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Amtracs are no joke

For years we had a company of the 4th Amtrac Bn stationed here in Gulfport and you often saw the giant AAVP7s moving around and operating offshore. They even responded to flooded neighborhoods after Katrina.

If you have ever seen an amtrac hit the water, you instantly realize why they call these cavernous tracks, “Iron Ducks.”

Sadly, one Marine is confirmed dead as well as seven additional Marines and one Sailor are missing and presumed to have likewise perished off the coast of Southern California following the swamping of an amtrac in a training exercise.

From I MEF: 

After an extensive 40-hour search, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). I Marine Expeditionary force. and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) concluded their search and rescue operation for seven missing Marines and one Sailor, today.

All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident.

On July 30, 15 Marines and one Sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in, began to take on water and sank. Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital.

“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”

Over the course of the at-sea search, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopter, ships and watercraft searched more than I,000 square nautical miles.

Assisting in the search efforts were the USS John Finn. the USS Makin Island, the USS Somerset, and the USS San Diego. Eleven U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple Navy and Manne Corps small boats were also involved. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted as well

“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and Sailor’s families during this difficult time,” said Bronzi. “As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.”

Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the Marines and Sailor still missing. Assisting in the recovery efforts is the offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as Undersea Rescue Command, utilizing their Remotely Operated Vehicle to survey the sea floor.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated. The names of the Marines and Sailor will be released 24-hours after next of kin notification.

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper issued the following statement:

A grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss of the Marines and Sailor lost in the amphibious assault vehicle accident off the coast of San Clemente Island. Our prayers and condolences are with the family and friends of these brave young men:

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California

Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served. While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred, and preventing similar tragedies in the future.

Ack Ack in the sky

“Ack Ack in the sky: When Japanese bombers attempted to sneak in on Cape Gloucester under cover of darkness, Marine units there sent up this concentration of ack-ack tracer fire. It makes very pretty pattern picture but the Japanese didn’t appreciate it and they abandoned the attack.”

USMC Photo 127-GR-87 by Sgt. George Sylvester

The Hard Way

Official caption: “Members of a Marine rocket platoon tote their equipment over rough Bougainville terrain to the front lines. During this campaign, the first in which land-based rockets were used by the Leathernecks, both rockets and portable launchers were transported in much the same manner that machine guns were moved into position. Hdqrs No. 71,129, Dist List 2-4, 2-1445, USMC Photo”

Keep in mind that is a 60-pound barrage rocket, in 100-degree weather, at 99-percent humidity. NARA 127-GR-84-71129

Of note, after using hand-carried 7.2-inch demolition rockets in the Guadalcanal campaign, the Marines elected to utilize truck-mounted M8 4.5-inch rocket batteries in Iwo Jima, dubbed “The Buck Rogers Men.” 

In a sense of “everything old is new again,” the current thinking in the Marines is to use little groups of rocket and missile-equipped landing teams for area denial and sea control across isolated atolls and jungles of the Western Pacific in the event of a conflict with the PRC. The more things change…

Super Bazooka Joe, 70 years ago today

After the first primitive tanks arrived on the battlefields of Western Europe in the Great War, the U.S. Army and Marines kept an eye out for something more portable and compact than a field gun to poke holes in those “land dreadnoughts.” While Dr. Robert H. Goddard, grandfather of American rocketry, was working on a man-portable anti-tank device in 1918, peace broke out and his research stopped.

This meant that the closest answer the interwar military came up with to zap panzers was the M3 37mm anti-tank gun. While over 23,000 of these were made, they were still bulky, at 912-pounds, and could only penetrate 2.1-inches of plate at 1,000 yards, which was fine for 1930s tanks but didn’t cut the mustard with more significant armored vehicles.

Developments in small arms by early 1942 led to the M9 rifle grenade, a 1.2-pound bottle rocket that could be fired from the M1 Garand or M1903 Springfield and its 4-ounce hollow charge could make a splash against pillboxes but, like the 37mm gun, proved less impressive against better tanks.

The next step up was the 12-pound 2.36-inch (60mm) Rocket Launcher, M1, which went down in the books as the first “bazooka” in late 1942.

American engineers emerge from the woods and move out of defensive positions after fighting in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, in December 1944. Note the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and M9 Bazookas, along with a liberal sprinkling of grenades and spare ammo. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Unpopular due to their notoriously bum rockets, the device was upgraded to the M1A1 and finally to the M9 bazooka, with the latter weighing 17.8-pounds when ready to fire its slightly better M6A3 rocket. About the best American man-portable anti-tank weapon of WWII, capable of penetrating about 4-inches of armor, it was still ineffective against medium or heavy tanks of the day such as the Panther and Tiger.

Meanwhile, the 88mm German RPzB 54 Panzerschreck, designed to knock out Soviet beasts en mass, was a much better device. Dubbed the ofenrohr (stovepipe) by the Landsers that used it, the RPzB 54 could slice through as much as 9-inches of armor.

Captured German Panzerchrek compared to U.S. Bazooka M9, 1945

Nonetheless, when Task Force Smith got wheels up from Japan to Korea in July 1950 to stop the onslaught of North Korean aggression over their less well-equipped neighbor to the south of the 38th Parallel, the Joes still carried the M9A1 into battle. When pitted against Soviet-supplied T-34-85 tanks at Daejeon, vehicles which had nearly 4-inches of armor in spots, those 60mm spitball shooters were wishful thinking.

Luckily at the time, at Rock Island Arsenal, a supply of the brand new and very Panzerschreck-like 90mm 3.5-inch M20A1B1 rocket launcher, dubbed the “Superbazooka,” were on hand. Loaded on aircraft in Illinois on 12 July 1950, they were sped directly to the warzone.

As noted by the RIA Museum, this “marked the first time equipment was shipped from the Arsenal, directly to troops in the field utilizing air transport.”

Just six days after the emergency batch of Superbazookas left RIA, they were used in combat by elements of the 24th Infantry Division who knocked out eight T-34s on 18 July– 70 years ago today. Capable of penetrating up to 11-inches of armor, the Joes went from being hunted by tanks to being tank hunters, a tactic the winding and hilly Korean countryside favored.

The Superbazooka, coupled with more powerful follow-on U.S. MBTs like the M26 Pershing and M46 Patton tanks and effective close-in air-support, effectively ended the reign of the T-34-85 in Korea.

By the time the North Koreans were forced to withdraw from the south in September, some 239 T-34s and 74 SU-76 assault guns had been lost or abandoned. After October 1950, tanks became scarce in the DPRK Army and remained that way for the rest of the war.

The Superbazooka even appeared in Army recruiting posters during the Korean War

The Army and Marines kept the M20 around through the 1960s until it was replaced by the even more compact M72 66mm rocket. It hung out in National Guard armories even longer.

Hell, even Elvis toted one.

The M20 was used overseas extensively, with some being collected in the 1990s by NATO forces in the former Yugoslavia. A Spanish-made clone, the 88.9mm Instalaza M65, updated with an improved ignition method and new ammunition types, saw action in the Falklands and remaining in service with the Spaniards until just recently. They are a hit on the surplus market, and I just happen to have one of my own, in well-used condition.

T-34s not included

Cammies, KA-bars and GSDs

“Marine War Dog and Handler, Vietnam, circa 1970”

Note the kennels in the background with the sandbagged roof. From the Craig Spraggins Collection (COLL/4154) at the Marine Corps History Division

Of note, the WMD handler is wearing the Marine Corps’ “lowland” variant of the ERDL camouflage uniform, which predated the much better known M81 woodland BDU by more than a decade. The Marine also has a standard M1911A1 in a very non-standard holster that could be a modded M1916-style flap holster but I believe is actually just a commercial leather revolver holster, accompanied by a K-Bar fighting knife attached to the holster by a leather tie.

Another installment of the same team

Odds are the Marine has coupled the two weapons together at his strong side to be able to use either with his right hand as the dog would be controlled by his left.

Dogs get the chop

In related news, the Marines are cutting back on their military working dogs, a staple of the service since the Great War, as they aren’t needed to fight China, apparently. Currently, the Corps has 210 four-legged MWDs and 260 two-legged handlers/trainers. After the snip, that will fall to 150 and 210, respectively. Of note, once a dog enters the training program, it takes six months to get them ready for the Fleet.

The Glory of the Devils’ TOW-MUTTs

While the U.S. Army started to field the TOW anti-tank system in the Fulda Gap in the late 1960s, the Marines, with their oddball M50 Ontos vehicle that packed a half-dozen M40 106mm recoilless rifles, took the latter to Southeast Asia with them as Charlie didn’t have very many tanks at the time.

However, things soon changed.

The South Vietnamese Marines used jeep-mounted TOW teams to good effect in the bitter end of the war in that country against NVA armor in 1972.

Meanwhile, the Devils were left with a more improv way to get around with their anti-armor support weapons.

Circa 1969,”Rough Going: Leathernecks of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Marine Regiment find the going rough in ‘Dodge City’ as they attempt to maneuver a ‘mechanical mule’ bearing 106mm recoilless rifle across rugged terrain. The Marines are participating along with the Vietnamese Army elements and Vietnamese rangers and Korean Marines in Operation Pipestone Canyon, in the Dodge City-Go Noi Island area 12 miles south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Sergeant A. V. Huffman).”

With the Ontos put to pasture in the early 1970s, the Marines eventually went TOW, mounted on the downright ugly (and downright dangerous to its passengers) Ford M151 MUTT, the same combo used by the Army in its “leg” infantry units at the time.


Those chocolate chips! “U.S. Marines drive an M-151 Light Utility Vehicle from a Utility Landing Craft (LCU) to shore during the multinational joint service Exercise BRIGHT STAR’85. The vehicle is armed with a BGM71 Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile launcher,” 8/1/1985 NARA 330-CFD-DF-ST-86-07566

The first TOW “platoons” envisioned by the Marines for attachment to infantry battalions in the late 1970s were actually almost the size of companies, equipped with 37 M151s, 24 launchers, 69 enlisted men and one officer.

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

A typical six-Marine TOW squad had three M151s, two of which had launchers and the third used as spare missile carrier. The squad packed 16 missiles, two in each of the launcher-vehicles’ racks, six in the racks on the missile carrier, and six on a trailer pulled by the carrier. In a pinch, should one or even two of the vehicles go down, the third could be used to evac the squad’s Marines, provided they were so inclined to hold the hell on and leave a bunch of gear behind.

Still, the ability for a half-dozen Marines in three jeeps to zap as many as a dozen of the bad guy’s armored vehicles from a distance of 3,000m then scoot away led the Corps to pronounce a TOW squad as “the world’s largest distributor of tank parts,” in the early 1980s.

A Marine looks through the sight of a tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile launcher mounted on an M151 light utility vehicle, 1/1/1988 NARA 330-CFD-DM-SN-88-09381

The Marines kept the TOW-MUTTS in operation though the Reagan years, eventually replacing them with HMMWV-TOWs by 1989. But that is a different story.

Happy Independence Day: NAVAIR Bicentennial Schemes

The 1976 Bicentennial celebration these days is probably best remembered for the occasional side-drum Minuteman quarter coin they find in their change.

However, for those who don’t remember or weren’t around, the year saw a host of NAVAIR assets with special livery. The time was a curious crossover from the Navy and Marine Corps, as it was the twilight of Vietnam-era assets such as the A-4, F-8 and F-4, while new warbirds such as the F-14 were coming online.

The below images are from the NHHC Photographic Section, Navy Subject Files, Aviation (120); the National Archives, and the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Enjoy, and stick a feather in your cap, you Yankee.

Bicentennial Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk BuNo 15-4290 of the “Bandits” of VF-126 speeds past Mt. Rushmore, circa March 1976. This Navy photo was published on the front page of the LA Times, as well as other major regional newspapers, the last week of May 1976

F-14A Tomcat BuNo 15-9616 of VF-124 “Gunfighters” Miramar Naval Air Station in Bicentennial colors, April 1, 1976. Of note, the Tomcat had only entered deployable service a three years before and the “Wolfpack” and “Bounty Hunters” of VF-1 and VF-2 had flown CAP over the Operation Frequent Wind evacuation of Saigon in April 1975. PH3 Bruce Gray DN-SC-88-06706

Naval Air Station, Miramar, San Diego, California. A Bicentennial paint scheme on the tail of a Sundowners (VF-111) F-4N Phantom II fighter aircraft (BuNo.15-1510) from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV 42). Also, note the Shark-Mouthed F-4N still marked with the Coral Sea’s stencil from their 1973 deployment. 428-GX-K-113545

Pacific Missile Test Center, Point Mugu, California. A parked Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four, VX-4, F-4J Phantom II fighter painted for the Bicentennial. 428-GX-KN 24280

A better view of the above Phantom’s tail feathers. 428-GX-K-112653

RF-8G Crusader BuNo 14-6858 of Light Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron 63 (VFP-63) parked on the flight line at Naval Air Station, Miramar, April 1, 1976. The aircraft has been painted in Bicentennial theme PH3 Bruce Gray DN-SC-88-06704

The Marines also got into the act, of course.

A U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell RF-4B Photo Phantom (BuNo 153101) from Marine Reconnaissance Squadron VMFP-3 “Eyes of the Corps” in flight. The plane is painted in US Bicentennial markings. Flying out of El Toro, this plane deployed on USS Constellation the same year with Det RF-10. NNAM

A-6E Intruder VMA(AW) 121 Green Knights Bicentennial scheme NAS Moffett Field April 30, 1977. NNAM

And another 1976 holdover, since you came this far:

Coming home from the Forgotten War

As appropriate with the 70th anniversary of the Korean War this month, the DOD reports: 

In the largest repatriation of South Korean soldiers’ remains from the Korean War, 147 such remains were returned to South Korea following an honor ceremony last week at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and [South Korea’s] Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification have jointly worked on the remains, as being ROK soldiers who had often died alongside U.S. troops.

MAKRI and DPAA scientists have conducted joint forensic reviews and validated 147 remains as being of South Korean origin.

In a mutual exchange, six Americans identified on South Korean battlefields were transferred to U.S. custody at Osan.

Honor Guard from UN countries participates in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 26, 2020. The United Nations Command in Korea remains committed to enforcing the 1953 UN Armistice Agreement and overseeing activities such as this repatriation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan)

Happy first day of Summer: King Armored Cars in the Caribbean

While the Marines are quickly shedding most of their heavy armor, it should be pointed out that they intend to still keep some lighter stuff like Amtracs and LAVs, at least for now.

With that, and with a hat-tip to the fact that today is the first day of summer, there is no better time than to mention the Marine armored unit that was deployed downrange 100 years ago.

Meet the King Armored Car (USMC Photo)

1st Armored Car Squadron was organized in 1917 and equipped with five Armored Motor Car Company (AMC)-produced King armored cars.

The King wasn’t particularly fearsome, but you had to keep in mind that for Great War-era armor it wasn’t that bad, mounting a single Lewis gun or M1895 Potato Digger, it had enough armor to protect it from small arms fire– the Marines even tested it by reportedly popping the side of one with a .45ACP without penetrating.

Attached to the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Base Brigade in 1919, they served in the Dominican Republic until deactivated in 1921. The unit left most of their Kings behind in Hispanola where the locals used them in one form or another until the 1930s.

King Armored Cars, Dominican Republic, 1919 (USMC Photo)

The sole Marine King armored car is on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, and it has a .45ACP-sized dimple in the side.

Rifle Shooting a lost art…in 1913

Sailors and Marines from the ship’s crew at the rifle range, Auckland, New Zealand, circa 1904-1906. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 47. NH 101377

A full-page feature in the May 18, 1913 edition of the New York Sun, entitled, “Rifle Shooting Becoming a Lost Art in America” decried the poor state of American marksmanship just less than 15 months before the start of the Great War and slightly under four years from U.S. involvement in said conflict. The lack of American riflemen at the time seemed apparent, despite the best efforts of the nascent Department of Civilian Marksmanship, today’s CMP, established by the Army in 1903.

From the article:

Records of the War Department show that in 1910, 29,230 members of the regular army, exclusive of those in the Philippines, received rifle Instruction, of whom 17,473 failed to make the qualifying score. In the organized militia, 51,749 received rifle Instruction, of whom 20,630 failed to qualify as marksmen.

There were also 40,000 National Guardsmen who were not even taken to a range. Out of the 25,320 students of colleges and universities supporting military departments only 7,710 received instruction In rifle practice, during the year. Including 39,400 sailors and marine sand 3,000 members of civilian rifle clubs, the aggregate number of men between the ages of 18 and 45 who practiced with the service arm during one year was 131,089, out of a male population within the enlistment ages of 16,000,000, or less than 1 percent.

I wonder what the author would think today?

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