Category Archives: marines

Post World War II Amphibious Operations. BJ Armstrong on the evolution of vertical enevelopment.

I’m not an outside the box thinker. I’m very much a color inside the lines guy. On the other hand, I used to be pretty damn good at knowing exactly what was in the box. Hours and hours pouring over various field and technical manuals and regulations taught me that very few problems I would face in the Army hadn’t been addressed at some previous point, and usually by someone a good deal smarter and more experienced than myself.

On the other hand, sometimes, there are truly game-changing events, and organizations need to blaze new trails to address  them. BJ Armstrong, author of 21 Century Mahan, spoke recently at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. Here he looks at the challenge to amphibious warfare in the post World War II environment, and how the Marines, both as individuals, and as an organization, actively sought innovation to address the threat of nuclear warfare.

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SECDEF Fired: Hagel Goes Under the Bus

Chuck Hagel

Big news this morning that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been fired by President Obama.  Big news, but not surprising.  Hagel has openly contradicted the President several times, especially regarding the Administration’s rather childish assertions regarding the necessity of ground forces in the fight against ISIS.   You will hear various stories about how this was Hagel’s idea, and of course, the media will dutifully report as fact the White House’s version of events.  But that version will be as accurate and honest as WH proclamations on Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious, ISIS intelligence failures, etc.

Though Hagel was not known as a deep thinker, the idea that he somehow couldn’t grasp the deeper and more complex defense issues smells like the intellectual elitism of the self-proclaimed far-left “ruling” class.  It is far more likely that Hagel attempted to keep Obama and his National Security Council grounded in reality, only to be poo-pooed and brushed aside by the overwhelming cacophony from the Marxist ideologues that have the President’s ample ears.   I was never a big Chuck Hagel fan, as he was a Global Zero guy whose viewpoints at various times bordered on the curious, but as SECDEF I thought he was one of the few at the top of the Defense structure with the spine to stand up to the rampant amateurish stupidity that emanated from 1600 Pennsylvania.  We could have done far worse.  We certainly might going forward.

Whether talks were “initiated” by Hagel or not, the nature of those talks were probably discussions about whether Obama was going to keep tossing aside wise counsel or not in favor of the childlike and naive rantings of his fellow-travelers.  And, the answer today seems to be a resounding YES.  Obama will continue to march forward in secular progressive lockstep to the Internationale, wreaking the concomitant damage on US security, foreign relations, and national power.

Funny that the Secretary of Defense that HE chose, to replace another that had had enough (Panetta), is now thought not to be up to the job.  One has to wonder who is.  Michele Flournoy has been mentioned, along with Ash Carter.  One has to think Bob Work is in the mix.  All are far too talented to want to serve out the last two years of the military train wreck that is the Defense Department under Obama.   It is like being hired to coach the Washington Generals, and being told you are expected to win.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, army, Around the web, budget, Defense, guns, history, iraq, islam, marines, navy, nuclear weapons, obama, Politics, Syria, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Amtracs in Action

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to ride in (and even occasionally drive) quite a few different armored vehicles. For the most part, riding in one is pretty much like another. Loud, fairly uncomfortable, and rather bumpy. One that I’ve always had a hankering for, but never achieved, was the USMC’s AAV-7A1 Amtrac.

The AAV-7 family has been in service since the early 1970s, and is descended from a series of amphibious tractors, or Landing Vehicle Tracked from World War II. They bring the unique capability of landing assault forces ashore from the sea. While several Army armored vehicles, such as the M113 were technically amphibious, they were only capable of swimming in calm waters such as lakes or slow moving rivers. Amtracs, on the other hand, are quite comfortable swimming in open water, and can handle surf as high as eight feet.

http://www.enemyforces.net/apc/aav7_2.jpg

From the earliest days of armored infantry, the Army has always tried to tie one vehicle to one rifle squad.* For instance, in World War II, an Armored Infantry squad would all be mounted on one M3 halftrack. Similarly, the later M113 equipped units would have one rifle squad tied to one carrier.

Space is always at a premium on amphibious shipping. That is, there is never enough room for all the things the Marine commander embarked wants to carry. Since the capacity of an armored vehicle increases quite a bit for relatively modest increases in size, the Marines have always had a somewhat different philosophy toward how their troop units integrate with their armored personnel carriers. Rifle companies and battalions don’t own their own carriers. Instead, the amtrac battalion belongs to the division, who parcels out companies and platoons as needed to support the various infantry units.

Whereas an Army M113 platoon would have 4 carriers, and the three rifle squads of the platoon, a Marine amtrac platoon has 12 carriers, and their crews, but no infantry troops of their own.

http://images.military.com/media/equipment/military-vehicles/aav7-amphibious-assault-vehicle/aav7-amphibious-assault-vehicle-07.jpg

Each AAV-7, in addition to its crew, can carry 18 Marines. Given that Marine rifle squads have 13 men, that means some creative task organization goes into loading each AAV. Each AAV has a driver, and a vehicle commander. The commander’s station also has a cupola armed with a .50cal machine gun and a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. There is a third topside hatch for the troop commander as well.

http://battleforearth.com/military/nations/us/vehicles/land/aavp7/images/04.jpg

In addition to the basic carrier, there are other versions built on the same basic hull, including a recovery vehicle version and a commanders version.

The fleet of vehicles has been upgraded over the years. Interestingly, the last round of upgrades saw much of its suspension and powertrain replaced with Bradley components.

The Marines have a fleet of about 1300 AAVs, in two active and one reserve battalions, as well as prepositioned in various theaters and war reserves. The AAV-7 is also in service with South Korea, Brazil, Italy, Taiwan, Chile, Spain, Thailand, Venezuela, and others. Argentina used 20 of its AAV-7s in the initial assault landings in the 1982 Falklands War, but they returned to Argentina before the British counterattack.

The AAV-7 was to have been replaced in Marine service by the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle beginning in 2013, but the cancellation of that program has left the Marines looking for a new, cheaper replacement, and struggling to keep the AAV-7 fleet operational for some time to come.

 

*With a few very minor exceptions that resulted in only very limited production.

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The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.

 

One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.

 

During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.

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“…In This, I Think, Is Glory.”

Still my favorite.

Happy Birthday, Marines!  Semper Fidelis!

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The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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YOV-10D NOGS

At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the state of the art for most aircraft weapon delivery was just about as advanced as it had been in World War II. That is, the visual dive bomb pass was the normal method of delivery. Given the higher speeds, shallower dives, and higher release altitudes, accuracy was arguably lower than in World War II.

Worse still, dive bombing was essentially a day-only tactic. Previous aerial interdiction campaigns in Italy and Korea suffered from the fact that a day only interdiction campaign allowed the enemy as many hours of freedom of movement as it did hours of observation and attack.  Some attack aircraft, notably the A-6 Intruder, were equipped to perform “precision” strikes using radar, but that meant the target had to be a significant radar target, or a fixed position offset from such a radar target. Radar technology simply couldn’t pick out discrete targets such as trucks along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Recognizing this shortcoming, the defense establishment put a lot of time, money and effort into devising alternative methods of target acquisition for night time use. One popular method was image intensification. The “starlight” scope took ambient illumination and magnified it to provide an image. Several platforms used such Low Light Level Television (or LLTV). But LLTV suffered from white-out if there was too much illumination (such as from weapons exploding) or poor image if there was little or no ambient light, such as on moonless overcast nights.

Forward Looking Infra Red, or FLIR, used the heat given off by various objects to provide a picture. Oddly, many FLIR systems are turret mounted, but for some reason, still retain the term “Forward Looking.”

Early FLIR systems were, by the standards of today, rather crude. But they gave airmen for the first time an effective way to pierce the darkness, and acquire non-radar significant targets on the ground. And if you can see it, you can kill it.

The Marines, presumably impressed with the side firing capability of the AC-119 and AC-130, modified two OV-1oA Broncos into what became knows as the YOV-10D* NOGS, or Night Observation Gunship. Basically, they added a FLIR system to the nose of a Bronco, with associated displays in the cockpits, and then added a tri-barrel XM197 20mm cannon on a turret to the aircraft belly.

The service test in Vietnam was pretty successful. The problem was, with the 20mm turret, the Bronco could not carry its sponsons, which on the A model had five stores stations, as well as mounting four fixed forward firing 7.62mm M60D machine guns. The tradeoff in conventional wasn’t worth it.

Eventually, with some modifications, the idea of a FLIR turret in the nose of the Bronco was accepted, and the OV-10D, without a gun turret, but with its sponsons, would enter production, serving with the Marines through Desert Storm.

Today, virtually every aircraft with a ground attack role carries FLIR, either on a pod or as an integral part of the aircraft.

*The “Y” in the designation is to denote its use as a service test.

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