Roots of deployment - Vera Cruz, 1914
By Col J. H. Alexander - Originally Published November 1982
Marines probably remember the 1914 landing in Vera Cruz chiefly for its assembly of legendary figures: Smedley Butler, John Quick, Albertus Catlin, Julian Smith, Logan Feland, "Fritz" Wise, James Breckinridge, Randolph Berkeley, "Hik'em Hiram" Bearss, and four future Commandants-Lejeune, Neville, Russell, and Vandegrift. The Vera Cruz military operation itself was unremarkable. Politically, the intervention was a disaster. Yet, as we wrestle today with problems of rapid deployment and strategic mobility, we might well benefit from a revisit to that obscure operation in 1914.
Consider first the issues that currently crowd the agenda of Marine Corps planners: readiness, forward deployment, time-phased force deployment planning, composite force building, strategic lift, joint operations, sustainability, urban warfare, unit integrity, roles/missions, and inter-Service competition. None of these issues are new. All of them were operative in the Vera Cruz expedition. In fact, the rapid deployment of nearly half the existing Marine Corps and virtually the entire U.S. Atlantic Fleet to Mexico, fully integrated and ready to fight, provides us with a high standard of excellence to match 68 years later. The 1914 Vera Cruz operation, as a deployment model, is worth of re-examination.
The Vera Cruz crisis evolved from the antagonism of two stubborn men, Gen Victoriano Huerta of Mexico and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States. Both assumed leadership of their respective countries in early 1913, Wilson by national election under a domestic reform platform, Huerta by murdering the revolutionary leader Francisco Madera. Wilson's sensitivities were shocked by Huerta's brutality. "I will not recognize a government of butchers," he declared. The removal of Huerta thus became the cornerstone of Wilson's Mexican policy. Wilson was convinced that Huerta comprised the sole obstacle to the natural ascendency of political democracy in Mexico-a questionable premise. Wilson pursued this objective with all the righteous obsession of a crusade. When months passed and Huerta remained in power, Wilson announced a policy of "watchful waiting." In effect, the President was waiting for an opportunity-a provocation-to justify intervention by force of arms.
Wilson's opportunity occurred on 9 April 1914 when a group of American sailors was detained by Federal soldiers in Tampico. Although Mexican officials quickly released the men and offered apologies, RAdm Henry T. Mayo, commanding U.S. forces in the vicinity of Tampico, demanded that the Mexicans hoist an American flag and fire a 21-gun salute. A "contest of protocols and ultimatums" between the two governments followed. Wilson refused to compromise; Huerta, realizing that to fire the salute would be political suicide, refused to go beyond an official apology. Wilson met with his Cabinet on 14 April and directed Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to concentrate most of the Atlantic Fleet in the waters off east Mexico for a show of force and as augmentation of the naval units already on station. Six days later with no resolution to the crisis in sight, Wilson sought Congressional approval to employ armed force in Mexico for "affronts and indignities committed against the United States."
At this point the State Department advised the President that the German steamer Ypiranga, loaded with arms and ammunition for Huerta's forces, was scheduled to arrive in Vera Cruz on 21 April. This was an unpleasant shock to Wilson, but he moved swiftly. Assured of Congressional support, confident that the European powers were too distracted by the Balkan crisis to interfere, and convinced to the end that the Mexican people would welcome American troops as liberators, the President directed Daniels to telegraph orders to RAdm Frank F., Fletcher at Vera Cruz: "Seize customs house. Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or to any other party."
Fletcher complied almost immediately. The landing party, however, was taken under fire by a mixed bag of militia, cadets, and citizens. The ensuing street fighting lasted three days. In the end, 19 Americans were killed and 75 wounded. Hundreds of Mexicans died. President Wilson recoiled in horror at the news of casualties. There were anti-American riots and demonstrations throughout Mexico and, indeed, all of Latin America. And although many Americans clamored for an "on to Mexico City" campaign, Wilson quickly cast about for ways to cut his political losses. He was rescued from his dilemma by an offer for mediation from "the ABC countries," Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The mediation conference itself accomplished little, but it did extricate Wilson from an unfavorable international position, while enabling him to maintain pressure on Huerta by holding Vera Cruz, a major source of revenue and arms for Mexico. Huerta finally resigned in mid-July 1914. American troops evacuated Vera Cruz in November. Mexican-American relations remained tense for years.
Vera Cruz was Wilson's first venture into foreign affairs. His basic mistake was the failure to realize that compulsive modification of political behavior by armed force is a form of diplomacy least likely to produce long-term favorable results. Yet as flawed as Wilson's political objectives in Mexico may have been, there was nothing faulty about the military deployments executed in support of that policy. Troops and ships were moved with commendable dispatch to positions threatening Mexico from three sides. We can learn from this.
The buildup of forces in response to the Mexican crisis occurred in this fashion. Even before the Tampico incident, the President had directed forward deployment of certain forces along the border and off the principal Mexican ports. Army units were assembled on the Rio Grande and in Galveston. Fletcher was off Vera Cruz with the battleships Florida and Utah. Mayo had the Connecticut and Minnesota near Tampico. Maj Smedley Butler had been ordered to deploy his battalion from Panama to join RAdm Fletcher's force off Vera Cruz as early as January. Neither of the two provisional advanced base regiments, which had been formed for fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean and on the island of Cuba in January 1914, returned to Philadelphia after the maneuvers; instead they were directed to Gulf Coast ports to await further orders. "None of us will get very far north until the Mexican question is settled," wrote Capt Frederick Delano to his parents in late January.
Delano was the adjutant for LtCol Wendell C. Neville's 2d Advanced Base Regiment at Pensacola. In early March the unit was ordered to divest itself of its advanced base equipment and embark four rifle companies aboard the small transport Prairie for deployment to Mexico. The Prairie arrived off Vera Cruz on 9 March. LtCol Neville and his 300 riflemen reported to RAdm Fletcher for duty, absorbing Butler's battalion in the process.
Following the Cabinet meeting of 14 April, Secretary Daniels directed RAdm Charles J. Badger, commanding the Atlantic Fleet, to proceed to Mexico with all available battleships. Badger promptly got underway from Hampton Roads aboard his flagship, USS Arkansas, accompanied by Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. Michigan left Philadelphia on 15 April; Louisiana followed from New York City the next day. South Carolina steamed from Santo Domingo in time to join Badger's main body as they rounded Key West. These were heady days for America's new "20th Century Navy," riding the crest of an unprecedented 10-year wave of peacetime ship building and imbued with the nationalistic, expansionist spirit of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
It was a period of transition, too, for the U.S. Marines, although they lacked an articulate prophet like Mahan to illuminate new roles and missions. For years the General Board of the Navy under Adm George Dewey had been prodding the Corps towards development of an advanced base force mission. Time and again, however, the Marines had been called out for expeditionary duty ("colonial infantry" some called it) in China, the Philippines, Panama, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Progress in defining a new role was slow. The Corps remained at the crossroads as deployment orders began to be dispatched in mid-April.
Who made the deployment decisions involving Marine units in 1914? The Major General Commandant, George Barnett, had been in the job only since 14 February. His staff consisted of three colonels (the adjutant and inspector, the quartermaster, and the paymaster) plus a handful of aides and assistants. Barnett did bring in a "field Marine," LtCol Eli K. Cole, to be his assistant commandant, but, overall, it was hardly an operational staff. The Commandant was responsible to the Secretary of the Navy for providing trained and equipped forces in readiness for service with the fleet. Compared to most of his predecessors, Barnett enjoyed fair relations with the Navy. He was the first Commandant to serve on the General Board and as a member of the "Special Council of Aides" to the Secretary of the Navy. And yet it is doubtful that Barnett played too significant a role in the Vera Cruz deployments. More likely, he advised the Secretary as to the status and availability of his Marines. Most deployment orders during that crisis seem to have originated from RAdm Bradley Fiske, aide for operations, or RAdm Victor Blue, chief of the Bureau of Navigation.
The Navy Department's mobilization directives of 14 April caused more Marines to converge on east Mexico. Maj Albertus Catlin, as fleet Marine officer for RAdm Badger, represented a potential landing force of 1,000 Marines distributed among the detachments aboard the seven battleships en route from the Atlantic. On 15 April, Col Lejeune with his small staff of the Advanced Base Force Brigade and LtCol Charles G. Long's 1st Regiment embarked aboard the transport Hancock in New Orleans and sailed for Tampico. Actually, "reembarked" is a more appropriate word. Lejeune and Long had just undergone the demoralizing experience of completely offloading Hancock per orders to free the ship for use in emergency evacuation of U.S. refugees from Mexico. The debarkation accomplished, there came immediate countermanding orders to reload the Marines back aboard, a classic "green-side-out/brown-side-out" drill. There was one significant difference in the re-embarkation: the sailing orders directed the Marines to deploy "without advanced base outfit." In view of similar orders issued to Neville's 2d Regiment when they went aboard the Prairie a month earlier, it appears that the pendulum had reversed its course. Regardless of the success of the winter's maneuvers in Culebra, there would be no advanced base operations for the Marines in Mexico. As Capt Wise remarked, "All the Advanced Base business in which we had been drilling and maneuvering for months had been dropped. We were plain infantry now."
At this point in the Mexican crisis the focal point was Tampico. Smedley Butler, ever the opportunist, managed to detach himself from Neville's command to join RAdm Mayo and Lejeune at Tampico. Mayo decided in a council of war that Lejeune would command a combined landing force consisting of Long's 1st Regiment, a naval regiment, and a mixed force under Butler. But it was not to be.
Vera Cruz was the better strategic point. Sandbars at Tampico would prevent most of Mayo's warships from supporting the landing up the river; at Vera Cruz the landing force could go ashore directly into the port, well within range of the guns of Fletcher's fleet. Vera Cruz was also the historical point of forcible entry into Mexico, from John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake in 1568 to Winfield Scott's tremendously successful assault in 1847. Then there was the matter of the imminent arrival of the German steamer Ypiranga, with its cargo of 200 machineguns and 15 million rounds of ammunition.
Secretary Daniels wired a warning order to Fletcher at Vera Cruz at 0300 on the 21st. He also vectored Badger's Atlantic Fleet battleships to Vera Cruz vice Tampico. Mayo was out of telegraphic reach from Washington that night. Fletcher had to relay the change in plans: not only was the Tampico operation off, but Fletcher now needed most of Mayo's warships and all of his Marines at Vera Cruz immediately. This was a crushing disappointment for Mayo. The Marines, however, didn't wait around. Butler, predictably, was the first to leave, sailing at flank speed on the scout cruiser Chester. Lejeune and Long followed on the slower Hancock, arriving 12 hours after Butler and missing the hottest part of the action.
Adm Fletcher did not wait on the augmentation forces from Tampico. Receiving Daniels' execution order at 0600 on 21 April, he launched his assault before noon. The landing party consisted of a naval brigade of Marines and bluejackets under command of Capt William Rees Rush, USN, commanding officer of Florida. Neville's under-strength regiment (more than half of his troops were still in Pensacola at the time) was augmented by a provisional battalion of Marines from Florida and Utah under Maj George C. Reid, the Marine officer on Fletcher's staff. Neville's operations order (now displayed in the Marine Corps Museum) was a model of simplicity: "Five hundred Mexican troops with five three-inch field pieces occupy Vera Cruz." it began. Berkeley's battalion was ordered to seize the roundhouse and rail sidings; Reid's battalion, to take the cable office, power plant, and customs warehouses. Most of the Marine casualties sustained at Vera Cruz occurred in the ranks of these two battalions. The objectives were seized. At 1800 Fletcher wired Daniels, "About 1,000 Marines and sailors ashore."
Reinforcements arrived throughout the night as Daniels' forward deployment planning began to bear fruit. Butler's battalion arrived aboard Chester before midnight and immediately went into the lines near the roundhouse under Neville. Five of Badger's Atlantic Fleet battleships arrived next. Before dawn Maj Catlin had formed their Marine detachments into a provisional regiment and led them ashore. Neville transferred Reid's battalion to Catlin, and the fleet Marines, fighting in a strange city, at dark and in a provisional command, did well. "It was a hot fight while it lasted," recalled Catlin.
The Hancock arrived in Vera Cruz before noon on 22 April ("D + 1"). Lejeune, reporting to Badger and Fletcher for orders, was assigned to command the provisional Marine brigade, consisting of the regiments of Neville, Catlin and, now, Long. In his anxiety to get ashore and take command, Lejeune fell overboard while disembarking from the launch and very nearly drowned. It had been a long week for the "Cajun Colonel."
In the meantime, the Wilson Administration's deployment of forces to Mexico had accelerated. The Nation, galvanized by the dramatic news from Vera Cruz, was swept by war fever. Crowds jammed the docks and terminals to send off the troops. The press descended on Vera Cruz. Old veterans limped to recruiting stations to offer their services in Mexico. Col George W. Goethals, Governor of the nearly completed Panama Canal, announced that he could make the waterway usable for U.S. warships up to 20,000 tons, if necessary. The Nation was literally on the move.
The first problem of strategic mobility was to evacuate the thousands of American refugees escaping from irate Mexicans. The immediate crush was handled by foreign warships (there were British, German, French. Spanish, and Japanese men-of-war in Mexican ports when the Vera Cruz landing occurred). On 22 April President Wilson requested Congress to authorize $500,000 for refugee relief. Several steamships were quickly chartered to evacuate the remaining refugees.
The concentration of naval forces off both coasts of Mexico continued. The hospital ship Solace, the mine depot ship San Francisco, the supply ship Orion, and the collier Cyclops all reached Vera Cruz within 24 hours of the landing. Eight additional battleships arrived in Mexico from various stations within the next two weeks, raising the total to 19, including the newly commissioned USS New York with its 14-inch guns and the Mississippi from Pensacola with the balance of Neville's regiment and six Curtiss "hydroaeroplanes" from the Navy's new aeronautic section. On the west coast, RAdm Thomas B. Howard commanded a force of eight cruisers and lesser ships. Col Joseph H. Pendleton formed the 4th Regiment of Marines from various barracks and stations on the west coast. The regiment sailed aboard the South Dakota, Jupiter and West Virginia for show-of-force operations off Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Guayamas. Jupiter was a collier; nevertheless, Capt Pritchett embarked with his 300 Marines and maintained readiness to conduct landing operations throughout what must have been three gruesomely hot months in the Gulf of California.
The Army got off to a slower start. There was nothing particularly wrong with their readiness. BGen Frederic Funston had his brigade well organized and equipped for operations in Mexico. He even had his own mobility assets available. The Army transports Meade, Sumner, McClellan, and Kilpatrick had been in port in Galveston for nearly a year in anticipation of orders to deploy Funston's brigade to Mexico. Yet they sat in port throughout the first three days of the fighting in Vera Cruz. President Wilson did not authorize the commitment of Army forces until RAdm Badger's request arrived late on 23 April. Why the hesitation? Evidently Wilson had become acutely sensitive to international perceptions during those three days. A landing party of Marines and sailors from the fleet might be construed as a temporary intrusion; the occupation of a foreign port by Army troops could well be considered an act of war. Nevertheless, Wilson acquiesced to Badger's request and gave Secretary of War Garrison his approval to deploy the brigade.
BGen Funston's frustrations did not end with the long-awaited execution orders. The embarkation in Galveston was ragged. There was not enough room aboard the transports for the artillery. The War Department had to charter, in a hurry, two Mallory Line steamers, Satilla and San Marcos, to accommodate the shortfall two days after the main body sailed. Funston's force was also delayed en route by the "the condition of the transport Meade." (Lejeune could have predicted this, based on his experience aboard Meade the previous year: "everything appeared to be out of order.") As a result, the Army brigade did not disembark in Vera Cruz until 29 April, well after the shooting had ceased.
The Marine deployment fared better. There were over 3,000 Marines ashore in Vera Cruz by the time the Army arrived, and more were on the way. In fact, the largest concentration of Marines in the history of the Corps, to date, was taking place. It was a credit to the small Navy-Marine staffs that this was accomplished without recourse to anything like a WWMCCS computer. There was no such thing as a "TIP-FIDDLE" (TPFDL: Time-Phased Force Deployment List) in 1914, of course, but the reconstructed list in Chart 1 may serve to illustrate the sequence, sources, modes, and timing of the deployment of 12 different Marine units to Mexico.
Perhaps the best example of the intricacies of the buildup of composite Marine forces for the Mexican crisis comes from the 3d Regiment. The day after the Vera Cruz landing, a force of 861 Marines assembled in Philadelphia. The men were drawn from 10 different stations: the Marine Barracks at Portsmouth, Boston, New York, Washington, Annapolis, Norfolk, Charleston, Port Royal, Philadelphia itself, and the battleship Ohio. That evening, the Ward Line steamship Morro Castle, just chartered in New York by the Navy Department, arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. In 22 hours, the ship was loaded with coal, provisions, 900,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, 1,000 service camp outfits (these from the USMC depot at 1100 South Broad St.) and all 861 Marines, including Col Franklin J. Moses, commanding. The ship steamed on 23 April and arrived in Vera Cruz on the 29th, just ahead of the Army flotilla. Morro Castle, incidentally, had been the first private ship impressed as a troop transport by President McKinley in 1898.
Col Mahoney was a passenger on Morro Castle and relieved Lejeune as brigade commander. On 4 May, Col L.W.T. Waller arrived on the battleship New York and took the brigade for the duration; the regiments were thence commanded by Mahoney, Lejeune, and Moses. Waller, the hero/villain of Samar, was then 58 and the senior line colonel in the Corps.
The arrival of BGen Funston and the Army touched off a classic debate over control of Marine forces that could only be resolved at the Presidential level. Some argued that the Navy should retain control of the Marines and the expedition itself. The Army asked for a unified command under Funston. Lejeune sided with the Army, with the caveat that the fleet Marines should return to their ships. Wilson and Daniels supported this position. On 30 April the blue-jackets and fleet Marines (under Catlin and Reid) re-embarked. The remaining Marines under Waller "chopped" to the Army.
The flurry of excitement over Vera Cruz subsided quickly once the "On-to-Mexico-City" fervor passed. World War I broke out that summer and eclipsed whatever was memorable about the U.S. deployment. The occupation ran its uneventful course. As a Marine sentry in Vera Cruz remarked to war correspondent Jack London. "This is a hell of a war."
What is the relationship of that obscure operation in 1914 to deployment planning today? There seems to be a "continuity of issues" in Marine Corps history. Recalling the list of current agenda items, let's evaluate some potential lessons learned from Vera Cruz.
The rapid formation of regiments on both coasts from widely separated stations with little warning was impressive. This was particularly the case of the mountout of the 3d Regiment, when troops, supplies, and ship converged on Philadelphia from diverse sources and within 24 hours were loaded for combat and underway. Muster rolls for the participating units reflect very few stragglers. And the overnight rail connections to get to Philadelphia intact from, say, Charleston, reflected good planning and quick responses. Outstanding readiness, across the board!
Early decisionmaking and positioning of forces paid off for the Navy-Marine Corps team. As early as 19 April, two days prior to the landing, Secretary Daniels could boast that there were then "either in Mexican waters, en route there or under orders to proceed, a total of 48 men-of-war, having on board 22,867 officers and men, Navy and Marines." Indeed, the decision to leave the two advanced base regiments in the Gulf with their transports after the Culebra maneuvers was a fortuitous one for the Corps; the assault elements of both outfits were ashore and fighting in Vera Cruz within the first 24 hours.
Time-Phased Forced Deployment Planning
An accidental convergence? Perhaps, but the results reveal a master's touch somewhere in the planning/execution process. It would be difficult to match the timing today. In effect, the bulk of five regiments of Marines (counting Catlin's provisional outfit) were either ashore in Mexico or on station offshore by D + 10. Only Capt McGill's 28th Company on the West Virginia, Capt Babb's 43d Expeditionary Company on Salem and Capt Beaumont's 7th Company on Lebanon arrived outside the 10-day window. The deployment is even more remarkable considering that over 5,000 of the 9,991 Marines on the muster rolls of the Corps in April 1914 were on the move in support of the Mexican crisis. MajGen Commandant Barnett did admit, however, that these massive deployments "depleted the barracks in this country."
Today, we are concerned about the effectiveness of building combat power by converging MAUs and MABs on a trouble spot to form a composite MAF. In the 1914 Marine Corps everything above company level was a composite outfit-the battalions, regiments, and brigade were as composite a force as could be imagined. But it worked. There was one problem in the rapid turnover of command. The Marines ashore at Vera Cruz were commanded during the first two weeks by, sequentially, Neville, Lejeune, Mahoney, and Waller. The Marines needed some brigadier generals, and the expedition highlighted the deficiency. Two years later the billets were authorized (Waller, Pendleton, and Lejeune were among the first to benefit).
Marines deployed to Mexico aboard two "legitimate" transports, several different battleships and cruisers, a collier, a target ship, and a chartered commercial steamship. The combination worked, but it ruined unit integrity and precluded taking some mission-essential equipment (the advanced base gear). It worked largely because of the limited scope of the Vera Cruz operation itself, and because there were enough ships of all descriptions to meet the combined deployment requirements of the Army, Marines, and naval aviation-and the refugees. It also may have been the last time that there was no real interService competition for strategic lift. Three years later Barnett had a nasty fight with the Secretary of War because the Army had priority on use of transports to deploy the initial troops to Europe. Vera Cruz illuminated the need for suitable transports, a lesson that applies today just as it did then.
As a result of recommendations from the General Board beginning in 1910, Congress had authorized new construction of one transport in March 1913. This ship was launched in June 1916, as the USS Henderson, 10,000 tons, and became the Marines' workhorse, transporting Col Doyen's 5th Marines to France in 1917, Lejeune and Butler to the war the next year, and generations of Marines to and from China in the 20s and 30s. Significantly, of the 182 new ships authorized during the great naval buildup of 1904-1915, Henderson was the lone transport, and the situation did not change dramatically thereafter. The strategic lift lesson is hard to learn.
Let us also note that the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet was healthier in 1914 than it is today. The Wilson Administration was able to charter commercial steamships with relative ease to meet short-fuze lift requirements for all three Services. We would be hard-pressed today to make available two chartered "troopships" on the east coast in the first three weeks of a nonmobilization crisis deployment.
Vera Cruz was valuable in giving the Marines experience in joint operations with the Army. The experience paid dividends in World War I and beyond. Today it is almost impossible to conceive of prolonged single-Service operations. Lejeune, with his Army War College background, was the right man on the scene during his brief week in command of the Marine brigade. He may have been the first Marine to see life beyond the termination of an amphibious operation, a murky area in which we today still are experiencing sharp fights over command relationships.
The Marine Corps may have deployed to Mexico in commendable fashion in 1914, but it certainly was not prepared for an extended employment toward Mexico City should that mission have been ordered. The Army was better prepared for that contingency, which undoubtedly explains some of the Army's relative problems with embarkation. Lejeune, again, recognized the shortfall and directed the brigade quartermaster to "procure all the carts and animals he could find, as we were without transportation of any kind." Tactical mobility also worried the Commandant. On 26 April he queried the Army Quartermaster's Department whether they would be willing to provide all the land transportation requirements-horses, wagons, harnesses, teamsters-for the Marine brigade, including its new artillery battalion.
Medical support has always been a key element of sustainability. In this regard, the role of the hospital ship Solace in the Mexican crisis is significant. Solace arrived at Vera Cruz on 22 April and was immediately utilized. On 9 May she steamed for New York with 45 of the seriously ill and wounded from the first 2 weeks of the operation. Returning to Vera Cruz, she remained on station throughout most of the occupation (Col Moses died aboard Solace in September). In the ready availability of a hospital ship, the 1914 Marines were better off than we are today, as we ponder the merits of resurrecting the USS Santuary or the SS United States while waiting new construction. Even a stopgap "Rapidly Deployable Medical Facility" will not provide the ready services Solace did at Vera Cruz.
Neville, Butler, and Catlin had to fight through the buildings of Vera Cruz with pick, shovel, and bayonet. The point is significant today because it is a mission we could assign our forward deployed amphibious forces: forcible seizure of an urban port to make it suitably "benign" to accommodate our maritime pre-positioned ships. The Mexicans gave the Marines hell in this type of fighting in 1914. We can expect similar receptions in other corners.
We've discussed the impact of lift constraints on the integrity of Neville's 2d Regiment. We should note also that the advanced base organization included an aviation detachment under 1stLt Bernard Smith. The aviation unit not only was unable to sail from Pensacola with Neville aboard Prairie on 5 March, but was also excluded from the Naval Aeronautic Detachment aboard Mississippi on 21 April. Smith finally embarked on Birmingham and didn't arrive in Vera Cruz until 24 May. While he did fly a few training flights "in country," he was obviously too late to make any tactical contributions to the Marine brigade. Sometimes today we still have difficulty in phasing our organic Marine fixed-wing air into the objective area in time to coincide with the arrival of the MAGTF.
Roles/Missions and Inter-Service Rivalry
The press gave favorable coverage to the Marines in the initial days of the Vera Cruz operation, especially Smedley Butler's exploits, The Army bristled over the Marines' claim to be "First to Fight," and smarting over having missed the fighting, took steps in World War I to disprove the claim. The rivalry over who indeed is the most ready to deploy for sustained combat continues today. As for the Navy, Vera Cruz marked the beginning of the end of the deployment of large-scale naval landing parties. The sailors fought bravely, but they sustained disproportionate casualties in the street fighting. The Marines, after the World War I upheaval, would be well on their way to becoming the Navy's power projection force.
The study of the Vera Cruz can thus be instructive today. Those 861 Marines of the 3d Regiment who deployed from Philadelphia in 1914 aboard the SS Morro Castle had to share 12 wash basins, sleep on the deck, and cook their own meals. Their modern day counterparts in the Royal Marines deployed to the Falklands in relative luxury aboard the Canberra. The contrast in style is not significant; the important parallel is the readiness of sea soldiers to deploy rapidly to a crisis area aboard whatever mode of strategic lift their government can make available on urgent notice.
Vera Cruz, 1914: operationally insignificant, politically ill-conceived-but an early master-piece of rapid deployment.