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Marines Come From The Sea – To Kick Ass on the Land
By Harold Hutchicon

We have heard tales of Marine heroism in the War on Terror. Bradley Kasal in Fallujah and Dakota Meyer in Ganjgal are two of the most notable cases. But while Marines have shown their heroism far from land, it is not all they do. The Marines are not just a second army with three very powerful light infantry division – they are much, much more.

Born on 10 November, 1775, the United States Marine Corps was founded at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. Their role was to help provide, among other things, sharpshooters for naval actions. Back then, naval actions were fought at close quarters. Unlike today, hand-to-hand combat was not unheard of – and a ship would often be trying to capture the opposing vessel, as opposed to just sinking it outright.

That was how the Marines got their start. In the early days of the United States, the Marines developed the habit of carrying out expeditionary warfare. Most notable in this case when Presly O’Bannon and eight Marines, along with Navy Lieutenant William Eaton and 500 mercenaries, helped take the fight to the Barbary pirates. By the end of the War of 1812, the Marines had , between the Battle of Bladensburg and the Battle of New Orleans, earned the reputation as being expert marksmen – which, considering the rifles of the time, said a lot.

Other than the Mexican War, Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, the Marines generally fought in small wars between the War of 1812 and World War II. During those smaller conflicts, the Marines would often come in from the sea to take the fight to the enemy on the land. Those were high-intensity fights – even though they were small: 64 Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor in those varied conflicts, and another six received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Philippine Insurrection.

During the decade before World War II, many senior Marine officers, including John Lejeune, developed the techniques of amphibious warfare that would become so important in World War II. When World War II started, the Marines took part in many of the famous campaigns, including Guadalcanal, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. In each of these cases, amphibious assaults helped America capture those islands from Japan.

During that timeframe, the Marines developed the doctrine for amphibious warfare. After nearly being eliminated in 1948, the Marines proved their worth in the Inchon amphibious assault during the Korean War. The Marines also took part in the Vietnam War, and also took part in the invasion of Grenada, the American involvement in Lebanon, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm (where the threat of an amphibious assault helped Schwarzkopf’s “left hook” to succeed), and then took a major war in the War on Terror.

In World War II, the Marines would attack from the sea using landing craft and amphibious tractors (amtracs for short). In World War II, these craft would take frightful casualties. The Marines gained a new means to assault when helicopters entered service, and helicopters like the H-19 and H-34 became early workhorses for the Marines.

Later, the Marines also began adding the CH-46, CH-53D and CH-53E choppers. The CH-46 and CH-53D became medium-lift choppers, and the CH-53E was an enlarged. Choppers enabled the Marines to grab key points without having to fight off the beach. The Marines have greatly expanded their capability by adding the V-22 Osprey to their arsenal.

These helicopters added a whole new aspect to amphibious assault: The ability to bypass beach defenses and land Marines o key terrain behind the objective. When you consider that a V-22 can carry 24 troops and a CH-53E can carry up to 55, and that a typical Marine Expeditionary Unit has 12 V-22s and 4 CH-53Es, that means that 500 Marines can be airlifted at a given time.

While troops can come in by helicopter, many of their vehicles are not exactly capable of entering via helicopter. While Marines are very well-trained, they still sometimes need their own tanks and vehicles. Landing craft usually help. The World War II-era landing craft were slow. This made them easy targets as they headed for the beach. Also, the ships had to come in close to shore.

With the development of anti-ship missiles, the risk to the amphibious ship, which carried hundreds of Marines, grew higher. Ultimately, the Marines and Navy ended up buying the Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC). This hovercraft can carry a single M1A1 Abrams tank. The Landing Craft Utility is also used – while slower, it can carry a lot more cargo. Each MEU can carry at least seven LCACs, and some will carry a LCU or two.

Amphibious assault is a capability the Marines have provided for a long time – they are not just a second Army of three light infantry divisions. Just because the Marines don’t use it much now doesn’t mean it will not be needed in the future. As the DOD faces massive budget cuts with sequestration, this needs to be kept in mind.