Archive for November, 2009


Last week, President Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The troop surge is part of a new strategy set forth by General Stanley A. McChrystal. The strategy shifts focus from kinetic to non-kinetic operations: protecting civilians, development projects, and winnings hearts and minds. It will be central to America’s operations in Afghanistan for years to come, and even the basis for an American endgame there. Army, Marine, and Air Force roles in the McChrystal approach are clear. The former two are boots on the ground, while the latter provides logistical, intelligence, and combat support. The Navy, however, appears to have little place in this new strategy. The Navy’s primary contribution so far has been combat air support. But, airstrikes have fallen out of favor in Afghanistan as of late due to mounting civilian casualties. McChrystal’s new strategy should worry the Navy leadership, since Secretary of Defense Gates has demonstrated a strong preference for funding programs with applications in current conflicts, and a willingness to cut programs failing that criteria (and more importantly: to fight legislators’ attempts to block cuts). Does the Navy have a place in McChrystal’s war? Yes, but not without some soul-searching.

The Navy can play a significant role in McChrystal’s strategy. Every year, thousands of sailors deploy on humanitarian, development, and disaster relief operations around the world. Sailors have repaired schools in the Pacific, organized health clinics in South America, and delivered disaster aid in the Caribbean. These operations are outside traditional military education and have required developing a new set of skills, notably the ability to plan and work side by side with different services, agencies, governments, and NGO partners. The missions have given the Navy hard won experience adapting military resources to humanitarian, development, and disaster relief challenges. This is particularly true of short term, high impact programs, the type of military involvement in development envisioned by Secretary of Defense Gates. The Navy could have precisely the type of soft-power experience McChrystal’s Afghanistan strategy requires.

The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural. The Navy’s leadership is dominated by line officers. This perpetuates an institutional culture valuing warships and warplanes. However, the enemy has neither fleet or coastline. All the carrier strike groups in the world will not find victory in the mountains of Afghanistan. To win over the hearts and minds, McChrystal’s strategy requires a surge of a new sort: of nurses, doctors, dentists, engineers, and civil-affairs units, the domain of the staff corp officer. While staff corp officers have a secondary role in the Navy’s traditional warfighting focus, they have played a major part in the Navy’s humanitarian and development cruises. Staff corp officers might not be able to plan a defense of the North Atlantic, but they can run health clinics, manage construction projects, and coordinate with NGOs. They are America’s soft-power specialists. If the Navy is going to take advantage of the humanitarian and development institutional knowledge of its staff corp officers, it must overcome its cultural biases towards the interests of line officers. In the 1980s, the Soviet Army learned that Afghanistan was not the Fulda Gap. Now, the US Navy must accept it is not the Taiwan Strait either.

With this submission, CINCLAX’s in-depth review of this part of the Solomons campaign is complete. I think you will agree with me that considerable thought and work went into these articles and join me as a hearty “BZ” is passed his way. On the horizon – in the next couple of weeks we will wrap up the action at sea and then give each of the authors a chance to (briefly) state their analysis as to the relative importance of Midway vs. The Solomon Islands campaign. – SJS

Completing the Cartwheel – the Final Encirclement of Rabaul

Meanwhile at Cape Gloucester and Manus…

Almost contemporaneous with the 3rd Marines departure from Bougainville, the now well-rested 1st Marine Division of Guadalcanal fame was loaned to RADM Dan Barbey’s 7th ‘Phib for a December 26, 1943 landing at Cape Gloucester on the western tip of New Britain. This followed an insignificant diversionary Army landing 10 days earlier at Arawe on the southwestern coast. While the Cape Gloucester Marines succeeded in capturing an airstrip, this field never became a significant factor in the continuing reduction of Rabaul, and turned out to be a rather wasteful operation that cost some 248 lives. The Japanese force at Cape Gloucester had no artillery with which to close Dampier Strait, so it had been no threat to Allied operations. It was monsoon season, and daily rainfall could reach 16 inches; thus the 1st Marine veterans opined the terrain and weather conditions were as big an obstacle as the Japanese, and the mud even worse than Guadalcanal.

On February 29, 1944, MacArthur’s 1st Cavalry Division landed on Los Negros Island in the Admiralties (north of New Guinea), then a week later on Manus Island to seize the magnificent Seeadler Harbor. Later in the year, this would be an invaluable staging place for operations on Palau and Leyte.

Such was the work of the weaker of the two arms of the South Pacific campaign to “Break the Bismarcks Barrier.” Now it was up to the stronger arm, Halsey’s, to complete the reduction of Rabaul.

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We resume the quite comprehensive articles provided by CINCLAX as part of the ongoing Solomon Islands Campaign blog project. With the exception of some noteworthy battles at sea and on land, the Solomons campaign slogged on in near anonymity, except for those doing the fighting. We would learn much in the process – about joint operations, supporting forces ashore, the flexibility of carrier- and shore-based air, logistics and the like that would be applied in the coming campaigns through the Southwest and Central Pacific that would break the back of the Japanese military and lead the way to ending the war in the Pacific. That, however, lays still in the future. In the meantime, Bougainville continues…


Expansion of the Torokina Beachhead

The first—or 3rd Marines—part of the Bougainville campaign had cost the Marines 423 killed and 1,418 wounded. Japanese dead were counted at 2,458; only 23 were taken prisoner. It had been a remarkably smooth operation.

On December 15, 1943 command of the Torokina beachhead Area had passed from IMAC (MG Roy Geiger) to XIV Corps (MG Oscar Griswold). Almost all of the 3rd Marines were withdrawn by the end of the month, and the Americal Division (MG John R. Hodge) and 37th Division (MG Robert Beightler) moved in to take their places. In fact elements of the 37th had already been in place, and initially Geiger had assigned them to the comparatively “peaceful” western part of the perimeter. Of the Marines, only the 3rd Defense Battalion would remain. Their 155mm guns would prove invaluable in defense of the perimeter.

Meanwhile the airfields were being readied to reduce Rabaul and its environs. Since December 10th, F4U Corsairs of VMF 216 had been based on the new Torokina strip, and they would initially be the key to the successful AirSols bombing offensive against Rabaul. Before the Piva strips became operational on January 9th, Allied bombers would lift off from more distant fields and be joined by the Torokina fighters, so as bomber escorts they made feasible large-scale raids from elsewhere.

During the initial period of the landings, air activity in support of the beachhead, consisted of daily flights over the Torokina area, in close air support (CAS), as well as regular strikes on southern Japanese bases like Kahili, Kieta, Kara and Ballale, and as visits to Buka and Bonis in the north.

Meanwhile the Marines were perfecting their CAS techniques, and on ten occasions in November-December ground troops requested it. Each of these required that the strike be run within 500 yards or less from American front lines; three at 500 yards, three at 200 yards, one at 120 yards, one at 100 yards, and two at only 75 yards. Marine spotter aircraft used colored smoke to mark front line positions and white smoke to mark the target areas, setting up a solid liaison between air and ground units. Techniques developed here would form the doctrinal basis for later Marine campaigns.

Very occasionally Japanese aircraft from Rabaul would score hits on command posts, supply dumps, ships, or small craft in Puruata Harbor (between Puruata Island and Cape Torokina), and on airfields which were under construction within the American perimeter. The net effect of these raids was minimal, and as enemy air strength diminished on Rabaul, raids dwindled to virtually nothing by the end of February 1944.

In time, most of AirSols assets would move to Bougainville, and it would become AirNorSols in June 1944.


THE 155mm “Long Tom” guns of the Marine 3d Defense Battalion could range out to appx. 20,000 yards, and could thus cover all parts of the perimeter with their 100 lb. shells.

The Americal Division was somewhat unusual in that it had never been given a number designation. In fact it was so-named because it had been formed up in May, 1942 in New Caledonia (representing the “Cal” part of the name). The Americal was also the first Army Division to take offensive action against the Japanese, and had fought with some with some distinction in the latter phases of the Guadalcanal campaign.

Like many other early Army divisions, the Americal was formed from National Guard Regiments, in this case 132nd (Massachusetts), the 164th (North Dakota), and 182nd (Illinois).

The 37th, or “Buckeye Division,” also had National Guard roots—only from Ohio. It had originally been formed in Fiji, then moved to Guadalcanal for training in March 1943. Four battalions had assisted the initially hapless 43rd Division on New Georgia, and learned their trade the hard way in the attack on Munda. It was at Munda that XIV commander Griswold had “cut his teeth” as he straightened out the faltering Army effort.

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A toast.

November 2009


On this Thanksgiving I’m thinking of my brother Jack a world away in Afghanistan. And with any luck, some time between coming in from one patrol and preparing for the next, he’ll be thinking of us.

Today my family will join thousands of families across the country as we raise our glasses to toast our loved one’s sense of duty. The tradition is one that extends not praise for a job well done (the war is far from over), nor sympathy for a job not worth doing (we chose the path we chose) but respect and love. Respect for the courage to fight when asked to fight and love for the spirit we see grow within them.

In a life too often filled with living we forget it’s the small, simple things that make us most happy. We forget how important things like a cold beer, laughter, bad sweaters, a football game, warm food, and old stories are. But not Jack. Right now whether he’s cleaning the bolt of his rifle sharing a coffee and a laugh with his fellow men or on patrol scanning a valley through his optics, life is at its most simple and complete. He has the love of his family, the admiration of his country, the respect of his fellow infantrymen and a great adventure he will never for the rest of his years on earth forget. Today he remembered those bad sweaters, bad stories, bad football games, and bad hangovers and he smiled because they weren’t bad things at all. They were simple things. And perfect.

Cover and Crew Roster - First Anniversary and Thanksgiving Day Dinner, USS Cummings DD-365, November 25, 1937.

Cover and Crew Roster - First Anniversary and Thanksgiving Day Dinner, USS Cummings DD-365, November 25, 1937.

Roster of Officers & Menu - First Anniversary and Thanksgiving Day Dinner, USS Cummings DD-365, November 25, 1937.

Roster of Officers & Menu - First Anniversary and Thanksgiving Day Dinner, USS Cummings DD-365, November 25, 1937.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in History | No Comments

uss pennsylvania scan

Posted by Jim Dolbow in History | 7 Comments

Should anyone have wondered about the absurdity of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, terrorists and illegal combatants as jay-walkers or recidivist parking violators, perhaps we have a glimpse at the logical outcome of such policies. See below from Fox News:


Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And three of the SEALs who captured him are now facing criminal charges.

The three, all members of the Navy’s elite commando unit, have refused non-judicial punishment — called an admiral’s mast — and have requested a trial by court-martial.

Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named “Objective Amber,” told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers.

Matthew McCabe, a Special Operations Petty Officer Second Class (SO-2), is facing three charges: dereliction of performance of duty for willfully failing to safeguard a detainee, making a false official statement, and assault.

Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe, SO-2, is facing charges of dereliction of performance of duty and making a false official statement.

Petty Officer Julio Huertas, SO-1, faces those same charges and an additional charge of impediment of an investigation.


The three SEALs will be arraigned separately on Dec. 7. Another three SEALs — two officers and an enlisted sailor — have been identified by investigators as witnesses but have not been charged. obtained the official handwritten statement from one of the three witnesses given on Sept. 3, hours after Abed was captured and still being held at the SEAL base at Camp Baharia. He was later taken to a cell in the U.S.-operated Green Zone in Baghdad.

The SEAL told investigators he had showered after the mission, gone to the kitchen and then decided to look in on the detainee.

“I gave the detainee a glance over and then left,” the SEAL wrote. “I did not notice anything wrong with the detainee and he appeared in good health.”

Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, spokeswoman for the special operations component of U.S. Central Command, confirmed Tuesday to that three SEALs have been charged in connection with the capture of a detainee. She said their court martial is scheduled for January.

United States Central Command declined to discuss the detainee, but a legal source told that the detainee was turned over to Iraqi authorities, to whom he made the abuse complaints. He was then returned to American custody. The SEAL leader reported the charge up the chain of command, and an investigation ensued.

The source said intelligence briefings provided to the SEALs stated that “Objective Amber” planned the 2004 Fallujah ambush, and “they had been tracking this guy for some time.”

The Fallujah atrocity came to symbolize the brutality of the enemy in Iraq and the degree to which a homegrown insurgency was extending its grip over Iraq.

The four Blackwater agents were transporting supplies for a catering company when they were ambushed and killed by gunfire and grenades. Insurgents burned the bodies and dragged them through the city. They hanged two of the bodies on a bridge over the Euphrates River for the world press to photograph.

Intelligence sources identified Abed as the ringleader, but he had evaded capture until September.

The military is sensitive to charges of detainee abuse highlighted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The Navy charged four SEALs with abuse in 2004 in connection with detainee treatment.


When faced with the choice of bringing in a terror target of interest and facing career-ending punishment and possible jail time, or giving him “two in the hat”, what would one lean toward in light of the above “policy”?

This can be read as a flash in giant neon letters to America’s enemies that we haven’t the courage or the stomach for the fight, and/or don’t believe our freedom and way of life worth fighting for. Overseas contingency operations indeed. Let’s just hope (apparently, hope is now a course of action) that the next “man-caused disaster” doesn’t kill tens of thousands of innocent Americans, but only thousands.

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion regarding courage IRT the USNA Color Guard scandal, and the Fort Hood tragedy.

Question for the audience:

Which of these groups has courage? The operators who risked their lives to bring in this terrorist, or the people in the chain of command who either mandated that charges be levied against those men or went along with the idea?


Tonnerre_mg_5859[1]Like many of you, I find it sad the US, an innovator in amphibious warfare, isn’t selling amphibs to all comers. If the LPD-17 had been developed quickly and kept simple, the USS New Orleans would have exploded onto the world market just as amphibious platforms become the must-have item for every new (or newly-recapitalizing) naval force. But, today, the LPD-17 isn’t high on anybody’s holiday wish-list.

Instead, ships like the Mistral are eating what could have been an economy-boosting, revenue-generating and trade-deficit reducing lunch. 

 That said, please enjoy this bracing pre-Holiday helping of Mistral goodness–a must-read for any Mistral-curious defense pundit:

A Tale of Two Ships: Why the Mistral has beaten the LPD-17.

What Good Is An Unused Ship?: Back in June 2008, I called for newly-commissioned ships to be put to work right away. The post details some of what the Mistral did to advertise itself during its post-commissioning deployment/shakedown–stuff that our brand-new amphibs (and, ah, our LCS platforms) should be doing.

Remember when LPD-17 was Commercial Spec?: Some scoff at the Mistral, saying Commercial Spec isn’t viable for a warship…well…um. Gosh. Read this and weep.

(If you want some more detail on how we took our eye off the ball with the LPD-17, read about the origins of the LPD-17s climbing wall or be shocked over the unintended consequences of having thicker mattresses than the other ships in the fleet.)

And then there’s the geopolitical angle–certainly, Russian shipbuilding is in crisis, but there are a few other benefits to this sale:

Why the Russians REALLY Want a Mistral: A lot of people are saying that this “buy” is to make Georgia and the little Baltics quiver with fear. Baloney–for a state with a big army, suborning border states don’t really require a whole lot of helicopter carrier. To me, the Mistral buy is more geopolitics than border security.

Remember, France, unlike most other former colonial countries, still maintains a lot of widely-distributed potentially base-worthy property. It’s a good maritime partner to have–particularly when the host is probably willing to trade access rights for some tasty arms deals.

It is a real pity the US hasn’t been at the forefront of naval vessel exports. Instead, Europe is eating our lunch–with ships built by those pesky, annoyingly well-paid, highly-compensated and technically proficient workers, too!

978159114133465 years ago, the U.S. Army reached the Rhine. David Colley’s book contains many lessons for future leaders. A must read that will leave you wishing we would turn back time .

What inspired you to write Decision at Strasbourg?

Studying WWII in Europe I was intrigued by mention in many histories that Lt. Gen. Devers’ 7th Army reached the Rhine on November 24 1944 and that he planned a cross-river attack. This was four months before any of the other armies under Patton, Bradley and Montgomery reached the Rhine and yet no historian seemed interested in asking the elementary question: why didn’t Devers cross, could he have crossed and what would have been the outcome and results? The usual explanation was that 6th Army Group was too far from the stated allied objective, the Ruhr Industrial Area, to have an effect or that Devers’ didn’t have the necessary logistical support or the punch to make the crossing.

So I started researching and found all these reasons to be bunk. Sixth Army Group was a sizable Army – about 350,000 men – and while it included the French First Army that was not completely up to par, the 7th Army under General Alexander Patch, was arguably the best and most combat tested army in Europe. It included the 36th, the 45th and the 3rd Divisions that had fought through Africa, Italy and France. And it was 7th Army that was to make the crossing just north of Strasbourg at Rastatt, Germany, not the French. As for being to far from the Ruhr, this too didn’t make sense. Patton’s objective was the Saar Industrial Area and 7th Army wasn’t that far from the Saar. Devers’ objective was to cross and take the pressure off Patton’s 3rd Army by coming in behind the German 1st Army. This would have unleashed Patton to take the Saar. These moves probably would have released pressure farther to the north and allowed First Army and the British and Canadian armies to break the stalemate along the western front and reach the Ruhr.

I like to compare Devers’ planned attack to a football game. How silly would it be for a coach not to take advantage of an opponent’s week side and keep running and passing to its strong side? This is what Eisenhower and SHAEF were doing by attacking the enemy at its strongest points in the north. The German front opposite Devers in Alsace was the weakest one so weak that patrols found the defense on the German side empty.

How would have history been different in your view if General Eisenhower had not cancelled Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers’ Sixth Army Group planned attack across the Rhine in late November 1944?

I will let General Garrison Davidson address this issue. He was chief engineer for 6th Army Group during the war and later was 7th Army commander in Europe during the Cold War and Commandant at West Point:

“It is interesting to conjecture what might have been the effect of the exploitation of an unexpected crossing of the Rhine in the south in late November or early December and an envelopment of the Ardennes to the north along the east bank of the Rhine… I have often wondered what might have happened had Ike had the audacity to take a calculated risk, as General Patton would have instead of playing it safe. Perhaps success would have eliminated any possibility of the Battle of the Bulge, 40,000 (80,000 actually) casualties there would have been avoided and the war shortened by a number of months at the saving of other thousands of lives.”

I also like to point out that even a feint might have yielded tremendous rewards. Had Devers sent over a few battalions with the idea of withdrawing them the Germans would still have to had to have responded and this response would have depleted their resources elsewhere thereby weakening their front. A feint alone might have caused the German front line to crumble. There wasn’t much holding up the German front except dogged determination.

Why is General Devers and his 6th Army Group almost forgotten participants in the European War?

First, the invasion of southern France was considered a sideshow from the start, a diversion that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere except provide a flank guard to Patton’s Third Army. That 6th Army Group was never included in SHAEF planning even after it became a powerful force. The focus of SHAEF’s planning and the focus of public relations and the press was on the northern armies led by Patton, Bradley and Montgomery. Sixth Army Group was an orphan that never got much publicity. During the war most people did not recognize Devers name and didn’t know how to pronounce it – Deevers or Devers.

Also Devers never wrote his memoirs thus leaving his story to be interpreted by others and no one has ever written a comprehensive biography of the man. The history of WWII like so many wars was determined by the writings of other generals, most who served in the armies – 12th and 21st Army Groups – in northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Bradley, Patton, Montgomery and Eisenhower, penned their memoirs and histories and historians have generally followed their stories and rationalizations. Even most of the official histories are about the war in northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Historians take their cues and information from these sources. There is very little about 6th Army Group. The only biography I know of that relates in any way to southern France is Truscott’s and his time in France was limited. Gen. Alexander Patch, commander of 7th Army in France, died in the fall of 1945 and never had time to write a biography. De Lattre of First French Army wrote a history but it is about the French. Brooks, who commanded 15th Corps, and Haislip, 6th Corps, never wrote biographies to my knowledge. Le Clerc, commanding 2nd French Armored Division that captured Strasbourg, was killed in a plane crash in 1946. Davidson lived a long life and retired a 4-star general and I quote from his unpublished memoir above, but he also gave an interview – now housed in Washington – in which vehemently argued that Devers’ cross-Rhine attack could have changed the course of the war.

What are some of the lessons learned for future commanders that can be found in your book?

That an army should be flexible and generals and leaders of all ranks taught to take advantage of situations that arise such as Devers’ Rhine crossing. This was one of Rommel’s great traits – when he saw a great tactical opportunity he acted upon it sometimes at great risk. He attacked when most would have stayed put or retreated. The German experience in Russia is another example, I believe, where their generals took advantage of opportunities even at great risk. The Gudarians stormed ahead when others would have acted cautiously. The American experience in Europe during WWII, I believe, reflects cautious leadership by most generals, Patton being the exception. There were other instances on the western front where a breakthrough was achieved but the leadership was unable to take advantage of the opportunities.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

Today — part 2 of CINCLAX’s articles on the Bougainville Campaign…

"The Little Beavers" - Destroyer Squadron 23 - November 1943 Led by Admiral Arleigh A. ("31-knot") Burke, DESRON 23 was part of Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill's Task Force 39 during the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, November 1943, when four of the squadron's destroyers helped sink a Japanese cruiser and two destroyers. Ordered by Admiral "Bull" Halsey to scout the Buka-Rabaul evacuation route, on 25 November 1943, during the Battle of Cape St. George, The Little Beavers sank two new 2000 ton Japanese destroyers with their torpedoes and, after an hour long chase, a high speed transport by gunfire.

"The Little Beavers" - Destroyer Squadron 23 - November 1943

Battle of Empress Augusta Bay (the “short version”)

While the 3rd Marines were settling for their first night ashore, a critical sea battle was brewing offshore. As they had immediately responded in the air, the IJN was quick to counter attack by sea. In Rabaul, ADM Samejima (8th Fleet) ordered newly arrived ADM Omori (CO Crudiv 5, Nachi & Haguro) to sea with every other fighting ship he could conscript from Simpson Harbor with orders to attack the American transports

It was a bad decision. Omori had never exercised with any of the other ships in his scratch force (two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers), while “Tip” Merrill’s force, TF 39 (4 light cruisers, eight destroyers), were by now old hands at night actions.

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