The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the Corp Ethos, and the Korean War
258 pages. Six pages of black-and-white pictures. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 - From "A Corps for the Next 500 Years" to a Fight for Existence
2 - Marine Culture
3 - Education: Reuniting the Air-Ground Team
4 - Doctrine
5 - Post-World War II Organization
6 - Training
7 - Leadership
8 - Mobilizing and Embarking the Brigade
9 - The Sachon Offensive
10 - The First Battle of the Naktong Bulge
11 - The Second Battle of the Naktong Bulge
12 - Why Did They Win?
At the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. Marines were ordered to assemble and dispatch a brigade (the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade) to Korea. Although the brigade was earmarked for a future amphibious operation, the deteriorating situation demanded the Brigade's deployment within the Pusan Perimeter - the toehold which U.S. and South Korean forces were maintaining after the North Korean invasion. The Brigade's subsequent performance (they won every one of their engagements) remains a proud part of Marine history.
The reasons for the Marines' success at Pusan are commonly regarded to include their intensive training, unit cohesion, physical fitness, and combat experience from WWII. However, the author shows that these explanations are incorrect.
Unfortunately, as we will see, these stories are mostly myths that have hidden the real accomplishments both of the men of the Provisional Brigade and of the U.S. Marine Corps as a whole between World War II and Korea. By attributing intensive training, unit cohesion, and physical fitness to the brigade, the myths minimize the exceptional courage and determination shown by these marines during the perimeter defense....
In the first seven chapters, Hammes explores the story of the U.S. Marine Corps after WWII, covering everything from changes in organization and doctrine, the political fighting which led to a drastic shrinking of the Corps, and healing of the necessary WWII split between Marine soldiers and fliers.
At the same time, the author relates the history of the units which would eventually be combined to form the Provisional Brigade, including major changes in organization, personnel, and leadership made just prior to embarking for Korea - changes that could have been catastrophic.
Mobilizing and Embarking the Brigade (p.124):
...We have seen that the brigade was not the fully trained, combat-experienced, physically fit organization of myth but rather men struggling with all the shortages of peacetime who were suddenly thrown together in a hastily formed organization and shipped off to war....
Next comes a detailed account of the Provisional Brigade's actions in the Pusan Perimeter, accompanied by detailed maps. At times, the level of detail is down to squad level for the Marines. There are also many examples of the unique relationship between Marine ground and air units, as well as the first application of the helicopter in combat operations.
The Second Battle of the Naktong Bulge (p.193):
Despite the artillery support, the North Koreans assaulted Fenton's position with 300 to 400 infantry troops. They aggressively sought out and found the blind spots in Company B's extended defense. Fenton fed every man he had into the line to hold it. He was running out of ammunition and was also low on grenades when 2nd Lieutenant Muetzel arrived with two platoons from Company A. Most importantly, the marines of Company A brought five boxes of hand grenades and a radio. The marines simply opened the boxes and started heaving grenades at the North Koreans, who were within 100 yards of their positions. With the working radio, Fenton adjusted the 81mm mortar fire by slowly "walking" it closer and closer to his lines until it was within 100 yards and finally broke the attack. The Koreans fled west in disarray toward the Naktong.
The author's contention is that the Provisional Brigade succeeded - despite its many challenges - due to Marine Corps emphasis on doctrine and culture after WWII:
Why Did They Win? (p.215):
The brigade was a hastily formed, badly understrength organization that succeeded. Although it did have a core of well-trained marines, the majority were hastily mobilized, not well conditioned for combat, and had little if any training in their combat assignments.... In existence for only two months, the brigade proved the validity of the corps's post-World War II theories on air power, organization, discipline, and leadership. Even more important, the brigade once again validated the corps's cultural emphasis on esprit de corps, readiness, and even paranoia...
Wargamers may want to skip to the back half of the book, which could easily be mined for a dozen scenarios. Wargame designers should ponder the author's conclusions, particularly to replicate the differences between Marine and Army units in the Korean War period. This book ultimately attempts to answer the question of what makes any unit successful in battle, and the answers to that question need to be reflected in wargame design.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .