Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945

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Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591144847
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2004
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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Swift, Silent, and Deadly

Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945
By Bruce F. Meyers

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 2004 Bruce F. Meyers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59114-484-1

Chapter One

In the Beginning

Marines aboard Navy ships began to develop amphibious tactics in the late 1920s in the Caribbean. The overall lessons learned in these early landings coalesced into what eventually became the Fleet Marine Force, or FMF, an amalgamation of all of the different types of units considered necessary for a Marine force to project itself ashore for the seizure of littoral areas of the world.

Beginning in 1934, shortly after the formation of the Fleet Marine Force, the commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet approved a general plan for training the force for landing operations with the fleet. Planning between the U.S. Fleet and the Marine Corps began immediately, and the Caribbean was again designated as the site for the first in a series of fleet landing exercises, in military vernacular called FLEXs. Culebra, an island just north of Vieques, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, was chosen as the objective for these landings. This was prior to the establishment of the Corps's first division-sized organization.

The battleships Arkansas and Wyoming and the transport Antares carried the bulk of the troops. The ships' fifty-foot whaleboats were used to land the troops. Biplanes provided smoke screens, and in the initial landings, marines came down cargo nets hung over the sides of the transporting vessels. Ramps over the bows of the whaleboats were used with an A-frame to land artillery pieces and vehicles.

I describe the anachronistic methods of some of our first landing exercises to provide the reader with the contrast and some insight into the rapid development which occurred during the next seven years. This culminated in the United States' first major Pacific amphibious (amphib) combat operation of World War II, the 1st Marine Division's landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific in August 1942.

Each year, fleet landing exercises were conducted with improvements and modifications. By 1936, the Fleet Marine Force Headquarters had moved to San Diego, where similar landing exercises were being done with the 2d Marine Brigade, another regimental-size unit (of the 6th Marines), at San Clemente Island off San Diego.

In 1938, submarines began to be used for the landing of small parties of marines onto enemy beaches for reconnaissance purposes. Four submarines from SubRon-11 (Submarine Squadron 11) participated, landing recon teams from each of the submarines involved. Surfacing at night, aircraft-type rubber boats were inflated and launched over the side and marines landed and conducted their missions. The after-action report on this 1938 FLEX had an annex report (a compendium providing details on activities) from Company F, 5th Marines which described these rubber-boat missions from S-47 and their subsequent beach reconnaissance.

In 1941, the Marines for the first time used modified World War I-vintage destroyers as their means of transport. Mothballed since 1922, the Navy converted six "four-stackers," removing two of the four boilers and two of their stacks; spaces gained were turned into troop and cargo areas. These ships were redesignated "high-speed destroyer transports" (APDs). Early on in World War II, destroyer escort (DE) hulls were substituted for the converted four-stackers and became a newer, faster, and more modern class of APDs, which were later extensively used by recon marines and accompanying UDTs.

At first, amphib recon teams landed by rubber boat, paddling initially but later adding outboard motors, launched from these first APDs. Subsequently, "Higgins boats" or other types of modified landing craft were used to tow the rubber boats closer to the target beach, where they would cast off and go in by outboard motor or paddling.

The U.S. Fleet and Fleet Marine Force began to gather and publish the lessons learned from the fleet landing exercises and thus was born FTP (fleet training publication) 167, Landing Operations Doctrine. Amphibious reconnaissance missions covered in FTP 167 were expanded to include location of enemy defensive positions, including troop strengths, weapons, obstacles and defenses, and the character of the surf, beach, and terrain inland, including the ever-important beach exits to permit the landing force to get off the beaches. The above mission requirements were included in the Landing Force Manual as a "directed effort by personnel landed from seaward by any means to collect the information on a coastal area required for the planning and conduct of amphibious operations." This later was further refined to include "a landing conducted by minor elements, involving stealth rather than force of arms for the purpose of securing information, followed by a planned withdrawal."

Chapter Two

The Units

Marine Corps intelligence assets during World War II included amphibious reconnaissance units, organized as such; Marine division organic units that participated in amphibious reconnaissance; and specialized units such as the Marine Raiders and the Paramarines. Adding to the complexity of amphibious intelligence, Allied units and units from other U.S. services, the Navy in particular, were also involved.

The Observer Group

In December 1941, a small group of Army and twenty-two Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) were gathered from various intelligence sections from both services and assembled in Quantico, Virginia. Collectively, they were called the Observer Group. The group was formed on order of Maj. Gen. Holland M. "Howlin Mad" Smith, then commanding general (CG) of the Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet, headquartered at Quantico. Marines were pooled from the 5th Marines' battalion intelligence sections (S-2), regimental intelligence (then the R-2), and Division Intelligence Section (G-2 Sections) of the 1st Marine Division. The Observer Group became the first Marine Corps unit whose specific mission was amphibious reconnaissance.

The Observer Group began experimentation in methodology and equipment for launching reconnaissance from the sea. Sgt. Thomas L. Curtis was selected from the Observer Group and sent to England, where he trained with the Royal Marines. He later transferred to OSS, where he served with distinction. Rubber boats became the recon boat of choice, although tests and trials were also done using kayaks and folding canvas boats. Guiding criteria demanded that such craft would have to fit through the rather small hatches of fleet submarines. At the same time, various weapons were tried. The Marines were taught knife fighting and escape techniques by British Commando instructor Lt. Col. William E. Fairbairn, formerly of the Shanghai Municipal Police, who had taught knife and club fighting to the 4th Marines in Shanghai (see "Fairbairn-Sykes" in the glossary). About this time, the Observer Group was sent to the FBI School, which was on the base at Quantico. For two weeks FBI agents taught them "the rudiments of ju-jitsu, pistol shooting from the hip, [and] firing the TMSG (Thompson sub-machine gun.)"

The Observer Group was initially a joint Army and Navy organization, the plan being for the Army and the Marine Corps to make landings on North Africa. Training was done on the Potomac and Chesapeake Rivers. Submarine work was done at New London, Connecticut. Later, they carried out exercises on both the Atlantic and Caribbean. Capt. James Logan Jones Sr., who was on General Smith's staff, was assigned to G-2 on the Amphibious Corps staff. Jones had lived overseas in Europe and North Africa before the war and, speaking several languages, was a natural fit for intelligence. His brother, Maj. William K. Jones (later a lieutenant general), convinced him to transfer his Army commission for a Marine commission. The Corps gained greatly by that transfer.

The Observer Group was first led by the Army's 1st Lt. Loyd Peddicord Jr. It began operating under the staff supervision of the Amphib Corps, Atlantic Fleet G-2, Lt. Col. Louis Ely, USA. Much of the early recon instruction was taught by the Marine's Plt. Sgt. Russell Corey. The group's submarine training was done in June 1942 at the submarine school in New London, Connecticut. Corey took the Observer Group (twenty marines, one soldier) for this hands-on work at sea aboard fleet submarines and in the tower for instruction in the Momsen lung.

While those in the Observer Group was honing their operational skills, the Amphib Corps intelligence officers were working out the tactical utilization of amphibious reconnaissance. They began to develop the how, when, and where of amphib recons.

In September 1942, the Observer Group was disbanded at Quantico. The Army component went to North Africa, as had been planned, while the Marine component (two officers and twenty enlisted) was sent to Camp Elliot, just northeast of San Diego. In January 1943, the Observer Group became the nucleus forming the first amphibious reconnaissance company, under command of Capt. James Logan Jones Sr.

Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet

This initial amphibious reconnaissance company, consisting of six officers and ninety-two enlisted, was organized with a headquarters platoon and four reconnaissance platoons. Each platoon was commanded by a lieutenant and consisted of two six-man squads. The platoons were thus tailored, with equipment, to embark in either two ten-man rubber boats or three seven-man boats.

During the next nine months in the Camp Elliot/Camp Pendleton area, they continued training, honing scouting and patrolling techniques and becoming proficient with their rubber boats in the heavy Pacific surf. Here they operated from both submarines and APDs. Additionally, the company made a training film, The Amphibious Reconnaissance Patrol (which, interestingly, is still used today in amphib recon training). They passed their amphib recon skills on to the Army, training two Army units in amphibious reconnaissance. These Army units, the Alaska Scouts, performed well in the taking of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian campaign. Later, in the Army landing on Kwajalein, one of these same, Marine-trained, Army amphib recon units was cited for its excellent performance. In August 1943, a further titular change was made, and the company became the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, V (Fifth) Amphibious Corps (VAC), Pacific Fleet. The following month, the company shipped out to Hawaii, where they took up their wartime quarters at Camp Catlin on Oahu, there adding one additional recon platoon (for a total of five). On 16 September 1943, Captain Jones, as the only marine, boarded the large mine-laying submarine Nautilus (SS-168) for a month-long patrol, during which he assisted in periscope recons of Tarawa, Kuma, Butaritari, Makin, and Apamama Atolls. The Nautilus returned on 16 October 1943, and briefings were begun to prepare the company for their first mission. Nautilus departed Pearl Harbor on 8 November, bound for Tarawa and, later, Apamama Atoll, some seventy-six miles due south of Tarawa. The company headquarters and three platoons participated in this operation, which is more fully described in chapter 6.

Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, VAC

By April 1944, as a result of combat experience, casualties, and increasing operational commitments, the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, VAC was expanded, redesignated, and reorganized into the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion. It became a two-recon company (Companies A and B), one headquarters company, 303 Marine Battalion. This battalion was amalgamated and redesignated in April 1944 as Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, FMF, retaining this name until its disbandment at the end of the war on 24 September 1945).

Marine Division's Scouts and Snipers

When the first two Marine divisions were formed in 1941, each regiment had a scout and sniper platoon in the regimental headquarters and service company. In 1944, these were amalgamated later into a division reconnaissance company of 5 officers and 122 enlisted located in the Division Headquarters Battalion. Augmentation for these newly redesignated reconnaissance companies (born from the Scouts and Snipers) came from the recently disbanded Raider and Parachute battalions. Transport was by foot or jeep on land and by rubber boat when embarked. These companies were used in a variety of tasks and, on occasion in severe combat, were used as "spare" rifle companies (e.g., 4th Marine Division Scout Company under Capt. Edward L. Katzenbach Jr. was so used in the landings on Eniwetok and Parry Island in the western Marshalls) (see chap. 7). As a result of their strong training in scouting and patrolling, they were well suited to occasional mopping-up operations following major Marine units' landings. (Author's note: Some reconnaissance purists feel that such utilization was a misuse of reconnaissance assets, however, on balance, in combat, when a division or regimental commander is short of assets, he will use any unit that can help accomplish the mission. I know that I would have considered such years later in Vietnam, as others of my peers did. Fortunately, in Vietnam I never had to use recon assets as infantry.) These division recon companies were used primarily when a particular mission within the Marine division involved specialized reconnaissance. An example of such use is described in chapter 5 on Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

Other Service and Foreign Reconnaissance Agencies and Units

Naval Commando Demolition Units

In 1942, the Army and the Navy jointly established the Amphibious Scout and Raider School at Fort Pierce, Florida, to train individual soldiers, sailors, and marines in demolitions, raids, and patrols. Trained by Lt. Cdr. Phil H. Bucklew and, later, Lt. Draper L. Kaufman, USN, these naval commando demolition units (NCDUs) were first employed in Operation Torch in the invasion of North Africa in 1942. Later, in May 1943, Kaufman expanded the syllabus and established a more Navy-oriented school for underwater demolition. Initially near the Fort Pierce Amphibious Scouts and Raiders School, again, however, it was jointly manned by the Army and Marines in addition to naval personnel. Following the near-disaster on the reefs at Tarawa in November 1943, Read Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, the Navy's "amphibious admiral," directed the formation of nine UDT teams and establishment of the Navy Experimental and Tactical Demolition Station on Waimanalo, Oahu, later moving to Kamaole, Maul, Hawaii. This became "Navy UDT" as we know it today (and was the birthing of what were later to be called SEALs).


Excerpted from Swift, Silent, and Deadly by Bruce F. Meyers Copyright © 2004 by Bruce F. Meyers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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