The Very Next Day

(Continued from last week)

Introduction

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a general uprising and major escalation of the Vietnam War.  It was one of the largest campaigns launched by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) targeting the Republic of Vietnam Army (ARVN) and the United States military forces.

Communist forces launched the Tet Offensive prematurely in the early morning hours of 31 January.  It was a well-coordinated, country-wide assault involving more than 80,000 communist troops.  They attacked more than 100 towns and cities, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district headquarters, and the capital in Saigon.

Communist leaders in the North Vietnam capital of Hanoi decided to launch the offensive in the belief that it would trigger a popular uprising leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government.  Although the initial attacks stunned the allies, causing them a temporary loss of control over several cities, American and South Vietnamese forces quickly regrouped beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on NVA/VC forces.  A popular uprising never occurred — but there were plenty of pissed-off people in Saigon, and they weren’t all Americans.

Background

Vietnamese culture is one of the oldest in the world.  Some argue, the oldest.  Beyond keeping academics out of local bars, it may not matter.  China and Vietnam have clashed for thousands of years — and in some matters, do so now.  China hosts 26 dialects of the Chinese language; there are more than 100 languages spoken in Vietnam, involving five linguistic families.  It is an interesting history — if one has an interest in anthropology.  Most Americans who went to Vietnam had no interest at all in Vietnamese history however one labels it.

As bad as this sounds, most Americans returned to their homes thinking that if you’ve seen one Vietnamese, you’ve seen them all.  To the American soldier or Marine, they all looked alike.  To the American ear, they all spoke the same incomprehensible gibberish and lordy — their music!

There was also an issue involving trust.  The Vietnamese people wouldn’t look an American full in the face.  They always looked off to the side; it made the Americans think they were up to something.  As God knows, some of them were up to something — and sometimes, it didn’t work out well for either the Americans or the Vietnamese.

Equally, the average Vietnamese wanted nothing at all to do with the disrespectful and lecherous barbarians from across the sea.  Not the white boys, or those others — they were all rude and insensitive to Vietnamese traditions.  The Vietnamese people would just as soon all the foreigners went home … and take their loud music and life-ending weapons with them.  In time, the Americans would return to their homes; the Vietnamese were already home — and most had no interest in being saved.

Enemies

Nguyễn Văn Lém had two names.  One was his real name, according to the social registry of South Vietnam; his other name was Bảy Lốp.  He was a captain in the Viet Cong working covertly inside the capital city of Saigon, Republic of Vietnam.  Sometime during the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, the start of the Tet Offensive of 1968, Captain Lém and his assassination team entered the home of Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Tuan of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and murdered him, his wife, his 80-year old mother, and six of his seven children.  While shot twice, nine-year-old Nguyen Tu Huan survived the attack.

The circumstances of Captain Lém’s capture, and his arrest, is unknown to me.  What is known is that Lém was delivered under guard with his hands bound behind him, to South Vietnamese brigadier general Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

Loan was born in 1930 to a middle-class family in the old Imperial City of Huế — one of eleven children.  He studied to become a pharmacist before joining the Vietnamese National Army in 1951.  He became a friend and confidante of a classmate named Nguyễn Cao Kỳ.[1]  After pilot training, Loan transferred to the Vietnamese National Air Force (VNAF), serving as an attack pilot until 1965.  At that time, then Prime Minister Kỳ appointed Loan to direct the Military Security Service and the Central Intelligence Organization — and, as an additional duty, Commanding General of the Republic of Vietnam National Police.  General Loan was particularly useful to Vice President Kỳ in that capacity.

Nguyen Van Loan

Loan (pictured right) was a staunch patriot and a South Vietnamese nationalist.  He refused to grant American servicemen extraterritorial privileges, denied the U.S. high command the right to arrest Vietnamese civilians, and insisted that American civilians (journalists, contractors, etc.) were subject to South Vietnamese jurisprudence.  It was this uncompromising position that caused U.S. President Lyndon Johnson to opine that Loan should be gotten rid of — which is not how Vice President Ky saw it.  Loan also publicly criticized the CIA’s Phoenix Program.  History now shows that General Loan was right, and the American CIA was wrong.

General Loan’s operatives arrested two Viet Cong operatives in August 1967.  The two men had been engaged in sending peace initiatives to the U.S. government behind the back of the South Vietnam government.  Loan, having discovered and publicized these double-dealings angered American diplomats but in the eyes of the South Vietnamese government, Nguyen Ngoc Loan was a hero.  When Loan was promoted to Brigadier General, American officials complained, publicly — prompting Loan to submit his resignation to the South Vietnamese President.  President Thieu refused to accept Loan’s resignation.[2] 

It was 1 February 1968 and General Loan was not having a good day.  Teams of Viet Cong assassins and sappers roamed the streets of Saigon.  No one inside this sprawling city was safe.  Worse, Loan’s policemen seemed unenthusiastic about doing their duty.  Forty-five days before, Saigon, the capital city, had been placed under the exclusive control of the South Vietnamese Army.  There was much confusion between civil and military authority and competing interests made the entire city a shamble.  The ARVN reaction to the Tet Offensive was at best haphazard and if the truth were known, not even ARVN commanders knew whether they could trust their troops.  It was a very confusing day for everyone, even the Viet Cong.  And, as I indicated a moment ago, General Loan was not in a very good mood.  So, when Captain Lém was delivered to General Loan, General Loan unholstered his .38 revolver and shot Lém in the head.

Photo by Eddie Adams, 1968

This event ended the scurrilous life of Lém the assassin, but it might have been better had General Loan realized that Lém’s execution was being recorded on film by American news photographer Eddie Adams.  Adams was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News in 1969 — and General Loan’s reputation was sullied for the balance of his life.  The American press, you see, had only reported the most sensational part of the story — Lém’s execution.  No one paid any attention to the fact that Lém had murdered an entire family in cold blood.  The American press has never cared about “getting it right.”  Rolling the presses is the only important thing.

The rest of the story

Captain Lém tried to murder Colonel Tuan’s entire family, but he left one member of the family alive.  Wounded twice by gunshot, but still alive.  The 9-year-old boy was Nguyen Tu Huan, who although seriously wounded, stayed by his mother’s side to comfort her as she bled to death.  After dark, Huan escaped the house and was taken in and raised by his uncle, a colonel in the Vietnamese Air Force.

In 1975, Huan was 16 years of age and the Republic of Vietnam collapsed under the weight of its own ineptitude and the incompetence of the United States government.  His aunt and uncle sought refuge in the United States (along with thousands of others) to escape communism.  Transported through Guam, Navy and Marine Corps personnel took care of Nguyen and his adopted family — and it was this devotion of American sailors and Marines that inspired Huan to join the U.S. Navy.

In 1981, Nguyen Tu Huan graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering; in 1993, he received a commission in the Navy as a Reserve Engineering Duty Officer.  He also holds advanced degrees in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University, Engineering from Perdue University, and Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University.

Rear Admiral Huan T. Nguyen, USN

Huan’s naval service has included a wide range of assignments from testing officer and Officer-in-Charge, Navy Ship Repair Facility Detachment 113 at Yokosuka, Japan, Executive Officer, and Chief Engineer for Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Warfare, Composite Squadron One, Director, Military Programs, Naval Sea Systems Command, Enlisted Personnel Engineering Duty Manager.

In 2019, the young boy who watched his mother die because of a murdering assassin in Saigon, in 1968, became the highest-ranking Vietnamese-American officer in the American Armed Forces.  He is now Rear Admiral Huan T. Nguyen, United States Navy — but of course, you didn’t hear about this by the American press corps.  You only heard about how General Loan violated the civil rights of a murdering scumbag.  In reality, General Loan was a hero, and so too is Admiral Nguyen.

Endnotes:

[1] Vice President of South Vietnam, 1967-1971.

[2] Loan was later promoted to major general.  At the fall of South Vietnam, Loan made his way to the United States and settled in the Washington suburb of Burke, Virginia.  When Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman demanded that Loan be deported from the United States as a war criminal, President Jimmy Carter intervened, and Loan was allowed to remain in the United States.  General Loan passed away from cancer in 1998.


Battleground Saigon — 1968

Background

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a general uprising and major escalation of the Vietnam War.  It was one of the largest campaigns launched by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) targeting the Republic of Vietnam Army (ARVN) and the United States military forces.

Communist forces launched the Tet Offensive prematurely in the early morning hours of 31 January.  It was a well-coordinated, country-wide assault involving more than 80,000 communist troops.  They attacked more than 100 towns and cities, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district headquarters, and the capital in Saigon.

Communist leaders in the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi decided to launch the offensive in the belief that it would trigger a popular uprising leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government.  Although the initial attacks stunned the allies, causing them a temporary loss of control over several cities, American and South Vietnamese forces quickly regrouped beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on NVA/VC forces.  A popular uprising never occurred.

Earlier, on 15 December 1967, U.S. forces communicated their confidence in the South Vietnamese military forces by turning over to them the authority and responsibility for defending the capital city.  From that day forward, U.S. forces present in Saigon would only be responsible for defending themselves and their facilities within the confines of the capital city.

On the night of 30 January 1968, four South Vietnamese police (Cảnh Sát) posts provided an outer line of defense for the United States Embassy.  Two military policemen from the 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, guarded the vehicle entrance on Mac Dinh Chi Street.  Two U.S. Marines of the Embassy’s Marine Security Guard stood post inside the Chancery Building: Sergeant Ronald W. Harper and Corporal George B. Zachuranic.  Another Marine stood post on the roof of the Chancery Building; his name was Sergeant Rudy A. Soto.

The Fight

Shortly after midnight on 31 January, Viet Cong (VC) sappers from the C-10 Sapper Battalion gathered at a VC safehouse in the rear of a car repair facility at 59 Phan Thanh Gian Street to receive their weapons and receive their final briefing before their planned assault.  Two of these men were employed by the U.S. Department of State.  Their orders were to seize the embassy grounds, break into the chancery building, and seize hostages.  The sappers were told that hundreds of anti-war and anti-government university students would converge on the embassy and stage a sit-down strike — thereby aiding the sappers in maintaining control of the Embassy.

Sappers approached the embassy in a truck with its lights off.  Cảnh Sát sighted the vehicle, but rather than acting they took cover.  As the vehicle off Mac Dinh Chi onto Thong Nhut the occupants opened fire on the military policemen guarding the vehicle gate.  U.S. Army Specialist-4 Charles L. Daniel and Private First Class William E. Sebast returned fire, closed, and locked the steel gate, and radioed that they were under attack.  Hearing the gunfire, Sergeant Ron Harper, who was at the rear of the Embassy, ran back through the rear door of the Chancery, across the lobby, past Corporal Zahuranic (who was in the process of calling for reinforcements), pulled a Vietnamese night watchman into the Embassy, and then closed and bolted the heavy teak doors to the Chancery.

The VC blew a hole in the perimeter wall at 0247 and gained access to the embassy compound.  Daniel and Sebast killed the first two VC through the breach.  Daniel radioed to his command that the VC were breaching the perimeter.  While on the radio, a VC armed with an automatic rifle emerged from the rear parking lot and killed Daniel and Sebast.  A second man carrying a rifle came around the building and the two men later determined to be the two employees of the State Department, joined the other VC on the front lawn.

On the Chancery roof, Sergeant Soto observed the VC coming through the wall and attempted to fire on them with his 12-gauge shotgun.  The weapon jammed.  He then emptied his .38 caliber revolver, but the fire was inaccurate from that distance.  Inside the Embassy grounds, the VC opened fire on the Chancery Building with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).  Several RPGs penetrated the walls of the Chancery, wounding George Zahuranic and destroying two radios in the guard post.  Soto tried unsuccessfully to contact the lobby guard post and assumed that the Marines were dead or otherwise incapacitated.[1]

The Commanding Officer of the 716th MP Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon D. Rowe, received the distress call from the Embassy and dispatched several jeep patrols to investigate what was happening.  The first two vehicles took routes that passed through to the south of the rear vehicle gate, arriving at the base of an unfinished high-rise building — where the attacking VC had decided to shelter during the assault.  The VC destroyed these vehicles, killing two MPs and wounding three.  A third jeep reached the Embassy’s pedestrian gate without incident but was unaware of the situation.  VC gunners cut down Army Sergeant Johnnie B. Thomas and Specialist Owen E. Mebust as they exited their vehicle to investigate.

In addition to the three Marine Security Guards, there were two Vietnamese and six American civilians inside the Chancery building at the time of the assault.  The Americans armed themselves with .38 revolvers, Beretta pistols, and available M-12 shotguns — and then waited for the VC to enter the building.

Outside, the VC were unsure of their next move because MPs Daniel and Sebast had shot and killed the leaders of both sapper teams.  Together, the sapper teams had more than forty pounds of C-4 explosives and could have blown their way into the Chancery, had they thought of it.  Instead, they took up positions in or near the circular planters on the Embassy grounds and returned fire at the growing numbers of Americans shooting at them.

Major Robert J. O’Brien, USMC

Five blocks away from the U.S. Embassy, at “Marine House,” Captain Robert J. O’Brien received word of the attack from Corporal Dennis L. Ryan at around 0250.[2]  O’Brien mustered off-duty security guards, Sergeant Richard G. Frattarelli, Sergeant Patullo, Sergeant Raymond E. Reed, and Corporal Timothy P. Inemer, and headed for the Embassy.  Arriving at the Embassy, Captain O’Brien and his men immediately engaged the VC inside the compound but were driven to seek cover by the superior firepower of the enemy.  At around 0300, two civilian security officers (Mr. Crampsey and Mr. Furey) reinforced the Marine reaction force.  Attempts to shoot off the locks of the gates were unsuccessful in the darkness.

Meanwhile, according to Captain O’Brien’s after-action report, his reaction force and the two civilian security officers began receiving fire from the Cảnh Sát station 200 yards further distant from the Embassy.[3]  Cảnh Sát targeting U.S. Marines put the OIC out of communication with Marine House for about three and one-half hours until around 0630.

About 0300, Army MPs stopped O’Brien and Staff Sergeant Banks and their small team at the corner of Hai Ba Trung Street and Thong Nhut Boulevard near the Norodom Compound Gate.  O’Brien and Banks decided to split their force leaving one group at Norodom.  O’Brien led one group along the Embassy wall toward the main front entrance.  Enemy automatic weapons and RPGs drove them back toward Norodom Compound.  Remaining outside the compound, SSgt Banks integrated the Marines into existing firing positions.  He placed some of his men on the Consular section roof from where they could bring fire to bear on the Viet Cong inside the Embassy grounds.

About 0350, a group of about six or seven MPs arrived at Norodom and joined in the firefight with the Marine Security Guard.  At about this time, some of the Marine Security Guard had worked their way behind the Consular Buildings and found the rear gate by the maintenance shacks open.  Both Marine Security Guards and MPs tried to get into the Embassy Compound through this gate but were prevented from doing so by enemy automatic weapons and RPG fire from inside the Embassy compound.

The Norodom gate is where Sgt Jimerson was hit by enemy fire while trying to get through the gate.  The Viet Cong had this entrance covered from positions behind parked cars in the Embassy parking lot.  Sgt Jimerson was quickly evacuated to the 17th Field Hospital.  While this action was taking place other Marine Security Guards and MPs were exchanging fire with Viet Cong from the Norodom roof.

At around 0400, the VC fired several rockets at the Norodom roof, which injured Corporal Ryan, who was also evacuated to the hospital.  Corporal James C. Marshall, Corporal Wilson, and two Army MPs remained on the roof and continued to fire at the VC.  Marshall was hit with shrapnel from an RPG explosion but remained in place and continued to engage the enemy until killed by automatic weapons fire.

Sergeant Scheupfer, who remained at ground level, received a shrapnel wound to his hand.  O’Brien and Crampsey climbed onto the rooftops of buildings along the rear wall of the Embassy Compound facing the Mission Coordinator’s House.  From that position, O’Brien and Crampsey brought two or three VC under fire.  Meanwhile, an aide to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker contacted the head of the Saigon Police and demanded reinforcements.  The officer commanding the first precinct (nearest the Embassy) blatantly refused to move his men in the darkness of the early morning.[4]

SSgt Banks notified GySgt Allen Morrison at the Marine House of the difficulty he was having in trying to gain entrance to the embassy.  Morrison advised Banks to hold in place until daylight when reinforcements and resupplies could be moved up.  This was a sound tactical decision.  By this time, Banks had learned from Harper that no Viet Cong had gotten inside the building, but Corporal Zahuranic was wounded.  Additional MPs began to arrive at the time and began taking up positions in the vacant lot across the street from the Embassy.

At 0420, General William Westmoreland, Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV), ordered the 716th MP Battalion to clear the embassy as their first priority.  Colonel Rowe, lacking armored vehicles or helicopters, moved reinforcements by truck and jeep to cordon off the Embassy.  The tactical situation was confused and hampered by darkness and lack of communications between allied forces (Marines inside and outside of the Embassy, Marines with supporting Army MPs, Americans with Vietnamese police).  In any event, it was easier to locate a herd of unicorns than it was any presence of Cảnh Sát around or near the U.S. Embassy over the next 18 hours.

At 0500, a helicopter carrying troops from the 101st Airborne Division attempted a landing on the roof of the Embassy, but enemy fire drove it off.  An hour later, another helicopter landed on the roof of the Embassy, picked up Corporal Zahuranic, and dropped off three cases of M-16 ammunition.  Since the Marines didn’t have M-16s, the resupply was a wasted effort.

At dawn, MPs were able to shoot the locks off the Embassy gate on Thong Nhut Boulevard and ram open the gates with a motor vehicle.  Once the gate was open, Army MPs and Marine Security Guard reinforcements charged into the Embassy compound.  The second team of MPs stormed the rear parking area.  Within a few moments, all remaining VC were either killed or dying from gunshot wounds.  At about this time, a helicopter carrying troops from the 101st Airborne landed on the roof and began the task of clearing the building.

After the U.S. Embassy buildings and grounds were declared secure, General Westmoreland and his security detail arrived by car to inspect the grounds.  Ambassador Bunker directed that the Embassy reopen for business at mid-day.

(Continued next week)

Endnotes:

[1] Marine Security Guards were armed with either .38 caliber revolvers, 9mm pistols, or M-12 semi-automatic shotguns.  Handguns (or side arms) are not accurate beyond 20 yards and shotguns are “close-in” weapons.  While the Marines did return VC fire, their weapons were not suitable for a sustained firefight with men armed with AK-47 automatic rifles.

[2] Lieutenant Colonel Robert Joseph O’Brien (1931 – 2020) served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.  He passed away on 23 January 2020, 52 years after the battle of the U.S. Embassy.  He was survived by his wife Joanne and three grown children.   

[3] O’Brien’s report may have been edited to avoid any allegation that Vietnamese police were in acting in accordance with Viet Cong sappers — but if two Embassy employees were involved with the sappers, it is not inconceivable that the police were also aiding the enemy.  

[4] Out of a contingent of 300 National Policemen in Saigon, only 25 reported for duty during the Tet Offensive.





No Peace to Keep — Part II

Somalia, 1992-95

The Ongoing Threat

Somalia remained a dangerous place because of the randomness of armed assaults.  Marines and soldiers on patrol could never be sure when they might walk into a factional firefight or run into a gang of thugs.  On 12 January 1993, a security patrol was making a routine sweep along the southwest corner of the Mogadishu airfield.  At 2140, the patrol walked into an ambush and engaged in a firefight with several Somalis.

PFC Domingo Arroyo, a member of the security patrol, was mortally wounded.  Arroyo’s military occupational specialty was “field wireman,” primarily assigned to Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines (artillery).  His participation in the security patrol was in keeping with this Marine Corps tradition: Every Marine is a Rifleman.  PFC Arroyo was the first Marine killed in Somalia.

General Wilhelm realized that to carry out his security mission, Mogadishu would have to be stabilized.  He wanted an aggressive plan to develop intelligence sources to enable Marines to become better prepared for their dangerous duties.  The result was a four-phase plan within which each phase would turn simultaneously, like the wheels in a timepiece.

The phases were (a) collect information about the human population (clans, where they lived, location of gang leaders, etc.), (b) Increased foot patrols and checkpoints, increase the visibility of the troops, (c) direct action as required, and (d) evaluation, assessment, and formulating an updated plan for ongoing actions.

The units involved in this new process, organized within the MARFOR Mogadishu Task Force under Colonel Jack W. Klimp, were 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 3rd Light Armored Infantry Battalion, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.

The task force numbered 2,000 Marines with its CP at the sports stadium in the northern section of the city — where most of the factional conflicts took place.  Its main activity was patrolling, which enabled Marines to gather intelligence and demonstrate their constant presence.  Patrolling reduced violence and reassured citizens of the Marine’s benign intent.  Patrols also raided arms merchants within the outdoor markets and confiscated firearms whenever encountered.[1]

Shift in Mission

In January 1993, Bill Clinton assumed the presidency.  What Mr. Clinton understood about military operations would fit entirely on a post-it note.  Worse, all Clinton had available to advise him was Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Chairman of the JCS, General John Shalikashvili, and Commander, Central Command, General Joseph P. Hoar.

In early March 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali submitted to the UN Security Council his plan for returning Somali operations to the United Nations.  He acknowledged that the US-led peacekeeping/humanitarian missions were successful.  However, there was still no national government, police, or national army, and tribal factions continued to threaten the stability of the Horn of Africa.  To that end, the Secretary-General authorized UNOSOM II to establish a more secure environment throughout Somalia to achieve national reconciliation and a democratic state.

At a National Reconciliation Conference in Somalia, all fifteen Somali factions agreed to restore peace and democracy.  However, within a month, General Aideed’s faction had another think and decided not to cooperate with UNOSOM.  Aideed began broadcasting anti-UN propaganda over Radio Mogadishu, which prompted the Commander, UNOSOM II, Lieutenant General Cervik Bir, to shut down the radio station.

Meanwhile, UNOSOM’s principal staffers were all Somalis with no direct benefit in the success of the UN mission.  This explains how the UNOSOM organization became saturated with factional spies.  Aideed, for example, knew what UNOSOM was planning almost before General Bir.  After Aideed’s forces assaulted a Pakistani peacekeeping force, killing 24 and wounding 57 (also wounding 1 Italian and 3 American soldiers), the UN ordered the arrest and prosecution of General Aideed.

The search for Aideed began in earnest on 12 June.  Despite a house-to-house search for Aideed, he was never located.  On 12 July (Bloody Monday), US forces assaulted a house believed to contain Aideed.  Killed in the attack were several tribal leaders who, post mortem, were said to have been discussing peace arrangements with other factions — but that isn’t the information US forces had before the attack.  They believed Aideed was present at that “meeting of elders.”  Whatever the truth, the International Red Cross stated that 54 Somalis died in the attack, with an additional 161 wounded.  Aideed was not among the casualties.[2]

On 8 August, Aideed’s forces detonated a remote-controlled bomb against a US military vehicle, killing all four of its occupants.  Two weeks later, another bomb killed or injured seven more soldiers.  President Bill Clinton responded by ordering a Special Forces Task Force, including 400 Army Rangers, to deal with Aideed.  The Special Forces unit arrived in Somalia on 22 August 1993.  A month later, forces under Aideed shot down a Black Hawk Helicopter in the New Port area of Mogadishu.  All three crewmen died in the explosion/crash.

The Battle of Mogadishu

Also referred to as Operation Gothic Serpent, the battle began as a military quest by the U.S.-led peacekeeping and humanitarian coalition to capture Mohamed Farrah Aideed.[3]  General Aideed’s assault against coalition forces was part of a larger scheme by Saudi Arabia-funded Al-Qaeda to discredit the American armed forces and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East/Africa.

As part of the operation, led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), coalition troops were deployed to arrest two of Aideed’s lieutenants.  It quickly evolved into the Battle of Mogadishu (22 August-13 October 1993) and resulted in an unmitigated disaster for coalition troops and a strategic victory for Al Qaeda and the Somali National Alliance.  It was one of the most devastating battle losses in U.S. history.  By using the phrase “battle losses,” I do not refer simply to the 19 American, 25 Pakistani, or 1 Malaysian soldier killed; I refer to the fact that President Bill Clinton’s weak leadership, his lack of resolve, and the imposition of overly-restrictive rules of engagement allowed barely armed Somalis to hand the U.S. military a resounding defeat.

On 3 October, the joint-task force commander dispatched 160 combat troops, twelve vehicles, and 19 aircraft to make the arrest.  Aideed’s lieutenants were soon taken into custody and, along with an injured soldier, loaded into vehicles for transportation back to the mission command post.  However, armed militiamen surrounded by women and children converged on the target area from throughout the city.  Gunfire erupted, resulting in one Somali and one coalition death.  The radio report “stunned” the operational commander because “they expected no casualties.”[4]

In the violence that followed, Somali insurgents shot down two Black Hawk Helicopters, killing crew members and rescuers.  Somalis also quickly surrounded the reaction force dispatched to the scene.  A bloody battle ensued as coalition troops became overwhelmed by civilian men, women, and teenagers closing to within a few feet to give a fight.  In addition to the twenty coalition troops killed in action, 82 others received combat wounds/injuries.  Of the Somalis, coalition troops killed an estimated 1,000 and wounded 3,000.  These “estimates” remain questionable, however.

The Aftermath

Under the auspices of a UNO Peacekeeping/Humanitarian effort, the United States entered Somalia in December 1992 to stop the imminent starvation of millions of people.  For a time, these substantial efforts succeeded in feeding the hungry, but neither the UNO nor its surrogate, the United States, managed to broker peace among warring factions.

It was a poorly organized, ineffectually managed nation-building operation.  American officials, demonstrating either their incompetence or naivete, expected gratitude for their humanitarian efforts.  That did not happen because U.S. officials were blind to the reality of Saudi Arabia’s behind-the-scenes Wahhabist activities.  Nation-building did not work in South Vietnam; it did not work (again) in Somalia — and yet, the United States still had not learned any valuable lessons from this by the time of the Iraqi War in 2003.

In the long-term, UNO and United States diplomatic and military efforts failed to achieve its mission: peace and security in Somalia and starvation relief for its 10 million people.  It wasn’t even a good try.  It was a case of diplomatic and military ineptitude combined with numerous Somali factions trying to out-jockey one another for supreme control.  The Somali people proved themselves their own worst enemy.  Still, America gave up 42 of its young men.  Despite its superiority in armaments and technology, it allowed stone-age people to divert them from a worthwhile mission and force them to capitulate.

American military power allowed the United States access to conditions that might have led to conditions for peace amid famine and bloodshed, but the various factions were not yet exhausted from fighting, and they were themselves unwilling to stop the carnage. Ignoring the befuddled actions of UNO/American operational managers (who acted more like senior civilian officials and lieutenants than they did senior civilian officials and general officers), the troops did their best under the worst possible conditions. Simply stated, there was no peace in Somalia to keep. We must learn that the best soldiers in the world can only deliver up a foundation for peace — they cannot create peace itself.

Sources:

  1. Allard, K.  Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned.  National Defense University Press, 1995.
  2. Bowden, M.  Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare.  Atlantic Monthly Press,1999.
  3. Mroczkowski, D. P.  Restoring Hope: In Somalia with the Unified Task Force, 1992-1993.  HQMC History Division, 2005.
  4. Sangvic, R. N.  The Battle of Mogadishu: Anatomy of Failure.  Army Command and General Staff School, 1998.
  5. Wright, L.  The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.  Knopf Publishing, 2006

Endnotes:

[1] The arms merchants weren’t “gun dealers.”  Arms merchants sold RPGs, assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, tank rounds, and weapons from nearly every manufacturer in the world.  In the first raid, Marines confiscated 1,500 assorted weapons.  Of course, the market raids merely drove the markets underground, but the word was out, and it made the city a safer place for everyone.

[2] Four western journalists (Dan Eldon, Hos Maina, Hansi Kraus, and Anthony Macharia) rushed to cover the story.  An angry Somali mob turned on these journalists and killed them — so the day wasn’t a total loss. 

[3] “General” Mohamed Farrah Aideed was killed by another Somali faction on 5 August 1996.  His son, Hussein Mohamed Farrah (Aideed) is a naturalized US citizen and a former U. S. Marine (1987-1995).  Corporal Farrah subsequently served as Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia.  He now lives in Eritrea.

[4] It is inconceivable to me that any military commander would send 160 troops, 19 aircraft, and 12 vehicles on a mission and not anticipate the possibility of casualties … particularly in light of the incident on 8 September when a large Somali force attacked coalition troops at a roadblock location.  Two additional assaults occurred on 16 and 21 September.  Crumbs.


No Peace to Keep — Part I

Somalia, 1992-95

Introduction

For well over seventy years, the United Nations Organization (UNO) has continuously involved itself in so-called peacekeeping/humanitarian operations — at best with mixed, but at worst with disastrous results.  It is a complex conversation because, over those seventy years, the nature of armed conflict has changed dramatically, and the challenges peacekeepers face have evolved into highly complex if not impossible-to-accomplish missions.  Warfare is always complicated, of course, but making matters worse is the utter incompetence of UNO officials and, in the case of the United States (in its past role in such operations), the unbelievable ineptitude of executives and members of both parties of the United States Congress.

In 2019, 14 separate UNO peacekeeping missions involved well over 100,000 soldiers, police, and senior UNO civilians.  The cost of these operations in 2019 exceeded $7 billion.  The United States paid out $2 billion as its “fair share” of keeping the peace.

To understand the “complexity” of UNO peacekeeping operations, it is first necessary to divide them into categories.  The oldest of these are operations that attempt to resolve border disputes.  A second category involves multi-dimensional operations, such as might include civil war.  A third type, the most difficult, involves protection and stabilization missions — which are further complicated by cultural factors.  I am writing now about the cultural influences of the people to whom the aid is directed and the UNO culture responsible for overseeing such missions (particularly when UNO surrogates incorporate globalist/socialist thinking into mission structure, which obfuscates matters even further).

Of the third type, in addition to the complexities mentioned, we must add peacekeeping operations in the face of violent extremism.  Generally, UNO effectiveness is only possible when opposing interests invite the participation of the UNO, when the UNO remains strictly neutral in facilitating the conflict, and when the use of force is limited to self-defense of peacekeeping units. Operational disaster is the result of the UNO’s failure to adhere to these principles.  Two examples stand out: The Congo in 1960 and Somalia in 1991-95.  The reality of the fiasco in Somalia was that the UNO (and its surrogate, the U.S. government) quite miserably failed to realize (or acknowledge) that there was no peace to keep.  It was a doomed-to-fail effort before it began, made worse along the way with poorly conceived shifts in mission.

In the case of Somalia, the UNO became involved as a response to inhumane conditions of starvation and forced migration.  In both instances, millions were affected … with forced migration causing tribal conflicts with fifteen separate rebel groups. Rushing to take advantage of the situation was the Saudi-funded Al Qaeda organization which sought to damage the credibility of the UNO, the U.S. government, and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, the global situation is not improving.  Neither the UNO nor the United States has learned valuable lessons from their past mistakes.  Despite the impropriety of U.S. involvement in Somalia, the Department of State continues to spend billions of the taxpayer’s money “ … in developmental assistance [in Somalia] to support economic, political, and social sectors to achieve greater stability, establish a formal economy, obtain access to basic services, and attain representation through legitimate, credible governance.” The wording comes from the writers of the popular television series Madam Secretary.  “The United States works closely with other donor partners and international organizations to support social services and the development of an effective and representative security sector, including military, police, and justice organizations while supporting ongoing African Union peacekeeping efforts.”

Whenever the UNO wants to divorce itself from costly peace-keeping/humanitarian assistance operations, it mismanages such efforts so horribly that it becomes only a matter of time before a progressive American president steps in to relieve the UN of it’s responsibility.  Somalia is an excellent example.  The price paid by the American people to maintain this irrational facade is the bloodshed of American servicemen, a lifetime of woe by the parents, wives, and children of slain soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and adding the costs of war to the backs of American taxpayers.

Some History

Geographically, Somalia sits on the Horn of Africa at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.  Bordering states include Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  The people who live in these border regions number around 9 million; 98% are Somali tribesmen.  About 45% of Somalia’s population is under 15 years of age.  Seventy percent of the Somali people are nomads who travel at will with their clans and livestock through Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  This migratory pattern generates land disputes between Somalis and their neighbors.

Civil war and massive starvation in Somalia prompted UN and Organization of African Unity (OAU) interventions in 1991 because half of the nation’s 10 million people were starving to death.  Between January and March 1992, at least three-quarters of a million Somalis died from starvation; another 3 million fled the country as refugees.  Nothing about this situation was unusual in East Africa in 1991.

The area of present-day Somalia was one of the first places Islamic conquerors stopped at the beginning of their murderous campaigns in 700 A.D.  From that point on, East Africans have suffered one war after another, beginning around 900 A.D.  Nothing improved in the lives of native people after Italian and British imperialists began warring with one another over possession of the Horn of Africa.  Following World War II, the United Kingdom placed British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland under its protection.

In 1960, both trust territories united to form the Somali Republic, with Great Britain and Italy deciding the location of its borders.  A formal government took shape under the auspices of the Somali National Assembly through a national referendum that excluded 70% of the Somali people.  The fun began nine years later with a series of assassinations of government leaders and a military coup d’état.  Between 1969-1991, the Somali government fell under the control of the so-called Supreme Revolutionary Council — under which Somalia became known as the Somali Democratic Republic.  Culturally, the SDR was closely linked to the Arab world and joined the Arab League in 1974.  Somali government leaders abandoned democracy in 1976 to establish a one-party scientific-socialist government based on Marxism and Islamism.

War broke out between Somalia and Ethiopia in 1977.  The issue of contention was the placement of Somalia’s western border.  Initially, the Somalis gained an advantage over their enemy until the Soviet Union intervened with “advisors” and 20,000 Cuban mercenaries. The USSR’s involvement in East Africa prompted the Somali government to ask for American assistance. U.S. diplomats were over-joyed; they’d wanted a piece of East Africa since around 1960.  Thanks to the American taxpayer (who hadn’t a clue about any of this), Somalia created the largest army on the African continent.[1] 

By the 1990s, mainly due to the end of the Cold War, East Africa no longer offered any strategic value to either the new Russian federation or the United States.  Left to its own devices, Somalia began a steep spiral into authoritarianism.  Through clever instigation, Ethiopia started rebel movements throughout Somalia, which led to civil war, food and fuel shortages, and a period of cripling inflation.  Somali government leaders clamped down even more by establishing curfews and surveiling and harassing foreigners.

Libya assisted in overthrowing the Somali government and installing a loose confederation of tribalists to replace it.  An international group consisting of Egyptians, Arabians, and Italians subsequently determined that Ali Mahdi Mohamed should serve as the President of Somalia.  Unfortunately, Mohamed was only capable of controlling the capital city; tribal groups divided up the rest of the country.

Enter the United Nations

The time was right for the United Nations to stick its nose under the Somali tent.  The United Nations Organization Somali Command (UNOSOM) attempted to arrange several “cease-fire” agreements — emphasis on attempted. A fifty-man detachment of UN Peacekeepers tried to stabilize the country enough to conduct humanitarian relief operations. Such a small detachment had no chance of success, so the UN increased its military footprint to around 500 troops.

However, rebel factions in Somalia ignored all previously agreed-to cease-fire agreements, and the fighting continued.  According to its own guidelines, the UNO should have withdrawn all military and civilian aid workers from Somalia. 

In August 1992, the UN Security Council discussed sending an additional 3,000 troops to Somalia.  Discussing the proposition was as far as the proposal ever got.  Conditions in Somalia worsened as tribal factions splintered into even smaller groups and then splintered again.  As the fighting became nastier its effects grew worse. For example, rebel factions used UN forces for target practice, attacked ships laden with food stores, and cargo aircraft became targets of opportunity.  If aid workers knew what was good for them, they hired bodyguards.

By November 1992, General Mohamed Farrah Aideed tired of the fun and games and ordered all UN forces (the so-called Unified Task Force (UNITAF) out of Somalia.  There is probably a no better example of UN failure than this — and it was at this point that President George H. W. Bush demonstrated his brilliance as a national leader for the second time (appointing April Glaspie as Ambassador to Iraq was his first).  Bush volunteered the U.S. military to lead a “multinational” force to secure humanitarian operations in Somalia.

The UN General Secretary became so giddy that he authorized the American-led force (designated Operation Restore Hope) to use all necessary means to ensure the protection of UNITAF relief efforts.  Eventually, UNITAF involved personnel from 24 countries (but mainly from the United States).  The plan was simple enough: the U.S. military protected civilian aid workers while UNOSOM continued its efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting and distribute food stores.[2]

Land the Marines

Training and readiness have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps since the Revolutionary War.  In the Marines, training and operational planning are continuous and concurrent.  President Bush made his televised announcement on 4 December 1992; planning for Somali operations began on the morning of 5 December.

U.S. planners at the U.S. Central Command envisioned four operational phases.  First, deploy troops to secure harbors and airfields.  Second, establish and expand security zones throughout southern Somalia.  Third, expand the security zone and secure land routes for humanitarian missions.  Fourth, return Somali operations to the UN (presumably so that the UN could undo all of the U.S. military’s accomplishments).[3]

Mission planners also struggled with their assessment of the enemy.  As previously mentioned, the Somali “enemy” were splintered tribalists.  The answers to such questions as “how well is he armed,” and “under what conditions can he best employ his power” were largely unknown because Marines could face a different enemy every day.  But in addition to “enemy” capabilities, there was also the issue of rampant lawlessness.  Under the best of circumstances, U.S. operations in Somalia were volatile in the extreme. 

After extensive “special operations” training, Headquarters I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) designated the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9) as the lead battalion within the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15thMEU), earmarked for humanitarian assistance operations in Somalia.[4]  These Marines would spearhead the mission ashore as part of the UN mandate.[5]   Fox Company “raiders” went in first to secure the seaport, the Recon detachment, followed by Golf Company, secured the Mogadishu airport.

15th MEU became an integral part of Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Tripoli, including USS Tripoli, USS Juneau, and USS Rushmore.  ARG Tripoli was on station off the coast of Somalia on 3 December.  The initial landing commenced at 0540 with Marines and Navy Seals going ashore at Mogadishu, where the dolts from CNN had set up television cameras and bright lights to offer advantages to the enemy, should they care to resist the landing.  With that one significant glitch in violation of operational security, the landing proceeded quickly and smoothly.

2/9 Marines proceeded to the U.S. Embassy compound, where they secured the chancery.  Colonel Greg Newbold set up his command post (CP) at the airfield.  Also, on that first day, the first coalition partner arrived and joined the Marine security plan: a company from the 2nd French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment, which came by aircraft from Djibouti.

The Marine’s “overwhelming show of force” allowed them to seize, hold, and expand their control.  They discovered in Mogadishu a modern-looking city reflecting the effects of two years of warfare: anarchy, terror, no electricity, running water, or sanitation.  There were no police officers.  Public buildings had been damaged, looted, and stood vacant.  With closed schools, gangs of youths roamed the streets looking for things to pillage.  Crowded refugee camps filled every parcel of open land.  The only visible civic activities were those involving the burial of human remains.

Toward the end of the first day, a vehicle containing nine Somalis ran a roadside checkpoint manned by French Legionnaires. They opened fire at the fleeing automobile — killing two and wounding seven others.  Afterward, Somali snipers added UN Peacekeepers to their list of potential targets.  They weren’t hitting anyone, but the shooting was bothersome and worrisome.

On 10 December, Major General Charles E. Wilhelm, USMC, assumed command of Marine Forces (MARFOR), Somalia.  MARFOR provided the basic structure around which the Unified Task Force evolved.  Behind the Marines, the most prominent American force was the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, eventually forming the centerpiece for Army Forces, Somalia (ARFOR).  General Wilhelm’s command authority included the 15thMEU and French forces.  Wilhelm focused his attention on securing ports of arrival and departure and the Embassy compound.  When 1st Battalion, 7th Marines arrived, Wilhelm expanded his control over areas outside Mogadishu — notably into Bale Dogle.  Wilhelm assigned that mission to BLT 2/9 (supported by HMM 164), which they accomplished within 48 hours.

The first U.S. Army unit into Somalia was Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry (deployed with 2/87), which flew into the Bale Dogle airfield.  Upon arrival, Alpha Company relieved the Marines and assumed control of the airfield.

The first direct attacks on UNITAF members occurred in two separate incidents on 12 December.  Three aircraft of HMM 164 received fire from unknown persons with damage to their rotors.  Marines returned fire with 20mm guns and missiles, destroying two “technicals” and damaging one US-made armored personnel carrier.[6]

On 6 January 1993, unknown persons fired on a convoy moving through Mogadishu from two authorized weapons storage facilities belonging to General Aideed’s faction.  The unified commander, Lieutenant General Robert B. Johnston USMC, decided to take decisive action, or the danger to coalition forces would only increase.  He tasked General Wilhelm to develop a plan of action.  He wanted it simple and dramatic.

Mohamed Aideed

During the night of 6-7 January, Kilo Company 3/9 and Charlie Company 1/7 surrounded the two weapons sites.  LAVs from the 3rd LAI Battalion screened the area.  Snipers took positions in the high ground surrounding Aideed’s turf.  A two-company reserve force formed at the Embassy compound.  PsyOps personnel from the U.S. Army’s 9th Psychological Operations Battalion augmented each rifle company.  At 0553 on 7 January, PsyOps broadcasters began to issue warnings to the Somalis that they were surrounded, instructing them that they would not be harmed if they surrendered.

At that moment, helicopters assumed a hovering position around the ammunition sites.  Somalis in storage site No. 8 surrendered.  The men in site No. 2 decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  Helicopter crew chiefs reported that one tank inside the compound was turning over, and two Somalis had operated a heavy anti-aircraft machine gun.  Guns were cleared for snipers to take out the two machine gunners.  Within mere seconds, two machine gunners discovered the path to Allah, and then for good measure, the sniper rendered their machine gun inoperable.

The engagement that followed was loud, sharp, and somewhat short.  Initially, the Somalis opened up with a heavy volume of machine guns, recoilless rifles, and small arms.  At 0615, helicopters were cleared to engage targets inside the compound.  They fired for 30 minutes.  At 0647, U.S. tanks entered the compound, followed by Kilo Company Marines, who systematically cleared storage site No. 2.  Helicopters continued to receive periodic sniper fire.

General Wilhelm ordered Marines to confiscate all firearms. It turned into a long day as Marines inventoried 4 M47 Tanks, nine howitzers, 13 APCs, three anti-aircraft guns, 11 mortars, and one recoilless rifle.  In addition to losing several tons of weapons and munitions, General Aideed lost his self-esteem.

Despite this demonstration, coalition forces continued to receive sniper fire from “who knows where.”  Brigadier General Anthony C. Zinni opined that sniping was simply the Somali way of testing the resolve of U.S. personnel — emphasis on “opinion.”[7]

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Allard, K.  Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned.  National Defense University Press, 1995.
  2. Bowden, M.  Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare.  Atlantic Monthly Press,1999.
  3. Mroczkowski, D. P.  Restoring Hope: In Somalia with the Unified Task Force, 1992-1993.  HQMC History Division, 2005.
  4. Sangvic, R. N.  The Battle of Mogadishu: Anatomy of Failure.  Army Command and General Staff School, 1998.
  5. Wright, L.  The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.  Knopf Publishing, 2006

Endnotes:

[1] This wasn’t the first time the U.S. government spent its treasure propping up a Communist-Islamic dictatorship.

[2] One of UNOSOMs grand ideas was to pay out over $130 million to purchase guns from Somali rebels.  It was a great deal for the Somalis, who never seemed to run out of guns to sell. 

[3] When CENTCOM planners asked the UN to identify “implied tasks” that would help planners assess mission fulfilment, no one in the UN had a clue.  In other words, no one in the UN had any idea how to measure operational successes.

[4] Commanding Officer, Colonel Gregory S. Newbold.

[5] Actually, some forces were already in place before the Marines arrived.  Teams from special operations command provided some security at several airfields, providing security for air combat control teams.  Charlie Company, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) provided sniper support to the U.S. Special Envoy while in Mogadishu. 

[6] “Technical” (also, Non-Standard Tactical Vehicle) (NSTV) is the term used to describe ordinary and four-wheel-drive pickup trucks converted to carry heavy weapons.  The term “technical” originated in Somalia. 

[7] Anthony Zinni was one of those “political generals” who ingratiated himself with Democratic Party elites.  He retired from active service in 2000.  In 2004, Diana B. Henriques of the New York Times identified Zinni as one of a cabal of “retired military people” recruited to deceive active duty military personnel and veterans into investing in the corporations they were paid to represent.  Specifically, First Commercial Financial Planning, Inc., tried to deflect the charge, but a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation confirmed the allegation that First Commercial Financial Planning used “retired flag rank officers” to perpetrate fraud against military veterans.


Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli

Introduction

I am always fascinated by the origin of words.  Berber, for example, generally describes the people who live in Northeast Africa.  The word, however, was Greek — meaning someone who does not speak Greek, a non-Greek person.  The Romans used to refer to German tribesmen as “Berbers.”  Even in medieval times, Greeks, Italians, and Byzantines used similar words to describe various tribes that inhabited what was once called “Greater Libya,” or what is now the entire region of North Africa.

The Berbers of North Africa, however, called themselves by other names.  Our confusion, if that’s what it is, comes from the fact that so many different people controlled that region of the world — at one time or another — all speaking different languages: different languages always equate to different names for the people who lived in North Africa.  The Berbers are the Mauri cited in the Chronicle of 754 during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania (Spain).  Since the 11th Century, the word Moor has been the word most commonly used in place of Mauri.

Modern scholars believe that the historian Herodotus referred to the Mauri as Mazyes.  Latin sources referred to the tribe as Mazaces (later, Massylii).  There were different terms in Coptic.  Everyone in North Africa seemed to know about these people — they raided almost everyone, including the Egyptians.  These names, by the way, are how the Berbers referred to themselves.  I’ll just stay with the Greek/Roman words: Berber, Moors, and Barbary Pirates.

Background

The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 (also known as the West Africa Conference) coincided with Germany’s sudden emergence as an imperial power.  The conference was organized by Otto Von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany.  The outcome of this conference was Europe’s often chaotic scramble for Africa — denied by some modern historians (particularly the European scholars), arguing instead that the partition of Africa had more to do with subsequent bilateral agreements, which is somewhat akin to arguing about who fired the first shot at the O.K. Corral.  It doesn’t matter who started it; what matters is that this conference contributed to the beginning of a period of heightened European colonial activity, which eliminated or supplanted the right of Africans to govern themselves.  Of the fourteen nations attending the Berlin Conference, only six had no interest in colonizing Africa: The United States, Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden-Norway, and Russia.

Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli (1871 – 1925) was a Sharif (noble, highborn person) (descendant of Muhammed the Prophet) and a leader of the Jebala tribal confederacy in Morocco at the turn of the 20th century.  Foreigners saw Raisuli as a brigand.  Some Moroccans saw him as an enemy, as someone to fear.  But among the Jebala tribes, he was a magnificent hero.  Western historians view Raisuli as someone who falls between an English Robin Hood, a feudal baron, and a tyrannical bandit.  He was, according to some, the last Barbary Pirate.  As with every successful Moroccan politician, Raisuli was part criminal and part saint.

Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli

Raisuli was born in the village of Zinat (a coastal village 16 miles outside Tangier), where villagers referred to him as the Eagle of Zinat.  He was the son of a military leader (Qaid) and quite naturally followed in his father’s footsteps.  At certain times and at certain places, military men became raiders, criminals, brigands — but this was all part of the Berber culture.  No self-respecting Berber chieftain could be a goodie-two-shoe.

While it is true that Raisuli eventually drifted into brigandry, the term is entirely subjective.[1]  Raisuli helped himself to other people’s cattle because everyone and everything located in Raisuli’s territory belonged to Raisuli.  But if it is true that he stole sheep and cattle, he provided these animals to feed the members of his (large) tribe.  Moreover, he didn’t hesitate to terminate (with extreme prejudice) anyone who dared get in his way.  Raisuli was arrested and jailed on more than one occasion — not because of his barbarous acts but because he always seemed to get in the way of influential Arabs.

Some historians claim that the most significant formative event in Raisuli’s life was his arrest and imprisonment by Abd-al-Rahman Abd-al-Saduk, Pasha of Tangier.  Saduk was Raisuli’s cousin and foster brother.  Having accepted Saduk’s invitation to dine, Raisuli was apprehended almost as soon as he stepped inside Saduk’s home.  Culturally, the Pasha’s behavior was an affront to traditional Arab courtesy.  Saduk made this travesty worse by throwing Raisuli into a dungeon at Mogador, chaining him to a wall for four years.  Sultan Abd-al-Laziz released Raisuli as part of a general amnesty, but the Sultan eventually became Raisuli’s greatest enemy.

The primary consequence of throwing Raisuli into prison was that it made him even more dangerous after his release.  Once released, Raisuli became more ambitious, more anti-foreign, and nearly fanatically pro-nationalist.  Then, to make the sultan’s life as difficult as possible, particularly in his relations with foreign powers, Raisuli began kidnapping prominent officials of foreign governments and holding them for ransom.  His first victim was a British journalist named Walter Burton Harris.

Harris lived in Tangier for most of his life (1866 – 1933).  He was wealthy, a socialite, spoke Arabic fluently, and his physical appearance permitted him to pose as a native Moroccan.  His appearance and language skills allowed him to visit places off-limits to most foreign correspondents.  This access helped Harris create or inspire numerous political and diplomatic intrigues — which Mr. Harris dutifully reported to his employer, The Times.  It allowed him to create a problem and get paid for reporting on it (typical of journalists, I’d say).

Raisuli did kidnap Harris, but he didn’t demand money.  Instead, Raisuli demanded that the Moroccan government release several of his tribesmen from prison.  The government’s prompt response to these demands saw Harris released within three weeks.  The strategy proved so successful that Raisuli accelerated his kidnapping efforts — focusing mainly on Moroccan military and political officials.  In between his kidnapping activities, Raisuli demanded tribute payments from villages within his provincial area; the penalty for refusing to pay this tribute was death.  Raisuli used some of this tribute to purchase and employ sailing vessels for seagoing piracy.  Raisuli’s piracy was only marginally successful — no doubt owing to the modernization of European navies.

But there was a lighter side to Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli.  He was chivalrous, respectful toward his captives, protective of them, friendly, generous to those who demonstrated respect and loyalty, and a well-educated man.  However, his treatment of some prisoners could only be classified as downright cruel and barbaric.  Officials working for the Sultan of Morocco, or the Pasha of Tangier were often tortured, blinded, or their tongues cut out.  On at least one occasion, Raisuli disconnected the head of a  government envoy and returned it to the Pasha in a basket of fruit.

Raisuli’s international reputation began when he kidnapped the Greek-American expatriate Ion H. Perdicaris and his step-son, Cromwell Varley, Jr., and demanded payment of $70,000.00 for their release.  The event triggered a near-armed conflict between the government of Morocco and the United States in 1904, narrowly averted when Morocco paid the ransom and Perdicaris was released.  For a summary of this event, see The Perdicaris Affair.

After Perdicaris’ release, the Sultan appointed Raisuli Pasha of Tangier as governor of Jibala province and released all of Raisuli’s followers from prison.  By 1906, however, Raisuli’s cruelty and corruption prompted the Sultan to oust him from office and declare him an outlaw.  In response, Raisuli kidnapped Sir Harry Maclean, a British army officer serving as a military aide and advisor to the Sultan’s army.  Maclean was ransomed for £20,000.

Raisuli antagonized the Moroccan government for several years, even after Abd-al-Laziz abdicated.  He briefly regained favor with the Moroccan government by siding with Abdel al-Hafad in overthrowing al-Laziz, and for a time, the Sultan restored Raisuli as Pasha of Tangier.  However, at the insistence of the Spanish government, which exercised control over Morocco, the Sultan was removed from office again in 1912.

In 1913, Raisuli began an insurrection against the Spanish and continued a protracted guerrilla war against them for six years.  Eventually, Spanish Colonel Manuel Silvestre defeated Raisuli in the Battle of Fondak Pass, but Raisuli and most of his men avoided capture.

At the beginning of the First World War, Raisuli established contact with Imperial Germany, offering to serve the German cause by leading a rebellion against French Imperialists. Setting aside whether Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli was a bandit, he was faithful to the culture and traditions of his people; he did not want foreigners in his country, and he did not want his people falling under the heavy boot of European powers. When the French learned of this “treason,” they initiated a punitive expedition into Spanish Morocco.  The French did manage to disperse Raisuli’s forces, but they could not capture him.

In 1921, Silvestre re-engaged the Berbers at a small village named Annual.  It evolved into a fight lasting 18 days.  At its conclusion on 9 August, Spanish military forces (again) serving under Colonel Silvestre suffered the worst defeat in Spanish military history.

In September 1922, Raisuli submitted to the will of Spanish authorities and joined the Spanish army in the Rif War (1921 – 1926).  The Rif War was an armed conflict fought between occupying Spanish (and later, French) colonists and Berber tribes in the mountainous Rif region of northern Morocco.  The Berbers were led by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, also known as Abd al-Krim, who waged a guerilla war.  At first, al-Krim’s force inflicted several defeats on the Spanish, their mission to seize and re-employ as many Spanish (and French-made) weapons as possible.  Eventually, French troops captured al-Krim and sent him into exile.[2]

In 1921, in an attempt to consolidate control over the region, Spanish troops suffered the catastrophic Disaster of Annual in addition to a rebellion led by al-Krim.  As a result, the Spanish retreated to a few fortified positions while al-Krim ultimately created an independent state — the Republic of the Rif. 

The conflict coincided with the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, who commanded the campaign from 1924 to 1927.  France intervened in 1925 and established a collaboration with Spain that culminated in the amphibious landing at Alhucemas.  Spain had no hesitance in using chemical weapons against the Berbers.  To many historians, the Rif War was one of the last colonial wars in North Africa — and a pre-cursor to the Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962). Raisuli was intensely jealous of al-Krim and was not sorry to see him exiled.  Afterward, al-Krim’s followers viciously attacked Raisuli’s palace, killing most of his guards.  The captured Raisuli was promptly placed in a jail near Tamasin — where he died at the end of April 1925.  Mulai Ahmed al-Raisuli remains a folk hero to the Moroccan people — with a somewhat mixed reputation, of course.

Endnotes:

[1] At the beginning of the story of Lawrence of Arabia the son of a tribal chieftain shoots and kills Major Lawrence’s Arab escort and guide because he had the affrontery to drink from a well without first gaining the tribal chieftain’s permission.  That is how the Arab mind works, illustrated over a thousand times in any Arab tribal culture you choose. 

[2] Background to Rif War: in July 1909, Spanish workers constructing a rail-bridge providing access to iron mines near Melilla came under attack by Rifian tribesmen.  The incident led to a Spanish military response which cost them more than a thousand casualties.  Spain increased their footprint to 40,000 troops in northern Morocco. 


The Perdicaris Incident

Introduction

Admiral Mahan

Few Americans stand out as much as Alfred Thayer Mahan as one of the foremost thinkers on naval warfare and maritime strategy.  Some even say that Mahan was THE leading thinker on sea power and the conduct of war at sea.  Admiral Mahan was respected as a scholar in his own time, served as President of the American Historical Association, and is remembered as the author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.  Mahan’s studies examine the role of navies in determining the outcome of wars fought by the great European powers during the period between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries and remain valuable for their insight into sea power and strategy.

Admiral Mahan was also a student of international relations and attempted to apply the study of history toward an understanding of foreign policy and strategic problems of his day.  For a quarter of a century, he was a visible scholar and was sought by news outlets and public figures for his insight and advice.  Theodore Roosevelt was his friend, Franklin Roosevelt was a student, and Woodrow Wilson sought to silence him.  In President Wilson’s opinion, no good could come from military or naval officers who could think for themselves.

Mahan was, himself, a student of Thucydides — placing a high value on understanding the strategies pursued by the ancient Greeks, but he was dubious about the ability of states to promote cooperation by employing international law or the organization and political activity of peace societies because arbitration agreements among states, or the establishment of norms for conduct in the international arena were likely to work only so long as the issues at stake were limited in importance.  Once a great power’s vital interests were threatened, Mahan believed that international agreements to promote cooperation would give way to armed forces searching for security.  Mahan had no faith in the ramblings of liberal globalists who thought that agreements between nations would ensure peaceful relations — and as it turned out, Mahan was right.  In Mahan’s view, the best way to prevent war was for a country to be so well-armed that potential adversaries would be deterred from risking a conflict.

Paying very close attention to Mahan was a young politician with so much personal energy that he made others nervous.  It is fair to say that Theodore Roosevelt was an admirer of Admiral Mahan, but it would be a mistake to argue that Roosevelt owed Mahan for all his brilliant pragmatism.  Theodore Roosevelt was no shrinking violet in the study of history — and one wonders how much influence Roosevelt may have had on Mahan.  In 1879, while still an undergraduate at Harvard, Theodore Roosevelt began his study of the War of 1812, which became a prodigious effort.  In his research, what may have struck Roosevelt was that the American Navy had been unable to gain command of the sea despite its successes.  This revelation may have driven him toward a keen interest in what Mahan had to say about sea power.

A few years later, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt participated in the opening of the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis, where he was asked to deliver a speech.  He called it his “National Duties” speech.  Historians suspect that few people were paying much attention to Roosevelt when, toward the middle of his talk, he said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick — and you will go far.” Roosevelt borrowed this phrase from an African proverb. But in short order, Roosevelt began to address questions of international relations in the context of “big stick” foreign policy. Nine days later, Theodore Roosevelt would become President of the United States, and while assuring McKinley’s cabinet that he intended to continue their president’s policies, Roosevelt was an ardent imperialist who made the McKinley cabinet a nervous wreck.

Background

In 1826, a young man from Greece arrived in the United States for studies.  He was the son of an influential medical doctor and politician named Anthony Perdicaris. Anthony’s father, Licinius, was a physician to the Ottoman Sultan and later named a Count of the Republic of Venice for his services.  The Republic of Venice later beheaded Licinius for essentially the same reasons.

In 1822, during the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman forces attacked the city of Naousa and began killing all males and enslaving all Greek women and children.  Anthony gathered up his family and fled into the mountains.  Gregory was around twelve years old at the time.  Within a short time, Gregory had learned that his two brothers-in-law had been killed and that his mother and four sisters were taken captive and sold into slavery.  After his separation from his father, Gregory made his way to Jerusalem, where he met and befriended Pliny Fisk, an American missionary who helped arrange his passage to the United States.

Gregory was no slouch.  He learned English well enough to attend studies at Washington College (now Trinity) in Connecticut and graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  He later taught Greek and wrote several influential essays about the plight of the Greeks within the Ottoman domain.  In time, Gregory Perdicaris would become a naturalized American, and he would marry a young woman named Margaret Hanford, the granddaughter of William DeWitt, sister-in-law to Governor David Williams.  Hanford, although an orphan, came from a prominent South Carolina family.

Gregory returned to Greece in 1837 to serve as U.S. Ambassador.  When he returned to the United States in 1845, he resumed his life as an academic and a lecturer.  Politically associated with the Democratic Party, Gregory Perdicaris became an early investor in the Trenton Light Company and later served as one of its directors.  By 1852, he was also the Trenton Mutual Life Insurance Company president, with substantial investments in utility companies in Charleston, South Carolina.  In 1858, Gregory sent his son, Ion, to London, England, to study art.

Meanwhile, Margaret’s nephew, Henry McIver, began to demand that Ion be returned to South Carolina where he could participate in the Civil War.  Gregory had no intention of recalling his son from Europe.  On this basis, McIver sequestered the Perdicaris investments in South Carolina, which in 2020 value amounted to just over a million dollars.  In 1867, Gregory Perdicaris and several prominent Americans established a charitable fund for Greek refugees.  One of these investors was Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of the man who would become president.

Ion Hanford Perdicaris was born in Athens in 1840, grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, but fled to England at his father’s insistence to avoid participating in the American Civil War.  This prompted Henry McIver (a signer of the Ordinance of Succession) to confiscate the Perdicaris fortune, of which 1300 shares belonged to Ion.  To prevent the sequestration, Ion renounced his American citizenship (which was not permitted until 1868).  The issue of sequestration of the family’s wealth eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1877.

Still a U.S. citizen, Ion traveled back and forth to London as a journalist for The Galaxy.  He was young, unattached, and somewhat of a playboy.  In 1870, he began attending supernatural rituals with Cromwell F. Varley (an electrical engineer) and his wife, Ellen.  Cromwell’s profession required a good bit of travel back and forth between the United States and the United Kingdom — and because he and Ellen had four children, it was not practical that his wife should accompany him on his trips.  During these business trips, Ion Perdicaris and Ellen Varley began having supernatural seances of their own.  When Cromwell discovered the infidelity, he promptly divorced Ellen.  Ion, striving either to do the right thing or avoid scandal, promptly married her (1873), and assumed responsibility for raising the children.

Ion H. Perdicaris

In the late 1870s, Ion Perdicaris purchased a substantial home and estate in Tangier, where he collected exotic animals, dabbled in the arts, and maintained ties to influential people in the United States.  Ion and Ellen moved (with her children — two boys and two girls) to Tangier in 1882.  Ellen Perdicaris (and her children) retained their British nationality.  In Tangier, Ion became active in the fight for the rights of the Moors, led several civic commissions, and, as a de facto spokesman for the foreign community, argued for recognition of Tangier as a free port city.  Ion retained business interests in England and the United States throughout this period with frequent visits to both countries.

In 1886, after Perdicaris strenuously objected to the treatment offered to a native Moroccan by the American Minister in Tangier, a man who Consul General Felix Matthews accused of rape, the Moroccan government arrested Perdicaris and fined him for interfering in a legal matter.  Subsequently, Perdicaris filed charges against Matthews, and the Consul was removed from his post and ordered back to the United States.

In May 1904, despite his reasonable efforts on behalf of the Moroccan people, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (also, Raissoulli) kidnapped and held for ransom Ion Perdicaris and his step-son, Cromwell Varley, Jr.  A Hollywood film about the abduction was released in 1975 titled The Wind and the Lion starring Sean Connery, Brian Keith, Candace Bergen, and Steve Kanaly.  The film, while entertaining, completely misrepresents what transpired during the so-called Perdicaris Affair.

The Raissoulli

 Ahmed al-Raissoulli was the leader of three Moroccan tribes near Tangier.  In 1903, the Moroccan government arrested and jailed five of Raisuli’s men, no doubt charging them with brigandry — because that’s what they were.  That same year, Raisuli learned about the Stone Affair, where Bulgarian revolutionaries kidnapped an American Missionary and held her for ransom.  A quick study, Raisuli promptly kidnapped a newspaper correspondent named Walter Harris and held him for ransom.  This worked out so well for Raisuli that he then targeted Ion Perdicaris, assuming that the wealthier American would net a larger ransom.

The Incident

Ion, his wife, and stepson Cromwell Varley, Jr., relocated from their townhome in Tangier to their summer estate, Aidonia, on 16 May 1904.  Late in the afternoon of 18 May, Raisuli and a band of ruffians abducted Perdicaris and his stepson from Aidonia.  The number of ruffians is unknown, but estimates range from nine to 150.  Raisuli’s men cut telephone wires and assaulted several of Ion’s servants, leaving Ellen unmolested at the house.  She later contacted authorities, including the U.S. and British Consul and Moroccan officials.

American Consul Samuel Gummeré notified the U.S. State Department: 

Mr. Perdicaris, the most prominent American citizen here, and his stepson Mr. Varley, a British subject, were carried off last night from their country house, three miles from Tangier, by a numerous band of natives headed by Raisuly. . I earnestly request that a man-of-war be sent at once. . . the situation most serious.

Raisuli carried Perdicaris by horseback through the Rif Mountains.  Raisuli demanded $55,000 (later $70,000), the removal of all government troops from the region, a promise to end all harassment of the Riffian people, and the removal and arrest of the Pasha of Tangier (then part of the Ottoman infrastructure) and several other government officials.  He also demanded that the United States and Great Britain “guarantee” these demands would be met.

When the State Department received Gummeré’s communiqué, the Secretary of State, John Hay, was out of town. When notified of the incident, President Theodore Roosevelt resolved that the United States would not pay the ransom.  The mantra that evolved was “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead.” Under-Secretary Francis Loomis dealt with the crisis by diverting seven of sixteen U.S. Navy ships from the Mediterranean to the port of Tangier. Admiral F. E. Chadwick was ordered to send a ship from the South Atlantic to Tangier.  Simultaneously, the British dispatched a Royal Navy vessel from Gibraltar.

Al-Raisuli

On 21 May, the Sultan’s representatives were sent to begin negotiations with the Raisuli.  Two days later, negotiations were in the tank.  On 29 May, Raisuli threatened to kill his prisoners if his demands were not met within the next two days.  Raisuli’s threats revealed internal tensions: the foreign minister of Morocco allied himself with Raisuli’s enemies.  The Sharif of Ouazzane was credited with progress in the negotiations.  The Sultan sent a messenger to Raisuli, but upon the messenger’s arrival, Raisuli had his throat cut.  (Pictured right, Ahmed al-Raissoulli).

The Navy Department ordered Admiral T. F. Jewell to send three additional ships on that same day.  The armored cruisers USS Brooklyn and USS Atlanta reached Tangier on 30 May, and Admiral Chadwick conferred with the Sultan’s representative.  Two additional gunboats arrived on the following day.  France assured the United States that they would do all they could to rescue the prisoners.  On 1 June, Raisuli increased his ransom demand to $70,000.00.

Admiral Jewell arrived with USS Olympia, USS Baltimore, and USS Cleveland a few hours later.  With ships at anchor, Jewell appointed Major John Twiggs Myers to overall command of the ship’s Marine Detachments.  Washington ordered Jewell to keep a leash on the Marines until he was specifically authorized to employ them against Raisuli.  Roosevelt did not want to risk the possibility of Raisuli executing his prisoners.  The only Marines sent ashore was a team of four (4) men carrying sidearms, ordered to protect the U.S. Consulate and Mrs. Perdicaris.  On 8 June, two additional Marines were dispatched to protect the Belgian legation.

The State Department intended that if Morocco did not meet the United States’ demands, American Marines would seize Morocco’s custom houses, which supplied much of the country’s revenue.  Secretary Hay wanted the Sultan to persuade Raisuli to release Perdicaris; if not, or if Perdicaris or his stepson was harmed, the Marines would enter the fray.

On 30 May, Secretary John Hay learned that there was a question about Perdicaris’ citizenship.  Hay was given to understand that Perdicaris was a Greek.  President Roosevelt’s resolve weakened, but he decided to stay the course and attempted to get Britain and France to join the U.S. in a combined military operation.  Neither country was interested because they worked with the Sultan behind the scenes, urging him to accept Raisuli’s terms.  Tensions rose substantially on 2 June when an Italian warship dropped anchor in Tangiers harbor.

The international aspects of the Perdicaris Affair increased on 6 June two when two Spanish warships dropped anchor in Tangier.  Spain’s concern was that the U.S. would attempt to force Tangier into giving the American Navy portage rights.  HMS Prince of Wales arrived two days later.

On 8 June, the Sultan granted Raisuli’s demands by appointing Herid el Barrada as the governor of Tangier.  The appointment angered tribesmen, who raided the home of an Englishman.  Negotiations dragged on as the Sultan removed his troops from Raisuli’s province on the following day.  Tribesmen were still not happy.  On 14 June, an attempt was made to kidnap the Italian Consul.  On 15 June, Raisuli increased his demands to control six (rather than two) Moroccan political districts.  Four days later, the Sultan accepted Raisuli’s demands, and 21 June was the date agreed for the release of Perdicaris and his stepson.

On 20 June, a hitch in negotiations occurred when a man named Zelai, governor of an inland tribe, refused to act as an intermediary.  The ransom money was deposited on 21 June.  On 22 June, Raisuli demanded that the Sultan place another district under his authority.  Although a settlement had already been reached, a cable from Samuel Gummeré accused the Sultan of holding up negotiations.  At the Republican National Convention, Secretary Hay stated, “We want Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli Dead.” There was no doubt that Roosevelt would get the Republican nomination, but Hay’s declaration electrified the convention.  Raisuli released Ion Perdicaris on 24 June.

Afterward, Perdicaris and his family moved to Turnbridge Wells, England  Raisuni used the money he gained from ransoming Perdicaris to build his palace, known as the “House of Tears.”

It was an interesting incident in history.  But the movie was better.

Film Clip: The Wind and the Lion

Handsome Jack of the Marines

Myers John Twiggs 001John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great-grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, the Marine Corps offered Jack Myers a commission as a second lieutenant.

Despite the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, Hollywood film producers have portrayed this colorful Marine officer in two popular films that were loosely based on his exploits as a “tall, roguishly handsome, global soldier of the sea.”  The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding American Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, The Wind and the Lion, actor Steve Kanaly played the role of Captain Jerome.  In the actual event, Jerome was John Twiggs Myers.

After completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Marine Corps ordered Jack Myers to active duty.  As Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Charleston, Myers participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed to the Philippine Islands, where he was transferred to USS Baltimore.

During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents, notably at the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River.  His courage under fire in both engagements earned him recognition as an exceptional officer.  The Marine Corps promoted Myers to captain toward the end of 1899.

In May 1900, Captain Myers accompanied the USS Newark to China.  Upon arrival, his navy commanding officer ordered Myers ashore to command a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors.  Myers’ assignment in Peking was to protect the American Legation.  Because of his reputation for intrepidity under fire, the most vulnerable section of Legation’s defense, the so-called Tartar Wall, became Myers’s responsibility.

The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet with a bulwark of around forty feet in width that overlooked the foreign legation.  Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).

Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position (and their American counterparts), leaving the Marines to defend the entire section.  At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall.  During this engagement, Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg.  As a result of his tenacity under extremely dire conditions, the Marine Corps advanced Myers to the rank of Major and later awarded him the Brevet Medal (See notes), which in 1900 was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers.  At that time, Marine officers were ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor.

Brevet Medal 001While recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa.  He was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Bremerton, Washington.

In 1904, Myers commanded the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, sent to Tangiers, Morocco to address the Perdicaris Incident.  Afterward, Major Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months.  In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines.  One year later, the Marine Corps ordered Myers to serve aboard USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet.  In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and after graduating from the Army War College in 1912, Myers assumed command of a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  A year later he served in command of the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918.  He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.

In 1921, the Marine Corps appointed Colonel Myers to serve as Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific — serving in that position for three years.  In 1925, Myers assumed command of the 1st Marine Brigade in Haiti.  Following his service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific in 1935, with 46 years of adventurous service, Major General Myers retired from active service.  In recognition of his distinguished service in 1942, the Marine Corps advanced Jack Myers to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.

John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.

____________

Notes

1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.

Call Sign Misty One

Sometimes, the things we do as Americans make no sense at all.  Take, for example naming bridges after loathsome people.  Why would we want to name a bridge after Rachel Carson, the biologist responsible for the early death of millions of people, because she (successfully) fought against the use of D.D.T. in controlling malaria?  We’ve named bridges after crooked politicians, too — such as Huey Long in Louisiana and Oklahoma, after three ne’re-do-wells who were tossed out of office.

Every once in a while, we get it right — as if anyone remembers.  George E. Day has a very short bridge named after him in Western Florida.  Actually, it’s more of a by-pass bridge that takes traffic over the top of the main entrance of Hurlburt Air Force Base along U.S. 98 in Okaloosa County.  It was a nice thought because Mr. Day deserves our remembrance.

Colonel George E. “Bud” Day, USAF

George Everett Day, whom everyone called Bud, was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on 24 February 1925.  After his seventeenth birthday in 1942, Bud dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Marine Corps.  By then, the war in the Pacific was raging.  Mr. Day spent thirty months in the Pacific, assigned to the Third Defense Battalion on Johnson Island.  After his discharge in November 1945, he returned home and joined the U.S. Army Reserve.  By the time his four-year enlistment expired in 1949, Mr. Day had completed his high school and college education, graduating from Morningside College with a Bachelor of Science degree.

He afterward enrolled in the South Dakota School of Law, receiving his Juris Doctor degree and passing the Bar examination, and began a law practice in South Dakota while applying for and receiving an officer’s commission in the Air National Guard.  Later, Bud would also receive a master’s degree from Saint Louis University, a doctorate in humane letters from Morningside University, and a Doctor of Laws from Troy State University.

Like many reservists in 1951, Bud Day was called to active duty during the Korean War.  Sent to pilot training school in March 1951, he received his wings at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, and in 1952 attended all-weather interceptor aircraft.  Bud Day flew the F-84 Thunder Jet during two combat tours in Korea while assigned to the 55th Fighter/Bomber Squadron.  He transitioned to the F-100 Super Sabre in 1957.  Two years later, an incident forced his ejection from the F-100, and he became the first person to live after his parachute failed to open.  See also: Jarhead Adventures.  Between 1959-and 1963, Day served as an assistant professor of aerospace science at the Air Force ROTC detachment at Saint Louis University.

Day anticipated retiring from military service in 1968, but he requested a combat tour in South Vietnam before he did that.  The Air Force assigned him to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, in 1967.  By this time, Day had acquired 5,000 hours as a pilot, 4,500 of those as a fighter stick.  On 25 June 1967, Major Day assumed command of Detachment One, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Phu Cat Air Base.  Major Day and his pilots flew missions under the program titled Commando Sabre.   This program employed twin-seat F-100F aircraft while performing Fast Forward Air Controller (Fast FAC) missions.  Detachment One’s flights over Laos and North Vietnam were code-named Misty.

On 26 August, Major Day was flying as call sign Misty One, his 26th Fast FAC mission, directing a flight of F-105’s against a North Vietnamese SAM installation north of Thon Cam Son, twenty or so air miles above the DMZ.  Enemy 37-mm antiaircraft fire crippled Day’s aircraft forcing him and Captain Corwin Kippenhan to eject.  Day received a broken arm in three places during ejection, foreign object damage to his eye, and significant back injuries (which were common among those forced to eject from high-performance aircraft.  Kippenhan was able to contact USAF SAR for extraction, but Day, with his injuries, could not utilize his survival radio and was soon captured by NVA militia.

Major Day escaped from his North Vietnamese captors during the night of his fifth day of captivity. Despite his injuries, he evaded the enemy for fifteen days and finally made it across the DMZ toward friendly units.  He was within two miles of the Marine FSB at Con Thiên when a Viet Cong patrol shot him in the leg and hand and recaptured him.  Returned to the unit which had initially captured him, Day suffered inhumane torture as they directed beatings against his broken arm to punish him for escaping.  Major Day became the cell-mate of Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain and USAF Major Norris Overly.  Throughout his incarceration as a POW, Day was regularly beaten, starved, and tortured.  After five years and seven months as a POW, the North Vietnamese released Bud Day, and he returned to the United States, his wife, and four children.  On 4 March 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded Bud Day the Medal of Honor.

While incarcerated in North Vietnam, the Air Force promoted Day to lieutenant colonel and then colonel.  Initially, Day was physically too weak to return to operational flying.  After his release from captivity, he underwent physical therapy and began conversion training to the F-4 Phantom II with waivers to standard protocols.  Once qualified, the Air Force assigned him as Vice Commander, 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin USAF Base, Florida.  Colonel Day retired from active service when the Air Force passed him over for promotion to Brigadier General.  His aircraft qualifications included single and dual engine jet aircraft: F-80, F-84, F-100, F-101, F-104, F-105, F-106, FB-111, F-4, A-4, A-7, CF-5, F-15, and F-16.

Following retirement, Day was admitted to the Florida Bar.  Besides a law practice, Day wrote of his experiences as a POW in two books: Return with Honor and Duty, Honor, Country.  In 1996, Bud Day filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government alleging breach of contract on behalf of military retirees who were stripped of their medical care benefits at age 65 and told to apply to Medicare.  Day won the case in federal district court in 2001, but the judgment was overturned on appeal.  Congress redressed this situation by establishing the TRICARE for Life (TFL) program, which restored military medical benefits for career military retirees over the age of 65, making military retirees eligible for both programs.

In retirement, Bud Day was an active member of the Florida Republican Party and became involved in the so-called Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth (against John Kerry). He actively campaigned for John McCain in both 2000 and 2008.

General Day is the only individual to receive both the Medal of Honor and Air Force Cross.  His other awards included the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, and POW Medal. Upon his death on 27 July 2013, the Air Force advanced Colonel Day to the rank of Brigadier General.

MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION

USAF Medal of Honor

On 26 August 1967, Colonel Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire.  His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained.  He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp, where he was interrogated and severely tortured.  After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam.  Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward, surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs.  He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Bến Hải River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages.  With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone.  Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days.  After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh.  He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him.  Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself.  Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance.  His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy.  Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Actually, a short by-pass bridge commemorating the life, service, and devotion of General George E. “Bud” Day may not be sufficient.  I often wonder how many people driving across this bridge know that Bud Day was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Marine Corps Artillery — Part 4

Post-Korea and Beyond

Post-Korea Reorganization

For U.S. Marines, the Korean Peninsula wasn’t the only dance hall. No sooner had HQMC directed the transfer of three battalions of the 10th Marines to the 11th Marines, than the rebuilding of the 10th Marines with new recruitments and artillery training began.  In the mid-1950s, the 10th Marines played a pivotal role in the Lebanon Emergency, fleet training exercises, and deployments supporting NATO exercises in Norway, Greece, Crete, Gibraltar, the Caribbean, and West Indies. The Cold War was in full swing.

Between 1955 and 1965, Marine Corps artillery battalions trained with new weapons and maintained their readiness for combat.  No one in the Marine Corps wanted to return to the bad old days of the Truman administration.  Should the plague of war revisit the United States, the Marine Corps intended to meet every challenge by maintaining a high state of combat readiness.  Artillery Battalions trained to support infantry regiments and, as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, firing batteries frequently deploy with battalion landing teams (BLTs).  In 1957, new tables of organization increased the size of artillery battalions by adding a 4.2-inch mortar battery.  A new mortar was introduced in 1960, called the “howtar.”  The new M30 4.2-inch mortar was a rifled, muzzle-loading, high-angle weapon used for long-range indirect fire support.  In addition to other “innovations,” cannon-cockers participated in (helicopter-borne) vertical assault training, which given the weight of artillery pieces, was not as simple as it sounds.  The howtar, while still in service, is (to my knowledge) no longer part of the USMC weapons inventory.

Back to East Asia

In the early 1960s, the Cold War showed signs of easing.  The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) seemed to foreshadow a period of détente after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The hope for world peace fell apart with incidents in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — of which the war in Vietnam was an extraordinary event.  From 1954 to 1975, nearly half a million Marines fought in the jungles of Vietnam (See also: Viet Nam: The Beginning).

In 1962, all Marine ground units began counterinsurgency training, which was mostly exercises designed to improve small unit combat patrols and area security operations.  In June, the 11th Marines went through another re-organization.  The 1st and 4th 155-mm Howitzer Batteries, Force Troops, FMF became the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines.  Marine Corps Base, Twenty-nine Palms became the permanent home of the 4th Battalion because its weapons demanded more area for live-firing exercises.

In late July 1964, the US Seventh Fleet assigned the destroyer, USS Maddox, to perform a signals intelligence mission off the coast of North Vietnam.  On Sunday, 2 August, the ship was allegedly approached by three North Vietnamese Navy (NVN) motor patrol boats.  The official story of this incident is that after giving the NVN a warning to remain clear of the ship, the patrol boats launched an assault on Maddox.  Nothing like that actually happened, but it was enough to give President Lyndon Baines Johnson a war in Indochina.[1]

Following this incident, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander, US Pacific Fleet, activated the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9thMEB).[2]  Brigadier General Raymond G. Davis, who was at the time serving as Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Marine Division, was named to command the Brigade.[3]

9thMEB formed around the 9th Marine Regiment (9thMar), including the regimental headquarters (HQ) element and three battalion landing teams (BLTs) —in total, around 6,000 combat-ready Marines.  When the Maddox incident faded away, the US Pacific Fleet ordered the 9thMEB to establish its command post at Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, with its BLTs strategically distributed to Subic Bay, Okinawa, and “afloat” at sea as part of the Special Landing Force (SLF), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), US Seventh Fleet.

Between 28 December 1964 — 2 January 1965, North Vietnamese Army (NVA)/Viet Cong (VC) forces overwhelmingly defeated a South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) battalion and its US military advisors at Binh Gia.  It was a clear demonstration to the Americans that the ARVN could not defend the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).[4]

Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch assumed command of 9thMEB on 22 January 1965. At that point, President Johnson ordered the Marines into Da Nang — their specific mission was to secure the airfield against enemy Viet Cong (VC) intrusions. In late February, VC forces assaulted the US base at Pleiku, killing 9 Americans, wounding 128 others, and damaging or destroying 25 military aircraft. Karch led the 9thMAB ashore on 7 March 1965.  In addition to BLTs 2/9 and 3/9, 9thMEB also absorbed Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16), which was already conducting “non-combat” ARVN support missions at Da Nang (See also: Vietnam, the Marines Head North).

Fox Battery, 2/12, attached to BLT 3/9, was the first Marine Corps artillery unit to serve in the Vietnam War.  The arrival of additional artillery units prompted the formation of a Brigade Artillery Group, which included Alpha Battery, 1/12, Bravo Battery, 1/12, and Fox Battery, 2/12.  These firing batteries employed 105-mm howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars.  The arrival of Lima Battery, 4/12, added a 155-mm howitzer battery and an 8-inch howitzer platoon.[5]  As the number of Marine infantry units increased in Vietnam, so did the number of artillery units.  The I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ) was further divided into Tactical Areas of Responsibilities (TAORs) and assigned to the 3rd Marine Division (from Okinawa) and 1st Marine Division (from Camp Pendleton, California).

In the summer of 1965, most of the 11thMar departed Camp Pendleton and moved to Camp Hansen, Okinawa.  Within mere days of their arrival, 3/11 and Mike Battery, 4/11 proceeded to RVN.  Assigned to Chu Lai to support the 7th Marines, elements of both regiments went immediately into Operation Starlight.  During August, 1/11 moved to Okinawa.  Alpha Battery went ashore in Vietnam with the Special Landing Force (SLF) in December.  HQ 11th Marines arrived in Chu Lai in February 1966, joined by 2/11 from Camp Pendleton.  The battalions of the 11thMar supported infantry regiments, as follows: 1/11 supported the 1stMar; 2/11 supported the 5thMar, and 3/11 supported the 7thMar.  4/11 served in general support of the 1st Marine Division.

The I CTZ was the northernmost section of South Vietnam.  It consisted of five political provinces situated within approximately 18,500 square miles of dense jungle foliage.  The area of I CTZ was by far larger than any two infantry divisions could defend or control, so the Marine Corps developed a tactical plan that assigned its six available infantry regiments to smaller-sized TAORs.  These TAORs were still too large, but it was all the Marines could do under the rules of engagement dictated to them by the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV).  The relative isolation of combat units created a dangerous situation.  Marine artillerists were no exception

Although two artillery regiments operated in Vietnam, they were not equal in size or mission.  By 1967, the 12th Marine Regiment was the largest artillery regiment in Marine Corps history — task organized to support a larger number of infantry units within a much larger TAOR.  All artillery units were assigned to support infantry units throughout the I CTZ; tactical commanders placed these artillery units where they were most effective — fire support bases (FSBs) at strategic locations.

Although originally conceived as a temporary tactical arrangement, several FSBs became long-term (semi-permanent) operating bases.  They were quite literally blasted into existence from heavily forested hilltops.  For as much as possible, the FSB system provided mutually supporting fires, but this was not always possible.  The size of FSBs varied according to the size of the units assigned.  Typically, an FSB hosted a single firing battery (six 105mm or 155mm howitzers), a platoon of engineers, field medical and communications detachments, helicopter landing pads, a tactical operations center, and an infantry unit for area security.  Larger FSBs might include two firing batteries and a BLT.[6]

Beyond their traditional tasks, Marine artillerists were often required to provide for their own defense against enemy probes and outright assaults.  FSBs were also the target of enemy mortar and artillery fires.  When infantry units were unavailable, which was frequently the case in Vietnam, artillerists defended themselves by manning the perimeter, establishing outposts, and conducting combat/security patrols.  VC units foolish enough to assault an FSB may very well have spent their last moments on earth contemplating that extremely poor decision.  The only thing the NVA/VC ever accomplished by shooting at an American Marine was piss him off. Every Marine is a rifleman.

In 1968, the VC launched a major assault on all US installations in Vietnam.  It was called the Tet Offensive because it took place during the Vietnamese new year (Tet).  The tactical goal was to kill or injure as many US military and RVN personnel as possible — playing to the sentiments of the anti-war audience back in the United States and discrediting the US and ARVN forces in the eyes of the Vietnamese population.  Marine artillery played a crucial role in defeating attackers from multiple regions within I CTZ, but the offensive also changed the part of Marine artillery after 1968.  Before Tet-68, supporting fires were routine, on-call, and a somewhat minor factor during USMC ground operations.  After Tet-68, artillery took on a more significant fire support role.  1968 was also a year of innovation as Marine artillery units incorporated the Army’s Field Artillery Digital Computer Center (FADAC) (which had been around since 1961) and the new Army/Navy Portable Radio Communications (25).[7]

In addition to providing tactical fire direction and support to Marine Corps infantry units, USMC artillerists also provided fire support to US Army and ARVN units operating in the I CTZ.  Following the communist’s failed Tet-68 offensive, the Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division (Major General Raymond G. Davis) initiated an offensive campaign to diminish or destroy NVA/VC units operating within I CTZ and demilitarized zones (DMZ).  Marine artillery units joined with Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force attack aircraft, B-52 bombers, and naval gunfire from the U.S. Seventh Fleet to destroy enemy sanctuaries and artillery positions within the DMZ and Laos.  These overwhelming bombardments allowed infantry units to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, reduce the size of their forces, destroy enemy defensive fortifications, and disrupt their logistics efforts.  What transpired within I CTZ was an impressive demonstration of inter-service cooperation that gave US forces the upper hand in RVN’s northern provinces.

Conclusion

Marines continue to learn essential lessons from their many past battles and conflicts.  For example, the Small Wars Manual, 1941, is still used by Marines as a resource for certain types of operations.  The expression Every Marine is a Rifleman is as true today as it was in 1775 — Marine artillerists are no exception.  During Operation Enduring Freedom, Golf Battery, BLT 1/6 performed several essential combat functions, which in addition to fire support missions, included humanitarian assistance, convoy security, area security for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ripley, UN Team security, prisoner security, and its transition into a provisional rifle company.[8]  Given the diverse range of military occupational specialties involved, making that transition was a challenge for Battery officers and NCOs.

Marines representing a wide range of occupational specialties within a firing battery, from cannon-cockers and lanyard snappers to FDC operations specialists, motor transport drivers and mechanics, cooks, and communicators molded themselves into cohesive fire teams, rifle squads, platoons, and ultimately, a responsive and highly lethal infantry company.  The effort and result were the embodiment of task force organization.  Golf Battery formed three fully functional infantry platoons (two rifle and one weapons platoon), each containing the requisite number of radio operators and a medical corpsman.  The effort was fruitful because the individual Marine, adequately led and motivated, is innovative, adaptable, and resourceful in overcoming any challenge.

Sources:

  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  US Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.

Endnotes:

[1] On 7 July 1964, the US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to take any measures he believed were necessary to retaliate against North Vietnam’s aggression and promote peace and security in Southeast Asia.

[2] The 9thMEB was later deactivated and its units absorbed into the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).  In March 1966, the brigade was re-activated as the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9thMAB) reflecting its primary special landing force mission under the US Seventh Fleet.

[3] General Davis (1915-2003) served on active duty in the US  Marine Corps from 1938 to 1972 with combat service in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War.  Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as CO 1/7 during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.  He was also awarded the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart Medal.  General Davis’ last assignment was Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[4] RVN had been in political turmoil since November 1963 when President John Kennedy authorized the CIA to orchestrate the removal of Ngo Dinh Diem as President of South Vietnam.  Diem and his brother were assassinated on 2 November; Kennedy himself was assassinated on 22 November 1963.

[5] The 8-inch howitzer is a 203-mm gun with a range of 20.2 miles; the 155-mm howitzer has a range of 15.3 miles.

[6] Fire Support Base Cunningham at one time hosted five artillery batteries (2 105-mm, 2 155-mm, 1 4.2-inch mortar).

[7] Also, AN/PRC-25 (Prick 25) was a lightweight, synthesized VHF solid-state radio offering 2 watts of power, 920 channels in two bands with a battery life of about 60 hours.  The term “lightweight” was relative.  The radio added 25-pounds to the radioman’s usual combat load.  The PRC-25 was a significant improvement over the PRC-10.  It has since been replaced by the PRC-77.

[8] The official US designation for the War on Terror (7 Oct 2001-28 Dec 2014).