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Marine Corps Gazette
Then: Marine Manoeuvers With The Fleet - 1923
March 1, 2001
A Gazette news item from the December 1923 issue shows the importance of realistic force-on-force training at the highest command levels. Such a requirement still exists today, some 77 years later.
The Marine Corps East Coast Expeditionary Force will receive its first trial under the conditions for which it was designed, in the joint Army-Navy-Marine Corps manoeuvres planned for the Panama Canal Zone and the Vieques Sound area, during the months of January and February. The entire Expeditionary Force will take part in the manoeuvre under the command of Brigadier General Eli K. Cole, U. S. Marine Corps. The force will be divided for tactical purposes into an infantry force consisting of the Fifth Marine Regiment under command of Colonel H. C. Snyder, U. S. Marine Corps, and a second force, made up of the Tenth Artillery Regiment together with specialist detachments, under the command of Colonel Dion Williams, U. S. Marine Corps.
The tactical exercises planned comprise two problems, the first to test the defenses of the Panama Canal Zone against an enemy fleet accompanied by an appropriate Marine Expeditionary Force, and the second to test plans for attack and defense of a temporary fleet base established on Culebra Island, off the coast of Puerto Rico . The problems in which the Marine Force will participate are a part of a program of tactical exercises by the Navy for the coming winter season.
The first problem is designed as a test of the ability of the forces defending the Panama Canal to keep that waterway in operation under war conditions. It is assumed that the Blue Government (the United States) has entered war with part of its fleet in the Pacific and part in the Atlantic Ocean. The hostile Black Government has established a naval base in the Caribbean and is seeking with its fleet and its Marine Expeditionary Force to block the Canal and prevent the exit of the Pacific Fleet of the Blue Forces and their juncture with the Blue Forces in the Atlantic. The Black Forces will be represented by the Scouting or Atlantic Fleet of the Navy commanded by Vice Admiral Newton A. McCully. The Black fleet will be accompanied by the Fifth Marine Regiment under the command of Colonel Snyder, and will probably effect a landing in the Canal Zone and attempt to disable the Canal by raiding operations. The Marine detachments will leave Quantico early in the year, probably on January 2nd. The Fifth Regiment, on board the Chaumont, will proceed to the Canal Zone where they will arrive for the problem about the middle of the month. This problem will be completed about January 25th, when the second problem will begin.
Under the conditions of the second problem the entire United States Fleet will be united and will operate under the command of Admiral R. E. Coontz, U. S. Navy, against a suppositious enemy fleet which has established a base in the Vieques Sound region. This base will be defended by the detachments of Marine artillery and specialist troops under command of Colonel Williams, who will proceed direct to Culebra Island and will begin on the base and its fortifications immediately upon leaving Quantico on January 2nd. They will proceed on the U. S. Chaumont and U. S. S. Sirius, which will transport the Marine artillery and entire train equipment. The United States Fleet will leave the Canal Zone shortly before February first, and will steam to Vieques Sound, where the Marine infantry will be landed on Culebra Island and will endeavor to capture and destroy the base there, defended by the Marine artillery force. These exercises will occupy about two weeks in February and the Expeditionary Force will break camp for its return about February 15th, the last detachment being scheduled to reach the United States about March 1st.
The exercises will form by far the most extensive and significant practice manoeuvres dealing with the conditions of actual naval war ever attempted by the Marine Corps Expeditionary Force. Experience of the greatest value will be gained by officers and organizations which participate, and it is expected that information of the most valuable sort will be secured, particularly in the matter of loading, transporting and landing stores and equipment, as well as the heavy 155-mm guns which will be taken.
The above seemingly innocuous news item from the December 1923 Gazette is a great example of the Navy Marine Team looking toward the future. The "Great War" was a 5-year memory. LtCol Earl Ellis was already hard at work on his revolutionary amphibious doctrine, and the Navy-Marine Team believed in the training and execution of defensive and offensive maneuvers at the highest levels of command.
Today amphibious doctrine is rock solid, but even as this is written, the Navy and Marine Corps leadership are hard at work in redefining command relationships for amphibious operations. The "Team" writ large is as one in modernization of the amphibious fleet, development of improved naval surface fire support capability with the DD 21, and integrated naval aviation programs; but our deployments and exercises with the Navy are mostly conducted at the PhibRon (amphibious squadron) and MEU(SOQ level. As the world continues to change around us, we can take comfort in our teamwork, but we should hearken back 78 years and note that the "high-level maneuvers" that were so important in 1923 are not routinely practiced today. They should be, and therein is a great lesson from our past.