The Bombing of the Sir Galahad

The arrival of the new British brigade and its subsequent move up to the front led to the worst British setback of the war. A series of night transfers by sea caused two British ships – the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram — to be left exposed in daylight in an undefended inlet on the south coast of the Falklands on the morning of 7 June. The place was Port Pleasant, ‘Bahía Agradable’ to the Argentines. The persistent low cloud of the last few days had cleared, and it was a bright day of good visibility. The Sir Tristram was almost empty, but the newly arrived Sir Galahad was packed with troops, ammunition, fuel and vehicles. The arrangements for disembarking the troops and removing them from the danger of air attack failed, and most of them remained on board all through the morning.

The Sir Tristram had been observed from Argentine positions on Mount Harriet, 10 miles away, on the previous day, and now, on this morning, the second ship was also seen. The report reached the mainland, and a sizeable air effort was ordered. Eight Skyhawks and six Daggers of the 5th and 6th Fighter Groups were loaded with bombs and sent by a southerly route to attack the anchorage. A Learjet would lead in the attack flights and provide accurate navigation almost as far as the islands. Preceding the arrival of all these aircraft by a few minutes would be four Mirages of the 8th Fighter Group, which would be making their first appearance in the combat area since 1 May. They were to simulate a low-level attack along the north coast of the islands; but this was a decoy flight, and they were to turn away and return to base as soon as they attracted the attention of the Sea Harrier patrols. Vice-Admiral Lombardo mentions a further small element in the Argentine plans. He states that the Type 42 destroyer Santísima Trinidad was off the Argentine coast that day carrying out radio interference operations on the frequencies used by the British air controllers.

The Argentine aircraft took off in the late morning, but three Skyhawks – including both flight leaders – and a Dagger turned back because of various problems. The Mirage decoy flight was successful and temporarily attracted the attention of the Sea Harrier patrols. The five Daggers were the first of the attack aircraft to reach the islands, but their eastward flight to Port Pleasant was abandoned when one member of the flight spotted a solitary warship in Falkland Sound. The Daggers turned and made a very good attack on that ship – the frigate Plymouth — and hit it with four bombs. But once again none of these exploded, although the ship was damaged, and four of her crew were injured. Only one Dagger was slightly damaged by the ship’s defensive fire, and they all returned safely to the mainland.

This left five Skyhawks to carry on and look for the two landing ships at Port Pleasant. The Mirage decoy flight and then the Dagger attack on the Plymouth left no Sea Harrier patrols available to intercept this raid, and the two ships they were seeking were almost defenceless. The earlier turning back of the two flight leaders left First Lieutenant Cachón, flying only his third war mission, to lead the now combined flight of five Skyhawks. Cachón provides an account which shows how the Skyhawks nearly missed their targets by being told that the ships were in Port Fitzroy, which was just north of Port Pleasant. Cachón’s account starts with his taking over the leadership of the flight when his own leader had to turn back: 27

I became flight leader. I had never had that responsibility before but now, suddenly and by chance, I found myself in charge not only of one flight but of two. Before he left, the Captain told me: ‘Attack at one minute intervals, three aircraft ahead and two behind…. Take them to glory!’ A very simple request, wasn’t it? I felt a chill run up my spine but then I felt calmer, because the men who were following me were perfectly qualified for that kind of operation and the success of the mission depended on my command.

The succession of checkpoints forced me to concentrate on the flight. Over Cabo Belgrano [the southern tip of West Falkland] we went through a rainy area for a few seconds. Then we crossed over the southern part of Falkland Sound. The sea was full of gulls floating calmly. We passed another checkpoint at Aquila Island [Speedwell Island] and then met a second area of rain, but we flew on heading straight towards Fitzroy. It poured with rain again for thirty seconds; during that time you can cover a distance of around eight kilometres. I was about to return, because I was afraid that the rain would cover all the islands, but fortunately we managed to see a clearance behind the curtain of water, and this encouraged me to continue with the planned course. As we got nearer to the target I ordered the flight to accelerate to 900 kph and stay right down on the sea.

Forty seconds before the target we saw a Sea Lynx helicopter, so I hid behind a hill to avoid being detected. Twenty seconds later we found a Sea King on the ground; we performed the same manoeuvre and then reached Fitzroy Bay. There was nothing to be seen! I decided to fly on for another thirty seconds, but after that we turned right to start the return flight. Down on the ground we could see many British soldiers, who began shooting at us. A missile crossed behind our flight line from right to left at an angle of about 30 degrees. Just as we were completing the turn, ‘Diablo’ shouted: ‘There are the ships!’ Two grey silhouettes could be seen near the coast. I straightened up and banked to the left. Here we go again!

I released my bombs, which scored direct hits on the Sir Galahad. Number Two’s bombs went long but luckily they hit a vehicle, overturned it and then they exploded. Ensign Carmona also hit the target. The section coming behind us saw that the ship had been hit so they attacked the Sir Tristram; ‘Chango’ and ‘Diablo’ did not waste their bombs. There was a long pipe on the deck where many life-jackets were tidily placed. Little men – little when seen from the distance – ran towards them, took one each and, one after the other, jumped into the cold sea.

I escaped by hugging the water. I checked to see if we were all there. We were. We looked at each other’s damage; the ‘Chango’ and the ‘Diablo’ had been hit but not seriously. The enemy had been greatly hurt that day, and I had carried out what my flight leader had asked me to do: ‘Take them to glory.’

Cachón and the other four pilots had made one of the best-executed Argentine air attacks of the war. The small amount of defensive fire had enabled them to come in at sufficient height to allow most of their bombs enough time in flight to become live, and the pilots’ aim had been good. The three bombs which struck the Sir Galahad exploded and started a fierce fire. Forty-eight men died here, and the ship was completely gutted. One of the two bombs which hit the Sir Tristram exploded, causing less serious damage and killing two Hong Kong Chinese seamen. This was all a considerable setback to the British preparations for the attack on Stanley and was a clear success for the Argentines.

When the Skyhawks returned to their base and reported the success, it was decided to send out two more formations of four Skyhawks to continue the attacks in an attempt to add to the damage already caused to the British. Four aircraft of the 4th Fighter Group made the first attack, roaring in over the British units deployed around Fitzroy. But this area was well defended, and the units there greeted the Skyhawks with a hail of fire from every type of infantry weapon and from Rapier missile launchers. This attack caused no casualties to the British troops. The four Argentine aircraft were all damaged, and, if the Sir Galahad attack was one of the best Argentine air attacks of the war, this was one of the most fortunate for the Argentines because the damaged planes only managed to return to San Julián by the narrowest of margins.

The last Argentine air operation of that memorable day scored a minor success but then ran out of luck. Four Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group found a lone British landing craft in the Choiseul Sound. The first two Skyhawks attacked, and a bomb and some cannon fire all but destroyed the small craft, killing six of the men on board. But a pair of Sea Harriers saw the attack and swiftly disposed of three of the four Skyhawks, a Sidewinder missile causing the first one to explode in a fireball, another Sidewinder cutting the second aircraft in half and the third aircraft crashing into the shore, its pilot trying to outrun and evade the Sidewinder chasing it. All three pilots were killed. The very shaken fourth pilot only just made it to a Hercules tanker which helped him home. Some Mirages flying as escort at 35,000 feet were unable to intervene in the action.

The Argentine troops on Mount Harriet observed the attack on the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram and saw the smoke from the Galahad’s fierce fire. News of the serious British casualties also reached Stanley, and some consideration was given to moving out a force of troops and attempting an attack on the British in the Fitzroy area while they were still unbalanced and recovering from the aftereffects of the blow. But to make such an attack would have meant leaving the artillery cover of the prepared defences and moving into an area under direct observation by the British, with all the response from British artillery and air attack which that would entail. It was decided not to make any move.

San Carlos Waters I

The air units on the mainland had been standing by for action for many days, conserving their strength since the false start on 1 May and absorbing the lessons learnt on that day. Some changes in policy had been made, and the full strength of the units available would not be committed in this new phase. The Canberras of the 2nd Bomber Group were now considered to be too vulnerable in daylight operations and were kept back for night work. The 8th Fighter Group, which only had eight Mirages left after the combats with Sea Harriers on 1 May, would also be kept back to defend the mainland air bases; their all-weather capability would enable them to intercept British air raids if these were mounted against mainland targets.

These changes left the Argentine Air Force with an estimated 62 available strike aircraft — 39 Skyhawks of the 4th and 5th Fighter Groups and 23 Daggers of the 6th Fighter Group. A small reinforcement of eight Skyhawks had arrived at Rio Grande in the form of the 3rd Naval Fighter and Attack Squadron, which had been disembarked from the aircraft-carrier Veinticinco de Mayo now that the Argentine fleet was confined to coastal waters. The pilots of this unit were well trained in ship-attack tactics. The Super Étendard unit at Rio Grande still had three Exocets remaining but this unit was only suitable for open sea work and it would not be used in the coming offensive against the landing area. The Argentine pilots destined for that battle would have to operate under most unfavourable conditions. They would have to carry out low-level bomb and cannon attacks, which would have to be pressed right home to be effective. They would have to operate over the sea, at maximum range from their own bases, without fighter escort and having to run the gauntlet of the Sea Harriers, which had already proved their effectiveness in combat, as well as the mass of missiles and gunfire put up by the British ships and ground forces. It would be a daunting task.

The attacks carried out by those Argentine pilots during the San Carlos landing period have been subjected to intense analysis – though not always with conclusive results — and have been described in detail several times. I do not intend to republish yet another step-by-step account but will confine my contribution to giving an overall view and providing personal accounts from some of the Argentine pilots who survived. In doing this, I would like to acknowledge the hard work done by specialist aviation writers on whose work I have drawn.

The main air attacks were spread over a period lasting nearly five hours, from about 10.30 a.m. until nearly 3.30 p.m. There were three distinct waves, each containing between fourteen and seventeen aircraft. The first wave consisted of eight Daggers from the 6th Fighter Group flying from San Julián and Rio Grande and six Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group from Rio Gallegos. A personal account from this phase is available from First Lieutenant Filippini, who was leading a combined Skyhawk flight of five aircraft after his fellow flight leader had to turn back with technical trouble. Filippini describes his attack on the frigate Argonaut in the northern entrance to Falkland Sound, just under Fanning Head:

When the Falkland Sound was in sight, one of my wingmen shouted over the radio: ‘To the right!’ It sounded like an order to me, so I banked and caught sight of a frigate. The ship detected us at the same time and headed rapidly towards a high cliff, looking for shelter, hoping to force us to climb to avoid crashing into the headland. Then we began to attract their anti-aircraft fire, which we could distinguish as a curtain of small red light beams formed by their tracer ammunition. The quiet island soon became hell. As we got nearer we could see this fire in the air in front of us and then passing over our cockpits, so we were forced to descend even lower to get into their blind cannon area, where we aimed to drop our bombs a little before reaching the target.

We concentrated on aiming. The ship, protected by the cliff 200 metres high, was in my sight, so I dropped one of the bombs which would cause its destruction. I felt like destroying the enemy, thinking of my comrades shot down by them on 12 May. I pulled my control stick backwards in a climbing turn, trying to pull over the headland. I felt a violent blow under my plane; an auxiliary fuel tank hanging under one of the wings had crashed against the mast of the frigate. Then I dived to escape by staying as close to the ground as possible and eventually I took refuge behind some hills. We reached the sea and then headed to our base at low altitude. As we flew past the northern mouth of the Sound, we could see the frigate we had attacked. A dense column of black smoke was coming out of its side; our bombs had hit it, and we saw the colour of the ship’s structure starting to change from light grey to reddish brown.

Very excited at this victory over our enemies, we broke radio silence with joyful shouts. Once the euphoria was over, I checked my wingmen apprehensively to make sure they were all there and safe. That was the happiest moment after the attack; thank God, the five planes which had entered the target area were all present.

Two bombs had hit Argonaut, but neither exploded because the Skyhawks were flying too low and this did not give the bomb fuses time to arm themselves after leaving the aircraft. But one of the bombs set off an explosion in the Sea Cat magazine, and it was the smoke from this which Filippini saw as he passed the entrance to Falkland Sound after the attack. Two seamen were killed in the ship.

The Daggers operating at this time caused cannon-fire damage to various ships and also put a bomb into the destroyer Antrim; but this bomb did not explode, and one Dagger was shot down, probably by a Sea Wolf fired by HMS Broadsword. Its pilot was killed.

The next wave of attacks came in two and a half hours later. Fourteen Skyhawks from three units were dispatched, but the six naval Skyhawks flying from Rio Grande met difficult weather conditions, had their orders altered in mid-flight and were forced to turn back before reaching the islands. One of the other formations also suffered two early returns, leaving just four aircraft of the 4th Fighter Group and two of the 5th Fighter Group to carry on. The attacks were not successful. Sea Harriers caught the 4th Fighter Group flight, shooting down two Skyhawks and damaging a third and preventing any of these aircraft from reaching the landing area. The two shot-down pilots were both killed. The pair of Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group, led by Captain Pablo Carballo, flew up Falkland Sound from the south-west and observed what they believed to be one of the British landing ships. Carballo’s wingman dropped his bombs on the ship, but Carballo held his back at the last moment because he thought something was wrong. He was correct; this was the abandoned Argentine ship Rio Carcaraña. Carballo then pressed on alone towards the landing area and finally encountered the Ardent, which was still in its solitary bombardment position north of Goose Green. Carballo describes his attack:

The effect produced by the compression of the air between my plane and the sea caused a constant beating on the bottom of the plane when flying so low, almost skimming the waves. It was much the same as the vibration one feels when driving a car over a cattle grid or a level crossing. In those endless two or three minutes leading up to the attack, I heard something on the radio that froze my blood. It sounded like the breathing of a person in agony, and I wondered how this mournful breathing could have entered my VHF until I suddenly realized that it was my own breathing. I looked at my chest, expecting to see it heaving up and down, but it looked quite normal.

Soon I entered a quiet area where I was no longer being fired at and I concentrated on the gunsight. When I saw the huge steel structure of the ship filling the sight, I pressed the trigger and felt the plane climb a few metres when the bomb released. I was kind of stupefied and dizzy, and this could have cost me my life. Suddenly, right in front of me, I saw the two pillars of the pointed masts against which I was about to crash. Instinctively hitting my control stick, I banked the plane and dived in between them, seeing one of them flash past my cockpit. Then I recovered my balance and started a slight turn left, mentally counting the seconds for the bomb to explode. When time was up and nothing happened, just as I was saying ‘I have failed’, I saw a dark cloud of smoke rising up to the height of the masts of the ship and pieces falling into the sea. I can’t really say for sure whether the smoke was caused by an explosion or by the launching of a missile, but I believe that kind of frigate doesn’t carry missiles.

I began to shout happily and levelled off. I had a very unpleasant surprise when I met another frigate, but it didn’t open fire. Only God knows why.

Then I made for the ‘sun route’ as we called it in our squadron, leaving the islands behind, heading west, with the tremendous satisfaction of being able to say we had fulfilled our duty and were still alive. I felt really well; I had fought against a fearful enemy with my veteran plane under the protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On landing, I was surprised to meet my supreme chief, Brigadier-General Lami Dozo, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, who had come to the south to see how we were doing. I remember he told me that we had to grit our teeth, as there was still a long way to go. How right he was!

Pablo Carballo had made a brave, solo attack but he was not successful. The evidence from Ardent is quite clear that his bomb fell into the sea alongside the ship. The second round of attacks thus ended with only this one Skyhawk reaching the British ships out of fourteen aircraft dispatched and at a cost of two Argentine aircraft lost.

The final burst of action, starting one and a half hours later, was the most effective of the day. Seventeen aircraft burst through to the landing area between 2.30 and 3.15 p.m. and in the savage action which followed, both sides suffered severely. Eleven Daggers and six naval Skyhawks had taken off, and all but one reached the landing area, flying in small tactical groups of three or two aircraft. Captain Robles was leading one of the Dagger pairs. Passing over West Falkland, he was unaware that his wingman was shot down by a Sea Harrier; he thought that the pilot — First Lieutenant Luna – had flown into a hill. Robles now joined another pair of Daggers and soon sighted the still solitary Ardent:

We carried on, swallowing our sadness at ‘Negro’ Luna’s accident. On the other side of Falkland Sound, over Grantham Sound, we saw a frigate close to the coast. As we started the attack we thought: ‘This will be for Luna.’ They started firing at us as we skimmed over the water. Captain Mir González bravely flew straight towards the masts of the ship, a path forming in front of his plane from his cannon shells. His bomb struck ten metres short, and up flew a mass of water which practically covered the ship; the bomb then bounced off the water and I believe it entered the hull.

Then Lieutenant Bernhardt dropped his bomb, which hit the upper and front part of the ship. When I was within range I dropped my bomb and, while passing over the ship, I saw a large piece of the rectangular antenna (which had been constantly rotating when we started the attack) go past my cockpit, whirling in the air. A missile aimed at one of the other planes went past on my right. I shouted at him to make an abrupt turn; he did so, very near me, and disappeared in the sky. As we were leaving, banking away to the right, the frigate was enveloped in an enormous cloud of smoke. That burning ship was worth far more than the plane and pilot we had lost. We didn’t know if Lieutenant Luna was alive, but I’m sure he would have exchanged his life for the success of our mission.

One of the bombs – the one dropped by Lieutenant Bernhardt — had struck the stern of the ship, not the forepart; the ‘rotating antenna’ blown into the air which Captain Robles nearly hit was probably Ardent’s Sea Cat launcher, which was blown into the air by Bernhardt’s bomb.

The six other Daggers in action at this time suffered contrasting fortunes. One flight of three aircraft attacked various British ships, though without inflicting serious damage, and returned safely to their base. But the final formation of three Daggers was wiped out, all shot down by Sea Harriers, though all three pilots ejected and survived.

The very last attacks of the day were carried out by six naval Skyhawk pilots, flying in two formations of three aircraft. Both formations flew up Falkland Sound from the south; both were ordered to attack the solitary British ship reported north of Goose Green – Ardent again, though that damaged ship was now nearing the protection of the main group of British ships further up Falkland Sound. Lieutenant-Commander Alberto Philippi was leading the first flight:

Our primary duty was to get that picket ship; if we could hit that, it would enable other aircraft to come in and attack the landing area. Our navigation was good, and we came in and made a good landfall. We descended from 27,000 feet down to 100 feet, closing up the formation because the weather was deteriorating, with low cloud and rain; the ceiling was 500 feet, and visibility was one mile. That was very dangerous for us, because if there was a picket ship at the southern end of Falkland Sound it would have picked us up by radar at fifteen to twenty miles’ range and launch missiles at five miles. Those missiles would have been in the air for four miles before we could see them. We had no radar; the Skyhawk was a very simple, old aircraft.

There was supposed to be one of our Tracker reconnaissance aircraft in the area. We were supposed to call him, and he should have told us where the ship was and directed us in. I called him twice but got no reply. The Tracker pilot told me afterwards that he was there but he couldn’t make contact. We went up the eastern side of the Sound – over lots of islands and bays. We ran into some clearer weather, and both myself and Lieutenant Area saw two masts behind some rocks about eighteen kilometres ahead.

I told the flight to commence the attack, but the ship started to move, quite fast, from behind the rocks; I assume that he was getting away from the coast to gain sea room and be able to manoeuvre at speed. This move meant that we lost the chance to be covered by the rocks in our approach. So I swung right in order to follow the coast, hoping that his radar would lose me in the echoes of the land behind us. If I had been on a freelance mission I could have jumped over that narrow neck of land and attacked the large ships in San Carlos Water, but I had been ordered to go for that picket ship, and we carried on. I could see that it was a Type 21.

We turned and, by the time we were ready to attack, we were in a good position because he was crossing in front of us and I could come in from his port quarter. I dropped my four 500-lb bombs – Mark 82 Snakeyes, each with metal plates to retard them. My number Three shouted out: ‘Bien, señor!’ — ‘Well done, sir!’ Then, a little later, he said: ‘Otra en la popa’ – ‘Another hit on the stern’; that told me that another bomb had hit, one of Area’s. We could not tell whether Márquez was successful; there was no one behind to report his attack.

The second naval Skyhawk flight was led by Lieutenant Benito Rotolo:

Our orders to get the picket ship were changed during the flight, and we were told to go for San Carlos Water; a Tracker aircraft had said that there was no ship in the south end of the Sound now. We went on in radio silence, listening to the conversations in Philippi’s flight; we were very interested in what they were saying about the islands, seeing them for the first time. We were still at high level; we couldn’t hear it all but we could follow their route. I heard them saying they had found a ship and were attacking. Then I heard them talking about Sea Harrier action. I heard Philippi say: ‘I’m OK. I am ejecting.’

Then we made our descent and started our approach. After hearing about the Sea Harriers, I went further inland over East Falkland to get among more hilly ground, intending to go over the Sussex Mountains into the anchorage at San Carlos. But I found that I was having to cross an open bay and was too far to the west. I couldn’t go to my right now, because of our air defences at Goose Green, so I broke radio silence and told my wingmen to be prepared to attack the first ship we met. They acknowledged.

Then we saw two or three ships and prepared to attack. I banked left to approach one of them from the starboard side. The two wingmen checked that they could also see it; it was about four miles away and it seemed to me that it was a Type 21; the other pilots say the same. It opened fire with its guns; I didn’t see any missiles. Its fire was opened very early; I saw the shots falling in the water in front of me. It also increased speed. So I used the tactics we had practised with our Type 42s — continually banking during the final stages of the attack. I was not hit. Then I climbed up to 250 feet and dropped my bombs. As I passed over the ship, I saw men running on the deck; others were firing with machine-guns lashed to the ship, not part of its proper equipment.

I went down fast – 250 feet was very high for that day; you feel very exposed. Our plan was to escape south down Falkland Sound, but I saw a County Class ship right in front of me, shooting off everything he had. We came upon it suddenly when we broke out into a clear patch, and it was all lit up by the sun. I veered sharply away to the right, then had to climb hard to get over the hills in the west island. I alerted the others, and fortunately they understood my short message and were able to turn away as well. So we all escaped, flying low level through the mountains all the way across the island. It was bad weather, but it was good to get away from the ships and all that fire. We were lucky.

Rotolo and his wingmen all returned safely, though the wingmen’s aircraft were both damaged by the blast of bomb explosions. These pilots had at least, like well-trained naval pilots, attacked from sufficient altitude to enable their bombs to explode, even if they had not allowed the recommended twenty-seconds interval between aircraft in order to escape the bomb blast damage to their aircraft.

One aspect of many of the accounts by Argentine pilots is a desire to be associated with attacks on the Ardent, the only ship to sink on that day. There was also an element of inter-service rivalry between the Air Force and the Navy to secure the credit for the sinking. The attack of Rotolo’s flight was squeezed out in the crush of these claims. Some accounts say that he attacked before Philippi and that his bombs all missed or that he attacked another ship, not Ardent. But Rotolo’s evidence is quite clear. He heard Philippi’s flight attacking on the radio and then being intercepted by Sea Harriers. He identified his target as a Type 21 frigate; Ardent was the only such ship in the landing area that day. He describes his attack as coming in from the ship’s starboard side. The captain of the Ardent described one attack from astern (I believe Philippi’s) which scored two hits and then a final attack being made by three light-coloured Skyhawks coming in one after the other from the starboard side, with bombs from the first and second of these aircraft scoring direct hits. I believe that Rotolo’s flight scored these final hits on Ardent and sealed the fate of the ship, which was soon abandoned and sank that night.

But these last successful attacks by the naval pilots were not achieved without serious loss. Rotolo’s flight returned safely to the mainland, but Philippi’s were all lost. That made seven aircraft destroyed out of the sixteen which reached the operational area in that final phase of the day’s action. One of Philippi’s flight – Sub-Lieutenant Marcelo Márquez — was killed when his Skyhawk was shot down by a Sea Harrier. A second aircraft, that of Lieutenant José Area, came to a bizarre end. After being damaged by a Sea Harrier it was still flyable but would not be able to reach the mainland. Area flew to Stanley and reported his difficulty. Major Iannariello, an air force officer there, describes what happened:

A Skyhawk approached the base with some damage to the hydraulic system which feeds such things as the controls, the landing gear, the flaps and the hook, and its fuselage was riddled with holes. We analysed the damage and decided that it would be too dangerous for him to land; the plane would break up and the pilot be killed. So we ordered him to eject over the sea and not on the land where there might be some minefields. We saw him go out, tumbling around in the air like a little puppet until his parachute opened.

To our surprise, the plane seemed to become alive and ready to play a nasty joke on us. For some moments it flew towards the pilot, as if to crash into him, then towards the town, then to the airfield in a lively and playful flight. It looked as if it were happy to be free from its master. Considering the damage it might cause, we ordered our guns to destroy it, but surprisingly enough and in spite of the aim of our gunners, it went on flying without being touched, as if the shells refused to hit a friendly plane. Finally it landed by itself on the beach and was smashed against the rocks with all the dignity of an A-4 Skyhawk. Its pilot was rescued.

Lieutenant-Commander Philippi describes what happened to him:

We tried to escape by flying back down Falkland Sound, weaving a little, hoping to avoid any missiles fired at us from behind, knowing that there were no English ships in front of us. Then, maybe one or two minutes later, I started to relax, engine still at full throttle, thinking that we were clear, when I heard Márquez shouting: ‘Harrier! Harrier!’

My first reaction was to order tanks and bomb racks to be jettisoned and to start evasive action at high G, trying to see where they were. While doing that, while only in the second or third turn, I felt a violent explosion in the tail. The whole plane shuddered and started to climb. I pushed on the stick with both hands but could not get the nose down; there was no response. I looked around, and the Harrier appeared on my right side about 150 to 200 metres away; I think he was coming in for the kill. So I told my wingmen that I was hit, but I was OK and must eject. I tried to shut down the engine, but it did not respond. I opened the air-brakes, but they did not work. I pulled the ejection handle between my legs with my left hand; I didn’t use my right hand to pull the hood release because, as aircraft-carrier pilots, we always keep lateral control; that is why I kept my right hand on the stick. If you lose the stick, the plane may start to turn, and if you eject when banking you go straight into the sea when you are low – so a naval pilot never leaves go of the stick. There was a huge explosion, and I was thrown out at 500 knots. I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes I was falling near the edge of Falkland Sound, quite close to where the abandoned Rio Carcaraña was. I saw a splash – either my own or Márquez’s aircraft going in. I swam the 200 metres to land but was so tired that I could only crawl up the beach.

I was out there for four days, the first night in the open, the second and third in a building called Congo House. On the fourth day I was walking to Wreck House when I saw some men working near the coast. They had a Land-Rover. I thought they were Argentine troops and I signalled with a mirror, but it was Mr Tony Blake from North Arm Settlement. He was very polite, introduced himself and gave me my first food – sandwiches, cakes and chocolate. We went to North Arm, where I met the family and had a bath. He was a very nice person, one hundred per cent. We informed Puerto Argentino next day, and I was taken by helicopter to Goose Green.

The last personal account of this day’s action comes from First Lieutenant Luna, the Dagger pilot whose friends thought he had flown into a hill. But Luna had been shot down by a Sea Harrier when the flight of four aircraft flew in single file through a valley when forced down by low cloud. Luna was in the last aircraft:

On entering the valley, I saw a shadow passing over me to my left. Almost simultaneously there was a flash in the mirrors and the impact of a missile on my plane; it became uncontrollable. I tried to gain altitude, but the plane was nose down and inverted. I thought I was going to die. Releasing the stick, I desperately searched for the upper ejection handle. That is when I found that I was right side upward again, because the ejection was normal. I heard the explosion, felt a jerk, and the parachute opened almost at the same time as I hit the ground. I broke a bone in my shoulder and dislocated an arm and a knee.

It was getting dark, and I knew I wouldn’t be found just yet, so I fixed my knee and gathered together all the means of survival. After inflating the dinghy, I dragged it towards me with the aid of its retaining rope, got myself inside it and prepared a bed with part of my equipment and the parachute. Then I drank a litre of water from a plastic container and swallowed seven analgesic pills one by one to soothe the terrible pain I was in. During that terrible night, half awake, I heard the noise of an engine so I fired a flare, but this brought no response. Clenching my teeth, for it was really cold, I fell asleep until about nine the following morning.

When I woke up I found myself in a valley surrounded by mountains, about 20 kilometres west of Port Howard. I looked for useful pieces of my plane and with the aid of my knife turned them into a metal splint for my leg; I must have looked like a modern pirate. Putting all the useful things into the dinghy, which I dragged with a rope, I set off. I can only imagine my odd appearance with my metal leg and my load behind. By 12.30 I could drag the dinghy no further so I abandoned it. I kept on walking, with great difficulty because of my leg, following the direction of the noise I had heard during the night. About 15.15 I came across a man and a woman in a Land-Rover followed by three more people riding motor cycles. I signalled to them desperately, but they continued on their way without a word, leaving me alone. My leg hurt terribly, and my shoulder was numb. Hobbling along with my metal leg, I followed the vehicle tracks. It became more and more difficult, but coming round a hill I came across a house with the vehicles parked in front of it. The people watched my approach. I thought they might kill me or hand me over to the enemy, yet I was aware that I would not be able to get anywhere in the wretched condition I was in. They came to me in the Land-Rover when I was about 400 metres from the house. At first they were unwilling to help me; one of them in particular objected vehemently.

I realized they were anxiously looking at my survival equipment, so I gave them my knife, the flight gloves and the torch. This obviously had a calming effect on them, and they agreed to carry me to the house of a man with a radio. This man turned out to be a true ‘English gentleman’; he looked after me and said he would help me to get back to my people. We contacted Puerto Argentino. After this he provided me with pain-killing tablets every three hours for two days until our people came to get me.

So ended the 21 May air attacks. The number of aircraft dispatched from the mainland totalled 45 — 26 Skyhawks and 19 Daggers ; 36 of these reached the Falklands and 26 carried out attacks on British ships. The Ardent was sinking; Antrim and Argonaut were temporarily out of action with unexploded bombs inside them; Brilliant and Broadsword had been damaged by cannon fire. Thirty-two British sailors were dead and more than twenty others were injured. The Argentine pilots had pressed home their attacks with great courage, but two important mistakes had been made. The emphasis on attacking the warships in Falkland Sound allowed the landing ships in San Carlos Water to carry on discharging troops, guns and stores in relative safety at a time when the ground missile defences were not yet established. The importance of this error cannot be overemphasized; the Argentine pilots would never again find the transport ships in San Carlos Water so vulnerable to air attack. The second mistake was that most of the air force pilots flew too low, with the result that their bombs did not explode. This is only a muted comment because attacks at altitudes any higher than the ‘on the deck’ approaches made by so many Argentine pilots would have brought them a higher casualty rate – but more success. The cost had been grievous enough. Ten Argentine aircraft – five Daggers and five Skyhawks – failed to return to the mainland, all but one shot down or hit by Sea Harriers; this was more than a quarter of the Argentine aircraft which reached the scene of action.

San Carlos Waters II

Nightfall came and brought relief from action and danger. The work of unloading the British ships progressed sufficiently to allow the Canberra and three other large ships to be released, and these were sent back to the comparative safety of the task force out at sea. The damaged destroyer Antrim also departed as their escort. The sailings of these ships provided room in San Carlos Water for the warships which had been left out in Falkland Sound exposed to air attack the previous day. In less than twenty-four hours the British landed all of their fighting units – more than 3,000 infantry, 24 field guns, 8 light tanks and a battery of Rapier anti-aircraft missile launchers.

The Argentine commanders at Stanley had discussed the possibility that the British might land well away from Stanley and had recognized that a direct attack against such a British move would be difficult to accomplish. Brigadier-General Menéndez’s first action was to request air attack from the mainland, and this had clearly been granted. Menéndez and his staff had always believed that the first forty-eight hours after a landing would be critical; after that the British would be too well established ashore for an attack to have any chance of success. The big question to be decided at Stanley was whether this was the main British landing or only a diversion. There were no Argentine troops in contact with the beach-head or even observing it from a distance. Future air flights over the area would have little chance of obtaining reliable details of how many British troops were ashore.

Menéndez ordered two immediate staff studies, the first a combined one by his own staff and that of Brigadier-General Parada – because the landing had taken place in Parada’s area – and the second by Brigadier-General Jofre’s staff, who, being responsible for the Stanley area, were not directly involved but whose separate opinion might be useful. A final joint conference then took place under Colonel Cervo, Menéndez’s chief intelligence officer. The conclusion reached was that the British had landed less than a brigade of troops at San Carlos and that most of a second brigade was still available for a further landing elsewhere. It was decided not to launch the helicopter-borne reserve; the single company of infantry available would have had a tough time anyway against so substantial a landing. The only direct move ordered was that some 105-mm guns would be sent by sea to Goose Green; the garrison there had no artillery. Two guns of the 4th Air Mobile Regiment were dismantled and loaded on to the Coast Guard vessel Rio Iguazú, which sailed from Stanley at 4.00 a.m. the next day.

But the next morning, 22 May, started with an immediate Argentine setback. Because of its late sailing, the Rio Iguazú was at sea when daylight came, still 13 miles from its destination. In an example of sheer bad luck for the Argentines, the first two Sea Harriers of the day to take off from Hermes passed right over the ship, and one of them came down and seriously damaged it with cannon fire. Two Coast Guard seamen were injured, and one of them later died. The ship ran aground, but a mission was later mounted from Goose Green to salvage the two guns and other stores. A helicopter lowered an air force officer, a young army officer and several men on to the boat, and these men went into the flooded cargo hold and reclaimed the guns, which were taken to Goose Green in time for the battle there; one of the guns was damaged, but the other was made serviceable. The young army officer will be met again. His name was Second Lieutenant Juan Gómez Centurion.

The fatally wounded Coast Guard man was the only person to die on 22 May. The remainder of that day was an anticlimax. Bad weather in mainland Argentina prevented air operations from the bases there for most of the day. Only two Skyhawks reached the landing area in the evening; their bombs caused no damage, and they returned safely to their base.

The next two days – 23 and 24 May – constituted another period of sundry blow and counter-blow. These started with the small coaster Monsunen (230 tons) being attacked. This was one of two local ships taken over by the Argentines. The British had learned — probably from radio intercepts – that she was sailing by night from Goose Green to Stanley, and two Lynx helicopters caught her in the early hours of 23 May. The crew of the Monsunen defended themselves well with machine-guns, but the ship was eventually forced ashore. She was later towed back to Goose Green but she would be out of use until the British captured Goose Green and set the ship working again for their side. The loss to Argentine service of the Monsunen now made a total of five ships used by the Argentines for local supply work put out of action by British naval ships or aircraft: Isla de los Estados, Bahia Buen Suceso, Rio Carcaraña, Rio Iguazú and Monsunen. This left only the large and unwieldy Formosa and the tiny ships Forrest, Islas Malvinas and Yehuin to carry on the hazardous work of transporting supplies to outlying garrisons. In fact there was not much further movement, and those minor operations by the Royal Navy were a major cause of the chronic lack of manoeuvrability suffered by the Argentine forces in the Falklands in the last weeks of the war.

The damaging of the Monsunen was followed immediately by another blow to Argentine mobility. Two Sea Harriers on patrol over West Falkland spotted a group of four Argentine army helicopters – three Pumas and an Augusta – which were carrying ammunition to the Port Howard garrison. The Harriers attacked with cannon fire, and two Pumas and the Augusta were destroyed, though amazingly no one was killed. The Argentine army’s helicopter force in the Falklands was now reduced to ten serviceable aircraft, out of the nineteen originally available.

But the main focus of attention during those two days continued to be on the San Carlos area, where the build-up of the British beach-head was interrupted by many Argentine air attacks. These raids all came from the mainland; the locally based air units were down to very low numbers of serviceable aircraft, and these were not risked against the now strongly defended area. The dangerous task of attacking the British landings was left to the Skyhawks and Daggers of the 4th, 5th and 6th Fighter Groups with a little help from the few remaining naval Skyhawk pilots. It is not known how many sorties were dispatched from the mainland during those two days but it is believed that only thirty-three reached the San Carlos area. The Argentine attacks became more ragged now under the constant pressure and strain of operations; more aircraft became unserviceable ; link-ups with the refuelling Hercules tankers did not always succeed. But the Argentine pilots showed no lack of courage and pressed home their attacks as valiantly as ever. Four ships were hit by bombs during these two days; again the attacks were from too low an altitude, and not one of the bombs exploded on hitting the ships. But the frigate Antelope, hit by two bombs dropped by Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group on 23 May, blew up the night after the attack while attempts were being made to defuse one of the bombs. Most of the ship’s crew had already been evacuated, and only two men died, but Antelope sank later, the first major success for the Argentine Air Force. The bombs in the other three ships which were hit were all removed safely, and they were not out of action for long.

For these successes, the Argentines lost six more aircraft — four Daggers and two Skyhawks — though the British ships and ground defences claimed many more. The Argentines named the area ‘Death Valley’; the British called it ‘Bomb Alley’. Four of the six shot-down pilots died. The 3rd Naval Fighter and Attack Squadron had to be withdrawn from action after 23 May. It dispatched four Skyhawks on that day; two were damaged over San Carlos, and a third suffered a calamity on its return to Rio Grande. The four 500-lb bombs had ‘hung up’ over San Carlos, and the pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Carlos Zubizarreta, could not shake them off. A stiff crosswind at Rio Grande’s only runway caused the Skyhawk to swerve during the landing. Probably fearing the explosion of the bombs, Zubizarreta ejected, but the Skyhawk was tilting and he was not thrown clear enough for the parachute to open and he died. The bombs did not explode, and the Skyhawk was later repaired, but the casualties on this day left this small unit with only one serviceable aircraft from the eight available three days earlier, and the squadron was temporarily withdrawn from offensive operations. This was a major setback to the Argentine air effort because these naval pilots were the best qualified for ship attack.

Lieutenant-Commander Zubizarreta’s death brought the number of Argentine pilots to die in those two days to five. Only two other Argentines lost their lives at that time. A conscript of the 12th, Regiment at Goose Green died of illness; the diary of a member of his unit mentions malnutrition, but it was probably the privations of open-air campaigning which caused the young man’s illness and death. The other death was at Stanley airfield, where an anti-aircraft gunner had the misfortune to be hit on the head by a piece of rock when a delayed action bomb exploded just as he was walking from his foxhole to the field kitchen for lunch; he died at once.

The British deaths during the two days were two men on HMS Antelope and a Sea Harrier pilot who died when his aircraft exploded and crashed into the sea soon after taking off from HMS Hermes on the evening of 23 May.

Tuesday 25 May was Argentina’s National Day, and a combination of chance circumstance together with the skill of Argentine pilots would make it one of the best days of the war for their cause, a day of glory comparable only to 2 April when they occupied the Falklands.

The early action of the day stemmed from Rear-Admiral Woodward’s decision to risk two of his air defence ships in an exposed forward position in order to give relief from air attack to the ships and land units in the San Carlos area. The two ships were Coventry, equipped with Sea Dart, and Broadsword, which was equipped with Sea Wolf. Working from an open sea position off Pebble Island, 40 miles north-west of San Carlos, the primary role of the ships was to give early warning of incoming raids to the San Carlos defences. But the combination of missiles and radars in the ships could directly engage Argentine aircraft at ranges of up to 12 miles and vector Sea Harriers on to other aircraft at greater ranges. The plan was working well. Sea Harriers had been vectored on to one raid the previous day, and three Argentine aircraft had been shot down. But the ships were clearly detectable by the Argentine radars on Pebble Island and could even be seen visually by the ‘air watchers’ on the hills there. The Argentine air command decided to attack these ships.

The first opportunity to strike at the ships was given to the 5th Fighter Group at Rio Gallegos. Careful preparations were made. The take-off of the four Skyhawks involved was before dawn, and the aircraft were all refuelled by a Hercules tanker, also during darkness, to allow them ample time to set up their attack in the combat area. Another Hercules made a preliminary reconnaissance, established by radar the exact location of the two ships and radioed this information to the Skyhawk flight. But this well-prepared operation ended in disaster for the Argentine side. The Skyhawk flight probably left its descent to sea level too late, and Coventry detected the planes and fired a Sea Dart which hit the Skyhawk of the flight leader, Captain Hugo del Valle Palaver. The Skyhawk crashed; the pilot was killed, and the three remaining aircraft decided to abandon the operation. (An early post-war version, that Captain Palaver’s Skyhawk was shot down in error by Argentine anti-aircraft gunners at Goose Green, was incorrect.)

Another raid against the beach-head area followed soon afterwards. Four Skyhawks of the 4th Fighter Group from San Julián made a good, indirect approach overland but when they attacked the anchorage the bombs of two aircraft failed to release and the attacks of the other Skyhawks failed to score any hits. The aircraft of Lieutenant Ricardo Lucero was shot down, but Lucero managed to eject and was rescued from the water by the British. His friends back at San Julián saw his injuries being treated on HMS Fearless in a television news programme that night. He was the only pilot from a mainland air unit to be taken prisoner by the British during the war. The formation’s ill fortune continued when the aircraft of the flight leader, Captain Jorge Garcia, was shot down by another of Coventry’s Sea Darts; this was the second formation leader Coventry shot down that day. No one saw Garcia’s Skyhawk crash, but he must have ejected and survived temporarily, because his body was found in a dinghy on a remote beach on West Falkland more than a year later. The remaining two Skyhawks reached their base, though one of them was badly damaged and losing fuel all the way home. Some extravagant claims were later made on this flight’s behalf. One of the returning aircraft had the symbol of a Type 21 frigate and the day’s date painted on its nose, and the dead Captain Garcia was wrongly credited with forcing a pursuing Sea Harrier to fly into the ground on his way into the target area.

That afternoon a further raid was mounted against the two ships off Pebble Island which were causing so much trouble. Two flights of three Skyhawks of the 5th Fighter Group were prepared, but one aircraft was withdrawn before take-off, and another had to return early. So just two pairs of Skyhawks proceeded. They were helped in their final approach by various interesting means. They were in touch with two senior Skyhawk pilots flying as passengers in a support plane, probably a Hercules, which was keeping distant radar surveillance on the British ships. They were also in touch with the Stanley air control, which was in turn receiving information from Pebble Island where a naval pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Daniel Manzella, was perched on a hilltop with a pair of binoculars and could see both ships and the local Sea Harrier patrols on this clear day. A Spanish-speaking officer on HMS Coventry was actually listening to the Argentine reports. The four Skyhawks approached in radio silence, taking in all the information broadcast for their benefit.

For once, the fortunes of war swung in the Argentines’ favour. The two pairs of Skyhawks came in almost simultaneously but from different directions. They were detected by the ships’ radars, but some malfunctions in the missile equipment and some tactical mishandling of the ships themselves prevented Coventry’s early Sea Darts from being launched and also stopped Broadsword from launching any of her close-defence Sea Wolf missiles at all. Worse still, two Sea Harriers which had been in perfect position to intercept were warned to break off and keep away to allow the ships’ missile systems freedom of action. Coventry only managed to fire one Sea Dart, but it was at too close a range for that type of missile, and the incoming Skyhawks cleverly avoided it. The gunfire of the two ships also failed to stop the incoming attack.

Captain Pablo Carballo’s pair came in first. Carballo had had an adventurous but frustrating war so far. On his first mission, on 1 May, he had attacked an Argentine merchant ship by mistake. On 21 May his wingmen had attacked another Argentine ship, leaving Carballo to carry on and make a solo attack on HMS Ardent, but his bomb narrowly missed that ship. Two days later another of his wingmen had dropped the bombs which were responsible for Antelope‘s subsequent explosion and loss. Now Carballo was facing British fire again, his third close attack on a British warship in five days, hampered this time by a film of salt which had formed on the front of his cockpit canopy. An air force biochemist had developed a special anti-salt solution for this low-flying work, but an overhelpful groundcrew man had polished Carballo’s cockpit canopy so vigorously that morning that the solution had all been removed. Carballo and his wingman, Lieutenant Carlos Rinke, commenced their attack run, low down on the water, running in fast. This is Carballo’s account:

The two imposing warships were surrounded by a slight mist, silhouetted against the horizon, far from the coast. I said to myself, ‘Things are going to be difficult, for we will be exposed to their fire for a long time.’ I applied full power, pressed the push-button of my VHF equipment, shouted: ‘Viva la Patria!’ and began my final run in to attack. I remember how small I felt when, with my solitary but sturdy wingman, I began to attack those huge steel structures. In order to deter us, they began shooting as soon as we let down over the water, long before we came within range.

Their shots fell well ahead of us at first, the shells forming tracers in the air and the water splashing, while the ships themselves were covered with smoke with every shot fired. For a moment I thought I was living through a film of one of those old naval battles. I could never have dreamed, three months before, that I would be undergoing such a terrible yet fascinating experience. The curtain of fire was really dense, for both ships gave us everything they had. I couldn’t see how close their fire was because I had to look through the side of the windshield.

My wingman asked me: ‘Which one shall we tackle?’ ‘The rear one; it is less well protected,’ I replied. The two ships had begun to move fast, heading east, sailing roughly 200 metres one from the other. When I could see the huge ship I was attacking through both sides of my partly covered windshield, I pressed the bomb release switch, probably taking a little longer than usual due to the difficulty I had in seeing. I remember that when I dropped my bombs, the other ship was still firing at me. I immediately asked: ‘Are you there, Number Two?’ and with deep joy heard him shout: ‘Yes, sir. Right behind you.

I can see you.’ Almost at the same time, I heard another voice on the frequency saying: ‘My target is in sight, and I am going in.’ That was the other two pilots starting their attack.

Carballo and his wingman had made a good attack but again he was to be unlucky. One of the bombs skipped off the sea and came up through the side of Broadsword, out through the deck, removing the nose of the ship’s Lynx helicopter, and dropped back into the sea again without exploding. This was extremely bad luck because a new type of nose fuse was fitted to the bombs being used that day, and if the bomb had hit anything substantial it would have exploded, at the very least causing serious damage to the British ship.

The second pair of Skyhawks was flown by First Lieutenant Mariano Velasco, who was also seeking some success after several disappointing sorties, and young Ensign Jorge Barrionuevo, who was probably on his first war mission. These pilots flew unscathed through the British fire. Barrionuevo’s bombs failed to release, but, in one of the best ship attacks of the war, Velasco put all of his three bombs into Coventry. They plunged deep into the ship, exploded and caused the ship to sink. The four Skyhawks returned safely to the mainland and to a big celebratory dinner. The unit had sunk one ship, damaged another and removed that British presence off Pebble Island which had been causing the Argentines so much trouble. The only pilot of the unit lost on an earlier raid in the day, Captain del Valle Palaver, was believed by his comrades to have had a good chance of ejecting safely over land, so his absence did not mar the celebration. His friends did not know that he was dead.

The story of the second major Argentine success of the day can be told more quickly, because there was no close contact between the opposing forces and because no personal account is available from the Argentine side; but it was just as important as the sinking of the Coventry, probably more so. The Super Étendard squadron had been waiting patiently at Rio Grande for the firm intelligence which would allow it to carry out another Exocet attack. That morning the air command at Stanley detected the location of the main British task force about 100 miles north-east of Stanley; the task force had been forced to come in closer than before because of the need to support the landing force under air attack at San Carlos. Lieutenant-Commander Roberto Curilovic and Lieutenant Julio Barraza were at the head of the roster and took off in mid-afternoon. In a perfectly executed operation, the two Super Étendards were refuelled and then approached the task force from the north. They detected the British ships at their first attempt, launched their Exocets and turned away, hoping as always that the British aircraft-carriers would be hit. One Exocet found a target when the large container ship Atlantic Conveyor was struck on its port side. The missile penetrated deep into the ship, exploded and started a fierce fire. The Argentine pilots had come closer to hitting an aircraft-carrier than they knew. The task force was always deployed in such a way that other ships were positioned between the vital aircraft-carriers and the likely approach of Exocets. Atlantic Conveyor was in the last row of those protective ships, and if she had not attracted the missile it might have run on into the aircraft-carrier area.

Thus ended a most successful Argentine National Day. At a cost of three aircraft lost, with two pilots dead and one a prisoner of war, the Argentine units had sunk the destroyer Coventry, damaged the Broadsword and caused the total loss through fire of the Atlantic Conveyor with its hugely valuable cargo of military stores and helicopters. Nineteen British sailors died in Coventry and twelve in Atlantic Conveyor.

But the successes of 25 May would prove to be the high watermark of the Argentine air effort. There were only two further small raids against the San Carlos landing area, by six Skyhawks on 27 May and by four Daggers two days later. The first raid caused seven deaths and some injuries to British troops when shore positions were bombed for the first time. Mariano Velasco, the pilot who had sunk Coventry two days earlier, was shot down on this raid but he ejected and survived. No success was achieved on the second raid, but another aircraft was lost. This time the pilot was killed; he was Lieutenant Juan Bernhardt, the man who had put the first bomb into HMS Ardent on 21May.

Those raids concluded the mainland air effort against the British landing area. In nine days of intensive operations, approximately 120 sorties had been launched, of which about 90 reached the operational area. Three warships – Ardent, Antelope and Coventry — had been sunk in or near the landing area. Three more warships and three amphibious ships had been hit by bombs which failed to explode. Other ships had suffered superficial damage by cannon fire. Casualties had been inflicted to land units in one raid. In addition, the Super Étendards had destroyed the Atlantic Conveyor. The pilots of the Argentine Air Force and Navy had done their best and were willing to continue the attacks, but the British defences were now so well established that there was no longer any prospect of achieving a decisive success that would influence the outcome of the war. The British had been severely shaken by the air attacks but they were now firmly established ashore and ready to move out from the beach-head. The Argentine losses had been appalling. Twenty-one aircraft had been shot down, nearly a quarter of those which reached the operational area. Twelve of the aircraft were shot down by Sea Harriers, eight by ships’ or shore units’ weapons and one by a combination of all three causes.

Unfortunately the Argentine propaganda service sullied the efforts of the air units by publishing outrageous claims on their behalf. The Gaceta Argentina at Stanley no doubt reflected the Buenos Aires line when it published a supposed list of all Argentine successes up to 25 May: 5 warships sunk (the actual figure was 3); 3 transport ships including Canberra sunk (Atlantic Conveyor was the only loss); 14 Sea Harriers destroyed (only 2 actually shot down plus 3 more lost accidentally); 12 helicopters destroyed (only 3 plus some accidents); many ships ‘seriously damaged’ including HMS Hermes (which had not been scratched). The Gaceta concluded: ‘All of these details refer only to proven claims and not to estimated or unproven claims.’

Air attack had been the only real threat to the success of the British landings. The Argentine Navy did not put in an appearance, though its Skyhawks and Super Étendard air squadrons had performed courageously and effectively. The powerful army garrison in the Falklands did not interfere in the landings in any way, not even with commando operations. After First Lieutenant Esteban and his men withdrew from Port San Carlos on the first morning, there was not a single contact between British and Argentine troops until 27 May when Royal Marines captured an Argentine marine officer who had installed himself on high ground overlooking San Carlos and was presumably reporting British movements by radio back to Stanley. The name of this brave man was Lieutenant-Commander Dante Camiletti.

The Baltic littoral – A Nordic Pact?

The end of the war had found the Soviet Union in possession of much of the Baltic littoral, including Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and East Prussia, and in occupation of Poland and the eastern zone of Germany. The USSR had also occupied Finnmark, the northernmost Norwegian province, and the Danish-owned Baltic island of Bornholm in 1945, primarily in order to take the surrender of the German forces; both were, however, handed back peacefully, Finnmark in late 1945 and Bornholm in the spring of 1946.

Despite this, Denmark and Norway found themselves faced with a palpable Soviet threat in early 1948 and started to examine the question of a defence pact, although initially they considered only limited membership based on a ‘Nordic’ grouping. These countries wished to avoid becoming involved in the Great Power rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union, and were also keen to avoid becoming embroiled in the tensions in continental Europe immediately to their south.

The most powerful and prosperous of the Nordic countries was Sweden, which had successfully maintained its armed neutrality throughout both world wars and wished to continue to do so. Thus, in the immediate post-war period Sweden performed a delicate balancing act, making a 1 billion kronor loan to the Soviet Union, but also purchasing 150 P-51 Mustang piston-engined fighters from the USA, followed by 210 Vampire jets from the UK in 1948.

Norway had been occupied by the Germans during the war, partly because of its strategic position, but also because German industry depended upon Norwegian iron-ore production. In the post-war period Norway considered the Soviet threat to be very real, and its leaders began to seek a guarantee of security which would nevertheless not antagonize the Soviet Union.

Denmark was initially well disposed towards the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the war, but became increasingly concerned by the events in eastern Europe. In the spring of 1948 the country was swept by a rumour that the Russians intended to attack western Europe during the Easter weekend. This rumour turned out to have been ill-founded, but the Danes realized that neutrality was no longer a serious option and that some form of multinational co-operation was therefore essential. During its Second World War occupation by the Germans, Denmark, unlike many other occupied countries in western Europe, had been almost totally isolated from the UK and had been forced to look to its neighbour Sweden for what little help and support that neutral country could offer. It was only natural, therefore, that in the late 1940s it should wish to explore the possibilities of an alliance with Sweden.

On 19 April 1948 the Norwegian foreign minister, Halvard Lange, made a speech in which he publicly expressed interest in a ‘Nordic’ solution – by which he meant one involving Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Finland would also have been a natural member of a Nordic grouping, but the USSR made that impossible. The peace treaty had imposed strict manpower ceilings on Finland’s armed forcesfn3 and, as if this was not enough, the country was effectively neutralized by the treaty of ‘Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance’ that the Soviet Union had forced it to sign on 6 April.

The Norwegian initiative was considered by the Swedish parliament, which authorized its government to consult Denmark and Norway on the subject. Throughout these discussions the basic Swedish position was that Sweden would not stretch its neutrality beyond a Nordic grouping, which would be non-aligned and strong enough to remain uncommitted to either East or West; in particular, Sweden was not prepared to participate if any other members had bilateral links to outside parties. On the other hand, the Norwegians considered that their interests would best be served by joining an Atlantic pact (i.e. one involving the United States), while the Danish prime minister sought to find common ground between the other two parties. Having established their initial positions, in September 1948 these three countries set up a Defence Committee whose task was to study the practical possibilities of defence co-operation.

At the political level, in October 1948 the Danish and Norwegian foreign ministers sounded out the US secretary of state, George Marshall, about the likely US attitude to a Nordic pact. He told them that it would be very difficult for the US government to give military guarantees to a neutral bloc, and that any supplies of military equipment would inevitably take lower priority than to formal allies.

In January 1949 the Nordic Defence Committee reported that a trilateral military alliance would increase the defensive power of the three participants both by widening their respective strategic areas and through the benefits of common planning and standardization of equipment. All this, however, could be achieved only if Denmark and Norway underwent substantial rearmament. And even if all of this were achieved, the military experts advized that the Nordic pact would be unable to resist an attack by a Great Power (by which, of course, they meant the Soviet Union).

Having received the military report, the three prime ministers and their foreign ministers met on 5–6 January 1949 and discussed a variety of topics, including how to achieve the rearmament of Denmark and Norway. Then on 14 January the US government announced publicly what it had already advised in private, namely that the priority in provision of arms would be to countries which joined the US in a collective defence agreement. The Nordic prime ministers and foreign ministers reconvened at the end of the month, and on 30 January they announced that it was impossible to reach agreement; the potential Nordic pact was thus consigned to history.


At the start of the Washington discussions it was clear that membership of the proposed alliance would include the Brussels Treaty powers (the Benelux countries, France and the UK), Canada and the United States, but there was some discussion over other potential members.

It was considered highly desirable that Denmark and Norway should join the proposed alliance, and, if possible, Sweden as well. These were long-established democracies and were as much threatened as any other country in Europe; indeed, in 1948–9 Norway was probably the most threatened of them all. Further, they occupied very important strategic positions. Denmark sat astride the western end of the Baltic, dominating (with Sweden) the Skaggerak and the Belts; it also owned the island of Bornholm in the middle of the Baltic. Of greater importance to the United States, however, was Danish ownership of Greenland, which was a vital stepping-stone in the air route from the United States to Europe at a time when transport aircraft had a comparatively short range. Norway was also strategically important, since it lay along the southern flank of the Soviet Union’s naval routes to the Atlantic and shared (with the USSR) the island of Spitsbergen. Sweden, however, was adamant that it would not abrogate its neutrality, and its membership was not pursued.



Denmark had virtually no navy at the war’s end in 1945, but on joining NATO in 1949 it was allotted the role of Baltic defence, in which it was joined by West Germany when the latter became a NATO member in 1955. Denmark’s second naval task was the mining of the Kattegat and the Belts to deny the Soviet fleet an exit into the North Sea. The navy also had the national task of patrolling Greenland waters.

To fulfil these missions, the Danish navy maintained a small number of frigates, all designed and built in Denmark, together with three unusual corvettes (Nils Juel class), and also provided a small number of submarines and fast-attack craft. To meet its minelaying commitment the Danish navy was equipped with a number of dedicated minelayers.

The Danish navy found itself facing a major re-equipment problem in the 1980s, which unfortunately coincided with a general domestic feeling of opposition to defence (it was the time of NATO’s ‘twin-track’ approach to the Soviet SS-20 programme). As a result, the navy produced a novel type of warship, the Stanflex 300 (Flyvefisken class), which employed a single basic hull constructed of fibreglass and a common propulsion system, but with changeable weapon and sensor containers, which enabled the ships to be employed and equipped for either fast attack, minelaying, mine counter-measures (MCM) or ASW duties.

West Germany

The West German navy (Bundesmarine) was created in 1956 and from then on was firmly integrated within NATO, its principal tasks being the defence of the Baltic and North seas, in conjunction with other NATO navies. Initially the ships were a mixture of surplus US and British types, with a few German-built ships which had been transferred to the Allies as war reparations being returned as well, but the warship-building industry was rapidly restored.

The largest units were destroyers, of which the first six were ex-US Fletcher-class ships, supplemented in the mid-1960s by four German-designed and -built ships. Next to be acquired were three US-designed Adams-class destroyers and then eight frigates based on a Dutch design. The German navy also provided a large number of fast-attack craft and mine-countermeasure vessels (MCMVs), but, not surprisingly in view of its history, one of its main strengths lay in its U-boats. These were all of German design, and by the 1970s eighteen 500-tonne-displacement Type 206s were in service. West Germany also proved particularly successful in exporting submarines, which helped to sustain its design and construction capability at times when there were no domestic orders.


Norway occupied a particularly important place in NATO’s maritime strategy, since it lay alongside the only route by which ships and submarines of the Soviet Northern Fleet could sail out into the Atlantic. The Norwegian navy was far too small to challenge the large Soviet surface action groups, and it concentrated instead on anti-submarine warfare, particularly in its many fjords. Its equipment included a number of frigates built to a US design in Norwegian shipyards (the Oslo class), and sixteen small diesel-electric submarines (the Kobben class), which were designed and built in Germany. Replacement of the latter by the new Ula class (also German-built) was just beginning as the Cold War ended. Norway also operated some coastal-attack craft and MCMVs.

Soviet Naval Activity

In the immediate post-war years the only naval units of even marginal significance were three battleships: a Russian vessel dating back to tsarist times and two British ships of First World War vintage, which had been lent to the USSR during the war. One of the latter was returned to the UK in 1949, having been replaced by the ex-Italian Giulio Cesare, which the Soviets renamed Novorossiysk.fn3 There were also some fifteen cruisers – a mixture of elderly Soviet designs, nine modern Soviet-built ships, a US ship lent during the war (and returned in 1949), and two former Axis cruisers, one ex-German, the other ex-Italian. There was also a force of some eighty destroyers, also of varying vintages and origins.

During the 1940s and 1950s these Soviet warships were rarely seen on the high seas, apart from a limited number of transfers between the Northern and Baltic fleets, which tended to be conducted with great rapidity. The only exception was a series of international visits, mainly by the impressive Sverdlov-class cruisers, which were paid to countries such as Sweden and the UK. The navy suffered a major setback in 1955 when the battleship Novorossiysk was sunk while at anchor in the Black Sea by a Second World War German ground mine, an event which led to the sacking of the commander-in-chief, Admiral N. M. Kuznetzov; he was replaced by Admiral Gorshkov.

In the early 1960s, however, individual Soviet units began to be seen more frequently in foreign waters, as did ever-increasing numbers of ‘intelligence collectors’, laden with electronic-warfare equipment. These ships, generally known by their NATO designation as ‘AGIs’, monitored US and NATO exercises and ship movements. The original AGIs were converted trawlers and salvage tugs, but, as the Cold War progressed and the Soviet navy became increasingly sophisticated, larger and more specialized ships were built, culminating in the 5,000 tonne Bal’zam class, built in the 1980s. In addition to such ships, conventional warships regularly carried out intelligence-collecting and surveillance tasks, particularly when Western exercises were being held. Apart from general eavesdropping on Western communications links and studying the latest weapons, such missions helped the Soviet navy to learn about US and NATO tactics, manoeuvring and ship-handling.

The Soviets also put considerable effort into espionage (human intelligence, or HUMINT, in intelligence jargon) against Western navies. This included the Kroger ring in the UK, which was principally targeted against British anti-submarine-warfare facilities, and the Walker spy ring in the USA, which gave away a vast amount of information on US submarine capabilities and deployment.

The growth and increasing ambitions of the Soviet navy were best illustrated by the size, scope and duration of its exercises. The first important out-of-area exercise was held in 1961, when two groups of ships – one moving from the Baltic to the Kola Inlet and the other in the opposite direction (a total of eight surface warships, four submarines and associated support ships) – met in the Norwegian Sea. There they conducted a short exercise before continuing to their respective destinations.

In early July 1962 transfers between the Baltic and Northern fleets again took place, coupled with the first major transfer from the Black Sea Fleet to the Northern Fleet. This was followed by a much larger exercise, extending from the Iceland–Faroes gap to the North Cape, which included surface combatants, submarines, auxiliaries and a large number of land-based naval aircraft. The activity level increased yet again in 1963, and the major 1964 exercise involved ships moving through the Iceland–Faroes gap for the first time, while units of the Mediterranean Squadron undertook a cruise to Cuba. By 1966 exercises were taking place in the Faroes–UK gap and off north-east Scotland (both long-standing preserves of the British navy) and also off the coast of Iceland.

In 1967 the naval highlight of the Arab–Israeli Six-Day War was the dramatic sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat by the Egyptian navy using Soviet SS-N-2 (‘Styx’) missiles launched from a Soviet-built Komar-class patrol boat. Not surprisingly, Soviet naval prestige in the Middle East was high, and the Soviets took the opportunity to enhance it yet further by port visits to Syria, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Algeria, employing ships of the Black Sea Fleet.

The following year saw the largest naval exercise to date; nicknamed Sever (= North) it involved a large number of surface ships, land-based aircraft, submarines and auxiliaries. The exercise covered a variety of areas, but the main activity took place in waters between Iceland and Norway. One of the naval highlights of the year, for both the Soviet and the NATO navies, was the arrival in the Mediterranean of the first Soviet helicopter carrier, Moskva.

Further exercises and deployments took place in 1969, but in the following year Okean 70 proved to be the most ambitious Soviet naval exercise ever staged. This involved the Northern, Baltic and Pacific fleets and the Mediterranean Squadron in simultaneous operations, with the major emphasis in the Atlantic. A large northern force, comprising some twenty-six ships, started with anti-submarine exercises off northern Norway between 13 and 18 April, and then proceeded through the Iceland–Faroes gap to an area due west of Scotland, where it carried out an ‘encounter exercise’ against units from the Mediterranean Squadron. The two groups then sailed in company to join the waiting support group, where a major replenishment at sea took place. Other facets of the exercise included units of the Baltic Fleet sailing through the Skaggerak to operate off south-west Norway, and an amphibious landing exercise involving units of the recently raised Naval Infantry coming ashore on the Soviet side of the Norwegian–Soviet border.

This was a very large and ambitious exercise, from which the Soviet navy learned many major lessons, one of the most important of which was the falsity of the concept of commanding naval forces at sea from a shore headquarters. Such a concept had been propagated for two reasons: first, because it complied with the general Communist idea of highly centralized power and, second, because it also avoided the complexity and expense of flagships. Once Okean 70 had proved this concept to be impracticable, ‘flag’ facilities were built into the larger ships, although the Baltic Fleet continued to be commanded from ashore.

The exercise which took place in June 1971 rehearsed a different scenario, with a group of Soviet Northern Fleet ships sailing down into Icelandic waters, where they reversed course and then advanced towards Jan Mayen Island to act as a simulated NATO carrier task group, which was then attacked by the main ‘players’. Again, a concurrent amphibious landing formed part of the exercise.

There were no major naval exercises in 1972, but in a spring 1973 exercise Soviet submarines practised countering a simulated Western task force sailing through the Iceland–UK gap to reinforce NATO’s Northern flank, while a similar exercise in 1974 took place in areas to the east and north of Iceland. Okean 75 was an extremely large maritime exercise, involving well over 200 ships and submarines together with large numbers of aircraft. The exercise was global in scale, with specific exercise areas including the Norwegian Sea, where simulated convoys were attacked; the northern and central Atlantic, particularly off the west coast of Ireland; the Baltic and Mediterranean seas; and the Indian and Pacific oceans. Overall, the exercise practised all phases of contemporary naval warfare, including the deployment and protection of SSBNs.

In 1976 an exercise started with a concentration of warships in the North Sea, following which they transited through the Skagerrak and into the Baltic. Although not an exercise as such, great excitement was caused among Western navies when the new aircraft carrier Kiev left the Black Sea and sailed through the Mediterranean before heading northward in a large arc, passing through the Iceland–Faroes gap and thence to Murmansk. NATO ships followed this transit very closely, as it gave them their first opportunity to see this large ship and its V/STOL aircraft.

The following year saw two exercises in European waters, the first of which was held in the area of the North Cape and the central Norwegian Sea. The second was much larger and consisted of two elements, one involving the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea, while in the other ships sailed from the Baltic, north around the British Isles and then into the central Atlantic. Also in 1977 the Soviet navy suffered the second of its major peacetime surface disasters when the Kashin-class destroyer Orel (formerly Otvazhny) suffered a major explosion while in the Black Sea, followed by a fire which raged for five hours before the ship sank, taking virtually the entire crew to their deaths.

In 1978 the passage of another Kiev-class carrier enabled an air–sea exercise to take place to the south of the Iceland–Faroes gap. Similar exercises followed in 1979 and 1980. The 1981 exercise involved three groups and took place in the northern part of the Barents Sea.

There were no major naval exercises in 1982, but the following year saw the most ambitious global exercise yet, with concurrent and closely related activities in all the world’s oceans, involving not only warships, but also merchant and fishing vessels. In European waters, three aggressor groups assembled off southern Norway and then sailed northward to simulate an advancing NATO force; they were then intercepted and attacked by the major part of the Northern Fleet.

The major exercise in 1985 followed a similar pattern, with aggressor groups sailing northeastward off the Norwegian coast, to be attacked by a large Soviet defending task group which included Kirov, the lead-ship of a new class of battlecruiser, Sovremenny-class anti-surface destroyers and Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyers, as well as many older ships. There was also substantial air activity, which included the use of Tu-26 Backfire bombers. Although not apparent at the time, this proved to be the zenith of Soviet naval activity, and in the remaining years of the Cold War the number and scale of the exercises steadily diminished.

These major exercises enabled the Soviet navy to rehearse its war plans and to demonstrate its increasing capability to other navies, particularly those in NATO. There were, of course, many smaller exercises, such as those involving amphibious capabilities, which took place on the northern shores of the Kola Peninsula, on the Baltic coast and in the Black Sea. It is noteworthy, however, that the vast majority of the exercises held in European waters, and particularly those held from 1978 onwards, while tactically offensive, were actually strategically defensive in nature, involving the Northern Fleet in defending the north Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the area around Jan Mayen Island.

Soviet at-sea time was considerably less than that of the US and other major Western navies. The latter maintained about one-third of their ships at sea at all times, while only about 15 per cent of the Soviet navy was at sea, reducing to 10 per cent for submarines. The Soviets did, however, partially offset this by placing strong emphasis on a high degree of readiness in port and on the ability to get to sea quickly.

You Can’t Get There from Here: The Inchon Story I

General MacArthur watching the Inchon Landing September 1950.

“When Inchon’s tides were at full ebb, the mud banks that had accumulated over the centuries from the Yellow Sea jutted from the shore in some places as far as two miles out into the harbor, and during ebb and flow these tides raced through ‘Flying Fish Channel,’ the best approach to the port, at speeds up to six knots. Even under the most favorable conditions, ‘Flying Fish Channel’ was narrow and winding. Not only did it make a perfect location for enemy mines, but also any ship sunk at a particularly vulnerable point could block the channel to all other ships.

The 28th of March 1949 was a melancholy day in the history of the Marine Corps—and no cause for rejoicing by the other services either. On that day Louis A. Johnson was sworn in as secretary of defense. The Corps had not been altogether pleased with James Forrestal, his predecessor, but it came to regard the Forrestal regime with nostalgia compared with the stewardship of Johnson.

An attorney who had been moderately successful in West Virginia politics, Johnson had formed a friendship with President Truman when the latter was in the Senate, based on their Army service in France in World War I and their association with the American Legion. Later he served as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee. He was appointed to the Defense position with the understanding that economy was to be his watchword. At the time Truman was surfeited with the Navy and Marines, and Johnson’s appointment was preceded by a general understanding that the president wanted the two maritime services brought to heel. Johnson’s attitude is characterized by a conversation he had with Admiral Richard L. Connally shortly after his appointment:

Admiral [he said], the Navy is on its way out. There’s no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.

President Truman was dissatisfied with the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. Even with the 1949 amendments that created a JCS chairman and enlarged the functions of the secretary of defense, the modified law had still not gone far enough in concentrating military authority at the top, certainly not far enough to please Truman’s most trusted military advisor, General Marshall. On the basis of the 1949 changes, the president undertook to curb the Navy and Marine Corps through administrative and fiscal actions. This was what the new defense secretary was busy doing until war and Congress intervened.

The secretary had starved all of the services—and very nearly had killed the Marines—by a program of severe budget cuts. When he took office, Johnson found a very austere Marine Corps which included eleven infantry battalions and twenty-three aircraft squadrons. He decreed that in fiscal year 1950 the Corps’s fighting forces would be reduced to eight understrength battalions and twelve aircraft squadrons. For the fiscal year beginning in July 1951 he directed that the number of battalions be reduced yet again, to six. His aspirations were plain. He intended to diminish progressively the fighting units of the Corps and, ultimately, to transfer what remained to the Army and the Air Force.

Johnson’s plan, where Marine Corps aviation was concerned, was far advanced. In an off-the-record speech at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, he declared that he was taking action to do away with Marine aviation and that papers to accomplish the Marines’ transfer to the Air Force were on his desk.

This was too much. Major General C. C. Jerome, a respected Marine aviator, alerted Representative Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a staunch Navy/Marine supporter, and a firm believer in the National Security Act in its original form. Vinson made short work of the heavy-handed secretary. He called Johnson to his office and delivered a lecture on those provisions of the National Security Act that expressly forbade such transfers of major combat functions. Then he obliged the secretary to write him a memorandum saying (albeit untruthfully) that no such step as transfer of Marine aviation to the Air Force was under contemplation and, in any event, that he would consult with the appropriate congressional committees before even considering an act of this sort.

Johnson worked his will on the Marines in other ways, however: in curtailment of appropriations for equipment, ammunition, supplies, and people, and through a policy of exclusion in various aspects of tactical training and planning. He approved the action of Admiral Forrest Sherman, the chief of naval operations, in assigning the bulk of the Navy’s amphibious ships to train the Army, thus precluding the Corps from practicing at its statutory specialty. And in strategic planning by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Marines were allowed no part at all. Commandant Cates persuaded Navy Secretary John L. Sullivan to intercede, asking that the Marines be permitted to take part in JCS discussions when their interests or operational employment were involved. Sullivan, for his pains, received a rebuke from Johnson:

I cannot see any justification for giving the Commandant of the Marine Corps a special role not accorded to the chiefs of various other arms and services which are integral parts of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

This is another way of saying that Johnson saw the Marines on a par with the Army Nurse Corps or the Navy Bureau of Supplies and Accounts.

These were major matters, but the secretary was not above some pettiness too. He crossed the Marine commandant off the list of those Washington officials authorized a chauffeur and a limousine and off the list of service chiefs for whom a special gun salute was prescribed on ceremonial occasions. He forbade celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday. Small things, all, in the context of national security but a measure of the man nevertheless.

Taken all together, Johnson’s erosive actions where the Marines were concerned had an effect for which he has never really been brought to account. Largely through his actions, at the outset of the Korean conflict, the Fleet Marine Force, the expeditionary element of the Corps, was pitifully anemic, having shrunk from its World War II peak of more than 300,000 men to only 27,656. Of these, some 8,000 were serving in a greatly attenuated 1st Marine Division (war strength 22,000) at Camp Pendleton in California. Its companion 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at only 3,700 men (war strength about 12,000) was at El Toro, forty miles away. Things were little better on the East Coast. The 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, had 9,000 men and its companion 2d Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point a few miles distant had only 5,300.

In the basic combat units this pitifully small figure equated to three infantry battalions and three tactical aircraft squadrons on the West Coast and three infantry battalions and four tactical aircraft squadrons on the East Coast. All of these formations, plus units of supporting artillery, engineers, tanks, air control, and supply were gravely understrength. Despite the Johnson austerities, however, the Marines had managed to attain a respectable state of training. The officers and noncommissioned officers were professionals—many with World War II experience. Their air and ground equipment—almost all of World War II vintage—was often threadbare, but they had kept it in good repair.

At the time (1949–1950), I was in command of the 5th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California, the only infantry regiment in the 1st Marine Division. We felt the dead hand of starvation everywhere. War strength for the regiment was 3,900 men. We suffered along with 1,800. Each infantry battalion was short one of its three rifle companies, each of which had two instead of the prescribed three platoons. Artillery and other supporting elements were correspondingly reduced, and service troops had been even more severely curtailed. Training presented a real challenge because of the limitations on ammunition, repair parts, and gasoline. But there was nothing Louis Johnson could do to prevent us from maneuvering up and down the brown hills of the 120,000-acre Camp Pendleton reservation. Supported by 1st Marine Aircraft Wing planes (to the extent that they had fuel to fly), we trained at length and with much intensity. Indeed, we spent so much time in the field that the wife of one of my men reproved me, “My kids have forgotten what their father looks like.”

While training ashore presented few problems, training in landing operations was a different matter because the Navy’s meager amphibious shipping resources had been assigned mainly to work with the Army.

One stroke of fortune came in early 1950 in a directive for the 5th Marines to stage an amphibious demonstration at Camp Pendleton for the Army Command and General Staff College. We were given an array of precious resources, most important, sufficient amphibious shipping to embark the regiment. With the understanding assistance of the Navy commander involved, Rear Admiral James H. Doyle (later to distinguish himself at Inchon), we were able to parlay our programmed one-day demonstration into three rehearsal landings and a five-day amphibious exercise. But that was our only taste of saltwater in a twelve-month period, and the same unhappy situation prevailed on the East Coast.

Put in other terms, on 25 June when the North Korean blitz of some 75,000 men drove south across the 38th Parallel, the Marines’ existing air/ground expeditionary force was tiny and emaciated. But what there was of it was ready to go.

The Korean crisis became a reality for the Marines just five days later. On 30 June, the Fleet Marine Force Pacific headquarters in Hawaii received a cryptic message query from the chief of naval operations. Prompted, we later learned, by Commandant Cates, it asked:

How soon can you sail for combat employment in the Far East: (a) A reinforced battalion: (b) A reinforced regiment?

I had reported for duty as force operations officer only two days before, having relinquished command of the 5th Marines on 15 June. After studying the message for a moment, I drafted a reply and took it to the chief of staff. Referring to the JCS message, it read:

(a) 48 hours, (b) Five days, including a Marine aircraft group.

The chief of staff read the proposed reply and said, “How do you know we can do that?” I answered, “I don’t, but if we can’t, we’re dead.” He released the message.

To do (b)—provide a reinforced regiment and a Marine aircraft group at anything approaching full war strength—would take the bulk of the Fleet Marine Force resources on the West Coast. Only bits and pieces would be left of the 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Realistically, however, that is what they were there for.

We immediately alerted the troops on the West Coast to the possibility of imminent expeditionary deployment. The commandant of the Marine Corps, almost simultaneously, did the same thing. Two days later, on the morning of 2 July, we received a message directive to prepare an air-ground Marine brigade for combat employment overseas. Preparations went forward by word of mouth, being confirmed by messages on 6 and 7 July. The preliminary orders we issued to the forces involved said,

Take whatever is required and available in troops and equipment from the 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, plus what Marine Corps Headquarters provides from other sources, make a provisional brigade consisting of the 5th Marine Regiment Reinforced and Marine Aircraft Group 33, both at reduced strength, embark them in ships the Navy will provide and set sail for the Far East.

It was not easy but within four days of the initiating directive, units of the brigade, designated First Provisional Marine Brigade, had begun loading. The ground elements embarked in San Diego, the air elements in Long Beach, where the two attack squadrons went aboard the small escort carrier Badoeng Strait. By 14 July they were loaded and gone—a 6,500 man air/ground brigade—and they could have departed a day or two earlier had ships been available. Commandant Cates came from Washington to tell them goodbye. “Clean this up in a couple of months or I will be over to see you,” he said.

The steady performance of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in Korea under Brigadier General Edward A. Craig and the contribution of its air/ground team to the defense of the Pusan Perimeter are the substance of another story. It is important here to reflect only on the brigade’s validation of the Marine dictum—“Be ready to go with whatever you have.”

The departure of the brigade left the remaining Marine Corps fragments on the West Coast, both air and ground, in disarray—mainly sick, short-timers, and men in a disciplinary status. Unhappy as it was, the condition would not have been crucial had it not been for events taking place in Tokyo.

Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., had assumed command of Fleet Marine Force Pacific on 2 July. With the encouragement of Commandant Cates and Admiral Arthur Radford, commander-in-chief, Pacific, he went to the Far East on 7 July to get a sense of the state of affairs on the Korean peninsula. Independently, he had two other aims: first, to ensure that the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade would be employed as a unified air/ground formation; and, second, to investigate the prospects for committing additional Marine forces. He hitched a ride to Tokyo with Vice Admiral Thomas Sprague, taking an aide and me with him.

We went first to Yokosuka, the headquarters of Naval Forces Far East. Until 25 June it had been a sleepy little eddy in the backwash of postwar retrenchment. Now it had suddenly become a beehive of frenzied effort to do in emergency all the things that Johnson’s economies had made so difficult to do as a matter of routine. There General Shepherd made his plea that our air/ground brigade be employed as a unit and received a favorable response from the Naval Forces Far East commander, Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, including assurance that the two fighter/attack squadrons from Marine Aircraft Group 33 would be able to support the ground units of the brigade from the escort carriers Badoeng Strait and Sicily.

The next day, 10 July, General Shepherd went to Tokyo to see General MacArthur. MacArthur was just entering the Dai Ichi Building as we pulled up. After a brief visit to the daily staff conference, we went to MacArthur’s office where he saw us almost at once. He described the bad situation on the Korean peninsula in unvarnished terms but voiced confidence that the North Korean blow would be absorbed by General Walton Walker’s Eighth Army forces, not, however, without hard fighting and heavy casualties. Then, he spoke eloquently of the need for an early counteroffensive and, with a few positive remarks about the conduct of the 1st Marine Division when it served under him at Cape Gloucester in World War II, he walked over to a map of Korea and said,

If I had the 1st Marine Division now, I could stabilize my front [he didn’t even have a front] and make an amphibious envelopment here—at Inchon on the west coast.

General Shepherd encouraged him to ask the Joint Chiefs for the division and for an accompanying Marine aircraft wing too. MacArthur responded enthusiastically, “You draw me up an appropriate message to the JCS,” he said, “and I will send it.”

We left MacArthur and went into an adjoining office where I borrowed the desk of an Army major, one of MacArthur’s aides, and assembled a simple message covering points outlined by General Shepherd. He took it in to MacArthur and was back in a minute or so with the word that the message was approved and would soon be on its way. When MacArthur put his signature on the message he set in motion a series of crash improvisations that have rarely been equalled in the Corps’ history.

The real significance of the moment emerges when one realizes that General Shepherd knew, without a long exchange of messages, just about what the Marine Corps could produce. Even more important, he knew if he generated a request for a division/wing team to go to war that Marines all the way up the line would support it. And they did. Later, on 14 August in a meeting at Camp Pendleton, Commandant Cates was eloquent—even stern—in impressing on General Shepherd how the Inchon undertaking was consuming the total resources of the Corps—but he never faltered in his support.

The Marines assumed, in advance of a national decision, that MacArthur’s 10 July request to the JCS would be granted, and they set about trying to reestablish some military capability in the 1st Division and 1st Wing. Since there were not enough men in the 1st entire Fleet Marine Force to make one division/wing team, Commandant Cates on 13 July took the first hard step. Through the chief of naval operations, he urged immediate mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve, both air and ground.

President Truman was a realist. He was aware of the grave situation facing Army forces in Korea and perceived that without the reserves MacArthur’s crisis demand for Marines could not be met. He did not hesitate. Approval for mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve ground elements came on the 19th and on the 22d for aviation units. On the 20th, twenty-two ground units were ordered to active duty and given only ten days to get to Camp Pendleton. Within the next fifteen days the whole of the Marine Corps Ground Reserve—138 units, more than 33,000 men—were ordered to active duty.

Concurrently, on the 23d, three Marine Corps Reserve fighter squadrons and six ground control intercept squadrons were ordered to active duty. In little more than a week, most of them had arrived in El Toro and were shaking down in Major General Field Harris’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Many had left good civilian jobs behind and were now contemplating how they were going to support a wife and possibly children on a corporal’s pay.

The 25th of July was a watershed date. On that day, just a month after the conflict began, the Joint Chiefs of Staff formally announced approval of MacArthur’s request for a Marine division and wing and approved their expansion to war strength, less the elements of the 1st Brigade then enroute to Korea. This meant that two infantry regiments had to be created, since the 5th Marines—enroute to Korea—was the only infantry unit in the division.

In the wake of the 25 July decision a series of intra-Marine Corps crash actions began. On that day all Marine Security Forces (mainly detachments at naval stations) were reduced in strength by 50 percent. The 3,630 men thus produced were started on the way to Camp Pendleton and El Toro and all of them had arrived within ten days.

The reaction of the reserves to the sudden call made, to me, an interesting portrait of the American society itself. A minority made every conceivable effort to obtain a deferment—telephone calls, hardship affidavits, congressional influence, even spurious medical certificates. But the great majority of those called up responded promptly and enthusiastically. Others who were not called went to the nearest Marine Corps training center and pleaded to be included. In the end, the greatest problem was to determine those whose burning desire to go concealed a lack of essential training.

Concurrently, a directive was issued for a major cross-country transfer of 7,182 men from the Second Marine Division in Camp Lejeune to the 1st Division, all to report in two weeks, and individuals were ordered to Camp Pendleton from any location in the Corps they could be found. Finally, Congress passed legislation authorizing the president to extend enlistments for one year, thus making about 1,500 short-timers in Camp Pendleton and El Toro eligible to deploy.

Also on 25 July, amid all of the turmoil, a new division commander, Major General O. P. Smith arrived in Camp Pendleton. If it were necessary to describe the tall, thin white-haired Smith in a word, it would have to be calm, a quality he would greatly need in the days ahead. Smith found waiting a directive from the commandant of the Marine Corps to recreate the 1st Marine Division from the cascade of Marine reserves coming from civilian life and from regular Marines coming from a dozen directions within the Corps. He had to determine their individual state of training, to arm them, equip them, assign them to units—some of which had to be constituted from scratch—and to exploit the few precious hours available to give them some training. Weapons and combat supplies had to be provided for the greatly enlarged division, hardware in storage since World War II had to be depreserved, issued, and tested. The embarkation of the entire force had to be planned, including coordination with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing which was to embark at Long Beach.

Had General Smith’s peace-strength staff been twice its authorized war strength it would have been overworked. As it was, about one-third of it was already enroute to Korea with the 1st Marine Brigade and, it turned out, the division staff was not to be united until the members joined on the beach at Inchon the day of the landing.

The directive received by General Smith provided that two infantry regiments would be formed. The 1st Marines, to be commanded by the legendary Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, would consist mainly of men from Camp Lejeune on the East Coast plus men picked up locally at Camp Pendleton, and a few reservists. The last major infantry unit of the division to be formed would be the 7th Marines, under Colonel Homer L. Litzenberg. The organization was a classic example of barrel scraping. It comprised approximately equal numbers of reserves and men from the 2d Division in Camp Lejeune, except that the regiment’s third infantry battalion was to be the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, currently deployed in the Mediterranean, halfway around the world. The battalion was ordered to sail directly to the Far East, via Suez. The unit’s first sight of the 7th Marines was when they joined up on the beach at Inchon.

Colonel A. L. Bowser, whom I had relieved as operations officer of Fleet Marine Force Pacific on 28 June, had gone directly to Camp Pendleton, where he doubled as 1st Marine Division operations officer and chief of staff. He was mindful of the immense short-term job involved in planning and executing the embarkation and of the limited capacity of the staff. He hit on the idea of borrowing the Embarkation Section from the Landing Force Training Unit attached to the Navy’s Amphibious Training Command in San Diego. With the Navy’s concurrence, the unit stopped its training function and took over the entire division embarkation project. As Bowser put it, “They didn’t just advise us—they put the division and its equipment to sea from San Diego.”

Loading of both the division and the wing began on 8 August, even as the influx of personnel continued. The ships provided were largely of civilian origin, only six of the nineteen being regular U.S. Navy amphibious types. The nineteen ships had to be loaded in four different places with supplies and equipment coming from five different sources, and there were only ten days allocated to plan the embarkation, to assemble the people and material—both air and ground—and get the force aboard.

There was not enough of anything—dock space, marshalling areas, transportation—but, especially, there was not enough time. The plan provided that the ships were to sail to Japan, where everything would be unloaded, sorted out, and reloaded in combatant shipping. While this sounded reasonable, little did those involved realize the brief time they would have in Japan or the procession of hurdles they would face when they got there.

When the embarkation in San Diego and Long Beach was completed, we would have in or enroute to the Far East a Marine division/aircraft wing team of more than thirty thousand men, fully a quarter of whom had been peacefully pursuing their civilian careers three weeks before.

Meanwhile, everything that happened, it seemed, was an enemy of the clock. The City of San Diego would not permit ammunition to be loaded at its municipal piers, so every ship had to be moved to the North Island Naval Air Station to take on ammunition. Since most of the ships were civilian-owned and manned, they had to be loaded by civilian stevedores. But between Long Beach, where aviation units were loading, and San Diego, only sixty stevedore gangs could be mustered, against a minimum need for ninety. A proposal that they be augmented by Marines generated a threat by the stevedores’ union to call a strike. Despite the most determined efforts by the Navy, three of the civilian ships were late in arriving, and one Navy amphibious cargo ship, the Titania, developed a bad boiler. Already loaded, it had to be unloaded and its cargo moved into other ships, while the Navy set about getting a replacement.

Despite these and other impediments, it all came together—not smoothly, not neatly, but it came together—Marines from everywhere merged into combat units, the hardware of war moved into ships. The embarkation was a product of experience, improvisation, corner-cutting, risk taking, and refusal to accept no for an answer.

You Can’t Get There from Here: The Inchon Story II

Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez of the Marine Corps is shown scaling a seawall after landing on Red Beach (September 15). Minutes after this photo was taken, Lopez was killed after covering a live grenade with his body. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Then, at the height of the embarkation, General MacArthur asked for the immediate dispatch of a planning group from the 1st Division headquarters. The already attenuated staff was split in half, with one group of twelve officers and six enlisted men flying out to Japan, arriving on 18 August. When they arrived they learned, for the first time, that a landing at Inchon (Operation Chromite) was definitely on, that D-day was 15 September, less than a month away, and that the date could not be slipped because the 15th was the only day for a month when the tide at Inchon would be high enough to permit the beaching of landing ships.

The remainder of the staff—eleven officers and four enlisted men—arrived two days later, and it was this group of only twenty-three officers and ten enlisted men that faced a planning task for which a team three times the size would not have been excessive. Subtracting time required for movement to the objective and time required for distribution of the plans, once made, General Smith and his little group had just ten days to do a thirty- or forty-day planning job.

Their first problem was an inexplicable state of mind on the part of MacArthur and his staff. Never mind that the hydrography and the topography united to make Inchon an immensely complex problem, never mind that the thirty-foot tides dictated that the assault take place in late afternoon, the party line was that the Inchon landing was a piece of cake. And no contrary thoughts were tolerated. General Smith provides some of the flavor of what they were up against:

General Almond dismissed the whole matter by stating that there was no organized enemy anyway, that our difficulties were purely mechanical.

General Shepherd adds:

MacArthur stated that he did not believe Inchon was defended, that the people would rise up and welcome the invasion.

The people who were faced with having to do the job—Admiral Doyle and General Smith—did not share these sanguine sentiments. Put plainly, they did not want to go to Inchon. While they saw the virtue of an enveloping attack that severed the lifeline of the North Korean forces besieging the Pusan Perimeter, they believed it could be done more surely and effectively by landing at some point less forbidding than Inchon.

In early August, as General Shepherd became acquainted with the unusual problems involved with the Inchon area, he asked me to study the region and to try and find another landing area nearby that offered less formidable obstacles. I prepared a terrain study and an estimate of the situation which concluded that a landing at Anjung (also called Posung Myon), about thirty miles south of Inchon, was to be preferred. The current intelligence disclosed no enemy there. We would avoid landing in the heart of a large city, and we would not have to land at a specific time (at Inchon in late afternoon) during the only day on which a tide high enough for beaching the LSTs (landing ships) occurred in more than a month.

The alternate landing site would avoid the forbidding hydrography of Inchon harbor, yet it would not sacrifice the benefits of an envelopment and would still be near enough to Inchon and Seoul to permit their early capture. We took the study and accompanying maps with us on a trip to the Far East on 21 August. Upon arriving there, General Shepherd found that he had a determined ally, not only in General Smith but in Rear Admiral Doyle.

Doyle was a gaunt, Lincolnesque figure with a pink complexion, a Boston Irish accent, a hot temper, and a cool sense of humor that surfaced at times of great tension. He had, and deserved, the reputation for being the Navy’s preeminent amphibious admiral. As the attack force commander for the Inchon landing, he had the task of taking the landing force to the objective, putting it ashore, and then providing the successive increments of logistic support that would keep it there. He was dissatisfied with the Inchon idea for many of the same reasons as the Marines—perilous navigation, the tide problem that required an evening landing, unfavorable hydrography, and the difficulty of landing in a large city which, despite careful precautions, might well be burning. As the one responsible for surmounting the naval aspects of these problems, Doyle was strongly opposed to the Inchon site and he stood up and said so. At a meeting of Navy and Marine commanders at Yokosuka on 21 August he laid the problem out in great detail in a manner so clear and persuasive that everyone present was convinced that a landing somewhere to the south of Inchon—at Anjung (Posung Myon), for instance—was to be preferred. Among those present was Admiral Forrest Sherman, the chief of naval operations, who had come to the Far East with Army Chief of Staff Collins to examine the concept on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were to see MacArthur in about two hours, and we were happy to hear that at the meeting he would support Doyle in his opposition to Inchon and his proposal to land in a more practical area farther south.

They went to the meeting. Doyle made his presentation—“Magnificently put on,” according to Sherman—but it served only as a trigger for a forty-five minute Churchillian oration by MacArthur on the importance of the capture of Seoul and the consequent rewards assured by success at Inchon, ending with the words—quoted to me the next day by Doyle: “We will land at Inchon and I shall crush them.”

According to Doyle, Sherman gave him no support in his counterproposal. Sherman did declare later, however, that MacArthur was fearful that coordinated opposition by Collins and Sherman to the Inchon attack might prevent the approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of an early amphibious envelopment, and so,

When it was proposed that the landing take place some thirty miles to the southward MacArthur jumped at the idea, stating if such an area could be found it would be acceptable to him.

The next day, enroute from Japan to Korea, General Shepherd and I outlined to Sherman in greater detail, with the help of a map, the multiple advantages of the Anjung landing. Sherman listened. Both General Shepherd and I were sure we had convinced him. But in the end it all amounted to nothing. Two days later, in Tokyo, (24 August) General Shepherd laid out the Anjung concept for Lieutenant General Edward M. Almond, MacArthur’s chief of staff, who was also to command the landing. After the meeting General Shepherd told me that Almond dismissed the idea summarily, saying that Inchon had been decided upon and that was where it would be, that Seoul was the real objective. So, with only a little more than two weeks remaining before sailing, the people who knew better were obliged to abandon their convictions and settle in on making and issuing plans for a landing at Inchon.

Generals Smith and Harris, the Marine ground and air commanders, faced a procession of brutal problems, paced to the inexorable march of the clock. To complicate matters, the two commanders were not working out of the same location. Smith was in Kobe and Harris was at an air base at Itami, some forty miles away. They needed to know the effects of tides and currents, the consistency of the Inchon mud flats, height and character of the Inchon seawall, the nature and location of enemy defenses—data that took time to obtain. The tasks of composing, reproducing, and distributing the tactical plans were straightforward functions and well understood by the planning staffs, but it all took time, and time was a fast disappearing commodity.

To cope with the possibility of boats and amphibians grounding in the mud flats, the planners hit on the idea of putting two planks in each to support men walking across the mud. To surmount the stone seawalls fronting Inchon harbor, they decided to build and install a scaling ladder in each boat and LVT. Again, a simple improvisation, but it consumed precious time.

The few days and hours still remaining were further invaded by problems with the Army and Navy. Both General Almond’s X Corps staff and Admiral Struble, the overall Joint Task Force Commander, were opposed to a pre-D-day naval bombardment, hoping, thereby, to maintain the element of surprise. Admiral Doyle and General Smith were convinced that there were enough enemy targets in the area to warrant an aggressive naval gunfire program. It took three time-consuming meetings, on 1, 3, and 8 September, to get the matter settled on terms agreeable to Doyle and Smith.

This problem, important as it was, nevertheless was eclipsed by difficulties with MacArthur’s staff and most particularly Lieutenant General Almond, who had by now assumed overall command of the landing force. In a military anomaly, he still retained his position as chief of staff of GHQ and was thus able to issue orders to himself. Lieutenant General Shepherd was the logical landing force commander. The bulk of the forces, air and ground, came from his command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and he had the requisite depth of amphibious experience. MacArthur recognized this and told General Shepherd on 24 August that had he not already promised the command to Almond he would have given it to Shepherd.

As detailed planning proceeded, it became increasingly clear that the forces and equipment the Marines were bringing represented the bulk of the Inchon investment. At one of Almond’s planning meetings where the crossing of the Han River was discussed, for example, it turned out that the quantity of bridging equipment shown by the briefing officer as available was exactly the amount being brought with the 1st Marine Division. Without it there would be no bridging in X Corps at all. The Marine force included two photographic aircraft, which had gone to the Far East to provide aerial photographic coverage for the 1st Marine Brigade. X Corps appropriated the little detachment as its sole photographic resource.

The 1st Marine Division is what MacArthur asked for as the ground force to do the Inchon job. It was what the JCS authorized and what the Marine Corps was in the process of providing. Of the division’s three infantry regiments, one, the 5th Marines, was busy fighting as part of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Pusan Perimeter. Another, the 1st Marines, was enroute from the United States to Kobe and due to arrive between 28 August and 3 September. The remaining one, the 7th Marines, was due to arrive in the Far East about 15 September. Thus, General Smith was obliged to plan his 15 September landing around only two regiments, one of which was already fighting near Pusan.

Smith began asking Almond to release the 1st Brigade from the Pusan Perimeter on 23 August. Almond’s response, in his capacity as GHQ chief of staff, was that the release of the brigade “… would be bad for the morale of the Eighth Army and, in any case, would be dependent on the tactical situation. . . .” Smith repeated his request to Almond on 30 August and was put off again with the excuse that MacArthur’s headquarters was unwilling to direct the release of the brigade because of the tenuous situation in the Pusan area. The brigade commander himself, Smith was told, should negotiate his release directly with the Eighth Army commander. Smith refused to accept this and on 1 September sent an official dispatch requesting release of the brigade to permit it to plan, load, and embark for the operation. A dispatch releasing the brigade was finally issued on 4 September.

More precious time had been lost in haggling. The division sent a liaison officer to the brigade on 2 September to acquaint the units with the tactical plan and to give them data from which they could develop their own detailed plans. The liaison officer arrived to find that the brigade had been committed to action again to meet a North Korean threat. Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Raymond L. Murray, commanding the 5th Marine Regiment said,

I received first news of the operation via a liaison officer while we were heavily engaged in the Second Battle of the Naktong. I was given an aerial photo of Inchon and told we would land on Red Beach over the seawall.

Twenty-four hours later, even as the brigade was moving heavy equipment to Pusan in preparation for embarkation, and as ships to transport the unit to Inchon had been dispatched from Japan, the order for its release was revoked. General Smith was notified that the 5th Marines would be replaced in the assault landing task organization by the 32d Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division—a unit that had no amphibious training whatever and included 40 percent Korean conscripts. Usually a taciturn man, General Smith lost his composure. With the help of Admirals Doyle and Joy, he arranged a showdown meeting with Almond. It took place the next morning (3 September). Smith was clear in his position. He would not employ the mixed U.S./Korean unit in an amphibious assault role. He would land on one rather than two beaches and he advised Almond that removal of the 5th Marines would go beyond the point of acceptable risk. Almond responded that, “GHQ would take the risk and that General MacArthur would be present for the landing and would take the responsibility for calling it off if necessary.” As if calling off an amphibious operation, once begun, is analogous to turning off a light.

In an ensuing heated discussion, they finally agreed that the 7th Infantry Division unit would be embarked to serve as a floating reserve for General Walker in the Pusan Perimeter, and that the 5th Marines would be released for the Inchon operation—but not until midnight, 5 September!

Smith had prevailed but another day had been expended in debate that need not have taken place, and there were not many days left. Where the 1st Marine Brigade was concerned, there would be only six days from the hour of their withdrawal from heavy combat until they had to be embarked and on their way to the Inchon battle. During that time they would march eight miles, truck fifty miles to the port of Pusan, prepare and distribute plans for the landing, receive and absorb replacements for combat losses (some 30 percent of the infantry strength), replenish supplies, build scaling ladders, receive and integrate the third rifle company for each infantry battalion (just arrived from the United States to bring the unit to full war strength), embark and sail around the Korean peninsula to join the Inchon attack force. In addition to all this, the brigade was made responsible for getting the Korean Marine Corps Regiment to Inchon, only to find, on 6 September, that one of its battalions had no weapons! The Marines procured the necessary arms from Army stock and, as General Murray recalls, “We even found time to conduct some basic weapons training for the Korean Marines.” They did it all and were aboard and under way on 12 September. The amphibious ships were crowded and hot but they provided a bath, hot food, and a bunk—pure luxury to the Marines who were exhausted by the Pusan Perimeter combat.

There were other assaults on the Marines’ time, such as notification, in the midst of planning, that General Almond wanted to have a war game of the Inchon-Seoul operation. A liaison officer delivered the directive for the war game to the overworked 1st Division operations officer, Colonel A. L. Bowser. Bowser says,

I took the directive, folded it several times, tucked it into the liaison officer’s pocket and told him to take it back to GHQ.

Another hair shirt was tried on for size on 7 September, when General Almond’s X Corps headquarters notified General Smith that a detachment of 100 Marines was desired to operate as raiders along with a detachment of Army Rangers and British Commandos. The concept was that they would paddle ashore from a ship at night in rubber boats, move ten miles over land on foot, and capture Kimpo Airfield, northeast of Inchon. How the two- or three-knot rubber boats were to operate against tidal currents that reached six knots and how the small, lightly armed infantry group was to cope with even moderate resistance ashore was never explained. In any case, after several frustrating exchanges, Smith simply sent a message saying the Marine raiders were not available. He heard nothing more about it.

It seemed that everyone had a part in invading the precious hours standing between the Marines and D-day. On 6 September the secretary of the navy issued an order that all Marines who had not reached their eighteenth birthday must be withdrawn from the troop list. All records in both the division and wing had to be researched. It turned out that some six hundred men fell under the age restriction. They were everywhere—enroute, aboard ship, ashore in four different places—and they had to be assembled and provision made for their care in Japan, once the division and wing units were gone.

And fate added to the Marines’ torment, too. On 3 September, at the height of the 1st Marine Division’s reloading process, Typhoon Jane, 75 knots, struck Kobe. Several ships broke their moorings, breakers rolled across the piers, cargo in the process of being resorted was damaged by seawater and torrential rain, vehicles were flooded, and all loading operations were suspended for more than twenty-four hours.

One of the last ships to arrive from the United States, the SS Noonday, carrying general cargo and ammunition, caught fire as she was approaching Kobe. By the time the fire tugs had extinguished the blaze and the soaked cargo had been unloaded, refurbished, and reloaded, more valuable time had disappeared.

On 10 September warning was received that Typhoon Kezia, 85 knots, was approaching Kobe. Admiral Doyle directed that all of the large transports and cargo ships, thirteen of them, scheduled to sail on 12 September, get under way on the 11th. After they had been at sea for twenty-four hours, suffering greatly because of the high winds and mountainous seas, the thirteen ships reversed course, assuming they could not get around or through the typhoon. When Doyle, whose flagship had departed shortly after the transports, learned of this he issued a simple order: “Reverse course and follow me.” Had the resolute admiral not taken that timely and courageous action, the critical 15 September D-day would not have been met.

And finally, on the 13th, Admiral Doyle was notified that a landing ship carrying the headquarters of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines had broken down. It had only one engine operating and could make only six knots, which would not get the ship to Inchon on time. A tug was provided and with its help the ship could manage eight knots, which was just enough to get her to Inchon for the landing.

That was the final crisis. From that point on, everything that could be done had been done. The force was on its way. Now MacArthur’s “10,000 to one gamble” was in the hands of fate.

In the final hours, several incidents occurred that provide an interesting look backstage before the lifting of the curtain on the battle. General Shepherd and I accompanied General MacArthur in his aircraft from Tokyo to Itazuke on 13 September and from there some eighty miles to Sasebo to join up with the Mt. McKinley. Waiting for the ship to arrive, the party passed about three hours in a Navy Petty Officers’ Club, eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, and talking. During the entire period, in which MacArthur took the conversational lead himself, the discussion never once touched on Inchon, the challenge involved, or the series of unusual actions that had brought the task force together. The conversation, which included primarily MacArthur, Major General Courtney Whitney, and MacArthur’s more intimate associates, was confined to one subject—their pre-World War II days in the Philippines. In the space of three hours, Inchon was never mentioned. It seemed to me that they still did not sense either the fragility or the complexity of the operation facing us.

The next day, enroute to the objective, we received some surprising news. President Truman, under heavy fire for the lack of preparedness of American forces in Japan at the war’s beginning and tired of Louis Johnson’s squabbling with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, marched his defense secretary down the plank. Johnson was fired, and there was genuine rejoicing about Mt. McKinley, from MacArthur down. There seemed in this to be some just retribution. Although he was not the only reason for all our high-pressure scrambling of the past few weeks, Johnson was certainly the cutting edge of the imprudent economy movement that had made the preparation for Inchon such a nightmare.

Next, there was an incident on the flag bridge of the ship on the afternoon of D – 1. Rear Admiral Doyle, the steadfast Amphibious Task Force commander, Major General E. K. Wright, MacArthur’s operations officer, and I were talking of the parade of problems that had characterized the preceding few weeks. Wright said, “I sometimes felt we’d never make it.”

Doyle, who had endured more than his share of problems, and who could be testy when he felt like it, said,

Get this straight. We wouldn’t have made it; we wouldn’t be here today, if the operation hadn’t been in the hands of Navy and Marine professionals who knew exactly what they were doing.

Wright didn’t say anything, and I didn’t have to.

A final prebattle incident occurred early on the morning of D-day. Mt. McKinley had anchored near the transport area where an LSD of the attack force was to launch assault forces of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines in amphibian tractors (LVTs) for their attack on the offshore island of Wolmi-do. Along with others, I was on the boat deck as the dawn broke, watching the air and naval gunfire preparation by planes of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and ships of the task force. As the first LVTs began to emerge from the mother ship, I commented to Lieutenant General Almond, who was standing nearby, “That LVT is certainly a versatile machine.”

Apparently not aware that I was referring to the ship-to-shore conveyance we were watching, he responded, “Yes. Tell me, can it float?” I was nonplussed. Here was the leader, bearing the immediate responsibility for the entire landing force in a critical amphibious operation, and he wanted to know if an LVT would float! The Marines had been concerned about Almond during the planning phase when he seemed to have his mind only on the big picture—the capture of Seoul or “making an anvil for the Eighth Army’s hammer.” Yet the landing force—his landing force—was confronted with immense and immediate problems. A race with darkness, getting over mud flats, across sea walls, through a big Oriental city, seizing an airfield, initiating a major logistic system, establishing a beachhead—these were the essential precursors of any hammer and anvil, and they were Almond’s direct responsibility. It seemed, from the first, that he did not understand these things. That apprehension was now heightened in my mind as we stood there watching LVTs bearing the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines plough through the waves toward Wolmi-do.

The preliminaries to Inchon were unusual in many ways, and there will be many judgments as to the identity of the catalyst or catalysts that brought it all together. A fair case can be made that Inchon would never have happened were it not for three things.

First, it would never have happened had General MacArthur, with a keen strategic sense, not expressed his desire on 10 July for the 1st Marine Division to make an amphibious envelopment and had not Lieutenant General Shepherd volunteered, then and there, to help him procure the division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Second, it would never have happened had Commandant Cates not thrown his total support behind the project and urged mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve, and had President Truman, in the face of strong political opposition, not approved the Reserve mobilization.

Finally, it would never have happened were it not for the ingenious and altogether professional actions of the Marines and Navy people involved. The piecing together of the thirty thousand man air-ground force in the space of three weeks, the succession of improvisations in embarkation and in planning, the steadfast poise with which General Smith, Admiral Doyle, and their staffs fought off the meddling of General Almond as they pursued their affairs, the ingenious adaptations to the unusual nature of the mandated landing area—these were the indispensable lubricants that oiled the gears of strategy, these were the things that converted Inchon from a dream to a reality.

The Novorossiysk Landing Operations

Marines detachment of Major Caesar Kunikov, shortly before the night of February 4, 1943, when they took part in the landing operation and seized a bridgehead south of Novorossiysk, known as “Malaya Zemlya”.

Although Soviet attempts for a second huge encirclement had been thwarted, the German position in the southern sector was still perilous, and the eyes of the Soviet command turned to the isolated Seventeenth Army. Plans for a Soviet amphibious landing in the Novorossiysk area had first been drawn up in November 1942, and at a Stavka meeting on 24 January 1943, a combined amphibious and ground operation to encircle the German Seventeenth Army was proposed. On land, the Soviet 18th and 46th Armies would seize the Kuban River crossings in the Krasnodar region and then push west towards the Taman Peninsula while the 47th Army would launch a direct attack on Novorossiysk. Meanwhile, the amphibious landing would place forces into the rear of the German defences and move to link up with 47th Army. The combined operation would encircle Seventeenth Army and prevent it from withdrawing into the defensible Kuban Bridgehead.  At this meeting, the forces in the area were also reorganised.

Transcaucasus Front’s Northern Group, under the command of General Ivan Maslennikov, was renamed North Caucasus Front,  and the remainder of Ivan Tyulenev’s Transcaucasus Front returned to its original role of guarding the southern frontiers with Iran and Turkey.

The location chosen for the landing operation was Yuzhnaya Ozereika, about thirty kilometres southwest of Novorossiysk, and the detailed plan was drawn up by ViceAdmiral Filipp Sergeyevich Oktyabrskiy, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, and timed for 01:30 on 4 February.  The timetable was as follows:

00:45: A parachute force of eighty men would be dropped at Glebovka and Vasilevka, to the north of Yuzhnaya Ozereika, and bombing raids would be carried out on German defensive positions around the landing zones.

01:00: A naval bombardment would be launched by a Black Sea Fleet fire-support squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Lev Anatolevich Vladimirskiy and comprising the cruisers Krasniy Kavkaz and Krasniy Krym, the destroyer leader Kharkov and the destroyers Besposhchadniy and Soobrazitelniy.

01:30: The main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika, commanded by Rear-Admiral Nikolai Yefremovich Basistiy, would be launched, along with a simultaneous diversionary landing at Stanichka in the southern suburbs of Novorossiysk. Dummy landing operations would also be feigned at a number of locations along the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula: Anapa, Blagoveschenskiy, the Sukko River Valley and Cape Zhelezniy Rog.

The main landing force comprised two echelons. The first was formed up in Gelendzhik and was made up of 255th Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 563rd Independent Tank Brigade and a separate machine-gun battalion. The second echelon formed up in Tuapse and comprised 83rd Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 165th Infantry Brigade and 29th Anti-tank Artillery Regiment.  Both groupings underwent intensive training in landing operations throughout January.

Even during the earliest preparations for the operation, however, a number of officers expressed doubts over the selection of Yuzhnaya Ozereika as the site of the main landing, citing the unpredictable winter weather and sea conditions, the presence of numerous minefields in the area and the distance from the ultimate objective of Novorossiysk.

The operation ran into serious problems from the start. On 27 January, 47th Army began its offensive in the Verkhnebakanskaya and Krymskaya areas, but was unable to force a breakthrough at any point. Although the original plan stipulated that the landing operation would not begin until such a penetration had been achieved, the

Transcaucasus Front command nevertheless gave the order for the landing to proceed, partly in the hope that it would divert German forces and help 47th Army to achieve its aim.

The first landing group was late setting out from Gelendzhik and made slower than expected progress in heavy seas, so Basistiy sent a request to Vladimirskiy on Krasniy Kavkaz and to Oktyabrskiy, requesting a 90-minute postponement. Without waiting for confirmation from Oktyabrskiy, Vladimirskiy ordered his ships to hold fire and Basistiy postponed the arrival of the  dummy landing operations did not receive this information and acted according to their original orders.

Oktyabrskiy, however, did not wish to delay the operation as doing so would deprive him of the cover of darkness. He ordered that the original plan should be adhered to, but this message did not reach Basistiy and Vladimirskiy until it was too late for them to revert to the original plan. Again, Oktyabrskiy did not communicate with the air-support, parachute and dummy landing groups, so they remained oblivious to the unfolding chaos.

The bombing raids and bombardment of the dummy landing sites were launched in accordance with the original timetable, as was the parachute drop, but one of the transport planes was unable to locate the drop zone and returned to base, reducing the strength of the parachute force by over 25 percent before the operation started. This disconnect between the different parts of the operation alerted the defending German and Romanian forces, allowing them to ascertain that a landing operation was imminent and also its likely location.  At 00:35, V Corps placed all its forces defending the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula on the highest alert.

At 02:30, the naval support ships began their 30-minute bombardment against the German and Romanian defences at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The fire was poorly-directed, however, and although over 2,000 shells were fired, the gun emplacements and defensive positions were largely undamaged. At 03:00, the cruisers ceased firing and set course for port, although the destroyers continued firing. The landing craft of the first group approached the shore at around 03:30, but came under intense fire and suffered heavy losses. Many of the tanks in the first landing group were released too far from the shore so their engines flooded and they were immobilised in the surf.

A group of 1,427 men, with 10 tanks, was able to reach the shore. They quickly captured Yuzhnaya Ozereika and set out for Glebovka, a few miles to the north, but without support, they could not maintain the advance.  The bulk of the group, including the last two remaining tanks, was pushed back and isolated in an area about one kilometre west of Yuzhnaya Ozereika on the morning of 5 February.  Over the next few days, small groups tried to force their way through to Stanichka, and about 150 succeeded. Another group of 25, along with 18 paratroopers and 27 partisans, reached the coast to the east of Yuzhnaya Ozereika and were picked up by a motor boat on the evening of 9 February.   Another 542 men of the landing group were captured.  On 6 February, Seventeenth Army reported that the landing force at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had essentially been destroyed, and the following day, reported that 300 enemy dead and 31 U.S.-built tanks lay on the beach.

The diversionary landing at Stanichka, in contrast, proceeded virtually exactly as planned. At 01:30, torpedo boats raised a smoke screen across the shore, and fire from support vessels and from batteries on the eastern coast of Tsemess Bay were much more successful in silencing German guns than had been the case at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The first landing groups, under the command of Major Tsesar L. Kunikov, disembarked and were able to seize a beachhead. At 02:40, Kunikov signalled for the second and third echelons to be landed. The landing party seized several buildings on the southern edge of Stanichka and was able to hold the beachhead until it was further reinforced. The bridgehead quickly became known as “Malaya Zemlya” (The Small Land).

The success against the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing appears to have led to a degree of complacency among the German command regarding the Stanichka operation. At 00:15 on 6 February, General Ruoff sent a message of congratulations to all the commanding officers who had been involved in the defence against the two landings, and later in the day, V Corps’ war diary reported that the landing force at Stanichka was encircled and that its attempts to expand its beachhead would be defeated.  A German offensive to throw the landing party back into the sea was planned, but was not scheduled to start until 7 February, when parts of 198th Infantry Division were due to arrive from Krasnodar to reinforce V Corps’ line in a number of locations around Novorossiysk.  Ivan Y. Petrov, the commander of the Black Sea Group of North Caucasus Front, displayed no such hesitation and quickly decided to divert all of the forces that had been intended for the main landing to reinforce the success of the Stanichka diversion.

Within a few days, over 17,000 men, twenty-one guns, seventy-four mortars, eighty-six machine guns and 440 tons of supplies had been landed on the beachhead. Kunikov was fatally wounded by a shell splinter on the night of 11–12 March and was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.  He is buried in Heroes’ Square, close to the waterfront in the centre of Novorossiysk.

The debacle at Yuzhnaya Ozereika has been largely overlooked in the Soviet history of the war, as attention focussed on the Malaya Zemlya landings. The official History of the Great Patriotic War describes the events at Yuzhnaya Ozereika in just two sentences while devoting several pages to the success of the auxiliary operation.    During this period, Leonid Brezhnev was serving as a political officer with 18th Army, and he made a number of trips by boat to Malaya Zemlya to encourage the troops. During his term as general secretary of the Communist Party (1964-82), the legend of Malaya Zemlya was taken to new heights. In 1973, Novorossiysk was awarded the title of Hero City, elevating it to the status of the likes of Stalingrad and Leningrad in terms of its importance in the war. A series of massive memorial complexes were constructed, including one at the site of the Malaya Zemlya landings.

The question of what the Malaya Zemlya landing actually achieved, beyond its propaganda value and tying down German forces, is worthy of further consideration. Grechko claims that the operation created favourable conditions for the liberation of Novorossiysk,   but this view is difficult to support, as the city was not recaptured until a full seven months after the landing operation and after the Germans had already decided to withdraw the whole of Seventeenth Army from the Kuban Bridgehead.

Several writers, including Tieke, note that the presence of the Soviet forces at Malaya Zemlya prevented the Germans from using the port facilities at Novorossiysk.  This argument is also questionable. There were already significant Red Army forces on the high ground on the eastern side of Tsemess Bay, where the front line had been static since September 1942. These forces provided artillery support for the landing operation, so they would also have been able to threaten any German vessels attempting to enter or exit the port. In any case, the German-held ports and airfields farther to the rear were sufficient for Seventeenth Army’s supply needs. During March, for example, the supply and evacuation totals by sea and air were as follows:

To further supplement the supply system, a cable-car system across the Kerch Strait, with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day, went into operation in June.

A second question that warrants further examination is that of what could have been achieved if the main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had unfolded as planned.  The landing forces at Malaya Zemlya were concentrated on a relatively narrow peninsula, so the opposing German defensive line remained quite short. Nevertheless, the quickly reinforced Soviet force put severe pressure on the German defences and created concern at Seventeenth Army headquarters. On 7 February, the army’s war diary reported that it had been fully pushed onto the defensive by the reinforced enemy, and on 21 February, it stated that the decrease in the combat strength of its forces in the Novorossiysk area was “particularly serious.”

The defences along the coast around Yuzhnaya Ozereika were weaker than at Stanichka, and the fact that the small landing party was able to force its way inland as far as Glebovka suggests that if it had been reinforced to a level approaching that at Stanichka, it could have represented a serious threat to the entire left wing of Seventeenth Army’s defensive line. Ultimately, the failures of the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing and 47th Army’s offensive in the centre of Seventeenth Army’s line allowed the latter to hold a continuous defensive line through the spring and summer.

Black Sea Black Death (1982)

Sea Landings in History

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the 1066 Norman amphibious invasion of England.
Normandy Landings-1944.

The history of amphibious warfare goes back well before the modern term itself. The massive landing by the Persians at Marathon, the ill-fated Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 BCE, Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55 BCE, and some of the Crusades are invoked as examples of assault upon the land from the sea.

Looking back to those earlier ventures can help to clarify the enduring, historic features of this special form of warfare. It is not about raids upon an enemy’s shore, such as Sir Francis Drake’s attack on Cadiz and other Spanish ports in the 1580s. Those were strikes from the sea, but a permanent lodgement on the beachhead followed by an advance upon the rest of the mainland was not intended. Operations such as the assault upon Cadiz usually had a smaller, more specific purpose, such as throwing the enemy’s intentions into disarray (Drake’s assault was a preemptive disruption of the Armada) or hurting his offensive capacities (like the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918, where the British planned to block egress by U-boats from the German-occupied port), or were simply persistent, small-scale attacks to stretch out and, it was hoped, wear down the defenders. Royal Marine commando units carried out many of that sort of raid throughout much of the Second World War, compelling Hitler to order the stationing of vast numbers of Wehrmacht troops along Europe’s western shores, from northern Norway to France’s border with Spain. In late December 1941, for example, a commando raid successfully destroyed the German power station, factories, and other installations at Vaagso, halfway up the Norwegian coast, and in February 1942 another famous raid attacked and seized vital radar equipment from the Bruneval station, near Le Havre.

But these were not invasions; at Bruneval, the commandos actually parachuted in, seized the machinery, and left by the sea. Some of them had specific utility, such as the acquisition of the radar equipment, or the later midget submarine raids on enemy merchant ships in the Gironde (the “Cockleshell Heroes”). Sometimes, perhaps, the merits were psychological; they certainly were to Churchill, who almost immediately after the fall of France—and well before the Battle of Britain—ordered the Chiefs of Staff to propose “measures for a vigorous, enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German-occupied coastline.” Finally, even the smallest raid, whether a success like Vaagso or a failure like Guernsey (July 1940), produced lessons: about training, command and control, land-sea communications, weapons used, vessels used, accuracy of prior intelligence collection, and so on.

It is the lessons of larger and more purposeful amphibious operations that claim attention here. The first was that specialized troops and specialized equipment were needed to carry out a successful invasion against a determined land-based enemy. Sometimes, perhaps, a hastily flung-together unit, if it possessed the element of surprise, could pull off an operational miracle, but when launched against a foe who had prepared its defenses well, such attacks were usually a recipe for disaster. It is therefore not surprising that historians call our attention to two innovations by the army of Philip II, since that service was one of the driving forces behind the “military revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first was the creation by Madrid of specially trained troops assigned to their various armadas and experienced in moving from ship to land; the Royal Spanish Marines were born in 1560s operations to recover Malta, and other powers followed by establishing their own such units. The second was the establishment of specific weapons platforms and the implementation of suitable tactics for their success in battle. Thus, in the May 1583 Spanish operation to recover the Azores from an Anglo-French-Portuguese garrison, “special barges were arranged to unload horses and 700 artillery pieces on the beach; special row boats were equipped with small cannons to support the landing boats; special supplies were readied to be unloaded and support the 11,000 men landing force strength.” The attackers also practiced deception, a partial force landing on a distant beach and distracting the garrison while two waves of marines got onshore at the main point.

The third, equally important general lesson was that those who ordered an amphibious operation, whether it be the king of Spain in the 1580s or Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff in 1942–43, had to eliminate interservice rivalry and create some form of integrated command. Rivalry among allies is one thing (Wellington often claimed that having enemies was nothing like as bad as having allies), but rivalry between the armed services of one’s own nation is altogether more serious. In many cases, operational failure was due to a lack of appreciation of what the other service could or could not do, or even how the other service thought. The doggerel about the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan was not chosen merely as an example of puckish Regency satire. The Walcheren invasion of 1809 was a disaster. The place was badly chosen, being a low-lying island ridden with malaria; there were no serious preparations (tools, barges, intelligence) for an advance from the island into the Netherlands; Chatham did little with his 44,000 troops, and Strachan and his ships stood offshore. There was no planning staff and no integrated command structure. It was a total mess, neither the first nor the last of its kind.

The final lesson was the oldest of all: that no matter how sophisticated and integrated the armed forces involved in a landing were, they were always going to be subjected to the constraints of distance, topography, accessibility, and the weather conditions of the moment. The internal combustion engine conquered much of time and space. Against the blunt force of a gale, it was greatly hindered and reduced in its power (as we saw from the physical difficulties that Churchill had in simply getting to Casablanca). Given that the tides changed daily—in the Atlantic, there were very large vertical rises and drops—and that a storm could come up swiftly, there was always great unease at the idea that forces would be landing upon an open shore, even a lee shore.

Wherever possible, then, invasion planners, thinking also of the follow-on troops and supplies, desired a safe, functioning harbor in which their ships could rest securely and through which reinforcements could flow. The problem, of course, was that any good harbor worth its name was going to be heavily defended by cannon, bastions, outerworks, innerworks, and possibly mines and hidden obstacles, while the invading troops and their transports would be offshore, churning away in collective seasickness and the ebb and flow of the tides before the bloody assault was made. The history of amphibious warfare is thus also replete with examples of attacks that were repulsed—in 1741 the British put 24,000 men, 2,000 guns, and 186 ships against Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), yet still were driven off by a much smaller Spanish garrison holding a massive fortress. Trying to seize an enemy harbor naturally provoked an enormous defensive reaction and most probably would be fatal; landing on beaches, whether nearby or farther away, exposed the troops to the watery elements and also forced them to bring their own communications systems (bridging equipment, repair units, spares) until they reached the enemy’s roads. But deciding against any amphibious attack and staying with a land campaign (as the Allies did in Italy between 1943 and 1945, apart from Anzio) meant that one could not take advantage of the opportunities of maritime flexibility and would instead be forced to grind on. One of these operational options might be a winner, but it was impossible to say in advance which one it was.

In sum, assaults from the sea were a gambler’s throw; perhaps only airborne attacks could be riskier. It was not just about ships dropping off soldiers and equipment and then sailing away; it was about integrated combined warfare in the face of hostile fire and often in extremely difficult physical circumstances. It called for an almost impossible construct: a smoothly functioning joint staff under a single commander, with everyone knowing his place and role due to systematic preinvasion training. It relied upon superb communications in the face of enemy efforts to disrupt them, and it required the right weaponry. After that, it might just be feasible.

With all these lessons of history available (and some earlier campaigns were studied at nineteenth-century staff colleges), one might have thought that pre-1914 armed services would have been better prepared than they were for flexible, carefully prepared strikes from the sea when the Great War finally came. This should have been particularly true of policy makers and senior strategists in London, reared as they were in the “British way in warfare.” But much less attention was given by those strategists to the lessons arising from the Crimean campaign (clumsy, but actually successful in forcing Russia to ask for terms) than to the rapier-like strikes of the Prussian army against Denmark, then Austria, then France, in the 1860s. If future European wars were to be decided so swiftly, in the first summer and autumn of campaigning on the main battlefields, what was the point of peripheral raids? It was a question that advocates of amphibious warfare found hard to answer. There was another reason so little amphibious warfare was practiced during the First World War: the larger strategic situation. This war was overwhelmingly a European land war and thus a generals’ war. The mass armies of the Central Powers were contesting for terrain against the mass armies of France, Britain, and (later) the United States in the west, that of Russia in the east, and Italy’s in the south. Since the Anglo-American armies were already deeply inside France by 1917–18, there was no need for a massive amphibious landing on French shores. Mines, torpedoes, and coastal artillery prevented any Allied thrusts into the Baltic; seaborne operations that did occur there were German-Russian strikes in a secondary theater. All significant nations of the Mediterranean were either Allied (France, Italy, and their colonies, plus Egypt) or neutral (Spain, Greece), which only left Turkey and the Levant as possible target areas. Britain’s Japanese ally controlled the Far East and easily gobbled up the exposed German colonies there.

Thus, for all the pre-1914 talk by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others about the army being a “projectile” fired onshore by the navy, it wasn’t clear where that missile could be fired, even if the British generals agreed to be so dispatched (which, once settled in France, they didn’t). Taking over Germany’s colonies in Africa and the Southwest Pacific was relatively uncontested, except for a disastrous amphibious operation in November 1914 by British-Indian forces against the Tanganyikan port of Tanga, which should have been a salutary lesson in how poor training, communications, equipment, and leadership can turn an imaginative strike into a fiasco. But lessons are salutary only if they are learned.

Alas, the lessons of Tanga were not, as was most readily demonstrated in the greatest example of a failed amphibious invasion of the twentieth century: the 1915–16 Gallipoli campaign, as notable a conflict as the Athenian assault upon Sicily, and just as disastrous. Even today, Gallipoli receives much attention, not just on account of its historical resonances (as witnessed at every ANZAC Day commemoration in Australia and New Zealand, or in the Turks’ celebration of Mustapha Kemal, later known as Ataturk) but also because of our fascination at the spectacular gap between its grand strategic purpose and its disastrous execution. Perhaps no operation other than this one better illustrates the feedback loop—in this case, a wholly unfavorable one—between what happens on the ground and at sea, and how the general course of the war can be affected by tactical mishap. By the single stroke of pushing a force through the Dardanelles, its principal advocate (Churchill) maintained, a tottering Russia would have its sea-lanes to the West restored and thus be kept in the war; on the other side, the supposedly fragile Turkish power (it had joined Germany in November 1914) might be pushed into collapse, and the Balkan states of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania might be tempted out of their neutrality.

While the strategic reasoning was attractive, the operation itself was a catastrophe. It began with a purely naval attempt in March 1915 to rush the Straits; by the time the Allied fleet escaped from the Turkish-laid minefield, it had lost four capital ships (three British and one French), with a further three badly damaged—an outcome worse than the Royal Navy’s losses at Jutland a year later. After that, infantry units were assembled from various sources—French regiments in the Mediterranean, British units from Egypt, India, and the home country, brand-new Australian and New Zealand divisions en route to the Western Front. In late April 1915, having given the Turks plenty of time to bring up reinforcements, they began to land on the craggy, ravined, thorn-covered hills of the Dardanelles Peninsula. Try as they might, the Allied forces could never get control of the higher ground and suffered appalling losses. Each side threw in more and more divisions, but the situation did not change. In December and January, in swift nighttime moves that surprised the Turks, the Allies pulled away from the beaches, admitting defeat, and sailed for home. They had lost 44,000 men and had another 97,000 wounded (more than all U.S. losses in the Korean War). Turkey’s casualties were even higher, but they had won.

The Western nations had proved to be much better at getting off a Dardanelles beach than landing on one, let alone moving on from their early lodgement to their chief inland destination. In retrospect, the reasons for this defeat became clear. The weather in the Straits was always extremely fickle, ranging from the intense heat of the summer months (without adequate water supplies, an army withers like a bush, and the sickness rate soars) to the intense storms and blizzards that poured out of the Bosphorus as winter advanced. The topography is intimidating, with steep slopes, sudden crevasses, and thornbushes everywhere. The landing areas, especially where the Australian and New Zealand units came ashore, were inhospitable and virtually impossible to move out from. Allied intelligence about what to expect was weak, the forces had not been trained for this kind of operation, and fire support from the offshore vessels was incomplete, in part because it was hard to see where the Turks were, in part because the bombarding squadrons were steadily forced away by enemy mines and submarines (three further capital ships were sunk within the next month). The landing craft that brought the men to the shore were, apart from a few prototypes, not landing craft at all. Finally, both the weaponry and the tactics of the raw units ordered to advance up this craggy terrain were simply inadequate for the job. Supervising this unfolding fiasco was a command structure that brought back memories of Sir Richard Strachan and the Earl of Chatham—except that this time the casualties and the immensity of the failure were far, far greater. In consequence, the line to Russia could not be opened, Turkey stayed in the war and fought to the end, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, and the other Balkan states stayed neutral. Slightly over a year later, imperial Russia began its collapse.

After Gallipoli, British interest in amphibious operations waned, not surprisingly. More and more resources were needed for the colossal struggles along the Western Front, and in consequence exotic and difficult landings from the sea were now frowned upon. At French urging, an Allied army did establish a beachhead in Salonika later in 1915, but it never really got very far from the shore for the next three years—the battalions there were aptly named the “Gardeners of Salonika.” By the next spring the French were fighting for survival in Champagne and Flanders, and therefore opposed all eastern adventures. If the British were much more tempted to campaign for the territories of the Ottoman Empire after 1915–16, it was by large-scale land assaults, eastward from Egypt, northward from Basra. The army leadership simply wasn’t interested in its divisions being dropped off on hostile shores; the navy was concentrating upon bottling up the High Seas Fleet in the North Sea and trying to avoid losing the Atlantic convoys’ battle against the U-boats. The Zeebrugge Raid of 1918, however well executed, was just a raid, nothing more. Nor did the American entry into the war change attitudes; millions of doughboys sailed safely into Le Havre and were marched overland to the front. During 1917–18 the U.S. Marine Corps was located far inland, fighting along the Aisne and the Meuse rivers.

In sum, the First World War discredited the notion of amphibious warfare. And when the dust of war had settled and the new global strategic landscape revealed its contours—roughly by 1923—there were obvious reasons this type of operation had few followers. To be sure, in a badly defeated and much-reduced Germany, in a badly damaged and scarcely victorious France and Italy, and in an infant Soviet Union, there were many thoughts of war, but none of them involved the projection of force across the oceans. Japan was in a liberal phase, and the military had not yet exerted its muscle—even when it moved to take Manchuria in 1931, that was a land operation that had nothing to do with attacking beaches or seizing ports. By the late 1930s things would be different, with large Japanese merchant ships carrying landing craft and vehicles during their attack upon the lower Yangtze. During this post-1919 period, then, only two of the seven great powers gave any thought to amphibious warfare.

One of those two powers was Britain, although economic stringency and the embarrassment of Gallipoli (refought in many a wartime memoir) pushed combined operations into a dark and dusty corner; the result was the occasional small-scale training exercise, a theoretical training manual, and three prototype motor landing craft. Only the 1937 Japanese invasion of mainland China and then the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia would force a resumption of planning and organization. On paper, things began to improve. The Inter-Service Training and Development Centre (ISTCD) was set up, specialized landing craft and their larger carrier ships were designed, and the manual for amphibious assaults was updated. But this was all theory. The midlevel officers worked well together and had fine, advanced ideas, but they still lacked the tools. A large-scale exercise off Slapton Sands, Devon, in July 1938 was badly affected by near-gale conditions and ended in chaos. This galvanized the ISTCD into further serious planning, and it is to their credit that they anticipated virtually all of the practical difficulties that amphibious operations would throw up during the Second World War itself.

Yet at the outbreak of that conflict, remarkably, this truly interservice unit was disbanded. The army was off to France, the air force was bombing Germany, and the navy was awaiting high-seas battle with the Kriegsmarine—so where on earth would one carry out combined operations? And who was interested? All but one of the ISTCD officers returned to their fighting units in September 1939.

The other country interested in amphibious warfare was the United States, because of its lengthy shores, multiple harbors, and flat beaches; because of its cherished memories of the War of 1812; and because it had possessed, since the founding of the Republic, its own Marine Corps with special campaign memories (“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”).