The First Naval Battle for Guadalcanal 12-13 November 1942

CA38

The bloody slugging match for the island of Guadalcanal and the surrounding seas reached its peak fury seventy-three years ago this week.  Between November 13th and 15th, 1942, a pair of violent clashes in the waters north and east of the island marked a watershed in the eleven-month long Pacific War.  Those clashes would come to be known as the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal.

The stage was set for this far-flung, savage, running fight a week earlier, when US intelligence gleaned that the Japanese 17th Army was going to make one last, large attempt break the Marine perimeter to overrun Henderson Field.  General Hyukatake, commanding 17th Army, had been arrogantly dismissive of the US Marines’ combat prowess, and entirely slipshod in his intelligence planning.  The Japanese had tried three times to break the Marines’ lines, once in late-August (at the Ilu River), in mid-September (Edson’s Ridge), and again in late-October, which was the first serious thrust, directly at Lunga Point and the airfield.  Each time, the Marines (and in October, joined by the Army’s 164th Infantry) held firm and slaughtered the Japanese in large numbers.  Hyukatake had waited far too long.  Had his efforts been strong during the almost two weeks in mid-August during which the Marines had neither Naval nor air protection, the predicament of the 1st Marine Division might have been extremely grim.  Now, after grievous losses, Hyukatake was to be reinforced for one last major push.

In light of the latest intelligence, Admiral Richmond K. Turner had taken Task Force 67, loaded with troops and supplies, toward the island.  The transports of TF 67 unloaded under intermittent air attack from Bougainville, but managed without serious losses.    The Japanese had pushed a bombardment force of two battleships, a cruiser, and eleven destroyers into the waters north of Guadalcanal with the mission of destroying the airfield and preventing the Cactus Air Force from interdicting the eleven transports packed with Japanese soldiers, supplies, food, and ammunition.  The US Navy had two task groups protecting the transports, under Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott.  Those forces combined, along with remaining escorts from Turner’s transport group, to form a powerful group of two heavy and three light cruisers, and eight destroyers (under Callaghan, aboard San Francisco).

The two forces sighted each other almost simultaneously, at approximately 0125 on 13 November.  Admiral Callaghan, regrettably, had not employed any ship with the improved SG radar in his van, which meant that the Japanese, even in the poor visibility of the night, negated his technical advantage with their superior night combat skills.  The confused melee began at extremely close ranges, and was filled with confusing orders, hesitation, and ferocity.  The IJN battleship Hiei was badly mauled by dozens of 5-inch hits on her bridge and superstructure, pummeled by US destroyers that were so close that Hiei’s 14-inch guns could not depress to engage them.   She suffered at least three 8-inch hits, likely from San Francisco, her steering gear was shot away, and she was a shambles topside.  Hiei and sister Kirishima managed to exacted revenge on Atlanta and San Francisco, landing large caliber (14-inch) hits on both.  The riddled Atlanta drifted across San Francisco’s line of fire, and was almost certainly struck by the latter’s main battery, adding to the carnage on board.    When the action finished less than an hour later, four US destroyers had been sunk, Altanta was a wreck, Juneau and Portland had taken torpedoes, and San Francisco had been savaged, leaving her with only one 8-inch mount in action.   Both American admirals, Norman Scott aboard Atlanta, and Daniel Callaghan on San Francisco, had been killed.  Admiral Abe, the Japanese commander flying his flag on Hiei, had been wounded.

The Japanese attempted to take Hiei in tow, but US air attacks from Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo further damaged the battleship, and she sank in the late evening of 13 November off Savo Island.   Similarly, efforts throughout the day to save Atlanta were unsuccessful, and just after 2000 on 13 November, the cruiser was scuttled on the orders of her captain.   Juneau, down fifteen feet by the bows and listing from her torpedo wounds, was proceeding to Espiritu Santo at 13 knots when she was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26.  Her magazine exploded, breaking her in two.  Witnesses say Juneau disappeared in twenty seconds.   Fearing the submarine threat and believing very few could have survived the explosion, the senior surviving American Officer (Captain Hoover, aboard Helena) made the agonizing decision to leave the survivors for later rescue.  About one hundred men had survived the sinking, but after eight days in the water, only ten were rescued.  The rest perished from exhaustion, wounds, or sharks, including the five Sullivan brothers.

Aside from the eventual loss of Hiei, the Japanese lost two destroyers sunk, and four damaged.  Japanese killed had numbered around 700, about half the total of Americans killed in the action.  With little in front of him, Abe might have sailed in to bombard Henderson Field at his leisure, but instead he withdrew.  With his withdrawal, Abe had turned a potentially serious tactical reverse into a strategic victory for the US Navy and Marine Corps.  Yamamoto, who had planned the operation, was forced to postpone the landings.  Furious, Yamamoto fired Abe, and ordered a new bombardment force under Vice Admiral Kondo to neutralize the airfield the next day, 14 November.   So ended the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the first act of the tense drama, setting the stage for the second.

Strategic Messaging, Done Right

A nine-dash line on Chinese passports.   A second Navy disguised as a Coast Guard.  And the above video.  They get it.  “Strategic Messaging” has heavy doses of propaganda.  We, on the other hand, continue to vigorously deny that basic fact.  And that the most effective propaganda is based in truth.

The video above is not simply for Chinese consumption.  We would do well to understand that.  And build our Navy accordingly.  But alas, our SECNAV is more concerned with putting women in Marine Infantry outfits and his “green fuels” initiative.  And the Commander in Chief is off taking selfies and complaining that capitalism causes glaciers to melt in the summer.

We’re so screwed.

H/T Pukka mate.

Squad Integrity, and the ACV

So, in our post about the Marines catching some flack for choosing a wheeled amphibious combat vehicle, jjak had a decent question:

So how will a 10-man vehicle hold a 13 man squad? Based on this http://xbradtc.com/2015/01/13/the-rifle-squad/ discussion the 13-man squad is superior. Any idea if the Marines will choose to cut down the squad size or split into multiple vehicles while waiting for the gen 2 vehicle with more seats? If they ever come.

Once the gen 2 vehicles arrive what happens to the 10 seat version? I’d make them engineering vehicles or mortar carriers or some other specialist vehicle, but maybe someone has a line on the official plan.

The answer is, as always, the Marines are weird.

Actually, not so much weird, as they do mechanized/mounted operations a little differently than the Army does, and because of that, the lack of squad integrity in the vehicle is not quite an insurmountable challenge. It’s not ideal, no, but it’s not the end of the world.

As we’ve mentioned, the Marine rifle squad is 13 men, a Squad Leader, and three four man fire teams.  A Marine Rifle platoon consists of a four man headquarters, and three rifle squads. That’s 43 men. Obviously, that means four ACVs, with a capacity of 10 each is insufficient lift for one platoon. Of course, units are almost always understrength, so there’s a good chance everyone present for duty would find a seat.

Except, each Marine Rifle Company, in addition to its headquarters and three rifle platoons, also has a weapons platoon, with 60mm mortar teams, SMAW assault weapon teams, and six medium machine gun teams. The weapons platoon is not normally deployed as a single tactical unit. Rather, its teams, particularly the SMAW and machine gun teams, are attached to the rifle platoons to augment their firepower. Add in the Navy Corpsman that routinely accompanies a platoon, any other attachments such as Forward Observers or Scout Snipers, and pretty soon, you’ve got 50 or more men that need to travel with the platoon.

One major difference between Army mounted infantry, and Marine mounted infantry is that in the Army, the vehicles are organic to the unit, all the way down to the platoon level. That is, every mech or Stryker infantry platoon owns its four vehicles.

But in the Marines, the infantry platoon doesn’t own any vehicles. The Amphibious Assault Vehicles (and presumably the ACVs in the future) belong to the division, and are shared out as needed to support various units.

Further, the size of Marine amphibious vehicles has never been keyed to any particular tactical unit. Instead, space restrictions on amphibious assault shipping argued instead for larger vehicles carrying as many Marines as reasonably possible.

Because of this, the Marines are far less concerned with squad integrity when mounted. Provided unit integrity can be maintained at the platoon, or at least the company level, they’ll improvise, adapt, and overcome.

DUKW!

From requirement to prototype in 38 days, and placed into production with only minor changes throughout the run.

In the very early days of World War II, as the Army grasped that it would be required to conduct major amphibious assaults in virtually every theater it deployed to, it also realized that the real challenge wouldn’t be getting forces ashore, but rather sustaining them with supplies over the assault beaches until port facilities could be captured. The plan was to use the same landing craft that lifted the assault troops to haul supplies. The trouble there was that transferring cargo from beaching craft to trucking ashore was time and manpower intensive. And so, the National Defense Research Council had a flash of brilliance. Why not build an amphibious truck?

The respected yacht designers of Sparkman and Stephens sat down with GMC, and quickly produced a prototype. Taking a variant of the recently introduced CCKW 6×6 2-1/2 ton truck, they added a sealed buoyant hull, a propeller and rudder, and viola! the amphibious truck was born. Under the GMC naming convention of the time, D stood for designed in 1942, U for amphibious, K for all-wheel drive, and W for dual rear axles. Hence, DUKW, which quickly became to the GI tongue, the Duck.

http://www.ifelix.co.uk/flamesofwar/imagesfow004/dukw01.jpg

The DUKW was a surprisingly seaworthy truck, and much faster on land than any other boat.  About 21,000 were produced by 1945, and served in the US Army and the Marines in just about every theater after North Africa.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV-lySFZpg8]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9xgck1T_cE]

Interesting tidbit. The documentary interviews Marines that operated DUKWs. In the Army, most were operated by African American soldiers in segregated units. The invasion of Iwo Jima is pretty much considered an all Marine Corps show, but Army Amphibian Truck Companies including the 476 ATC supported the operation, with its soldiers earning five Silver Stars and seventeen Bronze Stars, as well as the company being awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. That’s a hell of a record for a transportation company.

Over the years, many DUKWs have found their way through surplus sales into civilian hands, and they popular tour boats in places such as the Wisconsin Dells. That hasn’t been without risk. The sinking of a DUKW in Arkansas in 1999 cost 12 lives due to poor safety measures in place.

Still, the DUKW design was remarkably sound, given the time it took to develop, and was an extremely valuable tool in the amphibious operations of the war.

Motherships and International Cooperation

Every navy faces the challenge of unlimited missions, and limited resources. Even ours. For our allies, the problem is even more acute. The European Union, taken in aggregate, is roughly equal to the US in terms of population and production. But it isn’t a single entity. It’s an extremely loose confederation of independent states. And because of that, the individual navies tend to be quite a bit smaller, both in total hulls, and the size of individual hulls. In spite of the importance of sea trade to Europe’s economic health, fielding navies large enough to secure that trade is virtually impossible, to say nothing of the post-war European tendency to shy away from militarization.

So when threats to sea trade arise, such as piracy off the eastern coast of Africa, no single nation can field a sustainable response. But by fielding international task forces, Europe, with the cooperation of other like minded nations, such as the US, and even China, and of all people, Iran, has managed to suppress the worst of piracy in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

Most Euro navies are frigate navies. And while frigates are quite the handy little warships, let’s face it, it’s a bit much for tracking and deterring pirates in 15m skiffs. Given our lack of frigates, the US Navy tends to support operations there with a Burke class destroyer. Which, let’s face it again, a multi-billion dollar warship is a bit much for taking on cheap boats.

Chuck Hill, of the invaluable Coast Guard Blog, shows a more sensible approach to countering low capability maritime threats, through cooperation of various nations and platforms.

The following was reported by the German Navy blog Marine forum, “8 January, PIRACY–Anti-Piracy Forces: Sweden is preparing for another mission (M-04) in support of EU operation “Atalanta”, this time working jointly with the Netherlands navy … COMBAT BOAT 90 fast interceptor craft, helicopters and 70 personnel to embark on Netherlands Navy dock landing ship JOHAN DE WITT.”

As you may recall, I have advocated using WPCs supported by a mother ship to supplement the larger cutters for distant drug interdiction operations.

Large amphibious ships are almost by definition “motherships.” Designed to operate and support landing craft, it is no great stretch for them to similarly support small patrol craft and other small combatants. The weakness of small craft is their lack of seakeeping. That is, their endurance and their crew’s ability to remain on station is limited. But by pairing them with a larger vessel, the ability of a small flotilla of craft to patrol large areas is greatly enhanced, at a fraction of the cost of maintaining several larger combatants on station.

Further, virtually all major amphibious ships have the ability to support significant helicopter detachments. Said helos are critical for the surveillance part of counter piracy operations, vastly expanding the task force’s field of view, and vectoring the limited number of patrol craft to the most likely targets of interest.

The one real disadvantage of this approach is that amphibious shipping is already in great demand for its primary mission. In our own Navy, we simply don’t have enough “gators” to support the requirements for our Marine Corps.

Some alternatives exist. The Navy’s Advance Floating Support Base (AFSB) would be a particularly good fit for this role. Of course, the limited number and costs of AFSB in the foreseable future means maintaining one on station is not realistic. Other options might include the Joint High Speed Vessel, though they have limited endurance.  My own first suggestion, years ago, was to buy used Platform Support Vessels at dirt cheap prices. The drawback with that platform is the cost of refitting them with command and control facilities, and more critically, the lack of sufficient helicopter facilities.

Chuck’s suggestion of using forward supported WPB and WPC Coast Guard patrol vessels is a good one, though again, the Coast Guard is hard pressed to meet its domestic demand signal for boats.

Other areas that would benefit from such a mothership concept include the Persian Gulf, and the waters near Singapore, where currently the Navy envisions extended deployments of LCS ships.

The US Navy has long operated alongside our partners and allies, and this is one area where such further cooperation is likely to be mutually beneficial.

The Landing Craft Infantry

Faced with the challenge of mounting a cross channel invasion from England to France, the US and Britain realized that small landing craft like the famed Higgins boat would be enough to land the very first assault echelons, but the need to very rapidly build up forces on the far shore would require something more substantial. The ideal craft would lift a reinforced rifle company, be capable of berthing and feeding them for about 48 hours, and be able to land them directly upon the far shore.  The result was the Landing Craft Infantry (Large).

The basic hull was 158 feet long, with a beam of 23 feet. Power was provided by two “Quad Pack” Detroit Diesel engines driving two shafts with reversible pitch propellers.  The Quad Pack was an interesting engine design. No diesel engine of suitable size and power was in production, so Detroit Diesel took four of their existing 6-71 engines, and coupled them to a shared driveshaft. The resulting 1704 cubic inch displacement engine would be used in multiple ships. The LCI(L) had a top speed of about 16 knots, and could maintain 15 knots. At a cruising speed of 8-10 knots, the ship had a range of about 4000 nautical miles, allowing it to self deploy from the US to Britain or to the distance Pacific. While it could self deploy, it could not embark troops for such a voyage.

Nine hundred twenty three LCI(L)s would be built in ten US yards. Two hundred eleven were transferred to the Royal Navy.  Over the course of the program, the design of the deckhouse and the internal arrangements were changed as a result of feedback from the fleet. Originally, two ramps one either side of the bow were used to disembark troops on the beach. First flight ships also had a low, square conning tower. Later ships had a higher, rounded “castle” conning tower with better visibility, and the final batches of ships replaced the ramps with a single ramp through double doors on the bow. These ships also had a larger deckhouse, allowing an increase in troop berthing from 180 to 210.

Original low deckhouse.

Modified deckhouse.

Bow ramp and full deckhouse.

The basic ship was also modified for a variety of roles, such as Flotilla leader, and most famously, gunboats.  The gunboat conversions were so successful that a further 130 ships were built specifically as gunboats, and known as the Landing Craft Support (Large).

Almost immediatley after the war, virtually the entire fleet of LCIs was decommissioned and disposed of. Most were scrapped, though a few were sent to foreign navies or bought by private parties. Today, there are a handful still around, including one in California, and one in Portland, Oregon, undergoing restoration to serve as a museum ship. And one of the volunteers at that example has produced a 42 minute guided tour of LCI-713.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m8HyfDa1ZQ]

The ship belongs to the non-profit Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum. The next time I head up there, I’m definitely going to have to visit.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s an operational 78’ PT boat in Portland as well. But we’ll save that for another post.

Navy Bringing Well Decks Back to Amphibs | DoD Buzz

The Navy has begun early design work, affordability studies and planning with industry partners for its third big-deck America-Class Amphibious Assault Ship, or LHA 8, slated to enter service in 2024, service officials said Jan. 15 at the Surface Navy Association Annual Symposium, Crystal City, Va.

Unlike the first two America-Class amphibs now in development, the USS America and the USS Tripoli designed as aviation-centric large-deck amphibs, LHA 8 will be built with a classic amphibious assault ship well deck designed to move personnel, vehicles and equipment from ship to shore, said Capt. Chris Mercer, amphibious warfare program manager.

via Navy Bringing Well Decks Back to Amphibs | DoD Buzz.

Years ago when the announcement came that USS America, LHA-6, would not have a well deck, we and many others were stunned. Yes, improving the aviation capabilities of the ‘Gator Navy is an important objective. But removing the actual “amphibious” part of the heart of any amphibious group was a terribly shortsighted decision.

Having to face reality, the Navy has decided to reincorporate what most of us insisted should be there in the first place. And of course, that will entail more costs in redesigning the ship, and likely delay delivery.

We love to say it. We told you so.

Aviation is killing the Marine Corps

Don’t just take my word for it.

At its heart, the MAGTF’s importance within our defense framework rests on its ability to contribute to a range of potential military operations such as engagement and shaping, crisis response, access creation, extended combat, and high-end warfighting and its credible deterrent effects. This versatility is a product of a number of factors, but is particularly due to the dynamic balance within the MAGTF’s organization along with the ability to operate from the sea and exploit naval capabilities. However, the extremely high cost of the ACE threatens to undermine this organizational balance.

It’s a long read, but very good. Take the five or ten minutes needed.

The costs of acquiring the F-35 is roughly $66 billion dollars over the planned span of acquisition. Toss in the roughly $40 billion dollars for the MV-22 Osprey, and that’s more than the acquisition cost of ALL programmed amphibious shipping for the Navy. And the personnel costs of manning the Marine aviation side is higher than manning the ‘gator navy.

There’s a very good reason the Marines have always placed emphasis on aviation. Control of the air is critical to success in force on force warfare. Further, constraints on amphibious shipping will always mean any Marine landing force will be primarily an infantry force, albeit fairly motorized, with some, but not much, armor capability. The lack of amphibious shipping will also always constrain the amount of artillery any Marine force will have. Unlike an Army division that can count on entire brigades of artillery from higher echelons to supplement its own organic tubes, the Marines will have to turn to other sources for firepower, to wit, Close Air Support.   And because of the vulnerabilities of amphibious operations, the mobility of vertical lift is essential for the Marines.

But the costs associated with the F-35 and the MV-22 are simply far greater than previous programs, and threaten to suck dry the acquisition, manpower, and O&M budgets of the Corps. Given the choice between continuing with the troubled F-35 program, and the equally troubled (if less costly) Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, the EFV was killed.

To be sure, there are reasons why the Marine Corps feels the need for the capabilities of both the F-35 and the MV-22, above and beyond simply wanting the latest and greatest. The increase in lethal threats in the littoral means the big amphibious ships are more vulnerable close inshore while unloading. Ideally, they could offload their cargoes from over the horizon (roughly 25nm is the rule of thumb). But the slow speed of current amphibious assault vehicles, and the poor range and speed of the CH-46 make that impractical. So the range, speed, and capacity of the MV-22 are seen as critical. Similarly, the proliferation of advanced small surface to air missile systems mean the older AV-8B Harrier is seen as increasingly vulnerable, and a more stealthy Close Air Support platform was imperative.

But the stupendous costs associated with both programs have come to be the cart before the horse. Programs designed to solve problems faced by the landing team are increasingly crowding out the very heart of the Marines, the landing team itself, and the very soul of the entire endeavor, the Marine infantry battalions and regiments. And there’s the rub. You can have virtually unlimited variations of combined arms, but the first building block of any combined arms organization is, was, and always shall be the infantry.

The Marines remain vehemently committed to both the F-35B program, and the MV-22. And both will continue to consume an outsized portion of the dollars available. What solutions to this we may find, I simply do not know.

Inchon, and Operational Maneuver From The Sea

The surprise North Korean invasion of South Korea steamrolled over lightly armed and poorly trained South Korean troops. Even the addition of US airpower and troop units did little to slow the onslaught. The defenders were soon pushed back to a small perimeter defending the port of Pusan. Pusan port was both their logistical lifeline, and presented the escape route should the perimeter fail.

But all was not lost. By the end of the summer of 1950, significant US troop units were available for commitment. Further, the North Korean army had stretched its lines of communication about as far as they could go.

Conventional military thinking called for the deployment of fresh forces into the Pusan perimeter, where eventually they could stage a counterattack, break out of the siege, and force the North Koreans back.

But a glance at the map would show that Korea is a peninsula. With the long shorelines on both coasts, North Korea had been forced to concentrate its ground forces at the Pusan perimeter, and its lines of communication were lightly defended.  These flanks were ripe for attack. And the commander of UN forces in Korea, General of the Army Douglas McArthur, was a past master of amphibious assaults, having used them brilliantly in World War II.  To our eyes some 60 year later, the choice to stage an amphibious assault seems easy.

Except…

The large scale demobilization of the services after World War II included a deliberate choice to mothball virtually all of the Navy’s amphibious warfare capability. The advent of nuclear weapons had convinced Navy planners (and Army planners as well) that any large scale amphibious landing would present a concentrated target tempting an enemy to use atomic weapons against it. A single atomic weapon would not only doom any landing, it would impose catastrophic losses of both shipping and manpower. And so the ability to land an expeditionary force against a defended coast had largely been foregone.

Further, while a brief glance at the map shows Korea as a peninsula, a detailed examination shows it to have some of the most inhospitable coasts, almost completely unsuitable for landings with the technology of the time.  Further, with the slashing of the US amphibious fleet, logistics over any assault beaches would be impossible. It’s one thing to land a force, it’s a far more difficult task to keep it supplied.

General MacArthur, after careful study, chose to conduct an amphibious assault, and chose the port of Inchon (which serves the South Korean capitol of Seoul) as the objective.  Located about halfway up the peninsula on the west coast, Inchon was lightly defended, and was a sufficiently deep envelopment that the North Korean army could not easily shift forces from Pusan to Inchon. But Inchon lies at the end of a long, notoriously treacherous channel with some of the worlds most complex tides. Further, rather than assaulting across open beaches, the troops would have to attack across a seawall onto open paved areas with little or no cover and concealment.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had grave misgivings about the risks involved. Finding, mobilizing, training and deploying sufficient amphibious shipping and landing craft would be an enormous challenge, and the risks involved. If the Inchon channel was mined, or should the landing force otherwise falter, the invading force might be destroyed in detail.  The failure of any landing attempt would almost certainly cause support for our actions in Korea to collapse.

But the prospect of cutting off the North Koreans and destroying their invading army was tantalizing, and despite their doubts, the Joint Chiefs allowed the commander on the scene to follow his own course.

And so, on this day, September 15, in 1950, elements of the 1st Marine Division, with troops of the 7th Infantry Division in follow on waves, were landed by the US Navy at Inchon, in what is widely hailed as a strategic masterstroke, and one of the most decisive victories ever.

File:Battle of Inchon.png

The landings came as a strategic and tactical surprise to the North Koreans. With their lines of communication threatened, coupled with a breakout by UN forces in the Pusan perimeter, the North Korean army was soon fleeing South Korea in disarray. Had the landing forces at Inchon moved faster to retake Seoul, the North Koreans might have been trapped and destroyed. As it was, they barely managed to retreat not only from South Korea, but northward through their own country to the line of the Yalu River, where soon “volunteers” from the People’s Liberation Army of China would come to their rescue, and dashing hopes for any rapid victory and a lasting peace.

File:Lopez scaling seawall.jpg

First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, USMC, leads the 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines over the seawall on the northern side of Red Beach, as the second assault wave lands, 15 September 1950, during the Inchon invasion. Wooden scaling ladders are in use to facilitate disembarkation from the LCVP that brought these men to the shore. Lt. Lopez was killed in action within a few minutes, while assaulting a North Korean bunker. Note M-1 Carbine carried by Lt. Lopez, M-1 Rifles of other Marines and details of the Marines’ field gear. Photo number NH 96876. Image Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center.

Mastery of the seas and the ability to land forces upon hostile shores gives a ground commander a freedom of maneuver that allows him to choose the time and place of his assault, and usually provides him the opportunity to attack an undefended or lightly held position. The use of such maneuver to unhinge an enemy is a key to the operational art, whether it be the “Hail Mary” sweep to the west during Operation Desert Storm or the amphibious envelopment at Inchon in 1950.  Since that time, the US has been careful to maintain both the shipping and the expertise to allow it to conduct amphibious assaults worldwide.

Rivalry at Normandy, or a poor grasp of history?

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.