, and then on 27 July 1916 he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant; he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the same day.  He rose to the rank of captain in 1917 and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Willoughby later transferred from the infantry to the US Army Air Corps; his training as a pilot was conducted by the French military.  After some involvement with a French female by the name of Elyse Raimonde DeRoche, who was later shot as a spy, Weidenbach was recalled to Washington and asked to account for his pro-German sentiments.  He was eventually cleared of suspicions in this regard.

Following World War I, Willoughby/Weidenbach was assigned to the 24th Infantry in New Mexico from 1919 to 1921, and was then posted to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he served in military intelligence.  He subsequently served as a Military Attaché in Ecuador and for unclear reasons, Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government (shown right).  Beginning in the 1920s, Willoughby became an ardent admirer of Spanish General Francisco Franco, whom he referred to as the greatest general in the world[4].

In 1929, Willoughby/Weidenbach received orders to the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He became an instructor there in 1936, and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Throughout World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, Willoughby served as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.  MacArthur is said to have jokingly referred to Willoughby as “My pet fascist”.  He is also quoted as having said of Willoughby, “There have been three great intelligence officers in history: mine is not one of them.”

Author John Robert Ferris (Intelligence and Strategy: selected essays) stated that MacArthur’s pronouncement could be a gross understatement.  He described Willoughby as a candidate for the worst intelligence officer in the Second World War.  As an example, in early 1944, in the largest landing of the Pacific war to that date, four infantry divisions were employed in the taking of Hallandia, Dutch New Guinea.  Willoughby had reported sizable Japanese forces there.  Accordingly, the entire Pacific Fleet stood out to sea to screen the landing.  Surrendering to this mighty force were two thousand frightened Japanese warehouse and supply troops.  The operation was completely in line with MacArthur’s policy of “hitting them where they ain’t,” and so Willoughby’s misappraisal was conveniently filed and forgotten.

Willoughby was temporarily promoted to major general on 12 April 1945.

After the war, Willoughby was instrumental in arranging the exoneration of a Japanese war criminal by the name of Lieutenant General (Medical) Shirõ Ishii[5] (Unit 731) in exchange for information about biological warfare.  This was not his only debacle:

Willoughby (apparently with the approval of MacArthur) made a weak grab for the US counterintelligence effort.  Counterintelligence was not under Willoughby’s umbrella, but he and MacArthur had been stonewalling the OSS since the beginning of World War II.  What we can say with certitude, however, is that the inadequacy of US counterintelligence in Japan can be attributed to either Willoughby’s (or MacArthur’s) incompetence or his professional negligence.  When US forces occupied Japan, there was no counterintelligence effort.  One news reporter discovered the Japanese Foreign Office, Radio Tokyo, and various military offices openly burning classified documents in the middle of the street, denying this information to the occupying force.  There were no counterintelligence officers present in Japan to stop them.

Commanding the 8th US Army, General Robert Eichelberger lacked the benefit of counterintelligence advice when he welcomed the commander of the Japanese Army in Yokohama.  General Kenji Doihara was also Japan’s top intelligence officer; it was he who had engineered in 1931 the incident leading to Japan taking over Manchuria.  Eicrhelberger thought that Doihara was a “splendid little fellow.”  It was only the next day after Eicrhelberger this meeting was reported through intelligence channels to Washington DC that MacArthur ordered Doihara’s arrest.

Not long after the US occupation began, military police arrived at the Marunouchi Hotel looking for black-market operators.  What they found was Major General Willoughby having dinner with the stranded Italian Fascist Ambassador to Japan and members of his staff[6].  Naturally, Willoughby vented his anger at the military police, who were only doing their jobs.

Willoughby’s service in Japan lacks clarity unless it also reveals his vendetta against critics, or those guilty of lèse-majesté toward MacArthur.  Consequently, Willoughby spent as much time and energy to his dossiers on newsmen and military heretics as he did to reports on enemy dispositions.  William Costello from CBS decided that he much preferred digging up his own material about the Japanese rather than using handouts supplied by MacArthur’s headquarters.  How did Willoughby deal with this situation?  He sent people around to discuss with Costello what might happen if his communist membership card from the 1930s became public knowledge.  Costello was underwhelmed; he had never been a communist.  Digging in, Costello became a one-man anti-Willoughby campaigner, telling anyone and everyone who would listen what a creep Willoughby was.  By 1948, Costello was winning this war; so much so, in fact, that MacArthur invited him to a stag party.  If Costello ever attended the party, let’s hope he kept his clothes on.

Leopards never change their spots.  During the Korean War, Willoughby intentionally distorted, if not suppressed intelligence estimates that resulted in the death, injury, or captivity of thousands of American military personnel.  He did this, it is argued, to better support MacArthur’s horribly negligent (or grossly incompetent) assertion that the Chinese Army would never cross the Yalu River … and in doing so, allow MacArthur a much freer hand in his prosecution of the Korean campaign —by keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington DC (and the President) in the dark.

As writer/historian David Halberstam[7] reminded us, “Control intelligence, you control decision making.”  Halberstam argues that Willoughby was appointed head of intelligence for Korea due to his sycophancy toward MacArthur and points out that many veterans of the Korean War, enlisted and officer, believed that the lack of proper intelligence led field commanders to develop inadequate employment plans such that they could not provide combat support to one another.  Entire Chinese infantry divisions passed through the gaps that existed between forward deployed American units.

In late 1950, Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles served in the operations section of the US 10th Corps.  He later stated that because MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war, Willoughby falsified intelligence reports so that they wouldn’t enter the war.  “He should have gone to jail,” Chiles said.

Willoughby never went to jail, however.  He retired from the Army in grade of major general on August 31, 1951.  In retirement, he lobbied for Generalissimo Francisco Franco … true colors.

True to form, Willoughby launched a broadside in Cosmopolitan after his retirement against certain correspondents and commentators critical of MacArthur’s strategy. His targets included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most able war correspondents and a Pulitzer Prize winner; Hal Boyle, front-line correspondent for the Associated Press; Hanson Baldwin, military specialist of the New York Times; Joseph Alsop, syndicated columnist; and Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator.

There was nothing diplomatic in Willoughby’s handling of MacArthur’s critics.  He called them rag-pickers of American literature, men who were addicted to yellow journalism, sensationalists, men whose reporting provided aid and comfort to the enemy.  The newsmen replied to Willoughby with equal vigor, but the mildest reply was offered by Hanson Baldwin: “As an intelligence officer, General Willoughby was widely and justly criticized by Pentagon officials as well as in the papers. His . . . article is as misleading and inaccurate as were some of his intelligence reports.”  Gordon Walker, correspondent and later an assistant foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said: “There is strong evidence . . . that General MacArthur’s staff withheld intelligence information on Chinese intervention —from the President and from front-line corps and division commanders— Frontline commanders who ordered their troops into battle without prior knowledge that they faced overwhelming odds…”

Willoughby reminds us of several things: first, more important than what a man says is what he does.  We cannot claim that integrity is one of Willoughby’s virtues.  Neither does a man become a saint simply because he wears an American military uniform.  Willoughby died on 25 October 1972 —just in time for dia del diablo.  To our everlasting shame as a nation, we buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] The Army of the United States is the legal name of the “land forces of the United States” (United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 and United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Chapter 301, Section 3001) and has been used in this context since at least 1841, as in the title: General Regulations for the Army of the United States. The Army, or Armies of the United States includes the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve (as well as any volunteer or conscripted forces).  Someone receiving an officer’s commission into the Army of the United States holds a temporary appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

[2] The Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen, a standard catalogue of German gentry, does not help to clear up this matter.  According to this document, General Franz Erich Theodor Tülff von Tschepe und Weidenbach lacked the title “Freiherr” and never received letters of patent from Emperor Wilhelm II entitling him to use the surname “von Tschepe und Weidenbach” until 1913.  By this time, he had five children; none of them were born in 1892.

[3] At some point before 1930, Weidenbach changed his name to Charles Andrew Willoughby, which is a loose translation of Weidenbach, German meaning Willow-brook.  In any case, Willoughby was fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese.

[4] I can only imagine what MacArthur later thought about such intense feelings toward some other general.

[5] Responsible for the death and suffering of more than 10,000 allied military personnel during World War II.

[6] Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1930s.

[7] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War