Amphibious Assault brings back thoughts of Inchon, Korea

15 Sep 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

TUNISIA, Africa (September 15, 2000) - It was no accident that on the 50th anniversary of the Marine amphibious assault that changed everything, Capt. Kenneth Kassner and his men floated off the African coast in combat rubber reconnaissance rafts only slightly larger than queen-size mattresses.

In minutes the Golf Company Commander with Battalion Landing Team 2/2 would storm a Tunisian beachhead and lead his own amphibious assault. This assault would put the company in a position to protect the Battalion's left flank, and secure beach-landing sites for other follow-on elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).

On its surface, Kassner's mission was vastly different than the seizure of Wolmi-do, one of the islands that guarded the Inchon Harbor during the Korean War. His was a training mission, the beginning of Exercise Atlas Hinge, a bilateral training exercise between the 26th MEU(SOC) and the Tunisian Military.

However, the San Antonio, Texas native said he and his Marines couldn't help but feel a closeness to the Marines that stormed the island more than a decade before Kassner himself was even born.

"It caused us all to stop and think about what our brethren 50 years ago must have been thinking about," he said. "We of course knew we were going into a training mission, and that we were all coming back. They were wondering perhaps who was going to return back."

However, Kassner's link to the men who landed more than half a century ago goes much deeper than that. Had it not been for that nighttime assault, it is possible Kassner would never have found himself in that boat.

Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division landed on the Korean Island at 6:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., the island was secured and 108 North Korean Soldiers were dead. The Marines suffered 17 wounded. Later in the day, follow-on Marine forces arrived and by 1:30 a.m. the next day, the Marines had achieved all objectives.

Though 20 Marines lost their lives, one was missing and 174 were wounded, the assault was harrowed a major success. It's success, however, is best understood against the backdrop of the miserable failure of a similar attempt 35 years earlier on the peninsula of Gallipoli during World War I.

The land served as a major offensive point for the Dardanelles Straight, a waterway that had marked the graves of more than a few British and French warships. In April 1915, British and ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) troops landed on the peninsula to capture the guns along the strait.

Many units were massacred before their boats ever made it to the beaches. Those who made it ashore were stopped inland by rallying Turkish troops. After eight months of bloody, indecisive trench warfare, the British finally evacuated their beachheads, but not before losing 200,000 men over the course of the campaign.

Though the British did many things wrong on Gallipoli, to include poor ship-to-shore planning and a lack of adequate naval fire support, most military planners agreed that modern technology made amphibious assaults, especially during the day, impractical against defended shores.

However, the Marine Corps didn't agree. In the 1920s and 1930s a number of top Marine Corps officials, to include Commandant Gen. John A. Lejeune, saw a war with Japan that would require the Marine Corps to seize advanced bases for the Navy in the Pacific. After studying the failures of Gallipoli, and several German successes in 1917, the officers concluded that opposed amphibious assaults could be successful, given the proper planning. In 1934, the Marine Corps published the landmark Tentative Manual for Landing Operations, its first written doctrine on the subject and the basis for all American landings during World War II.

This doctrine led to several innovations in the amphibious assault, to include the invention if the Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT-1), the forerunner of today's Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV). Though the doctrine moved the Marine Corps to become the nation's, if not the world's, premiere amphibious assault force, some were still skeptical that it could remain effective as the world's technologies changed.

Then came one of the most decisive amphibious assaults in history: Inchon, Korea. The landing was everything Gallipoli was not. Naval gunfire support flew so close that Marines were often pelted with spent 20mm shell cases. The operation at Inchon would become a model for the Marine Corps' Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS), defining a strategy for amphibious operations suitable for all threat levels. The OMFTS calls for expeditionary forces, like the 26th MEU(SOC), to "maneuver rapidly at sea and then launch and over-the-horizon, air- and waterborne assault that strikes quickly and decisively at an enemy's critical vulnerabilities ashore."

Which is where Captain Kenneth Kassner and his Marines found themselves, launched from USS Austin for an over-the-horizon strike. In the spirit of Inchon, the Marines moved in with rapid silence, flanking their foreign counterparts and moving in so quickly that the service members manning the Tunisian gun position never had time to adjust their weapons. When Kassner's men came out from the bushes to the West, their barrels were still aimed toward the beach.

"The Tunisians were impressed," said Kassner. "They thought it was amazing that we just showed up out of nowhere."

Kassner said in his opinion, there was no better way to honor the 50th anniversary of the Inchon landing. There were no fancy cake-cuttings or special messages. Simply, they stormed a beach; they took their objective. Fifty years ago, a group of Marines did the same. Simply, they made history.