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MARINE AVIATION AT QUANTICO, 1918–1941
This superb book is the culmination of a 50-year project by one of the pre-eminent aviation historians in America. Major John M. “Jack” Elliott’s sources are impeccable, as he probably has some of the few remaining copies of Marine Corps muster rolls, aircraft history cards and official U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics files in one collection. Also, he literally has thousands of photographs of early aircraft and Marine aviation personalities. If you have a question about early Marine aviation, he has the answer. This publication is particularly well-timed to coincide with this year’s centennial of Marine Corps aviation.
The Marine Corps acquired the land at Quantico, Va., in 1917 as a training base. The first aeronautical activity began in 1918 with the establishment of a Balloon Company for the Heavy Artillery Force. The company later grew to include three seaplanes and two balloons and, in 1919, was re-designated the Marine Aeronautic Section. Maj Alfred A. Cunningham, the father of Marine aviation, recommended a site near the Potomac River for a Marine flying field that would accommodate the seaplanes and landplanes returning from World War I duties.
The closing of many military bases following the war freed up much building material, and Quantico took full advantage of this “free stuff,” something that would become standard USMC practice over the years.
Reporting in June 1919, the first true squadron to arrive was Squadron C. Many members had served with the Day Wing, Northern Bombing Group in France and the First Marine Aeronautic Company in the Azores during the war. With willing hands, free stuff and a do-it-yourself attitude, the Marines began constructing two airfields, a task they learned in France. To keep costs down, most of the work was done with borrowed Marines and tools. This could be considered the beginning of the current expeditionary airfield program. An example of true austerity was that no funds were available to build an office for the commander. So, one was constructed from aircraft crates and roofed with flattened gas cans.
During this time, Marine aviators were heavily involved in national air races, numerous airshows and demonstrations and lots of bombing practice. It is a little-known fact that they took part in Army Brigadier General Billy Mitchell’s “Bombing of the Battleships” incident that eventually led to his court-martial.
Around Quantico they flew fire patrols over nearby counties for the Forest Service. On some of these patrols, illegal moonshine operations were spotted, and it was not unusual for the aircraft to be fired on. Sometimes it was reported, and sometimes the pilot would note the location and go back when off duty to make a “special purchase.”
The first thing the Marine had to do was convince the still operator that he wasn’t a Federal Revenue agent or he might get shot ... it was the Prohibition era, so risk was part of the cost.
Between the World Wars, the only aviators flying actual combat missions were Marines—specifically, between 1927 and 1932 in Nicaragua supporting the Marine brigade’s operations against bandits and insurgents. In those six years, Marine aviators flew more than 40,000 hours. The first time deployed troops were transported in combat was there, in 1927. What took 10 days on foot, Marine air accomplished in a little more than an hour. Nicaragua proved the value of Marine air. However, the first officially defined mission for Marine aviation wasn’t put in writing until January 1939. When not deployed, those squadrons called Quantico home.
Many of the Marines written about in this book were members of the First Marine Aviation Force, which was the first American military aviation force to see combat in WW I. They flew alongside the Royal Air Force and made up the Day Wing of the Northern Bombing Group in France. Because General John J. Pershing and the U.S. Army didn’t want Marines in Europe, they were not part of the American Expeditionary Force, and the veterans were denied membership in the American Legion. In true Marine fashion, they formed their own organization known as the First Marine Aviation Force Veterans Association.
The author knew many of these men, heard their stories, and later verified them through his collected sources.
In 1971, with the passing of many FMAFVA members, they asked the Commandant of the Marine Corps to find a way to continue their history. His response was the transfer of their traditions and records into what became the Marine Corps Aviation Association, incorporated in 1972. One of its members, noted in this book, is still with us and is the oldest naval aviator and world’s oldest living fighter ace, BGen Frederick R. Payne, USMC (Ret).
Each year, 1918-1941, has its own chapter, beginning with the type and number of aircraft assigned. The book not only includes a very interesting history of the early days of Marine air with many rare photos, but many interesting tidbits not generally known outside of a small circle of history buffs. This book is a must-have for any serious aviation history collection. I highly recommend it.
Editor’s note: Jim “Crash” Casey retired after 32 years of active service, all in Marine aviation, with the majority in Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting and Expeditionary Airfields. He currently is the deputy executive director of the Marine Corps Aviation Association.
MARINE AVIATION AT QUANTICO, 1918–1941.
By Maj John M. Elliott, USMC (Ret).
Published by Outskirts Press. 258 pages.
$33.26 MCA Members. $36.95 Regular Price.
- Fully Integrated Tactical Air: The Vision (Article)
- Giants Of The Corps: "Rugged Roy" Geiger And The Northern Bombing Group (Magazine Page)
- Posts Of The Corps: Quantico (Magazine Page)
- Flying Devil Dogs (Magazine Page)
- Honoring 100 Years Of Marine-Style Aviation (Article)
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Today in USMC History
Historic Leatherneck Magazine Covers
Leatherneck Staff Artist, Technical Sergeant Robert Fleischauer, felt that our July cover should be commemorative of the Fourth of July. Since the members of the missile units are probably the Corps' best rocketeers, he picked them to perform a standard Fourth of July action. Whether or not the "Honest Johnny" is useful as a combat piece is a matter for debate, but you can't beat it for morale." [July 1957.]
“The Join Up on the Nick” by Major Alex Durr, USMCR, a member of the History Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va.
Hospitalman Daniel T. Bobic, assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3d Battalion, Second Marine Regiment, rappelled at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, in late April, 2002.
The oldest post of the Marine Corps, Washington, DC, is celebrating 200 years of excellence. Posed near the Barracks main gate were members of the official Color Guard of the United States Marine Corps (left to right): LCpl Joseph N. Keough, rifleman; Sgt Blake L. Richardson, Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps; Cpl Gerardo A. Guajardo, organizational color bearer; and LCpl Gregory A. Serwo, rifleman.
GySgt Verlando Frazier, East Coast Food Service Management Team, looked ready to dig into some of the new items included in MREs.
This photo by Sgt Earnie Grafton of Marines from Fox Co., 2/4 shows varied emotions as they greeted the coalition forces outside Kuwait city.
A fleet of trucks was needed to transport Dr. Felix de Weldon’s original model of the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue from the sculptor’s home in Newport, R.I., to the grounds of the Marine Military Academy at Harlingen, Texas. After the statue’s arrival, a nearly around-the-clock effort by skilled workmen was required in order to have the memorial reassembled and ready for dedication ceremonies on April 16, 1982.
In April this year (1981), two squadrons of AV-8A “Harriers” sailed for the Mediterranean aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau. Purpose of the cruise was to demonstrate the Navy/Marine Corps team’s capability to augment naval forces in any area of the World on short notice and to provide at-sea training for Marine Harrier pilots.
The cover of Leatherneck’s Bicentennial issue is an oil painting by the late Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR. The painting depicts General George Washington’s Colonial troops at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Va., during the French and Indian War.
Sightseeing tours for the men of the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico, include a trip to the El Morro Fortress. San Juan is now retired as a Post of the Corps.
The Marines in Vietnam have found that the programs which work best are those which operate close to the people. Our July cover is a mixed media (acrylic and charcoal) by Art Editor James L. Hopewell. It catches the spirit of Marines who enjoy their relationship with the Vietnamese around them.
In Naples, Italy, Marines are responsible for the internal security of the Headquarters of NATO’s Southern European Command, while the elite Carabinieri Corpa provides external security. PFC Robert M. Mallard’s NATO shield was admired by a Carabiniere as the two men prepared to take up their side-by-side posts at the entrance of the imposing NATO Headquarters, which appears in the background of this cover.
"We've Fought In Every Clime And Place": Stamping out the Caco Insurrection in the Republic d' Haiti.
January 2002: The Marines engraved another mark in the rich history of the Corps when they came from more than 400 miles offshore to establish a forward operating base south of Kandahar in the war on terrorism. The Marine CH-46 helicopter on the cover, photographed by PH1(AW/SW) Greg Messier, USN, fought in the desert sand to land and resupply Marines such as the ones (inset) photographed by Sgt Joseph R. Chenelly.
January 2001: This firefight during the Frozen Chosin Reservoir Campaign of 1950 was painted by “Chosin Few” veteran Jack Cannon, who served with Company B, 1st Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment and resides in the warmer climes of New Mexico. The cover was part of Leatherneck’s 50th anniversary salute to the Korean War veterans.
January 1992: This cover photograph of runners during Marine Corps Marathon XVI in Washington, D.C., was photographed by Sgt Deirdre Hallett.
January 1991: This month’s cover by Ross Simpson captures the Marines’ waiting-but-ready posture in the Middle East.
January 1982: Participants in the Sixth Annual Marine Corps Marathon presented a colorful spectacle as they began the 26-mile, 385-yard run in Washington, D.C., November 1, 1981. The cover photo, by Tom Bartlett, was taken from a bridge overlooking Highway 50 about a half-mile from the starting line.
January 1981: Nearly 7,800 runners participated in the Fifth Annual Marine Corps Marathon held in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The oldest finisher was 78; the youngest was 10. Leatherneck staffer Ron Lunn pre-positioned himself near the Nation’s Capitol to photograph runners during their 14th mile of the 26-mile, 385-yard course.
January 1972: This month’s cover, by Marine Combat Artist Peter Gish, shows members of the New Corps sightseeing in the Old World. While on liberty in Athens, Greece, the 3d Bn, Eighth Marines, were able to tour the Erektheon Porch and Cariatides. The water color is from the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Art collection.
Originally Published December 1983 -- Something tells us that we could date the cover without knowing when it was published.
Originally Published December 1972 -- We're not sure what's more interesting, Santa or the old style gas pump.
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This November 1992 article in the Marine Corps Gazette looked at the uniform regulations of 1859 and the attempt to standardize uniforms within the Corps. Read the story and see more pics.
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