Marine Raiders

American Marines have long resisted referring to themselves, or any unit in the Marine Corps, as “commandos.”  By definition, a commando is a military unit or individual specifically trained and organized to conduct raids into enemy territory.  The Marine Corps is an elite combat force with specific expertise in amphibious operations, including over-the-horizon vertical assault.  Raiding coastlines is what we do for a living.  Our purpose is to project naval power ashore, so senior Marine Corps officials did not see an advantage of re-designating some Marine Corps units as “commando” units.

When this subject first came up at the beginning of World War II, creating a specialized elite force within an elite force seemed to many senior Marine officers as counter-intuitive —yet, that is exactly what transpired.

Holcomb 001President Franklin D. Roosevelt (whose son James [1] was a Marine Corps officer) expressed interest in creating an American counterpart to the British Commandos [2].  In the president’s mind, the U. S. Marine Corps was the natural place for a commando organization.  Where the president got this idea was from proposals co-authored by then-Major Evans Carlson, USMC and Colonel William J. Donovan [3].  Then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General Thomas Holcomb (pictured right) disagreed with the Carlson-Donovan proposal.  He didn’t think that an elite combat force like the Marine Corps needed a specialized subset organization.

Nevertheless, the debate over the creation of these elite units came to a climax when the newly-appointed commander of the Pacific Fleet requested “commando units” for raids against lightly defended Japanese-held islands [4].

Overruled by President Roosevelt, Holcomb maintained his resistance to calling these organizations “commandos.”  In his view, “Marine” was sufficient to signify a well-trained soldier of the sea who ready for duty at sea and in the field at any time and at any place.

Holcomb re-designated the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (then commanded by LtCol Merritt A. Edson) as the 1st Separate Battalion.  Roosevelt wanted two battalions, however.  General Holcomb then created a 2nd Separate Battalion, which at the president’s direction, would be commanded by Evans Carlson [5].  In one amazing turn of events, Major James Roosevelt USMCR was appointed as Carlson’s executive officer.

General Holcomb finally agreed to call these two organizations “Raider” battalions.  LtCol Edson retained command of the 1stRaider Battalion, and LtCol Carlson assumed command of the 2nd Raider Battalion.

Marine raider battalions were provided with the best available equipment in 1942.  The Marines selected to serve in these battalions were hand-picked from among solicited volunteers.  However, organizationally, the two formed battalions were as dissimilar as night and day. Carlson organized his battalion around the Chinese communist model of egalitarianism.  He treated his officers and enlisted men with minimal regard for their rank as leaders and fighters.  He also employed ethical indoctrination sessions, describing to each man what he was fighting for, and why.  He incorporated the Chinese phrase “Gung Ho” [6] as a motivational slogan.  Rather than organizing his battalion according to approved Marine Corps table of organization, he formed six rifle companies of two platoons each, and each of these with three-man fireteams.

Edson 001Both raider battalions went into action at about the same time.  In early August 1942, Colonel Edson’s battalion (assigned to the 1stMarine Division) landed on Tulagi in the British Solomon’s; it was the opening phase of the campaign for Guadalcanal.  After the capture of Tulagi, 1stRaiders were moved to Guadalcanal to defend Henderson Field and, in fact, one of their most notable engagements occurred during the Battle of Edson’s Ridge [7].  Here, 1stRaider Battalion, attached elements of the 1stParachute Battalion, and 2ndBattalion, 5thMarines soundly defeated Imperial Japanese forces on the night of 13-14 September.  (Pictured right, Col. Edson)

Carlson 001In mid-August 1942, 2nd Raider Battalion embarked aboard two submarines (Nautilus and Argonaut) and conducted a raid on Makin Island [8].  During this raid, eighteen Marines and one Navy corpsman were killed in action (see notation, below[9]).  The night raid was disorganized and chaotic.  Marine dead were left behind on the island as the raiders withdrew back into the sea.  A Butaritari man managed to hide the bodies of these dead servicemen from the Japanese; he carefully buried them on this island.  The US Armed Forces did not recover their bodies until December 1999. See also: video posted earlier.  Carlson (Pictured right) also unintentionally left nine men alive on the island, all of whom were captured and beheaded by the Japanese.

Following the Battle of Savo Island in the Solomon’s, 1,400 Marines in various support units of the 2nd Marine Regiment —yet to land on Tulagi— were returned to Espiritu Santo on transport ships withdrawn from Guadalcanal by Admiral Richmond K. Turner.  Believing that regimental and larger sized Marine Corps units were not suitable for amphibious operations, Turner decided to form these Marines into a 2ndProvisional Raider Battalion —but did so without consulting with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who as might be expected, was not a happy man.  Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, Commander, Naval Forces South Pacific, rescinded Turner’s order.  Turner’s desire that all Marine battalions be re-formed as raider battalions caused Marine Corps headquarters to take a dim view of the entire raider concept.

Marine Raider 001Nevertheless, two additional raider battalions were created.  3rd Raider Battalion in Samoa, commanded by LtCol Harry B. Liversedge, and 4thRaider Battalion, commanded by the newly promoted LtCol James Roosevelt.  Both of these battalions distinguished themselves in heavy combat in the 1943 campaigns.  In March 1943, the four raider battalions were organized into the 1st Marine Raider Regiment; Colonel Liversedge was named Commanding Officer with Evans Carlson serving as his executive officer.  LtCol Alan Shapley [10] was appointed to command the 2nd Raider Battalion a week later and he promptly re-organized the unit into a standard (American Marine) battalion configuration.

Under Colonel Liversedge, the Raider Regiment enforced a common table of organization among the four battalions.  Each battalion consisted of four rifle companies of three rifle platoons each, and a weapons platoon, and each battalion had a weapons company to provide general support to the battalion.  These changes reflected both Edson’s and Carlson’s ideas about organizing fireteams and platoons and were later adopted by the Marine Corps: highly trained, lightly equipped, conventional forces.

During the New Georgia campaign, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was task-organized for a new mission with the 1st and 4th Raiders, and two battalions of the US 37th Infantry Division, commanded by Liversedge.

At the same time, the 2nd and 3rd Raider Battalions were temporarily attached to the 2nd Provisional Raider Regiment under Colonel Shapley for the invasion of Bougainville.  This would be the final combat assignment of the Marine Raiders before their disbandment.

In December 1943 command of the 1st Raider Regiment passed to Lieutenant Colonel Samuel D. Puller.  The regiment left New Caledonia on 21 January and landed at Guadalcanal three days later.  It was here that the 2nd Provisional Raider Regiment was disbanded and folded into the 1st Raider Regiment; Colonel Shapley was assigned as Commanding Officer with Puller serving as the executive officer.

Early in 1944, the Marine Corps fielded four combat divisions with two more in the process of formation.  Even with a half-million young Americans serving as Marines, there was insufficient manpower to operate  two new infantry divisions.  Large numbers of Marines were serving in defense battalions, parachute battalions, raider battalions, and amphibian tractor battalions.  With no further expansion of the Marine Corps being anticipated, the only way the Marine Corps could man these new divisions was to reorganize existing units.  The need for additional commando type organizations had not, by this time, materialized.  Technological development of amphibious tractors and improved fire support methods ended the need for specialized light assault units.

In effect, Marine Raiders performed the same missions as regular infantry battalions; the juxtaposition being that either the Raiders were wasting much needed infantry assault assets, or that, in lacking firepower, senior leadership were exposing the Marine Raiders to the possibility of unacceptably high casualties.

Also, at this time, there was considerable opposition to maintaining a commando force within the Marine Corps.  Simply stated, the Raiders weren’t cost effective.  The newly appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alexander Vandegrift (having commanded the 1stMarine Division on Guadalcanal) and General Gerald C. Thomas, the newly appointed Director of Plans and Policies at Headquarters Marine Corps, decided to disband the Marine Raiders.  This decision was supported by Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations.  The Raider battalions were ordered deactivated on 8 January 1944 with their manpower being re-directed to the forming new divisions.

On 1 February 1944, the 1stRaider Regiment was redesignated as 4thMarine Regiment and folded into the 6thMarine Division.  The 1st, 4th, and 3rd Raider Battalions were re-designated as the first, second, and third battalions of the 4th Marines.  The 2nd Raider Battalion was re-designated as Weapons company, 4th Marines.  Nevertheless, Marines who had previously served as raiders served with distinction in later engagements; Sergeant Michael Strank, for example, formerly a raider, was one of the six Marines that participated in the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

During World War II, more than 8,000 men served with Marine Raider battalions.  Of these, seven raiders were awarded medals of honor [11], and 136 were awarded the Navy Cross.

The United States military has fielded special forces organizations since colonial times.  After the onset of World War II, these units supported combat operations within a specified theater of operations and were organic to and in general support of the major commands they served.  Examples include, Marine raiders, the First Special Service Force (Devil’s Brigade), Colonel Wendall Fertig’s Philippine Scouts, US Army Rangers, US Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (now called Navy SEALS), US Army Airborne and Special Forces regiments.

At no time prior to the 1975 Mayaguez Incident, however, did US Armed Services cross-train for the conduct joint special forces operations.  Following the 1980 disaster of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue American diplomats during the Iran Hostage Crisis, the US Department of Defense began to re-evaluate its joint services special operations capabilities. In 1984, the Department of Defense established the Joint Special Operations Agency, but the agency exercised neither operational or command authority over any US special operations forces.  Readiness, capability, or joint-service policy and procedure remained insufficient to real-world contingency planning.

Creation of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was not an easy undertaking, or rapid.  Nevertheless, the Defense Appropriations Bill of 1987 was signed into law in October 1986.  It was the intent of Congress to force the executive administration (and its DoD) to face up to the realities of past failures and emerging threats.  Moreover, the law required inter-service cooperation and established a single commander of all special operations forces with control over its own resources.

In 2005, the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was established at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as a component command of the US Special Operations Command.  It is the Marine Corps’ contribution to the Special Operations mission of the Department of Defense.  MARSOC capability includes direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense missions, and counter-terrorism operations.  Initially, subordinate organizations were designated the 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions, with personnel drawn from the Marine Corps’ Force Reconnaissance community.

 Marine Raider 002In August 2014, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced that all Marine Corps units within MARSOC would henceforth be known as Marine Raiders.  Today, the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command consists of the Marine Raider Regiment.  Organic to the regiment is a headquarters company and three (3) Marine Raider Battalions (based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Camp Pendleton, California), the Marine Raider Support Group (at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) with a headquarters element and three Raider Support Battalions, and the Marine Special Operations School, (located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina).  The base unit of MARSOC is a fourteen-man Marine Corps Special Operations Team (MSOT).  These teams are commanded by a captain, who is assisted by a Team Chief in the rank of master sergeant.  Each team consists of two identical squads (referred to as tactical elements), each of which is led by a gunnery sergeant as Element Leader.

I suppose that it is at this point that Marine Raiders might parrot Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as the Terminator by saying, “We’re Back!”

Notes:

[1] Soon after FDR’s reelection in 1936, James Roosevelt was given a direct commission as a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Marine Corps.  This caused public controversy for its obvious political implications.  In October 1939, after World War II broke out in Europe, James resigned his lieutenant colonel’s commission and was instead offered a commission to captain in the Marine Corps Reserve.  He went on active duty in November 1940 and was transferred to the Marine Raiders in January 1942.

[2] In 1940, Winston Churchill called for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe.  Commandos were initially formed within the British Army from individual volunteers for the Special Service Brigade (SSB). Eventually, British Commandos would include members of all branches of the British armed forces.  During World War II, the SSB reached a wartime strength of 30 units in four assault brigades.  After World War II, most commando units were disbanded, leaving only 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines with a commando role.

[3] Donovan became the director of the Office of Strategic Services (fore-runner of the Central Intelligence Agency) during World War II.

[4] It is interesting to me that Admiral Nimitz’ request for “commando units” came after the Carlson-Donovan proposal was submitted to President Roosevelt.

[5] Evans Carlson had nothing if not a colorful military career, which began prior to World War I.  He saw service in both the U. S. Army and the Marine Corps.  Having achieved the rank of captain in the Army field artillery, he resigned in 1921 and enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps in 1922. Eleven years later, Captain Carlson served as executive officer of the Marine Detachment at President Roosevelt’s vacation retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia where he became closely associated with the president and his son James.  Over time, Carlson developed far-left political views —which made him a lover of everything Chinese.  Carlson in fact organized and modeled his 2ndRaider Battalion on that of communist Chinese armies he had observed while stationed in China.  A famed Marine officer by the name of David M. Shoup once said of Carlson, “He may be a red, but he isn’t yellow.”

[6] Meaning teamwork

[7] Two medals of honor were awarded from this battle; one to Colonel Edson and the other to Major Kenneth D. Baily, commanding Company C, 1stRaider Battalion.

[8] Now known as Butaritari Island

[9] Captain Gerald P. Holtom, USMC; Sergeant Clyde Thomason, USMC (Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor); Field Medic First Class Vernon L. Castle, USN; Corporal I. B. Earles, USMC; Corporal Daniel A. Gaston, USMC; Corporal Harris J. Johnson, USMC; Corporal Kenneth K. Kunkle, USMC; Corporal Edward Maciejewski, USMC; Corporal Robert B. Pearson, USMC; Corporal Mason O. Yarbrough, USMC; PFC William A. Gallagher, USMC; PFC Ashley W. Hicks, USMC; PFC Kenneth M. Montgomery, USMC; PFC Norman W. Mortensen, USMC; PFC Charles A. Selby, USMC; Private Carlyle O. Larson, USMC; Private Robert B. Maulding, USMC; Private Franklin M. Nodland, USMC; Private John E. Vandenberg, USMC

[10] Lieutenant General Alan Shapley (February 9, 1903 – May 13, 1973) survived the sinking of USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He served with distinction in the Pacific theater and in the Korean War.  He was awarded the Silver Star Medal for gallantry on 7 December 1941, the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in the Battle of Guam, and ended his career as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

[11] Major Kenneth D. Baily, USMC; Corporal Richard E. Bush, USMC; Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, USMC; Colonel Merritt A. Edson, USMC; Private First Class Henry Gurke, USMC; Sergeant Clyde A. Thomson, USMC; Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh, USMC; First Lieutenant Jack Lummus, USMC

 

Marines —Always Defiant

In 1839, 140 British soldiers bravely resisted the martial will of more than 5,000 Zulu warriors. 150-years later, twenty British Marines resisted an Argentine invasion and, in the process, gave the invading army a bloody nose.  It seems to me, looking back in time, that the Argentine military might have learned a valuable lesson from history … but, no.

The Falkland Islands (and its territorial dependencies the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands) had been a British territory for 141-years; this was challenged by Argentina in 1982 when that country reasserted its claims that the islands are Argentine territory. In the minds of the Argentines, their invasion was no more than a reclamation of its own territory.  From the British perspective, the Falklands had been a Crown colony since 1841 and the islanders who lived there were descended from the original British settlers.

There are excellent books about the Falklands War, but not many chronicle the events on the Falklands in the early days of the Argentine invasion.   Section leader George Thomsen, Royal Marines related his story of these events to author Malcolm Angel.  The book is titled Too Few, Too Far (Amberly, 2008) [1], which tells us the ordeal for 22 Royal Marines began when Argentine scrap dealers landed illegally at South Georgia and then had the audacity to raise the Argentine flag.  Thus it was that in mid-March 1982, Lieutenant Keith Mills, Royal Marines was ordered to take a detachment of Marines to sort the whole thing out.  George Thomsen was only days from returning home on normal rotation when his section of eight Marines was detailed to Mills’ detachment. Of course, neither Lieutenant Mills nor any of his Marines had any way of knowing that the sorting would lead to a full-blown war with Argentina.

RM South GeorgiaOnly moments after this photograph was taken on 3 April 1982, the first Argentine helicopter arrived. The Marines scurried for cover and then opened fire with rifles and automatic weapons, shooting down the Puma gunship as it attempted to land enemy troops.  “It was like a gift,” said George Thomsen.  “That’s what kicked off the battle and we were 16-nil from the start.”

With the peace now shattered, the Marines put another Argentine helicopter out of action.  Still, they realized that they could not hold back the tide of invading Argentine soldiers.  Thomsen said, “It was like Rorke’s Drift, only this time the enemy was well-armed.  The enemy began landing troops from several ships and we were out-numbered 50 or 100 to one.”

Recognizing that there was no hope of reinforcements, the Marines set about doing everything possible to prepare for a bloody confrontation.  They booby-trapped the shoreline and fashioned explosives packed with nuts, bolts, and harpoon heads and set them beneath the jetty.

In the heroic defense that followed, the Marines fought audaciously for hours to inflict heavy casualties; when the corvette ARA Guerrico steamed into the bay.  Thomsen recounted, “It was raking us with its 40mm anti-aircraft gun until we wiped out the gun crew.  We then used a bazooka, but three out of five rockets didn’t go off. If they had, we’d have sunk it. We whacked out its Exocet launchers, disabled the 4-inch gun on the bow, and we were putting sniper fire through the bridge so that they didn’t know where they were going.  But we did put it out of action; it was listing at 30 degrees.

Nevertheless, as with their comrades defending the Falklands 800 miles away, the Marines at South Georgia were eventually forced to surrender —but not before offering the Argentinians a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget.  In the final moments, Lieutenant Mills walked brazenly up to the lead elements of the Argentine force and warned them that his men would keep fighting unless the Argentines agreed to his terms, which included safe passage for his Marines off the island.  They agreed to these terms, but then were astonished to learn that the Marines they had been fighting only numbered twenty-two.

The Marines were returned to Great Britain where they joined the task force that liberated the Falklands. South Georgia was recaptured by task force Marines and SAS on 25 April 1982.

Notes:

[1]Available through Amazon dot com.

Teaming up: American and British Marines

Turner-Joy 001In August 1950, Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN (pictured right), the commander of the United Nations’ naval forces, suggested that a small-scale raiding force should be formed to operate against the Communist lines of communication. The original intention was that this group be composed of volunteers from the British Far Eastern Fleet, but it was subsequently decided to enlarge on the original conception and to send out a small Royal Marines’ Commando unit. The force would be placed under U. S. Navy command and would be equipped and maintained from United States sources. On 16 August, the commanding officer-designate reported to the Admiralty, and the formation of the unit began. Two weeks later, the first party embarked aboard aircraft and left for Japan (See footnote 1).

The unit originally was about 200 strong (subsequently increased to 300), with personnel drawn from two sources. Fifty percent came from the various Royal Marine establishments in the United Kingdom and were assembled at the Commando School at Bickleigh. The remainder came from a draft which was at that time on its way to the 3d Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines in Malaya. This party was diverted at Singapore and flown to Japan (See footnote 1).

The commanding officer 41 Commando was given three weeks in which to train his men and be ready for operations. However, 48 hours later the first party left! This was a small subunit composed almost entirely of volunteers from the fleet. It operated as part of a United States Army raiding company and carried out raids on the west coast of Korea. Subsequently, it landed at Inchon and fought with the Army for three weeks before rejoining the main unit in early October.  These raids were not a great success[1].

Following the successful amphibious assault of the US X Corps at Inchon, South Korea in September 1950, President Harry S. Truman directed General Douglas A. MacArthur, Commanding UN forces, to pursue the remnants of the largely-defeated communist Korean People’s Army into North Korea, whence they came.  The Chinese warned MacArthur not to approach China’s border with North Korea, which was the Yalu River.

Discounting the Chinese warning as bluster, General MacArthur ordered the US Eighth Army across the 38th parallel to advance northward on the western side of the peninsula toward Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Unknown to MacArthur, the Chinese had feared a UN invasion of North Korea since the Inch’on landing in September 1950.   It was then that the Chinese began preparations to enter the war by sending supplies and support troops into North Korea.  Ultimately, China would stage 21 combat divisions in Manchuria (later increased to 33 divisions) to move against UN forces.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong ordered his armies into North Korea on 19 October 1950, under the command of General Peng Dehuai.  Peng promptly moved against the Eighth Army, whose lead elements had advanced beyond Pyongyang and were advancing along two separate routes toward the Yalu River.

The Chinese First Offensive (October 25—November 6) stunned the Eighth Army; one American infantry division and four South Korean infantry divisions were mauled in the battle of Onjŏng-Unsan.

Meanwhile, to the east, two divisions of X Corps landed along the North Korean coast on 26 October.  The South Korean I Corps was moving northward up the coast road toward the Sino-Soviet border.  Widely separated, these units made them a tempting target for overwhelming Chinese forces.  US Marines and South Korean forces fought their first engagement against the Chinese at Sudong, inland from the port city of Hungnam.  At Sudong, a Marine regiment defeated an attacking Chinese division, killing more than 600 communist soldiers … an engagement that provided clear evidence the Chinese were in North Korea, and in large numbers.

The X Corps[2]first objective, the village of Hagaru-ri, rested near the southern tip of the Chosin reservoir, a narrow mountain lake that provided hydroelectric power tothe mining industries of northern Korea.  The area of the reservoir was a cold barren battleground where deep foxholes could be dug into the frozen earth only with the help of explosives and bulldozers.

With its supplies moving by truck, the 1stMarine Division established battalion-sized bases at Chinhŭng-ni and Kot’o-ri, villages along the Main Supply Route (MSR).  The division began its final march to the reservoir on November 13, with the 5thMarine Regiment and 7thMarine Regiment in column and moving cautiously.  Each regiment was reinforced by an artillery battalion, a tank company, combat engineers, and headquarters and service units.  On 15 November, lead elements of the 7thMarines reached Hagaru-ri.  From there the regiment prepared for its next advance, west of the reservoir to Yudam-ni, 14 miles away; the 5thMarines cautiously advanced up the reservoir’s right bank.

Commanding the 1stMarine Division, Major General Oliver. P. Smith was unhappy with this risky deployment[3]and was able to persuade Major General Almond to allow the Marines to concentrate at Hagaru-ri and replace the eastern force with a unit from the 7th Infantry Division.

Almond then ordered Major General David G. Barr, U. S. Army, commanding the 7thInfantry Division, to form a regimental combat team of two infantry battalions, an artillery battalion and other troops. This team was formed out of the 31stInfantry Regiment, officially designated RCT-31.  It was commanded by Colonel Allan D. MacLean and is often referred to by historians as Task Force MacLean.  The task force numbered 3,200 US Army and South Korean troops. RCT-31 replaced the Marines east of the reservoir on November 25.

General Smith used this operational pause to strengthen the defenses of Hagaru-ri and build a rough airfield for emergency resupply and medical evacuations.  A battalion of Marines manned the most vulnerable part of the perimeter, but much of the position had to be manned by non-infantry units and personnel[4]. The Marine Corps’ investment in making “every Marine a rifleman” would soon pay dividends.

Meanwhile, as the Marines advanced, General Peng ordered the uncommitted Ninth Army Group to leave Manchuria and destroy the 1stMarine Division.  Commanded by General Song Shilun, the Ninth Army consisted of twelve infantry divisions in three armies.  In total, the Ninth Army consisted of 150,000 infantry troops.  While armed with machineguns and mortars, the Chinese did not have much artillery.  Still, the Chinese believed that their superiority in numbers, their stealth, night time attacks, ambushes, and surprise would enable them to defeat UN Forces near Chosin Reservoir.

The Ninth Army Group moved into positions on either side of the reservoir with five divisions; it moved three more divisions to cut the road south of Hagaru-ri and attack Kot’o-ri.  General Smith, benefiting from aggressive intelligence operations, knew the Chinese had massed around his division; General Almond did not share Smith’s concerns.

In the last week of November 1950, the Ninth Army Group launched simultaneous division-level attacks on the 1stMarine Division at Yudam-ni, Hagaru-ri, and Kot’o-ri … and on Task Force MacLean, east of the reservoir.  The 5thMarines and 7thMarines, having met major Chinese forces in a daylight attack on 27 November, quickly prepared a perimeter defense for night action.  The divisional enclaves at Hagaru-ri and Kot’o-ri were better prepared, but there was far more terrain to defend than there were Marines available to defend it.  Halfway between Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri, one Marine rifle company defended Tŏktong Pass, where the Chinese 59th Division had positioned a major roadblock. RCT-31, meanwhile, was strung out along the east shoreline road in seven different locations.

In three days of intense night battles and daylight probes starting on the night of November 27–28, all of the major Marine positions held; RCT-31 did not[5].  By the time the surviving soldiers managed to struggle on foot and in small, disorganized groups around the frozen reservoir or directly across the ice to Hagaru-ri, they numbered only 670; half of them were fit for duty.  Colonel MacLean was not one of the survivors.

The Marine regiments, on the other hand, though suffering losses of one-third to one-half in their rifle company strength, managed to halt or curb Chinese attacks, which were aimed at penetrating the perimeters and overrunning artillery positions, the airfield, and command posts.  Around the clock artillery fire and air strikes by Navy and Marine Corps close air support aircraft during the day severely punished the Chinese.

There was one serious misstep, however: General Smith and the 1stMarine Regiment commander (Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller) decided to send a convoy of tanks and resupply trucks from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri on 29 November without realizing that the entire area was then swarming with General Peng’s Ninth Army Group.

What happened was this: during the night of 27 November 1950, the entire UN line, extending some 35-miles west and south of the Chosin Reservoir, came under attack.  By morning, the 1stMarine Division and RCT-31 were under siege in six separate enclaves.  Two regiments of Marines (and artillery) (or what was left of them) held Yudam-ni. Fourteen miles south at Hagaru-ri, the 1stMarine Division command post, two artillery batteries, the equivalent of a battalion of infantry and headquarters troops were holding out against superior numbers of Chinese.  At Koto-ri, 11-miles further south along the X Corps MSR, a Marine headquarters, rifle battalion, and artillery battery continued to resist.

Both X Corps and 1stMarine Division operational planners could see that securing the one-lane MSR connection to all embattled forces would be the key in preventing a collapse (and the destruction) of UN forces.  The pressure being applied to forward units was unremitting.  Accordingly, all available combat units operating south of Chinhung-ni were ordered to Koto-ri.

By that same afternoon, Koto-ri had become a vast vehicle park of cargo vehicles moving up from the rear —but they were accompanied by a mixed bag of units. Among them, Company G, 1stMarine Regiment, Company B, RCT-31, and 41 Commando, Royal Marines. Involved in the mix were scores of trucks brimming with Army headquarters and service troops, their equipment and baggage —and no one was quite sure how many men there were within the Koto-ri perimeter.  Colonel Puller ordered his headquarters to organize these transients into a convoy that would be able to break through to Hagaru-ri on the following morning.

Drysdale DB 003The task force was placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale, Commanding Officer, 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines (pictured right). Colonel Drysdale was informed of this appointment, but not many of his newly assigned subordinates knew about it.  In fact, Captain Charles Peckham, commanding Company G, RCT-31 later stated that Colonel Puller had personally ordered him to lead the convoy all the way to Hagaru-ri[6].

Included in what became known as Task Force Drysdale were 250 Marines of 41 Independent Commando, USMC Headquarters and Service troops, a Marine Corps infantry company, a US Army infantry company, a company of tanks, and numerous medium-to-light cargo vehicles loaded with supplies.  The task force was ambushed by regimental sized Chinese communists enroute to their objective.  One-third of the force (tanks and infantry) fought through to Hagaru-ri; another third fought its way back to Kot’o-ri. The remainder (162 officers and men) died or became captives.

Nevertheless, on the morning of 29 November, units attached to Task Force Drysdale followed up UN artillery and airstrikes by attacking two Chinese-held areas on the MSR —which opened the way for the attached convoy of vehicles. Captain Bruce Clark, commanding Company D, 1stTank Battalion, later discovered the convoy stalled along the MSR.  After refueling his tanks, Clark ordered First Lieutenant Paul Sanders’ five-tank platoon to support 41 Commando and Company G assaults on the ridgeline overlooking the MSR.  Sanders conferred with Drysdale, who assigned him a common radio frequency.

With airstrikes and tanks in direct support, 41 Commando and Company G delivered up a spirited attack and several Chinese blocking points were destroyed … but this is the point where the action began to fall apart.  Lieutenant Sanders lost radio contact with Drysdale and had to suspend his firing.  Exiting his tank, Sanders saw that the convoy had fallen far behind his position, nor could he spot Peckham’s Company B, which had advanced out of visual range. Sanders, still in contact with Captain Clark, requested instructions.  Clark advised him to proceed slowly along the MSR; another tank platoon would follow in his wake.

41 Commando KoreaAs soon as the Chinese blockade on the ridge overlooking the MSR just north of Koto-ri had been cleared, 41 Commando deployed between the roadway and the ridgeline to protect the long column of vehicles.  It was a cold, miserable day, with snow flurries whipping into the faces of soldiers and Marines.  Marine Corsairs were on station overhead, but the shifting mist and jumbled terrain forced these aircraft to pull up before they could get close enough to their targets.  Progress along the MSR was agonizingly slow.  (Shown left, elements of 41 Independent Commando, 1950).

In the vanguard, Captain Peckham maneuvered his company with great care.  Behind Peckham, Captain Carl Sitter’s Company G maneuvered against numerous Chinese infantrymen who had been driven briefly to ground by Peckham’s infantry.  As Peckham’s vanguard inched forward in the column lead, and given his present circumstances, Drysdale’s natural aggressiveness may have overtaken his judgment.  In Drysdale’s opinion, Peckham was moving too slowly, too methodically along the MSR.

It was well past noon, and as Peckham was focused on re-loading the lead platoon’s trucks, a tank surged past him.  The next vehicle in line was a jeep bearing Drysdale, who yelled above the din, ‘Let’s move forward!’  Peckham demurred; he had wounded men on his hands and refused to advance until they had been sent safely away.  Drysdale responded with a smiling ‘Tally Ho!’ and took off, drawing along with him 41 Commando, all the tanks, and Captain Sitter’s Company of Marines in his wake.

It wasn’t long, however, before the extensive column was slowed by a massive traffic jam where the soft-top vehicles became targets of opportunity for Chinese mortars on the heights.  As a result of this, the convoy was soon fragmented by stalled vehicles and the smoking remains of burning trucks and jeeps.  In the Chinese assault, large numbers of men were killed or wounded.

Peckham’s company, unable to move back into the column, became fragmented —stopped in trace by a burning ammunition truck that blocked the roadway.  American and British marines under Major John McLaughlin, the Marine X Corps liaison officer, were helping to clear the roadway of wounded men and stalled vehicles.  Unable to proceed, Peckham deployed his troops in roadside ditches to return the Chinese fire from the heights.

The eventual destruction of every radio in the column assured the loss of command and control, and this resulted in crumbling discipline. Unable to advance, numerous drivers simply turned their vehicles around in the vain hope of returning to Koto-ri. For a time, ambulances filled to capacity with wounded soldiers and Marines were getting through, but eventually, they were halted in their progress as the roadway was blocked with inoperable vehicles.

Colonel Drysdale’s combat elements, which included most of 41 Commando, Company D tanks, and Marine infantry from Company G, were briefly blocked at Pusong-ni, on a narrow defile about five miles north of Koto-ri.  The choke point was eventually forced open, but the column’s progress was immediately halted again by a demolished bridge.

Lieutenant Sanders, whose tank platoon was Drysdale’s vanguard, was then ordered to move aside and allow the rear tank platoon to bypass the blown bridge.  While the maneuver was accomplished (with difficulty), truck drivers became convinced that although tanks might get through, soft vehicles stood little chance.  Drysdale sent his adjutant forward to evaluate the situation confronting forward elements; that officer was wounded.  At the same time, massive gunfire from the surrounding heights incapacitated the Company G machine gun officer and wounded Colonel Drysdale.  Command of the vanguard group passed to Captain Sitter, who ordered everyone to deploy and return fire.

British and American Marines jumped to the road to join the fight.  Someone shouted “grenade,” which sent many troops ducking for cover.  Private First Class William Baugh threw himself on top of the grenade, smothering it with his body, thereby saving the lives of the men around him[7].

As darkness descended over the MSR, Company D Tanks was feeling its way along the fire-swept roadway toward the Marine roadblocks guarding besieged Hagaru-ri.  One of the tanks was knocked out by an anti-tank grenade and had to be shoved into a ditch to clear the roadway.  Lieutenant Sanders passed the friendly roadblock almost before he realized he was safe.  He had just passed the roadblock when his tank’s engine died —he had run out of fuel.

Company G passed through the roadblock at about 2015 —after more than ten hours on the move through “Indian country.”  Company G was immediately placed along the Hagaru-ri defensive perimeter.  Unhappily, the surge of Company G and Company D tank’s left the bulk of 41 Commando far behind.  Without missing a beat, Chinese communists quickly surrounded the 200-plus Royal Marines and proceeded to reduce their numbers with lethal fire.

Rewinding for just a moment, the last cohesive unit to enter Koto-ri from the south was Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, which arrived at 1500. The bulk of the company, including soft vehicles, then advanced three miles up the MSR through moderate fire to find the tail of the convoy.

As Company B tanks drew close to the main convoy, far after the hour of darkness, they found the MSR blocked by destroyed vehicles.  There was no way for the tanks to bypass the carnage; at that moment, heavy mortar fire began falling perilously close to the tank company’s fuel and ammunition trucks.

Further advance would only accomplish the destruction of these tanks; the company was forced to defend itself through the night against massed Chinese infantry assaults.  Several tankers were killed or injured, and several soft vehicles were lost, but the company was destined to survive.

Of about 1,200 U.S. Army soldiers, Marines, and Royal Marines —plus a few South Koreans, who had started out from Koto-ri on the morning of November 29, only about 250 had arrived at Hagaru-ri by midnight. The rest were scattered along several miles of the road in at least six separate groups, isolated by Chinese strongpoints and impassible snarls of wrecked and burning vehicles of every description.

The northernmost MSR enclave was manned by about 200 Royal Marines under Drysdale, who in spite of his painful wounds, directed a spirited defense, which denied the Chinese their intention to further fragment his bloodied unit.  Royal Marine Casualties were heavy, particularly among the officers, but they nevertheless inched steadily along toward Hagaru-ri.  The bulk of these Marines, including many wounded, passed through the outer U.S. Marine roadblock after midnight.  After taking muster, the Royal Marines found that fully one-half of their original complement of 250 had been killed, wounded, or were missing.

Remaining on the MSR were some 500 Americans, British and South Koreans who were trapped within the five major enclaves extending several hundred yards through the defile south of Pusong-ni—or, about halfway between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri.  The northernmost group was under the command of the 1st Marine Division’s logistics officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Chidester.  When he was shot through both legs, he passed command to Major John McLaughlin.  McLaughlin found that he had about 135 men under his command, including Captain Peckham and what remained of Company B, RCT-31.  McLaughlin also counted a U.S. Marine military police section under Warrant Officer Lloyd Dirst, a score of Royal Marines, assorted headquarters personnel, and an ever-growing contingent of wounded.

Two-hundred yards south of McLaughlin’s position were two understrength platoons of Company B, RCT-31 and several Marine stragglers, who had taken cover in a roadside ditch.  Thirty yards further south were about 95 Marine staff officers, clerks and technicians under Captain Michael Capraro, a Marine public information officer.

A short distance south of Capraro’s force was another group of 45 Marines under the 1st Marine Division motor transport officer, Major Henry ‘Pop’ Seeley.  A fifth group of men served under the 1stMarine Division Personnel officer, Colonel Harvey Walseth.  Walseth had turned his group around after dark and slowly fought his way toward Koto-ri.  When Walseth found that his vehicles were completely blocked by Company B Tanks, he and his troops dismounted and walked the rest of the way to Koto-ri.

Captain Peckham commanded the only viable infantry increment in the northernmost enclave, but he was not particularly enthused by the quality of the troops: many of these men were panic-stricken South Korean conscripts who used up the bulk of their ammunition firing at phantoms.

Warrant Officer Dirst, the MP section leader, sought to steady his men by striding up and down the road, pipe in hand, barking out curt commands.  He managed to leave steady, organized soldiers and Marines in his wake.  When he heard troops firing too much precious ammunition, he gently admonished the offenders, telling them that they had only to fight through to daybreak to draw the awesome support of Marine war planes and hopefully, ground reinforcements.  In the end, however, Dirst was mortally wounded.  Another steady hand was Major McLaughlin, who left no doubt about who was in command and how the defense was to be conducted.  As ammunition supplies dwindled, McLaughlin personally collected rounds from the dead and wounded and distributed them to the men who seemed most composed.  Sometime after midnight, the remnants of the two platoons from Company B, RCT-31 managed to work their way into McLaughlin’s perimeter.  It was a welcome reinforcement.

Voices speaking from the dark in broken English called upon Captain Capraro to surrender his men in return for good treatment[8].  After trading insults, the Chinese informed Capraro that his small, beleaguered force were facing three regiments of Chinese infantry.  Continued resistance was pointless, they told him.  Capraro refused and prepared his men to meet renewed assaults.

Captain Peckham, in Major McLaughlin’s enclave, was reduced to handing out rifle ammunition in increments of two or three at a time.  The South Koreans, meanwhile, drifted away into the hills.  Peckham soon counted less than a dozen effective men in his command.

Having persuaded captive Sergeant Guillermo Tovar to act as an intermediary to carry a surrender offer to the Americans, Chinese fire abated as a delegation approached Major McLaughlin’s position.  Once again, if the major surrendered his forces, American wounded would be well-treated.  McLaughlin asked for time to discuss the proposal with his officers; the Chinese agreed. McLaughlin instructed Tovar to seek out Major Seeley and tell him to delay any surrender for as long as possible. It would soon be light; the beleaguered Americans could get help from close air support aircraft.

While Major McLaughlin was meeting with the Chinese delegation along the railway embankment, another Chinese officer approached Captain Peckham.  Peckham was promised good treatment if he surrendered his forces.  Captain Peckham gave the man a package of cigarettes and asked that he take them to his superior.  If the Chinese agreed to give up, Peckham told him, he would see that the Chinese were fed and well-treated.

Major McLaughlin discovered Colonel Chidester, wounded, and lying in a ditch.  McLaughlin told him about the Chinese proposal; Chidester reluctantly urged McLaughlin to accept the terms.  A Chinese officer, meanwhile, returned to Peckham and told him that unless the Americans relinquish their weapons within fifteen minutes, a full regiment would launch their assault.  Peckham asked for additional time to get the word out to his troops.  He then set about destroying their weapons.  McLaughlin approached the Chinese officer and informed him, “If we surrender, it won’t be because you beat us; we will only surrender to get our wounded cared for.  If we cannot get our wounded evacuated, then we will fight on.”

Major Seeley, in the meantime, had assumed from the start that a relief expedition would be mounted from Hagaru-ri or Koto-ri at first light.  For now, he thought the Chinese were being held back; the greatest threat seemed to come from the dank, subzero chill.  Troop leaders constantly checked their subordinates and one another for signs of frostbite and reminded all hands to keep their limbs in constant motion.  Ammunition supply was another constant worry; Seeley commanded mostly headquarters personnel who were issued limited amounts of ammunition.

When Seeley heard Tovar yelling his name in the dark, he ordered his troops to cease firing.  Tovar approached and asked Seeley to accompany him into a field on the east side of the road.  There he told the major what was going on and about McLaughlin’s desire to stall for as long as possible.

Farther on, the two Americans were met by two Chinese who spoke no English but nevertheless made it clear that Major Seeley was to have his troops put down their weapons and advance with their hands up.  As the exchange was winding down, Major Eagen, who the Chinese had carried down from the heights, spoke out of the darkness and asked Seeley to come talk.  Eagen, severely wounded in both legs, told Seeley everything he knew about McLaughlin’s situation and the Chinese offer; he had seen the Chinese setting up heavy mortars on the roadway, so he urged Seeley to surrender.  This was Seeley’s first inkling as to the size of the Chinese force, but he still wanted to wait until dawn, which might bring relief.

Eagen was in the middle of pleading his case for the many wounded when a Chinese officer interrupted the exchange.  It was clear from their hand signs that they wanted a decision.  Seeley asked Eagen to stall them, then walked back to his enclave by the river.  He told Sergeant Tovar to ask McLaughlin to stall while he and his troops dug in more securely.  Major Seeley had made his decision: he was not going to give in.  By then, however, the Chinese had begun disarming McLaughlin’s people —only a few of whom were capable of putting up further resistance.

Major Seeley was next approached by Warrant Officer Dee Yancey, who reported that he had reconnoitered the adjacent Changjin River and found that it was solid ice.  There seemed to be no Chinese fire coming from the far shore, so Yancey suggested that the group break out.  Major Seeley readily agreed.  The entire group, including the wounded, started west across the river toward a ridge that might provide good cover.  Capraro’s force joined Seeley’s west of the river where two seriously wounded Marines were discovered, who had been lost on patrol three days earlier. Seeley’s group struggled up to the ridge, clambered over the top and turned south toward Koto-ri at an agonizingly slow pace.

Major Seeley’s enclave was out of sight of the Chinese on the MSR before sunrise but did hear the voices of Chinese that seemed to be approaching from the rear.  Warrant Officer Yancey, who had suffered painful shrapnel wounds in both legs and back, dropped behind as the first Chinese came over the ridge. A former Marine Corps rifle team shooter, Yancey quickly dropped two Chinese point men while the remainder of the American group scrambled down the slope. The Chinese patrol went to ground, and Yancey followed his countrymen, all of whom reached Koto-ri.

41 Commando Korea 002Of the approximately twelve-hundred men assigned to Task Force Drysdale, 162 remain listed as killed or missing in action.  Another 159 men were wounded and repatriated.  More than 300 American and British troops were marched off to prison camps.  Of those, 18 Marines escaped the following spring.  About two dozen Britons and several dozen American soldiers and Marines went to ground in the hills, cut off from friendly forces.  Most of these survived.  Seventy-five percent of all vehicles allocated to Task Force Drysdale were destroyed.

Sergeant Tovar managed to escape captivity while helping to prepare the wounded for return to Koto-ri.  The wounded Colonel Drysdale was among the survivors who made it to Hagaru-ri, but 41 Commando had suffered 61 casualties, which would increase to 93 before X Corps completed the breakout to Hungnam on 10 December 1950.

 Colonel Chidester and Major Eagen were never seen again.

After being evacuated to South Korea, 41 Commando was withdrawn to Japan to be reconstituted in January 1951.  Before departing Korea, Colonel Drysdale’s stated, “This was the first time that the Marines of the two nations had fought side by side since the defense of the Peking Legations in 1900.  Let it be said that the admiration of all ranks of 41 Commando for their brothers in arms was and is unbounded. They fought like tigers and their morale and esprit de corps is second to none.”

How did the American Marines feel about their British comrades?  According to author/historian Eric Hammel, one US Marine spoke for most when he said, “I walked into Hagaru-ri from Yudam-ni where I learned that the British had supplied us with a fighting force.  Before that we laughed at the words `U.N. Forces’ because we had not seen the troops of any other nation except the Chinese.  I was delighted to meet the British. When they came around you could stop looking for a fight, because they would be right in the middle of it.”

Post Script:

Douglas Burns Drysdale was born in Hampstead, England, United Kingdom on 2 October 1916.  He spent the majority of his youth in Argentina where he developed a life-long passion for horsemanship and hunting.

Commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1935, he initially commanded the Marine Detachment aboard HMS Renownthrough the first three years of World War II and then joined 2ndBattalion, Royal Marines in Iceland.  He was promoted to captain in June 1942 and assigned to the staff of the British Admiralty in Washington DC.  It was during this tour that he had his first contact with the U. S. Marine Corps as a liaison officer until in 1943, he was assigned to serve as brigade major (chief of staff) of 3 Special Services Brigade and Commanding Officer, 44 Commando in Burma.

Following World War II, Drysdale served on the staff of the British Army Staff College, and on the staff of the officer’s school where he was promoted to acting lieutenant colonel.  He was subsequently assigned to command 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines.

DSO-UKHis command of 41 Independent Commando in Korea was to become the highlight of his military career.  For his actions at the Chosin Reservoir and his leadership of 41 Independent Commando, Colonel Drysdale was awarded two Silver Star medals (US) and the Distinguished Service Order (UK).  Additionally, 41 Independent Commando was awarded the United States’ Presidential Unit Citation in recognition of its stellar performance during the Battle for Chosin Reservoir.

In late 1951, Drysdale relinquished command of 41 Independent Commando to Lieutenant Colonel Ferris N. Grant, RM.  He subsequently served as the Royal Marine Representative at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia until 1954.  Between 1955 and 1962, Colonel Drysdale served as Commandant, Royal Marine Noncommissioned Officer’s School, staff officer in the office of the Commandant General, Royal Marines, and after his promotion to Colonel he commanded 3 Commando Brigade.  Colonel Drysdale retired from active military service in 1962. He passed away on 22 June 1990 at the age of 73-years.

Notes:

[1]Source: Lieutenant Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale, Royal Marines (1953)

[2]X Corps was commanded by Major General Ned Almond, U. S. Army.  Almond served concurrently as General MacArthur’s chief of staff at his Tokyo headquarters and because of this, rather than being subordinate to the Eighth Army, operated independently from it.  Almond took his marching orders directly from MacArthur, and no other.  Almond had no amphibious operations experience, which given the mission assigned to X Corps, made him unqualified to command that organization. Beyond this, as a field general, Almond was operationally incompetent.  See also

[3]What made this a risky deployment, in General Smith’s opinion, was the plethora of intelligence gathered indicating a large presence of Chinese communist forces.  This information, passed back to the headquarters of X Corps, was discounted and ignored.  Not even after RCT-31 was decimated by overwhelming Chinese Communist forces on 27 November 1950 would Almond acknowledge the presence of this threat.

[4]In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a rifleman.

[5]One-third of the soldiers assigned to RCT-31 were killed or captured by the Chinese Army.

[6]This conversation was likely to have occurred before Puller realized that Colonel Drysdale was the senior combat officer present. Given the situation at the time, realizing that Puller’s plate was full-to-overflowing, he may not have thought to countermand his orders to Peckham.

[7]For this selfless act, PFC Baugh was awarded the Medal of Honor.

[8]This was a strategy the Chinese repeated several times along the MSR.

British Marines

The Falklands War (also known by several other titles) was a ten-week conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom.  It was fought over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: The Falklands Islands, the South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands.  The conflict began on 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands; the following day, Argentina invaded South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.  This was Argentina’s attempt to establish sovereignty over these territories. On 5 April 1982, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage Argentine naval and air forces before making an amphibious assault on the islands.  The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982 —thereby returning the islands to British control.  In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three civilian islanders died during the conflict.

royal-marines-badge-01Aboard one British troop transport ship (SS Canberra), senior officers worked hard keeping members of the British Army away from the British Royal Marines (and vice-versa) since British soldiers and Marines have always been, shall we say, competitive.  In this instance, we are talking about the soldiers of 3 Para and the Marines of 42 Commando (said as Four-Two Commando).  And then there was the question of what to do with the civilian journalists attached to the task force.

All in all, senior officers had their jobs cut out for them.

Two recently embarked press men were attempting to familiarize themselves with the layout of ship spaces when they came upon a sergeant and asked him where they might find the bar[1].

The sergeant, placing his hands upon his hips bellowed, “Bar? This is a ship, not a doss house! Now, would you happen to be looking for the mess, perhaps?”

“Sorry, I meant mess,” replied one of the journalists.

The sergeant challenged, “Which one?  Who are you?”

“We’re press,” said one of the men.

“Oh Christ,” said the sergeant, rolling his eyes.  “That’ll be the officer’s mess.  Alright then, up the ladder through there,” he said pointing, “and you’ll see it.”

But to get to the officer’s mess, the civilians had to transverse the minefield known as the sergeant’s mess.  One thing that is never done, whether aboard ship or on land, is for any private, officer, and certainly no civilian, to ever enter the sergeant’s mess without an invitation.  As the journalists stumbled into the sergeant’s mess, one very large sergeant hollered out, “Piss off.”

“Sorry?” said one of the press men.

“Piss off, Chalkie,” the sergeant repeated.  “Sergeant’s Mess, mate.  Can’t come ‘ere without permission.”

One might forgive the unknowing civilian journalist for his transgression; a battalion chaplain should know better.  One night, the sergeants conducted a bar-top court-martial as the battalion chaplain stood accused of violating the rules of the mess. A duly appointed sergeant called the mess to attention and read from a properly filled-out charge sheet.  “You, Padre, sir, stand accused of entering the mess and loitering, and with bringing no booze, which is vagrancy.  Have you got a brief?”

“This officer here will defend me,” said the chaplain, cocking a thumb at a young sub-lieutenant standing beside him.  The chaplain attempted to stifle a chuckle.

“Stop laughing, Padre,” warned the presiding sergeant, “otherwise, it’ll go badly for you.”

The sub-lieutenant was then examined: “Sir, can you explain the Padre’s behavior?”

The officer began his defense.  “He made a mistake, sergeant.  Never did he intend to break the rules of the mess.  He is very sorry.”

“Guilty!” screamed the assembled sergeants, making crosses with their fingers and hissing at the padre.

“You have been found guilty by the mess, Padre.  We fine you one bottle of sherry,” said the president of the mess, and then pointing to the sub-lieutenant, added, “And him too, sir because he did such a bloody awful job defending you.”

The padre later returned with a bottle of sherry, but the poor man didn’t stand a chance.  The sergeant examined the sherry and bellowed, “Only half a bottle!  You won’t make it to heaven, Padre.  Now, piss off.”

The foregoing tale comes from a fascinating, often humorous while sobering tale titled, “Don’t Cry for Me, Sergeant Major” by British journalists Robert McGowan and Jeremy Hands. The book might be a bit difficult to get a hold of, but you might find it at Amazon.  It is definitely worth the effort.

Notes:

[1] At this time, limited rations of alcohol were still served aboard British Naval vessels, including contracted troop transports.  My guess is that this was the only way the Ministry of Defence could get the British press to cover the war.

Reflections on Christmas

Vietnam 001It was 1966 in Chu Lai.  Assigned to the 7th Motor Transport Battalion, we’d just come in from a four-day run.  It was quiet and we were taking turns cleaning our weapons.  One of the guys suddenly stopped what he was doing, sitting there with a dumb-ass look on his face.  He said, “Hey, Christmas was two days ago.”

We all stopped what we were doing, and I remember that we all just looked at him for a long moment; nobody said a word.

And then we went back to cleaning our weapons.

Chuck McCarroll
Corporal, U. S. Marine Corps

U. S. Marines in Haiti—Overview

Except among those whose interests lie in lost civilizations, the high number of natives destroyed by European diseases[1] has made Hispaniola’s early history mostly irrelevant —and owing to the savagery demonstrated by both native populations and Spanish settlers, none of the earliest Spanish colonies on Hispaniola fared well, either.

Christopher Columbus arrived at Hispaniola in 1492.  He established a small settlement he named La Navidad near Cap-Haïtien; within its first year, all 39-settlers were set upon and murdered.  A similar fate was shared by several more Spanish settlements between 1493 and 1592 —if they were not completely destroyed by native populations, then they were set aflame by either French pirates or squadrons of British Royal Navy.

At this same time, the Spanish Netherlands was in disarray; a rebellion had been ongoing for some twenty years.  The conflict was due in large part to the religious differences between Spanish masters and Dutch subjects.  By 1590, the Spanish had become thoroughly disgusted with the Dutch and ordered all Spanish home ports closed to Dutch shipping.  The Dutch responded by tapping into the trade network of colonies in Spanish America, people who were more than happy to establish illicit trade relations with Spain’s competitors.  Consequently, large numbers of Dutch traders joined with English and French privateers to deprive Spain of its customs duties —many of these trading depots were located on the island of Hispaniola.

In 1605, infuriated that Spanish settlements on the northern and western coasts of Hispaniola persisted in carrying out large scale (and illegal) trade with its enemies, Spain decided to resettle its populaces closer to Santo Domingo.  Known as the Devastaciones de Osorio, the forced resettlement led to death by starvation of half of Spanish colonial populations.  More than one-hundred thousand cattle were abandoned; slaves escaped into the wilderness, and Spanish troops destroyed five out of thirteen colonies.  This Spanish behavior was counter-productive because escaped settlers, slaves, and English, Dutch, and French privateers were then free to establish bases on what would become Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Within a short time, French, Dutch, and English buccaneers formed a lawless community on the island of Tortuga; Spanish shipping and colonies became their principal targets of opportunity.  The Spanish, of course, sought to defend their interests through a series of sorties in 1629, 1635, 1638, and 1654 by destroying pirate enclaves, but on each occasion the scoundrels soon returned.  In 1655, the English at Jamaica sponsored the reoccupation of Tortuga under an English governor named Elias Watts.  Five years later, the English proposed a replacement for Watts in the person of Frenchman Jeremie Deschamps.   This was not one of England’s more brilliant moves since Deschamps soon declared his loyalty to France … and the French took charge of the island, renaming it Saint Domingue.  The French maintained this control until 1790, when civil unrest in France and a slave revolt in Haiti eventually resulted in Haitian independence.

Haiti is the world’s oldest surviving black republic, but even though prominent Haitians actively assisted Latin American independence movements, the so-called great liberator, Simon Bolivar, worked to exclude Haiti from the hemisphere’s first regional meeting of independent nations (1826).  Neither did Haiti receive diplomatic recognition from the United States until 1862, thanks in large part to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner.  Yet, it is fair to say that Haiti has struggled to find itself since 1806 and certainly, by 1911, Haiti was a failed state —as many African and hyphenated African nations are today, as well.

In any case, by 1915, Haitian instability was colossal: a series of political assassinations and forced exiles resulted in six separate presidential administrations (a record only rivaled by France’s 21 governments of the Fourth Republic following World War II).  Several Haitian “revolutionary armies” operated independent from one another, and each was formed by cacos[2] directing affairs from mountain enclaves in the north or along the border with Dominica.

In 1915, World War I had been raging for a year; the United States became apprehensive about the roles played by Imperial Germany in the Western Hemisphere.  Now in control of Tortuga, Germany had intervened in Haiti and other Caribbean nations several times during previous decades, seeking to increase its influence as a rival power in the Americas[3].

All was not well between Germany and the United States.  In several instances, Germany demonstrated its increasing hostility to the United States by establishing robust intelligence networks on Hispaniola and throughout Latin America.  Essentially, Germany dismissed the Monroe Doctrine[4] out of hand.  Another consideration was that, in the months leading into world war, the ports, port facilities, material wealth, and manpower of Hispaniola assumed a strategic importance to both Germany and the United States.  Added to this, the United States was cognizant of the rivalry in Haiti between American businessmen and their German counterparts.  Although the German community was relatively small, it wielded a significant economic influence over the Haitian government: German citizens wielded control over 80% of the Haiti’s international commerce, owned and operated port facilities at Cap-Haïten, Port-au-Prince, the tramway into the capital, and a major railway line.

Wilson 001When American financiers complained to the President of the United States in 1915 that Haiti (by then deeply in debt to US banks) had steadfastly refused to repay a sizeable American loan, Woodrow Wilson (shown left) ordered a military expedition to Haiti.  From the American perspective, Wilson’s momentous decision was thoroughly justified.

US political interests in Haiti extended back in time over many decades —its political and economic stability long a concern to our diplomats.  These concerns increased over time because as Haiti borrowed money from foreign governments, it found itself unable to repay these loans.  Consequently, there was an increased likelihood that a foreign power might seize Haiti for its own purposes.  See also: How Haiti became indebted[5].

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson went so far to suggest annexation of Hispaniola to secure an American claim to the West Indies.  In 1889, Secretary of State James Blaine attempted to lease the city of Mole-Saint-Nicholas so that the US could construct a naval base along the northern coast.  Then, in 1910, President Taft granted Haiti a large loan with the expectation that Haiti could pay off its international debt, thus lessening the possibility of foreign influence[6].

Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam (1859 – 1915) served as President of Haiti from 4 March – 27 July 1915.  He was a cousin of Tirésias Simon Sam, Haiti’s president from 1896 to 1902.  Sam was the commander of Haiti’s Northern Division when he led the revolt that brought President Cincinnatus Leconte to power.  He later headed the revolt that toppled President Oreste Zamor.  When Cacos realized that President Joseph Davilmar Théodore was unable to pay them for their service, they forced his resignation —Sam was proclaimed president in his place.

As the fifth president in five turbulent years, Sam was forced to contend with a revolt against his own regime, led by Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, who opposed the government’s expanded commercial and strategic ties with the United States. Fearing that he would share the same fate as his predecessors, Sam acted harshly against his political opponents, particularly the better educated and wealthier mulatto population. The culmination of his repressive measures came on 27 July 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. An infuriated the population rose up against Sam.

Fearing for his own safety, Sam fled to the French embassy where he received asylum. The rebels’ mulatto leaders broke into the embassy, however, found Sam, and dragged him out into the courtyard where they beat him senseless.  They then threw his unconscious body over the embassy’s iron fence to the waiting populace, who proceeded to rip his body to pieces.  For the next two weeks, Haiti was in chaos.

News of Sam’s murder soon reached US Navy ships anchored in the city’s harbor; President Woodrow Wilson, wary about the possibility that Bobo would seize power, ordered Marines to take the capital, claiming that the unrest might precipitate a German invasion of the country.  Two companies of Marines landed the next day under the command of Captain Smedley D. Butler.

Caco 001Soon after the Marines landed in Haiti[7], they removed $500,000 from the Haiti National Bank for safekeeping in New York, thus giving the United States control of Haitian finances.  This Marine presence averted long-term anarchy after Sam’s assassination, and prevented a possible German invasion. (Shown right, a trussed Caco, having been accused of murdering a US Marine).

The Marine expedition resulted in the Haitian-American Treaty of 1915 —and an agreement that, among other things, created the Haitian Gendarmerie.  The Gendarmerie was a military force composed of Haitian citizens, supervised and controlled by U. S. Marines.  Additionally, the United States gained complete control over Haitian finances, and the right to intervene in Haiti whenever the U.S. Government decided that was necessary or prudent to do so.  A general election was also held, resulting in the election of Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave—a pro-US politician who, unfortunately, was not the choice of the Haitian population[8].

President Wilson attempted to convince the Haitian legislature that it was time for a new constitution.  In 1917, a US proposal would have permitted foreign ownership of land, but Haitian lawmakers balked and refused to ratify the document.  When, instead, the lawmakers began to draft an anti-American constitution, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature; it did not reconvene until 1929.

Some of the Gendarmerie’s more unpopular policies —including racial segregation, press censorship, and forced labor— led to a peasant rebellion from 1919 to 1920. The U.S. Senate sent an investigative committee into Haiti in 1921 to examine claims of abuse, and subsequently the U.S. Senate reorganized and centralized power in Haiti. After this reorganization, Haiti remained fairly stable and a select group achieved economic prosperity, though most Haitians remained in poverty.

In 1929, a series of strikes and uprisings led the United States to begin its withdrawal from Haiti. In 1930, U.S. officials began training Haitian officials to take control of the government. In 1934, the United States, in concert with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, officially withdrew from Haiti while retaining economic connections.

Notes:

[1] Contact between Europeans and Native American populations led to an unprecedented demographic disaster.  Many epidemic diseases well established in the Old World were absent from the Americas before Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492.  The catastrophic epidemics that accompanied European conquests destroyed indigenous populations in the Americas.  Diseases included influenza, smallpox, measles, and typhus fever.  Native Americans were unable to escape diseases, the effects of new seeds, weeds, and draft animals; the effect of these were irreversible.  Within only a few years, the plight of Native Americans led Spanish settlers to the importation of African slaves, which were enthusiastically sold by African Islamists.  In this way, the Americas rapidly became a center for the mixing of races and infectious agents.

[2] A word used by Marines, meaning peasant bandit.  Although of Spanish usage, the origin of the term is Greek “Kakos” meaning “bad,” or “low quality,” or “low life.”  It is similar in usage to the British “townie” or in the Americas, “wigger,” or white nigger.

[3] On 21 September 1897, Haitian police were seeking a suspect in a theft case—a man by the name of Dorléus Présumé.  Présumé was discovered washing a coach near the central stables of Port-au-Prince, whose proprietor was Emile Lüders.  Présumé resisted arrest, and Lüders came to his defense.  On that same day, a police tribunal sentenced both men to one-month’s confinement.  The accused appealed to a higher authority, but this time they were charged with resisting arrest —their sentence was increased to one-year in prison.  On 17 October, the German Chargé d’affaires demanded the immediate release of Lüders, whose father was a German citizen, along with the dismissal of the judge and all police officers involved in the matter.  Lüders was released from prison a few days later and promptly left the country.  Then, on 6 December, two German warships anchored at Port-au-Prince harbor and issued an ultimatum: the Haitians were to pay $20,000.00 paid to Lüders, Haiti’s permission for Lüders to return to Haiti, a letter of apology to the German government, a 21-gun salute rendered to the German flag, and a demand that the President of Haiti raise a white flag on the presidential palace as a token of his surrender.

[4] In 1917, Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico against the United States.

[5] After the revolution, France retained strong economic and diplomatic ties with the Haitian Government. France agreed to recognize Haitian independence in the Franco-Haitian Agreement of 1824, and in exchange, Haiti agreed to pay France a huge indemnity.  The payment of this obligation kept Haiti in a constant state of debt, giving France a unique influence over Haitian trade and finances.

[6] That attempt failed due to the enormity of the debt and the internal instability of the country.

[7] Only one Haitian soldier resisted the Marines; when he did, Mr. Pierre Sully was promptly dispatched.

[8] This may have been important psychologically, but the truth is that the Haitian people had demonstrated their electoral incompetence for more than 100 years.