Hold High the Torch, Part II

The Continuing story of the 4th Marines

EGA BlackThe size and scope of Operation Iceberg —the Battle for Okinawa, given the island’s size and terrain, was massive.  Iceberg included the Tenth US Army’s XXIV Corps (four infantry divisions) and the III Marine Amphibious Corps (1st, 2nd, and 6th Marine Divisions), the Fifth US Fleet (Task Force 58, 57, and the Joint Expeditionary Force), involving a combined force of 541,000 personnel (250,000 of which were combat troops).  Tenth Army was uniquely organized in the sense that it had its own tactical air force (joint Army-Marine Corps aviation).

The Tenth Army faced 96,000 Japanese and Okinawan belligerents.  Between 14,000 to 20,000 Americans died on Okinawa; between 38,000 to 55,000 Americans received serious wounds.  Japanese losses were between 77,000 to 110,000 killed with 7,000 captured alive.  Approximately half of the entire civilian population living on Okinawa were killed out of an estimated island-wide population of 300,000.

Iceberg was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War.  The 82-day battle had but one purpose: seize the Kadena air base for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands.  The Japanese put up one hell of a fight in their defense of Okinawa but in doing so, they sealed their own fate: the ferocity of the Japanese Imperial Army convinced Washington politicians that dropping its new secret weapon (an atomic bomb) was far better than trying to take the Japanese home islands by force of arms —and costing the Americans an (estimated) additional one-million casualties.

The landing force demanded a massive armada of ships.  The Navy would have their hands full with Kamikaze aircraft from mainland Japan. The 6th Marine Division’s mission was to capture Yontan airfield in the center part of the Island.  The first assault wave came ashore at 0837, and the 4th Marines (less its 2nd Battalion, held in reserve) was among the first units to hit the beach.  What shocked the Marines was that they encountered no resistance from Japanese defenders.  Accordingly, the American advance was rapid; significant territorial gains were achieved on that first day.  In the absence of Japanese resistance, 2/4 came ashore at noon and rejoined the regiment. Yontan was taken ahead of schedule and then, according to the game plan, the 6thMarDiv turned north.  Marine progress continued unimpeded until 7 April when the Marines encountered Japanese defenders on the Motobu Peninsula.

The defense of this peninsula included several Japanese obstacles along the Marine’s likely avenues of approach. Terrain favored the Japanese. Mount Yaetake formed the core of the Japanese defense.  The mission of pacifying Mount Yaetake was assigned to the 4th Marines, reinforced by 3/29.  The 22nd Marines and the balance of the 29th Marines moved to seal off the peninsula.  There is no sense in having to fight the same enemy twice.

The 4th Marines attack commenced on 0830 on 14 April.  2/4 and 3/29 made the preliminary assault on a 700-foot ridge.  The Marine advance was bitterly contested until 16 April; it was a classic search and destroy mission but the Japanese weren’t going quietly. On 16 April BLT 3/4 was brought into the line.  Marines from Company A and Company C boldly charged through the enemy’s heavy barrage of mortar and machine gun fires to seize the crest by mid-afternoon.  Once the Marines secured and consolidated their positions, the mission continued to eliminate pockets of resistance. Combined, the two-company assault resulted in the loss of 50 Marines killed and wounded.

The 6thMarDiv pushed on and the peninsula was pacified on 20 April.  Organized resistance in northern Okinawa ended on 21 April 1945.  Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., commanding the division, declared his sector secure and available for further operations.  In the southern sector of the Island, all American progress came to a halt at the Shuri Line [1].

General Buckner ordered III Amphibious Corps (Lieutenant General Roy Geiger, commanding) to redeploy his Marines to the left of XXIV Corps; the US 27th Division replaced the 6thMarDiv in its mopping up operations.  Shepherd’s Marines were in place by 6th May.  Buckner ordered another advance and the 6thMarDiv was tasked with capturing the city of Naha.  4th Marines began their engagement on 19 May after relieving the 29th Marines, who by this time were fought-out.  It was a brutal form of war —up close and personal: Marines had to dislodge the Japanese in hand to hand combat.  By the time the 4th Marines reached Naha, they were ready to come off the line and were replaced by the 29th Marines.

Okinawa 1945
4th Marines assault on Naha, Okinawa. DoD picture from the public domain.

On 4 June, the 4th Marines assaulted the Oroku Peninsula, the location of the Naha airfield. It was an amphibious assault involving BLTs 1/4  and 2/4 under a blanket of naval gunfire and field artillery support.  BLT 3/4  came ashore a few hours later as the reserve force.  That afternoon, the 29th Marines came ashore and lined up next to the 4th regiment.  It was a slug-fest with a well-entrenched enemy; the battle lasted for nearly two weeks. Torrential rains and thick mud hampered the progress of Marines —mud and slime not even tracked vehicles could penetrate.  On 12 June, the outcome of the battle became self-evident.  The Japanese continued fighting, of course, but their back was to the water and there was no possibility of escape.  By this time, the Marines weren’t keen on taking prisoners. The 22nd Marines closed the back door by moving into a blocking position at the base of the peninsula.  The Japanese had but two choices: surrender or die. Most opted for the second option. General Shepherd informed III Amphibious Corps on 13 June that the peninsula belonged to the American Marines.

Following this battle, 6thMarDiv proceeded south to link up with the 1stMarDiv in the final engagement of the battle.  4th Marines returned to the front on 19 June and commenced their advance on the next morning.  The Marines encountered some resistance, but not much —the Japanese were fought out, too.  All organized resistance ended on 21 June 1945.  The 4th regiment’s casualties in the Battle of Okinawa exceeded 3,000 killed and wounded.  With Okinawa in American hands, the 4th Marines headed back to Guam for rest, retraining, and refit.  Everyone was thinking of the planned assault on the Japanese home islands; no one was happy about such a prospect.

US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place in early August.  I’m not sure most Marines knew what an atomic bomb was back then, but even among those who might have had an inkling I doubt whether many were remorseful.  Planners began to consider final preparations for occupation. With Japanese acceptance of the terms of surrender on 14 August, Task Force Alpha began to organize for seizure of key Japanese positions, including the naval base at Yokosuka in Tokyo Bay. The main element of Task Force Alpha was the 4th Marine Regiment.  The decision to assign the 4th Marines to this duty was a symbolic gesture to avenge the capture of the “old” 4th Marines on Corregidor.

The US 4th Marine regiment was the first American combat unit to land on the Japanese mainland.

As the Marines transitioned from transport ships to landing craft at 0430 on 30 August, they no doubt expected treachery from their war time foe.  No matter —the Marines were prepared for any eventuality.  First ashore was BLT 2/4, which landed at Cape Futtsu.  The Marines were the first foreign invasion force ever to set foot on Japanese soil.  Upon landing, the Marines quickly neutralized shore batteries by rendering them inoperable. After accepting the surrender of the Japanese garrison, BLT 2/4 reembarked to serve as a reserve force for the main landing at Yokosuka.  BLTs 1/4 and 3/4 landed at around 0900; 3/4 seized the naval base, and 1/4 took over the airfield.  Demilitarization of all Japanese installations was initiated as a priority; it would be better not to have loaded weapons in the hand of a recently conquered army.  For all of that, all landings were unopposed.  Japanese officials cooperated with the Marines to the best of their ability.

Task Force Alpha was disbanded on 21 September 1945 and all 6thMarDiv units were withdrawn from Japan —except one.  The Fourth Marines were placed under the operational control of the Eighth Army and the regiment was assigned to maintain the defense of the Yokosuka naval base.  This included providing interior guard and the disarming Japanese (who appeared in droves to surrender their weapons).  This duty continued until November.  President Truman had ordered rapid demobilization of the US Armed Forces. Operational control of the 4th Marines passed from Eighth Army to Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific on 20 November. At the end of the month, BLT 1/4 was ordered to proceed to Camp Pendleton, California, where it was deactivated on 29 December 1945.  The regiment’s remaining elements (except for the regimental headquarters and BLT 3/4) departed Japan on 1 January 1946.  These units were deactivated at Camp Pendleton on 20 January.  BLT 2/4 was deactivated on 31 January 1946.  BLT 3/4, still in Japan, was deactivated at Yokosuka and these Marines formed the core of a newly created 2nd Separate Guard Battalion.  They would remain in Japan to guard the naval base.

4th Marines return to China, 1945. DoD Photo from Public domain.

Headquarters 4th Marines departed Japan on 6 January for Tsingtao, China.  After four years, The China Marines had returned from whence they came.  In China, 4th Marines headquarters was re-attached to the 6th Marine Division, but the regiment really only existed on paper until 8 March 1946.  On that date, all three battalions and weapons company were reactivated in China, a matter of shifting personnel from the 22nd and 29th Marines, which were deactivated.

Occupation duty in China presented an uneasy situation for everyone concerned.  Truman wanted a smaller military, and he wanted it now, even as Marines confronted an aggressive Communist Chinese Army in North China.  The 6th Marine Division was deactivated  on 31 March.  All remaining Marine Corps units in China were re-organized as the 3rd Marine Brigade. The core element of the 3rd Brigade was the 4th Marine Regiment.  Initially, 4th Marines was the only Marine Corps regiment to retain its World War II combat organization of three battalions.  Then, on 10 June 1946, the 3rd Marine Brigade was also deactivated; operational control of the 4th Marines was transferred to the 1stMarDiv.

Truman’s reductions kept the Marine Corps in a constant state of flux.  In the second half of 1946, the 4th Marines (less its 3rd Battalion) was ordered back to the United States.  BLT 3/4 was placed under the operational control of the Commander, Naval Port Facilities, Tsingtao.  Meanwhile, the regiment’s arrival at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on 1 October was the first time the 4th Marines had set foot inside the United States in twenty years.  As most of its veterans were discharged or reassigned, the regiment was once more reduced to a paper tiger.  In May 1947, the 1st Battalion was reactivated.  BLT 3/4, which was still in China was deactivated.  In November 1947, 4th Marines lost its traditional structure and became a four-company size organization: Headquarters Company, Company A, Company B, and Company C.  This significantly reduced structure remained in place for the next two years.  Even so, these rifle companies participated in a number of post-War exercises in the Caribbean.

In September 1948, what was left of the 4th Marines was again sent overseas aboard vessels of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.  Cold War antagonism between the Soviet Union and United States threatened to erupt into a full-scale war.  By this time, President Truman may have realized that downsizing the US Department of Defense [2] while at the same time challenging the power of the Soviet Union wasn’t a very good idea.  Suddenly realizing the ominous consequences of a Soviet-dominated Europe, Truman began sending military and economic aid to nations menaced by Communist aggression.  Truman also decided to maintain a US presence in the Mediterranean to help ease the pressure on such countries as Greece and Turkey.  In furtherance of this policy, the Marine Corps maintained a battalion landing team (BLT) as part of the Mediterranean fleet.  The 4th Marines was re-activated from this BLT beginning in September 1948 and lasting until January 1949.  America’s “show of force” included a landing at Haifa, Palestine in October.  This detachment was ordered to proceed to Jerusalem to perform temporary guard duty at the American Consulate.

A few months after returning to the United States, the 4th Marines deployed to Puerto Rico for training exercises.  The regiment was once again deactivated on 17 October 1949.  Less than one year later, the military weakness of the United States along with other Truman administration blunders encouraged the North Koreans to invade the Republic of South Korea.

Next week: From Harry Truman’s War to the Streets Without Joy

Sources:

  1. Organization of the United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP) 5-12D. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 2015.
  2. Santelli, J. S. A Brief History of the Fourth Marines.  Washington: U. S. Marine Corps Historical Division, 1970

Endnotes:

[1] The Shuri-Naha-Yanabaru Line was a defensible series of positions held by the Japanese Imperial Army. It was so formidable, in fact, that during the contest, Marine Corps Commandant suggested that Tenth Army commander General Simon B. Buckner consider using the 2ndMarDiv in an amphibious assault on the southern coast of Okinawa, thereby outflanking the Japanese defenses.  Buckner rejected the proposal, which left only one strategy: frontal assault.

[2] The Department of Defense was created through the National Security Act of 1947, a major restructuring of the US military and intelligence agencies.  This act merged the War Department (renamed as Department of the Army) and Navy Department into the National Military Establishment, headed by the Secretary of Defense.  It also created the Department of the Air Force and United States Air Force and established the United States Marine Corps as a separate service under the Department of the Navy.

Hold High the Torch, Part I

The story of the Fourth Marine Regiment

EGA BlackA provisional military unit or organization is formed on an ad hoc basis for specific operations and, at the time of its creation, is never intended to become a permanent command. The Marine Corps has had several provisional organizations in the past, and in the sense of its present-day operations, continues to do this as part of the Marine-Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). A MAGTF is an expeditionary organization formed with a specific mission or range of similar contingency operations [1].  The more complicated the mission, the larger the MAGTF.  At the conclusion of the assigned mission, ground, air, and combat support elements are returned to their parent (major) commands of the U. S. Marine Corps (e.g., divisions, wings, logistics commands).

In the Marine Corps, an infantry division provides necessary forces for amphibious assaults or in the execution of other operations as may be directed by competent authority.  A Marine Division must be able to provide ground amphibious forcible-entry capability to an amphibious task force and conduct subsequent land operations in any operational environment.  As the ground combat element of a Marine Expeditionary Force, the Marine Division may be tasked to provide task-organized forces for smaller operations.

There are three infantry regiments within a Marine Corps infantry division.  The primary mission of an infantry regiment is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or to repel his assault by fire and close combat. The infantry regiment consists of a headquarters company and two (or more) infantry battalions—normally, three such battalions.  Infantry battalions are the basic tactical unit with which the regiment accomplishes its mission.  The Marine Infantry Regiment is the major element of close combat power of the Marine Division.  Infantry regiments (with appropriate attachments) are capable of sustained, independent operations.  When the regiment is combined with other combat support and combat service support elements, it will form a Regimental Landing Team (RLT).  The Fourth Marine Regiment is one of these.

4th MarinesThe 4th Marines was initially activated in April 1911 to perform expedition duty.  Later re-designated a Provisional Battalion, the organization was deactivated in July of that same year.

Diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States were strained beginning in 1910, when a series of revolutions, counter-revolutions, civil conflict, and outright banditry resulted in several incursions by Mexicans into US territory, notably in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  This was a period during which Texas sent companies of Texas Rangers into the Rio Grande Valley to protect ranches and homesteads from Mexican depredations.

In April 1914, a number of American sailors were on liberty in Tampico, Mexico from USS Dolphinwhen they were arrested by Mexican authorities.  We do not know why they were arrested, but having observed sailors on liberty in foreign ports, I have my own theory.  The Mexicans soon released the sailors and issued an apology for the arrest.  An outraged Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo demanded that Mexican authorities render honors to the United States flag as Dolphindeparted port —this they refused to do.

Eleven days later, the United States learned that a German vessel was about to off-load a quantity of arms and munitions at Vera Cruz, Mexico.  This was a violation of an embargo against the shipment of arms to Mexico, imposed by the United States because (1) the United States failed to recognize the legitimacy of the regime of General Victoriano Huerta, and (2) the bloodshed and turmoil associated with the Mexican civil wars/revolution.  Mexico’s violation of the embargo gave President Wilson the excuse he needed to intervene.  On 21 April 1914, Wilson ordered the Navy to land the Marines and seize the customs house at Vera Cruz.

One consequence of Wilson’s directive was the re-activation of the 4th Marines at Puget Sound, Washington.

Col Pendleton 004The newly re-formed 4th Marines was initially composed of its headquarters company and the 24th, 26th, and 27th rifle companies.  Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton, with considerable experience commanding expeditionary units, was ordered to assume command of the regiment.  Within only two days, the regiment embarked aboard USS South Dakota and sailed for San Francisco, California.  At Mare Island, four additional companies joined the regiment: the 31st and 32nd companies boarded South Dakota, and the 34th and 35th companies embarked aboard USS Jupiter.  Both ships set sail almost immediately after loading the Marines.

On that same day, 21 April, USS Prairie landed 502 Marines in Vera Cruz from the 2nd Advanced Base Regiment.  Marine Detachments and 295 sailors (bluejackets) from USS Florida and USS Utah also went ashore as a provisional battalion.  The Mexican commander at Vera Cruz was General Gustavo Maass who, owing to a great deal of common sense, withdrew his forces from the city.  The American landing force was unopposed but taking control of the city was not as easy. Fierce fighting began when cadets of the Vera Cruz Naval Academy, supported by fifty-or-so Mexican soldiers and untrained citizens resisted the US invasion force.  Naval artillery destroyed the Naval Academy and its cadets. Afterward, the Marines took complete control of the city with little difficulty.

South Dakota and Jupiter arrived at Mazatlán on 28 April 1914, with South Dakota ordered to proceed further south into Acapulco harbor.  Within a week, USS West Virginia arrived at Mazatlán with reinforcements, the 28th and 36th rifle companies.  The 4th Marines was now comprised of ten rifle companies (three battalions) and all of its forces were in Mexican waters primed for action while stationary off the West Coast of Mexico.

The naval force remained in Mexican waters through June 1914.  The 4th Marines would only be put ashore if the situation demanded it.  By the end of June, Wilson had decided to support his own dictator of choice and with the election of Venustiano Carranza, tensions between Mexico and the United States eased.  Wilson permitted the supply of arms and munitions to Carranza; the 4th Marines were withdrawn from Mexican waters.

Upon return to the United States, most of the regiment established its base of operations at San Diego, California; 1st Battalion (Major John T. Myers, Commanding) was (initially) ordered to return to Mare Island.  The 1st Battalion later relocated to San Francisco, where a “model camp” was established on the grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition [2].  Meanwhile, regimental headquarters and four rifle companies occupied a new camp on North Island. Owing to the success of the 1st Battalion’s model camp in San Francisco, Colonel Pendleton was tasked to do the same at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego.  The 2nd Battalion, operating under the command of Major William N. McKelvy [3] was designated to assume this assignment.

Then, in 1915, marauding Indians threatened the lives and property of Americans living in the Mexican state of Sonora. As Mexico had not taken any worthwhile measures to prevent these attacks, or to defend the Americans, relations between the US and Mexico were once more strained.  USS Colorado was dispatched with BLT 2/4(-) [4], arriving off Guaymas on 20 June.  Again, the Marines were withheld from going ashore.

In November 1915, Mexican revolutionaries and Yaqui Indian depredations prompted the dispatch of Marines to Mexico, this time involving the regimental headquarters and BLT 1/4 reinforced by the 25thand 28thcompanies.  USS San Diego anchored off shore adjacent to Topolobampo, which exerted pressure on Mexican authorities to act in ending threats to American lives and property.  Again, the Marines did not execute a landing in Mexico.

In the spring of 1916, civil war broke out in the Dominican Republic.  Once more, by presidential order, Marines were ordered to intervene.  See Also: Dominican Operations (in three parts).  The regiment remained in the Dominican Republic until August 1924.

After returning to San Diego, California, the 4th Marines began receiving Marines from a recently deactivated 7th Marine Regiment.  With so many years of peace keeping and constabulary duties in the Dominican Republic and the arrival of new personnel, the regiment began a series of training operations to reorient the Marines to their intended purpose: landing force operations, which have always been a complex undertaking.  Training included maneuvers in the Hawaiian Islands.  Normal peace time operations were interrupted in 1925 when 2/4 was dispatched to aid local authorities in Santa Barbara, California. An earthquake had severely damaged the city.  Duty for these Marines involved general assistance to the civil government and for augmenting law enforcement agencies in restoring order, guarding property, and preventing looting.

In October 1925, the 4th Marines was reorganized to include a third rifle battalion, but for whatever reason this battalion was deactivated within nine months.  In 1926, following a series of mail robberies, the President ordered the Secretary of the Navy to assign Marines to mail protection duties.  The United States was divided into two zones of operations.  Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler was placed in overall charge of the western operations and the 4th Marines became America’s mail guards.  Units of the 4th Marines were deployed throughout the western states.  Their mission not only included guarding trains and postal trucks, but also post-office guards and railway stations.  See also: General Order Number One.  Not even the American mob wanted to tangle with Marines; by 1927, the number of mail robberies had dropped to nearly zero and, as the postal department had created its own system of armed guards, the 4th Marines were sent back to San Diego, California.

Our world is not now and has never been free of conflict.  In early 1927, threats to the security of the International Settlement in Shanghai, China sent the 4th Marines to deal with the problem.  The 4th Marine Regiment subsequently spent so much of its time in China that they became known throughout the Corps as “The China Marines.” Of the number of Marine officers assigned to China with the 4th Marines, six went on to serve as Commandant of the Marine Corps: Alexander A. Vandegrift, Clifton B. Cates, Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Randolph M. Pate, David M. Shoup, and Wallace M. Green.  See also: The China Marines (series).

Tensions within the International Settlement in Shanghai never quite subsided, particularly since the Japanese adopted an aggressive stance in China.  See also: Pete Ellis-Oracle.  With a large contingent of Japanese forces located on the outside of Shanghai, their command authority embarked on a systematic program to undermine the position of the Western powers in the International Settlement.  It then became the mission of the Marines to thwart any Japanese attempt to change the status quo of the American sector.  The reality of the situation, however, was that should the Japanese have made an overt attempt to seize the American sector, the Marines would receive no assistance from other foreign military contingents. The atmosphere in China after the outbreak of the European war in 1939 was tense; the future of China uncertain. Italy, at the time an official ally of Japan, placed no value in preserving the International Settlement.  The situation worsened in 1940 when Italy became actively involved as an ally of Germany against Great Britain and France. It was a downward spiral: The Vichy government of France ordered French forces not to interfere with Japanese military intentions in Shanghai, whatever they might be.  At this time, the only obstacle to Japanese aggression in the International Settlement was the 4th Marine Regiment.

In early 1941, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Fleet concluded that war with Japan was inevitable. Accordingly, on his own initiative, he began withdrawing his most exposed units.  He recommended to President Roosevelt the withdrawal the 4th Marines, as well.  Roosevelt still had not made his decision by September 1941; the situation had by then become dire.  US intelligence sources uncovered evidence that Japan was planning to implement a series of incidents that would give them an excuse for seizing the American sector of the International Settlement.  Roosevelt finally acted and ordered all naval personnel out of China —including, finally, the 4th Marines.  Complete evacuation of the American sector was ordered on 10 November 1941.

On 27 November, Headquarters 4th Marines and the 1st Battalion embarked aboard SS President Madison.  The rest of the regiment boarded SS President Harrison the next day: destination, Philippine Islands. The situation was serious enough to cause the navy to assign four US submarines to escort these contracted troop ships to the Philippines.  Not so amazingly, the Japanese knew the full details of the Navy’s withdrawal operations, including the names of the ships and their destinations —even before either ship arrived in Chinese waters.  One reminder to all hands during World War II was, “Loose lips, sinks ships.”

The unhappy story of the 4th Marines in the Philippine Islands is provided as part of a series titled On to Corregidor. As a result of this debacle, the regimental commander, Colonel Samuel L. Howard ordered the United States Flag and the Regimental Colors burned to avoid their capture by Japanese forces in the Philippines.  At that moment, the 4th Marine Regiment ceased to exist.  The date was 6 May 1942.

American Marines are a proud lot.  There was no way on earth that Marine Corps leadership would allow the 4th Marines to pass into history.  On 1 February 1944, the 4th Marine Regiment was reactivated, reconstituted from units of the 1st Raider Regiment.  What the Marines needed more of at this stage of the Pacific war was infantry battalions, and fewer “special purpose” battalions.  In any case, the reactivation of 4th Marines was unique in the sense that the lineage and honors of both the “old” 4th Marines and 1st Raider regiment were passed on to the “new” 4th Marine Regiment.  The regiment’s  first operation was the seizure of Emirau Island in the St. Mathias Group.  America needed  airfields, and since you can’t construct these with Japanese soldiers running all over the place, the Marines were send to terminate all Japanese forces with extreme prejudice.  The Japanese, having anticipated that the Americans wanted this island withdrew some time before the landing.  The 4th Marines first amphibious landing was unopposed. There was no need for these Marines to worry, though.  Marine Corps leadership found something for them to do —they went to Guam.  The Battle for Guam is presented in sections.

Next on the agenda for the 4thMarines was the Battle for Okinawa—a brutal slog-fest lasting from 1 April 1945 to 22 June 1945.  In this awful battle, the 4thMarines would serve alongside the 15thMarines, 22ndMarines, and 29thMarines and part of the 6thMarine Division.  That story will continue next week.

Sources:

  1. Organization of the United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP) 5-12D. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 2015.
  2. Santelli, J. S. A Brief History of the Fourth Marines.  Washington: U. S. Marine Corps Historical Division, 1970

Endnotes:

[1] Navy task forces operate on a similar basis.

[2] Commemorating 400thanniversary of Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the opening of the Panama Canal.

[3] Colonel McKelvy (1869-1933) received his commission as a Marine officer after graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1893.  McKelvy served during the Spanish-American War and was awarded the Brevet Medal for extraordinary courage under fire during his service in Cuba, 1898.

[4] (-) indicates that some portion of the battalion’s organic assets have been detached.

The Hill Fights

881-N
Hill 881N as seen from 881S

Increases in elevation on military maps are measured in meters above sea level.  A section of terrain that rises above its surroundings is generally regarded as a hill.  On military maps, hills are designated as a number that equates to the number of meters its summit rises above sea level.  For example, a hill designated 861 has a summit that rises 861 meters above sea level.  Note: Until the mid-twentieth century, the official definition of a hill was a rise in land with summits less than 1,000 feet above sea level, but this definition was abandoned.  Today, there is no official distinction between hills and mountains.

Hills aren’t uniform things, of course.  Some are natural formations, others are man-made (usually called mounds).  Forces of nature shape hills through erosion and land movement, producing such things as ridges and saddles.  And there are different kinds of hills.  A drumlin is a long hill formed by the movement of glaciers. A butte is a hill that stands alone in a flat landscape.  A tor is a rock formation on top of a hill.  A puy is a cone-shaped, volcanic hill, while a pingo is a mound of ice covered with earth.

Higher elevations allow humans to establish defenses, particularly when the hills are heavily forested or covered by thick shrub.  During the Viet Nam War, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) sought to make use of an extensive network of hills and caves to challenge US and South Vietnamese forces.  The hills in the northern regions of South Viet Nam did not stop the U. S. Marines from finding and killing them.

881-001This is an account of the First Battle of Khe Sanh, also known as the Hill Fights.  The NVA 325C Division [1] occupied significant portions of Hills 861, 881-S(outh), and 881-N(orth), which overlooked the Khe Sanh combat base in I Corps. On 20 April 1967, operational control of Khe Sanh passed to the 3rd Marine Regiment (3rd Marines).  The 3rd Marines had just initiated OPERATION PRAIRIE IV, and although the Khe Sanh area was not included as part of the operational area, it was a territorial appendage assigned to the 3rd Marines because that regiment was in the best position to oversee and reinforce the base if necessary.

On 22nd April the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines (2/3) commenced Operation BEACON STAR (a search and destroy operation) in the southern portion of Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces against elements of the VC 6th Regiment, which at the time included the 810th and 812th battalions.

On 23 April 1967 Marines of the first and third platoons of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment (B/1/9) were conducting security patrols (unrelated to Beacon Star) in the area north and east of Hill 861.  Late in the afternoon, the Bravo Company commander, Captain Michael W. Sayers [2], ordered these platoons to link up and establish a night position north of 861 in preparation for a sweep the following morning. Of interest to the Marines was a cave complex located to the northwest.

On 24 April 1967, 2ndLt Thomas G. King’s 2nd Platoon, B/1/9 led his 30 Marines and an 81mm mortar section to Hill 700, south of Hill 861.  Their mission was to provide additional fire support for a company sweep to the northwest.  Once the mortar section was in position, 1stLt Phil Sauer led four men (including a forward observer [3]) to the top of Hill 861 to establish an observation post.  As soon as the FO team entered a bamboo thicket NVA forces ambushed them.  The first Marine was instantly killed.  1stLt Sauer ordered a withdrawal, remaining behind firing at the enemy with his side arm as his men attempted to reach safety. Only the forward observer managed to escape.  This was the opening engagement of the First Battle of Khe Sanh [4].

2ndLt King, having lost radio contact [5] with the FO team, but being aware of the firefight, dispatched a rifle squad to investigate the incident.  As the squad moved forward, it came upon the FO, the team’s only survivor.  The squad returned to the area of contact to recover the other members of the team. Enemy fire kept them from retrieving the dead Marines.  The rifle squad returned to King’s mortar position.

King radioed for artillery support and then led another squad to the ambush site.  Marine artillery and air support missions pounded the hill with napalm, white phosphorous, 500-pound bombs, and gunship fire —measures that appeared to have no discernible effect on the enemy.  By the time King arrived back at the ambush site, the enemy had withdrawn, and he was able to recover two bodies.  Two other Marines were initially unaccounted for [6].

www.richard-seaman.com
USMC UH-34

King withdrew his men to a location suitable for helicopter landing and ignited a smoke grenade marking his position and called for a medevac.  A UH-34 came in for the extraction, but no sooner had its wheels touched the deck, the whole crest of Hill 861 opened up with automatic weapons.  The chopper was hit 35 times in a matter of seconds. King’s men took cover as two UH-1E gunship escorts delivered withering fire toward the enemy positions.  As the NVA fire fell off, King’s Marines loaded the bodies aboard the helicopter, and it took off.  King and his men returned to the mortar position.

King was soon joined by Captain Sayers, who radioed the first and third platoons to sweep further east across Hill 861 and strike the NVA from the rear.  The two platoons were positioned roughly 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) northwest of their new objective.  As these two platoons turned toward their new objective, five enemy mortars dropped among them, killing one Marine and wounded several others.  The Marine advance continued [7] until halted by intense enemy fire.

After an intense engagement, with Marines running low on ammunition, they withdrew back over the crest of the hill and called for medevac assistance for their wounded comrades.  Two landing attempts were thwarted by enemy fire; the grunts took several more casualties.  Sayers ordered them to withdraw to a more secure position and dig in the night.  From the outset, Sayers realized that the NVA presence on Hill 861 was formidable.  Bravo Company Marines (through good patrolling) had forced the NVA into a premature revelation of their plan to seize Khe Sanh [8].  NVA forces operating in the hills around Khe Sanh were about to receive more attention from the Marines than they had hoped for; in addition to an influx of more ground units, Hill 861 was soon receiving massive quantities of napalm and 500-pound bombs.  The NVA had broken cardinal rule number one: do not shoot at a US Marine.  Bravo Company’s losses for this day were 14 dead, 17 wounded.

The job of engaging the NVA in the hills around Khe Sanh fell to Colonel John P. Lanigan’s 3rd Marine Regiment.  Twenty-two years earlier, Lanigan had been engaged in a similar mission, one that earned him the Silver Star Medal during the Battle for Okinawa.  Prior to the incident involving King’s second platoon, Lanigan planned to replace Company B with K/3/3 on 29 April.  The events of 24th April changed that plan.

On the morning of 25 April, dense fog at Khe Sanh delayed the arrival of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (3/3), commanded by LtCol Gary Wilder.  By the time 3/3 arrived at Khe Sanh,  Captain Sayers’ Bravo Company had begun its advance on Hill 861.  Heavy fog, difficult terrain, and concentrations of enemy fire hampered the company’s progress.  Radio communications with HQ 3rd Marines was hampered by the fact that Sayers did not have 3/3’s radio frequencies.  Sayers was also convinced that the enemy was monitoring radio communications, so he sent coded messages back to his rear echelon, who passed that information to the regimental headquarters.

Shortly after arriving at Khe Sanh, Colonel Wilder began moving his battalion north to assist B/1/9. Captain Bayliss L. Spivey, Jr., commanding Kilo Company 3/3 reached the base of Hill 861 around 1500 hours and deployed his platoons on two axes: first platoon moved up along a ridgeline, followed by the company command group.  Third platoon advanced along another ridgeline on the right flank.  Kilo’s under-strength second platoon provided security for the battalion command group and a 60mm mortar section.  Spivey had his Marines positioned for an attack at 1530. Artillery check fire was in effect as the Marines closed with the enemy.

On order from Spivey, First platoon (1PLT) continued its advance through the heavy foliage on the ridgeline.  Three hundred meters from the crest, 1PLT made contact with an NVA company-size unit and encountered heavy grazing fire from well-fortified positions and mortars from reverse slope locations.  US counter-mortar and artillery was ineffective in silencing NVA mortars. 1PLT continued its attack for another 200 meters, but by 1730, the platoon had been reduced to only ten combat-effective Marines.  With darkness approaching, Spivey needed additional Marines on the line.  Irregular terrain hindered 3PLT from providing immediate assistance.  Spivey requested the release of 2PLT from 3/3 and was soon engaged in heavy combat, which continued until nightfall.  Captain Spivey ordered his Marines to dig in for the night.

881-004Bravo Company also had a hard day.  Enemy fire prevented helicopter evacuations of Sayers’ wounded; attached Navy corpsmen were nearly exhausted.  Bravo company’s advance was limited to less than a half-mile to a position 800 meters northwest of Hill 861.

Heavy enemy resistance necessitated a call for more Marines. Captain J. E. Giles’ K/3/9 was flown to Khe Sanh from Camp Carroll.  Arriving after sundown, Giles’ company remained at Khe Sanh for the night.

The NVA launched a massive mortar assault against the 3/3 command group at 0500 on 26 April.  At the same time, NVA mortared the Khe Sanh combat base.  The shelling caused no damage at Khe Sanh, but the attack revealed a heavy NVA presence on Hill 881-S.  From information provided by Captain Sayers, Marine artillery blanketed the eastern slope of 881-S, which silenced the NVA’s recoilless rifles [9].  The mortars were more difficult to target.

K/3/9 departed Khe Sanh at 0800, arriving at the 3/3 command post (CP) at noon.  Spivey’s K/3/3 had been heavily engaged throughout the morning. NVA forces, operating from strongly fortified positions, repelled every attempt to seize the crest of the hill. By noon, Spivey’s 3PLT had taken so many casualties that it was unable to withdraw.  Wilder ordered Giles to send two platoons to help Spivey disengage and evacuate the dead and wounded.  The two companies linked up, but despite the effective use of helicopter gunships, efforts to disengage lasted until 1900.

Sayers’ Bravo company was also stopped by fierce enemy resistance.  Well-concealed enemy allowed the Marines to advance to within five meters before opening up on them.  It was a killing zone.  Sayers and his first sergeant were wounded.  NVA mortars produced additional casualties.  Nevertheless, Bravo Company gained fire superiority at noon, and the enemy withdrew.  Sayers moved his Marines to the top of a small knoll and called for medevac assistance. As the helicopters began the descent, the Marines waived them off because the aircraft were helping the NVA to pinpoint their position.  At 1445, Sayers informed Wilder that he had so many casualties he could not move his Marines further.

Colonel Wilder ordered Sayers to leave his dead and bring out his wounded.  Sayers reiterated that he could not move, even with only his wounded. Resupply was impossible.  Bravo Company had five operational radios remaining; batteries were running low.  Captain Glen Golden, commanding Battery F, 12th Marines at Khe Sanh, managed to place a ring of steel around Sayer’s position.

Wilder sent Giles and his one remaining platoon to assist Sayers.  It took Giles four hours to reach Company B.  Under the cover of darkness, heavy fog and rain, Giles and Sayers began their withdrawal.  Every man (except point and rear guard) carried stretchers of wounded and dead Marines and their equipment.  The weary Marines finally reached Wilder’s CP at 0500 on 27 April.  The few Bravo Company Marines who remained effective refused to ride trucks back to Khe Sanh.  They marched in.

Commanding the 3rd Marine Division, Major General Bruno Hochmuth [10] realized that 3/3 was an insufficient force to carry Hill 861. He shifted the Special Landing Force [11] (SLF) Battalion (2/3) under LtCol Earl R. Delong back to the 3rd Marines.  2/3 had been conducting Operation BEACON STAR at a location 16  miles north of Hue City.  The battalion was loaded on to helicopters beginning around noon on 26 April and flown to Phu Bai.  From there, the battalion was loaded aboard C-130s and dispatched to Khe Sanh.  By 1600, the 2/3 command group and letter companies E, G, and H had arrived and began their movement toward Hill 861. 2/3 set into night positions 500 meters east of Wilder’s battalion.

27 April was a day for preparations.  3/3 completed medevac operations by 1130 and moved to Khe Sanh for replacements.  Colonel Lanigan transferred M/3/9 and M/3/3 to Wilder’s battalion as relief for K/3/3 and B/1/9 —both of which were no longer capable of combat operations.  F/2/3 arrived from Phu Bai and was assigned as regimental reserve.  Battery B 12th Marines arrived at Khe Sanh at 1900 and was ready for firing missions by 2045.  Together, Batteries B and F had linked in such a manner as to allow them to perform artillery support as an artillery group.  Each battery served in direct support of an infantry battalion; two 155mm howitzers and two 4.2-inch mortars were allocated as general support of regimental operations.

Throughout 27-28th April, artillery and air delivered munitions focused on the NVA positions. The Army’s 175mm guns, situated farther east, began pouring high explosives onto Hill 861.  It was a 24-hour long onslaught of artillery and air-delivery munitions.  Snake-eye [12] munitions were used to clear away the dense vegetation so that other aircraft, armed with 750, 1,000, and 2,000-pound bombs could destroy the NVA’s well-fortified bunkers.  A preponderance of these air missions were performed by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1stMAW).

Late in the afternoon of 28 April, the infantry was ready to resume their attack.  Colonel Lanigan decided on a two-battalion assault to achieve three objectives: Hill 861 was Objective 1; Hill 881-S was Objective 2; Hill 881-N was the final objective.  Delong’s 2/3 would seize Objective 1 on 28 April.  Wilder’s 3/3 would follow 2/3.  After Delong achieved his objective, Wilder’s Marines would turn west, secure the ground between 861 and 881-S, then assault Objective 2 from the northeast.  As Wilder went into the attack, Delong would consolidate Objective 1 and then move out toward 881-N, screening Wilder’s right flank, reinforcing him if necessary. After securing Objectives 1 and 2, Delong would continue on to achieve Objective 3, Hill 881-N.

861-002Following preparatory fires, 2/3 assaulted 861 with two companies abreast.  Beyond sporadic mortar fire, there was no NVA resistance; the NVA had withdrawn.  Both companies dug in on the crest, the command group and reserve took up positions on the southern slope.  The stench of human remains permeated the entire hill. Marines discovered more than 400 mutually supporting fighting holes and 25 interlocking reinforced bunkers.

Once Delong declared 861 secure, 3/3 took up their position on the west flank of 2/3.  Wilder began his advance early the next morning. M/3/9 was the lead element.  At 1120, Mike Company’s point encountered an NVA platoon is a draw.  The company commander called for artillery and air support.  At about the same time, M/3/3 advanced to take the lead. Objective 2 was achieved at around 1915 with scant enemy contact.  3/3 dug in for the night.  Shortly after laying in their defenses, M/3/3 observed an NVA mortar team attempting to set up on Hill 881S and called in artillery.  The NVA were able to fire four rounds before being dusted by the 12th Marines.  An hour later, Marine listening posts (LPs) detected enemy movement outside their perimeter.  The company FO adjusted variable time (VT) fuzed artillery fire [13] on the enemy’s position.  Marines could hear the NVA screaming as artillery destroyed them. The Marines were not bothered for the rest of the night.

At first light on 30 April, Wilder prepared to assault 881-S and Delong moved off 861.  Delong’s mission was to clear the area on Wilder’s right flank and secure positions for the assault on Objective 3.  Company H 3/3 encountered two NVA platoons in a bunker complex.  After a particularly vicious firefight, Hotel Company backed off to evacuate casualties: 9 dead, 43 wounded.  Artillery fire was directed onto the NVA positions.  Later that day, Hotel 3/3 assaulted the bunker complex and secured it. Of this assault, the Marines concluded that the NVA regular was every bit as fanatical as the World War II Japanese Imperial Army.

The next morning, following preparatory fires, Colonel Wilder began his assault on 881-S.  He wasn’t sure where the NVA positions were, but 33 air sorties and 1,300 artillery rounds should have done some damage.  The terrain on Wilder’s approach was broken, restricted access to the ridge line, and severely constrained the maneuver of his line companies.  M/3/3 took the lead, followed by K/3/9.  By 1030, the lead platoon reached the western end of the top of the hill, having encountered only occasional small arms fire.  A second platoon moved up and together launched an assault on enemy positions.

NVA defended with automatic weapons from well-concealed bunkers and accurate sniper fire.  Thirty mortar rounds fell on these Marines.  They were stuck —unable to advance or withdraw.  NVA infantry from bypassed (unseen) bunkers blocked their way out.  K Company and the 3rd platoon of Mike Company advanced into the savage battle.  UH-1E gunships and attack aircraft streaked in dropping bombs within 50 meters of the Marine line.  Wilder ordered his Marines to disengage and pull back off the hill.  It took the Marines several hours to disentangle themselves.  They brought out their wounded but could not evacuate the dead.  Forty-three Marines were killed, 109 were wounded. Mike Company was rendered ineffective.

Fox Company 2/3 was brought in from reserve.  With the reserve committed and no other to replace it, General Hochmuth committed another rifle company to the hill fight: Company E 2/9 was flown in to Khe Sanh.  Marine artillery and aircraft reengaged Hill 881-S.

Wilder was ready to resume his attack on the morning of 2 May.  M/3/9 and K/3/9 led off in that order.  By 1420, the Marines had secured the hill, having encountered only sporadic sniper fire.  Wilder established his CP on 881-S and dug in for the night with two assault companies. F/2/9, the most recent arrival, took up a position on the intermediate objective.

The NVA had prepared around 250 bunkers on Hill 881-S.  After four days of heavy air strikes and artillery fire, 50 of these remained. The bunkers were wired for communications and arranged with interlocking fields of fire.  The extent of these bunkers surprised the Marines, but their discovery alerted Colonel Delong of what he might expect on 881-N.

Since 28 April, Delong’s Marines had been sweeping the area northwest of the hill, carefully checking its ravines and ridgelines.  By the morning of 2 May, Delong was ready to begin his objective.  Echo Company 2/3 assaulted the hill from the south; Golf 2/3 moved in from the east.  Hotel 2/3 was in reserve between the maneuver companies.  Golf made contact almost immediately and after a brief firefight, moved back and called in artillery.  After the artillery was lifted, Golf moved forward again, encountering automatic weapons fire and mortars.  Additional supporting arms silenced the enemy.  Hotel Company moved into position to support Golf and also came under mortar fire, which ceased when Golf called in for additional artillery.

Echo Company had almost battled its way to the crest of the hill when a fierce rain squall lashed at the hills.  Delong, realizing that control of his men under these circumstances would be impossible, pulled the battalion back to a more defensible position and ordered his Marines to dig in for the night.  Early in the morning of 3 May, the NVA launched a strong counter-attack.  Echo Company set in on a small hill 500 meters south of Hill 881-N received small arms fire and incoming mortars.  This was followed by a two-company NVA assault.  The engagement soon devolved into hand-to-hand combat with the NVA penetrating the line on the northeast quarter. The NVA either killed or wounded all the Marines in this area.  They then moved into a tree line in the middle of the company position and reoccupied bunkers that the engineers had yet to destroy.

106mm Recoiless RifleAbout ten minutes after the initial attack, First Lieutenant Frank Izenour (whose platoon held the western section of the perimeter), received orders to take a squad of Marines and seal off the penetration. With the second squad in tow, Izenour moved forward but was immediately taken under fire by two machine gun positions; several of his men were hit.  Izenour called for reinforcements.

Captain Alfred Lyon did not want to weaken the 1st platoon further, so he organized eleven engineers and sent them into the fight.  Both squads took positions on the left edge of the penetration and fired into the enemy’s flank.  With the help of artillery and on-call gunships, the Marines stalled the NVA attack, but Izenour still did not have sufficient strength to drive out two companies of NVA regulars.  A flare ship arrived and transformed the dark of night into day.  From 881-S, the Marines of 3/3 could see about 200 NVA soldiers moving toward Echo Company from the west.  106mm recoilless rifles were quickly positioned; 100 rounds were fired into the enemy’s flank, which broke up the assault.  Additional artillery pounded the NVA as they withdrew.

881-003By first light, the Marines had shattered the NVA attack, but some enemy soldiers remained inside the company perimeter.  At 0700, Fox 2/3 moved into the line and one platoon was quickly transferred by helicopter to Echo Company’s position.  These Marines immediately attacked the southern edge of the penetration.  Delong ordered Hotel Company to close in on the enemy’s rear.  Echo and Hotel companies finally managed to seal the breach. After a short rest, Hotel Company began the difficult task of eliminating NVA in the bunkers and tree line. Bitter close-quarters fighting continued until 1500 when the company commander declared all bunkers cleared of the enemy.  The NVA had fought to the last man.  Company E lost 27 Marines KIA with 84 wounded.  NVA dead covered the battle area.  Only three prisoners were taken, these all admitting that another attack was scheduled for the night of 4 May.

Despite Delong’s preparations for that night, the expected attack never came.  Instead, an NVA company attacked the Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei.  The attack had no effect on The Hill Fight, but it was a tactical victory for the NVA, who quickly penetrated the camp’s defenses and killed everyone they could find, including the Special Forces Detachment Commander and his Executive Officer. The NVA then began destroying vital equipment.  Despite artillery fire from the Marines at Khe Sanh, the NVA withdrew with only light casualties.  South Vietnamese irregulars at Lang Vei were destroyed: 20 killed, 39 missing.

Given the attack at Lang Vei, General Hochmuth ordered Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines flown in from Phu Bai to bolster security at Khe Sanh.  On 5 May, Delong’s Marines advanced toward the final objective. While organizing his Marines for the assault, artillery and air strikes dropped tons of munitions on Hill 881-N. E/2/3 and F/2/3 took the lead, meeting steadily increasing resistance.  The Marines halted their advance on several occasions while additional artillery could soften up the enemy’s opposition.  Echo Company established a base of fire while Fox Company resumed the advance and Golf Company made an envelopment maneuver.  By now, the only resistance encountered was sporadic sniper fire.  2/3 achieved the objective at 1445.

For the next three days, Marines conducted sweeps of the area, searching the hills for any additional NVA presence.  Engineers destroyed all remaining bunkers.  Marine air attacked suspected enemy positions to the north and west. Air observers reported enemy troops moving toward the northwest, indicating that the 325C Division was withdrawing toward Laos and North Vietnam.

During The Hill Fight, 1stMAW flew more than 1,100 sorties, expended 1,900 tons of ordnance.  USAF B-52s made 23 air strikes against enemy concentrations.  Combined Marine and Army artillery fired 25,000 rounds.  NVA casualties between 24 April and 11 May stood at 940 confirmed killed. Of the Marines, 155 were killed in action, 423 suffered combat wounds.

Sources:

  1. Telfer, G. L. and others. U. S. Marines in Viet Nam: Fighting the North Vietnamese.  History & Museums Division, HQ U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C.  1984
  2. “Arrow of Death.” Time Magazine, 12 May 1967

Endnotes:

[1] The 325th Infantry Division was first formed in 1951 from independent units in Thua Thien Province, one of six “iron and steel” divisions of the Viet Minh.  The 325th Division remains part of the Army of Viet Nam.

[2] Sayers was responsible for the security of the Khe Sanh combat base.  Conducting security patrols in the surrounding area was part of that responsibility.

[3] Forward observers are trained to direct artillery and close air support to enemy positions within the battle space.

[4] Communist gunners held their fire until Marines were at near point-blank distance from concealed machine gun positions and made liberal use of their 82mm mortars, the blasting radius of which was about 40 meters.

[5] Line of sight propagation is a characteristic of electromagnetic radiation or acoustic wave propagation.  The means that radio waves travel in a direct path from source to receiver. Mountainous terrain interrupts these signals.

[6] The bodies of the two missing Marines were later found.  The NVA had decapitated them.

[7] Advancing toward the enemy is a standard defense against mortar attack.

[8] The NVA plan for Khe Sanh was a rehash of the one they had used against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  First, a major effort to build up troops and supplies; second, isolation of Khe Sanh by targeting helicopters and cutting the main supply route; third, launch diversionary assaults at Con Thien, Dong Ha, Gio Linh, Phu Bai, and Lang Vei.

[9] Recoilless rifles provide a lightweight artillery capability to forward units.  It fires a 105mm shell that has a destructive effect on troops operating in mountainous areas where heavy artillery is much too cumbersome.

[10] MajGen Hochmuth was killed on 14 November 1967 when his helicopter exploded mid-air.  Hochmuth was the most senior US military officer killed in the Viet Nam War.  He was succeeded in command by BrigGen Louis Metzger, the Assistant Division Commander, previously Commanding General, 9thMAB.

[11] The special landing forces belonged to the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade as part of a naval task force, designated Task Force 79.  When the SLF went ashore, operational control of the battalion landing teams (BLTs) were transferred to the senior operational commander ashore.

[12] Snake-eye refers to the high drag fin system of the Mk-82 bomb, but the fin configuration was also used on all Mk-8 series munitions.  The Mk-82 is an unguided, low drag, general purpose bomb.  In low-level operations, it is possible for the delivery aircraft to receive damage from the blast and fragmentation effects of the bomb because the aircraft and bomb arrive at the target very close to the same time.  This was the reason for the high-drag tail fin configuration.

[13] VT fuze detonates an artillery round several meters above the ground, which increases fragmentation and kill radius.  Air bursts are especially effective against troops in the open or in unprotected positions, such as fox holes or open trenches.

Vietnam Counterinsurgency

Phoenix 001Designed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Phoenix program evolved into a cooperative effort between US, South Vietnam, and the Australian military.  It was designed to identify and destroy Communist Viet Cong infrastructure through infiltration, capture, interrogation, and assassination.  This all may sound hideous now, but in the late 1950s and the next ten years, some of the worst abominations were committed against innocent peasants by the Viet Cong.  To stabilize the South Vietnamese government, it was necessary to find out who these people were, and deal with them.

This is precisely what the Phoenix program did.  By 1972, Phoenix operatives had neutralized a bit under 82,000 suspected Viet Cong operatives, informants, and shadow-government cadres.  Sounds bad, I suppose.  Yet, at the same time, Viet Cong murdered 34,000 South Vietnamese village officials, innocent by-standers, and district or provincial civil servants.  As soon as the NVA and VC units had seized Hue City in 1968, they immediately began rounding up and killing civil servants, priests, teachers, any foreigner they could find, and anyone found at the US Special Forces compound.

History doesn’t change, only man’s perceptions of it.  Those who have never placed themselves in harm’s way are quick to criticize the program’s methods and results, never thinking what a blight upon humanity the Viet Cong were.  And by the way, I was in Vietnam in 2012; the deportment of Vietnamese uniformed personnel toward any and all foreigners hasn’t changed from the days when NVA and VC contemptuously beheaded fallen soldiers and marines.  The communists were then, and remain now, pure evil.

The main players in the Phoenix program were the CIA (in a supervisory role), USMACV (both military and civilian agencies), the government of South Vietnam, and the Australian special forces.  Speaking of this today, there appears three points of view: (1) Phoenix was a low-cost, well-coordinated, targeted effort to eliminate a ruthlessly vile enemy; (2) It was a counterinsurgency program run amok, and (3) A balanced analysis of historical fact.

Let’s take a look at it—because there are consequences to every human decision.  In history, we sometimes refer to these decisions and their resulting actions as “causes and effects.”  There may be one or more causes of an event, and these may produce any number of effects. Whenever we make important decisions, we hope (and sometimes pray) that there are no unintended consequences.  It does happen—and while there is not a lot we can do once Pandora’s box is opened, we should at least learn important lessons from our foopahs.

Background

A sense of nationalism (national and cultural unity) began in Vietnam around 3,000 years ago—at a time when the Vietnamese lived in two independent kingdoms.  Since then, the Vietnamese have constantly rejected (often through war) foreign meddling by the Chinese, Champs, Khmers, Siamese, French (twice), Japanese, internal civil strife, and then finally, the Americans.

Before World War II, Vietnam was colonized and brutalized by France.  By the time the Japanese enveloped Indochina, France was an ally of Japan and Germany.  Throughout Japanese occupation, an official French presence remained in Hanoi (even if it was ignored by the Japanese).  In September 1945, the Japanese Empire was defeated.  France quickly moved to recover its former colony. Vietnamese Nationalists had a different preference.

One of these nationalists was a communist named Ho Chi Minh (not his real name).  He wasted no time announcing the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.  It was a short-lived republic, however.  Nationalist Chinese and British occupation forces sided with the anti-communist Vietnamese who, having had enough slavery under French colonialism, rejected slavery under a communist regime.  Anti-communist Vietnamese were well-aware of what Stalin did to the Russian people between 1924 and 1945.

Vietnam held its first national assembly election in 1946.  Central and northern Vietnamese favored the communist ticket [1], those living in the south —not so much.  Then, France attempted to reclaim its previous authority by force —an unpopular move among many (but not all) Vietnamese.  It was the beginning of the First Indochina War and it lasted until 1953.

After the French defeat in 1953, the United States stepped in to help broker an agreement that would bring peace to the region.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The 1954 Geneva Conference left Vietnam a divided nation.  Ho Chi Minh ruled the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north from Hanoi, and Ngo Dinh Diem ruled the Republic of Vietnam in the south from Saigon.

Between 1953 and 1956, North Vietnam instituted oppressive reforms.  Witness testimony from those living in the north suggested a government run assassination campaign that produced a murder ratio of one for every 160 residents.  If true, then the North Vietnamese regime murdered upwards of 100,000 people.  Today we think this number is a bit high, but it is true that an awful lot of people were brutalized and murdered.

As Ho Chi Minh crushed his people in the north, Ngo Dinh Diem crushed his people living in the south, carrying out murderous campaigns against political and religious opponents.

Today we can conclude that America’s involvement in South Vietnamese affairs was a massive mistake, but we should remember that there were other things going on in the world. President Truman had a lot of irons in the fire after 1946, and he wasn’t all that bright to begin with. The United States became involved with Vietnam as a consequence of its trying to convince France to relinquish its former colonies and to join an emerging NATO alliance.  Ultimately, tens of millions of American tax dollars went to French Indochina and then later, to the newly created Republic of Vietnam.  It was a commitment inherited by President Eisenhower who, to his credit, refused to engage the United States militarily beyond providing arms, equipment, and a small cadre of military and civil advisors.

The Second Indochina War broke out in 1954.  It was more on the order of a civil war between the communist north and the non-communist south.  Ho Chi Minh sought to unify Vietnam under his rule.  Ngo Dinh Diem sought to unite Vietnam under his rule [2].  Vietnam entered into a period of bloody civil war and the United States became South Vietnam’s proxy much in the same way that China became North Vietnam’s source of support.  Of course, there was one difference between the two Vietnam’s: Diem focused on consolidating his power in the south; Ho Chi Minh’s ruthlessness between 1946 and 1957 solved his problem.  Not having a lot of people nipping at his heals allowed Uncle Ho to initiate a communist insurgency in the south.  There are several names for these insurgents.  We mostly remember them as Viet Cong.

The Viet Cong Insurgency

Recall that most Vietnamese from the central highlands who participated in the first national assembly (1946) threw their support behind the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the communist regime). According to the 1954 Geneva accord, the people of Vietnam could relocate to one country or the other, of their choosing, through 1956.  In the mean, the shift in populations north or south was probably even.  Around 90,000 pro-communist Vietnamese relocated to the north; 10,000 of like persuasion remained behind.  Of those migrating south, some percentage were no doubt sent into the south to agitate.

From these pro-communist factions came the Viet Cong, or more formerly, the National Liberation Front and the People’s Liberation Army.  Their task of creating an insurgency was made easier by the fact that Diem was a tyrant [3].  It wasn’t long before the communists began a campaign of assassination and intimidation. They called it “exterminating traitors.” Another euphemism was “armed propaganda.”

The North Vietnamese Communist Party approved a people’s war on the South in January 1959.  Arms began flowing into the south along the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos.  A communist command center was created, called the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN).  Afterwards, with increasing frequency, communist insurgents began targeting US military and civilian advisors.  Bombings in Saigon were becoming more frequent.

The People’s War was waged primarily in the rural areas, home to a vast majority of South Vietnam’s (then) 16 million inhabitants.  Central to the task of fomenting rebellion and revolution in the countryside was what the Americans called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) —a shadow government called the People’s Revolutionary Party and the National Liberation Front. NLF subcommittees existed in secret alongside South Vietnam’s political entities at the village, district, provincial and national levels.  A key mission of VCI was providing support to local communist military units: recruitment, intelligence-gathering, logistics support, and obtaining needed funds.  To achieve this last task, the VCI imposed taxes on peasant farmers and business owners.  People who refused to pay (or were unable to pay) simply disappeared. It was quite an operation: the Republic of South Vietnam governed during the day, the VCI governed at night.

VCI success depended in large measure on its ability to break the Vietnamese peasant’s strong kinship, adherence to tradition, including literally thousands of demonstrations where the village head man was humiliated in front of his villagers to emphasize the fact that the National Liberation Front would no longer tolerate adherence to the old ways.  Officials disappeared with amazing regularity.

In 1967, VCI teams numbered as many as 100,000 willing insurgents.  Most of South Vietnam’s efforts and resources, and those of the US military, went toward combating guerrillas and main-force units.  Citizen Nguyen was caught in the middle. Something had to be done.

Counter-insurgency

US and allied efforts haven’t all been 007ish.  Beginning in the early 1960s, and with the assistance of the USA, RVN launched a series of programs to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the VC’s shadow-government. Now anyone who suggests that this was a wrong move, or inappropriate, needs a few reality checks.  I wonder what the United States would do today if suddenly an insurgency developed from within our largest (and most dangerous) cities. Slap on the wrist, perhaps?  And, as they tried to destroy the VC shadow government, they stepped up military operations against VC and NVA units. Again, how would the US react to Mexico smuggling dangerous weapons across our border and putting them into the hands of MS-13 thugs?

Here are a few of the programs implemented under the Phoenix umbrella:

(1) The Open Arms program, beginning in 1963.  It offered amnesty and resettlement to encourage defections from the VC.  Through this one program, close to 200,000 people came in and spilled their guts about the VC: who, what, where, and how.  We already knew the why.

(2) Census Grievance Program sought to interview family members to see how the government could be more responsive to the needs of average families. Actually, the questions were asked in such a way as to elicit information about VC activities in that locality.  This ploy generated more information than RVN officials could manage.  It was the time before computers.

(3) Counter-Terror Teams attempted to mirror the VC counterparts.  These individuals were organized, trained, and equipped by the CIA to perform small-unit operations within VC dominated areas.  The teams were to capture or kill members of the VCI.  Success was personality driven.  Some teams were effective, others not so much.  If one looks hard enough, it was possible to find corruption at every level of Vietnamese government and society.  It was true in 1960, its’ true today.  A lot of people died under the auspices of this program.  If someone made a mistake, well … you can’t bring them back.

As previously mentioned, the program was the brainchild the CIA, but Army Special Forces and other snake eaters loved it.  It was great fun.  Thousands of people running around killing other thousands.  But while it did reduce the number of VC (and some of the RVNs as well), it really didn’t do much for the rice farmer who just wanted everyone to leave him alone.  More to the point, Phoenix didn’t save South Vietnam, either.

The Marine Corps had a better idea —one that General Westmoreland, the MACV commander absolutely detested and fought against.  The Combined Action Program (CAP) began in 1965 as an operational initiative/counterinsurgency program whereby a Marine rifle squad of thirteen Marines and one attached U. S. Navy Corpsman was placed within or adjacent to a rural Vietnamese village or hamlet to provide security to the villagers.  The Marine squad was augmented by a Vietnamese Popular Forces (PF) squad consisting mostly of individuals too young or too old for active service with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

CAP was not a perfect counterinsurgency tool, however; there were problems:

  • Training for Marines/Navy personnel assigned to CAP was inadequate. The in-country school consisted of two weeks of orientation to Vietnamese history and culture.  Under the best of circumstances, Marine volunteers spoke only rudimentary Vietnamese, so at the very outset, there was a language deficiency.
  • Marines assigned to the CAP first served half of their 13-month in-country tour of duty with a regular rifle company. Unless these Marines “extended” their tours of duty in Vietnam, they would rotate back to the United States within six or so months.  Frequent turnovers of key personnel resulted in a lack of continuity.
  • The program was personality dependent. Squad leaders who were fully engaged and proactive in this mission helped to produce quality results within the village.  Not every NCO was detail oriented, and these kinds of situations produced villagers who would not cooperate with the Marines and, in fact, may have created the greatest danger to CAP personnel.
  • Not every village could produce a sufficient number of Vietnamese to serve in a PF contingent. Whenever villages communicated apathy to the Marines, too often the Marines developed a “to hell with it” mindset.  It was for this reason that program managers wanted only the best sergeants to serve as NCOIC of the CAP.  This didn’t always happen, however.

The genesis of the Combined Action Program/Platoon was the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual (1940), which was developed over many years from Marine Corps experience in the Caribbean/Central America during the so-called Banana Wars.  Between 1915-1933, Marines learned how to defeat a counterinsurgency —they passed these lesson on to future generations.  Was the CAP successful?  The answer is “mostly,” but the only people who can authoritatively answer this question are those who served in Combined Action Platoons.  I’ve provided a few posts about the CAP in the past:

Go ahead and check them out. I’ll be here if you have any questions.

Sources:

  1. Combined Action Platoons: A Possible Role in the Low-Intensity Conflict Environment, Major Charles W. Driest, USMC, School of Advanced Military Studies, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1990
  2. The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency, William Rosenau and Austin Long, National Defense Research Institute, The RAND Corporation, 2009

Endnotes:

[1] Communist agents employed a wide range of strategies to secure a pro-communist referendum, including the murder of non-communist politicians and intimidation at polling stations.

[2] Lyndon Johnson told the American people that it was necessary to commit US forces in defense of South Vietnam.  It was only partially true.  The series of South Vietnamese presidents following (but also including) Diem had every intention to unify the country under his own flag.  American troops were fighting and dying in Vietnam in furtherance of this goal.

[3] Ngo Dinh Diem had unique problems in the south.  Culturally, they were fiercely independent and wanted to stay that way.  In the vacuum of repatriated Japanese, war lords began taking control of large areas of South Vietnam.  Diem acted harshly to squash these gangsters.  Ho Chi Minh never had these kinds of problems.  The people of North Vietnam were used to doing what they were told.

Operation Beleaguer

China Marines — the Final Chapter

EGA BlackDuring World War II, China was a battlefield with three opposing armies: Nationalists, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.  When World War II ended in 1945, more than 650,000 Japanese and Korean military personnel and civilians were still in China and in need of repatriation.  There is an interesting prequel to this event.

In 1912, Imperial China was overthrown and replaced by a Republic under President Sun Yat-sen.  The Republic had a short lifespan, however.  General Yuan Shi-Kai (commanding the New Army) forced Sun from office and proceeded to abolish national and provincial assemblies.  In late 1915, Yuan declared himself Emperor. This too was a short-lived government. Overwhelming opposition to imperial rule forced Yuan from office in March 1918.  He died a few months later.

Yuan’s abdication created a power vacuum in China —one almost immediately filled with local or regional warlords.  Whatever China’s skeptics thought of government in 1918, negative popular opinion grew steadily worse over time.  A nation-wide protest movement among anti-Imperialists in 1919 developed out of the government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which ceded Chinese territory to Japan —the consequence of which made China a victim of Japan’s expansionist policies— aided and abetted by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  These protests sparked a sudden upsurge in Chinese nationalism, the creation of populism, and a move toward radical socialism.  It was the birth of China’s “new culture movement.”

Repudiating western political philosophy, the Chinese became even more radicalized, inspired as they were by the Russian Revolution and the tireless efforts of Russian agents living in China at the time.  The result of this was the growth of irreconcilable differences between the political left and right —a condition that dominated Chinese political history for most of the rest of the twentieth century.

In the 1920s, former-President Sun Yat-sen established a revolutionary base in south China.  His mission was to unite China’s fragmented society.  Influenced and assisted by the Soviet Union, Sun formed an alliance with the Communist Party of China.  Sun, who passed away in 1925, was eventually replaced by one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang seized control of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and having brought most of south and central China under his rule, then launched a military campaign called the Northern Expedition.  It was Chiang’s intent to secure the allegiance of northern warlords.  In 1927, Chiang turned his attention to the Communist Party, pursuing them relentlessly in a campaign history recalls as the “White Terror.”  In addition to killing off as many communists as possible, he also rounded up political dissidents  —killing as many of them as he could find.

Communist leader Mao Zedong led his followers into northwest China, where the established guerrilla bases in Yan’an.  A bitter struggle between Chiang and Mao even continued through the 14-year long Japanese occupation of China (1931-1945).

During this period, Chiang and Mao nominally formed a united front to oppose the Japanese, the so-called Second Sino-Japanese War, which became part of World War II.  In reality, Mao made every effort to avoid contact with the Japanese during World War II —even despite the fact that he was regularly receiving US-made military equipment.

At the conclusion of World War II, Chiang and Mao wanted nothing to do with repatriating Japanese soldiers to their homeland.  US President Harry S. Truman therefore ordered the Navy and Marine Corps into China.  Their assigned mission was to (1) accept the surrender of Japanese forces, (2) arrange and affect their shipment back to Japan (or Korea), and (3) assist Chinese Nationalists in reasserting their control over areas previously occupied by Imperial Japan.  After four years of a bloody Pacific War, US Marines were handed another combat assignment.

K E ROCKEY 001
LtGen K. E. Rockey USMC

In China, 1945-49

The US 7th Fleet and III Amphibious Corps (III AC) were assigned to duty in China.  By presidential order, Marines were prohibited from taking sides during the Chinese civil war.  They were, however, authorized to defend themselves against any hostile assault. Major General Keller E. Rockey [1] commanded III AC.  He answered to the China Theater commander, Lieutenant General Albert C. Wedemeyer [2], U. S. Army.

In Hopeh Province

The 1st Marine Division occupied positions in the vicinity of Tang-Ku, Tientsin, Peking, and Chinwangtao; the 6th Marine Division was assigned to Tsingtao.  The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing established air base operations at Tsingtao, Tientsin, and Peking.  General Rockey was assigned to command the Shanghai Corps region as an additional duty. III AC began its relocation to China on 15 September 1945.  The 3rd Marine Division at Guam and the 4th Marine Division in Hawaii were designated as area reserve forces.  The operation was designated BELEAGUER.

The Marine’s arrival in China was met by joyful crowds of Chinese civilians.  Brigadier General Louis R. Jones, then serving as the Assistant Division Commander, 1stMarDiv immediately met with port officials in Tang-Ku to make arrangements for the surrender of the Japanese garrison.  Scenes of elated Chinese, anxious for liberation from Japanese control, was repeated wherever the Marines came ashore.

On 1 October 1945, Lieutenant Colonel John J. Gormley at Chinwangtao was faced with desultory fighting between Chinese Communist (Chicom) and Japanese Imperial troops, who had yet to be disarmed.  Gormley, commanding the 1stBattalion, 7thMarines (1/7) ordered the Japanese troops with withdraw from the town to a bivouac he designated and then detailed his Marines to establish a buffer-zone on the outskirts of the city.  Initially, the Chicom seemed satisfied, but cooperation between the Marines and Chicom didn’t last very long.  Before the end of October, Chicom elements began sabotaging railroads leading into Chinwangtao and ambushing American held trains.  Eventually, Chinwangtao became a major center for communist resistance to American peace-keeping operations.

Japanese Imperial soldiers had also had their fill of war.  They were ready to return home, so most Japanese military personnel surrendered to the US Marines within days of their arrival in China.  On 6 October, General Rockey accepted the surrender of 50,000 Japanese at Tientsin. An additional 50,000 Japanese surrendered to General Lien Ching Sun, Chiang’s personal representative, four days later.  The Marines assigned all surrendering Japanese to bivouac or barracks near the seacoast.  Because the number of American personnel was insufficient to the task assigned to them, some Japanese Imperial troops were re-armed and utilized as area guards until they could be replaced by Chiang’s Nationalist forces.

Trouble began on 5 October when a Marine reconnaissance patrol traveling along the Tientsin-Peking road found 36 unguarded roadblocks.  An engineer section and a rifle platoon were called up to dismantle the obstructions and restore the highway to usefulness.  The next day, at a point about 22-miles northwest of Tientsin, these 35-40 Marines were attacked by an estimated 50-60 Chicom soldiers.  A brief firefight forced the Marines to withdraw with their wounded.  Another detachment of Engineers was sent back the next day to complete the removal of roadblocks —this time accompanied by an infantry company reinforced by tanks and on-station air support.  The road was reopened and, from that point on, Marines were detailed to provide a regular motorized patrol of the vital roadway.

In Peking, the 5th Marines who established themselves in the old Legation Quarter, co-located Brigadier General Jones’ advance command post.  A rifle company was placed at each end of the Peking airport.  The 1st Marines and 11th Marines under overall command of Colonel Arthur T. Mason set in at the Tientsin airfield.  The Taku-Tang-Ku area was garrisoned by 1/5.  Battalions 1/7 and 3/7 (with necessary attachments) were assigned to protect the Tang-Ku-Chinwangtao railroad.

C A LARKIN 001
Maj Gen C. E. Larkin USMC

1stMAW units under Major General Claude E. Larkin established control over the Tientsin airfield.  Flight echelons were assigned to airfields at Tsingtao, Peiping, and Tientsin.  However, due to adverse weather conditions in Japan, Marine air operations were initially limited between 9-11 October 1945. The first extensive use of airfields under American control was made by Chinese Nationalist forces.  Between 6-29 October, fifty-thousand Chinese Nationalist forces were airlifted to Peking from central and southern China by the 14th Army-Air Force.

The Chicom 8th Route Army observed these movements with interest. Communist raids and ambushes against the Marines soon became a regular occurrence.  President Truman had set the Marines down in the middle of a fratricidal war with ambiguous instructions to abstain from participating in the civil war, while at the same time “cooperating” with Nationalist Chinese forces.  It was a very thin tightrope, but in time, President Truman made things even worse.

In November 1945, Chiang Kai-shek began preparing for a campaign to take control of Manchuria.  General Wedemeyer, who also served at Chiang’s military advisor, warned him to secure his hold on the vital provinces in northeastern China before entering Manchuria because military operations there would require an overwhelming force. Disregarding this advice, Chiang pulled his Nationalist troops out of Hopeh and Shantung, leaving them unprotected from Chicom guerrillas, who quickly seized control.  Chiang’s operation into Manchuria was the beginning of his end on the mainland.

In Shantung Province

A much larger Communist force controlled most of the countryside and coastal regions in Shantung.  Tsingtao remained a Nationalist stronghold, but they were little more than an island in a Communist sea.  Japanese guards controlled the rail line leading from Tsingtao.  Until Nationalist troops were able to relieve them, there was no hope of rapid repatriation.  Shortly after General Rockey accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in Tientsin, he departed for Chefoo, more or less as an advance party for the 6thMarDiv. General Rockey wanted to investigate conditions at that port city.  Upon arrival, Rockey discovered that Chicom elements had already taken control of the city. Moreover, the Communists were determined not to cooperate with the American Marines.

Prior to General Rockey’s arrival, Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, commanding the US 7th Fleet, messaged the Communist commander requesting that he withdraw his men.  The Communist-installed Mayor demanded terms that were unacceptable to Admiral Kinkaid. Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, Commander, VII Amphibious Force, recommended that the landing of 6thMarDiv be postponed.  General Rockey agreed.  The 6thMarDiv came ashore at Tsingtao on 11 October.

6MARDIV 001On that very day, 6thMarDiv’s reconnaissance company preceded the main body and moved through the city’s streets lined with flag-waving citizens to secure the Tsang-Kou airfield, located ten miles outside the city.  On the following day, Marine observation aircraft landed at the airfield.  On 13 October, a Communist emissary arrived in Tsingtao with a letter for the Commanding General, 6th Marine Division —Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd [3].  In this letter, a Chicom official offered to cooperate with the Marines to destroy the remaining Japanese Imperial Army and the rest of the “traitor” (Nationalist) army.  The official expected that in return for his cooperation, the Marines would not oppose his forces.  General Shepherd’s response included a reaffirmation that his Marines were not present to destroy either the Japanese or any Chinese force.  Shepherd also clearly stated that a Communist occupation of Tsingtao was undesirable because the city was peaceful.  Moreover, he would not cooperate with Chicom forces and assured this official that should it become necessary to employ his Marines against anyone, they were capable of coping with any situation.

The 6thMarDiv was fully disembarked by 16 October.  A formal surrender of the 10,000-man Japanese garrison at Tsingtao was affected on 25 October 1945.  Again, despite their surrender, Japanese troops were retained to help defend Tsingtao against Chicom aggression.  Clashes between Chicom and Japanese Imperial troops was a frequent occurrence.  Marine Aircraft Group 32 (MAG-32) commenced regular reconnaissance missions on 26 October. MAG-32 landed at Tsingtao on 21 October, soon joined by MAG 25.  MAG 12 and MAG 24 took possession of the Peking airfield.  Major General Louis A. Woods replaced General Larkin as air wing commander on 31 October.

Combat ensues

On 14 November 1945, Chicom elements attacked a train carrying General Dewitt Peck and a component of the 7th Marines near the village of Ku-Yeh. An intense battle lasted for more than three hours.  Chinese fire from the village was so powerful that the Marines were forced to called in air support.  Unfortunately, since Marine aircraft could not clearly distinguish the enemy’s positions, and because of the risk to civilians, permission to fire was not granted.  In time, the Chicom forces withdrew and as there were no Marine casualties and the train proceeded.

General Peck’s train was ambushed again the next day.  This time, Chicom forces had ripped up 400-yards of the track. Workers sent to repair the line were killed or wounded by land mines.  Since repairs would take longer than two days, General Peck returned to Tangshan and boarded a flight to Chinwangtao.  In the minds of the Marines, what was needed in this area was a strong offensive by Chinese Nationalists.  Commanding the Northeast China Command, General Tu Li-Ming agreed to drive back Chicom forces in order to keep the Marines from becoming involved in the conflict.  In return, General Peck agreed to assign Marines to guard duty at rail bridges between Tang-Ku and Chinwangtao —a distance of 135 miles.  The problem was that the 7th Marines were already under-manned. General Shepherd transferred the 29th Marine Regiment to Tsingtao to serve under the operational control of the 7th Marines.

On 7 July 1946, China’s communist party issued a statement condemning US policy toward China.  Within a short time, Chicom troops launched two minor attacks against the Marines. The first occurred on 13 July when a Chicom unit ambushed Marines who were guarding a bridge fifteen miles outside Peitai-ho.  The Marines were overwhelmed and taken prisoner.  After some negotiation with American officials, these Marines were released unharmed.  Then, on 29 July, a small convoy was ambushed near the village of An-ping by a sizeable well-armed force of uniformed Chicom soldiers.  The ensuing battled lasted approximately four hours.  Marine aircraft were called in to provide support to the beleaguered Marines and a relief force was also dispatched.  The Marine commander intended to encircle the Chicom force, but the reinforcing unit failed to arrive before the Chicom force has withdrawn.  Four Marines were killed, including the platoon/convoy commander, Lieutenant Douglas Cowin, Corporal Gilbert Tate, and PFCs Larry Punch and John Lopez. An additional twelve Marines were wounded in the action.  This was a serious incident and a signal for the Marines that peace in China would be next to impossible to obtain.

Six miles northwest of Tang-Ku, Hsin-ho was the location of a 1stMarDiv ammo depot.  On the night of 3 October 1946, Chicom raiders infiltrated the depot intending to steal munitions.  A sentry from 1/5 discovered the intrusion and opened fire on the infiltrators.  A Marine reaction force responded immediately but was ambushed.  A firefight of some 40 minutes resulted and, once again, the Chicom raiders withdrew before additional reinforcements could arrive.  An investigation conducted immediately after the incident discovered the body of one Chicom raider and revealed that several cases of ammunition had been taken [4].  One Marine was wounded during this engagement.

Another engagement at Hsin-ho occurred on the night of 4-5 April 1947.  A company size Chicom force initiated a well-planned, well-coordinated attack on three isolated ammo-storage areas within the Depot.  A small guard force attempted to defend the depot but was overwhelmed. Within the guard detachment, five Marines were killed, eight more were wounded, and the Chicom force successfully intruded the depot and hauled away a considerable store of ammunition.  Marine reinforcements were delayed by the clever placement of landmines, preventing a rapid deployment of combat/reaction forces. An additional eight Marines of the reaction force received serious wounds.  Nationalist Chinese assumed control of this ammunition storage site at the end of April.  The second engagement at Hsin-ho was the last hostile engagement between Chicom and Marine forces in China.

President Truman’s attempt to reconcile Communist and Nationalist parties, to achieve peace and promote economic recovery, was an utter failure. It was not Truman’s last failure. He would fail again in 1950 —and 38,000 more Americans would die in the Korean War.  Not even the formidable George C. Marshall could save China from herself.  Nevertheless, the “Committee of Three [5]” began a series of meetings on 7 January 1946.  A cease-fire was proclaimed, and yet, for the Marines in China, there was never a time when a guard detachment considered itself “safe” from Chicom ambush or assault.

Only half of the estimated 630,000 Japanese and Koreans in China had been repatriated between March-April 1946.  Chiang Kai-shek demanded the stores of weapons and ammunition that had been taken from the Japanese prisoners, but General Wedemeyer refused Chiang’s request until Nationalist forces had officially assumed control of the repatriation program.  As this work continued, Marines were assigned to guard duty watching over the Japanese and Koreans embarking aboard ships to take them home.  There was one other mission the Marines performed: that of protecting American lives and property in China, which is precisely what the Marines had always done in China.

Even though President Truman had tasked the Marines with a nearly impossible mission, he almost immediately began a general demobilization of the Armed Forces.  Marines serving in China were eligible to return home for discharge under Operation Magic Carpet.  This sudden reduction in force left the China occupation force in a quandary: how to achieve their objectives with far fewer troops.

Truman’s decision and timing placed the Marines in a dangerous situation.  General Wedemeyer was notified on 13 December 1945 that the 6th Marine Division would be deactivated.  Major General Shepherd was ordered back to the United States.  He was relieved by Major General Archie F. Howard [6], who was soon ordered into retirement.  Including grunts and air-wingers, there were not enough Marines left in China to man a regiment: 1/29 was disbanded; the third battalion of each infantry regiment was deactivated along with the last lettered battery of each artillery battalion within the 1stMarDiv.

The Fourth Marine Regiment, the historic backbone of the China Marines would be the only regiment in the Corps left intact with three infantry battalions—it was only a temporary reprieve.  1stMAW deactivated the Headquarters and Service squadrons of MAG-12, which also lost VMFN-541, and VMTB-134.  Control of the south end airfield at Peking was turned-over the US Army Air Force.

On 1 April 1946, the 3rdMarDiv was redesignated as 3rdMarine Brigade.  Of the remaining 25,000 Marines in China, most were young, inexperienced replacements. With their back to the wall, Marine leaders immediately began training them for possible combat.

Control of the Chinese theater was reassigned to the Commander, US 7th Fleet.  While still facing the possibility of hostile acts by Chicom forces, the Marines were ordered to begin their withdrawal from China in the summer of 1946.  The process of organizational shrinkage continued: 3rd Brigade Marines merged with the 4th Marine Regiment.  III Amphibious Corps was deactivated.  Officers and troops were either reassigned in-country or returned to the United States.  1stMarDiv regiments in China became battalions.  Ultimately, the 4th Marine Regiment was ordered back to the United States —its last organization departing on 3 September 1946.  Battalion 3/4 was ordered detached from the 4th Marines and served as a separate battalion under the operational control of the fleet commander.

Within two years, the Nationalist Chinese forces were on the verge of collapse.  Chicom forces were taking control of China in leaps and bounds.  Accordingly, Marine units were continually shifted to avoid being isolated by Chicom military units.  When the Chinese communists captured Nanking, on 24 April 1949, the Chinese Revolution was essentially over.  The last American Marines to leave China departed on 16 Mary 1949.

In total, Marine ground forces lost 13 KIA and 43 WIA in clashes with Chicom forces.  During this same period, Marine Corps Aviation lost 14 aircraft and 22 aircrewmen.

Endnotes:

[1] LtGen Rockey (1888-1970) commanded the 5thMarDiv during the Battle for Iwo Jima.  He is a recipient of the Navy Cross and three Distinguished Crosses.  Prior to his retirement, he served as CG FMFLant and Assistant CMC.  General Rockey retired in 1950.

[2] A staunch anti-Communist.

[3] Twentieth Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps (1 Jan 1952-31 Dec 1955).  Shepherd served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. He was a recipient of the Navy Cross, the last World War I veteran to service as Commandant, the first CMC to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as Commandant during the Korean War.

[4] During World War II, President Roosevelt’s lend-lease program was extended to both Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists in equal measure.  The apparent hope was that both forces would use this equipment against the Japanese in China.  The Communists, however, stored these arms and equipment in caves located in northwest China, intending to use them against the Nationalist forces at the conclusion of the war.  Chicom raiders wanted to steal US caliber ammunition because it was suited their American-provided weapons.  In essence, American Marines were being killed and wounded by US manufactured equipment, provided to a potentially enemy by a President of the United States.

[5] The Committee of three consisted of General Marshall, representing President Truman, General Chang Chung, representing Chiang Kai-shek, and Zhou Enlai, representing the Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong.  The purpose of the committee was to establish a framework within which good-faith negotiations could proceed to achieve peace in China.  It didn’t work out that way.

[6] Captain Archie F. Howard served in the Polar Bear Expedition to China 1918-1919.

Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part III

cropped-cropped-ega-flags.jpgBrigadier General Pendleton served in the Dominican Republic until October 1918.  He was followed by a succession of fine Marine officers, including: Brigadier General Ben H. Fuller [1], Brigadier Logan Feland [2], and Brigadier General Charles G. Long [3].  They each served in command for about one year.  Brigadier General Harry Lee [4] replaced long in August 1921, serving until the Marines were withdrawn in 1924.

Despite a plethora of exceptional accomplishments by Marines in the Dominican Republic, they were not then (and are not now), free of chinks in their armor.  One of the problems shared among senior officers in the DomRep was a shortage of junior officers, and of those who they did have, a scant few who were prepared to lead Marines during an insurgency war.  According to one company commander, in late 1918 he was stationed in the hills of eastern Santo Domingo with only two lieutenants for 150 enlisted men.  He was forced to relieve one of these lieutenants from duty in the field due to officer misconduct.  We don’t know what that misconduct was, and it may not be important.  He may have thought that as a lieutenant, he knew more about leadership than his sergeant, which is almost never the case —even today.

The caliber of enlisted Marines serving in the DomRep also changed over time.  Initially, the NCOs were old salts; men who had served in the Spanish-American or Philippine Insurrection.  These were often tough old bastards who liked to drink but were always able to carry out their duties with courage and intellect.

After the commencement of a military draft in 1917, not all enlisted men had the temperament needed for independent duty. In fact, some of these Marines were so poorly trained that they were dangerous to themselves and their fellow Marines.  Serving in the 15th Regiment was a First Lieutenant (temporary captain) named Edward A. Craig [5].  When Craig joined his company in 1919, he found his men lacking in certain areas of fieldcraft, in marksmanship, in discipline, and in ability.  To correct this deficiency, Captain Craig gathered together two experienced NCOs and told them to “fix the damn problem with these Marines.” They did, and Craig’s company later distinguished itself in the Dominican country side.  There is no substitute for good NCO leadership.

And then there were the Marines who volunteered for service in World War I only to find themselves assigned to a Dominican backwater.  They were a disgruntled lot and didn’t care who knew it.  All of these Marines lived in the field —very few of them getting to pull liberty in Santo Domingo City.  Their homes were the villages and small towns.  They lived in primitive tent camps or in insect-infested native huts. Their rations were meager, consisting mostly of canned meat, vegetables, bacon, flour, and other nonperishables.  Typical of Marines even today, they often traded their government rations with natives for fresh eggs and chickens, if the poor natives had any to spare.  Occasionally an enterprising Marine encountered a cow being held against its will and liberated it.

Food and water became a serious problem during extended patrols.  Marines took with them food and water rations, of course, but if these ran out the Marines were forced to forage for food on their own.  Even with hunger pangs, the Marines were always mindful of not taking food from the mouths of local native —but one does have to survive.  And, despite Colonel Pendleton’s stern letter about what he expected of his Marines, those who served in the countryside sometimes engaged in illegal activities —the things Pendleton expressly forbade.  A few Marines extorted money and goods from the natives, made arbitrary arrests, fought with civilians or among themselves, and stealing government property sold it to the natives.  Whenever Marines were caught doing such things, they were court-martialed and severely punished.

Captain Charles F. Merkel was accused of severely beating and disfiguring a native prisoner, and for ordering four other Dominicans shot near Hato Mayor in the Eastern district. Major Robert S. Kingsbury conducted an investigation and based on his findings of fact, arrested Merkel and confined him to quarters awaiting trial.  Merkel took his own life before trial.

Clearly, however, most Marines acquitted themselves with honor and distinction during the occupation of the Dominican Republic. They were well-disciplined, law-abiding, and they discharged their duties at levels at or above their pay grade under the most difficult of conditions. They exhibited skill, patience, and esprit-de-corps in the fulfillment of suppressing banditry, training native constabulary, and civil administration.

Throughout the Marine Corps experience in the Dominican Republic, hardly a month went by when there wasn’t a clash between Marines and “bandits.”  Back then, “bandit” was a label attached to anyone suspected of being an enemy —much in the same way Marines applied the label “VC” to Vietnamese civilians (whether or not true), if they looked at a Marine with hateful or suspicious looks. A civilian may think that suspicion is a horrible way to live your life —and this may be true— but Marines aren’t paranoid when people really are trying to kill them.

In the DomRep, bandits were not homogeneous. Some were highway men (gavilleros), others were politicians who used natives to advance their own ambitions.  Some were unemployed laborers whose level of poverty drove them into a bandit camp. Some were common peasants pressed into service.  And then there were the professional criminals: murderers, kidnappers, and thieves. Most of the Dominican people were none of these.

Bandit bands seldom ever exceeded around 200 in number; most around 50 in number.  They robbed and terrorized rural communities, extorted money, confiscated ammunition, stole supplies from the sugar plantations, and some even had the courage (or stupidity) to attack a Marine patrol.  For the Marines, the bandits seemed ever present.  It was stressful duty.  And while many of the bandits were little more than hoodlums, there were also quite dangerous warlords.  When bandit groups of any size believed that they had an advantage over the Marines, they would fall upon them with machetes and knives.  Marine rifle and machine gun fire usually worked to discourage such attacks, but not always.

DH4B USMC 001In addition to courageous skill in the combat arms, the Marines had another advantage: Marine Aviation. The 1st Air Squadron joined the occupation force early in 1919.  The squadron commander was Captain Walter E. McCaughtry, a pilot of some skill who had risen from the warrant officer ranks.  Initially, the squadron was equipped with six JN-6 (Jenny) bi-planes. Air operations began from an airstrip hacked out of the dense jungle near Consuelo, 12-miles from San Pedro de Macoris.  When the squadron was moved to a field outside Santo Domingo City, it was re-equipped with DeHaviland (DH)-4Bs.  The DH-4B was a single engine, two-seat bi-plane improved from World War I day bombers. It was sturdy, maneuverable, and versatile.

In December 1920, 1st Air Squadron received a new commanding officer, Major Alfred A. Cunningham —the Marine Corps’ first aviator.  Cunningham had organized and led the 1st Marine Aviation Force in France during World War I.  He was transferred to the DomRep after serving as Director of Marine Corps aviation. Cunningham was later replaced by Major Edwin A. Brainard, who remained with the squadron until the end of occupation duty.  1st Air Squadron had an average strength of 10 officers and 130 enlisted men. It took a lot of men to keep six aircraft operational.

Flying combat missions in the Dominican Republic was no piece of cake.  Mountainous terrain made flying conditions difficult and dangerous.  With a lack of airfields, an in-flight emergency could produce disastrous results.  At this time, there were no navigational aids and the difficulties of aircraft maintenance were complicated by the logistics train.

On 22 July 1919, Second Lieutenant Manson C. Carpenter and his observer/rear gunner, Second Lieutenant Nathan S. Noble undertook a mission communicated to them by telephone of a skirmish near Guaybo Dulce.  A Marine patrol reported 30 mounted bandits fleeing across an open meadow. Carpenter conducted a strafing attack, diving from an altitude of about 100 feet and then maneuvering in such a way that brought both his front and rear cockpit guns to bear.  As Carpenter climbed to regain altitude before beginning another run, the bandits scattered into the tree-line.  During his second pass, Carpenter counted six bodies.  It was a successful mission —but the truth is that these kinds of engagements were rare.  There were no sophisticated air-to-air/air-to-ground communications —and this meant there was also no transmission of timely intelligence, no coordination of field operations.  But this was in the early stages of Marine Aviation and all of this would change in the not-too-distant future.

Marine Aviation’s greatest value lay in its support role.  1st Air Squadron carried mail and passengers from major cities to outlying districts and towns.  They also delivered much-needed supplies to remote units and evacuated wounded Marines —the first application of aeromedical evacuation. By 1922, Marine aviators were helping ground commanders control operations in widely dispersed areas by dropping messages to them from the air and keeping the regimental headquarters informed of the whereabouts of ground elements.  Marine pilots also conducted aerial surveys of the Dominican coastline, mapping important rivers, and developing photographic maps.  The regiments also sent newly arrived company officers up in planes to orient them to the areas they would later patrol on foot. Dominican operations were significant, too, in another respect: they enabled the Marine aviators to demonstrate their value to Marine ground forces.  DomRep was the birthplace of the Marine Corps Air-Ground team.

In mid-1922, the 2nd  Brigade commander summarized operations since 1916.  His report concluded that the Marines had engaged with bandits on 467 occasions.  Bandit losses exceeded 1,100 killed or wounded, with Marine loses of 20 killed and 67 wounded.  Most of these contacts transpired from within the Eastern District.  With the passage of time, bandits became more difficult to engage because they rarely attacked Marine security patrols.  It was easier (and safer) for bandits to focus their attentions on unarmed peasants.  The problem for Marines were three: (1) a paucity of accurate and timely intelligence; (2) a lack of communications with and among scattered units —noting that field radios were sent to the Marines in late 1921; (3) the absence of effective planning and coordination of security patrols.  Normally, regimental headquarters had no clear idea where their Marines were located.  Frequently, patrols from two or three commands were discovered operating in the same area, each of these unaware of the other’s presence.

By 1921, senior Marine commanders realized that time was running out and they still had not solved the bandit problem. Brigadier General Harry Lee wanted to step up ground operations.  Colonel William C. Harllee [6], then commanding the 15th Regiment, launched a systematic drive to finish off the bandits operating in the Eastern District.  Between October 1921 and March 1922, Harllee employed his entire regiment, reinforced by the newly created Policia Nacional, in a series of large-scale cordon operations in Seibo and Macoris. Harllee’s scheme involved a series of encirclements that were coordinated through the use of newly received field radios and air-dropped messages.

Harllee’s search and destroy maneuvers dispatched more than a few bandits and netted 600 or so “suspected” bandits.  General Lee halted the cordon operations, however, because they proved unpopular with the local peasantry.  Harllee reverted to security patrols, better coordinated by the introduction of field radios, and these resulted in seven enemy engagements.

In March 1922, General Lee implemented the formation of “home guard” units at Consuelo, Santa Fe, La Paja, Hato Mayor, and Seibo.  Home guard units consisted of around 15 men each, accepted for service upon the recommendation of municipal officials.  They were generally men who had suffered depredation at the hands of bandits and were therefore eager to serve their communities.  Trained, armed, and led by Marines, home guard units patrolled their own localities.  Two or three Marines armed with automatic weapons reinforced home guards units. General Lee’s plan was the precursor to Combined Action Platoon (CAP) operations used in the Viet Nam War.

Between 19-30 April 1922, home guard units effectively destroyed six bandit groups.  General Lee believed that these home guard units, more than any other single factor, broke up banditry in the Eastern District.  In late April, prominent Dominicans acting under the authority of the Military governor negotiated the surrender of one of the more prominent bandit leaders.  Subsequently, seven more of these brigands surrendered to the Marines —along with 170 of their followers.  In exchange for voluntarily surrendering, they received suspended sentences so long as they maintained good behavior.  In June 1922, General Lee reported that all banditry in the Eastern district had ceased.  The Dominican Republic was pacified.

With the success of anti-bandit operations, the Marines could then concentrate on the training of an efficient national constabulary.  It was a necessary step in safeguarding all the hard work that had been theretofore accomplished.  Previously, the Dominican Guardiahad been untrained, prone to loyalty toward charismatic leaders rather than to their duly elected national authority.  Most, if not all, Guardia officers were corrupt.  Those who shared their booty with their men were most popular of all.  More than this, Guardia officers were too easily persuaded to become the useful tools of corrupt politicians.  It was President Henriques’ refusal to accept the creation of an American-trained constabulary that led to American occupation to begin with.  Corruption was so deeply engrained that the only possible solution was to completely disband the Guardia.

This was accomplished on 7 April 1917, when the military governor created a new national police force, called the Guardia Nacional Dominicana (GND).  The GND replaced the Dominican Army, Navy, Guardia Republicana, and frontier guard.  The GND would be staffed with 88 officers and 1,200 enlisted men.  Initially, the GND was placed under the command of a Marine officer, who answered to the Commanding General, 2nd Brigade.  Over time, the GND created its own headquarters staff and territorial organization, which paralleled the organizational structure of the Marine brigade. One company of GND was assigned to each province.  In 1920, half of the GND’s officers were still U. S. Marines, officers and NCOs [7] who accepted Dominican commissions. Developing native officers was a long process of reforming attitudes and teaching them good leadership principles. Culture (corruption) was always an impediment to this process.

The GND enlisted force was entirely composed of natives.  They earned $17.00 per month, which was a hefty amount of money considering that they were accustomed to working for twenty-five cents per day, or around $7.50 per month.

Part of the difficulty of training the GND was the frequent reassignment of its senior (Marine) officers.  Generally, assignment to the GND involved a seven-month rotation. Added to this, all Marine officers were overloaded with additional duties.  Under these circumstances, combined with rapid deployments of GND forces to deal with bandits in outlying areas, effective training was significantly impaired.  Budget cuts were another stopgap to effective training.  At one point in 1921, the GND was reduced by 346 men simply because there was not enough money to pay them.  Arming the GND was another problem —that and providing them with horses and motorized transportation.

Despite so many handicaps, the GND ably assisted US Marines in their campaign against banditry and then taking pacification to the next level: security for all.  In 1921, the United States committed itself to an early withdrawal from the Dominican Republic.  Marines intensified their efforts to develop the GND into a fully professional force. The GND was renamed Policia Nacional Dominicana (PND) to emphasize the character and mission of the organization.  A new recruiting effort began, along with an effort to weed out less desirable veterans.  By August 1922, the PND fielded a force of 800 men, its ceiling remaining at 1,200.

No one did more to guarantee the success of the PND than Lieutenant Colonel Presley Marion Rixey [8] who served as its commandant from 1921 to 1923. Rixey was a superb combat commander and administrator who served on the Brigade staff before assuming command of the PND.  He transformed the PND into a highly mobile and strategically placed police agency and was responsible for the creation of two police training centers which included a five-month course of instruction for mid-level officers, including administration, tactics, weapons, topography, first aid, hygiene, and agriculture.

Training courses were also designed for enlisted men lasting two months.  Training emphasized guard duty, discipline, personal cleanliness, hygiene, and marksmanship.  An emphasis on marksmanship gave the PND a distinct advantage over bandits and other criminals.  Marines worked hard to inculcate unit pride and esprit de corps with emphasis on winning the confidence of the Dominican people, treating them fairly and consistently, offering them more than protection, but also justice.

Nevertheless, it had come time for the United States to return control of the Dominican Republic to the people.  President Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, worked to end the occupation —which was something he promised to do during his campaign for the presidency.  In 1924, the Marines packed up and went home, leaving behind them a nation with a stable economy, a countryside free of bandits, and a national police organization capable of maintaining the peace.  Would these police officials acquit themselves with honor and integrity?

Rafael L TRUJILLO 001One of these young police officers was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who was in the first class to graduate from the academy at Haina.  Trujillo was born near San Cristobal in 1891.  Most of his youth was spent drifting in and out of minor jobs and petty crime.  In 1916, he obtained a respectable job as a security officer on a sugar plantation. He was attracted to the exciting life, so in 1918, he applied for a commission in the GND.  He was sworn in as a second lieutenant in January 1919. Stationed with the 11thGuardia Company at Seibo, Trujillo earned good efficiency reports from his superiors.  On one occasion, however, he was placed under arrest for allegedly attempting to extort money from a civilian.  These charges were dismissed before trial.

After graduation, Trujillo rose rapidly through the ranks of the PND.  After the Marines departed the Dominican Republic, Trujillo was advanced from second lieutenant to major.  In 1924, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assumed the post of chief of staff of the PND.

In the elections of 1924, the Dominican people elected Horacio Vásquez.  Vásquez had cooperated with the American occupation force. He gave the Dominican Republic six years of stable and successful government, one in which political and civil rights were respected and the economy became vibrant in a country with a peaceful atmosphere.

Under Vásquez, Trujillo was advanced again to Colonel Commandant of the PND.  In 1930, when Vásquez attempted another term as president, his political opponents made a deal with Colonel Trujillo.  The deal was that Trujillo would stand back and do nothing if Rafael Estrella Ureña overthrew the Vásquez government.  As promised, Trujillo ordered his men to remain confined to barracks as Ureña marched on the capital.  After Ureña was proclaimed acting president, he appointed Trujillo to command the national police and armed forces.  In this capacity, Trujillo announced himself as a candidate as Presidency of the Dominican Republic.  During the “campaign,” Trujillo unleased his police and army forces to repress all political opponents.  He was elected president unopposed, ascending to power in August 1930.  Trujillo become the Caribbean’s longest-lived and more feared dictators.  He was assassinated on 30 May 1961.

In February 1963, Juan Bosch was elected president of the Dominican Republic.  He was overthrown on 24 April 1965.  After nineteen months of military rule, the people revolted.  US President Lyndon Johnson, concerned that communists may seize power and create a second Cuba, sent the Marines back to the Dominican Republic to restore order. As part of Operation Powerpack, Johnson authorized the US 82nd Airborne to occupy the DomRep.  They were soon joined by a small military contingent from the Organization of American States.  Foreign military forces remained in the DomRep for well over a year, departing after supervising presidential elections in 1966.  President Joaquin Balaguer remained in power for 12 years.

In retrospect, the performance of the United States Military Government (of which the  2nd Marine Brigade was its most conspicuous agent) and the American policy of Caribbean intervention, remains controversial.  By improving communications, transportation networks, promoting education and public health, and improving police and other government agencies, the Marines did much to establish an infrastructure for success.  There was one failure, however.  No matter how much money was expended improving local conditions, the United States Marines could not have created a stable Dominican democracy. This can only be accomplished by a people who most desire it and who have the means and the will to achieve it [9].  It is a lesson unlearned by modern American diplomats and senior military advisors in Washington, D. C.

Today, the Dominican Republic has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and the largest economy in the Caribbean/Central American region, bolstered by construction, manufacturing, tourism, and mining.  The Dominican people have achieved what most other Hispanic societies in the Americas never have: a political environment within which a free and independent people may succeed.

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Ben Hebard Fuller (1870-1937) initially joined the US Navy (1889-1891) and then served in the Marine Corps (1891-1934).  His final post was Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1930-1934. General Fuller was laid to rest next to his son, Captain Edward C. Fuller of the 6th Marines, who was killed in action during the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I.

[2] Logan Feland (1869-1936) initially served in the Volunteer Infantry (1898-1899) and served as a US Marine (1899-1933).  Among his several duty stations, General Feland served during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and several of the so-called Banana Wars.  Feland retired as a Major General commanding the Department of the Pacific.  He was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Distinguished Service Medal (Army), Distinguished Service Medal (Navy), five Silver Star medals, and the French Legion of Honor.

[3] Charles G. Long (1869-1943) served in the USMC from 1891-1921.  Major General Long served in the Philippine-American War, Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion, World War I, and during the so-called Banana Wars. General Long was the recipient of the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Navy Cross.

[4] Harry Lee (1872-1935) served in the Marine Corps from 1898-1933.  Lee commanded the 6thMarine Regiment, Marine Barracks, Parris Island, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, and the 2ndProvisional Brigade while serving as Military Governor of the Dominican Republic.  He served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and during the so-called Banana Wars.  Retiring as a major general, Lee was the recipient of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star medal, and Legion of Honor.

[5] See also: Edward A. Craig—Marine.

[6] William Curry Harllee (1877-1944), referred to as Bo by his friends, was a large man who stood over 6’2” tall and weighed 200 pounds.  His military service began with some difficulty.  He was expelled from the Citadel for having accumulated excessive demerits, and later expelled from the U. S. Military Academy (where he ranked second in his class) for being too willful and too independent for military service.  In 1899, Corporal Harllee distinguished himself during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 while serving with the 33rdUS Volunteer Infantry.  In 1900, he finished first among applicants for a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps.  He was nearly court-martialed in 1917 for repudiating the “dead wood” in charge of the US military.  Harllee was advanced to Brigadier General upon his retirement and is remembered as a no-nonsense, tough, and completely politically-incorrect ground officer. Harllee was laid to rest next to John A. Lejeune at Arlington National Cemetery.

[7] The GND officer corps also consisted of US civilians having a law enforcement background in the United States.

[8] Presley Marion Rixey (1879-c.1949) was the nephew of Rear Admiral Presley M. Rixey, USN, Surgeon General of the United States Navy and personal physician to Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.  Colonel Rixey served in the Marine Corps from 1900-1936 serving variously as Commanding Officer, 2nd Marines, 1st Marine Brigade, and Commander of the Legation Guard, Peking, China.  Colonel Rixey’s son was Brigadier General Presley Morehead Rixey, USMC (1904-1989).

[9] Most Hispanic societies in the Americas continue to struggle —this has been the over-arching legacy of Spanish culture.

Operations in the Dominican Republic, Part II

1917-4 EGAOn 1 June 1916, Marines aboard USS Sacramento, USS Panther, and USS Lamson went ashore to seize the strategic ports at Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi.  Monte Cristi was taken without any resistance, but the Marines at Puerto Plata had to fight their way into the town, which was defended by 500 irregular forces supporting General Arias.  Captain Herbert J. Hershinger, leading the Marines at Puerto Plata was killed; the first Marine killed in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican loses were estimated as light because the Marines exercised great restraint while entering the city.  Colonel Kane added four rifle companies as reinforcements for the Marines at Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata.

Admiral Caperton messaged the Navy Department for additional Marines for the Dominican Republic campaign.  On 4 June, Major General Commandant George Barnett ordered the 4th Marine Regiment to proceed from San Diego, California to New Orleans. A week later the 4th Marines, Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton [1] (Uncle Joe), commanding, embarked aboard USS Hancock for passage to Santo Domingo.  The regiment arrived in DomRep on 21 June and by his seniority, Colonel Pendleton assumed command of all land forces.  The colonel and his staff began preparations for an assault against Arias’ stronghold at Santiago.

PENDLETON J 001
Brigadier General Pendleton USMC National Archives

Pendleton planned for two columns of Marines to converge simultaneously on Santiago.  The 4th Marines with artillery would march by road from Monte Cristi; a second column consisting of the 4th and 9th companies, reinforced by Marines from ship’s detachments aboard USS Rhode Island and USS New Jersey would follow a rail line inland from Puerto Plata [2].  These two groups would form up at Navarette and aggress Santiago.  The first column, the largest number of Marines —with the longest route of march, would temporarily halt its march at a half-way point to rest and resupply.  The second column would seize the railroad connecting Santiago with the seacoast, thus establishing a main supply line for the combined force in its assault and later occupation of the Santiago.

Before commencing operations, Colonel Pendleton issued specific orders to his men that defined their mission and the principals that would govern their conduct in the Dominican Republic [3].

“… our work in this country is not one of invasion; we are here to restore and preserve peace and order, and to protect life and property, and to support the Constituted government.  Members of this command will therefore realize that we are not in an enemy’s country, though many of the inhabitants may be inimical to us, and they will be careful to so conduct themselves as to inspire confidence among the people in the honesty of our intentions and the sincerity of our purpose.  Officers will act toward the people with courtesy, dignity, and firmness, and will see that their men do nothing to arouse or foster the antagonism toward us that can be naturally expected towards as armed force that many interested malcontents will endeavor to persuade the citizens to look upon as invaders. Minimum force should be used at all times, but armed opposition or attack will be sharply and firmly met and suppressed with force of arms.”

—Joseph H. Pendleton, Colonel, Commanding

Colonel Pendleton’s Marines, consisting of 34 officers and 803 enlisted men began their 75-mile march on 26 June 1916.  He organized his force with the expectation of ambush and combat.  An advance guard of Marines mounted on locally procured horses led the column along the Santiago Road.  They preceded the main body at a distance of 800-1,000 yards.  The supply train consisted of 24 mule-pulled carts, 7 motorized trucks with trailers, 2 motorized water carts, a water wagon, a tractor pulling four carts, with eleven Ford touring cars [4] followed the main body of troops. Supplies were guarded by the 6th Company.  A signal detachment maintained a tenuous telephone line between Colonel Pendleton’s headquarters and the coastal base.

On day one, the Marines marched sixteen miles without meeting enemy resistance. That night, however, one of the trucks that had been dispatched for water came under fire.  Corporal Leo P. Carter, from the 13th Company, received serious wounds.

DomRep Marines 002
Marines march to Santiago

A major engagement occurred on the next day near Las Trencheras.  Dominican rebels had prepared trenches on two hills, one behind the other, which blocked the road to Santiago.  It was a strong position, but disadvantaged by flat ground, covered with thick brush high enough to conceal advancing Marines —yet, not thick enough to dissuade the Marine advance.  On 27 June, Captain Chandler Campbell of the 13th Company, placed his field artillery at a position commanding the enemy’s trenches.  The field guns were reinforced by machine gun squads. At 0800, Campbell opened fire on the trenches; under this fire, Marine riflemen advanced.  At about 1,000 yards, the Marines encountered heavy (but inaccurate) fire.  With few casualties, the Marines fixed bayonets and assaulted the Dominicans. The insurgents, not willing to engage the Marines in close combat, fled to their secondary positions.  Campbell adjusted his fires and the Marines continued their assault.  The battle lasted barely 45 minutes before the enemy executed a rapid withdrawal. They left behind five dead comrades. Marines experienced 1 killed and four wounded.

Withdrawal from advancing Marines was a pattern established for most engagements with Dominican insurgents.  The Marines had superior arms, employed small unit maneuver, and deadly accurate fire.  No Dominican rebel would hold their position against such a force.  Still, the Marines had several disadvantages: there were insufficient Marines to cover such a large territory, lacked mounted or motorized transportation, communications were poor, and the Marines had no way of forcing the enemy to stand and fight.  Time after time, the enemy broke ranks and ran away, only to return later to harass the Marines with sniper fire.

After Las Trencheras, Colonel Pendleton’s column pushed on toward Santiago. Aside from sniper fire and an occasional night attack, the enemy offered no substantial resistance.  Poor roads and inadequate bridging did more to slow Pendleton’s progress than did any rebel defense.  Despite its challenges, the supply train kept pace with the main body. Fuel was sparse, but so too was forage for animals.

The insurgents made their second major stand on 3 July at Guayacanas.  A decisive engagement in the advance to Santiago, the Marines once more faced an entrenched enemy and thick undergrowth in the advance to contract.  This time, field guns could not locate the concealed enemy, but machine gunners displayed laudable gallantry.  They hauled their heavy guns through the brush to within 200 yards of the opposing line and laid down deadly accurate fire.  First Sergeant Roswell Winans, trying to clear his jammed Colt machine gun, stood up under fire to clear a stoppage and keep his weapon in action.  He was the first Marine of the 4th Regiment to win the Medal of Honor.

Infantry and machine gunners pressed the frontal attack while the 6th Company under Captain Julian C. Smith [5], fought off a rebel force that had slipped around the Marines in an attempt to attack the supply train.  As before, the enemy broke ranks and fled, leaving behind 27 dead and 5 men who surrendered to the Marines.  The Marines lost one man killed and ten wounded.  Colonel Pendleton’s force reached Navarette during the next day.

The second column, commanded by Captain Fortson, marched along the rail line repairing bridges, track, and roadbed.  Many of these men rode in improvised military trains consisting of four boxcars and a dilapidated locomotive.  In front, the Marines pushed along a flatcar, upon which they had mounted a 3-inch gun.  The gun proved devastatingly effective in disbursing insurgents at Llanos Perez.  Captain Fortson was replaced in command by Major Hiram Bearss [6] who was remembered by Marines as someone with a peculiar fondness for force marches.

BEARSS 001
Hiram Iddings Bearss Photo from Public Domain

Major Bearss resumed the advance on 29 June, but shortly encountered a force of about 200 rebels entrenched across the railroad line at Alta Mira.  Bearss sent the 4thCompany over a mountain trail to turn the defender’s right flank, while the rest of his force, supported by the train, advanced along the railroad.  This combination of frontal and flank assault forced the insurgents back to a secondary blocking position in front of a railroad tunnel.  As lead elements began their assault, Bearss and 60 men charged through the 300-yard-long tunnel to prevent the rebels from damaging or destroying this crucial link in the rail line.  When Bearss and his Marines emerged from the tunnel, they observed the enemy running in full retreat toward Santiago.  The engagement lasted about 30 or 40 minutes.  Two Marines received wounds, including Second Lieutenant Douglas B. Roben.  The enemy losses included 50 dead.

After making extensive repairs to the rail line and constructing a bridge, the rail column, which encountered no further resistance, joined Colonel Pendleton’s main force at Navarette on 4 July 1916.  With his force united, Pendleton was poised to enter Santiago. On 5 July, civic leaders of that city sent a peace commission to Pendleton to inform him that Arias had concluded an accord with Admiral Caperton to cease all resistance.  As General Arias was in the process of discharging his followers, the peace commissioned asked the Marines to delay their entry into the city, which they assured Colonel Pendleton, would be unopposed. Colonel Pendleton agreed to the delay but using caution (should Arias change his mind), rushed his Marines forward to occupy the remaining defenses between his camp and the city.

The rebels did capitulate, and on 6 July, the Marines marched into Santiago to establish the 4th Regiment’s headquarters and communications with other Marine units in Santo Domingo City.  With organized resistance broken, Marine detachments took up the mission of finding and arresting rebel leaders.  It was easier assigned than accomplished, however, as there was no distinction between bandit and bandit leader.  Beyond arresting malcontents, the Marines began helping local communities in the reconstruction of the nation’s economy.  Major Bearss and Captain Wise were instrumental in organizing a freight and passenger transportation entity.  It wasn’t a glamorous arrangement, but reestablishing rail transportation was far better than having no operational railroad at all.

Before the end of July, the Marines were well into controlling the Dominican military situation, but the political situation remained dicey.  On 25 July 1916, the Dominican Congress elected Dr. Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal as provisional president.  Henriquez promised not to seek reelection when his six-month appointment expired. His government, however, was supported and influenced by pro-Arias factions in the legislature.  President Henriquez refused to agree to two conditions set by the United States for granting his regime diplomatic recognition, which the US believed were indispensable to political stability in DomRep. First, that the Dominicans must allow American authorities to collect and disburse all of the country’s revenues, and second, that the Dominican military be replaced by a national constabulary under American supervision.  It was a deadlock that lasted into the fall of 1916.  Then, despite his earlier assurances, Henriquez decided to run for reelection.

Henriquez’ intransigence along with an increase in violent clashes between Marines and Dominican insurgents foreshadowed a reemergence of political deterioration within or near the capital city.  The most serious of these occurred at Villa Duarte on 24 October.  A detachment of Marines attempted to apprehend a noted bandit by the name of Ramon Batista, who seized a rifle and resisted arrest.  Other Dominicans rallied to his aid and a shoot-out ensued during which Captain Low and Sergeant Frank Atwood were killed, along with Batista and three Dominicans.  Continued public disorder and political obstinacy led the United States to conclude that it was time to take the next step.  On 29 November, Captain Harry S. Knapp [7], USN (having succeeded Admiral Caperton commanding US forces) issued a proclamation placing the Dominican Republic under the military jurisdiction of the United States.  Knapp asserted that the Dominican government stood in violation of the Treaty of 1907.

The US military government mission included returning DomRep to a condition of internal order that would enable it to observe the terms of the Treaty, and the obligation of restoring DomRep to the family of nations.  The United States thus assumed control of all Dominican finances, law enforcement, judiciary, and its internal administration.  According to Knapp’s proclamation, Dominican laws were to continue in effect so far as they did not conflict with the objectives of the occupation.  Ordinary administration of both civil and criminal justice would remain the responsibility of Dominican courts and officials, except in cases involving American military personnel and/or any resistance to the military government. In those cases, matters would be resolved by US tribunals.  Captain Knapp enjoined all Dominicans to cooperate with the American government, promising that occupation forces would respect the personal and property rights of all citizens and lawful residents.

As might be anticipated, most Dominicans received this news somewhat unenthusiastically, but Knapp anticipated less violence as its result. In Colonel Pendleton’s opinion, most people wanted an intervention, but were afraid to say so.  Whatever they actually believed, most Dominicans seemed content to comply at least passively with Knapp’s decrees.

Of course, resistance did flare up, most of it isolated and minor, with the most serious incident taking place at San Francisco de Macoris where the governor, Juan Perez and a band of his pro-Arias followers, occupied the Fortaleza [8] in the provincial capital and refused to surrender their weapons to American forces.  Governor Perez, in violation of an order to disarm, now became the focus of the Marines.  On the night of 29 November 1916, First Lieutenant Ernest C. Williams [9] led a detail of twelve Marines from the 31st and 47th Rifle Companies, 4th Regiment, in a surprise assault against the Fortaleza.  The two companies awaited the opportunity to support Williams as he and his hand-picked men rushed the gate, opened it, and rushed inside before guards could erect a barricade.  Insurgents opened fire, wounding eight of Williams’ party, but within ten minutes, Perez and his followers had either surrendered or fled.

Other scattered clashes resulted in Marine casualties, including Captain John A. Hughes, who suffered severe leg injuries during a routine patrol near San Francisco de Macoris on 4 December.  By the end of the year, senior military officials believed that the Dominicans were quieting down and settling in to American occupation.  As an indication of this belief, Marine companies of the Provisional Regiment retired from service in DomRep, leaving behind the 4th Regiment in occupation of northern Santo Domingo with its headquarters at Santiago.  1st Regiment headquarters and staff remained at Santo Domingo City while subordinate organizations were returned to the United States. Redesignated 3rd Provisional Regiment, this headquarters controlled the Marine units remaining in the southern part of the country.  Together, 3rd and 4th Regiments constituted the 2nd Provisional (Marine) Brigade under recently promoted Brigadier General Pendleton.

From late 1916 onward, the 2nd Brigade performed as an army of occupation to enforce the decrees of the military government and maintain public order. Initially, the DomRep was divided into two military districts: Northern District (4th Regiment) at Santiago, and Southern District (3rd Regiment) at Santo Domingo City.  In 1919, the military government created a third Eastern District to address the provinces of El Seibo and Macoris, which had become centers of banditry and political unrest.  The Eastern District fell under the auspices of the 15th Regiment, initially commanded by Colonel James C. Breckinridge [10].  The 15thRegiment had a strength of 50 officers and 1,041 enlisted men.  With the addition of the 15th Marines, the 2nd Brigade reached a peak strength of 3,000 officers and men.

The Marines assigned to the Dominican Republic had a wide range of duties and responsibilities and to ensure that they were able to carry them out with the most flexibility, the regimental commanders had wide latitude in deploying these Marines.  There were always a strong contingent stationed at important seaports because these Marines safeguarded the country’s economic and political centers, protected main lines of supply, and protected the customs houses, which remained the primary source of government revenue.  Marines were also stationed in the interior regions to protect Dominicans from bandits. The DomRep is a large country, which meant that the Marines had to be dispersed over wide areas.  It also meant that senior NCOs often had to make important, split second, far-reaching decisions that might otherwise be made by commissioned officers.  Marine NCOs were up to the task.  Frequently, a squad of eight Marines, led by a sergeant, patrolled 35 or 40 miles from their company headquarters.

Continued next week

Sources:

  1. Wiarda, H. J. and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible.  Boulder: Westview Press, 1982
  2. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005
  3. Fuller, S. M., and Graham A. Cosmas. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924.  History and Museums Division, U. S. Marine Corps, 1974

Endnotes:

[1] Joseph H. Pendleton (1860-1942) joined the Marine Corps in 1884 and participated in combat operations during the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, and a series of so-called Banana Republic wars.  He received the Navy Cross for heroic service in combat.  He retired in 1924 as a Major General.  Camp Pendleton, California is named in his honor.

[2] This northern coast operation was devised owing to the fact that there was no passable road for a large force and supply train from Santo Domingo across the central mountain range to Santiago.

[3] Similar in content to the instructions issued by James Mattis before the assault on Iraq in 2003.

[4] Presumably used to convey the regimental staff.

[5] Julian C. Smith (1885-1975) joined the Marine Corps in 1909 and served through 1946.  Lieutenant General Smith was a recipient of the Navy Cross and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  He saw combat service in Vera Cruz, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and in World War II, commanding Marine forces during the Battles of Tarawa and Peleliu.

[6] Hiram Bearss was a charismatic, aggressive leader who never felt the need to waltz when a tango would be more appropriate.  In contrast, Joseph Pendleton was a thoughtful and pragmatic leader who always tried to look at a given situation through the lens of his enemy.

[7] Harry Shepherd Knapp (1858-1923) was an 1878 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy who ultimately reached the position of Vice Admiral.  He commanded USS Charleston, USS Florida, and Cruiser Force, Atlantic Fleet. He served as Military Governor of the Dominican Republic and Military Representative of the United States in Haiti. He served during the Spanish-American War and World War I.  He was the recipient of the Navy Cross.

[8] Dominican provincial capitals contained a stone-built square enclosure called a Fortaleza, which contained a barracks, offices, an armory, and occasionally, a small prison. It functioned as the political as well as military center of provincial government.

[9] Awarded the Medal of Honor.

[10] James Carson Breckinridge (1877-1942) was a member of the prominent Breckinridge family of the United States, which included six members of the House of Representatives, two US Senators, a cabinet member, two ambassadors, a vice president of the United States, college presidents, prominent ministers, military personnel, and theologians in Kentucky and Tennessee.  Colonel Breckinridge received the Navy Cross during World War I for service performed as a Naval Attaché in Russia, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Breckinridge retired from active service in 1941 with the rank of lieutenant general.