**********
SHARE THIS/LINK TO THIS PAGE/ADD, ETC.
CLICK BELOW!
**********
Share
**********
 


  << Previous Topic | Next Topic >>~Return to Index~  

USMC In Beirut, 1983 -Wm Buckingham

October 31 2002 at 3:31 PM
No score for this post

Dick G  (Login Dick Gaines)
Owner
from IP address 209.130.221.205

 
From: "william.buckingham" <william.buckingham@ntlworld.com>
List Editor: H-War Editor Mark Parillo <war@ksu.edu>
Editor's Subject: REPLY: US Marines in Beirut, 1983 {was "The American Way of War"]
Author's Subject: REPLY: US Marines in Beirut, 1983 {was "The American Way of War"]
Date Written: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 03:00:13 +0100
Date Posted: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 16:06:28 -0500

Hello all,

A response to Ben Frank's comments on my previous post regarding the
competence of the US Marine contingent in Beirut in 1983, inserted in the
original for clarity.

> As the author of the official Marine Corps history, "U.S.
> Marines in Lebanon, 1982-1984," I find these comments without
> merit and based largely on conjecture.

Before responding in detail to Ben Frank's comments, I must refute the
charge that my comments are based in any way on conjecture. Whilst I admit
to not having read Mr Frank's account, I have to say that the "official"
tag would make me a little cautious in any case. My comments are based not
on conjecture, but on information gleaned from news reports and journals at
the time and after, as well as conversation with a British soldier serving
in Beirut at that time; the individual was the bodyguard for the ranking
British officer in the city, and thus saw a good deal. However, as memory
is not the most reliable of resources, my current comments are based mainly
on two high quality tv documentaries I have on video.

The first is a film entitled "Follow the Flag", made by the highly
respected ITN First Tuesday current affairs team. Broadcast in October
1993, the hour long film includes interviews with Caspar Weinberger, George
Schultz, former USMC Commandant General P.X. Kelley, the overall Marine
commander in Beirut, the CO of the Battalion Landing Team that suffered all
the casualties from the suicide bomb, and eight Marines who were in or
around the airport building at the time of the attack.

The second film was the second in a series of three one-hour programmes
making up the Future War series, produced by BBC News productions and
presented by the respected journalist Michael Ignatieff. The film was
broadcast in 2000 entitled "Warrior Cult" and deals exclusively with the
USMC, and its current focus on 4th Generation Warfare. The Beirut debacle
is therefore afforded some prominence as the event that prompted USMC
Commandant Al Grey to rethink the Corps' raison d'etre.

> The deployment of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit to Beirut was a
> political decision by an administration that didn't appreciate
> the full magnitude or complexities of the situation. The mission
> was called a "presence mission," the definition of which won't
> be found in any field or operations manual. Political
> misappreciation was thus a primary reason for the disaster,
> certainly far more than anything the Marines did or failed to
> do.

I am well aware of the political dimension underlying the presence of the
24 MAU in Beirut, and quite agree that the presence was ill judged. I
cannot agree with the final sentence however, for reasons that will become
apparent below.

> In any case, both the troops and their officers were extremely
> well trained for any expediency they faced in the Mediterranean.
> The infantry component worked for six months in platoon-level to
> battalion-level operations with live firing exercises in
> California. Then they held joint training with the air element
> and finally with the naval element. The commanders at all levels
> were just about handpicked. There is no reasonable basis for the
> claim of "poor basic soldiering skills."

Sorry, but I beg to differ. 24 MAU may arguably have arrived in the
Mediterranean prepared to fight a conventional conflict. However, that was
not what awaited them, and subsequent events eloquently attest to the fact
that they were manifestly not trained or prepared to meet any expediency.
On the contrary, there is good deal of evidence to support the claim that
the Marines involved possessed poor basic soldiering skills. First, there
is the opinion of USMC Commandant General Al Grey and his successor General
Charles Krulak. The latter especially has a lot to say on the matter in the
Future War film. As the interview and other parts of the film clearly show,
General Grey's post-Beirut rebuilding of the Corps centred on relearning
basic soldiering skills that had been forgotten...

Second, there is a wealth of evidence in the testimony of those involved,
as cited in the First Tuesday film interviews, and apparent from footage
recorded in the period leading up to the suicide attack. I note Mr Frank's
response does not attempt to refute the fact that the sentries on duty at
the time of the attack (the commander of the guard, incidentally, is one of
the First Tuesday interviewees) had unloaded weapons. This was admitted at
the time by a Marine officer, if I recall correctly, and is mentioned
specifically in the Ignatieff film. Careful viewing of contemporary footage
show this was not an isolated practise, even among Marines under fire, a
most curious operating procedure to say the least. It appears to me that
there are two possible explanations for this. Either it was a deliberate
policy in line with the Marines' peacekeeper status, or someone in
authority did not trust the troops with live ammunition in their weapons.

Third, and most germane, is the fact that the Marines in the airport
building failed to take even the most basic security precautions, despite
repeated warnings. The First Tuesday film has very good footage of the
building before and after the attack, including some from the air. This,
and the testimony of the guard commander, appear to show that there was no
checkpoint or guard post except for one located in the lobby of the
building, despite the fact that the entrance drive from the adjacent road
was 70-100m long. In the event, the suicide bomber appears to have driven
his vehicle up to the lobby at a leisurely pace and brought it to a
complete stop before the device detonated, although the failure to block
the entrance drive gave him the opportunity to build up a good head of
speed had he so desired. The Marines had been advised to remedy this
situation by the British, and also by then serving ex-SEAL Richerd Marcinko
(sp?) as part of an undercover general security review, if the latter's
biography is to be believed. I appreciate that Mr Marcinko has some rather
strange views, but his testimony on this matter seems believable in light
of the other evidence. Placing a guard bunker at the road entrance and
judiciously placing a few 50 gallon drums full of sand might well have
averted the catastrophe and saved 241 Marine lives.

Finally, there is the fact that, according to First Tuesday's
interviewees, Sundays were designated as rest days for the Marines, with no
reveille. Consequently, I do not feel it was accidental that the suicide
attack was launched on a Sunday. I find it incredible that any
professsional military force would revert to what can only be described as
peace-time barrack routine whilst operational, never mind in such a
demonstrably hostile environment. Hardly evidence of good basic soldiering
skills, I think

> Regarding the airport building in which the troops were
> billeted, it was a steel-reinforced concrete building. It was
> not plush in any way. I saw it and was in it in my trip to
> Beirut to interview commanders and troops there. The building
> had been heavily pockmarked with artillery and automatic weapons
> fire from both the Israelis and the various sects who were
> fighting in Beirut. There were no windows, no running water,
> only rooms and places to set out a sleeping bag and air
> mattress. The Marines were placed in the building rather than
> have them in the open, hunkering down behind sand bags and
> subjected to the wild firing by the sects. While the Marines
> were not direct targets until later in the deployment, there
> were some injuries to those Marines who were out in the open.

Sorry, we are at cross purposes here due to my use of British slang. By
describing the airport building as "cushy," I did not mean to imply that
the building was luxurious in any way. I merely meant that its construction
afforded the troops within better protection than existed elsewhere in the
Marine perimeter. The First Tuesday film features an interview with the
overall Marine commander in Beirut, Colonel Tim Geraghty, in which he
admits to making a deliberate decision to bring more men into the BLT, as
the airport building was called, for this very reason. I have a little more
to say about this decision below.

> As for the indictment of the so-called "low-level discipline and
> man managements skills of the units and sub-units involved," I
> can only say that I wonder upon what this comment is based.

My "indictment" is based on two things. First, Commander George
Pucciarelli, a Marine chaplain present in the BLT before and during the
attack appears several times in the First Tuesday film. At one point he
refers to lots of Marines making any excuse to get into the BLT building
because they were scared of remaining outside. That is as maybe, but the
fact that Marines were apparently able to enter the BLT at will on spurious
pretexts does not suggest effective control by low-level leaders.

Second, with reference to man management, I would suggest that the Marine
CO made a serious error in this regard by deliberately billeting a large
number of men in the BLT. 12,000lb suicide bombs aside, much of the
ordnance being tossed around by the factions in Beirut was of sufficient
size to cause serious damge to the building. One of the First Tuesday
interviewees specifically refers to witnessing tank main gun rounds
narrowly missing the BLT, and to placing tripod mounted TOW missile
launchers on the roof as a hopeful deterrent. Of course, it is very easy
for a chair bound smart alec like me to second guess the man on the spot
with the benefit of hindsight, but in the final analysis the CO's decision,
however well intentioned, ultimately led to the death of more Marines than
might have otherwise been the case. This view appears to be borne out by
the fact that a simultaneous attack on the French compound in Beirut caused
59 deaths, around a fifth of the loss suffered by the Marines.

> I suggest that Mr. Buckingham read my book, and also the Long
> Commission Report, which was drawn up after an intensive
> investigation of the bombing and the actions of the commanders
> on the scene. You will not find any conclusion regarding
> discipline and manpower management problems in it.

I should be delighted to read Ben Frank's book and the Long Commission
Report - possibly he could send me a copy. As for the Report not containing
any conclusions regarding discipline and manpower problems, that does not
necessarily mean that such problems did not occur.

best regards

Bill Buckingham
University of Glasgow


**************************************
**************************************




 
Scoring disabled. You must be logged in to score posts.Respond to this message   
AuthorReply

Dick G
(Login Dick Gaines)
Owner
209.130.221.205

Beirut, 1983 -Ben Frank

No score for this post
October 31 2002, 3:36 PM 

From: Ben Frank <ben.frank@tcs.wap.org>
List Editor: H-War Editor Mark Parillo <war@ksu.edu>
Editor's Subject: REPLY: The American Way of War
Author's Subject: REPLY: The American Way of War
Date Written: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 20:26:59 -0400
Date Posted: Wed, 18 Apr 2001 15:21:18 -0500

On Mon, 02 Apr 2001 01:51:50 +0100, William Buckingham wrote:
> The heavy casualties inflicted on the Marines by the suicide truck
> bomber in Beirut were due not to political decisions, but to poor
> basic soldiering skills. Specifically, far more men were present in
> the attacked building than had any legitimate reason for being
> there because it was seen as a cushy billet, which says something
> about the low-level disciplne and man management skills of the
> units and sub-units involved.

As the author of the official Marine Corps history, "U.S. Marines in
Lebanon, 1982-1984," I find these comments without merit and based largely
on conjecture. The deployment of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit to Beirut
was a political decision by an administration that didn't appreciate the
full magnitude or complexities of the situation. The mission was called a
"presence mission," the definition of which won't be found in any field or
operations manual. Political misappreciation was thus a primary reason for
the disaster, certainly far more than anything the Marines did or failed to
do.

In any case, both the troops and their officers were extremely well trained
for any expediency they faced in the Mediterranean. The infantry component
worked for six months in platoon-level to battalion-level operations with
live firing exercises in California. Then they held joint training with the
air element and finally with the naval element. The commanders at all
levels were just about handpicked. There is no reasonable basis for the
claim of "poor basic soldiering skills."

Regarding the airport building in which the troops were billeted, it was a
steel-reinforced concrete building. It was not plush in any way. I saw it
and was in it in my trip to Beirut to interview commanders and troops
there. The building had been heavily pockmarked with artillery and
automatic weapons fire from both the Israelis and the various sects who
were fighting in Beirut. There were no windows, no running water, only
rooms and places to set out a sleeping bag and air mattress. The Marines
were placed in the building rather than have them in the open, hunkering
down behind sand bags and subjected to the wild firing by the sects. While
the Marines were not direct targets until later in the deployment, there
were some injuries to those Marines who were out in the open.

As for the indictment of the so-called "low-level discipline and man
managements skills of the units and sub-units involved," I can only say
that I wonder upon what this comment is based. I suggest that Mr.
Buckingham read my book, and also the Long Commission Report, which was
drawn up after an intensive investigation of the bombing and the actions of
the commanders on the scene. You will not find any conclusion regarding
discipline and manpower management problems in it.

BMF

Benis Frank


**************************************
**************************************



[H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences OnLine]

 
Scoring disabled. You must be logged in to score posts.Respond to this message   
 
  << Previous Topic | Next Topic >>~Return to Index~  
Find more forums on U.S. Marine CorpsCreate your own forum at Network54
 Copyright © 1999-2017 Network54. All rights reserved.   Terms of Use   Privacy Statement  
**********
SHARE THIS/LINK TO THIS PAGE/ADD, ETC.
CLICK BELOW!
**********
Share
**********

All Rights Reserved
Gunny G's Marines Sites & Forums
By
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952-72

eXTReMe Tracker >