Why the Marines’ first battle in Europe still influences the Corps a century later

US soldiers at Belleau Wood during WWI
US soldiers at Belleau Wood in France in 1918.

  • World War I began on June 28, 1914, but the US troops didn’t join the fighting until late 1917.
  • In mid-1918, US Marines saw action in Europe for the first time, facing the Germans at Belleau Wood.
  • The battle had tremendous impact on the Corps and is still revered in Marine Corps history.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

June is usually marked by commemorations of D-Day, when thousands of Allied soldiers landed in Normandy to begin liberating France from the Nazis.

But 26 years before D-Day, 9,500 US Marines fought what became one of the Corps’ most defining battles, facing the Imperial German Army in fields and woods about 45 miles northeast of Paris.

The Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 was an attempt to halt a German offensive making its way through the battered French and British armies.

It was the first battle for the Marines in Europe and one that had tremendous impact on the Corps. A century later, it still holds a sacred place in Marine Corps history.

A badly needed relief force

A Marine with a rifle in Belleau Wood France
A Marine with a rifle in Belleau Wood in 1918.

The US joined the war on the side of the Allies in April 1917. The French and British armies were exhausted after years of fighting, and the hundreds of thousands of fresh American soldiers were a badly needed relief force.

By the end of June that year, the first American Expeditionary Force soldiers had arrived in France. But the Americans were mostly newcomers to this new kind of warfare and did not join the trenches until October.

At first, American soldiers mostly augmented French and British defensive positions. On March 21, 1918, however, Germany – which had 50 more army divisions available after signing a separate peace treaty that ended Russia’s involvement in the war – launched a push in France to defeat the British and French before US forces could fully deploy.

German successes meant the Americans were soon in the thick of the fighting. On May 28, they went on the offensive and retook lost territory at the Battle of Cantigny – the first major American battle of the war.

But the Germans were still advancing elsewhere. By June 1, they were locked in battle with French and American forces at the town of Château-Thierry and were moving toward Belleau Wood.

Desperate to stop the German advance, the Allies sent the US Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, which included the 4th Marine Brigade, to hold the line.

The Marines’ orders were clear: “No retirement will be thought of on any pretext whatsoever.”

‘Retreat, Hell!’

US military officer Belleau Wood France during WWI
An unidentified American officer stands amid shattered trees in Belleau Wood during summer 1918.

Despite facing five German Army divisions, the Marines were determined to hold. When they reached the battlefield just outside Belleau Wood, retreating French soldiers advised them to retreat as well. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded with the now-famous line, “Retreat, Hell! We just got here!”

For five days, the Marines repelled German attacks on their lines outside the woods, due in large part to expert Marine marksmanship. On June 6, the Marines went on the offensive, charging German positions inside the woods.

The assault was brutal. German machine guns mowed down the Marines. It was here that acclaimed Marine Dan Daly, then a first sergeant, rallied his men for a charge by saying, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

By the end of the day, the Marines at Belleau Wood had taken more casualties than in all previous battles in Marine Corps history. They were unable to dislodge the Germans from the woods but took the neighboring town of Bouresches after house-to-house fighting.

The battle then descended into a brutal slog, as the Marines forced their way through the woods. The Germans made numerous counterattacks, and assaults often descended into hand-to-hand fighting. German artillery also used poison gas to try to halt the Marine advance.

On June 11, Williams was killed by artillery fire after being wounded in an attack. He reportedly told the medics, “Don’t bother with me. Take care of my good men.”

Marine displays of courage were common at Belleau Wood. Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly repelling 12 advancing Germans by charging and bayonetting two of them. Gunnery Sgt. Fred Stockton received the Medal of Honor posthumously after he gave a wounded comrade his own gas mask during a gas attack.

On June 26, after a 14-hour artillery barrage and a final assault, the Marines finally drove the Germans out and secured the woods.

A lasting legacy

WWI Marine Devil Dog recruiting poster
A Marine recruiting poster with a Marine bulldog chasing a German dachshund, a reference to the Marines’ “Devil Dogs” nickname.

Of the 1,811 Americans killed at the battle, about 1,062 were Marines. Around 3,615 of the roughly 7,000 American wounded were Marines as well. The Germans are believed to have had over 9,000 casualties.

The French government later renamed the woods “Bois de la Brigade de Marine,” meaning “Wood of the Marine Brigade,” and awarded the Marine units involved the Croix de Guerre and the right to wear a fourragère, a braided cord denoting distinguished conduct.

The battle was a baptism by fire for the Marine Corps, which now had a core cadre of officers and enlisted men with a full understanding of modern warfare.

They were what would be known as the “Old Breed” in the Corps. Five future commandants – John Lejeune, Clifton Cates, Lemuel Shepherd Jr., Wendell Neville, and Thomas Holcomb – saw action at Belleau Wood, as did a number of future high-ranking Marines who had important roles in World War II.

After the battle, the Marines were called “Devil Dogs,” which German soldiers supposedly called them during the battle. The actual origin is disputed, but the nickname has stuck.

The toll at Belleau Wood was highest in Marine Corps history until the Battle of Tarawa in 1943 and then Iwo Jima in 1945, which remains the Corps’ bloodiest battle.

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The Marine Corps fired a 2-star general, derailing his career after a deadly accident drowned 9 service members

An assault amphibious vehicle after exiting the well deck of an amphibious dock landing ship.
An assault amphibious vehicle exits the well deck of an amphibious dock landing ship.

  • The Marine Corps has fired a two-star general from his job as inspector general.
  • The firing, which likely eliminates any chance at promotion, was in response to last summer’s deadly AAV accident.
  • The accident killed eight Marines and a Navy sailor, making it the deadliest AAV accident in history.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Marine Corps has fired a two-star general, likely eliminating any chance of ever receiving another promotion, after he was found responsible for some of the failures leading up to a deadly assault amphibious vehicle accident that killed nine people.

Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, formerly the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, was suspended last month from his job as inspector general of the Marine Corps.

A 2013 photo of Robert Castellvi, a Marine Corps general
Marine Corps Gen. Robert Castellvi in 2013.

“He will not return to that position,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Andrew Wood said in a statement Wednesday, adding that Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger “took adverse administration action against him.”

Wood revealed that the commandant “personally and formally counseled him for his failure to properly train the Marines and Sailors for whom he was entrusted and for the inadequate evaluation of the AAV Platoon before it was attached to the 15th MEU.”

Last July, an AAV assigned to Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sank off the coast of California as it returned to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset from San Clemente Island.

The mishap vehicle was carrying three AAV crewmembers, 12 Marines, and one Navy corpsman. Eight embarked Marines and the Navy sailor died, making this incident the deadliest AAV training accident in the vehicle’s history.

A command investigation indicated that Castellvi bore some responsibility for the accident because he failed to complete a readiness evaluation that might have identified problems before disaster struck.

The head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific did not take any disciplinary action against Castellvi though, raising questions about the Corps’ commitment to accountability.

In the aftermath of the first investigation, the Marine Corps launched another investigation to uncover more details about the failures that occurred in the lead up to the accident. The results of that investigation have been delivered to the commandant.

“We will never hesitate – legal or on the other side – to relieve a commander if we’ve lost trust and confidence, but I needed to understand in greater depth about how that MEU was composited, which I now know,” Berger told reporters recently.

Responding to Insider’s questions about failures to ensure troops had the necessary training, specifically the knowledge of how to escape a sinking amtrac, Berger said that “there are no excuses for not getting the whole unit through the required training. None.”

The disciplinary actions taken against Castellvi essentially end his career.

“The Commandant’s decision is part of Maj. Gen. Castellvi’s permanent record, and must be considered if he is evaluated for promotion, retention, or roles of responsibility,” Wood said.

He explained that “this action typically prevents an officer from being promoted or serving in a role where he/she would be charged with the responsibility of caring for Marines and Sailors.”

Other officers have also been disciplined. Lt. Col. Michael Regner, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was relieved last fall, and Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th MEU, was relieved in March.

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The Marines actually sank a moving ship when they test-fired a Navy missile from a truck for the first time

Naval Strike Missile
The Naval Strike Missile is operational on land and at sea.

  • Last month, the Marine Corps announced the first test of a system that launches Naval Strike Missiles from a modified vehicle.
  • This month, the Corps’ top officer said that groundbreaking test actually sank a ship sailing off the coast of California.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Marine Corps took out a moving ship by firing a Navy missile at it from the back of an unmanned vehicle on land – a new weapon the service’s top general says will make “an adversary think twice.”

Commandant Gen. David Berger revealed new details about a groundbreaking test announced last month in which Marines in California used a deadly new system to take out a threat at sea.

Known as NMESIS, the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch naval strike missiles from the back of a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to destroy targets.

Berger said the Marines testing the system were able to sink a ship on the move near California. The Marine Corps’ top priority in the 2022 budget, he added, will be ground-based anti-ship missiles.

“A very successful test,” the commandant said Thursday during the annual McAleese defense conference. “… That’s conventional deterrence because that’s a capability that makes an adversary think twice.”

The Marine Corps is undergoing massive reform after two decades of ground warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. Berger’s Force Design 2030 plans call for the service to ditch heavy legacy equipment, such as tanks, to prepare for lighter, naval-based missions. The plan is largely centered around threats Chinese forces pose to the US military.

Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System
The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch Naval Strike Missiles from a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at land or sea targets.

Emanuel “Manny” Pacheco, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command, said the missile flew an attack path “that exceeded 90 nautical miles before impacting the target.”

He declined to provide details on additional tests, but said others have been successful.

“The Marine Corps is investing in technologies and capabilities to modernize the Corps and ensure we maintain our competitive edge,” Pacheco added.

Berger said Thursday that Marines will have to support the Navy not only with anti-surface missions to take out enemy ships, but submarines too. The Marine Corps will need to step up to help control straits and other maritime avenues the US and its partners and allies need open, he added.

“Littoral warfare is where you expect the Marine Corps to come on strong, and that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

Tanks and short-range towed artillery pieces aren’t a good fit for Marines to meet future threats. Instead, Berger said, they’ll need long-range fires and light amphibious warships.

“We are reorienting from a ground, sustained land-forces mode – which we’ve had to do for the nation for the past 20 years – into a naval expeditionary maritime mode,” he said.

– Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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Marines in this aircraft squadron deploy and fly with a big stuffed tiger named Tyreese

VMM-262 Marines with a large stuffed tiger.
VMM-262 Marines with a large stuffed tiger named Tyreese.

  • A Marine unit released a video of an aircraft squadron preparing for takeoff with a large stuffed tiger.
  • The video never explained the tiger, but Insider learned that his name is Tyreese.
  • The stuffed tiger is part of a long tradition of stuffed tigers going back to the 1950s.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

There is a Marine Corps aircraft squadron that deploys with a rather large stuffed tiger.

The 1st Marine Air Wing posted a short video on Twitter in March of MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with squadron VMM-262 (REIN) taking off from the amphibious assault ship USS America, and in the video, one service member can be seen handing off a big stuffed tiger to another, presumably to load it onto an aircraft.

The video never offered any explanation of the stuffed tiger rocking aviation goggles, so Insider asked the Marines about it.

It turns out the tiger’s name is Tyreese, and he is part of a longstanding tradition for the squadron, a 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit official said.

Tyreese VMM-262 Tiger
Tyreese, the VMM-262 tiger mascot.

Squadron VMM-262 is nicknamed the “Flying Tigers” and has been represented by a stuffed tiger for almost seven decades.

Tyreese is the squadron’s third mascot. The first was Cedric, who was “born” in 1952, about one year after the Corps stood up the squadron at Cherry Point, North Carolina.

HMM-262 tiger mascot Cedric
HMM-262 tiger mascot Cedric in 1952.

The squadron started out as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 262 but was redesignated as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262 the following year, when the squadron relocated to New River, North Carolina.

Though the squadron was activated during the Korean War, it remained stateside during the conflict. HMM-262’s first overseas operations did not come until 1965, when the squadron participated in the US intervention in the Dominican Republic’s civil war. A year later, the squadron deployed to Vietnam. On its return, it was stationed in Hawaii.

HMM-262 mascot Cedric with some of the pilots' wives and children (1952)
HMM-262 mascot Cedric with some of the pilots’ wives and children (1952)

Due to limited records, it is unclear where exactly Cedric came from or why the squadron needed a stuffed animal mascot, but stories about the stuffed animal have been preserved in the memories of those who served with the squadron.

Joseph “Jake” Jacobs, a former squadron member who now serves as the head of the HMM-262 Combat Helicopter Association, recalled that Marines from some of the other helicopter and fighter jet squadrons occasionally “tiger-napped” Cedric.

He also said that Cedric was dropped out of a Huey at one point and squashed in another altercation that left him “a bit worn out” and “having lost some stuffing.”

The HMM-262 tiger mascot eventually had to be replaced with a new stuffed tiger, Cedric II.

Cedric II
HMM-262 tiger mascot Cedric II.

Cedric II is the commanding officer’s tiger and can still be seen on display in the CO’s spaces.

First Lt. Stephanie Murphy, a 31st MEU spokeswoman, told Insider that “as Cedric II is advanced in age, he doesn’t leave the office much but still makes an appearance at formal events.”

Tyreese, the newest stuffed tiger representing what is now designated as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262, belongs to the Flightline Division and the roughly 40 Marines in the shop.

VMM-262 mascot Tyreese in the flightline division shop
VMM-262 mascot Tyreese in the Flightline Division shop.

“Tyreese participates a bit more with the division due to his proximity to the Marines,” Murphy said, adding that “he travels with the squadron and has a home within the shop.”

As their mascot, Tyreese comes along on their detachments and deployments, and they also bring him along for photo-ops and final flights for aircrew who are leaving the unit.

Marines with VMM-262 tiger mascot Tyreese
Marines with VMM-262 tiger mascot Tyreese.

HMM-262 flew Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight medium-lift tandem-rotor transport helicopters until 2013, when the aging aircraft were replaced with MV-22B Ospreys. It was at that point that the squadron was redesignated as VMM-262.

The MV-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that can land and takeoff vertically like a helicopter but fly in a turboprop aircraft configuration.

VMM-262 mascot Tyreese in front of MV-22B Ospreys
VMM-262 mascot Tyreese in front of MV-22B Ospreys.

The squadron’s mission is to support US military operations worldwide by transporting troops, supplies, and equipment, sometimes on short notice.

When attached to a MEU, VMM-262 is reinforced with detachments from other aviation squadrons and serves as the aviation combat element for MEU contingency missions.

Based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, the squadron has been a part of a number of immediate-response missions following natural disasters, such as devastating typhoons and earthquakes, in the Pacific.

VMM-262 was part of the US military response after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal in 2015, and after Typhoon Yutu hit Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands in 2018. It is unclear if their stuffed tiger came along for the ride.

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Marines scored direct hit on target at sea in first live-fire test using Navy missile and unmanned vehicle

naval strike missile NSM konsberg
A Naval Strike Missile is launched from USS Coronado in September 2014.

  • The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System has been tested successfully against a target at sea.
  • NMESIS combines two existing technologies – Naval Strike Missiles and modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicles – for a deadly new way to hit targets offshore.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Marines scored a direct hit in a first-ever live-fire test in which they launched a Navy missile from the back of an unmanned tactical vehicle to strike a surface target at sea.

The Marine Corps has combined two existing technologies to produce a deadly new way to hit targets offshore. Coined NMESIS, the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch Naval Strike Missiles from the back of a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, to destroy targets on land or at sea.

Raytheon Missiles and Defense, which makes the Naval Strike Missile, announced Wednesday that the Marine Corps used NMESIS to hit a target in the water from Point Mugu Sea Range in California. The missile can take out targets from more than 100 nautical miles away.

Commandant Gen. David Berger showed a photo of the test launch to lawmakers Thursday when discussing the need for funding for ground-based anti-ship missiles. He called the test the result of the “brilliance of a couple of young officers” and Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company that makes the JLTV.

“The people at Oshkosh and these couple of majors thought, ‘We can do this,’ so they took the cab off the back and they put a missile in the back with a fire-control system,” Berger said. “Now, we can move this around on vessels or put it ashore and hold an adversary’s navy at risk … to ensure that the lines on the sea are kept open.

“This is the speed at which we have to move,” he added.

Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System
NMESIS can launch naval strike missiles from the back of a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at targets on land or at sea.

Getting funding for ground-based long-range precision fires out of the next budget will be crucial for the Marine Corps’ mission, Berger told lawmakers. He wrote in his 2019 planning guidance that the service had fallen “woefully behind” in the development of ground-based long-range precision fires.

“We must possess the ability to turn maritime spaces into barriers so we can attack an adversary’s sea lines of communication … while defending our own in support of the Fleet or Joint Force,” Berger wrote.

In 2021, the Marine Corps requested $125 million to buy nearly 50 Tomahawk missiles it could launch from land. Congress ultimately did not fund the move. Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, told lawmakers in March that the decision to slash those funds hurt the military’s ability to deter China.

The JLTV used in the test at Point Mugu is an unmanned version known as a ROGUE – or remotely operated ground unit for expeditionary – fires vehicle. The Naval Strike Missile fired from the back carries a 500-pound class warhead, according to Raytheon. The Navy uses the missile on littoral combat ships.

Combined, the missile and ROGUE fires vehicle form NMESIS, which is operated by artillery Marines, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, the deputy commandant of Combat Development and Integration, told reporters this month.

Berger said using a modified JLTV and a proven strike missile gives commanders flexibility since they can fire the munition from a ship or ashore.

“It’s the same missile, so as needed, the commander can move the ordnance where it’s needed most,” he said. “… [It also] speeds up our ability to field it. It’s a proven missile. … This is not a new missile system – we know how it performs. So we’re riding on the backs of something that is already developed and putting it on a platform that we’re very confident in.”

– Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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The Corps is getting rid of its tanks, so dozens of Marines are joining the Army

Marine Corps tank
Marines in front of the last tank assigned to 1st Tank Battalion before its departure, at Twentynine Palms, California, July 6, 2020.

  • Marine tank battalions, bridging companies, and law-enforcement units are being cut as part of a forcewide redesign.
  • Marines in those jobs are being told to find new jobs, consider other services, or end their careers earlier than planned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More than 450 Marines’ careers have been affected by a forcewide redesign that launched last year as the Corps reorganizes to take on new threats, sending hundreds into new career fields, early retirement, or even Army tank units.

Commandant Gen. David Berger issued his first annual update to the forcewide redesign he announced in March 2020. The changes center around making the Marine Corps lighter and more expeditionary to take on new threats from sea and ashore.

Tank battalions, bridging companies and law enforcement units were slashed as part of the plan. Marines in those jobs are being told to find new military occupational specialties, or MOSs; consider another service; or opt to end their careers earlier than planned.

So far, 69 Marines who were assigned to tank battalions have transferred to the Army, said Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Those new soldiers were all enlisted Marines.

Another 259 personnel have made lateral moves into new Marine MOSs, she said. About 60% of tank officers in need of new specialities have chosen to become intelligence, logistics or cyberspace officers, Carlock added.

Nearly all the military police officers making lat moves selected intelligence, cyberspace or communications strategy and operations jobs.

Marine Corps tank
The last tanks assigned to 1st Tank Battalion depart Twentynine Palms, California, July 6, 2020.

On the enlisted side, the lateral moves have been more varied, Carlock said, though Marines have shown a slight preference for ground ordnance maintenance, infantry and logistics specialties.

Another 128 Marines whose fields were affected by the changes have taken advantage of early out programs, Carlock said. Those include the Temporary Early Retirement Authority, the Voluntary Enlisted Early Release Program, and the Officer Voluntary Early Release Program.

More Marines were told this month to prepare to make changes as force-design efforts continue. Marine officials, a servicewide message states, will continue using lateral moves, inter-service transfers and voluntary early out programs for those affected.

Armor Marines, battle tank repairer/technicians, and military police officers are among those affected. Those who aren’t pending orders or separation from voluntary actions will receive new MOSs “based upon the needs of the Marine Corps,” the message adds.

Carlock said the new MOSs haven’t been decided yet since those force-shaping measures won’t go into effect for another year.

“If involuntary force shaping is required, a board will be convened to select those who will be involuntarily force shaped, and they will be assigned a new MOS based on the needs of the Marine Corps at that time,” she said.

Manpower officials said last May that about 1,300 personnel would need to move into new fields or other branches of the military if they wish to remain in uniform as their missions are cut. Officials now say the Marine Corps will drop 10,000 personnel by 2030 to reach an end strength of about 174,000.

Berger said last year when announcing his new plan that no one would be forced out of the service over the changes if they still wanted to serve.

“No one’s getting a pink slip saying ‘time to go home,'” he said. “… We’re not forcing anybody out.”

– Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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4 of the US military’s biggest tank battles were during the same war

Army Abrams tanks Iraq Desert Storm
M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during Operation Desert Storm, February 15, 1991.

  • Every branch of the US military was involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
  • Between the Army and the Marine Corps, that war had some of the largest tank battles the US has ever fought.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the US military was at its finest, liberating Kuwaiti civilians from the forces of an evil dictator.

In every way, every branch of the military and every American ally was on display, showing they could handle anything the enemy might throw at them and coming out on top.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the ranks of US military armor.

Between the Army and the Marine Corps, the battles fought during Operation Desert Storm were some of the largest tank battles the United States ever fought – and among the largest in world history.

1. The Battle of Kuwait International Airport

iraqi tank desert storm gulf war
A Iraqi tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

The biggest tank battle in United States Marine Corps history is also the fastest. It’s also one of the most forgotten battles in history, despite the massive size of the forces involved.

On February 25, 1991, the 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division, along with the Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade, Army Special Forces, and – later – the 4th Marine Division’s 4th Tank Battalion met 14 Iraqi divisions and a field artillery brigade.

The 1st Marines had broken through the Iraqi lines and into Kuwait City, on its way to the airport drove through them and ahead, fighting skirmishes along the way and destroying at least 100 enemy tanks. The 2nd Marine Division would approach from the other side.

One tank unit, Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion woke in the morning to find 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks moving to hit them from the front. Outnumbered 3-to-1, the Marines of Bravo Company snapped to, destroying all of them in about 90 seconds. This battle came to be known as the “Reveille Engagement.”

2. The Battle of 73 Easting

m1 abrams tank desert storm gulf war iraq
An Abrams tank in the desert during Desert Storm.

A young Army officer named H.R. McMaster (yes, that H.R. McMaster) was leading a group of nine M1A1 Abrams tanks through the desert at the start of the Desert Storm ground war.

Soon, his tanks came over a hill – and right into the path of an entire Iraqi tank division.

When outnumbered by hundreds, many officers would withdraw or surrender. McMaster plowed through. His troop destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and 30 trucks in 23 minutes.

They called in other tank troops as they fought and were soon joined by more Americans, more than 840 armored vehicles in all. With the Iraqis knocked out, the Americans were free to engage behind the lines and onward into Kuwait.

3. Battle of Norfolk

T72 battle tank russia destroyed
An Iraqi T-72 main battle tank destroyed in a Coalition attack during Operation Desert Storm.

What happens when American and British Armor meet the Iraqi Republican Guard inside Iraq? Some 1,100 Iraqi tanks destroyed, along with hundreds of artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers and thousands of Iraqi prisoners.

With 12 divisions on the battlefield, this was the second largest tank battle in US history and the largest of the Gulf War.

Two hours after the Battle of 73 Easting, coalition forces advanced to Objective Norfolk, an intersection on Iraqi supply lines and an important hub for moving material. Defending Norfolk was the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard, which had just been bloodied at 73 Easting.

By the time the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division controlled Norfolk, the Tawakalna Division ceased to exist.

4. Battle of Medina Ridge

us army gulf war tank
A US soldier on top of a tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

For two hours, the US Army’s 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Luminous Division slugged it out at one of the Iraqi desert’s few landmarks. Around 348 M1A1 Abrams tanks met hundreds of enemy tanks in one of the toughest battles of the war.

The Iraqis, positioned behind the ridgeline, could only be seen directly when US tanks crested the hill. Which would have been an effective defense if it weren’t for the Army’s Apache helicopters and the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs constantly strafing them.

The Iraqis arguably put up the stiffest defense of the war at Medina Ridge, but the loss was still lopsided – four US tanks were destroyed while the Iraqis lost 186.

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Marines put assault amphibious vehicles back in the water for the first time since one sank and killed 9 service members

Marines aboard an amphibious assault vehicle
Marines aboard an amphibious assault vehicle.

  • The Marine Corps is putting AAVs back in the water for the first time since a deadly accident.
  • Last summer, eight Marines and a Navy sailor drowned when an AAV sank off of California.
  • Water operations were halted as the Corps looked into the failures that caused the accident.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Marine Corps put an assault amphibious vehicle back in the water this week for the first time since one sank last summer, killing nine service members, Marine Corps officials told Insider Thursday.

Last July, an AAV assigned to Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sank off the coast of California as it returned to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset from San Clemente Island.

The mishap vehicle was carrying three AAV crewmembers, 12 Marines, and one Navy corpsman. Eight embarked Marines and the Navy sailor died, making this incident the deadliest AAV training accident in the vehicle’s history.

“Out of precaution, before we understand what caused this, we are pausing the waterborne operations for amtracs,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said the day after the accident, as the Corps was still searching for the bodies of the deceased, considered only missing at that point.

A recently released investigation into this tragic disaster revealed it was preventable. The accident was caused by a series of human and mechanical failures. Specifically, the vehicle was improperly maintained, training was inadequate, and critical safety procedures were not followed.

Responsibility for the deadly accident was placed on leaders across the chain of command, from the 15th MEU commander down to the vehicle commander. Disciplinary action has already been taken against some unit commanders.

Marines drive an AAV into the water during training at Camp Pendleton, California.

This week, after an eight-and-a-half-month pause, AAVs again started splashing, but with conditions, Corps officials said.

Last Friday, the Marines published requirements for the resumption of AAV waterborne operations, Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Andrew Wood told Insider on Thursday.

No movement between Navy ships and shore is permitted, and shore-to-shore movement over water is only permitted once a unit has completed 18 tasks.

Wood said that the tasks “cover a variety of requirements from ensuring training and qualifications for crew and embarked personnel, personnel are properly equipped, vehicles have passed required inspections, and operations are conducted with safety boats, sea state assessments, and positive communication.”

For instance, everyone riding in an AAV has to have completed the full underwater-egress training program, to include training on the Waterborne Egress Capability breathing bottles.

As Insider previously reported, the supplemental emergency breathing devices are being put back in the vehicles after they were removed in 2015 to cut costs. All embarking personnel must be equipped with these devices.

These requirements also apply to the new amphibious combat vehicles that are being introduced as replacements for the AAVs that first entered service in the 1970s.

At the moment, the California-based 1st Marine Division is believed to be the only unit to have met the requirements, division spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz told Insider. She said the first AAVs splashed Tuesday.

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Male Marines graduate from historically all-female boot camp training battalion for first time

Marine Corps recruits Parris Island
US Marines with Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, graduate recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, March 26 2021.

  • Four male platoons recently graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island as part of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
  • Until now, that battalion only trained women, and the change shows that all recruits are held to the same standards, the Corps said.
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Four male platoons graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina as part of a battalion that – until now – has trained only women.

Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, completed boot camp with four male and two female platoons, the Marine Corps announced Wednesday. Coed companies have been training at Parris Island since 2019, but this was the first time men have been assigned to 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

It was also the first time male drill instructors were assigned to the historically all-female battalion.

Marine recruits training at Parris Island were for decades segregated by gender, with women traditionally assigned solely to 4th Recruit Training Battalion. Papa Company completed their training and graduated from boot camp March 26.

The Marine Corps has since begun training Parris Island’s 15th coed company, said Capt. Bryan McDonnell, a spokesman at the depot.

Capt. Adan Rivera, the company commander, said in a Marine Corps news release that assigning men to 4th Battalion demonstrates that recruits are held to the same standards, regardless of gender.

When a male recruit was told he’d be making history after being assigned to 4th Battalion, he said he didn’t think “anybody grasped what was going on.”

“We’re here to train, let’s train,” he said in the release.

Both female and male recruits have now been assigned to all four of Parris Island’s recruit training battalions.

McDonnell said the 4th Recruit Training Battalion squad bay is smaller than some of the newer living facilities at Parris Island. The Marine Corps tends to see more recruits reporting to boot camp in the summer months following high-school graduations.

With fewer arriving in the winter months, McDonnell said they had the right number of male and female trainees to assign them to that battalion.

Men and women training in coed companies live in the same barracks, but have separate squad bays with different sleeping and bathing facilities. Training that occurs outside the squad bays is done together.

Platoons are still assigned drill instructors of the same gender as their recruits.

The men with 4th Battalion aren’t the only Marine recruits to make history at boot camp this year. Women are currently training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in coed companies for the first time in that base’s 100-year history.

The 2020 defense authorization bill directed the Marine Corps to make both of its entry-level training sites coed. The service was given five years to make training coed at Parris Island and eight years at San Diego.

– Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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Video puts you in the cockpit of a Navy Prowler on a low-level flight through the Cascade Mountains

EA-6B Prowler
An EA-6B Prowler out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, March 1, 2016.

  • This is what it looks like to fly an EA-6B Prowler on the Visual Route 1355 low-level military training route in Washington state.
  • VR 1355 is known as the “million-dollar ride” for its scenic views and the fun and “aggressive” flying that can be done on it.
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The last US Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler squadron, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2), was formally deactivated in March 2019, when the last two jets, 162230/CY-02 and 162228/CY-04, took part in a sundown ceremony that also included flying in formation over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

All the US Navy and Marines Prowler squadrons had already been deactivated since then (the last ones being all USMC units: VMAQ-1, in May 2016, VMAQ-4 in June 2017 and VMAQ-3 in May 2018).

The EA-6B was an iconic aircraft born out of military requirements during the Vietnam War. It entered service in 1971 and 170 aircraft were built before the production was terminated in 1991. For more than four decades, the Prowler was “at the forefront of military electronic warfare allowing high-profile air combat missions.”

The EA-6B’s last deployment, in 2018, was carried out by VMAQ-2 to support of Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel, in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria.

But, overall, the Prowler deployed more than 70 times to support every major combat operation, including those in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Serbia.

EA 6B Refuel

While not deployed, the type carried out stateside training sorties, practicing ground-attack support missions, disruption of enemy electromagnetic activity and tactical electronic intelligence.

While most of the latest mission profiles saw the aircraft operate at medium and high altitude, the Prowler’s aircrews regularly flew low-level training missions too.

The footage in this post was taken in 2010 by a user who, based on the other videos posted on his Youtube channel, flew with the US Navy’s VAQ-139 “Cougars.”

The clip is particularly interesting as it shows, from the front cockpit, an EA-6B flying low level along VR-1355, one of the low-level routes running through national parks in the Cascade Mountains.

As we explained in a post about a photo of an EA-18G taken there, the Visual Route 1355 is colloquially called the “million-dollar ride” for both the scenic views and the fun and “aggressive” flying that can be done through the valleys.

Thanks to the video below, now you can also get an idea of what it looked like to fly the route at low level in the Prowler.

While the footage is outstanding, I’m pretty sure it will also remind someone the famous incident that occurred to an EA-6B in Italy in 1998.

On February 3, 1998, EA-6B Prowler #163045/CY-02, from VMAQ-2, deployed at Aviano Air Base, in northeastern Italy, for the Balkans crisis, using radio callsign “EASY 01” and flying a low-level route cut a cable supporting a cable car of an aerial lift, near Cavalese, a ski resort in the Dolomites. Twenty people died when the cabin plunged over 260 feet and crashed on the ground in what is also known as the “Cavalese cable car disaster” or “Strage del Cermis.”

At 15:13 LT, when the aircraft struck the cables supporting the cable car the aircraft was flying at a speed of 540 mph (870 km/h) and at an altitude of between 260 and 330 feet (80 and 100 m) in a narrow valley between the mountains.

While the aircraft had wing and tail damage, it was able to return to Aviano.

The subsequent investigation found that the EA-6B was flying too low and against regulations. Initially, all four men on the plane were charged, but only the pilot, Capt. Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, actually faced trial (that took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide.

At the end of the first trial, the pilot was acquitted on all charges relating to the disaster (charges which were dropped for the navigator too) in a verdict that caused shock and resentment in Italy generating an upsurge of anti-American feeling.

During the trial it emerged that the US Marine Corps aircrews used obsolete US military maps that, unlike local ones, did not show the cables, and were not aware of altitude regulations concerning low-level flying.

The two Marines were court-martialed a second time when it became evident they had destroyed a videotape filmed on the day of the incident. Eventually, Capts. Ashby and Schweitzer were found guilty in May 1999; both were dismissed from the service and Ashby received a six-month prison term. Families were eventually compensated 1.9M USD per victim.

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