Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

May 15

Guest Post by LCDR Glenn Smith (USN-Ret.): Cover from a China Marine

Saturday, May 15, 2010 6:11 AM

This cover was mailed from Quartermaster Clerk L. F. Shoemaker, a Marine with the Marine Detachment, Tientsin, China (now known as Tianjin). The letter was posted in early 1941 apparently to his wife at home in rural Texas.

The cachet appears to be hand drawn, and shows a street vendor with his monkey. Many old China hands would be familiar with this kind of sight on any street in the China of that era.

At a time when Shanghai was only a small, unremarkable town among the paddies along the Huangpu River, Tientsin was already a vibrant ancient walled Chinese city. The city is situated about 37 miles up the Peihao River from the ocean at Taku and approximately 80 miles from the capital at Peking (now Beijing).

World War Two began in China July 7-8, 1937 with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident near Peking. As a result Japan invaded Northern China from its puppet state, Manchukou (Manchuria). Within a few short weeks Japan controlled most of Northern China. On July 29, Japanese air forces bombed and destroyed most of Nankai University to discourage the students who were anti-Japanese. Japanese forces occupied Tientsin July 30, 1937.

With its protecting mission now compromised by Japanese forces, the US Army’s 15th Infantry departed from Tientsin on March 12, 1938 after a 26 year stint representing American interests in the region. It was replaced by a small U.S. Marine detachment (49 officers and men) guarding the Consulate-General and showing the flag. The Marines stayed at Tientsin until ordered out on November 14, 1941, essentially leaving control of all of the old foreign concessions in the hands of the Japanese.

Apr 29

Operation Frequent Wind: April 29-30, 1975

Thursday, April 29, 2010 5:01 AM

For 125,000 Vietnamese-Americans and their descendants, April 30, 1975 marks the day their lives changed forever. On that date, Saigon fell to the forces of North Vietnam and thousands of “at risk” Vietnamese joined the dwindling number of Americans still left in Vietnam to be evacuated by Operation Frequent Wind a massive assembly of aircraft and ships that became the largest helicopter evacuation in history.

With the fall of Saigon imminent, the United States Navy formed Task Force 76 off the coast of South Vietnam in anticipation of removing those “at risk” Vietnamese who had ardently supported our efforts to stop the Communist takeover of South Vietnam. 

Task Force 76

Task Force 76 USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) (command ship)

Task Group 76.4 (Movement Transport Group Alpha)

Task Group 76.5 (Movement Transport Group Bravo)

Task Group 76.9 (Movement Transport Group Charlie)

The task force was joined by:

each carrying Marine, and Air Force (8 21st Special Operations Squadron CH-53s and 2 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron HH-53s[28]) helicopters.

Seventh Fleet flagship USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5).

Amphibious ships:

and eight destroyer types for naval gunfire, escort, and area defense, including:

The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and USS Coral Sea (CV-43) carrier attack groups of Task Force 77 in the South China Sea provided air cover while Task Force 73 ensured logistic support.

At noon, April 30, 1975 the familiar wop-wop of single rotors announced the arrival of VNAF Huey helicopters that began circling the USS Blue Ridge as they waited to off-load their passengers, then quickly lift off to ditch in the sea along side the ship.

Vietnamese pilot jumping

Over the next 24 hours, scores of helicopters would appear like bees returning to the hive, to land on the LPD’s and the carriers, Midway and Hancock, disgorging hundreds of stunned men, women and children clutching what few possessions they could carry in their arms. As each group was rushed below to the hanger deck, their ride was jettisoned to make way for another crowded bird.

In one feat of ingenuity, the pilot of a small observation plane buzzed the deck of the Midway and dropped a note asking them to move the helicopters so he could land. The note was signed, “Please rescue me. Major Buang, wife and 5 child. The Midway’s Captain immediately ordered the deck cleared and the Major came in for a perfect three point landing.

Welcoming committee for Major Buang and family

The evacuation continued all through the day and into the next. Thousand of refugees crammed on vessels of every description fled to the ships waiting offshore. Finally, on May 2, the ships of TF 76 sailed for Guam and the Philippines carrying 6000 souls along with another 44,000 on Military Sealift Command vessels; their cargo would turn out to be a pretty remarkable group of new citizens. The first stop for many became Camp Pendleton in Southern California where the Marine Corps provided refuge and a helping hand to over 50,000 Vietnamese as they transitioned to life in the United States. This month, the base opened an exhibit to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Operation New Arrivals.

Refugee tent city, Camp Pendleton, 1975

Like all military operations, Operation Frequent Wind and Operation New Arrivals were debriefed, reviewed and studied to determine their success or failure. The true measure of the success of the two operations, began to show in the next generation of those whom the Navy and Marines helped the spring and summer of 1975. Those 125,000 were followed by tens of thousands more, until today, Vietnamese-Americans number over 1.6 million. As noted by the Manhattan Institute in 2008, the Vietnamese community has one of the highest rates of civic assimilation of any immigrant group in the United States. Signs of this civic mindedness is apparent in the military where Vietnamese-born United States Naval officer Cmdr H.B. Le commanding the USS Lassen DDG 82, recently returned to make a port call in Vietnam, after an absence of 35 years. And in the Army, Col Viet Luong, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division is preparing to lead the brigade to Afghanistan this spring. Both of these men were small children among that first wave of citizens rescued by Task Force 76.

Cmdr H.B. Le

As a veteran of that much maligned war. I look back at what the Navy and Marine Corp did that spring of 1975 and find a sense of redemption for all who served; that out of the chaos of seeing South Vietnam fall, we have gained thousands of new citizens who have strengthened the fabric of this nation.

Apr 7

The First Truly Amphibious Assault in History

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 10:20 PM

The past month the HBO series The Pacific has drawn long overdue attention to the War in the Pacific as it followed the United States Marine Corps in a series of amphibious assaults that were designed to cut off the tentacles of the Japanese war machine and provide for unsinkable aircraft carriers from which to launch bombers against the Japanese mainland. This caused me to reflect on how far back the strategy and tactics of amphibious warfare went in history. I settled on one crucial battle that reflected what at the time was a combined sea and land attack that when studied was a forerunner of the successful amphibious assaults of the Navy and Marines in World War II.

We have to travel back in time to the Eastern Mediterranean in 332 BCE as Macedonian king Alexander the Great stood before the one roadblock that prevented him from controlling the approaches to the Middle East and Persia. The city state of Tyre was situated on an island 1/2 mile off the coast of today’s Lebanon. The city was surrounded by walls 150 feet high on the landward side and boasted two harbors and a fleet of 80 Triremes to keep the seas open.


The Tyrians decided on a strategy of resisting Alexander since their strong defensive position had withstood sieges by Assyrians in the seventh century and a Babylonian siege that lasted 13 years before giving up. Alexander was different. He first tried to approach the city walls by constructing a causeway from the mainland with the dismantled stones of the old city of Tyre. The Tryians modified a transport ship and turned it into a fire ship by packing it with pitch and flammable material and by lowering the stern were able to run the ship high aground on the mole where the fire destroyed the Macedonian siege towers.

Alexander recognized he needed a navy to defeat the Tryians so he collected ships from the previously surrendered Phoenician cities and soon bolstered with the arrival of a fleet from Cyprus had a fleet of over 225 vessels at his disposal. In a quick naval battle the Tryian fleet fled back to port where they remained blockaded in the two Tryian harbors. the Tryians attempted to break out of the north harbor where they sank several Cypriot ships before Alexander lead his Phoenician squadron around from the south harbor to crush the breakout and send the Tryian ships fleeing back to the harbor. 

At the same time Alexander’s land forces began to construct a new wider mole that would withstand the currents. Taking his ships he tied ships together to create strong battering rams and a stable platform to support his catapults. When Tryian drivers cut the anchor cables, Alexander ordered a switch to mooring chains which also were useful in removing large boulders that the Tryians had placed in the sea at the base of the walls. The siege went on for months and by mid-summer the mole was across the channel and an assault was mounted only to be defeated by the Tryians. In the meantime, the ship mounted battering rams had been probing the walls on the south side of the city. In early August, a weak spot was discovered and Alexander prepared to launch an assault on all sides of the city with a special concentration by a seaborne attack in the breach. He loaded two transports with his strongest troops and leading the attack broke through the breach into the city streets. More troops were carried across by ship and began pouring into the city. The Phoenician and Cypriot fleets at the same time sailed into the harbors and attacked the moored Tyrian fleet. Within a few hours the city was taken and after a orgy of bloodletting and the selling into slavery of 30,000 women and children, Alexander turned his sights to the east and Persia.

The capture of Tyre gave Alexander the ability to insure both his overland and sea lanes were secure from Macedon. The result of his successful use of amphibious and naval power ensured that the eastern Mediterranean, Phoenicia and Palestine would remain in Greek hands for two centuries. Alexander has been remembered as a great military strategist and most known for his land conquests, but at Tyre he proved himself to be a master at naval warfare and what today would be called the use of a combined arms strategy to achieve his objectives. In the final analysis the Siege of Trye was the first truly amphibious assault in history.

Apr 1

Air Strikes Set the Stage for Okinawa Invasion

Thursday, April 1, 2010 8:12 AM


65 years ago today, Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, was the site of one of the last major island landings of World War II and scene of some of its heaviest fighting.

Supporting operations leading up to Operation Iceberg, under the strategic command of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, began with 5th Fleet air strikes against Kyushu on 18 March 1945. Executed with heavy naval gunfire and air support, the initial landings—the Joint Expeditionary Force under Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner and the soldiers and marines under Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, USA—took place on 1 April.

Running generally north and south, Okinawa is 60 miles long and from a to 18 miles wide, with an area of 485 square miles. It is entirely fringed with reefs.

Overwhelming Navy carrier-based air power crushed the Japanese attempt to disrupt the landings on 7 April; on this day 386 planes of Task Force 58 sunk the Japanese battleship Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi, and four destroyers, and damaged four other destroyers.

After 82 days of heavy fighting, the island was declared secure on 21 June. An armada of ships had participated in the operation, during which 36 of them of destroyer size or smaller were lost, most to the heaviest concentration of kamikaze attacks of the war.

Securing Okinawa blocked the Japanese supply lanes in the East China Sea, isolating all southern possessions still in Japanese hands; and cleared the last obstacle in the path to the Japanese Home Islands.

Mar 26

Naval History Magazine’s Guide to the HBO’s The Pacific

Friday, March 26, 2010 10:52 AM

Ton’s of articles and first hand accounts of those who were there in the Pacific war and information about HBO’s The Pacific 

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