This blog has featured a number of articles about the change in philosophy in the US Marine Corps today. It’s changing from an “army division”, acting as a component of a heavy maneuvering land force back into naval infantry. There are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with that.  I think that it’s visionary. What is the Marine Corps, and what was it designed to be?

Amphibious warfare, littoral warfare (not the same thing but it can be interchangeable), augmenting a strategic plan – in the Pacific primarily, was what the Marine Corps was designed to be coming out of the Second World War. They were employed very effectively as a light infantry raiding force. And they’re getting back to their roots in order to present an American response to China in the Pacific as a component of a larger strategy.

It’s easy to let mission and philosophy mission slip to get into your way of thinking if you’re in the military. What were SEALs doing in Afghanistan (Operation Red Wings, etc.)? Where is the nearest water? Why were they operating as sniper support for Marines, operating as heavy maneuver forces, in Iraq? I’m not saying that they couldn’t do it. I simply suggest that it’s not what they were originally designed to do, trained to do and that the USMC couldn’t provide its own snipers.

Australia SAS

Claudio B. (Italy) and I have been discussing this back-channel as it currently applies to Australia’s SAS. The argument is made that the Australian SAS has morphed into elite light infantry, rather than being SAS.

Sometimes you’re forced to throw people into combat to plug a hole in the way that the German Fallschirmjäger were used in the Second World War once it was determined that they wouldn’t jump anymore. The Air Force’s Parachute Infantry was folded into heavy army maneuver forces where they fought valiantly, but not as they had originally been trained to do.

Mission slip is sometimes a matter of expediency (fallschirmjäger) but more often it’s a political matter, or there is a military commander who doesn’t have his priorities straight.

Gen. Burford at Gettysburg

Confederate General JEB Stuart in the Gettysburg Campaign forgot that his role as a cavalry commander was to act as a scout and as a screen for heavy infantry, and he rode off in search of glory, leaving the large maneuvering infantry force blind in enemy country. In the same campaign, Union General Buford’s cavalry dismounted to fight as infantry to slow the blinded Confederate infantry as a matter of expediency.

Sometimes history presents an opportunity for people who understand what is going on, and sometimes it’s a combination of vision and luck (T. E. Lawrence at Aqaba).

Ok, I’ll get to the Point

1876 Campaign

If you are Col. Custer (reconnaissance in force for Terry, Gibbons and Crook) in the 1876 US Army Campaign against the Sioux, things always seem to work better if your military component is doing what it was designed to do. Charismatic leadership with an eye toward a political future, over-playing your hand almost always results in disaster. You could argue that Lord Cornwalis’ Southern Campaign during the American Revolution was the same sort of ill conceived situation.

Can these situations be portrayed as rules? Maybe, it’s a stretch, but I’ll try.

Rule One is (when possible) not to use your military components in a way inconsistent with their purpose on a larger canvas. Don’t use fighter pilots as infantry.

Rule Two is to avoid having politicians define how specific military units should be used. Don’t use the SAS as infantry.

Rule Three is to know your limitations. Custer at the Little Big Horn.

13 COMMENTS

  1. The USMC/China thing is interesting and it seems to make sense — use marines as… marines. That said, perhaps they could double up as “security” when the time comes for nooses down the Mall? I know, I know, “expediency.”

  2. I see your point as to the marines, i just dont agree with getting rid of tank units. Pretty handy to have around like in the pacific island hopping campaign and also 60 years later in Fallugah.

    • Yep. It was found in the Central Pacific that not having Armor covering the infantry was a very bad idea. Even if not fighting other Armor, Armor has the ability to get close to a fixed position and paste the living snot out of it from close range, cheaply.

      Being able to engage maritime forces, ground forces (armor), ground forces (infantry) and fixed positions (both fortified and improvised) is a needful thing.

      That 120mm smoothbore makes a real nice way to accurately target a potential issue from long range. Nobody wants a repeat of the Roi-Namur torpedo magazine explosion (that was set by a Marine tossing a satchel charge into a fortified building.) Standoff ability is a good thing.

      Marines as marine infantry only? That’s great, against a not even near peer force.

      And LL? Still can’t see the pretty pictures… Bummer.

      • Clear your cache and try again. I think that resolved some of the software issues that others had.

        I’m no longer close to some of those development and tactical issues, however, the question of whether light and medium wheeled vehicles are better than really heavy tracks has been debated to death.

        One of the problems that heavy armor (meaning an M-1 Abrams or similar) have on Pacific islands is the deep ravines that are inevitably present and occur naturally because of monsoon rain. Crossing those ravines often requires bridging capable of supporting the weight of a tank. And you need to support that bridging effort with other heavy forces. Light maneuver infantry supported by a LAV company and artillery makes it difficult for very heavy armor to bring its game on. I think that’s where the USMC is coming from. That and stand-off cruise missiles and anti-shipping short range ballistic missiles hammering enemy shipping that make a beachhead challenging is the doctrine.

        • Thank you for your helpful comments. It’s difficult to diagnose a problem when “I” don’t have that problem, on my computer or on my i-phone, both of which I use to access my blog.

  3. And what’s particularly stupid re: the SAS is there already exists the commando regiment to do pretty much that exact job, is the regular infantry battalions are regarded as insufficient.

    I have serious doubts about the alleged war crimes, mostly as the ABC news are very much on the PC left wing bandwagon and HATE the idea of elite soldier who might think for themselves, but I do believe they’ve been overused. From what I’ve heard they were looking at 6 month rotation in country, 6 month counter terrorism, and 6 month rest and refit (i.e. do all the training courses, promotions etc. likely mostly away from home, for those of you who are not military.)

    After 10 or 15 years of that….

    • The US Navy Special Warfare doctrine calls for a 6 month training cycle followed by a 6 month deployment. After that the SEAL platoon is dissolved and re-constituted with another training and deployment cycle with a “new platoon”. That keeps the Team from developing cliques that inevitably follow from working closely in an intense environment.

      As you point out, there is a burn-out factor to doing that for a decade or two. It’s remedied to some extent by staff positions, training positions, schools, and so forth. Some of the older operators with experience are lured away from the military by private military companies (or CIA) which offer a different tempo and more money.

  4. My problem with the “light naval infantry” model for the USMC isn’t philosophical – I can see a use and justification for that.

    My problem is that if/when we do that, and then the politicians in charge throw them into a set piece battle or static defense (and we all know they will) there will be a huge bloodbath because they gave up their supporting arms, and they won’t get cover from the other services. It’s the whole history of the Corps, and why they developed their own combined-arms forces in the first place.

    -Kle.

  5. Drilling down to mundane detail, as a one hitch enlisted swine combat engineer, I was astounded by the seeming blindness of our leaders. Near Hanau, Germany is a large flat area that might be tailor made for an Airborne landing. 50°06’42.90″N, 8°57’38.36E. About 15 minutes away in an armored vehicle was the stockpile of all the vehicles for a heavy infantry division, all fueled and ready to go. The plan was the manpower would be flown in from the States and be ready for combat.
    Note the proximity of the Main River and bridges.

    This was our assembly area from nearby Pioneer Kaserne when we had our monthly alerts. I would sit looking at the sky expecting to see Ivan descending. It would be fix bayonets because any ammo was several minutes away. Never once did I hear any officer, from 2nd Lt to Colonel, discussing the possibility and our response.

    So is there a point to this overly long remark? Yes, in my time we had lots of Custers and damn few Grants. Today? I don’t know.

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