The U.S. Naval Institute on the Marine Corps at War Cover

The U.S. Naval Institute on the Marine Corps at War

Edited by Thomas Cutler

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2016, 176 pages

Book Review published on: October 9, 2020

In The U.S. Naval Institute on the Marine Corps at War, editor Thomas Cutler has assembled an eclectic array of intellectual and practitioner perspectives of the Marine Corps’ experience in combating U.S. foes in every clime and place. Each chapter was published at some point over the past one hundred years as articles in either the Proceedings or Naval History magazines. The purpose of the book is to emphasize the importance of naval history by resurrecting noteworthy articles that address war involving Marines and the innovations that have shaped naval operational thinking. It also highlights the versatility and standard of excellence the Marine Corps has built along the way as a premier fighting force.

The unique value of this book lies with its firsthand account of the Marine Corps’ character, function, and adaptation/evolution throughout its illustrious history. Each chapter represents a condensed, yet rich, chronological perspective including preparing for war-from the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Many of these perspectives were either written by those who experienced and shaped these events, or by military historians who detail the experiences of those unable to provide accounts for themselves. Many of the chapters reflect the visionary thinking and accounts of famed Marine warriors such as Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller and William G. Leftwich Jr., whose encounters and farsighted thinking led to revisions and changes in Marine Corps’ operational concepts, doctrine, training, and practice.

The sixteen chapters summarize some notable features in the history of the Marine Corps. Chapter 1 describes the humble beginnings, and haphazard forming, training, and employment of Marines even as Marines earned an early reputation as versatile and fierce fighters. The prospect of their enduring value as a naval fighting force aboard Navy ships quickly won over Congress and solidified the Marines’ future. Chapters 2 and 3 draw attention to the tenacity, ingenuity, and fighting prowess of Marines in defeating more sizable forces during the Korea expedition in 1871 and the battle at Play Del Este during the Spanish-American War. The chapters also address the exploits of both Marines and a formidable squadron of U.S. Navy ships that led to the seizure of Guantanamo Bay. Chapter 4 showcases the achievements of Marines in France during World War I. While assigned to the American Expeditionary Force, Marines, alongside French and U.S. Army counterparts, demonstrated their ability to superbly fight and win as battalion and regimental sized units conducting land-centric operations. Marines earned a reputation as relentless fighters as repeatedly noted by German commanders.

Chapters 5 through 10 address the role and evolution of naval amphibious operations from Guadalcanal and Okinawa during World War II to Inchon during the Korean War. The authors detail the challenges in executing these operations, from combating contested sea-based landing and naval sea-based direct support, poor hydrographic maps, and extreme in sea-states to enemy opposition, landing force sustainment issues, and extreme climatic conditions. All the while the Navy and Marine Corps learned valuable lessons leading to operation refinements that increased their future operational effectiveness, sustainability, and lethality.

Chapter 11 presents the value of Marine assistance and advisory groups during the Vietnam War and the groups’ future value in circumventing conflict elsewhere. The author, Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich Jr., concluded that in considering the best interests of the country, the diverse skill sets of the Marines must play an active part in this prevailing non-kinetic endeavor. Chapter 13 details Operation Urgent Fury in October 1983, which was designed principally to rescue U.S. citizens whose lives were in danger because of the hostile political regime governing Grenada. The chapter underscores the Marine Corps’ successful involvement serving as part of a Joint Task Force consisting primarily of Navy, Army, and Marine forces. It demonstrated the quick strike capabilities and operational precision of U.S. integrated forces, and remains the operational approach employed today. This joint force approach was successful enough to remain the principal force structure/capability framework used in building forces to meet global operational requirements in today’s world. Chapter 14 provides a firsthand overview of 2nd Marine Division’s preparation for and execution of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991 as seen through the eyes of the division commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keys. Particularly interesting is the described plan dialogue that took place between U.S. coalition force commanders leading up to operation execution.

This collection of hand-selected articles nicely meets the objective of the book. The reader will appreciate each chapter’s contribution to and significance of the chronicle of the Marine Corps. Several chapters provide such detail that readers will almost feel they are there sharing in the account themselves. The fact that the chapters remain in their original form also gives readers the feel in time and place. This authenticity makes for a priceless connection to the ways the authors experience war and how their happenstance affected the future roles, functions, and operational employment of Marines. This book is an important read for U.S. Marines, sailors, and naval historians, and those seeking an appreciation for events influencing the evolution of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps/Navy team.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. David A. Anderson, PhD, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas