Tarawa: How an Intelligence Failure Led to the Underwater Demolition Teams

DoD Photo
DoD Photo

In 1943, the Allies debated their strategy for taking back the Pacific from the Japanese.  Their strategic goal: the unconditional surrender of Japan.  General Douglas MacArthur slogged his way through the South Pacific, closing with and defeating the heavily entrenched Japanese defenders.  A victory in the South Pacific guaranteed the safey of Australia and the severing of Japan’s southern sea lines of communication, but defeating layered defenses in heavy jungle was slow work.

Was there another way?  Pacific Fleet’s planners thought so.  They proposed a Central Pacific campaign, with the goal of seizing the Marshal Islands.  Seizing the Marshals would assist Gen. MacArthur by cutting off the Japanese in New Guinea, the Solomons, and the Philippines from resupply.  Additionally, the Marshals provided a base from which to launch a campaign against the fortified islands that were needed for air bases in the final invasion of Japan.

But there lay the problem.  The invasion of the Marshals required far more troops than available, at least without disrupting MacArthur’s drive.  Not only was MacArthur’s drive critical to victory, it also had strong political support.  No delay would be tolerated.  But the planners had an answer: the Gilbert Islands.

Requiring significantly fewer troops, the Gilberts lay on the Marshals’ doorstep, and could be used for reconnaissance and basing for a later invasion.  Planners quickly turned their attention to the atolls of Tarawa and Makin, specifically the individual islands of Betio and Butaritari, respectively.  Aerial reconnaissance craft overflew every aspect of the islands, and the USS Nautilus took periscope level photos of the beaches.  Everyone knew that the two atolls’ islands  sat ringed with reefs, but no one seemed to know how deeply those reefs would be submerged on the day of the landing.

Marine casualties lay on the beach of Betio
Marine casualties lay on the beach of Betio. DoD photo.

The staff of Task Force 54, the assault force commander, stated in their orders that no more than one to two feet of clearance would be available at Betio due to a neap tide.  Divisional planners at the 2nd Marine Division interviewed sea captains and former residents of Betio.  With one exception, all stated that there would be enough clearance for the landing craft (LCVPs), which needed at least four feet to navigate safely, to pass.  Planning proceeded based on those interviews.

On November 20, 1943, after an intense naval and aerial bombardment, the Marine landing force began to approach Betio.  The first wave approached in amphibious tractors.  The tractors crawled across the reef, under heavy Japanese fire, and deposited their Marines.  Then the follow-on waves, loaded into LCVPs, began to hit the reef.  As the Task Force 54 staff had predicted, only one to two feet of water was available on the reef line.  The LCPVs grounded.  Marines scrambled from their boats and began to wade hundreds of yards to shore under heavy fire.  Some companies reported losing 35% of their forces before they ever made the beach.

Marines prepare to repatriate the bodies of 36 Marines killed on Tarawa.
In 2015, Marines of the 3rd Marine Regiment repatriated the bodies of 36 Marines killed on Tarawa. Marine Corps photo.

After three days of fighting, the Marines took the island.  Casualties were hastily buried, and a landing strip was built, leaving some Marines buried there, unknown.  Unknown Marines are still being brought home to this day.

Tarawa (and Makin, to a lesser extent) drove home the need for an intelligence gathering and route clearance capability that did not exist in the Navy write large.  The rest, as they say, is history.  According to the UDT/SEAL Museum:

 “[D]uring the Tarawa landing at the Gilbert Islands, a chain of 16 atolls and coral islands in the South Pacific Ocean, a submerged reef caused amphibious landing craft to founder far offshore, resulting in the loss of hundreds of U.S. Marines from enemy fire and drowning. After that experience, Admiral Kelley Turner, Commander of the 5th Amphibious Force, directed that 30 officers and 150 enlisted men be moved to Waimanalo ATB (on the “big island” of Hawaii) to form the nucleus of a reconnaissance and demolition training program. It is here that the UDTs of the Pacific were born.

The first UDT group became UDT-1 and UDT-2, “provisional” UDTs with strengths of about fourteen officers and seventy enlisted men each. They saw their first action on 31 January 1944 in the attacks on Kwajalein and Roy-Namur during Operation FLINTLOCK in the Marshall Islands. Following FLINTLOCK, the UDT men returned to establish a naval combat demolition training and experimental base on a beach near ATB, Kamaol on the island of Maui.

Between December 1944 and August 1945, UDT men saw action across the Pacific in every major amphibious landing, including Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Angaur, Ulithi, Pelilui, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Zambales, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Labuan, Brunei Bay, and Borneo. On 4 July 1945 at Balikpapan on Borneo, UDT-11 and UDT-18 spearheaded one of the last and least-recorded offensive actions of the war, where they performed their now classic pre-assault reconnaissance and demolition operations.”

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About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Estonia Prepares for War

Soldiers with the Estonian Defense Force practice assembling an M2 .50-caliber machine gun during a combined preliminary marksmanship class Aug. 27, at Tapa Army Base. The training was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training events and exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
Soldiers with the Estonian Defense Force practice assembling an M2 .50-caliber machine gun during a combined preliminary marksmanship class Aug. 27, at Tapa Army Base. The training was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training events and exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

It’s no secret that Eastern European countries worry about Russia’s intentions.  They have good reason to.  Between cyber and physical attacks, Russia’s activities in its former sphere of influence aren’t exactly an extension of the hand of friendship.  Add to that a little bit of uncertainty about the United States’ dedication level to its NATO allies, and you have some valid concerns building up.  These countries remember what it was like to be in Russia’s orbit, and they have no intention of ending up there again.

The New York Times ran an article in early November that profiled an aspect of Estonia’s response to this uncertainty – they are openly preparing for a guerilla war.  The Estonian Defense League, a sanctioned paramilitary organization, trains and drills civilian volunteers to prepare them for guerilla operations.  The Times profiled the “Jarva District Patrol Competition, a 24-hour test of the skills useful for partisans, or insurgents, to fight an occupying army, and an improbably popular form of what is called ‘military sport’ in Estonia.  The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia’s incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States…

…Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes.”

A member of the Estonian Women's Home Defense team applies first aid to an Estonian Defense League soldier role playing as a casualty during the second annual Admiral Pitka Recon Challenge Aug. 8 near Tapa, Estonia. Hosted by the Estonian Defense League, the challenge tested the strength, speed, endurance, intelligence and willpower of 26 teams from six countries to include eight Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Maryland National Guard through a series of obstacles and simulations along an 81-mile route through the Estonian countryside. The Women's Home Defense team placed 20th in the three-day event hosted by the Estonian Defense League.
A member of the Estonian Women’s Home Defense team applies first aid to an Estonian Defense League soldier role playing as a casualty during the second annual Admiral Pitka Recon Challenge Aug. 8 near Tapa, Estonia. Hosted by the Estonian Defense League, the challenge tested the strength, speed, endurance, intelligence and willpower of 26 teams from six countries to include eight Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Maryland National Guard through a series of obstacles and simulations along an 81-mile route through the Estonian countryside. The Women’s Home Defense team placed 20th in the three-day event hosted by the Estonian Defense League.

Essentially, the Estonians are acknowledging that their 6,000 member army isn’t going to be capable of stopping the Russians (or whoever else may be a threat), but they plan to make any invaders pay dearly and thereby make the idea of an invasion unpalatable.  Lest we consider this strategy to be foolhardy, keep in mind that it is essentially the Swiss defense strategy.  So let’s take a look at the two:

The Swiss

There are significant differences in how the Swiss would execute their strategy versus the Estonians.  As far as manpower is concerned, the Swiss have compulsory service in the armed forces for all males.  This produces an entire populace that is well-acquainted with conventional and mountain warfare.  The Swiss have built their entire defensive strategy around being able to mobilize the population for a conventional war.  They purchase equipment with enough parts to sustain it throughout its planned service life.  They have agreements with major manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs that allows the government to maintain stockpiles, then return the goods to the manufacturer for sale after a set time.  The government only pays for the goods if they use them, and the manufacturer still gets to sell the items and realize a profit.  In case of invasion, the populace would report to conventional military units such as infantry, armor, and air; would blast bridges, tunnels, and factories into uselessness; and then would fight a conventional battle of attrition until the invader loses the will to fight.

Swiss Army soldiers cross a checkpoint during the 49th Annual Marche Internationale de Diekirch, Diekirch, Luxembourg, May 22, 2016. This is an annual international marching event hosted by the Luxembourg Army and the city of Diekirch. Military participants must complete 80 kilometers during a two day period around the vicinity of Diekirch, Luxembourg. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Cathey/released)
Swiss Army soldiers cross a checkpoint during the 49th Annual Marche Internationale de Diekirch, Diekirch, Luxembourg, May 22, 2016. This is an annual international marching event hosted by the Luxembourg Army and the city of Diekirch. Military participants must complete 80 kilometers during a two day period around the vicinity of Diekirch, Luxembourg. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Cathey/released)

An interesting development in the Swiss military system is the creation of private military associations that conduct voluntary training in between required military drills.  Members pay a small fee that helps fund the association, and use their issued arms and equipment for the drills.

The Estonians

The Estonian population also has compulsory military service for males, with an active force of around 6,000.  The objective of the Defense League is to train volunteers that are either not subject to compulsory service, or are past their service age, to conduct unconventional warfare and civil defense missions.  Essentially, they function almost like a State Guard in the United States, but with a war-fighting capability.  The current Estonian plan seems to assume that the invader will achieve conventional victory, but would then be forced to maintain an expensive occupation force that would sap its will to fight.  To that end, “[t]he number of firearms, mostly Swedish-made AK-4 automatic rifles, that Estonia has dispersed among its populace is classified. But the league said it had stepped up the pace of the program since the Ukraine crisis began. Under the program, members must hide the weapons and ammunition, perhaps in a safe built into a wall or buried in the backyard.”

Pvt. Kalmer Simohov, of Parnu, a volunteer with the Estonian Defense League, receives his U.S. Army Airborne wings following the joint airborne operations exercise July 23, at a drop zone in Nurmsi, Estonia. The event was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
Pvt. Kalmer Simohov, of Parnu, a volunteer with the Estonian Defense League, receives his U.S. Army Airborne wings following the joint airborne operations exercise July 23, at a drop zone in Nurmsi, Estonia. The event was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

Unlike Switzerland (which is neutral), Estonia is a NATO member, and would be eligible under Article 5 to call for collective self-defense.  What many people forget when they talk about Article 5’s collective defense, though, is that Article 3 specifically states that members “will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

We all hope that Estonia’s preparations won’t be necessary, and that the threat of NATO’s collective self-defense will maintain the border sanctity of the former Russian satellites.  But hope is not a plan, and as long as the sabers keep getting rattled, the Estonians will prepare to make an occupation untenable.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Here’s What A Training Weekend Looks Like with the Virginia Defense Force

The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.
The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.

Some of you may remember a previous article I wrote on citizens, the police reserves, and state guards.  Well, I had a chance today to observe some training that the local unit of the Virginia Defense Force was conducting, as well as talk to the Commander of First Regiment, Major Richard Rheinsmith.

First, a little about the mission of the VDF from their website:

“The Virginia Defense Force (VDF) is an all-volunteer, formal military organization. Its mission is to assist the Virginia National Guard in performing state missions as specified by the Governor.

The VDF is the state’s only military force that is independent of federal control. With units located throughout the state, at the direction of the Department of Military Affairs, the VDF can move into a stricken area quickly, interact with and assist local authorities and restore community integrity as soon as possible. Working during blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters, the VDF volunteers are familiar faces working in nearby towns and cities bringing aid and comfort to their neighbors.”

And from the Code of Virginia:

“The Virginia Defense Force with a targeted membership of at least 1,200 shall be organized within and subject to the control of the Department of Military Affairs.

When called to state active duty, the mission of the Virginia Defense Force shall be to (i) provide for an adequately trained organized reserve militia to assume control of Virginia National Guard facilities and to secure any federal and state property left in place in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (ii) assist in the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (iii) support the Virginia National Guard in providing family assistance to military dependents within the Commonwealth in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, and (iv) provide a military force to respond to the call of the Governor in those circumstances described in § 44-75.1.”

And a little about their history:

Virginia State Volunteers / Virginia Volunteers: 1917-1921

In response to the 1917 federalization of the Virginia National Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia created the Virginia State Volunteers to support civil authorities. Soon renamed the Virginia Volunteers, the group guarded bridges, waterways, fuel storage areas, and public buildings and facilities during the war years, armed with surplus weapons dating back to 1876. With the return of the National Guard units after World War I, the last company of the Virginia Volunteers was deactivated in 1921. A total of 1,300 Virginians served in the Virginia Volunteers from 1917 to 1921.

Virginia Protective Force / Virginia State Guard: 1941-1947

Following the 1940 Nazi defeat of the French army, Virginia Governor Price created the Virginia Defense Council to plan for the possibility that the Virginia National Guard could be federalized once again. Based on the recommendation of the council, Governor Price ordered the establishment of the Virginia Protective Force on January 2, 1941. Provided surplus M-1917 Enfield rifles and blue-grey wool uniforms made in the state’s penitentiaries, the Virginia Protective Force assumed the in-state missions of the Virginia National Guard when it was called to federal service. In 1944 the General Assembly changed the name of the Virginia Protective Force to the Virginia State Guard. With the return of the Virginia National Guard from overseas service, the Commonwealth deactivated the Virginia State Guard in June 1947. A total of 16,885 Virginians served in the Virginia Protective Force and Virginia State Guard from 1941 to 1947.

Virginia State Guard / Virginia Defense Force: 1985-Present

The Total Force policies of the Department of Defense prompted changes to federal law in the mid-1980s, allowing states to establish military forces designated to assume the missions of their state National Guards in the event they were called to federal service. With planning dating back to 1981, the Commonwealth created the first units of the new Virginia State Guard in 1985 with same mission as its predecessors: support of civil authority. In 1989 the General Assembly renamed the Virginia State Guard the Virginia Defense Force. The Virginia Defense Force currently has more than 1000 men and women serving their communities throughout the Commonwealth.

The training I got to observe this weekend was crowd control and entry control points, conducted in conjunction with a

Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.
Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.

local National Guard unit.  I know the stereotype of State Guard members is typically less than favorable, but I was impressed with how seriously the volunteers were taking the training.  There were a wide variety of ages represented, from teens to retired adults.  There were also a variety of experiences, from untrained to retired military to civilian professionals and first responders.  All were engaged and willing.  The first training day encompassed classroom and practical, including expandable baton, takedowns, empty hand control, and a use of force brief from the Judge Advocate.  The second day covered ECP and vehicle searches, then riot control with the shield and baton.

While this particular drill weekend was focused on a security/law enforcement mission, it certainly isn’t the only mission the VDF undertakes.  During the weekend the 1st Regiment also supported a multi-state communications exercise using High Frequency Radios called TAC-PAK’s – a multi-user “Briefcase Command Center”.  These lightweight, battery-powered, man-portable communication platforms (with full wireless communications functionality) are integrated into small suitcases and attached to Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT’s).   This is what the VDF uses when they provide communications support for disasters and other emergent events along with their other assistance to planned events (such as manning aid booths and parking).

Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.
Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.

Elements of the VDF are training in wilderness search and rescue, and there is a new cyber unit that will be assisting with major planned events within the next year.

To tie this in to the previous article: the VDF is all-volunteer, and they only get paid when they are called to state active duty, so their drills and associated expenses (gas, gear, food, etc.) are all out of pocket.  They perform a service to the state by augmenting local and state agencies, as well as the National Guard during planned and emergent events, and they do it because they want to.  To me, this is a positive example of the kind of citizen engagement that our country really needs today.  As MAJ Rheinsmith said, “Our volunteer members bring to the table their individually developed skill set.  Through collaboration, cohesion and common goals we provide capabilities to the commonwealth in times of need.  Come join us; you won’t know if you like it until you try!”

Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.
Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.

If this article interests you, and you don’t mind some long hours for no pay, you can contact the VDF through their website or on their Facebook page.  Even if you have no military experience, I know they’d be happy to hear from you.  From what I’ve seen, it’s a group of guys and gals who are just looking to do their part for their state and are willing to put their time and money where their mouths are.  I just wish half the Internet’s keyboard warriors would do the same.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Why Sometimes Violence Is The Answer

violence-is-the-answer

We as Americans live in a bubble, filled with social media drama, reality TV shows, scare tactic politics and a an ever changing social structure that pushes to fit whatever social agenda main stream media pushes that week.  While this bubble allows our citizens to live in one of the greatest countries on earth and to live a life relatively void of some of the evils the rest of the world encounters on a daily basis, it does create an unrealistic view of violence and its application to solve some of life’s greatest problems.

Those who say “violence is never the answer”, most likely never stared death in the face or encountered some of the greatest evil that plagues our society.  In reality, violence often solves some of life’s greatest issues.

violencehoodie-zipup_back

During WWII the Nazi’s invaded most of Europe with no plan to stop until they reached a utopian  society.  Their push only ended with the proper application of violence from allied forces.  During 9/11 terrorist hijacked United Flight 93 with the intent on flying the jet into either the White House or Capitol Building.  While the plane crashed into an open field killing all aboard, passengers on board violently took back the plan from the terrorists and successfully kept the plane from killing more innocent Americans.  Today our nation’s men and women in uniform violently pursue some of our country’s greatest enemies, killing them and preventing them from committing further ill will against our society.

As Americans we value life greater than other societies. In other parts of the world many accidental deaths are settled through a mutually agreed upon amount.  In many places in the middle east, if one person kills the member of another family, the killer’s family may settle the death and avoid repercussions by simply paying the family of the victim.  There is a social norm that allows for both parties to honor the settled debt and rarely does any revenge take place after the family pays the debt.  In these societies all life has a monetary amount.  It’s viewed the same as a car or household item.

Desert Rescue XI

Because these societies value life differently than American citizens they tend to apply violence to solve their goals.  This partially explains their use of suicide bombers as a valuable tactic of warfare.  As American’s we can’t fathom the idea of strapping a solider with explosives and sending them into a populated market of innocent civilians to kill themselves and everyone else around them in the name of a greater good.   When someone reaches a mental state of destruction, as seen by many of our nation’s adversaries, there is little chance for negotiation.  In this instance we must use violence to combat violence.  While you might argue that our violence creates more terrorists, leads to civilian deaths and is a revolving door of warfare, it doesn’t mean that it’s not our most powerful and problem solving tool available.  While violence leads to possible continued issues down the road, it does often keep that terrorist from attacking the US, killing hundreds of innocent civilians or military personnel operating in the area.

If the application of violence in warfare doesn’t make you a believer ask yourself what you would do if confronted by a rapist or a murder here in the US who wished to rape or kill you.  Chances are you cannot negotiate with the attacker and your only chance of survival is the successful application of violence.  Here violence is the answer.

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Because of this, we argue that sometimes violence is the answer to life’s problems and to say otherwise is merely an unrealistic view that is afforded by our nation’s most privileged citizens.



Mao’s Phases of Revolution and the War for Independence: Part III

This is my second paper for the Naval War College in which I attempt to analyze the American War for Independence through the three phases of revolutionary warfare theorized by Mao Tse-Tung in his book On Guerrilla Warfare.  This is part two of two.  Part one can be found here.  Part two can be found here.  While I do not adhere to Mao’s political views in any way, shape, form, or fashion, his insight into guerrilla warfare is invaluable, as USMC Capt. Samuel B. Griffith II said in his forward to the translation: “it remained for Mao Tse-Tung to produce the first systematic study of the subject….  His study…will continue to have a decisive effect in societies ready for a change.”  Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard, the Naval War College, or the US Government.

Politics and Alliances

If pitched battles produced losses, and even Continental generals such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee recommended irregular or guerilla warfare tactics (Fischer, 2004), why then did the Continental Army continue to pursue a strategy of attempting to take and hold large cities, such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston?

Simply put, politics (both internal and external) drove the decision.  The Continental Congress realized that losing large cities painted a picture of a failing rebellion.  Congress had begun alliance negotiations with France within a month of declaring independence.  France demonstrated a willingness at first, especially after the British evacuated Boston; however, when Washington lost New York, their eagerness cooled.  While the French provided surreptitious support in the form of arms and financing, a full and public alliance remained out of reach. (State Department, n.d.)

The Congress hoped this alliance would fill critical needs for the colonies.  At the time, no large-scale arms manufacturing existed in the colonies.  The Continental Navy made a name for itself with its daring, but remained outmatched by the power of the British fleet.  The French army also brought experience to the table that the Continental Army lacked.  France saw a vested interest in helping the colonies – they lost significant power as a result of their defeat by the British in the Seven Year’s War, and this rebellion offered a chance for retribution. (State Department, n.d.)  France, however, wished to avoid entangling itself in another costly war unless a benefit could be realized.  The American approach of small guerilla skirmishes and a war of attrition proved tactically sound, but failed to convince the French that the colonials could win the war.

Not until the Colonial victory at the Battle(s) of Saratoga did the French fully commit to a public alliance.  This alliance opened the door for French troops and ships to flow into the American colonies, as well as Britain’s Caribbean colonies.  (Allison, 2011)  While this influx did not result in a surge of decisive battles, it did force Britain to adapt its war strategy, distracting both their naval and land forces from the American colonies. (Pritchard, 1994)  Forces under the French General Rochambeau strengthened the weakened Colonial forces and played a critical role in the victory at Yorktown. (Allison, 2011)

Dressed in a period correct Continental uniform, Guilford Courthouse National Park ranger Jason Baum fires a rifle similar to those Continental soldiers would have employed against the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The demonstration was part of a staff ride conducted by the 108th Training Command (IET) at the Greensboro, N.C., park on Feb. 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)
Dressed in a period correct Continental uniform, Guilford Courthouse National Park ranger Jason Baum fires a rifle similar to those Continental soldiers would have employed against the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The demonstration was part of a staff ride conducted by the 108th Training Command (IET) at the Greensboro, N.C., park on Feb. 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)

An Unnecessary Rush

Clearly, Phase III presented opportunities for the colonies.  But was it really necessary to move into Phase III so early, especially with such an unprepared force?  The rivalry between Britain and France that the colonies relied on would certainly have remained alive.  The most influential trainer in the Continental Army hailed from Prussia, not from France, and he worked without pay.  Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben served as a staff officer under Frederick the Great, though he never saw combat in Europe.  He demonstrated a remarkable knack for training: “Washington gave him a hundred men to train; he was so impressed with the results after two weeks that he let him train another hundred….  The men were already veterans; Steuben’s training made them a disciplined and effective army.” (Allison, 2011)   As previously noted, the French military contributions were well-known and significant in replacing lost numbers, but their finances and arms contributions are easy to overlook.  As Griffith notes: “such factors as…the presence or absence of material help, technical aid, advisers, or ‘volunteers’ from outside sources…are naturally relevant to the ability of a movement to survive and expand.” (Griffith II, 1961)   The colonies received supplies, training assistance, and money, and they successfully engaged in unconventional warfare against the British forces – all Phase II activities.  Instead of attempting to seize or defend towns, the individual generals – under the direction of General Washington – should have been given free rein to harry the British in their areas.  While they harassed and wore down the various British units, General Washington would have focused on training up the solid core of the Continental Army.  The British suffered from an inability to properly re-supply and replenish their forces (O’Shaughnessy, 2013), a fact that a guerilla war of attrition funded by the French would have exacerbated.  As Sun Tzu said: “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.” (Tzu, 1963) When the Continental Army was capable of standing on its own, General Washington would then be able to face off against a British army that was a shell of its former self.

The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief's Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President's Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)
The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President’s Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)

Conclusion

Arguably, the Continental Army did eventually flow back into Phase II, especially throughout the South.  This shift led to the over-extension of General Cornwallis, and eventually to his establishment of a base at Yorktown, Virginia.  There, the now-well-trained Continental Army, along with their French allies, delivered the fatal blow to the British army.  But prior to this well-executed combination of unconventional and conventional warfare, Washington and his generals obsessed with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  This obsession cost the army dearly in lives, resources, and morale.

The pursuit of the French alliance was a key political aim, and military decisions were made in support of that aim.  As Clausewitz said: “The political object…will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires.” (Clausewitz, 1976)  It was only after much effort had been expended that a better strategy was devised.  Much of that effort could have been saved had the urgency of a formal alliance been re-evaluated and more emphasis placed on unconventional tactics coupled with a rigorous conventional training regime.  When the colonies declared independence, their chances of winning were limited.  A well-planned guerilla war would have thrown the British army off their guard, and shifted the chances toward the upstart colonies and their revolutionary way of thinking.

Works Cited

Allison, R. J. (2011). The American Revolution: A Concise History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Fischer, D. H. (2004). Washington’s Crossing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Tse-Tung, M. (1961). On Guerilla Warfare. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

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About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.