Among those interested in military history, particularly American military history, there are two prevailing opinions about American Marines. The first is that Marines are quite good at amphibious warfare. However, those with greater understanding realize that the Marines are more than amphibians; they are chameleons. Marines aren’t just good at completing their traditional mission of projecting Naval power ashore; they are doubly good at fulfilling every mission. What makes this even possible is the attitudes common among Marines: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.
American Marines did not invent amphibious warfare; some form of it has been with us for at least 3,000 years. Julius Caesar, the quintessential field commander, made amphibious landings and developed ship-borne artillery to support his landing forces. From all this experience through three millennia, we know there are two kinds of amphibious operations: those that were highly successful and those that were a complete disaster. Of the latter, no greater example exists than the spectacularly unsuccessful amphibious assault on Gallipoli, where of the 499,000 troops landed by Allied forces, half were killed, injured, or rendered incapacitated due to sickness and disease.
During the period between world wars, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps developed specialized amphibious warfare doctrine and equipment. In the 1920s, two events propelled the Marine Corps to the forefront of amphibious inquiry. The first was the introduction of the Marine Corps Schools (M.C.S.) at Quantico, Virginia. The creation of Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, M.C.S., provided an environment that encouraged enlightened thinking in matters of warfare. Within this school, scholarly officers began asking “what if” questions about the future of war involving the United States. The second event was the rise to prominence of Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, United States Marine Corps.
By this time, it was well known that Japan had seized several Pacific islands from the Germans during World War I. Marine scholars began to suspect that Japan was starting to fortify these islands. Lieutenant Colonel Ellis (Note 1) published a study in 1921 entitled Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia. He predicted and outlined every move the Japanese would eventually follow in World War II and warned that the United States would face a fanatical enemy defending heavily fortified islands. He also predicted the application of advanced warfare technology, such as aircraft carriers, torpedo planes, and long-range bombers.
From these inquiries, Navy and Marine Corps planners devised new troop organizations, new amphibious landing craft, a process for coordinating naval artillery and sea-borne air assault strategies, and logistical methodologies. Navy planners scheduled exercises within the Caribbean area to test hypotheses, and it was from these lessons that a formal amphibious doctrine was eventually developed — including the seizure of objectives and the defense of advanced naval bases.
By 1927, the Marine Corps was officially tasked as an advanced base force. On 7 December 1933, Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson issued General Order 241, which transformed the Advanced Base Forces into the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF). From that point on, the U. S. Marine Corps became America’s quick reaction force. By 1934, Marine Corps tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and in that year, the Marine Corps published the Tentative Landing Operations Manual. It was tentative because the Navy and Marine Corps continued to test emerging ideas about amphibious operations. They accomplished this through annual fleet landing exercises. Much of this early information remains relevant to current operations.
It will suffice to say that these preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific but also trained the U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the island-hopping campaign. What the U.S. Army knew about amphibious operations in the planning and execution of Operation Torch (North Africa, 1942) they obtained from the doctrine developed by the Marine Corps in the two previous decades and overseen by Marine officers assigned to General Eisenhower’s staff.
Three months before war broke out on the Korean peninsula in 1950, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley famously said, “The world will never again see a large-scale amphibious landing (Note 2).” Three months after that, the Marine Corps made an amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea — the master strategy of U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur.
“The ability to furnish skilled forces to meet emergencies on short notice has long been a hallmark of the U. S. Marine Corps. When the call to arms sounded for the Korean War in June 1950, the Corps was handicapped by the strictures of a peacetime economy. Nevertheless, a composite brigade consisting of a regiment and an air group was made available within a week’s time.
“With a reputation built largely on amphibious warfare, Marines of the 1st Brigade were called upon the prove their versatility in sustained ground action. On three separate occasions within the embattled Pusan Perimeter — south toward Sachon and twice along the Naktong River — these Marine units hurled the weight of their assault force at a determined enemy. All three attacks were successful, and at no point did Marines give ground except as ordered. The quality of their performance in the difficult days of the Pusan Perimeter fighting made them a valuable member of the United Nations team and earned new laurels for their Corps.” —Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., General, U. S. Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps (1952 – 1955)
What General Shepherd did not say, of course, was that by the time President Truman and Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson finished destroying our defense structure, none of our military services were prepared for another conflict. The magnitude of the task accomplished by the Marine Corps in the first ten weeks of the Korean War may be fairly judged from the fact that on 30 June 1950, the 1st Marine Division consisted of only 641 officers and 7,148 enlisted men. The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing had less than 500 officers and only 3,259 enlisted men.
On 2 August, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was pressed forward into the Pusan Perimeter with a scant 6,600 infantry and aviation officers and enlisted men. The Brigade became known as the Fire Brigade; it was also a light brigade because every one of the regiment’s battalions and attachments was understrength. This meant that the Marines going into combat would do so without an organic reinforcing reserve capability. One may wonder how this was even possible. The answer, of course, is that American Marines always get the job done —no matter what it takes. They improvise. They adapt. They overcome.
1. Colonel Ellis (1880–1923) served as an intelligence officer whose work became the basis for the American campaign of a series of amphibious assaults that defeated the Japanese in World War II. His prophetic study helped establish his reputation as one of the foremost naval theorists and strategists of his era, to include foreseeing a preemptory attack by Japan and island-hopping campaigns in the Central Pacific. Colonel Ellis became the Marine Corps’ first spy whose mysterious death became enclosed in controversy.
He might have been the best sort of English writer. He drank too much, smoked too much, never attended chapel, hardly ever attended classes at Oxford, and in 1927, polite society deemed him morally unsuitable for the institution of matrimony.
He also kept unsuitable company and were it not for his father’s allowance of £4.00 weekly, he would have had to give up drinking altogether. He wanted to become a writer but initially could not find a publisher who was very interested in his efforts. The main thing standing in his way was his profanity. Fortunately for him, social and publishing standards were soon low enough to support his many detestable habits. His first work in 1928, titled Decline and Fall, was very well received.
Those who argued amongst themselves that Evelyn Waugh was not suitable for marriage were rewarded with news of his divorce in 1928. It was a messy affair and left him a bitter man. Mr. Waugh was a rolling stone for the next ten years, gadding about the world, writing travel advisories and occasional articles for London newspapers.
In 1939, the thirty-six-year-old writer applied for a commission in the Royal Marines. Given their reputation for rigorous training, no one knows why Evelyn Waugh chose the Royal Marines. According to Waugh’s biographer, field training caused him so much pain that he could not even pick up a pen to write letters home — but the British have a tradition of taking on challenges and seeing them through, no matter what.
After his commission, Waugh revealed himself as an inadequate leader — he was entirely too curt with his men, who deeply resented him. In a short time, he was removed from command and assigned to the regimental staff as an intelligence officer. A year later, he was in a Marine Commando unit working for Colonel (later, Brigadier) Robert Laycock. Waugh’s editors claim that his books about World War II closely paralleled Waugh’s actual wartime adventures. If true, then his readers should presume Brigadier Laycock to be as mad as a hatter — but such descriptions do not seem reflective of Laycock, who had a distinguished career during and after the war.
Waugh’s account of World War II is titled Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender. The trilogy was later made into a film titled Sword of Honor, starring Daniel Craig (2001). If you enjoy reading fictional history, you’ll appreciate these books as a glimpse into a remarkable period. He was also the author of Brideshead Revisited.
Captain Waugh tells us of one of his experiences and (possibly) reveals why he was an inadequate leader of troops. During training, a British captain injured his knee during parachute training and was rushed to the nearest military hospital. It was a medical clinic run by the Royal Air Force.
After x-rays, the captain was transferred to an army clinic, where he was treated and retained overnight. The following day, two officers from his training unit went to visit him, not realizing that he had been transferred away from the R.A.F. facility.
The two officers entered the facility and checked in with the medical staff attendant at the front desk.
“I beg your pardon,” said the one officer, “we have come to see Captain Crouchback.”
The attendant answered, “Right. Well, d’you know where to find him?”
“Actually, no; perhaps you can tell us.”
“I’m sure I don’t know. Did you say ‘captain’? Well, there you go … we don’t take army blokes here.”
“He came in yesterday for an emergency x-ray.”
“Right. Well, I suppose you can try radiology, then.”
After rolling his eyes, the airman said, “Check the board out front; it should tell you.”
Captain Freemantle turned to his companion and said, “I suppose it would be no good putting that man on a charge for insolence.”
“Not in the slightest,” said Captain de Souza. “Insubordinate behavior isn’t an offense in the air service.”
Some people claim that Americans are insufferably arrogant—but it may not be accurate except for Texans. But even if it were true, American arrogance doesn’t hold a candle to the haughtiness of the Japanese. In the First World War, the Empire of Japan aligned itself with the Allied powers; in World War II, they joined the Axis powers. Given their history through the 1920s, the Japanese sense of superiority was second to none. By 1930, the Imperial Japanese Army Staff was convinced that their island nation of 130 million people could conquer Korea, China, the Philippines, Indochina, and Burma — with a subsequent eye on India — and, while doing it, could also defeat the world’s two most powerful nations: the United Kingdom and the United States.
The result was inevitable. Japanese arrogance led militarists to underestimate the industrial capacity and willfulness of the Allied powers while overestimating their own. Until the Second World War, the Japanese had gotten away with their “sneak attacks” on China and Russia. At a time when the United Kingdom had its hands full in Europe, the United States had only just begun to mobilize its armed forces. The Japanese decided that the time was right to initiate another series of lightning assaults — and did so at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Guam. By late 1941, the Japanese scored victory after victory. The success of these operations convinced the Japanese that their army, navy, and air forces were invincible.
Their first snag occurred on 8 December when the Japanese tangled with a battalion of 450 Marines at Wake Island. It took the Imperial Japanese Navy fifteen days to take the island away from those Marines. Japanese losses included two destroyers, one submarine, two patrol boats, 30 destroyed or damaged aircraft, and 551 men. American casualties included 94 Killed or wounded Marines, 433 captured, twelve aircraft destroyed, 70 civilian construction crew killed, and 1,104 civilians interned (180 of whom died in captivity).
The Japanese might have learned something important from this misadventure were it not for their arrogance — but by then, they were already committed to a course of action that would become a disaster for the Japanese people.Elsewhere, the Japanese seized the Netherlands Indies, and Malaya for much-needed oil. Moreover, beyond their desire for self-sufficiency, Japan needed to consolidate its hold over Asian Pacifica.
Consolidation meant setting up an Imperial defense structure — a line along which the Japanese could thwart any Allied effort to encroach into these new Japanese territories. It was a very long defense line — looping from the Kuriles through Wake to the Marshall Islands, the Gilbert Islands, westward to the Bismarck Archipelago, Timor, Java, Sumatra, Malaya, and Burma. The task of defending such a large area was far more than the Japanese military could handle. By the time senior Japanese officers came to this realization (in the spring of 1942), it was already too late to change the game plan. In any case, Japanese culture would not allow senior officers to acknowledge their errors. Japanese arrogance hastened their ultimate defeat.
The Japanese Target Rabaul
In January 1942, Japanese troops overpowered an Australian garrison at Rabaul, located on the southwest Pacific Island of New Britain (now part of New Guinea). Having taken Rabaul, the Japanese wasted no time transforming it into a significant base and anchorage and garrisoning the island with more than 100,000 troops.
Eighteen months later, the Imperial Japanese Staff ordered a withdrawal of their land forces back toward the home islands. Within that time, allied forces thwarted the Japanese from taking Alaska, defeated the Imperial Navy in the Coral Sea, and sank four Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway. These losses were unrecoverable. At Midway, Japan lost most of its experienced combat pilots. The losses were substantial enough to cause Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to question his ability to engage the British and Americans head-on.
By seizing Rabaul, the Japanese painted a giant target on their backs. The Allied commanders adopted an aggressive counteroffensive that called for a series of amphibious assaults on selected Japanese-held islands as part of a drive toward the Philippines and the Japanese home islands. It was an island-hopping strategy that counted on the belief that isolating Japanese defensive forces (such as those at Rabaul) would be as effective as destroying them in combat — as far less costly to Allied troops.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed General Douglas MacArthur to serve as Commander, Southwest Pacific Area, and directed him to generate a plan to deal with Japanese objectives in that theater of operations. While MacArthur was working up his battle plan, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, then serving as the Chief of Naval Operations, began working on a plan of his own. General MacArthur saw the task as suitable for an Army operation; King disagreed. Island hopping would require the overall command of a Navy admiral. Both officers petitioned the President for his approval.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had already signaled his preference that the United States prioritize military and naval efforts against Nazi Germany. He turned to the Army Chief of Staff, General of the Army George C. Marshal, to solve the problem. Marshal developed a compromise plan involving three stages. The first stage would be the responsibility of the Navy’s Pacific commander, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and the other two would proceed under MacArthur’s direction.
Allied leaders agreed that Japanese naval and military strength at Rabaul made New Britain a priority. However, at this early stage in the war, the United States lacked sufficient amphibious landing craft and was still in the process of building combat divisions. Taking Rabaul was simply not immediately feasible. Instead, the Allies agreed to surround and cut off Rabaul through amphibious operations with limited objectives. The effort became known as Operation Cartwheel and involved New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Stage One was Operation Watchtower — a naval campaign against Tulagi, Guadalcanal, and the Santa Cruz Islands. The commander of Watchtower was Vice Admiral William F. Halsey. MacArthur’s task was to capture the northeastern coast of New Guinea and the central Solomon Islands and, once accomplished, destroy, or disrupt Imperial Japanese forces at Rabaul and outlying air bases. At this stage in the war, both Halsey and MacArthur competed for men and material adequate for their several tasks.
Guadalcanal turned into a long engagement (7 August 1942 – 9 February 1943), but the fighting wasn’t over when the Japanese withdrew. Another long, grueling campaign opened in New Guinea and several islands in the Solomon Chain.
Dislodging the Japanese from New Guinea became a monumental task involving the combined efforts of the army and naval forces of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. These tasks would last through late August 1945.
One crucial step in this process would be the capture of the New Georgia island group — and the most vital objective on New Georgia was the Japanese airbase at Munda Point, located on the main island’s southwest tip. What made this a monumental battle was that most of the Allied land forces experienced combat for the first time.
Marine Raiders seized the Russell Islands on 21 February 1943, and although the Marines landed unopposed, the landing itself prompted the Japanese to begin fortifying their advanced bases by sea.
To counter the Japanese reinforcement effort, General MacArthur ordered air assaults against Japanese shipping and aircraft — known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (early March 1943) (see map). Japanese losses in both men and material were significant.
Admiral Yamamoto countered by initiating Operation I-Go, an ongoing series of air attacks against Allied airfields and anchorages at Guadalcanal and New Guinea. Isoroku Yamamoto was a distinguished graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. He was a wounded combat veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, a graduate of Harvard University, and served two tours of duty as a naval attaché in the United States. His English was impeccable.
Admiral Yamamoto was not someone the Allies wanted to contend with. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, high-ranking Allied commanders regularly read Japan’s coded radio signals. When MacArthur became aware that Yamamoto was organizing a command liaison visit to Bougainville, having first obtained presidential authorization, he ordered the Army Air Corps to locate Yamamoto’s aircraft and shoot it down. This was accomplished on 18 April 1943. Yamamoto’s death was a massive blow to the Imperial Japanese Staff. The only senior Japanese naval officer who came close to Yamamoto’s capabilities was Admiral Mineichi Koga.
Vice Admiral Halsey’s task of capturing dozens of islands was a complicated undertaking — for a wide range of reasons. While stateside commands and Pacific Area Commanders pushed forward the men and materials needed for the Solomon Islands campaign, it fell upon Halsey to protect these ships until off-loaded. Moreover, shipping channels around the islands involved in the operations were narrow, making Halsey’s ships vulnerable to Japanese shore batteries, aerial attacks, and submarine operations. Sub-surface coral reefs and barrier islands also impeded Navy operations.
Admiral Halsey decided to begin his assault by launching amphibious operations against smaller (outlying) islands before landing troops on the main island of New Georgia — the focus of which was to capture the Japanese airfield at Munda Point. Munda Point would play a critical role as an Allied air base supporting ongoing operations toward Bougainville and Rabaul.
The campaign against secondary islands began on 30 June 1943. The assault on mainland New Georgia started a few days later. With Marine Corps attachments, the U.S. 43rd Infantry Division landed on the southern shore on 2 July. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, working with two battalions of the U.S. 37th Infantry Regiment, landed on the island’s northwestern coast on 5 July.
Both amphibious landings were successful, but simultaneous drives inland quickly bogged down. The island’s terrain was rugged, with natural obstacles impeding progress. Infantry, artillery, and logistical support troops fell prey to the tropical heat, malaria, ringworm, fungal infection, dysentery, and beriberi. It wasn’t long before these young fighters became exhausted. Japanese soldiers steadfastly resisted every foot of the Allied advance. At night, when the Allied forces collapsed into the defensive fighting positions, endless Japanese banzai attacks shattered their morale, exhausted them even more, and the ever-present smell of death became a constant reminder of the horror of war.
In one incident involving the U.S. 43rd Infantry, crafty Japanese tactics terrorized the American soldiers and confused them to the extent of fighting and killing their own men, both by shooting them and stabbing them to death with their bayonets. In one report, a regimental commander stated, “Some men knifed each other. Men threw hand grenades blindly, often in the wrong direction. Some grenades hit trees and bounced back and exploded among the Americans. In the morning, there was no trace of dead Japanese — but dozens of dead and wounded Americans.” The Allied advance bogged down even more as these troops exhibited shell shock and combat fatigue.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Oscar Griswold, Commanding General XIV Corps, arrived on New Georgia Island on 11 July. His assessment was depressing. The U.S. 43rd Infantry Division was “shot.” Shortly after receiving his report, Griswold was ordered to take over land operations in New Georgia. His first act was to pull his men back for much-needed rest and resupply. The delay was operationally justified but also gave the Japanese time to refine their defensive positions.
Griswold’s renewed attack began on 25 July 1943 with the U.S. 43rd Division, U.S. 25th Division, and U.S. 37th Division working as a team to provide mutual support. U.S. Marine Sherman tanks, artillery, naval gunfire, and air support aided in the advance until the corps ran into heavily fortified Japanese bunkers. As the Allies maneuvered for field advantages, Japanese snipers picked off soldiers carrying flamethrowers, and isolated tanks were overrun and destroyed. Japanese night operations continued to play havoc among the American combat divisions during the advance.
But the Americans soon learned how to fight the Japanese and began to give as well as they received. Young combat leaders learned how to coordinate their operations with adjacent units and became more efficient in delivering artillery and mortar fire. It was a rapid (and deadly) learning curve. In only four days, the Japanese began to pull back to their final defensive line before Munda Point.
The Japanese refused to give up anything without a massive fight, which the Americans gave them between 29 July and 5 August. Within two weeks of the final battle, Allied aircraft were using Munda Point against Japanese forces at other locations in the Solomon Islands.
As the fight for Munda Point was going on, other Allied troops made amphibious landings in the northern portion of New Georgia at Viru Harbor (on the south coast), Wickham Anchorage (on Vangunu Island and Rendova). Additional fighting erupted on Arundel Island in August and September. After U.S. and New Zealand troops landed on Vella Lavella, the Allied Commander was able to terminate the operation on 7 October 1943.
It is not known when the Japanese realized that they could not hold on to their line of defense for the home islands, much less the Solomons, but what became readily apparent in short order was that the Pacific War campaigns became battles of attrition. It may have been Yamamoto who first came to that conclusion. The Japanese could not replace their war dead — and it was only a matter of time before Imperial Japan collapsed upon itself. After the Solomon Islands campaign, the Japanese embarked upon a new defensive strategy: defense in depth. The Japanese were willing to sacrifice everyone and take with them as many Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen as possible.
Soon enough, Admiral Yamamoto’s replacement, Admiral Mineichi Koga, would fall back to the island of Bougainville, where it would be easier to reinforce and resupply. There were several problems with this Japanese thinking. First, to briefly return to the arrogance problem, the Japanese had difficulty admitting to mistakes — especially those of high magnitude. Second, after having embarked upon this ruinous course of action, there was no way to reverse course and “save face.” Third, Admiral Koga was no Yamamoto.
In fairness to Admiral Koga, the entire Solomon Islands fight was overwhelming to the Japanese, whose industrial production was inadequate to the military’s demand. In comparison, American shipyards were producing one Liberty ship per day. Additionally, geography didn’t favor the Japanese strategic plan. The Solomon Island chain included six major islands and dozens of smaller ones. The distance of the chain was five-hundred miles. North of Guadalcanal lay eleven “main islands” of the Central Solomons. New Georgia was the largest of these. Bougainville was the northernmost island in the chain, some 300 miles distant. Bougainville is 130 miles long and 30 miles wide — and this is where Koga decided to fight.
Given his seniority, Admiral Koga was no student of warfare — or history. In earlier decades, the Japanese were fascinated by the German war machine — and yet, the Imperial Japanese Staff seemed unaware of the lessons taught by Carl von Clausewitz. The Japanese didn’t concentrate their limited forces on land or sea and suffered the consequences. In this case, the effects were two massive atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But even then, the fighting on Bougainville continued from November 1943 until mid-August 1945.
Some time ago, archeologists discovered the bones of tuna and sharks in a shallow cave on an island north of Australia. Carbon dating measured these remains to be 42,000 years — suggesting that whoever consumed those fish also harvested them from the deep sea. Scientists conclude that humans have had well-developed maritime skills for a very long time.
The earliest known boats, dated 10,000 years old, were found in France and the Netherlands. Archeologists argue that wood and common boat-building materials do not preserve well, so it is likely that boats existed much earlier. They know, through other sources, that the colonization of Australia and nearby islands in Southeast Asia began 45,000 years ago — requiring that men cross the sea in boats big enough to accommodate them. Humans lived in “near-shore” locations 165,000 years ago — and it is an interesting argument to say also, “… then it is likely those people harvested fish from the deep sea,” as well. Unfortunately, we lack direct evidence that this is true.
But we know that mankind traveled throughout the Mediterranean region for the past 5,000 years, and many of these people made their living from the sea, either directly or through maritime trade. The Northmen began their Atlantic Ocean explorations between A.D. 800 – 1,000. And we know that developing marine technology enabled humankind to build bigger ships capable of traveling great distances at sea.
Sea travel facilitated global migration, exploration, commerce, and conflict. There would have been no European colonization of the New World without ships to take people to new places and keep them connected to their homeland. As people began to spend more time at sea, health conditions developed that required treatments at sea.
Shipboard accidents injured seamen. Crewmen became sick of a lack of proper hygiene and nutrition or from consuming tainted foods over long periods. Such men were also susceptible to infectious diseases — all of which demanded the attention of the ship’s captain — a man who could not make a living without a healthy and effective crew.
To treat injuries and diseases while underway, ship owners and navies began to hire people with medical training. The Navy called them surgeons and surgeon’s mates. Over time, medicine and surgery have matured, and ship surgeons have helped pioneer lifesaving methods and procedures at sea and on foreign shore.
In 1812, the United States Ship Constitution crew included one surgeon and two surgeon’s mates. The surgeon was Dr. Amos Evans. His training included three years apprenticed to Dr. George Mitchell, a physician of Elkton, Maryland. At best, Dr. Mitchell provided only rudimentary training, expanded in lectures by such men as Benjamin Rush at the University of Pennsylvania. Once certified as a physician, Dr. Evans became the U.S. Navy’s first fleet surgeon. As for Dr. Evans’ surgeon’s mates, it was up to them to train those men. A good surgeon usually meant good training — but the opposite was also true.
Beginning of the Modern Navy
After being left to languish in the twenty or so years following the end of the American Civil War, the U.S. Navy was saved by the intelligence and pragmatism of such men as Farragut, Porter, and Dewey. There were others, of course. Arguably, the worst seaman ever to reach the rank of Admiral (even in retirement) was Alfred Thayer Mahan — the U. S. Navy’s greatest scholar aided and abetted by a man who never served in the Navy at all, Theodore Roosevelt.
U.S. Navy Medical Corps
Saving lives is serious business. Saving lives at sea or in a firefight on foreign shore requires more than paramedic training. It first demands the kind of individual willing to place their patient’s life ahead of their own. The American Navy began looking for these kinds of people in the early 1890s.
A hospital corpsman does not become a corpsman without extensive training, with emphasis placed on the word extensive — which is nothing like the kind of training a surgeon’s mate received while aboard ship. In the U.S. Navy, medical/hospital training is the one thing every doctor, nurse, and corpsman can depend on for the entire service period. It is a wide-ranging syllabus that never ends, which was why the Navy created the Hospital Corps in the first place. It is from the Navy Hospital Corps that we produced the term “Hospital Corpsman.”
U.S. Marines call their Corpsmen “Doc,” and as an aside, there is no one the average Marine respects more than the FMF Corpsman who could save his life. Navy Corpsmen train in several occupational specialties, from pharmacist and lab technician to independent duty Corpsmen and Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman. The training begins with what the Navy calls “A” School. Today, this is a 19-week program involving the basic principles and techniques of patient care and first aid — a process whereby better training accompanies enhanced knowledge of medical science.
The first basic school opened its doors in 1902 when the Navy spearheaded the concept of a Hospital Corps training on the campus of Naval Hospital Portsmouth, Virginia. Coursework for the “Naval Hospital Corps Training School” involved three months of instruction in nursing, elementary anatomy, physiology, elementary hygiene, medical material, pharmacy, bandaging and splints, first aid, and discipline and drill.
Upon course completion, each graduate was assigned to a naval hospital for practical (on-the-job) instruction before being detailed to a ship or station. On 15 December 1902, the Navy bestowed certificates to the first graduating class of “Corps School.” Owing to the alphabetical order in which the Navy issued its graduation certificates, Hospital Apprentice Max Armstrong of Oskaloosa, Iowa, became the Navy’s first Hospital Corpsman.
Advanced schools for further training began after 1910, with the first independent duty corpsman school (IDCS) starting during World War I. On 18 June 1914, the Navy established the Hospital Corps School at the Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island. NHCS wasn’t the Navy’s first foray into hospital training, of course, but it did represent the start of an unbroken commitment to training Corpsmen which continues to this day (now at Joint Base-San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston).
The impact of specially trained corpsmen was a gradual but significant innovation. Within two years of the school opening in Portsmouth, Corps School graduates represented twenty-five percent of the entire Navy Hospital Corps. By October 1909, graduates comprised more than half of the active Hospital Corps.
Today, a Navy Hospital Corpsman who wants to serve with the Marines must jump through a few extra hoops. The applicant must complete eight weeks of training at one of two Field Medical Training Battalions (FMTBn) at Camp Johnson, North Carolina, or Camp Pendleton, California. It takes a lot of work to earn the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Qualification Badge — which tends to make successful FMF Corpsmen just a bit cockier than most.
The training is challenging because in the field, far away from a physician or field hospital, the FMF Corpsman must know many different things about keeping a wounded Marine alive. In effect, your “Doc” is all there is. The thing to remember, when you read or hear about some tough battle the Marines just went through, there were Navy Corpsmen not an arm’s length away.
The first U. S. Navy Hospital Corpsman to receive the Medal of Honor while serving alongside U.S. Marines was John Henry Balch. He was born on 2 January 1896 in Edgerton, Kansas.
Balch enlisted in the U.S. Navy on 26 May 1917, requesting training and assignment as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. Upon graduation from recruit training, he entered NHCS as a Hospital Apprentice, with later service at the Navy Recruiting Station, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
After service at the Washington Navy Yard and U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, on 27 July 1917, Hospital Man Balch transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps for duty with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (3/6). At the time, 3/6 served with the 4th Marine Brigade, U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces in France.
In November 1917, the Navy advanced Balch to Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class. He advanced again to PhM2 on 10 May 1918 and PhM1 on 17 May 1918.
During the Battle of Chatêau-Thierry, PhM1 Balch was wounded while serving on the line, but not sufficiently to keep him out of the war. When the 6th Marines assaulted Belleau Wood, Balch was beside them in the ranks. This fight lasted for three weeks. Of the 2,400 men engaged in that battle, 1,300 were killed or wounded. During the initial assault, Balch worked steadily for more than sixteen hours, continuously exposing himself to enemy fire while running to render medical aid to injured or dying Marines.
Later, during the Battle of the Somme-Py on 5 October, PhM1 Balch again displayed exceptional bravery by establishing an advanced aid station under heavy enemy artillery fire, for which he received the nation’s highest award, the MEDAL OF HONOR.
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, with the 6th Regiment, U.S. Marines, in action at Vierzy, on 19 July 1918. Balch unhesitatingly and fearlessly exposed himself to terrific machinegun and high-explosive fire to succor the wounded as they fell in the attack, leaving his dressing station voluntarily and keeping up the work all day and late into the night unceasingly for 16 hours. Also, in the action at Somme-Py on 5 October 1918, he exhibited exceptional bravery in establishing an advanced dressing station under heavy shellfire.
Following World War I, PhM1 Balch accepted his honorable discharge from active service and traveled to Chicago, Illinois, to seek civilian employment. On 19 August 1919, Rear Admiral Frederic D. Bassett, Jr. presented Balch with the Medal of Honor at a ceremony conducted at the YMCA, Chicago.
On 2 September 1942, John Henry Balch rejoined the U.S. Naval Reserve, received a commission as a Navy Lieutenant, and served in the United States, Australia, and the Philippines throughout World War II. Commander Balch retired from the naval service on 1 June 1950. He passed away on 15 October 1980 and laid to rest in Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, California.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Commander Balch was also the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star Medal with two gold stars (indicating three awards), Purple Heart Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V Device, World War I Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, French Croix de Guerre with Fourragère, Italian War Merit Cross, and the Portuguese War Cross. Commander Balch’s wartime service in two world wars made him one of the U.S. Navy’s most highly decorated officers and the first U.S. Navy Corpsman to receive the Medal of Honor while serving with the U.S. Marines.
It has only been since the seventeenth century that acts of bravery, merit, or service during war gained recognition of participation or individual acts of courage. Before then, the ordinary British soldier was usually rewarded with a state pension. In any case, during the English Civil War, the public’s opinion of soldiers was quite low and remained so for many years. Usually, only the most desperate fellows volunteered for military service — and in some cases, joining the army was an alternative to going to jail.
After the Napoleonic Wars (1799 – 1815), public opinion improved due to the well-publicized heroic actions of soldiers and their officers. During this period, medals were only awarded to high-ranking officers and members of the aristocracy for services rendered to the Crown.
The first British Army Medal (B.A.M.) awarded to ordinary soldiers was the Waterloo Medal, issued between 1816 – 1817. The B.A.M. was awarded to every soldier who could prove that they were present during the campaign against Napoleon in which the British Army, alongside their Dutch and German allies, suffered while performing feats of heroism. The medal was unique for two reasons: (a) it was the first of its kind, and (b) each soldier or officer who received it had their name stamped into the medal.
Even though 39,000 medals were issued, the B.A.M. received mixed reactions among the senior officers and N.C.O.s who had not been present at Waterloo; they, instead, fought the War of 1812 in the United States/Canada and the Spanish Peninsula campaign. In subsequent years, this particular controversy resulted in B.A.M. awards as a matter of routine whenever troops were sent to battle, no matter where in the world it was.
After gaining the approval of Queen Victoria and Parliament, the Ministry of Defense agreed to create a Military General Service Medal in 1847. The process required the men to apply for the medal if they thought they thought themselves entitled to wear it. Not many men applied for the medal because not many men were literate enough to know what to do. The government only issued 26,000 medals.
In the following decade, the government struck a dozen different medals: The Indian General Service Medal (1854), the Victoria Cross (after the Crimean War) — a gallantry medal awarded to men of any class or service for acts of heroism in the face of the enemy at risk of death. There is no higher recognition for courage under fire in the United Kingdom than the V.C.
The Victoria Cross is a simple design, the prototype of which was a product of the London jeweler Hancocks & Company. Hancocks still make the V.C. Legend tells us that the medal prototype and the first 111 crosses came from the bronze guns captured by the Russians in Crimea. Since its creation, the Crown has issued 1,356 Victorian Cross Medals.
During the twentieth century, the British Army witnessed bloody action in both the First and Second World Wars. Each conflict produced a unique series of campaign and service medals. There was the 1914 – 1915 Star, the British War Medal, and Victory Medal for those fighting in the First World War. The government awarded 2.3 million medals to frontline soldiers and support personnel, including Royal Navy and Canadian service members.
After World War II, the men serving in that conflict received a unique version of the general service medal, the 1939 – 1945 Star, worn alongside appropriate medals and campaign ribbons. For example, those in the North African campaign received the African Star. If they also served during the Italian Campaign or on D-Day, the appropriate specific awards to wear alongside it. Commonwealth soldiers (Indian, Australian, Canadian, and South African) received proper recognition alongside their other entitlements.
In the U.S. military, the history of personal decorations and awards is not part of the curriculum in basic training. Military medals have had an important role in its history, but it is also rarely discussed. Military personnel wear their decorations and awards with pride and reflect on them: they are symbols of a demanding job well done and trigger memories of good men, pulling together, and perhaps also lost forever —but they don’t brag about those medals.
Military personnel understand the difference between Decorations and Awards — most civilians do not. Among civilians with no military service connection, there is no difference between decorations and awards, but they are two vastly different things. A presented decoration recognizes specific acts of bravery or achievement. An award or service medal confirms service in a particular role or geographical area (campaign) and citations issued by foreign governments and approved by the U.S. government.
Typically, a U.S. medal is struck with a design to commemorate an event. It is a creative process involving various methods — including pressure stamping. In the past, bronze, silver, and gold were used, but most U.S. military medals today are made of various alloys. Modern medals are nothing like the medal invented by Antonio di Puccio Pisano in 1438. This process remained exclusively in Italy until the 16th Century when it spread to other European nations.
In the American colonies, the oldest military decoration was the Fidelity Medallion, created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and presented to those who captured British Major John André — the officer who worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies.
The Congress conferred the Fidelity Medallion on three soldiers who were members of the New York militia: Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams, and John Paulding. The medal was never again awarded — and it is for this reason that the first United States (as opposed to Continental) medal awarded was the Badge of Military Merit, created in 1782. In the new egalitarian America, it is also significant that the first medals awarded to American troops were awarded to enlisted men, not officers.
On 7 August 1782, General George Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit. It was a cloth or silk figure of a heart, recognizing meritorious or gallant conduct. But it was General Washington who instigated the practice of awards of recognition, and only three men received this decoration: (a) Sergeant Elijah Churchill: 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons. He was awarded the badge for his part in two successful raids behind British lines in Nov. 1780 and in October of 1781. (b) Sergeant William Brown: 5th Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for leading an advance party — with only bayonets — penetrating the British lines at Yorktown, VA on 14 October 1781, and (c) Sergeant Daniel Bissell: 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for masquerading as a British soldier from August 1781 to September 1782. Again, all three recipients were enlisted men — and the design was the forerunner of the modern Purple Heart Medal.
Between General Washington’s Merit Badge and the American Civil War, government officials issued certificates of merit and “brevet promotions” to recognize courageous conduct and meritorious service. The first military decoration formally authorized by the United States government to symbolize valorous conduct was the Medal of Honor, approved for enlisted men of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. President Lincoln signed the authorization on 21 December 1861. In July 1862, Congress approved a Medal of Honor suitable for the U.S. Army (and Volunteer Army of the United States).
One should recall that the early American colonists migrated from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. When they went to the New World, they took with them their long-held cultural values and traditions. Among these was a general loathing for standing armies and the profession of arms. See also: Citizen Soldier and the American Militia. The reason for their profound contempt for the military was simple enough: British soldiers were instruments of government tyranny — a view reinforced throughout the American Revolutionary War. This distrust of standing armies lasted from 1775 through 1941.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Union Army was comparatively small. To build an armed force capable of defending the Union, it was necessary to augment it with federalized state militias. Recruiting men to serve in the Civil War was no easier in 1861 than in 1776, and it became even more difficult once the knowledge of the horror of combat made its way into America’s living rooms.
Thus, the civil war gave the U.S. Congress two good reasons for instituting an American decoration for valor. The first was the obvious: to honor American servicemen for their sacrifices. The second reason was to incentivize enlisting in the Army — every romantic young man wants to become a hero. The Navy was the first to adopt the Medal of Honor because it was the one service facing the gravest shortage of skilled crewmen.
Congress’s authorization for the Medal of Honor made certain stipulations. Only acts of gallantry performed during the present conflict —the Civil War— would be recognized, and the Secretary of the Navy’s authorization was limited to two-hundred medals.
A new authorization signed in 1862 gave the Navy much more room for maneuver when it came to awarding the Medal of Honor and even authorized further rewards for committed, intrepid seamen. Now, a Sailor could earn a promotion by way of “extraordinary heroism” rather than wait until he aged into a higher rank, the usual practice. And now, unlike under the 1861 act, a Sailor could receive this promotion and a Medal of Honor for acts of heroism performed “in the line of his profession” and not necessarily in a combat situation. The first Medals of Honor struck resulted from this second act — of 1862.
The Purple Heart Medal
When Gen. John J. Pershing and the American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe in 1917, the only existing American decoration was the Medal of Honor. Pershing, his subordinate commanders, and the men of the rank and file soon became acutely aware that the British and French armies had a variety of military decorations and medals to recognize valorous service.
By the end of the First World War, the Army and Navy had developed additional medals to recognize exceptional heroism that does not meet the test of the Medal of Honor: The Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Cross and Army Distinguished Service Medal, and Army Distinguished Service Cross.
These new medals (while giving much-deserved recognition to many servicemen) also required a high degree of combat heroism or meritorious service, and a few civilian and military leaders in Washington believed another decoration was needed — one that could be used to reward individuals of more junior rank for their valuable wartime services.
In the 1920s, the War Department studied the issue. A few officers with knowledge of George Washington’s dormant Badge of Military Merit recommended that the merit medal be resurrected and renamed the Order of Military Merit. Further, they suggested that the medal be awarded to any soldier in recognition of heroism not performed in actual combat or exceptionally meritorious service.
Ultimately, no action was taken on these proposals for another ten years — until General Douglas MacArthur assumed the office of Army Chief of Staff. He revived interest in the merit medal by writing to Charles Moore, Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts. He informed Moore that the Army intended to revive General Washington’s old award on the bicentennial of his birth.
As a result, on 22 February 1932, the War Department published General Order No. 3 announcing that “the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington in 1782,” would be awarded to persons who, while serving in the Army of the United States, performs any singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” Then, within a single parenthetical, the Army included this sentence: “A wound, which necessitates treatment by a medical officer, and which is received in action with an enemy of the United States, or as a result of an act of such enemy, may . . . be construed as resulting from a singularly meritorious act of essential service.”
This meant that the Purple Heart was an award for high-level service. But it also meant that an individual serving “in the Army” wounded in action could also receive the Purple Heart. Not all wounds, however, qualified for the new decoration. Rather, the wound had to be severe enough to necessitate medical treatment.
From 1932 until the outbreak of World War II, the Army awarded around 78,000 Purple Heart Medals to living veterans and active-duty soldiers who had either been wounded in action or had received General Pershing’s certificate for meritorious service during World War I.
While the Army issued most Purple Heart Medals to men who had fought in France from 1917 to 1918, a small number of wounded soldiers from the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War applied for and received the Purple Heart. However, there were no posthumous awards for this early edition of the Purple Heart Medal. General MacArthur made it clear in 1938 the Purple Heart — like Washington’s Badge of Military Merit — was “not intended to commemorate the dead; it was to animate and inspire the living.”
After Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the deaths of thousands of soldiers in Hawaii and the Philippines, the War Department abandoned MacArthur’s “posthumous award” policy. On April 28, 1942, the Army announced that the Purple Heart would be awarded to “members of the military services killed (or who died of wounds) on or after December 7, 1941.”
This policy change only applied to those killed after the Japanese attack on Hawaii. Posthumous awards of the Purple Heart for pre–World War II conflicts were still not permitted. Five months later, the Army made another significant change in the award criteria for the Purple Heart: it restricted the award to combat wounds only.
While MacArthur’s intent in reviving the Purple Heart in 1932 was that the new decoration would be for “any singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service” (with combat wounds being a subset of such fidelity or service), the creation of the Legion of Merit in 1942 as a junior decoration for achievement or service meant that the Army did not need two medals to recognize the same thing. As a result, the Purple Heart became a decoration for those wounded or killed in action.
One additional change in the evolution of the Purple Heart Medal was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision on 3 December 1942 to allow the Secretary of the Navy to award the decoration to Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines.
The next significant change to the award criteria for the Purple Heart occurred during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. When certain American service members in South Vietnam began being killed and wounded, they were deemed not eligible for the Purple Heart because they served in an advisory capacity (rather than as combatants). Additionally, as a matter of law, the United States was not a formal participant in the ongoing war between the South Vietnamese, communist insurgents, and their North Vietnamese allies. Thus, there was no “enemy” to satisfy the requirement of a wound or death received “in action against an enemy.”
President Kennedy signed an executive order on 25 April 1962 authorizing the Purple Heart Medal to any person killed or wounded “while serving with friendly foreign forces” or “as a result of action by a hostile foreign force.” By 1973, thousands more Americans had been awarded the Purple Heart.
Kennedy’s decision to expand the award criteria for the Purple Heart also meant that servicemen killed or wounded in lesser-known actions (such as the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967 and the North Korean seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968) could also receive the Purple Heart.
A successive change to the Purple Heart regulations occurred in February 1984 when President Ronald Reagan recognized the changing nature of war and signed an executive order announcing that the Purple Heart would recognize those killed or wounded as a result of an “international terrorist attack against the United States.” Reagan also decided that the Purple Heart should be awarded to individuals killed or wounded “outside the territory of the United States” while serving “as part of a peacekeeping mission.” President Reagan’s decision resulted in a small number of Americans receiving the Purple Heart who otherwise would have been denied the medal.
On 25 April 2011, the Department of Defense announced that the Purple Heart Medal could be awarded to any service member sustaining “mild traumatic brain injuries and concussive injuries” in combat. This decision acknowledged that brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices qualify as wounds, even though such damages may be invisible. Awards for traumatic brain injury were retroactive to 11 September 2001, the day of Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
On the issue of the severity of a brain injury, a serviceman or woman need not lose consciousness to qualify for the Purple Heart. If a medical officer or health professional diagnoses concussive injury, and the “extent of the wound was such that it required treatment by a medical officer,” this is sufficient for the award of the Purple Heart.
One remaining issue is whether a Purple Heart is appropriate for someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). In 2008, after increasing numbers of men and women returning from service in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were diagnosed as suffering from P.T.S.D., some commentators proposed awarding the Purple Heart for these psychological wounds. After carefully studying the issue, the Defense Department concluded that having P.T.S.D. did not qualify a person for the Purple Heart because the disorder was not a “wound intentionally caused by the enemy — but rather a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.”
 The Continental Congress did vote to award George Washington, Horatio Gates, and John Paul Jones with gold medallions in recognition of their efforts in defeating the British forces, but none of these were awarded until after the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1790.
 The information gathered by Sergeant Bissell helped the Continental Army prepare for an attack on the British in New York City.
 Printed certificates signed by Pershing that read “for exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous services.”
It is true — war dogs served the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Britons, and Romans. They served as sentries, area security patrol dogs, and attack dogs. Atilla used large dogs in his campaigns, and these were often gifted among European royalty. Frederick the Great used them to carry messages, and the French used dogs to guard naval installations in the 1700s.
In East Asia, the 15th-century Vietnamese emperor Lé Loi raised a pack of over 100 hounds, tended and trained by Nguyễn Xí, whose skills earned him a promotion to the emperor’s commander of shock troops.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars. Union troops routinely destroyed packs of bloodhounds because they were used for hunting down runaway slaves. In the Civil War, hounds were employed to pass messages and guard prisoners. During World War I, dogs were used as mascots in propaganda and recruiting posters.
In the Marines — World War II
The Marine Corps decided to experiment with war dogs in the late summer of 1942. A new turn for the Marines, but not for the dogs — as I said, they’ve been doing warfare things for a long while. The only question was, should they use Mastiffs, as did the Romans — or Shih Tzu, like the French?
Previously, in the 1920s, a Marine serving as an officer in the Garde d’Haiti trained a dog to work at the point of his combat patrols to alert him to bandit ambuscades. Marine historians believe that it’s probable that this Marine’s experience was later responsible for suggesting the use of dogs in jungle warfare (Small Wars Operations).
In World War II, the Marine Corps war dog training program was initiated at the direction of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who directed the Commanding General, Training Center, Fleet Marine Force, Marine Barracks, New River, North Carolina (designated Camp Lejeune in December 1942) to initiate a training program for dogs when personnel and material become available. Shortly after, one officer and 19 enlisted Marines began training at the Fort Robinson, Nebraska, dog school. Four additional Marines began temporary duty at Fort Washington, Maryland — also in connection with training dogs.
The plan was that upon completion of training, Marines in Nebraska would return to Camp Lejeune, each with two dogs; the Marines at Fort Washington would return each with two messenger dogs. An additional twenty dogs would be procured by Miss Roslyn Terhune, given obedience training in Baltimore, and shipped to Camp Lejeune by the end of January 1943.
After procuring sixty-two dogs (42 from the Army), the Marine Corps received additional animals from various sources (Dogs for Defense, Inc., Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and private individuals willing to offer their animals as donations to the war effort). These were the primary sources of procurement of Marine Corps war dogs until 1 March 1945. After then, the Marine Corps and Coast Guard established and operated a joint procurement agency.
Marines considered an animal’s breed of secondary importance to the general excellence of war dogs. Still, the breeds found most suitable for German Shepherds (Alsatians), Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Schnauzers, Airedales, Rottweilers, and some mixtures of these animals. Other breeds could be acceptable, provided the individual animal met the required specifications in other respects.
Dogs accepted into the Corps had to be one to five years of age, of either sex, 25 inches high, weighing at least 50 pounds, pass a rigorous physical examination, and be proven not to be gun shy.
In the earliest days, the Marines highly regarded the Doberman Pinscher, rightly or wrongly, because:
(1) It was generally believed that the shorthaired Doberman was more adaptable to the heat of the tropics than many of the long-haired breeds (dog experts and fanciers held divided opinions on this point)
(2) Dog handlers were almost unanimous in their praise of the Doberman Pinscher and the German Shepherd for scout and messenger work; and,
(3) In the early days of the war dog training program, the Doberman Pinscher Club of America procured a large proportion of the dogs enrolled, which means that the emphasis was on Dobermans — hence an early preponderance of this breed over others.
However, the Marine Corps clarified that it had not established a policy favoring Doberman Pinschers over any other breed. In early 1945, the Marine Corps declined an invitation to have some of its Dobermans participate in a show out of concern that others may interpret that the Marines preferred one breed over another.
Most of the first dogs shipped overseas (the 1st War Dog Platoon) were Doberman Pinschers; the remainder were German or Belgian Shepherds.
When the Marine Corps initiated its war dog program, the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard had already instituted working dog programs with established training centers with several training programs for different purposes. The Marine Corps, however, is a combat organization. Senior officers saw no point in dedicating manpower resources unless dogs contributed directly to killing the enemy or reducing combat casualties. Consequently, Marine war dogs were confined to two types:
Scout and messenger dogs. At that time, the 1st Marine Division was still fighting on Guadalcanal. It was apparent that the South Pacific plans of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a march up the Solomons chain meant that Marines would continue to operate in jungle terrain for a while at least, where concealment by the enemy was relatively easy. Infiltration tactics were the order of the day.
At first, it was difficult to find trainers thoroughly appreciating this combat angle. Marine planners initially selected trainers because they had civilian experience training dogs. Senior officers at HQMC visualized this program as one involving dog training — for training dogs rather than teaching them for a combat role. This lack of appreciation for reality training made combat Marines hesitant to volunteer for the program. It soon became apparent that if dogs were to be helpful in combat, their trainer and handler would have to be good combat Marines, capable of scouting and patrolling, with the dog being the means of increasing the radius of operations.
At the same time, operations officers understood that tactical situations might dictate a need for messenger dogs, and the best animals for that mission were the Dobermans and German Shepherds. There were other great breeds, as well — it was only that Dobermans and Shepherds performed in a consistently exceptional manner.
The training cycle at War Dog Training Company (Camp Lejeune) lasted 14 weeks. Selection for specific skill training took two weeks — and a time when dogs and Marines became acquainted with one another. Two Marines, selected for their experience in handling dogs, were assigned to each dog as trainer and attendant — a relationship carried into combat: two Marines and their dog forming a “dog unit.”
The next six weeks were devoted to training the dogs to interpret and obey the various commands and to familiarize the men with their dogs’ mental workings and reactions. Successful training was accomplished only through intelligent, patient, and sympathetic handling and treatment, and the chief reliance was made solely on praise and scolding. The final six weeks of the course were given to more advanced work, including combat work, which meant attacking any person or place the dog had become alert on command.
The initial advanced training for scout dogs started with the dog being fastened to a chain fixed to a post or wall with his handler beside him. A stranger approached threateningly, the handler commanding the dog to “watch.” When the dog showed aggressiveness towards the stranger, the latter ran away, and the handler praised the dog.
As training progressed from day to day, the dog was shifted from the chain to the leash in the hands of the handler, and the work was continued until the dog attacked persons, first on the training field and later in the woods or jungle. In the end, the dog was always alerted to discover the enemy when put on “watch” by his handler. The manner of his alerting could take various forms, one might strain at the leash, another show general excitement, another by crouching. Whatever the method, the handler, during the training, learned to “read” his dog’s reactions and act accordingly.
Messenger dogs were trained by first having one of the handlers move away a few yards. The other handler then put the messenger collar on the dog and ordered him to “report.” The first handler then called the dog and praised him when the dog reported. By slow degrees, the distance between the distant handler and the dog was increased until the former was out of sight and sound. Finally, the messenger dog would travel several miles from one handler to the other. This way, communication could be established between patrols, outposts, and the command post.
Throughout their training, the dogs, both Scout and Messenger, and their handlers were regularly subjected to small arms and high explosive gunfire.
The dog handlers were selected for their intelligence, character, physical ability, and any previous training as scout snipers (without dogs). When such men were unavailable, they had to be trained as scout-snipers concurrently with dog handling. Since dogs, from the point of view of training, can only respond successfully over limited periods, it was possible to spend half the time of the men training dogs and half the time training the men as scout-snipers. Paradoxically, the dog on duty could outperform a human in alertness, lack of sleep, and general condition, but in actually learning his lessons, it was found necessary to give frequent breaks and not spend too many hours a day on the lessons. Previous experience as a dog handler was not a prerequisite, but men who had associated with animals and had that indefinable ability to read their minds and understand them were the most successful.
No known means of compelling a man to be an expert dog handler existed. Many of the best handlers came from farms that had handled hunting dogs and farm stock. Some men soon learned they were not war dog men and were immediately transferred to other duties. In the same way, the dogs demonstrating that they did not have the qualities of a war dog in the Marine Corps were returned to their former owners.
Before leaving the War Dog Training Company at Camp Lejeune, the men, and dogs were formed into platoons consisting of 1 officer, 65 men, and 36 dogs (18 scout and 18 messenger). One man was assigned to each of the 18 scout dogs as handler, and two men to each of the 18 messenger dogs as handlers. The unit was further divided into three squads composed of 6 scout dogs — 6 handlers, 6 messenger dogs — 12 handlers, and a noncommissioned officer in charge. In addition, there were six supernumeraries, two for each squad, which provided relief for the regular handler in case of illness or casualty, and a platoon sergeant.
Each Marine infantry regiment incorporated a war dog platoon. An officer serving on the regimental staff became the Commanding Officer’s advisor in using dogs and commanding the platoon. The tactical use of the dog platoon always depended upon the mission of the regiment and its subordinate units. The war dog platoon could be employed as a unit or subdivided as needed.
The first Marine Corps dog unit sent to the Pacific was the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon, arriving in the South Pacific on 11 July 1943. This unit went into the Bougainville operation while attached to the 2d Marine Raider Regiment. Marine Raiders were enthusiastic over the performance of the war dogs during Bougainville.
Marine War Dogs also served on Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa — and during occupation duty in mainland Japan following the surrender.
The Vietnam War introduced American troops to a new kind of warfare. Patrolling inside thick, triple-canopy jungles was dangerous by day and even more perilous by night. Enemy fighters used the jungle to their advantage, employing guerilla tactics (such as ambushes, mines, tunnels, and traps) in ways that U.S. troops hadn’t encountered before. A well-trained dog became an extension of his handler’s senses — seeing, hearing, and smelling otherwise undetectable danger.
The German Shepherd (Alsatian) was the most common service dog in the Vietnam War, used for scouting, sentry duty, mine/tunnel detection, and water patrols. Labrador retrievers were also widely used, primarily as trackers. Dogs were trained to alert their handlers to hidden dangers, from snipers to tripwires and weapons caches. Dogs could even detect enemy fighters submerged in rivers, breathing through hollow reeds, and waiting to attack American watercraft.
War analysts claim that these animals (and their handlers) are credited with saving as many as 10,000 U.S. lives and preventing certain injuries for countless more. They were so effective that they became special targets for the enemy, who began attacking kennels and offering bounties for the shoulder patch of a dog handler or the tattooed ear of a service dog. Many handlers wanted to bring their dogs home to America when the war ended. But in a decision by a Democrat-run Defense Department, these dogs were classified as equipment. At this time, dog handlers were not allowed to adopt their animals. Most animals were left behind, transferred to the South Vietnamese Army, systematically euthanized, or abandoned. America’s war dogs were the only combat troops that never went home.
One doesn’t have to be crazy to be a U.S. Marine — but it helps.
Third Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (also 3/5), was initially activated in 1917 to participate in World War I. Its initial complement included veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898), the Boxer Rebellion (1900 — 1901), and raw recruits who needed and deserved the firm hand of America’s finest noncommissioned officers.
Following the war to end all wars, 3/5 participated in the so-called Banana Wars and guarded the U.S. Mail. During World War II, 3/5 fought at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Peleliu, and Okinawa. As one of the regiment’s three battalions, 3/5 participated as part of the 1st Marine Brigade — the fire brigade in the Pusan Perimeter, the landing at Inchon, and the battles of Seoul and Chosin Reservoir. The Battalion’s nickname came from its field radio call sign, chosen by its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Taplett, U.S.M.C. (deceased): Darkhorse Six.
Between 1966 – 1971, Darkhorse fought with distinction in the Vietnam War, with battles at Chu Lai, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Que Son, An Hoa, and the Ross Combat Base. Nineteen years later, 3/5 deployed to the Middle East with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade supporting Operation Desert Shield, and thirteen years after that, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and battles in Fallujah.
The battle-tested Third Battalion, Fifth Marines is entitled to display 77 decorations. It is a high standard shared by nearly every U.S. Marine Corps infantry organization. Winning battles is what Marines do.
Early on 25 March 2003, Darkhorse moved north on Highway One toward Ad Diwaniyah. The Battalion was mounted on a motorized convoy. Intelligence reports indicated the presence of an Iraqi enemy, but no one was quite sure where or how many. The Marines were on edge — as they should be. Weapons were locked and loaded. Marines scanned the area from front to rear and flank to flank.
The Marines were looking for a fight because that is the mission assigned to infantry battalions. The Marines of 3/5 found their fight within a single instant as an overwhelming number of enemy mortars, rockets, and small arms fire descended upon them, transforming morning calm into morning chaos. Explosions and bullets were flying everywhere. Marine leaders began shouting commands because shouting was the only way anyone could hear them.
First Lieutenant Brian R. Chontosh commanded the Combined Anti-Armor Team (C.A.A.T.), Weapons Company, 3/5. The team’s mission was to provide protective fire to support the Battalion’s reinforcing tanks. When the enemy fire opened up, the tanks blocked the road ahead, potentially locking the C.A.A.T. into a dangerous kill zone. Chontosh occupied the first vehicle behind the tanks. He was accompanied by Lance Corporal Armand McCormick (driver), Lance Corporal Robert Kerman (rifleman), and Private First Class Thomas Franklin as the machine gunner. Franklin was a big man — which is how he became known to his friends as “Tank.” Private First Class Ken Korte served as Chontosh’s radioman.
From Franklin’s position in the vehicle’s turret, he could see hundreds of enemy troops. There were so many enemies that it was impossible for Franklin not to hit them with his fifty-caliber weapon, which chewed up the bodies of Franklin’s targets. The chatter of the machine gun was constant. Except for the loudness of the explosion, a rocket-propelled grenade landed harmlessly thirty feet in front of Chontosh’s vehicle.
Corporal Scott Smith drove Chontosh’s second vehicle. The platoon corpsman was Hospital Man Third Class Michael Johnson, known simply as “Doc.” Doc occupied the back seat, while Frank Quintero occupied the turret, manning a Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wireless-guided (TOW) missile launcher. An RPG ripped through the side of the second Humvee, but even though it failed to explode, the munition hit Quintero in the abdomen and smashed Doc in the head, throwing him outside the vehicle, killed instantly.
Chontosh’s vehicle was in the middle of the pandemonium. Smith’s radio call dominated the airwaves, “Johnson’s dead! Johnson’s dead!” With tanks ahead of him, vehicles to the rear, and sand berms left and right, Chontosh concluded that he had but one move — the stuff one sees in typical Hollywood films. He ordered McCormick to turn right and drive straight into the center of the enemy’s attack formation. By the time the vehicle reached the sand berm, the Humvee was going as fast as it could. Witnesses claimed that the move was utterly insane, and all the while, Tank kept firing his .50 as enemy dead fell left and right. McCormick later testified that had it not been for Franklin’s exceptional delivery of lethal fire, they’d all be dead.
Closing in on the enemy, McCormick noticed a dip in the berm — a passageway into the jaws of death where they could attack the Iraqis from their rear. “Take it,” Chontosh ordered, killing two Iraqis thinking they would impede the attack. McCormick shot through the opening and crashed the Humvee into a dry irrigation ditch — one that was full of Iraqi fighters. Lieutenant Chontosh leaped from the vehicle shouting, “Let’s go!” Chontosh was armed with his M-9 service pistol, so he grabbed McCormick’s M-16, jumped into the trench, and began killing Iraqis.
McCormick tossed up a resupply of ammo to Franklin, who was still firing; Korte assisted Tank in reloading the weapon, the muzzle of which was probably near to melting. With that task done, McCormick and Kerman joined their lieutenant in the trench. The sight of these Marines stunned the Iraqi fighters, and the sound of Franklin’s gun terrified them. Those who didn’t die took off running in the opposite direction. Chontosh, having emptied his service rifle and pistol of ammunition, grabbed a discarded enemy weapon and continued his assault. Rounds from an enemy weapon kicked up sand all around Franklin, but he kept firing from his exposed position.
At one point in the battle, Chontosh picked up two discarded AK-47s and accurately fired them at the enemy — one in each hand. When the ammunition had been expended, the lieutenant picked up a discarded RPG and fired it into the middle of a group of retreating enemies. When Chontosh’s audacious assault ended, he had cleared 200 yards of the enemy trench, killing more than twenty Iraqis and wounding another score of unlucky enemy soldiers.
When Lieutenant Chontosh and his Marines returned to the roadway, he noted two or more dozen enemy dead where the Battalion had fought them. More than one-hundred enemies died, with fifty more taken prisoner — all within fifteen minutes. Many of these men had run over the berm to escape Chontosh and his Marines, running into 3/5’s automatic weapons.
Later promoted to captain, Chontosh received the Navy Cross for his courageous actions on 25 March 2003. Lance corporals McCormick and Kerman received the Silver Star, and Franklin and Kore received Navy-Marine Corps Commendation medals. The ambush took the life of Doc Johnson, and Quintero survived his severe wounds. Had it not been for Chontosh’s incredibly audacious act, far more Marines would likely have been killed or injured. Captain Brian Chontosh subsequently earned two Bronze Star Medals (with a Combat V device). After his promotion to major, Chontosh retired from active duty in October 2013.
Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers. It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).
Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other. France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces. Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results. Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.
The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain). At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain also aligned with France (1761). Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.
Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare. These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later. In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent. Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.
Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful. As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.
Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power. Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.
What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare. Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders. Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great. At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.
What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.
Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions. It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution. For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”
Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament. His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature. But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare. The doctrine belongs to him alone.
There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.
Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.” Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement. He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment. His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation. The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations.
His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war. Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability. He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat. Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.
The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship. There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years. Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea. But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754. And opportunities that no one imagined. Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years. It had simply not reached its full potential.
We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques. This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey. It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history. Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years. Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks. At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece. They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.
At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul. He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine. To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast. He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque. Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.
In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar. The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy). There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.
With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul. In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult. None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however. Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.
Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion. He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer. A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.
The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships. Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline. The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations. The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective. But the Veneti ships were also slower. The Romans were engineers. They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships. The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water. The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae. After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword. From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore. However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners. See also: Mare Nostrum.
Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries. The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people. In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England). But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful. Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.
The Marines and their Corps
The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas. The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start. Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.
While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore. Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.
U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts. In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.
Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916). As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace. Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments. This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.
Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested. Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.
To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well. In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.
By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine. These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.
After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned. At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles. Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific. For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.
In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high. Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort. Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943). The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war. Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.
When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan. They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater. No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.
The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly. Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns. The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy. They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy. This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.
And one did
Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”
One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old. He was from the “old school” American military. He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument. But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action. And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war. If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along. This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.
Two significant facts about this decision stand out. First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten. They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago. Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten. Two. There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.
When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended. The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years. Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years. While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East. In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949. In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).
Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations. As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.
For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil. ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic. One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.
When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past. They could not have been more wrong about that. The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.” The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it. Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help. The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.
The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action. It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years. What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done. It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong. While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea. On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.
Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas. In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group. The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).
More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet. Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year. Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.
Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur. Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.
During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements. Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations. Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.
No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement. At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.
Anderson, F. The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books, 2006.
Baden, C. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Brill Publishing, 2010.
Blanning, T. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Yale University, 2016.
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War. Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
Fowler, W. H. Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America. Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare. Marine Corps University, 2020.
Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
Ricks, T. E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Press, 2012.
Savage, M. U.S. Marines in the Civil War. Warfare History Network, 2014.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918. Oxford Press, 1954.
Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922. Indiana University Press, 2009.
 “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.
 Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Random House, 2007.
 The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad). The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years. Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.
 After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim. For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled. That would be the Marines, of course. For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.
 For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage. This may be true. There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II. On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?
 In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation.
(b) The part of the mind that meditates between the conscious and unconscious, responsible for reality testing and personal identity.
A military aviator with an inadequate grasp of aeronautics, who doesn’t know the capabilities and limitations of his aircraft type, a combat pilot who hasn’t mastered air combat maneuvering, or an airman who runs out of luck, is likely only to kill himself. On the other hand, an inadequate field commander may very well die, but he is just as likely to kill hundreds or thousands of his men in the process.
No one doubts the stress experienced by a combat pilot, and no one should believe that it is an easy matter to command troops in the field, either. A good leader, whether in the air or on the ground, must know their profession — but more than that, they must know themselves. A pilot must never think of himself as better than his aircraft; a ground commander must never think of himself as better than his least experienced troops. We expect our pilots and ground commanders to demonstrate confidence, not overconfidence.
Bernard Law Montgomery
According to his account, Bernard Montgomery was a horrid child made that way by his equally despicable mother and a father who was gone from home for long periods. When Maud Montgomery died in 1949, her son Bernard refused to attend her funeral. Bernard had become a bully toward his peers, including those at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It was something he should have grown out of long before he reached college, and his violent behavior nearly resulted in his expulsion from Sandhurst. Nevertheless, he graduated in 1908, commissioned a second lieutenant with the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Later that year, Montgomery posted with his battalion in India.
Four years later, Montgomery served as battalion adjutant at Shorncliffe Army Camp, a training base in Kent, which served as a training/staging base during the First World War. Montgomery moved to France with his battalion in August 1914. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment became part of the 10th Brigade, 4th British Infantry Division. In mid-October, he was twice wounded at Méteren, Belgium, and cited for conspicuous and gallant leadership. In 1915, Montgomery served as Brigade Major (Temporary) with the 112th Brigade and later with the 104th Brigade. Between 1916-17, Montgomery served as a staff officer with the 33rd Division and the IX Corps, Plumer’s Second Army. After the war, the Army reverted Montgomery to captain but appointed him to brevet major and command of the 17th Service Battalion.
When the British Army passed Montgomery over for attending the Staff College, placing in jeopardy any hope he had for permanent promotion or command, he directly appealed to the Commander-in-Chief, asking to have his name added to the list.
After Montgomery graduated, the Army appointed him to serve as Brigade Major, 17th Infantry Brigade, located in County Cork, Ireland, during the Irish War of Independence. Montgomery did not believe the British could defeat the insurgency without resorting to harsh measures, but he also thought the better course of action would be to grant self-government to Ireland.
In May 1923, Montgomery was promoted to major and assigned to command an infantry company in his parent battalion. From 1926 to 1929, he served as Deputy Assistant Adjutant at Staff College (Camberley) while serving as a temporary lieutenant colonel.
After his wife died in 1937, Brigadier Montgomery immersed himself in his military duties. His unhappy childhood and the tragedy of his wife’s death likely contributed to his eccentricities and inferiority complex. These factors made him over-compensate for his self-perceived inadequacies and drove him to assume the role of an overbearing bully or tyrant. His intolerance of “lesser men” and constant suspicion that others were plotting against him produced a paranoid man who hardly anyone could tolerate, professionally or socially.
If there was one agreement among Montgomery’s associates, peers, and antagonists alike, it was that he was a difficult man to like. British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, a peer, could not understand why Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, didn’t fire Montgomery for his insufferable arrogance and insubordination. Instead, Eisenhower tolerated Montgomery even though he was so full of himself that it frequently crossed the line into psychotic behavior. The evidence for this was Montgomery’s repudiation of everything the Allied staff knew in 1944 about conducting successful military operations. His stubbornness resulted in the combat deaths of good men — about which Montgomery seemed to care little.
It is difficult to know which of these generals hated the other more, Patton or Montgomery. Their disputes, in the field and the press, have become the subject of many books and magazine articles. Scholars who admired either of these men offered continuous praise; critics saw the squabbles as mean and petty, more focused on their egos than the sacred duty of leading men in combat.
A Californian by birth, Patton had ties to the Old South; his grandfather was killed in 1864 while serving as a Confederate colonel. He attended the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and the US Military Academy (USMA). He was an Olympic athlete and an early advocate of mechanized warfare. Like Montgomery, Patton sought fame throughout his long career. He possessed a legendary temper and could not abide unmanly behavior, leading to two incidents of slapping low-ranking soldiers. The only difference between Patton and Montgomery was that Patton exhibited a superiority complex and was behaviorally less eccentric.
Toward Market Garden
In the weeks following D-Day, the speed of the Allied advance across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands produced two false impressions among Allied leaders. The first was that the Allied forces were winning against the Germans, and the second was that the German army was crumbling. In September 1944, neither of these was true. Moreover, rapid advancement produced three crises: the first was that the advancing armies were spread too thin, the second was that the advancing troops outpaced their logistics train, and the third was that the front-line troops were exhausted. All these conditions were dangerous in the extreme, not to mention foolhardy, as Allied forces approached Germany’s formidable Siegfried Defensive Line.
Relationships between Montgomery, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton, became strained. By early September 1944, a crack developed within the Allied command. Montgomery became convinced that he alone could win the war and achieve it before Christmas 1944.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the United Kingdom needed its alliance with the United States, so he supported General Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that maintaining a healthy partnership with the British would make them strong allies after the war.
Montgomery planned to bypass the German Siegfried Line by executing an allied envelopment into Germany through The Netherlands. Neither General Patton nor General Bradley could support Montgomery’s plan arguing that it was logistically unsupportable.
Undeterred, Field Marshal Montgomery devised a plan of action in two parts: Operation Market and Operation Garden. Operation Market would employ airborne forces behind enemy lines to seize German-held bridges. Operation Garden would push land and armor forces through The Netherlands, across the bridges, and into Germany. Together, the plan was called Market Garden.
Of the airborne units, Montgomery planned on 40,000 men parachuting into Germany. The units earmarked for this operation were the 101st U.S. Airborne (assigned to seize five bridges), the 82nd U.S. Airborne (responsible for one bridge), the British 1st Airborne, and the Polish 1st Independent Airborne Brigade (actually focused on two bridges). The two critical elements for the success of Montgomery’s plan were (a) seizing the bridges from the Germans and (b) holding them.
Americans back home had their favorite military heroes; some adored Eisenhower, who never held a combat command. Other Americans idolized Patton, the epitome of a combat officer and a bull in a fine China shop. Still, others supported Omar Bradley, the so-called “soldier’s general.” The British needed their heroes, as well. Political pressure pushed Eisenhower to appoint Montgomery as Commander 1st Allied Airborne Army. General Eisenhower was fully aware that Montgomery was working on a plan, but Eisenhower (later supported by his staff) claimed that he didn’t know any of the details of Market Garden.
As an Army commander, Montgomery did not believe he needed to obtain Eisenhower’s permission to proceed. In the aftermath of the Market-Garden disaster — even well after the war, Montgomery continued to claim that Eisenhower had approved his plan. Every success in combat has a proud father; every disaster in war is a red-headed stepchild.
Was Field Marshal Montgomery delusional? Evidence shows that Eisenhower “approved in principle” Montgomery’s three-pronged attack. Still, there is no evidence that Eisenhower gave his final approval or that Montgomery asked for one. Still, one would think that the appropriation of thousands of allied aircraft would have required Eisenhower’s approval.
Field Marshal Montgomery named Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Arthur Montague (“Boy”) Browning as Commander 1st Airborne Corps and Deputy Commander, First Allied Airborne Army, during Operation Market Garden. Browning was a Montgomery sycophant who knew as much about generalship as he did about airborne operations. Browning shared many of Montgomery’s less appreciated traits: he was argumentative, arrogant, and full of himself. American officers didn’t like Browning and, as important, didn’t trust him. The relationship between Browning and US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton was toxic.
When General Browning finally revealed his plan to the Royal Air Force staff on 10 September 1944, the RAF raised questions that were similar to those posed by General Brereton — questions about feasibility, logistics, and Northern European weather patterns. One early problem was that in that part of Europe in September, there was insufficient daylight to conduct two airborne airlift operations in 24 hours. Moreover, if Montgomery expected allied air cover for his assault force, then nighttime operations were out of the question. A second issue was that General Browning expected C-47 aircraft to pull two fully manned glider craft. Such an experiment was never tested. General Brereton quite correctly refused to allow it.
Additionally, the Northern European weather pattern in late September is inconducive to large-scale airborne operations — or the logistics footprint required to pull it off. In any case, the RAF and USAAC urged “Boy” Browning to reconsider his assault plan. Browning refused, and when he did, the allied air forces refused to drop airborne troops closer than eight miles from Arnhem. To do so, British and American air corps commanders argued, would subject the air forces to unacceptable risks.
During the operational planning phase of Market Garden, Dutch resistance leaders warned Montgomery that while the German army was withdrawing from coastal Europe, the Nazis were neither defeated nor dispirited. Moreover, the resistance argued, it was foolhardy to march so many men 64 miles up a corridor firmly in German hands.
Major General Roy Urquhart, commanding the British 1st Airborne Division, communicated his misgivings about Market Garden to Lieutenant General Browning. Urquhart, who until then had never controlled an airborne unit, was cautioned by Browning about the effects of defeatism on unit morale. After landing outside Arnhem, Urquhart discovered that after protecting Allied landing fields, he would have no more than a single brigade (a third of his force) to seize and hold the Arnhem Bridge. As events unfolded, only one allied unit reached the Arnhem Bridge: the British 44th Parachute Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Frost.
There were other operational disasters, as well. None of Urquhart’s high-frequency radios were working; he had no means of communicating with higher headquarters and could not receive intelligence reports from his subordinate units. Urquhart was operating in the dark.
Market Garden was no cakewalk for the Americans, either. Of the five bridges assigned to the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, the Germans destroyed two — which produced a bottleneck restricting the movement of Allied forces across the Rhine. When the American commander learned about the two destroyed bridges, General Matthew Ridgeway slowed his pace of advance. This decision allowed German forces more time to prepare their defensive works.
Brigadier General James M. Gavin, commanding the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, received orders from Browning to secure the Grosbeak Heights southeast of Nijmegen. It was an order Gavin could not obey because, given shortages of boats and ammunition, he could only provide a single battalion of the 504th Parachute Regiment to hold the Nijmegen Bridge.
This operational and logistical planning failure allowed the Germans to reinforce a vital bridge, which delayed strengthening or relieving the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. Gavin’s 504th Parachute Regiment heroically seized the bridge across the Waal River, but by that time, the Germans had already killed or captured the men holding the bridge at Arnhem.
Aftermath and Conclusion
We remember Operation Market Garden as a colossal failure. It was poorly conceived, inadequately planned, incompetently directed, and overly ambitious. Montgomery/Brown failed to consider the most basic yet vital factors of warfare. Montgomery underestimated the enemy’s strength, capability, disposition, and fighting spirit. Moreover, Market Garden was logistically unsupportable, the terrain was ill-suited for corps-size operations, and weather patterns were ill-disposed to airborne operations. Montgomery’s failure was more than negligent; it was malfeasant.
Beyond losing 17,000 men to this poorly planned and executed fiasco, Market Garden had other consequences. For instance, in seeking to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine, the Allied forces rushed offensive operations on three fronts in the south of the Netherlands. To secure shipping to the vital port of Antwerp, the Allies advanced northwards and westwards. The Canadian First Army seized the Scheldt Estuary. Separately, Operation Aintree was designed to seize and secure the banks of the Meuse as a natural boundary for the established salient. Aintree became a protracted battle, which eventually included Operation Overloon. Operation Pheasant expanded the Market Garden salient westward. The German counter-offensive intended to halt Allied use of the port of Antwerp, split the Allied lines, encircle four allied armies, and force a negotiated peace settlement. In the aftermath of Market Garden, the Allied rush to victory resulted in over 90,000 men killed, wounded, or captured and the loss of 733 tanks and 1,000 aircraft.
Another unhappy consequence of Market Garden was the Dutch famine of 1944-45. Dutch workers went on strike during the battle to aid the Allied assault. Germany forbade food transportation in retribution, and in the following winter, more than 20,000 Dutch citizens were starved to death.
A healthy ego is as essential to field commanders as for high-performance jet pilots. Montgomery did not have a healthy ego. Instead, the field marshal appears to have been a tormented man — one who may have suffered from Asperger’s Disorder for most of his life and a man who regularly relied on bluster and position to mask severe deficiencies as a field general. It is one thing to make a costly mistake — our senior combat commanders are, after all, human beings with strengths and weaknesses — and tragic mistakes do happen in wars. But it is quite another matter when a field commander risks the lives of thousands of men knowing that he’s exceeded his capability and then masks that failure by pretending there was no failure or trying to blame it on subordinate officers/commands. This, I believe, describes Bernard Montgomery. Browning was another matter altogether, but the men who served in the 1st Airborne Army in September 1944 deserved far better men to lead them.
Clark, L. Arnhem: Operation Market Garden, September 1944. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2002.
Hoyer, B. K. Operation Market Garden: The Battle for Arnhem. Defense Technical Information Center, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 2008
 In the British Army, a brigade major serves the same function as a Brigade Executive Officer in the American Army; supervision of the several staff sections of the Brigade: Administration, Operations/Training, Intelligence, logistics, and special staff sections. The brigade major usually held the rank of major (even if only a temporary advancement), intentionally ranked below officers commanding battalions. The Brigade Commander directed his battalions, and the Brigade Major directed the Brigade Commander’s staff.
 If anyone in Europe knew about airborne operations, it was Lewis Brereton, whose entire career involved air assault operations.
 Robert Elliott (Roy) Urquhart (1901-88) fought with distinction at Arnhem, but in this battle, his division lost 75% of his men and was subsequently withdrawn from further combat service during World War II. Major General Sir Richard Gale, Commander, 6th Airborne Division agreed with Urquhart’s assessment of the likely consequences of Market Garden, but Montgomery/Browning ignored him, as well.
 An SS training battalion was operating adjacent to the intended landing field.
 John Dutton Frost (1912-93) served with distinction with the parachute forces in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He commanded the 44th Parachute Battalion and was responsible for seizing the Arnhem Bridge and holding it against an entire German Panzer Division for four days.
 Supreme Allied Headquarters received numerous reports about German troop movements, including the identity of German units. Eisenhower was so concerned that he sent this information to Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith to raise the issue with Montgomery. Montgomery dismissed Eisenhower’s/Smith’s concerns and refused to alter his plan for landing airborne units at Arnhem. Even when briefed by his own staff intelligence officer, who showed him photographic evidence of armor units at Arnhem, Browning dismissed his evidence out of hand — and then ordered the intelligence officer placed on sick leave owing to his “nervous strain and exhaustion.”
The Gurkha (also Gorkhas) are soldiers native to the Indian sub-continent residing in Nepal and some areas of Northeast India. As a combatant, they are a tremendous force. They are small in stature, but the reader will not discover a body of men possessing more tenacity and esprit de corps or less regard for their safety. It is such that these small men appear as giants on the battlefield — or, if not that, their ferocity is enough to cause the blood of their enemies to run cold, drop their weapons, and run like hell. The Gurkha signal to attack has caused heart attacks in twenty-year-old men.
Most military historians rate Gurkhas among the finest combat soldiers in the world. They believe that the only way to defeat a Gurkha combat is by killing every man in his unit and then shooting them again just to make sure.
John Watts and George White were two very enterprising Englishmen who, sometime between 1598-1600, came up with the idea of forming a joint-stock company that would focus on trade with India. The company came into being on 31st December 1600 as the East India Company (EIC) — but over many years had several names. Eventually, people began calling it the John Company. In 1712, Dr. John Arbuthnot created a satirical character named John Bull, which became a national personification of the United Kingdom, generally, and England in particular.
But in 1600, no one imagined that EIC would acquire vast tracts of the Indian subcontinent. By 1740, the English competed with the French and Spanish for supremacy inside the Indian Ocean area. The competition was keen — there was no prize for second place. To gain (and retain) trade advantages, EIC relied heavily on the British Army to pacify the Indian population and the Royal Navy to protect trade routes and valuable cargoes.
Since it was economically impractical to permanently assign English regiments to India, EIC created its own army — one composed of native riflemen led by British officers and NCOs. EIC used this army to subdue uncooperative Indian states and principalities and to protect its economic interests. By 1800, the East India Company employed over 200,000 native soldiers, making it twice as large as the British Army.
In the early years, company management was both efficient and economical — but over time, incompetence, mismanagement, and other circumstances far beyond the company’s control (such as widespread famine in India) led the nearly bankrupt company to request financial aid from the British Parliament. After much debate, the government reasoned that such a commitment would benefit the nation’s long-term interests and approved EIC’s request — but not without having something to say about the company’s management. Parliamentary regulation and oversight of EIC began in 1773. In 1784, Parliament seized control of all Indian political policies through The India Act.
The John Company ceased to exist in 1858 when the Parliament forced it to cede all of its territories and holdings in India to the British Crown, which included massive parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and mid-Eastern Gulf colonies. Before incorporation, however, the EIC managed to recruit Nepalese to serve the company as part of its private army. They became known as Gurkhas. It was a relationship that began after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816).
The Gurkha War
The Malla Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of the Kathmandu Valley (1201 – 1779) and one of the most sophisticated urban civilizations in the Himalayan foothills and a key destination in the India-Tibet trade route.
In 1766, when the Gurkha King invaded Kathmandu (which at the time belonged to the Malla Confederacy), the Malla appealed to the EIC for help and armaments. The company responded by sending an ill-equipped, poorly trained force of 2,500 men under a very young Captain, George Kinloch. By any measure, the expedition was an unmitigated disaster. Out of his depth as a military commander, Captain Kinloch had the additional misfortune of a malaria pandemic in the ranks. The Gurkhas quickly overpowered Kinloch’s demoralized troops, and since dead men did not need British-manufactured firearms, the Gurkhas collected the weapons and put them to good use against their other enemies.
Gurkha aggression toward Tibet over long-standing trade eventually involved Imperial Chinese troops between 1789-1792. It was then that the Gurkha (by then calling themselves Nepalese), in recognizing a common interest in territorial expansion, appealed to the British Governor-General for his assistance against the Chinese. Governor-General Lord Warren Hastings had no desire to engage Imperial China, but he was never averse to exploiting regional commercial opportunities. Moreover, the company was at the center of a cash-flow problem — an issue that Hastings could resolve by selling rare wools to English markets. Tibet was the only place on earth where Kashmir existed, and the only way to obtain it was through the mountain passes in Nepal — and this was only possible through the strategy of “political safety,” or territorial control and military pacification.
The Anglo-Gurkha War (1812-1816) involved two separate British military campaigns with seven major engagements and an extraordinary expenditure of money. Despite Nepal’s initial interest in involving the British in their dispute with China, which was not forthcoming, certain elements of the Gurkha hierarchy distrusted the British (with good reason), particularly after the British gained control of a neighboring principality. This event prompted the Nepalese to annex buffer territories of their own, which they were fully prepared to defend. In preparing for war with the British, the Nepalese suffered no illusions about the stakes of such a confrontation. One tribal chieftain advised his Nepalese lord, “They will not rest without establishing their own power and will unite with the hill rajas, whom we have dispossessed. We have hitherto hunted deer; if we engage in this war, we must prepare to fight tigers.”
The Anglo-Gurkha war ended with the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. It required Nepal to relinquish all buffer territories west and east of its formal border and accept a permanent British representative in Kathmandu. Initially, the Nepalese objected to the treaty until General David Ochterlony offered the Nepalese a deal they could not refuse, which was that they could either agree to the treaty or Ochterlony would destroy them. It was thus that Nepal became a British-protected state.
Incorporating the Gurkhas
General Ochterlony and political agent William Fraser (1784-1835) were the first to recognize the potential of Gurkha soldiers in British service. During the war, Ochterlony employed Gurkha defectors as irregular forces. He and Fraser were impressed with these fighters and had no qualms about their devotion to the British cause. Fraser proposed that Ochterlony form the Gurkhas into a battalion under a British officer and key noncommissioned officers. This battalion later became the 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles. About 5,000 Nepalese men entered British service after 1815, most of whom were Himalayans from three ethnic groups: Kumaonis, Garhwalis, and Gorkhalis — all of which quickly assimilated into a unique Gurkha identity.
Over time, the Gurkhas became the backbone of the British Army, forming ten regiments of two battalions each. The British called them the Brigade of Gurkhas or, more simply, The Gurkha Rifles. Between 1857-1918, the British employed Gurkha units to address conflicts in Burma, Afghanistan, the Indian frontiers, Malta, Cyprus, Malaya, China, and Tibet — with the Gurkhas serving with great distinction in each of them.
Eventually, the British raised twenty Gurkha battalions and formed them into ten regiments. During the First World War, the number of Gurkha battalions increased to 33, totaling approximately 100,000 men. Of these, 20,000 were either killed or wounded. More than 2,000 Gurkhas received combat decorations for their exceptional courage and gallantry. So steady were these men that they were among the first to arrive during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign — and they were the last to withdraw.
The Gurkha fought in the Third Afghan War (1919) and numerous campaigns in the Northwest regions, notably in Waziristan. At the end of the world war, the British returned its Gurkha regiments to India, keeping them away from the internal strife of urban areas and placing them instead on the Indian frontier, where fiercely independent tribesmen were a constant source of unrest. The mission of the Gurkha along the frontier was more on the order of a constabulary: keeping the peace by confronting lawlessness among the Pathan tribes.
In 1939, there were ten Gurkha regiments (twenty pre-war battalions). After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the Nepalese government offered to increase the number of Gurkha battalions to 35. Eventually, that number rose to 43 battalions, adding two battalions to each regiment and a fifth battalion to the 1st, 2nd, and 9th Gurkha Rifles (also, 1 GR, 2 GR, and 9 GR). To accomplish this expansion, Gurkha training battalions increased to five. The Nepalese raised two additional battalions for peace-keeping duty in India. In total, a quarter-million Nepalese men served in 40 Gurkha battalions, 8 Nepalese Army battalions, as well as in parachute, training, garrison, and logistical units against German/Italian forces in Syria, North Africa, Italy, and Greece, and Japanese forces in Burma, northeast India, and Singapore. Of all Imperial combat forces, Gurkhas earned 2,734 medals for bravery at the cost of 32,000 casualties in all theaters.
The pattern of Gurkha military ranks followed those of the Indian Army. Three levels included privates, noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers. Commissioned officers within the Gurkha regiments held Viceroy’s commissions (while British officers held King’s or Queen’s commissions). Thus, any Gurkha holding a Viceroy’s commission (VCO) was subordinate to any British officer, regardless of rank. After Indian Independence in 1947, Gurkha officers reassigned to the British Army received King’s or Queen’s Gurkha Commissions (also known as KGO or QGO). The Crown abolished KGO/QGO in 2007. One notable difference between Gurkha officers and British officers is that no Gurkha can achieve a direct commission; Gurkha officers may only receive commissions through the enlisted ranks — they are all “mustangs.”
Today, Gurkhas serve in two separate armies: British and Indian. There is one Gurkha Regiment in the British Army and 12 battalions (6 regiments) in the Indian Army.
Ferocity in Combat
The Indian Rebellion of 1857
The problem of rebellion began as early as 1772 when Lord Hastings started to recruit for the British East India Company. Because many Bengalis opposed the BEIC in combat, Hastings avoided them during his recruitment efforts. He instead recruited higher castes, such as the Rajput and Bhumihar, from outlying regions. Ostensibly, the Madras and Bombay armies’ recruits were caste-neutral, but high-cast men were avoided below the surface. These caste-centered recruiting limitations continued through 1855.
The domination of higher castes in the Bengal army was one of the problems that led to the rebellion. For example, to avoid being polluted by the unclean lower caste, high-caste soldiers in the Bengal army dined separately — a situation that works against the concept of military teamwork. Hindu culture consumed the Bengal army, and higher-caste men were accorded privileges not extended to those of the lower-caste Bengali or the other company armies. For example, the company exempted Bengal soldiers from any service that took them beyond marching distance from their homes. The exemption excused Bengali soldiers from overseas service.
The final spark of discontent within the armies involved the ammunition used in the Enfield 1853 rifle/musket. The weapons fired mini-balls, and because the bore was smaller in diameter (tighter) than earlier muskets, pre-greased paper cartridges were needed to facilitate ramming the ball down the bore. In loading the weapon, sepoys (Indian soldiers serving in the British Army) had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. Rumors began circulating that the grease on these cartridges came from beef. Biting into beef grease would be offensive to devout Hindus, and if the lubricant came from pork lard, another rumor, biting into the cartridge would offend Muslims. Added to these rumors was the claim that British/Company officers intended to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. To quell the first rumor, Colonel Richard Birch ordered the manufacture of greaseless cartridges; the sepoys could grease the cartridges themselves using whatever substance they preferred. Colonel Birch’s common sense solution only caused many simple-minded soldiers to conclude that the rumors were true.
Unhappiness among civilians was more complicated. Three groups of rebels were feudal nobility, rural landlords, and peasants. The nobility was unhappy because they had lost titles and domains under company regulations that denied adopted children as legal heirs. Landlords had lost their lands to peasant farmers due to company land reforms. At the outset of the rebellion, landlords quickly re-occupied lost lands — without much complaint from the peasants, who oddly enough also joined the rebellion. There was also the issue of forced indebtedness. When peasant landowners could not pay their taxes, they borrowed money from loan sharks at high-interest rates. Peasants lost their land to these money lenders when they could not repay borrowed money.
In the spring and summer of 1857, Indian soldiers refused to obey the orders of company officers, and native officers declined to arrest or discipline them. Initially, it was more a matter of silent contempt than open mutiny. However, when all but five 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry soldiers refused to accept cartridges, their British commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, ordered courts-martial. Most of these men received sentences of ten years imprisonment with hard labor. Before marching the convicted men to jail, Smythe ordered them publicly stripped of their uniforms and shackled.
The opening of the rebellion occurred the next morning when rebels attacked and ransacked officers’ quarters. Several British officers were killed, along with four civilian men, eight women, and eight children. Crowds in the bazaar rebelled by attacking off-duty soldiers, beating to death fifty Indian civilians who served British officers, and attacked the post-jail, releasing the recently court-martialed soldiers. News of this uprising fostered other rebellions across India at Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow.
Not everyone opposed the British East India Company, and neither were the Gurkhas alone in suppressing the mutiny. Sikh princes supported the British, along with the princes of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, Kashmir, and Rajputana. But the mutiny was unexpected and spread rapidly. When the British began to deploy Gurkha forces, rebels panicked — as well as they should have.
The Gurkhas could not understand such disloyalty, and it angered them. The last thing any reasonable person wants is an angry Gurkha standing before him. The Gurkhas were unrelentingly ruthless toward the rebellious. In one instance, a single Gurkha soldier chased down a dozen or more Wahhabi extremists; when the Gurkha was done with them, the Muslims lay dismantled in the gutter.
But the Gurkhas did not escape the 18-month-long insurrection unscathed. They suffered terrible casualties. The difference was, and what set them apart, is that no Gurkha, no matter how badly wounded, would leave his post. Not even when offered safe conduct for medical attention would they leave the side of their battling comrades. All other “loyal” units paled in comparison to the Gurkhas. No one had the “jolly recklessness” of the Gurkha private.
The rebels of Lucknow paled when they learned that the Gurkhas would oppose them. The fighting lasted for several months, but even from the first day, the rebels knew they were dead men walking. Again — as always — the Gurkha was both relentless and unmerciful.
The Malayan Emergency
Gurkha battalions operated continuously throughout the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). During this time, the Gurkha soldier proved again, as he had done in Burma, that the Gurkhas are superb jungle fighters. The Gurkhas were among 40,000 regular British Commonwealth troops participating in the Malayan Emergency. 250,000 Malayan Home Guard troops augmented these men.
The Malayan Emergency was part of the post-World War II nationalist movements. These were conflicts initiated by communist insurgents against pre-war colonial powers. The initiating event in June 1948 was the murder of three Europeans during a communist assault on rubber plantations and the colonial government’s subsequent declaration of an emergency.
As in French Indochina, many of Malaya’s fighters were previously engaged as anti-Japanese nationalists, men trained and supplied by the British government during World War II. Most communist rebels were ethnic Malayan or Chinese poorly treated by British colonial administrators over several decades. The insurgents, when organized, began a series of assaults against British colonial police, military installations, tin mines, rubber plantations, and terrorist acts upon small, isolated villages. At such time as the British had had enough of the murder and mayhem created by communist rebels, they sent in commonwealth forces, including the Gurkhas, to end it.
Organized as the 48th Gurkha Brigade (later, the 17th Gurkha Division), the British sent fighters from all four (then) existing Gurkha regiments (2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th) and expanded (modernized) Gurkha fighting units by creating such combat support forces as engineers, signals, and transportation regiments.
The Gurkha’s arrival in Malaya was a seminal event because it marked the beginning of the end of the communist insurgency there. Unlike the US military in their later engagement in Vietnam, Gurkhas did not waste valuable time or effort trying to win the hearts and minds of the Malayan people. They weren’t there for that … they were there to locate communists and kill them. It was a mission-centered enterprise. If there were going to be a contest for the hearts and minds of civilians, it would have to be won by the government’s civil administration. Throughout their involvement in Malaya, the Gurkhas had few interactions with the civilian population. At no time were Gurkhas deployed to protect villages. They were after the “killer gangs” who behaved less as nationalist patriots than the armed thugs of jungle warlords.
For the Gurkhas, jungle time was slow time. Long-range patrols typically lasted two or three weeks (a few exceeded 100 days). Soldiers carried a pack weighing around 90 pounds; it was all he needed for the duration of the patrol. The Gurkhas dumped these heavy packs in a cache, mounting patrols in light order to sneak and peek. The basic patrol unit often consisted of three men but sometimes involved as many as twelve. The largest reconnaissance in force involved company-sized teams.
There was never any micro-management from a higher authority. Unit commanders simply told their patrol leaders to “get on with it,” which gave these seasoned fighters maximum leeway in deciding how to proceed. One of the favored Gurkha tactics was the ambuscade; some of these lasted from ten days to two weeks. Such operations demand an unparalleled degree of self-discipline because an ambush is only successful when there are no unnecessary movements to reveal the ambusher’s position. In truth, most ambushes yielded nothing at all. Gurkhas killed most insurgents through chance encounters while patrolling.
Gurkhas relentlessly pursued their enemy for as long as it took until they rounded up or killed the communists. Psychologically, such tenacity and commitment destroyed the communist’s self-confidence. He could run, but he could not hide from the Gurkha combat patrol. This was part of the strategy adopted by the British forces … keep the communists on the run. Some of these forays lasted for twenty or more days, the limiting factor being the amount of ammunition carried by each soldier (sixty rounds).
What the Gurkhas accomplished in twelve years was extraordinary within the context of the overall strategy. There was only limited use of artillery, and although the British employed light observation aircraft to support ground movements, there were no overwhelming air bombardment campaigns. What fighting the Gurkha did, they did with their standard issue firearm, kukri knives, and their fighting spirit. At the end of the day, Gurkha units didn’t need B-52s, artillery, or tanks. They were in Malaya for one essential purpose: locate the enemy and kill him — and the way to do that most effectively was to terrorize the terrorists. This is how the Gurkha won the Malayan Emergency.
Presently, the Gurkha contingent of the British Army includes the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the King’s Gurkha Signals (five squadrons), King’s Gurkha Engineers (two squadrons), the 10th King’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment, the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Gurkha Company, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, a company at the Infantry Battle School, and one company at the Land Warfare Center.
In 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was stationed in a trench with only two other men when over 200 Japanese soldiers opened fire. Gurung’s comrades were severely wounded in the opening fusillade. As hand grenades fell on the Gurkhas, Gurung tried to throw each one back one after another. He was successful with the first two, but the third exploded in his right hand. His fingers were blown off, and his face, body, and right arm and leg were severely wounded. As the Japanese stormed the trench, Gurung used his left hand to wield his rifle, defeating 31 enemies and preventing the Japanese from advancing. Gurung survived his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1949, the British selected former Gurkha soldiers for service in the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, which replaced the Sikh unit that existed before Japan’s occupation of Singapore. These police are well-trained and highly disciplined. They mainly perform as riot police and as an emergency reaction force. In Brunei, a Gurkha Reserve Unit serves as a special guard and elite shock force of around 500 men.
In 2008, Taliban insurgents ambushed a squad of Gurkhas, hitting Private Yubraj Rai. Captain Gajendera Angdembe and Riflemen Dhan Gurung and Manju Gurung carried Rai across 325 yards of open ground under heavy fire. The Gurkha leave no soldier behind – ever. In 2010, Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun single-handedly fought off thirty Taliban soldiers. It took him an hour, but all the enemy lay dead in the end. Pun received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
The highest and most prestigious decoration in the British honors system is the Victoria Cross. The qualification for this decoration is exceptionally valorous conduct “in the presence of the enemy,” with posthumous awards authorized when appropriate. At one time, all member states of the British Empire participated in the British honors system, but since the beginning of the British Commonwealth of Nations, many such countries have devised their own honors system. The Australians, for example, created The Victoria Cross for Australia —which looks similar to the British Victoria Cross.
So far, British authorities have awarded 1,358 Victoria Crosses to 1,355 men. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses awarded for valorous conduct on a single day was 24 for individual actions on 16 November 1857 at Lucknow and Narnoul. The most medals awarded in a single conflict was 658 during World War I. There are five living holders of the VC: one RAF (World War II), three British Army (Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War), and one Australian Army (Vietnam War). Of the total awarded, 26 went to men serving with Gurkha regiments, 13 of whom were native Nepalese enlisted men. Britain’s second highest award “for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, not in the presence of the enemy” is the George Cross. Gurkha enlisted men have earned two such medals.
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Parker, J. The Gurkhas: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Feared Soldiers. Headline Books, 2005.
Thompson, R. Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. London, Praeger Publishing, 1966.
 Warren Hastings (1732-1818) served as governor of Bengal, head of the Supreme Council of Bengal, and along with Robert Clive, was responsible for the foundation of the British Empire in India. Hastings achieved this by siding with one ethnic group against another and then conquering both — which eventually expanded British influence over the entire subcontinent.
 Major General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825) was a Massachusetts-born EIC officer who eventually served as Ambassador in Residence in Delhi, India.
 The number of combat decorations issued to Gurkhas is significant because traditionally, the British military is niggardly in awarding them.
 A VCO lieutenant colonel was subordinate to a KCO second lieutenant.
 The company recruited on behalf of three separate “presidential armies”: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal.
 A social stratification characterized by heredity, occupation, ritual status, and customary social interactions and exclusions based on such cultural notions as purity and pollution. Although not confined to India, most people think of India when they think of caste systems. Dating back 3,000 years, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories, and this is determined by what they were in their past life. These beliefs persist to the present day because they are deeply rooted in the Hindu religion.
 More recently, it was claimed that American PsyOps programs floated rumors among Muslims that American soldiers dipped their small-arms ammunition in pork fat before loading their magazines — thus guaranteeing that the shot Muslim would go to hell.
 Sikhism is a hybrid between Hindu and Islamic belief systems.
 Malayan communists based their strategy on the fanciful assumption that communist victory in China would in some way presage Mao Zedong’s liberation of the much-maligned Chinese ethnics in Southeast Asia. When the communists understood that a communist China gobbling up huge chunks of Southeast Asia was little more than madcap fantasy, the morale of Malayan killer gangs and jungle fighters collapsed. This stands in stark contrast to the Vietnam War, where the communists were ethnic Vietnamese whose singular purpose was the reunification of the nation under a communist flag.