Hard Drinking Fellows

As a youngster watching Saturday-afternoon matinee films, I never gave much thought as to the social implications of alcohol in western or war film presentations.  Nor did anyone ever suggest to me that I should refrain from watching John Wayne films, given that by reputation, he was a hard-drinking fellow in real life.  I do recall in several Wayne films in which he (as a crusty old cavalry officer) and Victor McLaglen (as an equally crusty old top sergeant) were able to consume copious amounts of whiskey and still perform their duties as military leaders.  In one film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Sergeant Stryker had been busted in rank from sergeant-major —this the result of a drinking problem no one in the Marine Corps would countenance (from a senior enlisted man).

The scenario I have described above was not beyond the pale; I have seen this very same thing happen in real life where the Marine Corps reduced senior NCOs with significant alcohol problems to a lower pay grade, or forced them into retirement.  Of course, such punishments were never gleefully effected and certainly not without due and appropriate warnings and if we are honest, circumstances were almost always more than merely drinking to excess.  The range of difficulties frequently involved civil or military arrest for driving under the influence, spouse abuse issues, showing up for duty while inebriated, or maybe not showing up for duty at all.

None of these sorts of things bode well for a careerist —unless you happened to be an officer with a den-daddy.  Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. Ellis was one of these —protected by none other than two Commandants of the Marine Corps, Major Generals George Barnett and John A. Lejeune.  Lejeune, in fact, protected Ellis so well that Ellis eventually drank himself to death.

As previously mentioned, Marines were long known for their hard-drinking (and fighting among themselves in the absence of soldiers or sailors), but in fairness, hard drinking was quite normal in all services, and apparently, in most westernized nations.  For many years, rum rations were issued to the crews of American and British warships.  The American navy halted this practice in 1862; the British navy followed suit nearly 100 years later.  Booze was also issued to ground troops, but suspended during periods of temperance movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

A decision to reintroduce rum rations during the harsh winter of 1914-1915 caused a fierce controversy in the United Kingdom.  Medical doctors were divided between those who saw rum rations a morale-boosting measure, and those who considered it harmful to health and performance.  I wasn’t there of course, but from what I read about the trench warfare of World War I, a daily tot of rum was the least of their problems —and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would send an inebriated rifleman/sniper out on a critical mission.  On the other hand, under circumstances of such stress, one can see the likely calming effect from a tot of rum.  Of the total numbers of British and American troops killed in World War I, the percentage of those who died from exposure to rum must be miniscule.

Still, there is a favorite argument among temperance fanatics and teetotalers to the effect that anyone unable to control his (or her) intake of alcohol lacks spiritual strength.  I’ve heard the same argument about those who smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence of the health risks.  No doubt, Marcus Aurelius would agree; several of his fourteen virtues would seem to make that argument.  Still, should we assume that a drinking man is without any virtues at all?

Let me now introduce you to a fellow by the name of Hiram Eddings Bearss.  In his day, Marines nicknamed him “Hiking Hiram.”  As a youth, Hiram hated his name; he much preferred being called “Mike.”

Bearss was born in 1875 in Peru, Indiana.  He was a troublesome young man, prone to fighting and not doing very well in school … but he did well enough to finish his education (if that is ever possible).  In his youth, he had a knack for horsemanship and sports.  Over several years, Bearss attended college at Notre Dame, Perdue, Depauw, and Norwich Military, where it seems he finally settled down.  Most of his problems at university stemmed from the fact that he liked rough and tumble sports and the kind of drinking associated with those interests.  At age 21 Bearss had finally learned how to learn, and while he was known as a bright young man, this only applied to the things that held his interest.  Bearss’ father wanted him to study law, and he did that for a period of about 18 months.  Although he gained admission to the bar in Indiana, the law did not hold his interest.  A restless Bearss began looking around for something more exciting to do with his life.  A news headline captured his attention:  The Maine Blown Up!

Inspired to serve his country, Bearss organized a volunteer company from among his friends in Peru and together, with bands playing and flags flying, they marched off to Indianapolis to offer their services to the United States.  Not a single individual was accepted for military service, however, and Bearss decided to enlist as a private.  He was refused that, as well.  His family finally appealed to a local congressman by the name of George Steele, who in turn offered Bearss an appointment at the U. S. Naval Academy.  Bearss turned this offer down: he was not going to waste another four years of his life in yet another college.

Bearss 001A few weeks later, Steele telegrammed Bearss that he had secured for him an appointment as a temporary second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  Like many Americans back then, Bearss wasn’t sure what a Marine was; Steele advised him, “It is as close to committing suicide as you will ever get.”  After successfully passing stringent examinations at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC, Bearss was accepted for a commission in late May 1898.  With his appointment at the age of 23, he was no longer referred to by his nickname.  He simply became Mr. Bearss, Lieutenant Bearss, or Hiram (shown right, 1898). Within a year, owing to the end of the Spanish-American War, the military services began downsizing to a peace time strength; Lieutenant Bearss was ordered home and then, in February, the Marines discharged him from further service.

There were important consequences to the Spanish-American War; one of these was a decision by Congress to spend more money on an adequate wartime structure, especially since the United States had inherited the Philippine Islands —and not all was going well there.  Naval bases had to be defended and an expanded Navy meant an expanded Marine Corps.

On 2 June 1899, Bearss received his commission to first lieutenant and four days after that he reported for duty aboard the USS New York.  After several weeks of public relations stops along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in October 1899, Bearss was ordered to report to Major Littleton W. T. Waller, Commanding the 3rd Battalion of Marines being formed at the Washington Navy Yard for service in the Far East.

The voyage to the Philippine Islands was a rough one, but it was here that Bearss and Frederick Wise first met and established their life-long friendship.  Of Bearss, Wise wrote: “It was on the USS Solace that I first did duty with Hiram I. Bearss, then, like myself, a second lieutenant.  There never was another like old Hiram in the world.  Wild as you make them.  Irresponsible to an incredible degree.  Absolutely fearless.  Seldom in funds.  Always with some scheme afoot.  He never had the proper clothes.  He was forever playing practical jokes.  His energy knew no control.  He was always borrowing anything and everything from everybody he could.  Yet, he was loveable beyond words to describe.”  What Wise didn’t tell us was that Bearss was one of those drinking fellows; over time, his drinking became legendary.

bearss 002By the time Waller’s battalion arrived in the Philippines, the United States had been engaged with insurrectionists for quite some time.  The Filipino did not appreciate being under the thumb of the Spanish before 1898; they didn’t care about being under the thumb of the Americans afterwards, either.  What Bearss found upon arrival in these islands was a brutal guerrilla war.  Hiram Bearss is shown right while likely serving as a Major, U. S. Marine Corps.

Within his twenty years of service, Bearss received four of our nation’s highest awards for distinguished conduct during combat operations, including the Medal of Honor[1].  He additionally received high honors from France, Italy, and Belgium.  That he was a hard fighter there can be no doubt; he was one of the most decorated officers to serve at that time.  During World War I, Bearss briefly commanding the 5th Marine Regiment, and later served as executive officer of the 6th Marines, but most of his combat service was with Army units.  He commanded two separate battalions within the 9th US Infantry, commanded the 102nd US Infantry Regiment and 51st US Infantry Brigade.  Bearss was so effective as a combat leader that General Pershing attempted to promote him on several occasions, but since Bearss was a Marine officer, Pershing had no influence with the Marine Corps’ promotion system.

As previously mentioned, Bearss was also a hard drinker and this likely explains his difficulties not long after he returned home from France.  Bearss was assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia.  Bearss found the barracks unacceptably lax and Bearss, a strict disciplinarian, refused to tolerate any organization that failed to maintain the high standards for Marines.  Within a short time, subordinate officers filed charges against Bearss, claiming he was drunk on duty, that he used profanity while berating his officers in front of enlisted men.

Whether true, a hearing was convened at the orders of Major General George Barnett, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  At the time, it was well-known that Barnett did not like Bearss (in the same way he protected Ellis), and the issue suddenly became an internal political struggle.  Bearss had his highly-placed supporters, Barnett had his.

Bearss 003Still, after twenty-years of service, Colonel Hiram Bearss (shown right) suffered from the maladies attributed to almost any Marine with two or three decades of hard service, but in the case of Hiking Hiram, he’d been seriously injured from a fall from a horse, suffered injuries from the explosion of a mortar during the war, and suffered from painful feet.  The solution to this unhappy disciplinary problem was to order Bearss into medical retirement.  Colonel Bearss’ difficulties with Barnett (and others) may explain why he was never advanced to flag rank until 1936 (well after his retirement from active military service).  In any case, Colonel Bearss accepted a medical discharge in 1919.  He was killed in an automobile accident in 1938.

Two excellent accounts of Bearss can be found in two books by George B. Clark.  They are titled Hiram Iddings Bearss, U. S. Marine Corps: Biography of a World War I Hero, and His Road to Glory: the life and times of Hiking Hiram Bearss, Hoosier Marine.  Both books make excellent companions to such other works as The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U. S. Marines in World War I by Dick Camp and A Marine Tells It to You, by Colonel Frederick M. Wise.

Notes:

[1] The Medal of Honor was awarded to him for service in the Philippine Islands in 1901; at the time of this action, Bearss was serving as a captain.  The medal was not awarded to him until 18 years later when Bearss was serving as a colonel.

Pete Ellis —Oracle

EGA BlackUntil the advent of World War II, most individuals receiving commissions in the Army or Navy came from privileged backgrounds.  Likely as not, military service was a family tradition or the result of family influence; this is how many officers, such as George Patton, George Marshall, and Mark W. Clark were able to attend military academies.  People with meager incomes did not send their children to prestigious schools.  Then as now, responsibility for the purchase of uniforms and equipment fell upon those gaining a commission, purchase their own meals, and subject themselves to a certain social protocol.  Few could meet these expenses who did not have independent means.

There were exceptions to the silver spoon, of course.  Although Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley came from low-income families, their demonstrated brilliance during the entrance examinations to Annapolis and West Point helped to propel them forward as a commissioned officer.  Eisenhower would have accepted an appointment to Annapolis had he not been “too old” to receive a navy appointment.  He therefore accepted an appointment to the USMA[1].

In the Marine Corps, many famous officers were educated in civilian colleges and universities, and sought a commission subsequent to graduation.  Holland M. Smith, for example, was an attorney before receiving a Marine Corps commission.  Alexander Vandergrift received a commission while attending the University of Virginia.  Smedley D. Butler came from a family with significant political influence, Lewis B. Puller, Sr., attended the Virginia Military Institute.

Earl Hancock Ellis began his career as a Marine by enlisting as a private in 1900.  Within twelve months, Ellis had achieved the rank of corporal making him eligible to take an examination for a commission to Second Lieutenant.  Ellis received his commission in December 1901.

In spite of his reputation for brilliance, Ellis began to demonstrate some disappointment with life as an officer early in his career.  After receiving his initial training as a newly commissioned officer, the Marines ordered Ellis to the Philippines, where he served as the Adjutant of the First Regiment.  It was there that he wrote, “I think that this is the laziest life that a man could find —there is not a blamed thing to do except lay around, sleep, and go ‘bug house[2]’.  But all the same, I am helping to bear the white man’s burden.”

Subsequently ordered to command the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Kentucky, flagship of the Pacific Fleet, Ellis gained experience in fleet exercises, maintaining cordial relationships with foreign navies, and conducted visitations to Singapore, China, and Yokohama, Japan.  He returned to the United States in 1904 and received his promotion to first lieutenant in March of that year.  In the following years, Ellis served as a staff officer at Marine Barracks, Washington DC and as quartermaster at Mare Island, California.  During this period, he formed a warm friendship with Major George Barnett who, in a few short years, would become the 12th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

From 1906 to 1907, Ellis served as the Recruiting Officer in Oakland, California and Des Moines, Iowa.  Following another tour of duty at Mare Island, Ellis returned to the Philippines, this time serving as Adjutant of the Second Regiment, then commanded by “Hiking Hiram” Bearss.  Promoted to captain in 1908, his new commander, John A. Lejeune, commanding the Fourth Brigade, assigned Ellis as a company commander.  After Ellis attempted to liven up a boring dinner party by shooting water glasses sitting on the dinner table; Lejeune returned Ellis to administrative duties.

Ellis again reported to the Navy Yard in Washington for duty in May 1911, requesting assignment to aviation duty shortly thereafter.  Then Commandant William Biddle suggested that he attend the Naval War College instead.  After completing the year-long course, the Naval War College sought to retain Ellis on their staff of lecturers.  Ellis subsequently served as an intelligence officer at Headquarters Marine Corps, serving under then Colonel George Barnett.  He was particularly engaged in the planning of exercises involving the new Advance Base Force.  Barnett rated Ellis high in this assignment.

In February 1914, Barnett became the Commandant of the Marine Corps and soon thereafter, appointed Ellis to the joint Army-Navy Board to study the Defense of Guam.  After the outbreak of World War I, it was common to sight German and Japanese warships operating in the Marianas Islands.  This became a concern to Ellis.  In March, the Marine Corps assigned Ellis to the staff of Guam’s governor designate, Captain William J. Maxwell, USN; Ellis’ duties included that of staff secretary, intelligence officer, and chief of police.  It was at this time that Ellis began to display outward signs of acute alcoholism.

Captain Ellis returned once more to the Navy Yard Washington to assume duty as one of the Commandant’s aide-de-camps.  Colonel John Lejeune, who served as an assistant to the Commandant, had Ellis assigned to his staff.  In August 1916, the Marine Corps promoted Ellis to major —one-week before US involvement in World War I.  Barnett initially disapproved Ellis’ request for duty with combat forces, assigning him instead to help establish a new Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia where he also served as an officer instructor at the school for commissioned officers.

Barnett, who had persuaded the Secretary of War to involve the Marines in World War I, dispatched the Fifth Marines to join the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).  When the War Department additionally ordered the Sixth Marines to France, Colonel Lejeune received orders to join the AEF and he took Major Ellis with him.  Colonel Lejeune discovered the AEF somewhat of a mess.  Upon arrival, Lejeune found himself attached to the 64th Brigade, 32nd Division.  Ellis’ initial assignment was as Adjutant, Wisconsin National Guard; he was later assigned to a French division.  Lejeune was able to persuade Pershing to form a Marine Brigade around the Fifth and Sixth Regiments under his command; when approved, Ellis became the Brigade Adjutant.  When Lejeune later assumed command of the Second US Division, he assigned Ellis the additional duty of Division Inspector.  Major Ellis is credited with the planning of the St. Mihiel (Champagne) Offensive, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the attack and capture of Mont Blanc.  Senior officers attributed the success of these operations to Ellis’ brilliance in planning, aggressive tactics, his personal courage, and his resourcefulness under demanding conditions.  Brigadier General Wendell Neville recommended Ellis for accelerated promotion to full colonel.  While Ellis never saw that promotion, he did receive the Navy Cross, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Croix de Guerre, and Legion d’honneur Chevalier.

Ellis returned to the United States in November 1919.  Within a few months, however, Ellis found himself hospitalized with diagnoses of deep depression, delirium, and neurasthenia —all of which stemmed from his acute alcoholism.  In these days, the Marine Corps was much like a fraternal organization.  Most officers knew one another on a personal basis.  Additionally, military authority did not recognize alcoholism as a serious disease; it was, rather, seen as something of a character flaw.  It was a condition prompting friends and superiors alike to cover up the problem.  Foremost among these friends of Pete Ellis was John A. Lejeune, who had been covering up for Ellis since his shooting demonstration in the Philippines.

Medical authorities returned Ellis to full duty in April 1920 and within a few weeks, Ellis reported to Brigadier General Logan Feland in Santo Domingo where Ellis helped to form the Guardia Nacional.  It was a short-lived assignment, for within a few months, both Feland and Ellis received orders to report to Marine Corps headquarters.  Lejeune assigned Ellis to head the intelligence section within the Division of Operations and Training.

During this assignment, Ellis prepared an essay regarding the details of military and civil operations required while eradicating subversives and insurgents.  He titled his report “Bush Brigades,” and although later printed in the Marine Corps Gazette (March, 1921), its controversial nature caused authorities to initially pigeonhole the document.

Toward the end of 1920, General Lejeune and his senior staff began to focus on contingency war plans in the event of hostilities in the Pacific against Imperial Japan.  Revising War Plan Orange, which implemented the study of the Marine Corps’ role in amphibious operations, Major Ellis produced the prophetic document titled, Operation Plan 712: Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia.  The underlying notion here was that in the event of hostilities between the United States and Japan, Marine Corps Advanced Base Forces would support the United States Naval Fleet.

The Territory of Hawaii constituted the only support for the U. S. Navy due to a lack of adequate facilities in the Philippines and Guam.  Ellis was convinced that Hawaii would become a primary target for Japanese attack.  Moreover, Japan had already occupied the Marshall, Caroline, and Palau Islands[3], which flanked the US lines of communication in the region by more than 2,300 miles.  Ellis concluded that Japan would initiate the war, and furthermore, that Japan would remain close to their own territorial waters until encountered by the United States Fleet.  Along with these predictions, Ellis anticipated great losses to the Marine forces during an amphibious assault.  He advised war planners to avoid blue-water transfers, suggesting instead finalization of task force arrangements before leaving base ports.

Major Ellis concluded:

  • A major fleet action will decide the war in the Pacific
  • The US Fleet will be 25% superior to that of the enemy
  • The enemy will hold his main fleet within his own defensive line
  • Preliminary activities of the US fleet must be accomplished with a minimum of assets
  • Marine Corps forces must be self-sustaining
  • Long, drawn out operations must be avoided to afford the fleet its greatest protection
  • Fleet objectives must include adequate anchorage

Ellis 002In April 1921, Lieutenant Colonel Ellis submitted an official request to the Commandant of the Marine Corps to conduct a clandestine reconnaissance mission to the Central Pacific.  At the same time, he submitted his undated resignation, in order to prevent embarrassment to the United States should his operation turn out to be a less than completely clandestine affair.  Shortly afterward, Ellis was back in the hospital for additional treatment.

On 4 May 1921, Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., approved Ellis’ request —but this was not a simple matter of giving Ellis a thumbs up.  By this time, Ellis was a highly rated American intelligence officer.  Ellis had to convince the entire command structure of the Marine Corps that his was a worthy plan with a high likelihood that the plan could be carried out.  Additionally, the Office of Naval Intelligence had to concur, along with the Chief of Naval Operations.

As part of his cover, Ellis became a sales representative with the Hughes Trading Company, owned by a medically retired Marine officer that Ellis had known since 1902.  Thus cleverly disguised, Ellis visited relatives in Kansas, proceeded to San Francisco, and shipped to New Zealand and Australia aboard the American President Lines in May 1921.  He arrived in the Far East in September 1921, and was again hospitalized in Manila, now adding dysfunctional kidneys to his other alcohol-related issues.

After his hospitalization in Manila, Ellis traveled to Yokohama, Japan where he arranged for authorization to travel to the mandated islands.  Unfortunately, Ellis’ drinking problem was getting worse by the day.  At one point, Ellis disclosed details of his mission to an attending physician in September 1922.  The physician immediately met with the local Naval Attaché, who, acting on the instructions given to him by the Ambassador, ordered Ellis to return to the United States on the next ship.  Ellis ignored these orders, cabled for $1,000 from his pay account, and shipped out for Saipan.

Ellis’ days were by now numbered.  Not only were agents of Naval Intelligence keeping tabs, so too were Japanese intelligence agents.  It is at this point that one should wonder, “Is there anyone in the Far East who did not know what Colonel Ellis was up to?”  From this point on, Japanese officials kept track of his every move.  They no doubt watched him as he prepared detailed maps and charts of Saipan, of the Carolines, Marshalls, Yap, and Palaus.  They followed Mr. Ellis to Kusaie, Jaluit, the Marshals, Kwajalein, Ponape, Celebes, and New Guinea.  While in Koror, Ellis met a Palauan woman whom he married, but the fact is that Ellis was getting worse by the day.

Japanese police were called to investigate a looting in the home of Mr. William Gibbons, a friend of Colonel Ellis.  As it turned out, Ellis looted the man’s home, looking for whiskey.  Later that day, sympathetic Japanese police delivered to Ellis two bottles of American whiskey, which he promptly consumed.  The Japanese knew how to deal with a drunk. The next morning, May 13, 1923, Colonel Ellis was dead and all of his maps, all of his papers were confiscated by Japanese authorities; none of those has ever been seen again.

Normally a story ends with the death of its main character, but not so with the story of Pete Ellis.  In Early July 1923, the U. S. Navy sent Chief Pharmacist Mate Lawrence Zembsch to retrieve Ellis’ body and return it for proper burial in the United States.  Chief Zembsch had previously treated Ellis, so he would be able to positively identify the body.  Chief Zembsch traveled to Palau via Japanese steamer, returning to Yokosuka on August 14, 1923 babbling incoherently.  In his possession was an urn that allegedly contained the remains of Colonel Ellis.  Chief Zembsch had been heavily drugged.  By the end of the month, Zembsch had improved to the point where he could answer questions.  On 1 September 1923, Zembsch’s wife arrived early for her daily visitation.  She intended to stay only until lunch, after which investigators would begin to question Chief Zembsch about his trip to the Palaus.

As Mrs. Zembsch prepared to leave her husband, at 11:42 AM on 1 September 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, transforming the Naval Hospital into a pile of splinters.  Chief Zembsch and his wife perished.  What did remain was a small urn in a security vault of the hospital, a small note taped to the outside reading Ashes of LtCol Earl H. Ellis, USMC, died Palau, 12 May 1923.

Ellis 003The story of Colonel Pete Ellis is interesting, but also disappointing.  In spite of his brilliance as a planner, he was not a very good spy.  The officers who sent him out to do this kind of work, including one preeminent officer who lectured all Marines about leadership, knew that Ellis was physically and mentally unsuitable for doing it —and yet, he allowed Ellis to proceed.  A Tokyo news dispatch tends to support my proposition:: published in mid-May 1923 the report stated, “Colonel Earl Ellis of the United States Marine Corps was accidently killed in a prohibited area of the Caroline Islands.”

Some believed that the whiskey provided to Ellis had been poisoned, including Brother Gregorio Oraquieta, SJ.  He stated that it was his understanding that the Japanese poisoned Ellis while residing on the Palau Islands[4].  The fact is, it probably did not matter whether the Japanese poisoned him.  Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis had been a dead-man-walking for a very long time.  Now we must ponder whether this fiasco made the lives of occidentals living under Japanese authority in Micronesia more difficult.

Notes:

[1] My blog-friend friend “Christian Soldier” will positively hate reading this.

[2] “Bug House” is a term used for stir crazy.  Ellis’ comment may be our earliest indication that he was prone to calm his restless spirit with intoxicating liquors.

[3] As a member of the Triple Entente, Japan began to occupy the Northern Marianas in 1914.  At the conclusion of World War I, many formerly German-held islands in the Pacific were entrusted by the League of Nations to Japanese control as the “South Pacific Mandate.”

[4] Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, Thomas E. Devine, Richard M. Dailey, American Traveler Press, 1987

Who Was Willoughby?

In February 1942, General Douglas MacArthur (shown left) (who formerly served as Army Chief of Staff and then after retirement, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army) scampered away from the Philippine Islands and headed toward Australia, thereby avoiding capture by a massive Japanese invasion of the Philippines.  He did this at the direction of the President of the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt).  When he departed aboard U. S. Navy patrol/torpedo boats and seaplanes, MacArthur took with him his family, his personal staff, and his intelligence officer —Colonel Charles Willoughby, Army of the United States (AUS)[1].  Willoughby continued to serve on MacArthur’s staff until that fateful day on 10 April 1951 when President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur of his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East and sent him into retirement.

Charles Andrew Willoughby (depicted right), born on March 8, 1892, died October 25, 1972, eventually served as a Major General in the United States Army.  He was born in Heidelberg, Germany as Adolph Karl Weidenbach, the son of Baron T. Tscheppe-Weidenbach—but this was disputed by a New York Journal reporter in 1952[2].  Some uncertainty remains about who this man was, as well as his family lineage.  What we are certain about is that Willoughby migrated from Germany to the United States in 1910.

In October 1910, Willoughby enlisted in the U. S. Army, and over the next three years he served with the US Fifth Infantry Division, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In 1913, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army and attended college at Gettysburg College.  Having already attended three years at the University of Heidelberg and the Sorbonne (Paris), Willoughby enrolled as a senior, graduating in 1914.  Actually, we do not know for certain that he actually did attend Heidelberg University, or the Sorbonne.  In any case, Willoughby received a commission to second lieutenant in in the officer’s volunteer reserve, U. S. Army, in 1914.  At this juncture, his name was Adolph Charles Weidenbach[3].  He spent three years teaching German and military studies at various prep-schools in the United States, and then on 27 July 1916 he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant; he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the same day.  He rose to the rank of captain in 1917 and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Willoughby later transferred from the infantry to the US Army Air Corps; his training as a pilot was conducted by the French military.  After some involvement with a French female by the name of Elyse Raimonde DeRoche, who was later shot as a spy, Weidenbach was recalled to Washington and asked to account for his pro-German sentiments.  He was eventually cleared of suspicions in this regard.

Following World War I, Willoughby/Weidenbach was assigned to the 24th Infantry in New Mexico from 1919 to 1921, and was then posted to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he served in military intelligence.  He subsequently served as a Military Attaché in Ecuador and for unclear reasons, Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government (shown right).  Beginning in the 1920s, Willoughby became an ardent admirer of Spanish General Francisco Franco, whom he referred to as the greatest general in the world[4].

In 1929, Willoughby/Weidenbach received orders to the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He became an instructor there in 1936, and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Throughout World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, Willoughby served as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.  MacArthur is said to have jokingly referred to Willoughby as “My pet fascist”.  He is also quoted as having said of Willoughby, “There have been three great intelligence officers in history: mine is not one of them.”

Author John Robert Ferris (Intelligence and Strategy: selected essays) stated that MacArthur’s pronouncement could be a gross understatement.  He described Willoughby as a candidate for the worst intelligence officer in the Second World War.  As an example, in early 1944, in the largest landing of the Pacific war to that date, four infantry divisions were employed in the taking of Hallandia, Dutch New Guinea.  Willoughby had reported sizable Japanese forces there.  Accordingly, the entire Pacific Fleet stood out to sea to screen the landing.  Surrendering to this mighty force were two thousand frightened Japanese warehouse and supply troops.  The operation was completely in line with MacArthur’s policy of “hitting them where they ain’t,” and so Willoughby’s misappraisal was conveniently filed and forgotten.

Willoughby was temporarily promoted to major general on 12 April 1945.

After the war, Willoughby was instrumental in arranging the exoneration of a Japanese war criminal by the name of Lieutenant General (Medical) Shirõ Ishii[5] (Unit 731) in exchange for information about biological warfare.  This was not his only debacle:

Willoughby (apparently with the approval of MacArthur) made a weak grab for the US counterintelligence effort.  Counterintelligence was not under Willoughby’s umbrella, but he and MacArthur had been stonewalling the OSS since the beginning of World War II.  What we can say with certitude, however, is that the inadequacy of US counterintelligence in Japan can be attributed to either Willoughby’s (or MacArthur’s) incompetence or his professional negligence.  When US forces occupied Japan, there was no counterintelligence effort.  One news reporter discovered the Japanese Foreign Office, Radio Tokyo, and various military offices openly burning classified documents in the middle of the street, denying this information to the occupying force.  There were no counterintelligence officers present in Japan to stop them.

Commanding the 8th US Army, General Robert Eichelberger lacked the benefit of counterintelligence advice when he welcomed the commander of the Japanese Army in Yokohama.  General Kenji Doihara was also Japan’s top intelligence officer; it was he who had engineered in 1931 the incident leading to Japan taking over Manchuria.  Eicrhelberger thought that Doihara was a “splendid little fellow.”  It was only the next day after Eicrhelberger this meeting was reported through intelligence channels to Washington DC that MacArthur ordered Doihara’s arrest.

Not long after the US occupation began, military police arrived at the Marunouchi Hotel looking for black-market operators.  What they found was Major General Willoughby having dinner with the stranded Italian Fascist Ambassador to Japan and members of his staff[6].  Naturally, Willoughby vented his anger at the military police, who were only doing their jobs.

Willoughby’s service in Japan lacks clarity unless it also reveals his vendetta against critics, or those guilty of lèse-majesté toward MacArthur.  Consequently, Willoughby spent as much time and energy to his dossiers on newsmen and military heretics as he did to reports on enemy dispositions.  William Costello from CBS decided that he much preferred digging up his own material about the Japanese rather than using handouts supplied by MacArthur’s headquarters.  How did Willoughby deal with this situation?  He sent people around to discuss with Costello what might happen if his communist membership card from the 1930s became public knowledge.  Costello was underwhelmed; he had never been a communist.  Digging in, Costello became a one-man anti-Willoughby campaigner, telling anyone and everyone who would listen what a creep Willoughby was.  By 1948, Costello was winning this war; so much so, in fact, that MacArthur invited him to a stag party.  If Costello ever attended the party, let’s hope he kept his clothes on.

Leopards never change their spots.  During the Korean War, Willoughby intentionally distorted, if not suppressed intelligence estimates that resulted in the death, injury, or captivity of thousands of American military personnel.  He did this, it is argued, to better support MacArthur’s horribly negligent (or grossly incompetent) assertion that the Chinese Army would never cross the Yalu River … and in doing so, allow MacArthur a much freer hand in his prosecution of the Korean campaign —by keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington DC (and the President) in the dark.

As writer/historian David Halberstam[7] reminded us, “Control intelligence, you control decision making.”  Halberstam argues that Willoughby was appointed head of intelligence for Korea due to his sycophancy toward MacArthur and points out that many veterans of the Korean War, enlisted and officer, believed that the lack of proper intelligence led field commanders to develop inadequate employment plans such that they could not provide combat support to one another.  Entire Chinese infantry divisions passed through the gaps that existed between forward deployed American units.

In late 1950, Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles served in the operations section of the US 10th Corps.  He later stated that because MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war, Willoughby falsified intelligence reports so that they wouldn’t enter the war.  “He should have gone to jail,” Chiles said.

Willoughby never went to jail, however.  He retired from the Army in grade of major general on August 31, 1951.  In retirement, he lobbied for Generalissimo Francisco Franco … true colors.

True to form, Willoughby launched a broadside in Cosmopolitan after his retirement against certain correspondents and commentators critical of MacArthur’s strategy. His targets included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most able war correspondents and a Pulitzer Prize winner; Hal Boyle, front-line correspondent for the Associated Press; Hanson Baldwin, military specialist of the New York Times; Joseph Alsop, syndicated columnist; and Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator.

There was nothing diplomatic in Willoughby’s handling of MacArthur’s critics.  He called them rag-pickers of American literature, men who were addicted to yellow journalism, sensationalists, men whose reporting provided aid and comfort to the enemy.  The newsmen replied to Willoughby with equal vigor, but the mildest reply was offered by Hanson Baldwin: “As an intelligence officer, General Willoughby was widely and justly criticized by Pentagon officials as well as in the papers. His . . . article is as misleading and inaccurate as were some of his intelligence reports.”  Gordon Walker, correspondent and later an assistant foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said: “There is strong evidence . . . that General MacArthur’s staff withheld intelligence information on Chinese intervention —from the President and from front-line corps and division commanders— Frontline commanders who ordered their troops into battle without prior knowledge that they faced overwhelming odds…”

Willoughby reminds us of several things: first, more important than what a man says is what he does.  We cannot claim that integrity is one of Willoughby’s virtues.  Neither does a man become a saint simply because he wears an American military uniform.  Willoughby died on 25 October 1972 —just in time for dia del diablo.  To our everlasting shame as a nation, we buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] The Army of the United States is the legal name of the “land forces of the United States” (United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 and United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Chapter 301, Section 3001) and has been used in this context since at least 1841, as in the title: General Regulations for the Army of the United States. The Army, or Armies of the United States includes the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve (as well as any volunteer or conscripted forces).  Someone receiving an officer’s commission into the Army of the United States holds a temporary appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

[2] The Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen, a standard catalogue of German gentry, does not help to clear up this matter.  According to this document, General Franz Erich Theodor Tülff von Tschepe und Weidenbach lacked the title “Freiherr” and never received letters of patent from Emperor Wilhelm II entitling him to use the surname “von Tschepe und Weidenbach” until 1913.  By this time, he had five children; none of them were born in 1892.

[3] At some point before 1930, Weidenbach changed his name to Charles Andrew Willoughby, which is a loose translation of Weidenbach, German meaning Willow-brook.  In any case, Willoughby was fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese.

[4] I can only imagine what MacArthur later thought about such intense feelings toward some other general.

[5] Responsible for the death and suffering of more than 10,000 allied military personnel during World War II.

[6] Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1930s.

[7] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Bravest Marine …

EGA BlackWhen the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Chew-fen Lee was a high school student who answered to the name Kurt. He had voluntarily associated himself with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). In 1944, the 18-year old engineering student joined the United States Marine Corps. Standing barely 5’6” tall, weighing only 130 pounds, Lee made sure he measured up to the high standards for U. S. Marines by working harder than everyone else; he transformed himself into a wiry, muscular leatherneck. After graduating from boot camp, the Marine Corps assigned Lee to Japanese Language School. After graduating from the school, the Marine Corps retained him as a language instructor. By the end of the war, Lee had earned promotion to sergeant and was accepted to attend officer training school.

Major Chew-fen Lee USMCFrom October 1945 to April 1946, Lee attended The Basic School for newly commissioned Marine Corps officers. Upon graduation, Second Lieutenant Lee became the first non-white officer and the first Asian-American officer in Marine Corps history. At this time, Lieutenant Lee deployed to Guam and China to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war.

At the beginning of the Korean War, First Lieutenant Lee commanded 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel Homer Litzenberg at Camp Pendleton, California. In late August 1950, the 7th Marines received a warning order to prepare to move out; Lieutenant Lee decided to set an example for other Chinese Americans to follow. He later recounted, “I wanted to dispel the notion about Chinese being meek and obsequious.” He did not expect to survive the Korean War.

The 7th Marines shipped out on 1 September 1950; while aboard ship, Lieutenant Lee drilled his Marines night and day on the main deck —enduring derision from his contemporary lieutenants. After arriving in Japan, Lee’s superiors attempted to assign him as a staff officer handling translation duties, but Lee insisted he was there to fight communists and he retained command of his platoon.

Navy Cross MedalThe 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at Inchon, Korea on 21 September 1950. The 7th Marines joined up with the 1st and 5th Marines in their northward movement, forcing the North Korean army into a retreat. Lieutenant Lee and his Marines endured vicious street fighting in Seoul as part of operations Hook, Reno, and Vegas. Subsequently, the Marines were withdrawn from Soul, re-embarked aboard shipping, and made another amphibious landing at Wonsan, along the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula.

By early November, the communist Chinese decided to augment withdrawing Korean forces. On the night of 2-3 November in the Sudong Gorge, Chinese forces attacked Lee’s unit. Lee kept his men focused by directing them to shoot at the enemy’s muzzle flashes. Lee single-handedly advanced upon the enemy’s front and attacked their positions one at a time to draw fire and reveal their positions. Lee’s men fired at the muzzle flashes and inflicted heavy casualties. This action forced the Chinese to retreat. Lee, shouting to the Chinese in Mandarin, confused them and at this time, he attacked the Chinese with hand grenades and gunfire. This action earned Lieutenant Lee the Navy Cross medal for heroism under fire. The lieutenant suffered gunshot wounds to his left knee and right arm.

Five days later, the hospitalized Lieutenant Lee learned that the Army intended to send him to Japan for recuperation; he and another Marine stole an Army jeep and drove back to his unit on the front at the Chosin Reservoir. Upon arrival, Lee’s battalion commander assigned him command of the 2nd Platoon, Company B. Lee commanded his platoon while his arm was in a sling.

Late on 2 December, Lieutenant Lee was ordered to spearhead a 500-man thrust against the Chinese forces in an effort to relieve a vastly outnumbered Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines at a place called Toktong Pass —a strategic location controlling the main road to the Chosin Reservoir. Lee’s platoon, weighted down with heavy equipment, advanced through -20° temperatures and under limited visibility due to blizzards and darkness. Lee’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, had no special instructions for Lee—other than to stay off the roads and avoid heavily defended roadblocks.

Silver Star MedalLieutenant Lee placed himself at the point of his platoon and used only his compass to guide the battalion in a single file over treacherous terrain. Suddenly, heavy enemy fire pinned Lee down below a rocky hill. Refusing this delay, Lee directed his men to attack the hill with “marching fire,” a stratagem used by George S. Patton in which troops continue to advance as they apply suppression fires against the enemy. Upon reaching the rocky hill, Lee and his men attacked the Chinese in their foxholes. Lee, with his arm still in a plaster cast, shot two communists on his way to the apex of the hill. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw that the Chinese foxholes were all constructed facing the other way, where the Chinese expected the Marines to attack. The foxholes were all empty, however. Lieutenant Lee’s attack had driven the Chinese into retreat.

Following this success, 1/7 established communications with Fox Company and Lieutenant Lee led Baker Company forward in an attack that forced a path to the beleaguered Fox. During this attack, Lee received another wound in the upper part of his right arm, above his cast. Undeterred, Lee regrouped his company and led them in several more firefights against pockets of enemy resistance. On 8 December, a Chinese machine gun wounded Lee seriously enough to end his Korean War service. Lee received the Silver Star medal for his attack against superior numbers of Chinese regulars. For his wounds, he received two Purple Heart medals.

During the Vietnam War, Major Lee served as the 3rd Marine Division combat intelligence officer; he retired from active duty in 1968. In 2000, then retired General Ray Davis described Kurt Lee as, “… the bravest Marine I ever knew.” One would expect that the Marine Corps would promote Lee above the rank of Major, and many attribute this to his “pugnacious” nature when dealing with superior officers, who continually criticized him for his aggressive “chip on the shoulder” demeanor. Major Lee’s response was truculent. “My chip is a teaching tool to dispel ignorance.”

UPDATE

Major Lee passed away at his home on 3 March 2014.  He was 88 years old.  Semper Fidelis, Major Lee —I have admired your courage and your example to all Marines.

Task Force MacLean-Faith

As stated in my banner, this blog mostly contains stories about Marines … but I have also included articles involving Air Force, Army, and Navy personnel.  This article will be about a U. S. Army unit in Korea.  It should be read within this framework: elements of the 7th US Infantry Division operated in conjunction with the 1st Marine Division at a place in North Korea known as the Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir.  One of these elements was effectively destroyed in the fighting that took place there.

Background

In 1950, General Douglas MacArthur (shown at right) served as Supreme Allied Commander, United Nations Command (Far East).  He concurrently served as Commander, U. S. Army Forces (Far East).  It was MacArthur’s responsibility to establish an allied force order of battle —essentially an organizational outline reflecting a chain of command within the operating forces.

Responsibility for military operations in Korea was assigned to the Eighth US Army (VIII Army), then commanded by Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, USA.  On paper, Walker’s Army consisted of the Army’s I Corps, IX Corps, and X Corps.  Walker’s direct superior in the chain of command was Douglas MacArthur.  Whether MacArthur lacked confidence in General Walker’s command of a field Army is far beyond my paygrade, but the fact is that General MacArthur stripped 8th Army of its X Corps making it independent of General Walker’s command, answerable directly to himself.

Matters were further compounded by MacArthur’s selection of the officer to command X Corps.  In addition to command of X Corps (a combat command) Major General Edward M. (Ned) Almond concurrently served MacArthur as Chief of Staff, U. S. Army Forces, (Far East) (a senior staff position).  Apparently, because Major General Almond reported directly to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, he felt there was no reason to keep Walker (a mere lieutenant general) informed of X Corps operations.

In combat, as we shall see, this is a recipe for disaster.

Major General Almond previously commanded the 2nd Infantry Division (8 months) and the 92nd Infantry Division[1].  It is difficult for me to understand how any officer as inept, or as maladroit as Almond could ever have reached flag rank.  Almond eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant General, but in my opinion, he should never have been promoted beyond major.

In 1950, the United States was unprepared for war.  In the aftermath of World War II, President Truman reduced the strength of Army, Air Force, and Navy commands such that they were no longer combat effective.  Worse, Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivered a speech on 12 January 1950 which failed to mention the Korean Peninsula as part of the United States’ post-war defense perimeter.  The inference here was that the United States government did not view South Korea as having much importance in Truman’s domino theory.  Accordingly, Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-sung believed that they had a “green light” to invade South Korea.  This level of incompetence would guarantee the loss of the lives of military personnel from the United States and United Nations member nations.

Invade South Korea is exactly what Kim Il-sung did, with the full support of the Soviet Union.  At this juncture, it would take some time to rebuild America’s Armed Forces.  The problem is, of course, there was no time for renewal, so most of the commands Truman committed to the Korean War went as they were. In this post-war environment, Army combat and combat service support units were understrength, poorly trained, and poorly led.

Standardized military organizations have existed since the days of the Roman Republic; in the United States, ground forces are organized as follows: armies have three corps and very often include other supporting units; a corps is composed of three divisions (with additional, reinforcing elements); there are three infantry regiments in a division (with additional reinforcements), three battalions in a regiment, three infantry companies and a weapons company in a battalion, three platoons and a weapons platoon in a company, and three squads in an infantry platoon.

Because American ground forces were dramatically understrength in 1950, the Department of Defense relied upon UN forces to bolster US combat forces.  In June 1950, the Army’s X Corps included  the US 7th Infantry Division (Major General David G. Barr), US 3rd Infantry Division (Major General Robert H. Soule), and the 1st Marine Division (Major General Oliver P. Smith).  All three of these divisions were initially understrength.

At the beginning of the Korean conflict in mid-July 1950, General MacArthur began pulling soldiers away from the 7th Infantry Division and sending them to fill in the ranks of the 25th Infantry Division in Korea.  Within a short time, the 7th Infantry Division only consisted of 9,000 men; its wartime strength was 25,000.  The U. S. Army Service Command (Far East) began to augment the 7th with 8,000 poorly trained Korean conscripts; to this was later added a battalion of Ethiopians.  Similarly, the 3rd Infantry Division had but two regiments; this division was augmented by Koreans, Belgians, and Greek infantry.  General Almond directed one full regiment to serve as X Corps reserve, resulting in only two-thirds of a division remaining available to the 3rd Infantry Division commander for combat operations.

President Truman wanted a quick end to the Korean War, but he didn’t want to precipitate another world war.  So Truman did what we have come to expect from politicians: he vacillated.  He wanted MacArthur to move with speed to occupy North Korea and, if possible, push the North Korean army completely off the map, but he also restricted MacArthur’s operations at or below the 38th parallel.  The JCS later rescinded this restriction, telling MacArthur to operate as he saw fit.  Accordingly, MacArthur ordered the 8th (VIII) Army and Ten (X) Corps to proceed to the Yalu River (North Korea’s border with China).  Observing MacArthur’s movements, China warned him not to approach China’s border; MacArthur wasn’t listening.

North Korean terrain ranks among the most mountainous in the world.  This is significant because mountains hinder communications and terrain dictates ground movement.  With mountain ranges running generally north to south, military units were separated from one another by high elevations.  Moreover, limited roads were vulnerable to blockage by enemy units.  There was a single main supply route (MSR) from Wonsan to the point of furthest advance, Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir.

The location of Marine and Army units in the Chosin operating area is reflected on the map (right).  This map tells us two stories: the first underscores Ned Almond’s ineptitude.  He pushed units so far forward that resupply of these units became a major undertaking.  Forward units were disbursed, exposing them to enemy attack.  Both Almond and MacArthur refused to acknowledge what everyone else knew to be a fact: the presence in North Korea of large numbers of Chinese troops.    The second story tells us what happened to Regimental Combat Team-31 (commonly referred to today as Task Force Faith) —and why.

Almond ordered Major General Barr (7th Infantry Division) to provide a regimental sized force to operate on the right flank of the 1st Marine Division.  In earlier operations, the 7th Infantry Division had become widely dispersed and isolated from one another.  The immediacy of Almond’s directive made it impossible to assemble a full-strength RCT before moving north.  Complying with X Corps orders, RCT-31[2] moved forward to cover the eastern flank of the Marine division with incomplete coordination with the Marines, who were then operating south and west of the Chosin Reservoir.

RCT-31 was initially commanded by Colonel Allan MacLean; the combat team included 3/31, 1/32, two batteries of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, and one platoon of Battery D, 15th Anti-aircraft Battalion.  It was short one full battalion of infantry and a tank company.

MacLean moved forward on 27 November 1950 and occupied two separate positions along a ten mile stretch along the east side of the reservoir.  Not anticipating enemy activity[3], MacLean’s battalions prepared inadequate perimeter defenses (which is to say linear rather than 360 degrees of security, or “an all-around” defense).  Colonel MacLean intended to move his command forward the next morning (28 November 1950).  During the night, however, undetected Chinese forces infiltrated the area; once in place, they launched a devastating attack on elements of RCT-31 and the Marines.  MacLean asked for, and received a temporary postponement of the planned offensive.

Early the next morning, General Almond flew to RCT-31’s position and after conferring with MacLean, concluded that here was no evidence of any presence of Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). Almond demanded that MacLean continue his northern movement, but then contradicted himself by saying, “The enemy who is delaying you for the moment is nothing more than remnants of Chinese divisions fleeing north.  We’re still attacking and we’re going all the way to the Yalu.  Don’t let a bunch of Chinese laundry-men stop you.”

Convinced that RCT-31 was strong enough to begin its attack and deal with these so-called remnants of enemy troops moving north, Almond returned to his headquarters.  Meanwhile, large numbers of Chinese forces occupied the eastern hills overlooking RCT-31’s southern-most position.  MacLean continued to anticipate the arrival of his third infantry battalion and a tank company.

The reinforcements never arrived.

Unknown to Colonel MacLean, China’s reinforced 80th Infantry Division soon surrounded RCT-31.  When RCT-31’s much-awaited tank company reached Hagaru-ri, the column discovered the presence of a well-situated Chinese blocking force.  During this engagement, the tank company lost four of its tanks and withdrew to consolidate its remaining forces.  The tank company renewed its attack on the next morning, but it too failed; the remnants of the tank company withdrew to the small village of Hudong, 4 miles south of RCT-31’s position.

The Marines to the west were also under an overwhelming attack; as a result, they were unable to assist RCT-31.  MacLean’s missing battalion never materialized, but he made no effort to contact his higher headquarters to inform them of his situation.  Perhaps MacLean was intimidated by the blustering Major General Almond.

Chinese forces made another attack on the night of 28 November and succeeded in overrunning several RCT-31 positions.  Their attack against 1/32 included North Korean tanks and self-propelled artillery.  During the attack, weather conditions rapidly deteriorated; heavy snow began to accumulate and temperatures plunged to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Low visibility denied the RCT defenders any clear picture of the enemy’s movements.  That night, American troops suffered from intense cold; several soldiers froze to death in their foxholes.  Colonel MacLean decided to develop a stronger defense position.  He ordered 1/32 to pull back south into the main perimeter.

China’s 27th Corps then committed its 241st Regiment and RCT-31 was now facing two Chinese infantry divisions.  While 1/32 moved south under the protection of 40 Marine ground support aircraft, Air Force cargo planes dropped supplies into RCT-31’s southern-most position.

After consolidating his force, Colonel MacLean observed what he believed was the approach of long-awaited reinforcements.  What Maclean observed was the approach of a Chinese force.  In this encounter, MacLean was mortally wounded.  Command of RCT-31 now fell to the next senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Don Faith, commander of 1/32.

Faith immediately consolidated his force and formed a proper perimeter.  The Chinese intensified their attack.  The severely understrength RCT fought off a massive assault by two full enemy divisions.  Marine aircraft supported the RCT throughout the day.  The battle continued for two additional days.

All attacks against the RCT’s perimeter were successfully repulsed, but Faith was running low on ammunition.  Half of his force had been killed or wounded.  Realizing that he was surrounded and outnumbered, Colonel Faith decided to break out of the defense and fight his way toward Marine lines to his west.  He intended to take as little of his equipment as possible —only enough vehicles to carry his wounded.  He destroyed excess equipment, permitting the assignment of additional soldiers to infantry roles.

Faith’s break out began on 1 December; Navy and Marine Corps aircraft strafed and bombed Chinese positions as Task Force Faith made its way down a gravel road east of Chosin.  Faith’s progress was interrupted, however, when Corsairs mistakenly dropped ordnance on Faith’s southward moving lead elements; several troops were killed; others horribly burned by napalm.  This unfortunate incident seriously demoralized soldiers already under great stress.  Then, as the forward elements continued their southern movement, heavy small arms fire caused the rear-guard echelon (operating further north along the MSR) to seek shelter in a gully below the roadway.  In doing so, they abandoned their wounded comrades.  Enemy fire killed many of the RCT’s wounded and the drivers of the trucks.  By late afternoon, Faith was able to get the column moving again but he soon ran into a reinforced Chinese roadblock.  Several companies attacked the Chinese; one of these was led by Colonel Faith, who was mortally wounded.

It was at this point that darkness closed in … and with it, the end of protective air support.  Chinese infantry assaults grew bolder, penetrating ever closer to the remnants of RCT-31.  With their commander now dead, the combat team disintegrated; most of the officers and senior NCOs were either dead or wounded.  Leaderless soldiers wandered off across the frozen reservoir seeking safety.  Army tanks and soldiers previously encamped at the small village of Hudong might have saved some of these soldiers, but they had been ordered back to Hagaru-ri the previous day.

The Chinese stepped up their assault with intense small arms fire and white phosphorus grenades, wantonly murdering the wounded and incapacitated; within some elements of RCT-31, the situation quickly degenerated into every man for himself.

Eventually, nearly 400 able-bodied survivors of Task Force Faith were formed into an Army provisional battalion that fought alongside the Marines during their withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir.  Other Army units were brought into the Marine lines as well, including what was left of the 31st Tank Company —assigned to reinforce the 5th Marine Regiment.

Eleven hundred soldiers were too badly wounded or frostbitten to fight; they were evacuated through the heroic efforts of U. S. Air Force pilots and support personnel.  Of its original strength of 3,000 soldiers, one-third of RCT-31 were killed in action.

RCT-31 was the largest American unit ever destroyed in combat.

Commentary

There is ample room for criticism in any discussion about the Chosin Reservoir campaign.  In my view, the severest criticism is properly assigned to Harry S. Truman and his defense secretary, but with equal measure to Douglas MacArthur and Ned Almond.

Major General Barr sent a regimental combat team into hostile territory at about two-thirds of its combat strength.  Considering the weight of the Chinese forces thrown against RCT-31, we must wonder if an additional battalion would have made a difference.  Still, General Barr deserves censure for lacking the moral courage to refuse an inane order from Almond.

Colonel MacLean executed his orders, but one should imagine that a senior infantry officer would have prepared a better defense during hours of darkness.

The mistaken bombing of forward elements of RCT-31 by Marine aircraft is an unspeakable tragedy; these things do happen.  I cannot imagine how the pilot felt when he later learned what he’d done.  It is bad enough losing good men to the enemy; being killed by friendly fire is the worst of all scenarios.

The soldiers of RCT-31 were young, inexperienced, and poorly trained.  They were certainly poorly led by their field generals.  The battle-loss of senior officers and NCOs provided an opportunity for junior officers to seize the moment; they didn’t.  Who were the officers in the rear-guard?  Why did they allow their troops to sacrifice their incapacitated comrades?

I do believe that RCT-31 has been unfairly maligned in statements made by Marines at the time, and in subsequent years.  Part of this “rivalry” stems from the Battle for the Pusan Perimeter, when Marines were constantly thrown into the breech to retake real estate lost by Army units.  At Pusan, Marines were dying because Army units weren’t pulling their own load.  Whether objective, this was the genesis of “hard feelings” between Marines and soldiers.  In effect, the experience of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade at Pusan seemed to reinforce what everyone already knew about the poor combat record of the US 27th Infantry Division at Saipan and Okinawa.

Noted military historian Eric Hammel observed, “Marines [in Korea] evidenced a growing hostility to the army men in their midst.  It was unfair of them to do so, but there was not a member of the 1st Marine Division who did not feel that his plight in some way reflected a lack of concern on the part of the Army officer who ran X Corps.”

Similarly, Colonel Edward L. Magill, USA (a veteran of the Chosin campaign) wrote a piece titled Soldiers of Changjin, saying “The condition of the units at the time of the breakout has never been properly weighed… The soldiers were suffering from hunger, dehydration, lack of sleep, long exposure to severe cold, and the physiological effects of prolonged combat.”

While I agree with Magill —it is also true that Marines experienced these same difficulties and yet did not abandon their wounded, their dead, or their equipment.  The difference, or so it would seem, was in the quality of leadership within the 1st Marine Division.

One of the individuals responsible for criticism of RCT-31 was a Marine officer who helped rescue hundreds of RCT-31 survivors: Lieutenant Colonel Olin L. Beall who, at the time, commanded the 1st Motor Transport Battalion.  In 1953, Beall wrote a scathing report against the Army in the Chosin campaign.  He was there, of course, but I think his criticism reveals a lack of insight.  Were it not for the tremendous fight RCT-31 put up against two enemy infantry divisions, the Chinese would have mauled the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.  In this sense, it should possible for us today to give due credit to the intense bravery displayed by the soldiers of RCT-31.  In the face of extreme adversity, these men put up one hell of a fight.

Notes:

[1] General George C. Marshall served as the U. S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II.  Marshall, a VMI classmate of Almond, was instrumental in Almond’s promotion to major general and his subsequent assignment to command the 92nd Infantry Division between October 1942 and August 1945.  Almond led the division in combat throughout the Italian Campaign.  Almond’s performance, however, was rated as inept.  Rather than taking responsibility for his professional shortcomings, Almond placed the blame for his incompetence on his mostly African-American troops—the source of his failure as a field general.  Almond later advised the Army against using blacks as infantry in combat.

[2] A regimental combat team is a task-organized unit consisting of infantry and supporting units.  The size of infantry and supporting organizations depends upon the assigned mission.  RCT-31 was formed from the 31st Infantry Regiment, and attached supporting units.  Total manpower complement numbered just at 3,000 troops; of these, 600 were Korean augmentees to the US Army (called KATUSA).  General Barr removed the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment (1/31) and replaced it with the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment (2/32).

[3] X Corps insisted that there was no significant Chinese presence in North Korea.  He ignored the intelligence gained from Chinese prisoners of war and information gathered by forward reconnaissance units.  Colonel MacLean erred when he believed what his seniors were telling him, rather than relying on his own judgment while operating deeply inside “Indian” territory.