Posts tagged ‘Great Power competition’

FRIDAY FOTO (June 25, 2021)

Peaceful Scene on a Sea of Troubles.

(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rawad Madanat)

The U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) transits the South China Sea on June 15, 2021 with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67).

Reagan, part of Task Force 70/Carrier Strike Group 5, conducting maritime security operations, flight operations, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units while in the South China Sea, according to the Navy.

The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the United States, according to al Jazeera, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters, which are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

In a show of force against the Chinese claims, U.S. warships have passed through the South China Sea with increasing frequency in recent years, invoking freedom of navigation rights.

June 25, 2021 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

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

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.

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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.





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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.


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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.

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

FRIDAY FOTO (July 31, 2020)

Tanks for the Memory.

The Last Ride

 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Patrick King)

With their turrets reversed, it’s hard to tell if this line of Marine Corps Abrams main battle tanks are coming or going. But make no mistake, these behemoths are definitely going — away, forever.

The official caption of this photo reads:

U.S. Marines with 2d Tank Battalion, 2d Marine Division, track through tank trails on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, July 27, 2020. For nearly 80 years, 2d Tank Battalion left the tank lot and would return after combat or training operations. This time, the tanks will not return. After serving 2d MARDIV for more than three quarters of a century, 2nd Tank Battalion will deactivate in accordance with the future redesign of the Marine Corps.

It isn’t just the 2nd MARDIV’s tanks that are going away. The Marine Corps is unloading all of its M1A1 Abrams tanks, M-88 Recovery Vehicles and Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges as part of the United States Marine Corps Force Design 2030 guidance published in March by General David  Berger, the Marine Corps commandant.

The 15-page document outlines a plan to modernize the Marine Corps in accordance with the National Defense Strategy, which pivots away from two decades of counter insurgency and special operations combat with terrorist groups around the world to Great Power competition with Russia and China. The Force re-design calls for a shift from big guns, tanks and infantry units to  rocket artillery batteries, light armored reconnaissance companies and unmanned aerial vehicle squadrons.

The Marine Corps will eventually divest of all three of its active tank battalions as it moves from a “second land army” back to its maritime roots of defending ships at sea, island-hopping and battling for contested coastlines, in preparation for potential conflict with near-peer adversaries such as China, according to Stars and Stripes in a July 30 article under the headline: A  farewell to armor.

July 31, 2020 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 17, 2020)

Four-Day Fire — Update

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Fire

(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist)

This photo shows the Navy amphibious assault ship, USS Bonhomme Richard, on fire beside the pier at Naval Base San Diego, California on July 12. It wasn’t until Thursday, July 16, after four harrowing days of smoke, intense heat and flames that the fire was put out.

The Navy announced firefighters have extinguished all known fires on Bonhomme Richard, Seapower magazine reported. Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said “fire teams are investigating every space to verify the absence of fire.”

Until every space is checked and there are no active fires we will not be able to commence any official investigations. We did not know the origin of the fire. We do not know the extent of the damage,” Sobeck said July 16.

The 22-year-old Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) had been in San Diego since 2018 undergoing modernization including being prepared to accommodate the F-35B, a vertical lift and short take-off variant of the Lightning II joint strike fighter.

Experts said the loss of Bonhomme Richard — whether completely or just lost for extensive repairs — deals a significant blow to the Navy’s plans to have F-35Bs continually deployed in the Pacific. according to Defense News. And that could pose problems for asserting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and rejecting China’s territorial claims in the area.

At a press briefing in San Diego Friday (July 17), the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday said the damage to the ship was extensive to electrical, mechanical and structural systems.   While he was confident the defense shipbuilding industry could restore the BHR so it could return to sea, he added “the question is, should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship.”

Gilday praised the ship’s firefighting crew and Sailors from other ships in port as well as federal and local fighters for their lengthy battle against the inferno, which at times reached over 1,000 degrees. He said looking into the cause of the fire will be one of three parallel investigations.


(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Natalie M. Byers/Released)

A second investigation, routine in such incidents, will be conducted by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), to determine if the fire was caused by any malfeasance or criminal activity,  Gilday said the Navy also will conduct a third investigation that will look into several echelons of command to determine if the correct procedures were in effect during the emergency, Seapower reported. That third probe will look into whether the Navy reacted properly to the fire, and if measures should have been in place that were not, among other factors.

The top Navy commander promised “We will follow the facts of what happened here. We will be honest with ourselves. We will get after it as a Navy,” Seapower noted.

In the photo above, federal firefighters assess damage in the hangar bay aboard the Bohomme Richard on July 15. None of the firefighters or ship’s crew were seriously injured.

It’s worth noting that at Naval Service Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois — the Navy’s only enlisted boot camp –recruits are trained in firefighting as one of five basic competencies, which also include damage control, watch standing, seamanship and small-arms handling and marksmanship.

July 17, 2020 at 10:10 pm Leave a comment


June 2023


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