SHAKO: Guadalcanal Redux?; Congress Honors Merrill’s Marauders; RIP Ed Bearrs

September 26, 2020 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

The Next Pacific War.

The challenge a peer competitor like China poses for the U.S. military in a future conflict across the Indo-Pacific region bears striking similarities to the war between the United States and the Empire of Japan in the same battlespace more than 75 years ago. And two top Marine Corps planners say American forces today have to prepare for a fight unlike anything they’ve seen since the Gulf War, your 4GWAR editor writes in Seapower magazine.

The United States pursued a two-pronged offensive across the central and southwest Pacific to roll back the Japanese advance. (Image: The National WWII Museum.)

Like the Marines who landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942, today’s Marines will face the same sweeping distances of the world’s largest ocean, on scattered, remote islands of steaming jungle or barren volcanic rock. As in the early days of World War II, U.S. naval and Marine forces will have to deal with vulnerable supply lines, and sea, air and cyberspace contested by one of the largest and best armed militaries in the world. That’s the framework for the next conflict,” Major General Gregg Olson, director of the Marine Corps Staff, told the virtual Modern Day Marine Exposition on Sept. 23.

Japan in 1941 was a near-peer adversary of the United States, with advanced technology, expansionist policies and a bullying attitude toward neighboring countries, Olson, notes.  While the foes and times have changed “the concepts and realities of war in the vast distances that occur in the Pacific remain the same,” he added.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F4F Wildcat fighters lined up on Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, January 1943. (National Archives)

Victory on Guadalcanal and the rest of the Pacific came “at the cost of capital ships and thousands of lives,” Olson pointed out. Another speaker at Modern Day Marine, Major General Paul Rock, director of Marine Corps  Strategies and Plans, said high casualties could be likely again. “Attrition is going to be a factor in a future fight,” Rock said.

While that may prove true, the Marines are not resigned to taking the same heavy casualties they suffered in the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II, General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, insisted a day later at a State of the Marine Corps event livestreamed by the Defense One website.

For a closer look into Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign click here and for an even deeper dive (if you like historical records)  click here. It’s all your tax dollars at work.

*** *** ***

Remembering Merrill’s Marauders.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill September 22 that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed World War II special operations Army unit, the 5307th Composite Unit, better known as Merrill’s Marauders.

The Senate passed a version of the bill late last year, and supporters say they expect President Donald Trump will sign the legislation, the newspaper Stars and Stripes reports. Created as a long range, light infantry unit trained in jungle warfare, the 5307th, code-named Galahad, was tasked with penetrating deep into Japanese-held territory to disrupt communications, cut supply lines and capture an airfield.

Merrill’s Marauders crossing Tanai River, Burma, on March 18, 1944  with pack animals. (U.S. Army photo)

The volunteer unit was formed in 1943, with more than 900 jungle-trained officers and men from Caribbean Defense Command, 600 Army veterans of Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign, a few hundred more from Southwest Pacific Command, veterans of the New Guinea and Bougainville campaigns, and another 900 jungle-trained troops from Army Ground Forces stateside. Fourteen Japanese-American (Nisei) Military Intelligence Service translators were also assigned to the unit. In just five months in 1944, the Marauders fought often larger Japanese forces in 32 engagements including five major battles across some of the toughest conditions of the war: the disease-infested jungles of Burma and the rugged foothills of the Himalayas. “I fought in World War II, in Korea in the Pork Chop Hill sector and did two combat tours in Vietnam. But the worse fighting I experienced was in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders,” said Gilbert Howland, 96, one of eight still living members of the nearly 3,000-man outfit.

Dubbed Merrill’s Marauders after their commander, then-Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the men were tasked with a “dangerous and hazardous mission” behind Japanese lines in Burma, where the fall of the country’s capital of Rangoon had severely threatened the Allied supply line to China. In their final mission, the Marauders were ordered to push enemy forces out of the town of Myitkyina, the only city with an all-weather airstrip in Northern Burma, according to Military Times.

Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, commander of “Merrill’s Marauders,” poses between Japanese-American interpreters, Tech/Sergeant Herbert Miyasaki and Tech/Sergeant Akiji Yoshimura in Burma, May 1, 1944. (National Archives and Records Administration.)

Weakened by disease, malnourishment and enemy attacks during the march, the Marauders, effective force dwindled to 1,500. However, the reduced numbers of the 5307th were still able to take the airfield on May 17, 1944, but the nearby town of Myitkyina proved to have a larger Japanese garrison than intelligence reports indicated. It was only with Chinese reinforcements that the town fell to Allied troops on August 3. After five months of combat, 95 percent of the Marauders were dead, wounded, or deemed no longer medically fit for combat.

Distinctive Unit Insignia of the 75th Ranger Regiment

Although operational for only a few months, Merrill’s Marauders gained a fierce reputation for hard fighting and tenacity as the first American infantry force to see ground action in Asia. Considered a forerunner of today’s Special Operations troops, the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment’s distinctive unit insignia honors the legacy of the Marauders by replicating the design of their shoulder shoulder sleeve insignia.





*** *** ***

Ed Bearrs: Leatherneck, Civil War Historian.

We recently learned that respected Civil War historian Ed Bearrs passed away on September 15 at the age of 97. Among historians, military students and Civil War buffs Bearrs was highly regarded, especially for his guided tours of historic battlefields. But he is probably best known as one of the historians explaining the War Between the States on the landmark 1990 PBS documentary, “The Civil War,” by Ken Burns.

Ed Bearrs in Ken Burns’ landmark documentary “The Civil War” on PBS.

One thing we didn’t know here at 4GWAR until we started reading the obituaries and recollections of Bearrs’ long career was that he was a World War II veteran, a Marine severely wounded by machine gun fire in early 1944 on the island of New Britain.

Bearrs spent 26 months in military hospitals recovering from his wounds at a place fellow Marines dubbed Suicide Creek. Numerous surgeries saved his shattered arms but he was left with permanent nerve damage that affected his dexterity. Following his discharge from the Marines in 1946, Bearrs went to college on the GI Bill, earning a bachelors degree at Georgetown University and and a master’s degree in history from Indiana University.

He  began working for the National Park Service in 1955 at Vicksburg National Military Park, where he served as the park historian. While there he was instrumental in locating the resting place of the Union gunboat Cairo. He was also a tour guide of historic battlefields for The Smithsonian Associates and served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. In 1995, after his retirement, he was named Chief Historian Emeritus, a position he held until his death. But he was best known for his dramatic commentary on Civil War battles in the 1990 PBS documentary, that sparked renewed interest in the Civil War.

Corporal Ed Bearrs, USMC with Purple Heart medal.

Bearss wrote numerous books and articles about the Civil War, including a three-volume history of the Vicksburg campaign. Bearss started interpretative tours as part of his official duties in Vicksburg. Even after he was promoted and became heavily involved in battlefield preservation efforts across the country, Bearrs kept giving tours as an avocation on weekends. He attracted ROTC classes, active-duty military officers and VIPs — and other historians.

The Civil War Preservation Trust created the Ed Bearss Award for achievements in historic preservation and made him the first recipient in 2001. Other awards and honors include: the 1962 Harry S Truman Award for Meritorious Service in the field of Civil War History; Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior in 1983 and the American Battlefield Trust’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.


*** **** ***

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Entry filed under: amphibious warfare, Army, Asia-Pacific, SHAKO, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Technology, U.S. Navy, Unconventional Warfare, Weaponry and Equipment, World War II. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (September 25, 2020) ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Bigger Switchblade; Iran says its the I-Spy; USAF Test Team- Operated Drone Sortie and more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


September 2020


%d bloggers like this: