[World War I and the Inter-War Years]
THE ATLANTIC can be very pleasant in June, and it was on its best tourist behavior for the benefit of our convoy, which took fourteen days to reach St. Nazaire from New York, dodging German submarines we never sighted. The trip on board the USS Henderson gave me amply opportunity to review life as it had unfolded behind me and to take stock of the unforeseeable future.
I had been eleven years in the Marine Corps; eleven active, exciting years that had taken me from Russell County, Alabama, half way across the world to the Philippines and China and back again to the jungles of the Caribbean islands. Leaning on the rail of the transport watching the green Atlantic swell, surrounded by cruisers, destroyers and all the panoply of American might on its first armed venture into the European sphere in World War I, I began to realize that I was better fitted for service life than for any other career.
Eleven years in Marine uniform had given me confidence in my own judgment and in my ability to deal with men and to handle troops under fire. On the day we were trapped in the Dominican jungle and fought our way out against dangerous odds, became a fatalist. I am not superstitious; the black magic of the Haitian hills never interested me; but I have complete faith in my own destiny. To me, France was just another tour of duty.
Returning from Santo Domingo, my company was designated the 8th Machine Gun Company, attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Regiment. I had been promoted to Captain and my battalion commander was Lieutenant Colonel Charles
T. Westcott, Jr. Commanding the 5th Regiment was Colonel Charles A. Doyen who, with his staff was on the Henderson. This regiment was the Marine contribution to the first American expeditionary force.
Off the coast of France, the American escort turned us over to French destroyers, which took us into St. Nazaire with an air cover of French planes. The entire coast was littered with wreckage as we steamed up the English Channel. Apparently, the European battlefield ended only at the water's edge.
My regiment went into camp outside St. Nazaire and later moved up to a position in the French line. I got my first taste of French Army life when I was sent to train with the 70th Battalion of Chasseurs--French light infantry. The American soldat-marin evidently became popular. I was the first of our Marines the French troops had ever seen, and either my novelty or camaraderie impressed the, for they honored my be making me honorary private, first class, French Chasseurs, a rank I always have been proud to hold. Many years afterwards, when I was a Brigadier General in the Marines, I was promoted to honorary sergeant in the 30th Battalion.
My stay with the Chasseurs was brief. The American military effort was expanding daily and I was sent back with my company to St. Nazaire to help in the job of unloading transports which filled the harbor. When a regular port debarkation staff was organized, I was withdrawn from this duty, detached from the 3rd Battalion and ordered to the Army General Staff College, which had just been established at Langres. I was the only Marine officer to complete the first course and thenceforth my sphere of activity broadened.
The months that followed until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, were busy and significant. They were months of hard work when fresh American strength was turning the tide for the weary Allies, and American troops showed their caliber is some
of the fiercest battles of the war. The Marines did their share and added luster to their reputation as fighting men.
By the addition of the 6th Regiment, the original Marine contingent was increased to a brigade and our official designation became the 4th Marine Brigade, Second Division. Colonel Doyen was promoted to Brigadier General and I was made Brigade Adjutant. The Allies were fighting for their lives in the Verdun sector and along the Aisne, and the Marne against the massed attacks of the Kaiser's armies, which had been reinforced from the Eastern Front by the collapse of Russia.
Brigadier General Doyen was relieved and was succeeded by Brigadier General James G. Harbord. Major Harry T. Lay replaced me as Brigade Adjutant and I was retained on General Harbord's staff as administrative officer.
Harbor was one of America's great soldiers. A veteran cavalryman and a hard fighter who had risen from the rank of private, he had been selected by Pershing, another of the same soldierly breed, to come to France as first Chief of Staff of the AEF. Subsequently, Pershing gave him our Marine Brigade (then attached to the Army), a find command, as the Commander-in-Chief explained,a reward for Harbord's good work on the staff. Harbord understood Marines and respected them. We reciprocated his feelings, with the result that the 2nd Division's Army-Marine team created by Harbord carried out some of the most distinguished combat operations of the first war. I always took Harbord as a model, and was proud to enjoy his good opinion.
After the battle of Belleau Wood, the Army claimed my service from the Marines. In June, 1918, I was transferred to the 1st Corps, First Army, and served as Assistant Operations Officer in charge of communications in the Aisne-Marne sector and the great Allied offensives of St. Mihiel, the Oise, the Meuse and the Argonne.
Then came the Armistice and the march to the Rhine. From the First Army I was transferred to the Third Army, also as Assistant Operations Officer, and three weeks later I was officially detailed to the Army General Staff, one of the few Marines ever admitted to the rolls of this vaunted group. My only notable
accomplishment with the Army of Occupation was at Coblenz, where I graduated from the Army School of Equitation among cynical Army horesemen who thought that a Marine was a sailor and couldn't manage a horse.
"All Marines are good riders," I told them. "If you don't believe me, drop in at our equitation school at Quantico and we'll show you our trophies."
My rank was now Major and it was plain that a Marine's job on the Army staff was finished. I wanted desperately to go home, so I started the channels humming but there didn't seem much hope of success, at least for some months. Too many other men had the same idea.
My orders came through in March, 1919, and I went to Paris, where one day I had a stroke of luck. I met Captain James J. Raby, in command of a battleship, the USS Georgia, and I shared with him my nostalgic yearnings.
"Look here, Smith," he said, when I had finished sobbing my heart out. "I'm sailing for the States tomorrow from Brest. If you can make it by sailing time, I'll give you the Admiral's cabin."
Here was a chance I could not miss. The life of a lone Marine, swamped by Army echelons, was getting me down now that the fighting was over. Home never looked sweeter and this was a way to get there. I called on General Harbord, my former chief in the Fourth Brigade, now commanding the all-powerful "SOS" or Service of Supply, and he expedited my orders. The next day I was on board the Georgia. As I came up on deck with the battleship heading for Norfolk, I pulled off my spurs and heaved them over the side. I was back with my own people, going home.
I slipped into the United States as discreetly as possible because I needed a rest and wanted to see my family at Phoenixville. Time had passed so quickly in France that it hardly seemed possible nearly two years had elapsed since I had seen my wife and our boy Victor. That leave was a perfect domestic interlude between my tours of duty.
With World War I degenerating into a battle around the
peace table, my first assignment at home was to the Marine Barracks at the Norfolk Navy Yard, where later I took charge of the Officers' School for Service Afloat. Despite its name, this didn't mean going to sea. The school indoctrinated new crops officers in sea duties and naval practice and administration so that they could march on board ship and feel as much at home as naval officers.
For some time, ideas had been slowly taking shape in my mind on the changing concept of modern warfare and the new role thus created for the Marines. My first big chance to develop this line of thought came in December, 1920, when I was ordered to the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, with Major Lauren S. (Pop) Willis, now Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Between fifty and sixty officers attended, ranging from Admirals downward. A number of Army officers also were taking the course, but Pop Willis and I were the only Marines. Naturally, the two of us saw eye to eye, particularly on matters relating to the Marine Corps.
The reputation of the College is very high: through its halls have passed our greatest naval leaders. Traditionally, it has molded American naval strategy and affected other spheres of our national defense policy. As a laboratory of germinating ideas, the College could be expected to exercise a profound influence upon the approach to our war problems, yet I found it bogged down in obsolescence. The lessons learned from World War I appeared to point backward instead of forward and the mass of pertinent, timely information furnished by the war just concluded had been ignored in favor of long established principles which a novice could see would never apply successfully to future problems. Despite the war that drew the European and Asiatic continents closer to the United States, the thinking at the War College was as static as that of the French when they built the Maginot Line.
President of the College was Rear Admiral William S. Sims, who was America's Special Representative and Naval Observer in Great Britain during the early years of World War I and commanded the U.S. Fleet in European waters upon our declaration
of war on Germany. He had been promoted to Admiral, but after the war, in the middle of 1919, he was detached from his command and reverted to his former rank after appointment to head the War College. His Chief of Staff at the College was Rear Admiral C.P. Plunkett, who was in command of American railroad artillery in France when we mounted 14-inch ships' guns on specially constructed cars and added mobility and power to Allied artillery.
I have never met two men so utterly dissimilar in personality, ideas and perception. Admiral Sims was an old line sailor, well salted in tradition, hidebound and inelastic in his belief in naval sufficiency and superiority. In his own particular field he was a brilliant man. He had revolutionized naval gunnery and put our fleet on a higher level of efficiency than ever before in its history but his perspective was completely and narrowly naval.
On the other hand, Rear Admiral Plunkett, who had seen service ashore with land units, realized the limitations of naval power. He could appreciate situations where naval power would be important as it had been in the past but would not suffice. In other words, a new type of warfare, definitely planned and cutting through precedent by employing specialized troops working with the close support of the Navy but independent of the Navy.
The point at issue, which I introduced into all discussions, was the employment of Marines in an amphibious form of warfare. Sims and Plunkett were diametrically opposed in their ideas on the subject. The senior Admiral--like many Navy officers before and since--insisted this was a function of Army troops or bluejackets. The junior Admiral agreed with me that Marines were the logical choice.
At the War College we studied naval plans involving problems both in the Pacific and the Atlantic. We selected islands and continental bases and studied their assault operationally from a naval viewpoint but it was my constant endeavor to write into these operations a Marine plan of attack. This had never been done before and I believed that the time had come when the Navy should recognize this necessity.
Under the old Navy doctrine, a landing was a simple and
haphazard affair, involving no planning and very little preparation. Assault forces were stowed in boats 5,000 yards off the beach and given a pat on the back, with the hope that all would go well. Warships threw a few shells into the beach and that was all. Nobody took these landings seriously, because the mere appearance of a large naval force off shore was supposed to inactivate the enemy. Naturally, if an enemy fleet appeared, the Navy would engage it, but this contingency always could be calculated in advance and a safe superiority of strength provided.
Most naval minds refused to contemplate the endless new problems that must be solved to make a landing successful. It scarcely occurred to them that the enemy might resist and fire back, undaunted by the naval demonstration. Even the bitter lessons the British learned at Gallipoli had little effect on the War College.
Let us consider the primary conditions involved. No special troops existed which had been trained for this task. Not a single boat in the naval service was equipped for putting troops ashore and retracting under its own power. The practice was to use 50-foot motor sailers, cram them with Marines or bluejackets, and tow additional men in ordinary ships' boats. This method restricted the choice of landing beaches, because the boats could turn only in a wide circle and had difficulty getting back to their mother ships after landing the men.
Determination to put my ideas across resulted in a long and acrimonious struggle with the Navy. When I voiced objections to the accepted naval doctrine I was brushed off with the reminder that the Marines were only a secondary branch of the service anyway. The Marines, it was conceded, could be employed for landings chosen as the progress of operations dictated but only when commanded by a naval officer and reinforced with bluejackets.
To the men who captured the most heavily defended positions in the Pacific, this sounds fantastic, but it was the Sims doctrine at the War College when I was there. Had the controversy remained on a purely theoretical level, I would not have objected so strongly. But Sims had an unflattering opinion of the
Marine Corps and was not hesitant in expressing it. He considered the Marines the lowest form of naval life, much inferior to the lowest rating of bluejackets. He did not dismiss the Marines as useless. They could be employed in minor landings only in cooperation with bluejackets, for Sims considered his men capable of performing their duties as well ashore as they did afloat, disregarding the fact that they were not trained for shore duties.
The Marines came second in his thinking and he never overlooked an opportunity to say so. He coldly dismissed them as orderlies, messengers, drivers, naval guards on shore establishments and suitable for employment on minor expeditionary duties only. Borrowing his thinking from British Navy usage, where Marines are sometimes employed in this capacity, he also considered us a lot of flunkies.
The truth is--and I say this in all comradely respect for the Royal Marines--the British Marine represents every admiral's embodied ideal of the perfect Marine: heel-clocking, loyal, immaculately turned out, wise in his way like a graying family retainer--and, like a family retainer, carefully restricted in latitude of opinion and activity. How the Royal Marines reached their present status is another story, and properly one for their own chroniclers, but I must say that their present existence on sufferance and condition that they be limited to minor odd jobs, custodial duties and ceremonies, is a sad commentary on what unthinking admirals and scheming generals can do to stop a courageous corps from developing its own capabilities. It is only good luck and the grace of God which has so far saved the U.S. Marine Corps from a similar inter-service "bum's rush"--as a leading member of Congress put it during the recent merger debates.
Sims' viewpoint was a relic of the peculiar form of snobbery regarding the Marines common in the Navy at that period and occasionally surviving until the beginning of World War II. It was the same spirit I encountered on board ship en route to Nicaragua and it was dangerous because such a prejudice can sway a man's judgment. Sims could never see a fighting man in a Marine.
Naturally these slighting references annoyed Willis and me and finally aroused my resentment. They did not, however, deter me from my determination to push the Marine argument. I knew my ideas on planned and supported landings were sound, and an additional incentive to drive them home was the desire to obtain the recognition of the Marine Corps as brothers in arms with the other two branches of the fighting services.
Given the opportunity to plan and fight, the Marines were qualified by experience and training to undertake these special landing tasks, for which the Navy was unfitted. When the big opportunity did come in the Pacific the Marines demonstrably proved their fitness. Back in 1920 the struggle for the acceptance of these principles, for which I fought during the intervening years and even in the dark, early days of war with Japan, was only just beginning.
Even at that time Marine planners had a far more realistic view of amphibious probabilities than the Navy. Sims' insistence on the employment of bluejackets dates back to old Navy days when the men swarmed ashore with cutlasses and rifles and bayonets, and the enemy automatically surrendered. The new landing technique upon which we were working, and which was absolutely essential to reduce Japanese positions in the Pacific, emphasized the necessity for careful preparation, for communications, for logistics and close support from naval ships to cover the progress of the assault forces ashore.
I am np airman, but the widening scope and increasing effectiveness of air power made me realize the value of this weapon in the support of ground troops. I foresaw the day when the Marines would land according to a coordinated, carefully prepared plan of action, assisted by naval and air arms, and assault strongly fortified positions with no possibility of failure instead of going ashore in a haphazard, extemporaneous swarm, trusting to his or miss methods.
Here I ran head on into what happily is today discarded naval doctrine. The use of warships in the way I advocated brought strong objections. All arguments produced the same answer; warships could not stand up to fire from heavier shore
batteries and, simultaneously, engage in an effective bombardment of shore positions. The advantage always lay with the shore batteries.
In my efforts to write into these naval operation studies a Marine plan of attack, I stressed the need for heavy and concentrated support from naval gunfire, a subject I cannot refrain from mentioning time and time again because of its vital bearing on the success of amphibious warfare. The original Navy reaction was that such a proposal was impracticable. Warships would be required to carry two types of ammunition: high explosive for land bombardment and armor-piercing for action with an enemy fleet. Such a double load would tax magazine capacity.
This view had not been abandoned entirely twenty-three years later at Tarawa, when indecision between the job in hand and the anticipation of the Japanese Fleet resulted in ineffective naval support for the Marines.
I had to mass all the argument and illustration I could to overcome these technical objections but I disposed of them and then progressed to the real battle--the status of the Marines in amphibious operations.
"Holland, you're walking on eggs!" warned Pop Willis. "Don't ever forget that. We've gone a long way in getting the Navy to see things our way but don't push them too hard."
But I was a bad boy. I always have been a bad boy in inter-Service arguments and I often am amazed that I lasted so long in the Marine Corps. In this instance, I knew my arguments were sinking in and to have stopped fighting would have been like quitting the beach when you're dug in.
The MArine Corps at that time was so small that our troops were in sufficient for a major landing, but at least the men we had were trained and disciplined. Now, I have great admiration for the American bluejacket. He is one of the finest sailors in the world, but you can't expect him to excel on board ship and then go ashore as an equally excellent infantryman. Most bluejackets are ill trained in small arms and can use neither rifles nor machine guns with efficiency. To throw them into a Marine
force without adequate training is dangerous. This statement proved correct during the landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico, when wild fire from the bluejackets killed as many Marines as did the Mexicans.
In my defense of the Marines, I found an unexpectedly staunch ally in Rear Admiral Plunkett. Plunkett also was a veteran sailor but had profited by his experience in land operations in France with his railroad artillery. He was tough, too, like a Marine. Plunkett had seen Marines in action in France and knew what they could do.
One day during a discussion the dogmatic Sims remarked, "Marine officers are not qualified by precept and military education to command large forces in war. They are suitable for minor operations but they cannot be entrusted with major operations."
This smug dismissal made my blood boil, especially after being in action in France with the Marines, but Plunkett came to the rescue. "I'm afraid you're wrong there, sir," he said. "In France, Marine officers commanded divisions and brigades and unquestionably proved their ability as leaders. The Second Division was one of the best outfits we sent over and the 4th Brigade the equal of any brigade in the whole war."
Plunkett was referring to the Second Division commanded by Major General John A .Lejeune, subsequently Commandant of the Corps, and the 4th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Wendell C. Neville, also Commandant in later years. We both had seen these Marines in action against the Germans, who were acclaimed the world's best soldiers.
To any fair-minded person, the Marine record in France spoke for itself, but an Army representative at the College shared Sims' view. Strangely enough, although Marines are part o the Naval establishment and family, this similarity of viewpoint by Army and Navy brass is often found when Marines are involved, and 0persists to this day, even in the so-called amphibious sections of the Navy Department, where the smooth counsels of Army "experts" will often override the more blunt but down-to-earthy views of Marine advisers.
I realized my proposal hit not at established policy but
at naval tradition. Never in the long history of the Marine Corps had a Marine commanded an operation. Command had always been given to a naval officer. My contention was that naval officers, while fully qualified to fight at sea, were not trained to command troops ashore, a task that required intimate knowledge of the intricacies of land warfare.Not only was I pressing for acceptance of new military principles but also for recognition of the ability of the Marines, as an independent and co-equal branch of the service, to command operations on the beach.
In spite of the Sims doctrine, I felt I had made a favorable impression on the War College. The principle of Marine participation on equal terms had never been recognized before. Most naval officers were incapable of envisioning a large Marine force operating without naval guidance, although the history of the Pacific campaign subsequently showed how shortsighted they were. I won my point. For the first time, within my knowledge, a complete plan for the employment of Marines ashore under their own command was written into a naval operation, and I am proud that I wrote it!
The plan itself was a departure from ordinary naval technique. On a higher plane was the satisfaction the Marines gained. From that day forward, the status of the Corps improved and we were no longer regarded as a "secondary force."
Perhaps it was the outspoken advocacy of Marine doctrine at the Naval War College that was responsible, after the completion of the course, for my transfer to the Washington Office of Naval Operations, War Plans Department, and my appointment to the Joint Army-Navy Planning Committee. This was in November, 1921, and for the next eighteen months I was the first and only Marine to serve on the Committee. It was a great honor. I was a Major and junior officer on the Committee but I considered the appointment a tribute to the Corps. At long last our ideas were penetrating the thick upper crust of what we in the Corps considered the obsolescent overlay of national defense policy.
The Committee was headed by the Army Chief of Staff and
the Chief of Naval Operations and members, drawn from their staffs, were: Amy: Colonel Edgar T. Collins, Colonel John L. De Witt, Lieutenant colonel John W. Gulick and Major John J. Kingman. Navy: Captain Luther M. Overstreet, Captain Sinclair Gannon, Commander Gilbert Rowcliffe, Commander Wilson Brown, Commander Russell Willson and myself. The Marines definitely had secured a beachhead in high defense councils.
In 1923, our insistence on intensive training of the Marines in their new role led us to look around for suitable training sites. Nothing on the coast of the United States offered the conditions we needed. The solution to our problem was found in the Caribbean, where the terrain approximates that of Japanese islands beyond Hawaii.
I was assigned to find the necessary areas and I was happy to see our ideas begin to take on reality. Two areas were selected on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra. Vieques is nine miles of the east coast of Puerto Rico and has an area of fifty-seven square miles, largely lowland, with a small range of hills running down the center. Culebra, eight miles north of Vieques, has an area of eleven square miles--slightly larger than Iwo Jima. I rented the whole of Culebra and suitable beach territory on the arid, sandy eastern tip of Vieques. Owners were pleased to rent land to the U.S. Government, and I arranged yearly tenancies based on local conditions. Marines still go down to Culebra for training but the government pays only for the period we actually use the land. These areas fell into disuse during the war while we were using the beaches of Hawaii.
After selecting the areas and arranging the financial details I went to Panama and reported to Admiral Robert E. Coontz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, and returned with him on the USS Seattle to inspect the sites and get his approval. Thereafter, we had modified terrain needed for specialized amphibious training and for the development of new amphibious weapons.
The two islands are tropical and the beaches suitable for landing purposes. There is little coral but otherwise conditions are very similar to the Pacific. We didn't require any permanent
installations beyond the airfield we built on Culebra. As training simulated actual combat, we put up tents instead of barracks. The men received useful embarkation and debarking practice, leaving their home bases in the United States in transports and unloading at Culebra and Vieques, under physical conditions not greatly different from the real thing. These two islands played a vital part in preparing the Marines for the Pacific.
about this time the Marine Corps was baffled by a mystery that was the rumble of a distant gun in my ears. One of our most brilliant strategists was Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. (Pete) Ellis, with whom I had served with the 4th Brigade in France. Like myself, Pete returned to the United States with forebodings and directed his analytical attention to the Pacific, where Japan was fortifying her mandated islands.
The product of his studies was one of the most prophetic war plans ever drafted, based on the anticipation of a Pacific conflict. It was Wellsian in its grasp of the shape of things to come and many of its salient points served as a blueprint for the actual campaign after Pearl Harbor.
As an example of his calculations, in 1923 Pete Ellis predicted that only one reinforced regiment would be needed to capture Eniwetok atoll in the Marshalls, now one of our atomic experimentation bases. Only one reinforced regiment--the 22nd Marines--was used when we took Eniwetok in 1944.
Pete Ellis' plan illustrated the close attention Marine planners were devoting to the Pacific. To test the soundness of his views, he obtained "leave" and roamed around the Pacific among the former German islands to which the Japanese denied access to other nationals. He succeeded in getting ashore at Palau, in the Carolines, but there he "disappeared." We never learned the manner of his death. The Japanese gave out the story that he drank himself to death and they probably were right: conceivably, he was poisoned because the Japanese know his purpose.
The mystery of Ellis' death deepened when a young chief pharmacist's mate from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokohama volunteered to go to Palau and recover the body. He cremated the body but returned to Yokohama a mental case, unable to
give a coherent story of his trip or any intelligent information about Ellis. His condition improved,and it seemed possible he would regain enough mental equilibrium to tell his story, but both he and his wife died in the ruins when the 1923 Japanese earthquake demolished the hospital.
One thing the Japanese could not kill was the spirit of inquiry that led Pete Ellis to sacrifice his life, although not all Marine thinking was advanced as his. Assigned in 1926 to the field officers' course at the marine Corps School, I was appalled to encounter there almost the same degree of outmoded military thought as I had found at the Naval War College.
The school was commanded by Colonel Robert H. Dunlap, with Major W.W. Buckley as Chief of Staff. Most of the officers on the staff had no battle experience. They were excellent theorists, could quote chapter and verse, but had never been in action and therefore could not handle situations which refused to square with theory. They were on the conservative side, no more capable of grasping reality than some of the officers at the Naval War College, and still floundered among the outdated doctrines of World War I.
From the first day of the course, I found myself deep in difficulties because I objected to the emphasis placed upon defensive tactics. The mission of the Marine Corps is primarily offensive. Any other role deprives us of our effectiveness. For a small, well trained force, capable of great mobility, the best employment is offensive, not defensive. This is a sound military principle.
At the Marine School in Quantico, as well as at the Army School. in Leavenworth, the classroom strategists preached that the principles of attack were confined to a superiority of numbers, which is contrary to the opinion of the world's greatest soldiers. Mobile, well trained troops, imbued with esprit de corps, should not be confined to a defensive position if there is the possibility of a successful offensive.
Napoleon proved this a century ago. He fought most of his battles with numerically inferior forces but he moved them so rapidly and used them so boldly that he compensated for this
initial handicap. One of his greatest maxims was, "The art of war (with inferior forces) consists in having larger forces than the enemy at the point of attack or defense." Stonewall Jackson could not have succeeded had he fought his battles on the theory that he must have numerical superiority before he attacked.
I completed the course, but so wide was the divergence between workable theory and fact that I almost flunked communications. In France I wrote every plan of communications for the First Army Corps and my plans worked successfully in the uncertainties and changing conditions of battle. For this service I received the Meritorious Service Citation from General Pershing. At school I had trouble in obtaining a satisfactory mark in communications. The staff was dealing in textbooks and my experience had been in the practical problems of maintaining communications under fire. Textbooks proved far more formidable than combat obstacles.
I had two reasons for spending the next four years as Post Quartermaster at the Marine Barracks in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. First, I wanted to send my son to the Penn Charter School in the Quaker City, which enjoyed a high reputation both for scholarship and character building. Secondly, I was eager to learn something about logistics--the military science of transport and supply--to round out my background for the war I knew was coming.
A Quartermaster's job isn't very exciting but these four years proved invaluable to me. They gave me an insight into the great problems of equipping an army, problems that magnified in scope when we had to assault islands thousands of miles from our bases. At Philadelphia I learned, as I never learned before, the complicated system of planned supplies, food, clothing, ammunition, equipment--from gas masks to shovels--all wrapped up in that comprehensive word logistics. This experience helped strengthen my insistence on planning as the basis of amphibious warfare.
We still lacked equipment. I got a pretty good illustration of our deficiencies in 1932 when I went to sea again as Battle Force Marine Officer. I was transferred to the USS California
as FMO on the staff of the Commander Battle Force, U.S. Fleet. Our home station was Long beach, California. Incidentally, in two years I had the unique experience of serving under four four-star Admirals. They were Admirals Frank H. Schofield, Richard H. Leigh, Luke McNamee and William H. Standley.
That year we held combined exercises off the coast of Oahu, the main Hawaiian island on which Honolulu stands. Joint Army and Navy exercises on a smaller scale had been held off Hawaii before and the 1925 operations actually were based upon Gallipoli and its related problems, but in 1932 we were engaged in the first large scale oration held so close to Japanese bases. It was a test of our strength and of our knowledge of amphibious warfare, with Japan actually in mind. A lot of big brass came along to watch the show.
Supported by the Fleet, the Marines went ashore, waded through the surf, secured a beachhead and carried out all the details of the plan. But what a dismal exhibition! I realized that we had a great deal to learn before we approached anything like efficiency in amphibious warfare.
The Marines landed in standard ships' boats, which were unsuitable for crossing reefs and riding the surf. It was obvious that our elementary need was more efficient landing craft, a retractable type that could get in and out of the surf.Moreover, we didn't have sufficient boats to get enough men ashore at one time to constitute an effective assault force. So small was the number of men we were able to land that the suppositional enemy would have wiped us out in a few minutes.
The Oahu operation revealed our total lack of equipment for such an undertaking, our inadequate training, and the lack of coordination between the assault forces and the simulated naval gunfire and air protection.
"If the Japs had been holding that island, we couldn't have captured it," I told myself. "In fact, we couldn't have landed at all." I realized how badly prepared we were and how urgent was our need for further study and improvement of our methods. The doctrine of amphibious warfare was still in the theoretical stage.
Major General John H. Russell, Commandant of the Marine Corps at that time, was keenly alive to the realities of the situation. In the autumn of 1933, he produced a solution to our organizational problems by fathering the idea, which the Chief of Naval Operations approved, of the Fleet Marine Force. The creation of the FMF was the most important advance in the history of the Corps, for it firmly established the Marine Corps as a part of the Corps, for it firmly established the Marine Corps as a part of the regular organization of the U.S. Fleet, available for operations with the Fleet ashore or afloat.
I shall deal later with the history of the FMF, Pacific,, which I commanded during World War II, but at the present stage the FMF can be best described by quoting Navy Department Order 245, dated November 27, 1946, which states:
A fleet marine force is defined as a balanced force of land,air and service elements of the U.S. Marine Corps which is integral with the U.S. Pacific and/or Atlantic Fleet. It has the status of a full type command and is organized, trained and equipped for the seizure or defense of advance naval bases and for the conduct of limited amphibious or land operations essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign.
In a nutshell, everything we had striven for was realized in its creation--recognition, independent command ashore, specialized duties. For the first time, a permanent organization for the study and practice of amphibious warfare was brought into existence. The force comprised only 3,000 officers and men in the beginning, with the major elements stationed at Quantico. When I commanded the FMF, Pacific, it was 264,565 strong and its creation paid off during the war.
A year after the birth of the FMF its code for living was written. On General Russell's direction, the new doctrine of landing operations--the Marine Corps School "Tentative Landing Operations Manual"--was formulated, and it has governed the conduct of every amphibious exercise and campaign since 1935, including the war from North Africa to Okinawa. The Navy manual in use up to that date had been a dead letter for thirty years and bore no relation to modern conditions.
Completed in 1934, after years of intense study by Marine
officers, "Tentative Landing Operations Manual" broke ground for a new science in the realm of warfare, a means for carrying an assault from the sea directly into the teeth of the most strongly defended shore. By 1938, after the Fleet Marine Force had thoroughly tested these doctrines, the Navy adopted the entire "Tentative" manual, put a new cover on it, and re-issued it to the Service under title of "FTP-167, Landing Operations Doctrine, U.S. Navy." Three years later still, in 1941, when the Army suddenly realized that the forthcoming war must of necessity be amphibious, General Marshall in turn adopted the "Navy" text of FTP-167, put it between Army covers as "Field Manual 31-5," and promulgated it to the Army as their own doctrine on landing operations. The foreword to FM 31-5, however, does state that it was taken en bloc from FTP-167*--which is perhaps as good a way as any for the Army to admit that, seven years after Marine Corps Schools had definitively covered a subject, the War Department General Staff was now forced to copy verbatim what Marines had long ago originated.
An interesting footnote to the Marine Corps School's manual is that it was based almost entirely on failures. The entire previous record of amphibious warfare had been spotted with fiasco and disaster, culminating in Gallipoli, during World War I, which convinced most professional heavy thinkers that assault of a defended beach was another of the "impossibilities." In spite of all this however, our officers went to work on what they could find, dissecting every failure and locating the weak spots and failure-factors. After almost fifteen years of trouble-shooting and experimentation, in 1934 they could write the "Tentative Landing Operations Manual" with confidence. It demonstrates the caliber of their work that those 1934 doctrines not only carried use through Tarawa, Normandy and Iwo Jima, but still stand, to this very day, as the basic amphibious methods of the United States.
Passage of a badly needed Selection Bill also streamline the Corps. This too was inspired by General Russell and, in my mind, did more for the Marines than any other legislative act. The Corps was overloaded with officers who had been promoted
[* Quoting from FM 31-5 Landing Operations On Hostile Shores --"This manual is based to a large extent on Landing Operations Doctrine, U.S. Navy, 1938. The arrangement of subject matter is similar to the Navy publication and many of the illustrations are taken from it."
verbatim: is an exaggeration, is you may judge for yourself from the links shown above. --HyperWar]
by seniority. Many were too old for their grades and others were non-progressive and out of line with the new trend of Marine thought. The Selection Bill made possible a clean sweep of the higher ranks and prepared the way for a healthy list of promotions in which merit was recognized.
During this period I could not keep my eyes off Japan. The ominous portents became clearer when I served as Chief of Staff to the Department of the Pacific in 1935. Japan had invaded the Asiatic mainland and overrun Manchuria into North China. From my post in San Francisco, I observed the huge cargoes of scarp iron and oil going from West Coast ports to Japan. The war in China did not require such preparations. The stockpile was being built for war against the United States.
I wrote to General Russell insisting that every effort should be made to intensify our training program in amphibious warfare and to modernize our equipment. The Japanese, I pointed out, had attained a high degree of efficiency in this particular type of warfare along the coasts and rivers of China.
During World War II at Saipan, I read a monitored broadcast in which Tojo and Company complained bitterly that we had copied the technique of amphibious warfare from Japan, even to landing boats and equipment.
My letters to the Commandant served their purpose and accorded with the widening conviction in Marine Corps councils of the nearness of war and the necessity for accelerating our program. The strength of the Corps at this period was 1,224 officers and 16,014 men, limited by Congressional action to twenty percent of the strength of the Navy.
Out of the blue in March, 1937, came orders transferring me to Marine Headquarters in Washington and later to the post of assistant to the new Commandant, Major General Thomas Holcomb. I was now a Colonel But I had never served with General Holcomb before, except in the same brigade in France, where he was battalion commander and afterwards regimental commander.
My first post in Washington was Director of Operations and Training. I now was in a position to supervise the building of a
modern amphibious force along the lines we had developed for years and to obtain the necessary equipment to insure its success. The amphibious force was the Marine answer to the new concept of war being accepted by the world and the Marines were in training on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts to emphasize that answer.
We didn't have long to wait. The Nazis marched into Poland. On September 3, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States had been in World War I and it was my honest belief that we could not stay out of World War II.
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