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After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

And the beat goes on…

Happy Pi-Day

In my own naval-heavy military history salute to Pi-Day (3/14), we take a look at the peculiar exhibition that was U.S. Navy pie eating contests.

Apparently, these were a regular occurrence at “steel beach” type gatherings on Uncle’s warships from the 1900s through WWII, especially on larger ships with well-equipped gallies.

I guess BBQ and pizza replaced it after that.

Pie eating contest On board a U.S. Navy battleship, circa 1907-1908. This view may have been taken during the Great White Fleet World cruise NH 106075

A pie eating contest On board a U.S. Navy battleship, circa the mid-1910s NH 106274

USS Wyoming BB-32, Pie eating contest on board, on 22 February 1915. NH 77036

USS Mercury.Pie eating contest during a recreation session held for embarked troops, probably while the ship was bringing personnel home from France, circa 1919 NH 98582

USS Maryland (BB-46). Pie-eating contest on board, during her cruise to Brazil in August 1922 NH 76520

USS Augusta (CA-31). Pie-eating contest aboard ship, circa 1936 NH 77855

Pie eating contest held during a happy hour aboard the USS SARATOGA (CV-3) at sea. NH 119205

Also, Marines like pie, too.

Three Marines hungrily wait for the first pie to come out of the field oven on Bougainville during WWII– Note the sweetheart grips on the center-most Devil’s 1911

 

Welcome aboard, Woody

Named for MoH recipient Cpl. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base– USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) in Norfolk, Virginia over the weekend.

Importantly, Williams, who earned his decoration while holding onto a 70-pound M2 flamethrower on Iwo Jima, where he used it like a surgeon, is the last MoH recipient from the Pacific War.

Happy National Napping Day

Just in case you didn’t know, the Monday after Daylight Savings Time spring’s back is National Napping Day. In true LSOZI fashion, this is my take.

Marine Sgt. Robert Gwinn, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, takes a nap waiting for a helicopter to transport him back to base after a five-day recon patrol in the hills near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1969.

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Of note, the likely exhausted Gwinn carries an aircrew/pilot’s survival knife and not a traditional K-Bar fighting knife. You can tell by the bolt-shaped pommel and sharpening stone pouch on the sheath.

As Gwinn’s patrol, according to the MCHD, “worked closely with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing pilots and aircrews,” he likely got the knife in trade. Below he is shown filling his canteen in another shot from the Corps Archives. That CAR-15 XM177, tho…

Robert Gwinn Fills His Canteens, 1969 1st Recon Danag Vietnam Marines CAR15 XM177

Meet the new Squad Common Optic

The U.S. Marine Corps just selected Wixom, Michigan’s Trijicon to supply the service’s new Squad Common Optic.

The Marines describe the SCO as a “magnified day optic that improves target acquisition and probability-of-hit with infantry assault rifles.” Using a variable power non-caliber-specific reticle with an illuminated or nonilluminated aim-point, users can identify their targets from farther distances than the current Rifle Common Optic (RCO)– the Trijicon ACOG 4×32.

“The SCO supplements the attrition and replacement of the RCO Family of Optics and the Squad Day Optic for the M27, M4 and M4A1 weapon platforms for close-combat Marines,” said Tom Dever, interim team lead for Combat Optics at Marine Corps Systems Command.

The glass selected for the SCO program is Trijicon’s VCOG 1-8×28. The waterproof (to 66 feet) optic has a 7075-T6 aluminum housing and a first focal plane reticle that allows subtensions and drops to remain true at any magnification.

More in my column at Guns.com.

No Pizza Box

Ready on the Firing Line, Watercolor on Paper; by Chip Beck; 1991.

“A Marine of the 1st Division readies himself behind his pack during the assault on the Kuwait International Airport, 27 February 1991.”

NHHC Accession #: 91-159-K

Some 29 years ago today, the Battle of Kuwait International Airport, which saw a force consisting of the 1st & 2nd MARDIV along with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade, squared off against elements of no less than 14 Iraqi divisions in what went on to become a decisive allied victory.

Hand salute to Woody

One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.

Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.

Flamethrowers were useful in routing the defenders from the honeycomb of underground tunnels and bunkers on the island, a tactic that evolved into what was known as the “blowtorch and corkscrew,” method.

Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.

He is currently 96 years old.

In all, the Medal of Honor was presented to 22 Marines and five Sailors for their actions on Iwo Jima, many of those given posthumously. Adm. Chester Nimitz observed after the hellish battle that, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

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