Here’s a rather stunningly stupid article at NRO, by the usually bright W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
Sixty-years-ago, along a 60-mile stretch of France’s Normandy coastline, a combined force of American, British, and Canadian soldiers began streaming ashore as German artillery, mortar, machine-gun, and rifle fire ripped into their ranks. The mission of the Allied force was to kick down the door of Nazi Germany’s Fortress Europe, and then launch a drive toward the heart of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
Overseen by American Gen. Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, the operation was–and remains to this day–the largest amphibious assault in history.
Since then, the question has often been raised as to why the U.S. Marine Corps did not play a leading role in the landings. After all, the Corps’s raison d’être was amphibious warfare. Marines had been perfecting the art of the amphibious assault since the 1920’s, and between 1942 and 1944, they had put their skills to practical use at places like Guadalcanal, Makin, Bougainville, and Tarawa, in the Pacific.
In the Atlantic, Marines had trained Army forces for seaborne landings prior to the North African campaign in 1942, and then made landings during the same. Marines trained Army forces for the Sicilian-Italian landings in 1943. Marine Corps amphibious experts were on Ike’s staff. And most Normandy-bound Army units were in fact instructed by Marines prior to the 1944 invasion.
I’ve written extensively about Army amphibious operations. And I left a reply, but as NRO frequently seems to not post my comments, I’ve copied it here for your edification.
Your column overlooks the enormous effort the Army put into amphibious training prior to and during World War II, and implies that the Army had no previous experience with amphibious operations.
The very first pre-war efforts to establish a large scale amphibious capability was a joint effort between the Army and the Marines with Navy oversight. Far from being led by the hand by the Marines, the Army was an equal partner in developing the doctrine, techniques, equipment and training for amphibious operations. It can easily be argued that the Marines would never have acquired their amphibious ability without Army efforts.
Further, rather than petty inter-service rivalry being the reason Marines weren’t used at Normandy, there were vast operational and strategic reasons the Army was the sole force. In the Pacific (where a heck of a lot more Army soldiers made amphibious landings than Marines, by the way), most objectives in the Central Pacific were discrete islands that called for an opposed landing, followed by a relatively brief fight, and then exploitation of the island as an advanced base.
In Europe, landings were only the opening of an area as a theater of operations, a means to introduce forces into what then became a conventional ground battle. The Army had to develop (in cooperation with the Navy and our allies) the means to not merely land combat echelons, but also the vast logistical tail that permitted operations on a large scale. The Marines rarely faced the challenge of landings larger than division, or at most, corps sized elements. And I’d argue that when they did operate at corps or higher echelons, the Marines history led them to be less than successful, whereas the Army was better prepared for large scale operations.
Now, I’m not knockin’ the Marines. Heck, I’ve invited not one, but TWO of them to write here (though one of them has seen the light and joined the Army via the National Guard). I am, however, knocking the PR machine that always seems to find the Marines to have been slighted.