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Devils in Clean Shakos

Perhaps the most famous and most often-reproduced image of the U.S. Marines in the Civil War is this one, showing a detail of Devil Dogs (before they earned the name) clad in full dress uniforms to include frock coats with large fringed epaulets, crossed buff leather belts, bayoneted rifled muskets and shakos.

Via National Museum of the Marine Corps:

In 1859, the Marine Corps adopted the French-style uniform-cap or shako. The shako remained the standard headgear until replaced by a smaller version in 1875. This enlisted model is adorned with period Marine Corps insignia, an infantry bugle with the silver letter “M.” The red pompom is a reproduction. ⁠

For more on the Corps during the War Between the States, check out the (free) 36-page booklet United States Marines at Harper’s Ferry and in the Civil by War Bernard C. Nalty (PCN 19000410300).

Remember, today is not about saving (up to) 40 percent on select items

It’s a small plot of land that’s never left unguarded. The Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are a small and exclusive group. They stand their post 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather. Hear the Sentinel’s Creed and you’ll know why. DOD video edited by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jared Bunn

Over the side. Hit the nets!

The bane of O-courses for generations, the unsung cargo net was a vital step in what these days we would call the sea–to-shore connector during World War II.

With the Navy pressing whole classes of old flush-deck destroyers as well as newer destroyer escorts into use as “Green Dragons,” a modification that saw some topside weapon systems (torpedo tubes) as well as below-deck equipment (one of the boiler rooms) deleted, these tin cans could carry a reinforced company/light battalion’s worth of Marines to earshot of a far-off Japanese-held atoll where they would load up in a series of Higgins-made plywood LCVRs to head ashore.

The easiest way to get said Marines from the tin can to the waiting fiddlestick express below? A debarkation net deployed over the side.

Troops boarding the converted destroyer USS WARD (APD-16) from an LCP(R) landing craft at Maffin Bay, New Guinea, en route to the Cape Sansapor Landings, 30 July 1944. The low freeboard of the converted “four-stacker” is a boon to amphibious operations since there is less danger of the men being pitched off the cargo nets in the short descent to rocking landing boats. 80-G-255402

Nets were also a facet of transferring troops to landing craft from attack transport (APA) ships, which were fundamentally just converted freighters or passenger liners designs with davits filled with LCVPs.

Photo of landing rehearsals in June 1943 by USS McCawley (APA-4), note the nets #80-G-254933.

The tactic was iconic enough to be captured in the maritime art of the era and was used hundreds of times.

“Amphibious Troop Movement” Painting, Oil on Canvas; by James Turnbull; 1945. “Burdened with full combat packs, assault troops clamber down a landing net into the landing craft which will debark them on the shores of Lingayen Gulf to open the battle for Luzon.” NHHC Accession #: 67-190-B

As LPDs, LSDs, LPHs (which in turn were replaced by LHAs), and LHDs phased out the old Green Dragons and APAs during the Cold War, the cargo net basically was just retained for use in swim calls and in areas with poor harbor facilities.

Now, with the concept of smaller groups of Marines operating from non-standard amphibious warfare vessels in a future warm/hot war in the Pacific, it seems the staple of 1943 could be making something of a comeback.

As noted by the 31st MEU, a recent exercise in Guam has brought the net back into play:

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, completed the debarkation net rehearsal from the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam, harkening back to a historic method of personnel movement with a focus on safety, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Scull with Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, safety officer-in-charge for the event.

200220-N-DB724-1125 SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 20, 2020) Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cargo net training in the hangar bay of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). America, the flagship of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st MEU team, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jomark A. Almazan)

“This capability greatly enhances the 31st MEU’s ability to conduct increasingly dynamic tactical actions and operations across the Pacific,” said Scull. “Under the cover of darkness, specially-equipped Marine elements can debark onto a landing craft and insert uncontested onto small islands in the Pacific”.

Welcome (back), M16A4

The humble original M16 was originally Armalite’s AR-15, and was first ordered for military service with a contract issued to Colt Firearms in May 1962 for the purchase of early Model 01 rifles to be used by Air Force Security Police.

Note, these guns had waffle-pattern 20-round mags, no forward assist, a thin 1:14 twist barrel, and the early three-prong flash hider.

Fast forward to the XM16E1, which became the M16A1 in 1967, and you started to come closer to the standard Army/Marine rifle used in Vietnam and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. It used a forward assist and a 1:12 twist barrel.

By 1983, the M16A2 came about, it had a thicker barrel in front of the front sight, a modified flash suppressor (closed on bottom), a new polymer buttstock (lighter and stronger), faster barrel twist (from 1:12 to 1:7), and a spent case deflector for left-hand users. Considered downright vintage by the Army and Marines, the Navy still sports them these days.

M16A2- check
M9 in drop leg holster- check
Body armor- um, about that……

By 1998, the M16A4 was in play, primarily for the Marines, which had a removable carry handle, a Picatinny top rail to allow for optics, short rails on the handguard for accessories, and a 20-inch barrel with a 1:7 RH twist rate.

Note the size difference between the compact M4 Carbine, top, and the full-length M16A4 rifle, bottom. (Photos: Department of Defense)

Since the GWOT kicked off in 2002, the big shift over the years has been to move from the full-length M16 family to the more compact M4/M4A1 carbine, with its collapsible rear stock and stubby 14-inch barrel, leaving the increasingly old-school style rifle as something of a relic today. Heck, the Army for the past couple years has been very actively working on replacing their 5.56 NATO rifles and SAWs with a new 6.8mm weapon. 

Now jump to 2020, and the M16A4 is now apparently the Army’s designated rifle for Foreign Military Sales to equip overseas allies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Nepal.

Colt and FN are competing in a contract to supply as much as $383 million smackers worth of M16A4s by 2025.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Last minutes of Saigon, 45 Years Ago today

29 April 1975: As NVA tanks were moving into the city, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam, Graham Martin, sent the below telegram to National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, at the White House, during the evacuation of Saigon during the Vietnam War.

This primary source comes from the Collection GRF-0330: Backchannel Messages (Ford Administration). National Archives Identifier: 7367441

Martin states that he is, “well aware of the danger here tomorrow and I want to get out tonight.” He asks that the President send an order to finish the job quickly, evacuating the rest of the Americans and their children.

The American Ambassador to Vietnam resisted limiting the evacuation to Americans, as 10,000 locals were crowding the compound’s gates. In this cable he asks repeatedly for 30 CH-53 Sea Stallions:

“Perhaps you can tell me how to make some of these Americans abandon their half Vietnamese children?”

The helicopters did come, shuttling away the non-combatants all night. In all, some 7,000 people, mostly newly homeless refugees of the now-former South Vietnam, were airlifted from the Embassy complex by the Marines and from a series of other sites around Siagon by CIA-front company Air America.

A CH-46D, Swift 2-2, of HMM-164 lifted off with Marine detachment commander Major James Kean and the 10 remaining Marine Security Guards, leaving at 07:53 on 30 April. Just 37 minutes later Swift 2-2 landed on USS Okinawa (LPH-3) just offshore.

The last members of the Marine Security Guard land on USS Okinawa USMC Photo by GySgt Russ Thurman 

By noon, NVA regulars were in possession of the abandoned former U.S. Embassy. A mix of about 350 loyal Vietnamese employees and South Korean citizens still awaited a rescue that would not come.

The remains of MSG detachment 21-year-old Corporal Charles MCMAHON, Jr, 023 42 16 37, USMC; and 19-year-old Lance Corporal Darwin L. JUDGE, 479 70 89 99, USMC; killed on 29 April by an NVA rocket attack at the Tan Son Nut Airport, were, unfortunately, left behind during the withdrawal. They were later recovered via diplomatic means in 1976 and buried with full military honors.

Maj. Kean’s after-action report is available, here. 

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set-up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

Mekong Delta, or?

This 1985 photo of a Columbian marine participating in an amphibious/jungle assault during the joint US/South American Exercise UNITAS XXV, complete with his M1 helmet and M14 rifle, could almost be mistaken for a U.S. Marine in 1965 South Vietnam.

NARA photo DN-ST-85-08732

For reference:

1965: Marines from the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines take cover near Phu Bai Their patrol had just been fired upon by the VC USMC Photo A185701

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