Marines... In The Americas

By SSgt Charles Kester - Originally Published November 1963

Nine nations in this hemisphere have military organizations which specialize in amphibious warfare, yet it's a safe bet that the average individual can't name more than three of them.

This is in spite of the fact that several of the Latin American Marine Corps are almost as old as our own, and most send officers and enlisted men to our schools, use our doctrine, and train with our tactics.

All but the youngest have their own traditions; each has its own hereos; and most have had an important part in the history of their country.

In case someone asks you, the nine nations are: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and of course, the United States.

Argentina's Corpo de Infanteria de Marina, although it claims November 19, 1879,as its birthday, actually had its start in the earlier Infanteria de Marina, which was formed in March 1807, and has inherited the traditions of the Compania Artilleria de Mar, of the same period.

Originally, the present-day Infanteria de Marina was formed as a coastal defense force, armed with heavy artillery and augmented by mobile artillery. These mobile units weren't long in taking to the water, and in 1895, three years before Huntington's Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay, the Argentine Navy and Marine Corps conducted battalion landing exercises in southern waters.

When the Argentine Marines underwent a reorganization in 1947, it was only natural that they would look to the United States for a model for amphibious forces. A Marine colonel, now Lieutenant General James P. Berkeley, was ordered to Buenos Aires to act as schools adviser. At the same time, an Argentine Marine, Lieutenant Commander Guillermo Ferez Piton, who later became a rear admiral and Commandant of the Argentine Marine Corps, was enrolled in the Junior Course at Quantico.

Since then, many more officers and enlisted men have attended both Marine and Army schools in the U. S. Links have been established between the two Corps which go far beyond a purely professional association.

During the Cuban crisis, Argentina, as a member of the OAS, volunteered Marines and other forces to help out if they were needed.

Today's Argentine Marine Corps numbers approximately 260 officers, 900 noncommissioned personnel and about 7000 privates, who are all draftees. The operating forces of the Corps are made up of two brigade-sized units, a cold weather battalion, and nine garrison companies.

Marine Force Number One consists of a regiment assigned to the Buenos Aires Naval Arsenal and a battalion at the Rio Santiago Naval Station. Besides infantry, this unit has an antitank company and a company of 4.2 inch mortars.

Marine Force Number Two is an integrated brigade containing infantry, field artillery, shore party and engineers. In addition, the brigade has a regiment of antiaircraft artillery, a battalion of landing vehicles and a communications battalion.

Part of this force is quartered at Baterias, the main Marine Corps base, which is about 500 miles from Buenos Aires. The balance of the outfit is at the nearby Puerto Belgrano Naval Base.

The cold weather battalion receives special training near Rio Grande, in the territory of Tierra del Fuego.

The nine garrison companies are stationed at as many naval installations, where they perform the same general duties as our guard detachments. In addition, Marine sea-going details provide security for the capital ships of the Argentine Navy.

The rank structure of the Argentine Marines comes from the Navy, rather than the army. Enlisted uniforms, especially the blues, are similar to those of the U. S. Marines. Officers in garrison wear Navy uniforms of blue or slate gray, distinguished by a badge of crossed cannons.

Until recently, all officers were products of the Naval Academy, but now many come from the Marines' own Basic School. NCOs are all career enlisted men who receive a rigid threeyear training course before joining combat units.

Privates are all two-year draftees who are called to the colors in their 21st year, and who are assigned to the Marine Corps by lot.

Since draftees in other branches of the service are only required to serve from 12 to 14 months, assignment to the Marines is sometimes regarded as a major personal disaster. After only a short time in the Corps, however, this attitude changes. The Argentine Marines have never had a shortage of applicants for the few billets in the regular Marine Corps which are open every year.

In almost every phase of the training of the Infanteria de Marina, it's easy to spot the influence of the U. S. Marines. Every "cabo" (corporal) can recite by heart from the "Marine Rifle Squad," while the Corps is now in the process of changing from our "L" series table of organization to the "M" series. The weapons and equipment of the Argentine Marine are largely of U. S. origin, with only a few items produced in Argentina.

Although the Argentine Marines are equipped like their U. S. counterparts, there is one major difference. The Infanteria de Marina has no aviation branch other than forward air controllers. All aviation missions, including close air support and helicopter lifts, are provided by the Argentine Navy.

Brazil's Corpo de Fuzilieros Navais is both the oldest and the largest of the South American Marine Corps. Its history began when the Portuguese royal family fled Lisbon to escape capture by Napoleon's armies. The court arrived in Brazil on March 7, 1808, accompanied by almost 3000 members of the Royal Naval Brigade. The Fuzilieros Navais still celebrate the anniversary of their Corps on that date.

During its early history, the Royal Naval Brigade provided gunners and acted as landing forces for the Navy. Its first combat action on the American continent occurred in the conquest of French Guiana in January 1809, during the French-Portuguese War.

In later years, the Brazilian Marine Corps took part in all of Brazil's naval actions, under a number of titles. From 1808 until 1822, it was known as the Brigade Real da Marinha.

In 1822, Brazil became an independent kingdom, and the Marines were designated the Batalho de Artilharia da Marinha do Rio de Janeiro. Under this title, the Marines took part during the nation's struggle for independence; in the Pernambuco Revolution, and in the war against the La Plata States.

Between 1826 and 1852, Marines were known successively as the Imperial Brigada da Artilharia da Marine, the Corpo de Artilharia da Marina, Infanteria da Marinha and the Corps de Fuzilieros Navais.

During the Cisplatina War against Paraguay, and in the struggle to form the Brazilian Republic, Marines were known as the Batalhao Naval, a title they held until 1895. Between 1895 and 1932, the Marines changed their designations several times. During that period they were the Corpo de Infanteria da Marinha, Batalhao Naval, and the Regiments Naval. In 1932, the present title was adopted.

Today, the Corpo de Fuzilieros Navais, numbering approximately 300 officers and 10,000 enlisted men, exists as an integral part of the Brazilian Navy, within the Ministry of Marine of the United States of Brazil.

The mission of the Fuzilieros Navais, as defined by Brazilian law, consists of a number of assignments. They maintain a Fleet Marine Force of balanced arms, which is trained and equipped to participate in amphibious operations, take part in joint or combined operations, and to capture advanced bases or areas necessary to the furtherance of a naval campaign.

In addition, the Marines are required to provide the necessary garrisons to ensure the security of all types of naval bases, and the several naval districts: man and operate the Naval Prison; and to provide bands and musicians for ships and naval establishments.

In April 1963, the present organization of the Fuzilieros Navais was authorized. Marines are now reorganizing, activating and equipping units to comply with the new structure.

The Fleet Marine Force is in the process of forming a Marine Division, complete with infantry, artillery, engineers and motor transport. Force Troops is slated for a reconnaissance company, as well as an antiaircraft battery and a headquarters and service company.

The Fleet Marine Force units follow U. S. Marine tables of organization, tailored to fit the requirements of the Brazilian Marine Corps.

The security forces consist of nine Marine Regional Groups which range in strength from companies to full battalions. Located at important points in Brazil, they serve a dual role-one as a typical Marine barracks ; the other as an infantry force at the disposal of the district commandant.

These units are organized along the lines of the FMF elements in order to make it easier for them to operate alongside FMF units in the field.

The Brazilian Marines do not have a supply corps or supply system separate from the Navy's. Logistical requirements are established by the commandant and forwarded to the Chief of the Navy General Staff for inclusion in the overall Navy requirement. Procurement and central stocks are handled by the several technical bureaus of the Marine Corps.

Medical, dental, supply officers and chaplains come from the Navy, which assigns officers in these specialties to duty with the Corps. The Corps trains and provides its own hospitalmen, however.

Marine Corps personnel use the same rank titles as the Navy, although they have distinctive uniforms, emblems and service devices.

All enlisted members of the Brazilian Marine Corps are volunteers who enlist for three years, after meeting strict literacy and physical requirements. Following a standard three-month recruit training, they are sent to regular organizations. Specialists' training is only offered after a man has completed his recruit training and served for a specified length of time in service.

Marines of all ranks must graduate from prescribed courses and complete specified time in grade before they are eligible for promotion, even to PFC. Although Marines must be able to read and write before they enlist, all courses for promotion in each enlisted rank include instruction in Portuguese, Brazilian history, and Brazilian geography. This instruction is in addition to the purely military subjects, and is aimed at raising the educational level not only of the Marine Corps, but also of the country.

In order to augment their military schools and to train technicians, many Marines are selected for training at civilian technical schools, or receive on-the-job training at factories which produce equipment for the Marines.

A Marine must be selected for reenlistment in the Fuzilieros Navais. First-term reenlistment rates are deliberately restricted to about 60 per cent, in order to maintain a high professional standard. Reenlistment among the senior ranks is extremely high.

Officers in the Brazilian Marines spend a great deal of their time in the classroom. Every officer, except for limited duty officers, attends the Marine Corps Course at the Naval Academy. They enter the Academy as Marine candidates, and pursue a special Marine course, much of which has been adapted from the USMC's Basic School course.

After graduating from the Academy, Marine midshipmen undergo a threemonth Basic School course at the Marine Corps Training Center in Rio de Janeiro. Emphasis here is on field training.

All officers, when they reach captain's rank, are required to attend the Brazilian Army Staff College, which is organized to permit specialization in fields such as engineering, artillery, infantry or motor transport.

Majors and lieutenant colonels must attend the Naval War College, and, in addition to those courses which are mandatory for promotion, each officer must complete certain specified correspondence courses designed for Marines and offered by the Naval War College.

In many ways, Quantico has had a lasting effect on the Brazilian Marines. Marine instructors at the Naval War College use MCS lessons and exercises, for a high percentage of them are graduates of our schools. Many Brazilian Marines are currently enrolled in either Extension School courses, or with the Marine Corps Institute.

The annual training program of the Fuzileiros Navais is also patterned after ours. Field training exercises are conducted as amphibious maneuvers with elements of the Brazilian Navy. Their largest exercise to date has been of battalion size.

Members of the Reconnaissance Company, FMF, are qualified parachutists, with a percentage of additionally qualified UDT men. They conduct jump exercises from both Navy aircraft and with Brazilian Army units. This company hiked from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, a distance of about 750 miles, to take part in the inauguration of the country's new capital.

This particular hike in many ways is representative of the Fuzilieros Navais, because much attention is paid to physical fitness. Athletic field days are common events, and Marine teams are always in top spots in intra-Navy and Inter-Service athletic competition.

A Brazilian Marine in his camouflaged field uniform and 782 gear is hard to distinguish from a U. S. Marine. Although his combat uniform and individual equipment is Brazilian-made, it strongly resembles ours.

Their dress uniforms are more distinctive. The Winter service is dark blue, while they have a variety of Summer uniforms, including white, khakis, dress blues, and garrison uniforms which consist of red tunic and blue trousers.

The Infanterie de Marina of Chile places as much emphasis on coastal defense as it does on amphibious warfare. It's only natural, for Chile's long seacoast has been attacked many times since the Chilean Marines were formed in June, 1818. During Chile's two wars with Spain, and two with a PeruvianBolivian confederation, the Infanteria de Marina have performed handsomely in both roles.

Although the Chilean Marines only muster about 90 officers and 1800 men, the Corps is considered an elite group, and the esprit de corps is high.

The Marines get their personnel from two sources. Compulsory military service provides the bulk of the troops, while an apprentice school is the source for many of the Corps' career NCOs.

In Chile, all young men are required to serve a year's compulsory military training when they reach their 19th birthday. Depending on the needs of the service, they can select their branch. At the end of the year, those who are recommended for reenlistment must pass rigid physical and mental examinations before they are allowed to begin a career in the Marine Corps.

The other route to becoming a Marine is through the Apprentice School, which is open to boys of 16. During the two-year course, the apprentices get a formal education as well as a thorough grounding in military subjects. At the end of the two-year session, graduates are given a course in advanced military subjects, then selected men are sent to attend schools in the States. The apprentice school is so popular that there are always 800 to 900 applications for the 100 openings which are available each year.

As in many Latin American countries, schooling never ends for Chilean Marines. Each year, selected personnel are sent to the United States for special training. Enlisted men attend classes at MCRD, San Diego, at Camp Pendleton, and at the Cold Weather Training Center at Bridgeport, Calif. Officers are sent to most of the schools held at Quantico, as well as classes at Camp Lejeune and Parris Island.

As a result, any Spanish-speaking U. S. Marine would feel right at home in a Chilean Marine classroom. Both the subjects and the instructional material would be the same as in the States.

In order to be promoted, a man must pass a tough battery of tests. Anyone who isn't enrolled in a course of some kind or another is regarded as a time server who has a very bleak future in the Corps.

The operating forces of the Chilean Marines are concentrated in four mixed regiments made up of Marines, coast artillerymen, engineers, and antiaircraft personnel. One regiment is stationed in the north, near the Peruvian border; one is in the center, at Valparaiso; and another in the south. The fourth regiment is based in the extreme southern tip of Chile, near the Straits of Magellan.

In addition, Marines are assigned to security duties at Chilean naval bases.

The Chilean Marines have a ship's detachment which is probably unique. It is believed to be the only group of Marines in the world which is assigned to a sailing vessel. It's part of the complement of the Esmeralda, the square-rigged school ship of the Chilean Navy.

Besides providing security details for the ship, Marines aboard the Esmeralda have an additional assignment which dates back to the founding of the Chilean Navy.

In the early days, the crews of most Chilean men-of-war were foreign mercenaries who were well known for their reluctance to expose themselves to gunfire. The bow of a fighting ship was a particularly poor spot for a man who was allergic to powder smoke.

The headsails always drew special attention from enemy gunners, for they were vital to the ship's ability to maneuver. At the same time, the bowsprit, which carried the headsails, was often used as a bridge to launch boarding parties onto the decks of an enemy vessel. It was no place for a cautious working man.

Since the mercenaries weren't to be trusted with such a responsible position, the Marines were assigned to the bows of the ship. To this day, Chilean Marines man the headsails and bowsprit of the Esmeralda.

Colombia's Corpo de Infanteria de Marina is one of the oldest Marine units in South America. It was established during the War with Spain in 1811.

It's also the only such organization with both East and West Coast Marines. Although the major base is at Cartagena, on the Atlantic Coast, Buenaventura, on the Pacific side, is the Corps' second most important base.

Although there are only about 5000 Colombian Marines, they have duties which take them to each of the country's borders.

In addition to housing the Marine Corps Schools, Cartagena is also the home of a Marine coastal defense battalion which is the largest in the country. A second battalion is scattered along Colombia's southern border and specializes in jungle warfare.

Marines of the Magdalena River Force patrol and maintain order along the entire length of that important waterway.

The river patrols are in many ways unusual assignments for Marines. For thousands of miles on Colombia's interior borders, the Marine garrisons and Naval patrol boats are almost the only direct contact between the local citizens and the central government in Bogota.

Along the Magdalena, and on the Putumayo and Amazonas, in the south, Marines are policemen, mailmen and tax collectors, as well as defense forces.

None of the river posts could be called good duty. In every instance, they are located in tropical jungles, many miles from the nearest source of supply or support.

It sometimes takes weeks for replacements and supplies to reach Leiticia, on the Amazonas River. Materiel must come by boat down the Putumayo to the Amazonas, then back up river to Leiticia, which involves several days' steaming in Brazilian waters.

The river garrisons are considered hardship posts, so the tour of duty for them is normally only one year. In addition, the Colombian government pays a special bonus for service in the river garrisons. Despite the drawbacks of such duty, many Marines volunteer to extend their tours in the back country.

"Those are good places to save money, for there aren't many places to spend it," commented one officer.

Marines in Security Forces, Bogota, guard all the naval buildings and establishments in the capital, while at Baranquilla, Marines provide guards and military police for both the port and the naval base.

The Colombian Marines have no need for an intensive recruiting program, because the country has an effective system of compulsory military training. Virtually every physically fit young man is required to spend 18 months in one of the armed services. Of the men assigned to the Marines, from 25 to 30 per cent reenlist.

For Marines, nine months of their compulsory service is spent at the re- cruit depot at Buenaventura before assignment to a regular outfit. Men who are allowed to reenlist are certain to spend time attending schools at Cartagena before the end of their tour, because the Colombian Marines also lay great stress on advanced schooling for their career personnel.

The Ecuadorian Marine Corps is both the youngest and the smallest of all the South American Marine units, because it is now in its early forming stages. An Ecuadorian naval officer is now enrolled in Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, while the first group of personnel is undergoing their initial amphibious training in Ecuador.

Mexico's Infanteria de Marina is a 2200-man force which is primarily concerned with the defense of the country's naval bases. Although amphibious warfare is considered to be a secondary function of the Corps, it conducts landing exercises at regular intervals, using our techniques and doctrines which are modified to fit Mexico's needs.

Marine companies are to be found at Tampico, Vera Cruz, Isla del Carmen, and at Isla Mujeres, on the East coast of Mexico, and at Puerto Cortez, Guaymas, Manzanillo, Acapulco and Isla Socorro, on the west coast.

The Corps gets its personnel from several sources. Most officers are graduates of the Mexican Naval Academy, where they are enrolled in a special Marine course. The rest are ex-enlisted men who had to meet rigid qualifications before attending a one-year Officer Candidate School.

The Mexican Marines use both a recruiting program and compulsory military service to obtain their enlisted men. Men who enlist directly from civilian life generally plan to make careers of the service. Draftees, who enter after their 18th birthday, are only obliged to serve a one-year hitch.

The government has made a military career attractive. The pay scale compares favorably with the average national income; while the retirement benefits include full pay after 30 years' service, 60 per cent of base pay after 20 years, and a separation allowance for anyone who has served more than five and less than 20 years. Because there are more applicants than there are billets, Mexican Marines can afford to pick only the best qualified for career personnel.

As an amphibious force, the Infanteria de Marina is formed into battalions, armed only with infantry weapons. The basic rifle is the M2 carbine, while the heaviest arms in the battalion are 81-mm. mortars. Artillery support comes from the guns of the fleet, while naval aviation provides the needed close air support.

Although U.S. forces feel the carbine is too light a weapon to be issued to the infantry, Mexican forces take an opposing point of view. They feel that there is no point in buying a long-range rifle when modern infantry combat is essentially a close-range operation. The carbine and its light ammunition provide the Mexican Marine with a large amount of firepower, which is especially effective in close-in fighting

In years to come, no one will be able to pull the bit about "now, when I was in the old corps" on Captain Enrique Mecklenburg, of the Peruvian Marines. He's not only the first Peruvian Marine officer to attend the Marine Corps Schools, at Quantico, he's also the first Peruvian Marine! In 1958, when Peru formed her Marine Corps, Capt Mecklenburg, who was then a Navy officer, was the first man to volunteer for the new branch of service.

Although a part of the Navy's Artilleria Mobile, which is essentially a coast defense force, the Peruvian Marines are primarily infantrymen. The Corps now consists of two companies, with headquarters in Callao. Current plans call for the formation of a battalion as soon as troops can be trained. This is a long-term process, because the Marines insist on a high level of training for each recruit instead of trying to get a large number of men under arms.

Each Marine is a volunteer, and each must be a high school graduate. In addition, every volunteer must pass a rigorous physical examination before he can join the Corps. Although the Marines have extremely high standards, duty with the Corps is popular in Peru, and there are normally six volunteers for every upcoming vacancy.

A possible reason for the popularity of the Corps might lie in the recruit training. Peru sends her Marines to the Recruit Depot at San Diego, to attend boot camp. When they complete the course at San Diego, they go on to advanced schools at Camp Pendleton.

In addition to their amphibious training, which is closely patterned after that given to the U. S. Marines, the Peruvian Marines are responsible for the security of Peru's naval bases, as well as providing ship's detachments for the Navy's two cruisers.

Venezuela's 4000-man Infanteria de Marina is another relative newcomer to the business. Although a general order of 1938 provided for the formation of amphibious units similar to ship's landing parties, it wasn't until a reorganization in 1945 that the Marines were formally organized. At that time a battalion was formed, and the Venezuelan Marines began building their present organization.

The Corps has had a U. S. Marine adviser since 1946, and as a result, close ties have been formed between the Venezuelan and the United States Marines. Venezuelan officers attend the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico. and several groups of Marine enlisted men have undergone training at Parris Island. As a matter of course, the Venezuelans have developed the structure of their Marine Corps along U. S. Marine lines.

Essentially an infantry organization, the Marines have no heavy supporting arms. The 81-mm. mortar is their largest crew-served weapon, with the exception of a battery of 40-mm, self-propelled antiaircraft guns. Until recently the Corps was provided with Belgian-made weapons, but U. S. arms are now in the supply system.

The Corps has no recruiting offices, because Venezuela relies upon universal conscription to provide the necessary military manpower.

Men are drafted in their 19th year for a two-year period. They have no choice of the branch in which they'll serve because their assignments depend upon the needs of the service.

The Corps has no recruit depot. Instead, members of the twice-yearly influx of draftees are sent directly to a regular organization for their basic training.

The Marines have garrisons at several points, in order to provide security or important naval bases. One battalion is garrisoned at Maiquetia. near Caracas, which is also the site of the Marine Corps Schools. Another battalion is stationed at Caruparuno, while two companies are based at Punta Carbone. In addition, Marines are stationed at the main naval base at Puerto Cabello. where they perform both a security mission and take part in amphibious training.