Catalogue


America's splendid little wars : a short history of US military engagements, 1975-1999 /
Peter A. Huchthausen.
imprint
New York : Viking, c2003.
description
xv, 254 p.
ISBN
0670032328 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Viking, c2003.
isbn
0670032328 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
4878867
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Captain Peter Huchthausen, U.S. Navy (retired), served as an analyst of the Soviet navy, a submarine expert, and a naval attache in Yugoslavia, Romania, and Moscow. His many tours of duty included serving as a watch officer during the blockade of Cuba in 1962 and as a patrol officer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in 1967. In addition to his writing, he is a consultant, most recently on the film K-19. He lives in Maine
BIH Author Biography
Captain Peter Huchthausen, U.S. Navy (retired), served as an analyst of the Soviet navy, a submarine expert, and a naval attache in Yugoslavia, Romania, and Moscow. His many tours of duty included serving as a watch officer during the blockade of Cuba in 1962 and as a patrol officer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in 1967. His books include K-19: The Widowmaker-The Secret Story of the Soviet Nuclear Submarine, Hostile Waters, and October Fury. In addition to his writing, he is a consultant, most recently on the film K-19. He lives in Maine.
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Introduction Since the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975, the United States government has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In some cases, the United States briefly invaded a country to protect or evacuate American and foreign noncombatants caught in volatile security situations. In other instances, U.S. forces intervened at the request of friendly nations and joined with allies to liberate occupied lands, to stop mass killing, and to thwart blatant violations of human rights. Until now, there has been no book that encompassed the full American military experience since 1975 in one volume or explored this period in relation to past conflicts and its larger impact on modern world history. There are books that address the individual conflicts and some that study American warfare of the 1990s in general, but this book focuses on each U.S. military engagement of the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century. In the first thirty years following the end of World War II, struggles in Greece, Korea, Berlin, Vietnam, and the Caribbean foiled American aspirations for peace in a seemingly never-ending global contest with Communism. In the decades after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, as the Communist sphere withered away, America, now the sole world military power, was plagued by other nasty conflicts. By the turn of the new millennium, it was clear that the Pax Americana had been as troubled as the Pax Britannica of the Victorian age and the Pax Romana of ancient times. The following chapters explore the underlying motivation for military intervention, which, in many cases, was peripheral to vital U.S. national interests. Each engagement, from the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez and her crew in the Gulf of Siam through the Iran hostage crisis and conflicts in Grenada, the Middle East, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, the Balkans, and finally Kosovo, the last American military operation of the twentieth century, is examined in a purely historical context. Sometimes American forces were successful; on occasion they merely interrupted the ugly work of dictators. In a few cases, the U.S. government initiated action on humanitarian grounds only after the world media deluged the public with wrenching coverage of sufferingooften in countries of little obvious relevance to U.S. national interests. One largely unknown military action in 1991 was an exceptional, bloodless success. Called Operation Eastern Exit, this extraordinary evacuation of 281 American and foreign personnel from Mogadishu, Somalia, was a joint navy and marine operation that involved extreme-range helicopter flights and air-to-air refuelings. Other engagements, like Operation Desert Storm in 1991, were full-scale wars, albeit brief, that Americans fought with a broad coalition of allies, using both conventional and special operations forces. The United States employed limited conventional and semi'special operations forces during the 1991 and 1993 conflicts in Somalia. In 1987, convoying operations in the course of the Iran-Iraq War were conducted primarily by naval forces. In the 1990s, America and NATO intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop the blatant slaughter of innocent civilians by Balkan dictators and their marauding ethnic clans. Tactical air operations dominated the fighting in these more recent conflicts and presented their own set of unique operational challenges and strategic solutions. Each military engagement in this history demonstrates the progression of a blend of battlefield hardware, improved communications, and command-and-control technologies. This melding has led to both great success, as in Kuwait, and heavy loss of life for little purpose, as in Somalia. Across the breadth of the United States, in places large and small, subtle exhibits remind us of the men and women who participated in one or more of the jarring post-Vietnam confro
Flap Copy
Since the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, America has committed its forces to more than a dozen military operations. America's Splendid Little Wars shows how the United States-now the world's sole remaining superpower-has enforced the global "Pax Americana" by honing the military's capability to strike desired targets, and also by making sophisticated use of the media and public sentiment. From the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam to the 1999 "relief intervention" in Kosovo, distinguished author and former U.S. naval captain Peter Huchthausen presents an intimate history of each military engagement through eyewitness accounts, thorough research, and his unique insider perspective as an intelligence expert. Huchthausen's fresh analysis of the Iran hostage rescue attempt, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, and the missions in Somalia and Bosnia lucidly demonstrates the evolution of battlefield hardware, communications, and command and control technologies. He explores as well the impact on U.S. policy and popular perceptions, and the underlying motivations for these interventions, which were often peripheral to vital U.S. national interests. This unique and expertly told history reveals the struggles and successes that created America's new military.
First Chapter
Introduction
Since the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975, the United States government has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In some cases, the United States briefly invaded a country to protect or evacuate American and foreign noncombatants caught in volatile security situations. In other instances, U.S. forces intervened at the request of friendly nations and joined with allies to liberate occupied lands, to stop mass killing, and to thwart blatant violations of human rights. Until now, there has been no book that encompassed the full American military experience since 1975 in one volume or explored this period in relation to past conflicts and its larger impact on modern world history. There are books that address the individual conflicts and some that study American warfare of the 1990s in general, but this book focuses on each U.S. military engagement of the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century.

In the first thirty years following the end of World War II, struggles in Greece, Korea, Berlin, Vietnam, and the Caribbean foiled American aspirations for peace in a seemingly never-ending global contest with Communism. In the decades after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, as the Communist sphere withered away, America, now the sole world military power, was plagued by other nasty conflicts. By the turn of the new millennium, it was clear that the Pax Americana had been as troubled as the Pax Britannica of the Victorian age and the Pax Romana of ancient times.

The following chapters explore the underlying motivation for military intervention, which, in many cases, was peripheral to vital U.S. national interests. Each engagement, from the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez and her crew in the Gulf of Siam through the Iran hostage crisis and conflicts in Grenada, the Middle East, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, the Balkans, and finally Kosovo, the last American military operation of the twentieth century, is examined in a purely historical context. Sometimes American forces were successful; on occasion they merely interrupted the ugly work of dictators. In a few cases, the U.S. government initiated action on humanitarian grounds only after the world media deluged the public with wrenching coverage of sufferingóoften in countries of little obvious relevance to U.S. national interests. One largely unknown military action in 1991 was an exceptional, bloodless success. Called Operation Eastern Exit, this extraordinary evacuation of 281 American and foreign personnel from Mogadishu, Somalia, was a joint navy and marine operation that involved extreme-range helicopter flights and air-to-air refuelings. Other engagements, like Operation Desert Storm in 1991, were full-scale wars, albeit brief, that Americans fought with a broad coalition of allies, using both conventional and special operations forces. The United States employed limited conventional and semiñspecial operations forces during the 1991 and 1993 conflicts in Somalia. In 1987, convoying operations in the course of the Iran-Iraq War were conducted primarily by naval forces. In the 1990s, America and NATO intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop the blatant slaughter of innocent civilians by Balkan dictators and their marauding ethnic clans. Tactical air operations dominated the fighting in these more recent conflicts and presented their own set of unique operational challenges and strategic solutions. Each military engagement in this history demonstrates the progression of a blend of battlefield hardware, improved communications, and command-and-control technologies. This melding has led to both great success, as in Kuwait, and heavy loss of life for little purpose, as in Somalia.

Across the breadth of the United States, in places large and small, subtle exhibits remind us of the men and women who participated in one or more of the jarring post-Vietnam confrontations. Small glass cases display military awards, and aging photographs of sons and daughters in uniform dot the dusty corners of diners, shops, and homes, reminding families of their offspringís service.

In an 1898 letter to Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt following the fall of Santiago, Cuba, U.S. Ambassador John Milton Hay used the phrase ìsplendid little warî to refer to the bloody victories of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. military encounters from 1975 to 1999 were neither splendid nor small. Instead, the personal adventures of the blood-caked veterans described in these pages more accurately reflect the words of the duke of Wellington in 1815: ì[A] great country can have no such thing as a little war.î Because most of these veterans do not speak in public about their battle experiences, it is necessary to record the details of these events so that neither the participants nor their descendants forget what they achieved.

CHAPTER 1

Recovering SS Mayaguez and the Fight on Koh Tang

The Gulf of Siam, May 12ñ15, 1975
After Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was overthrown as head of state on March 18, 1970, North Vietnamese soldiers rampaged throughout the country. Another war had erupted as a side show to the Vietnam conflict, one in which Sihanoukís followers, allied with Hanoi, and the Cambodian Communists, called the Khmer Rouge, fought the forces of U.S.-backed Lon Nol, who was the former defense minister and one of Sihanoukís aides. By May 1975 Lon Nol had been defeated, and the country was on the brink of a long period of bloody internal upheaval. What followed was the last armed incident of post-Vietnam disengagement and a test of American resolve to use force to protect its interests abroad. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, new limitations were placed on the U.S. president requiring him to consult with the Congress before committing Americans to combat. The seizing of the Mayaguez by Khmer Rouge forces, though never proved to have been a deliberate act sanctioned by the Cambodian government, was clearly the first trial of Americaís fresh global thinking. This incident would not only take on a magnitude of importance far out of proportion with the value of the ship or the number of men involved but also cast its shadow over Americaís future military encounters.

On May 12, 1975, SS Mayaguez, an ungainly vessel with steel containers piled two high and six abreast, owned by Sea-Land Service and flying the American flag, steamed peacefully across the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Siam, some fifty miles off the Cambodian coast. It was May 12, 1975, just two weeks after American armed forces had closed the long and painful chapter of the struggle in Southeast Asia by evacuating the last Americans from Cambodia and Vietnam. As sailors watched through the pilothouse window on that Monday afternoon, a tiny smudge on the horizon transformed slowly into the distinct outline of a small craft speeding directly toward the ship. The boat kept closing in from Poulo Wai, a small group of islands lying fifteen miles to port of the Mayaguez as she steered northward, bound for Sattahip, Thailand, from Hong Kong. When what the crew thought was a fast-moving fishing boat morphed into a stub-nosed gray gunboat flying a red flag, the deck watch immediately called the master of the Mayaguez, Captain Charles T. Miller.

Ironically, what Captain Miller saw was an American-built Swift boat manned by Khmer Rouge soldiers wearing the familiar black pajamas all too recognizable to Americans. The fifty-foot, nineteen-ton coastal and river patrol boat had been used extensively in Vietnam by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. As it neared the 450-foot-long Mayaguez, the small craft ripped off a burst of .50-caliber machine-gun fire across the container shipís bow, followed shortly by a rocket-propelled grenade. This was the third attack on international shipping in the Gulf of Siam by armed Cambodian forces in the past two weeks: A South Korean ship had been fired on and chased, and a Panamanian ship had been seized and released after twenty-four hours.

Within minutes, as Captain Miller watched from his bridge, the patrol craft swung parallel to the Mayaguez and sent a second rocket streaking across the freighterís bow. Miller stopped his engines. By 2:20 p.m. a boarding party of seven barefoot men carrying Chinese AK-47 assault rifles and a rocket launcher had taken over the ship. The leader of the group was a slender man in his mid-thirties who carried a machine gun and a portable radio. He spoke no English. After inspecting the bridge, he beckoned Captain Miller into the pilothouse. Pointing to a local chart, the Khmer drew an anchor at a point behind the inner atoll of the Poulo Wai Islands. Captain Miller tried to stall, claiming the depth was inadequate, but finally steamed his ship ahead at one-third speed to the indicated spot. Curious about the shipís sudden change of course and speed, Third Mate Dave English appeared on the bridge. After briefly assessing the situation, he withdrew without being noticed and made his way quickly to the radio shack. Once inside English ordered the radio operator to send an emergency signal. Although frightened that the two might be discovered by the Cambodian soldiers, the operator made several attempts on the International Distress Frequency band telegraph key but received no responses. Finally English used the single sideband high-frequency radio voice distress net to call in the Mayday, give their position, describe the situation, and ask that the message be passed to U.S. authorities. After some initial confusion the message was answered by someone who spoke English. He repeated back their positionó9 degrees 48 minutes north latitude, 102 degrees 53 minutes east longitude, about seven miles southeast of the Poulo Wai Islandsóand said that he would forward their distress signal. The Mayday had been received by the Delta Exploration Company in Djakarta, Indonesia, which passed it to the U.S. embassy in Djakarta, which then relayed the message to Washington.

After Captain Miller anchored the Mayaguez a mile north of Koh Tang as ordered, twenty-four hours passed during which the crisis took root in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, who read the distress message at the same time as Washington, immediately ordered a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion, a long-range patrol aircraft, to fly to the area. It took off from Cubi Point in the Philippines and arrived over the Mayaguez the same night at 10:30 local time. The P-3 dropped flares and identified the ship in a contact report to the Naval Air Station Cubi operations center. During the next four days the ship was kept under constant surveillance by navy aircraft.

The wheels of diplomatic machinery began to turn almost immediately after the first distress message had been received in Washington. At 7:40 a.m., slightly more than six hours after the Mayaguez had transmitted her distress message, Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, deputy assistant for National Security Affairs, informed President Gerald Ford of the incident. Ford convened a National Security Council (NSC) meeting at noon. Among those present was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

After the session, the White House released a statement calling the incident an act of piracy, and stating that the United States would hold the Cambodian government accountable. The statement further hinted that the United States might retaliate with armed force if the crew and ship were not soon released. President Ford instructed Henry Kissinger to appeal to the Peopleís Republic of China in Peking through George Bush, the senior U.S. liaison chief. Bush was to ask the Chinese to persuade the Cambodian government to release the ship and crewmen immediately. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll summoned Huang Chen, the chief of the Chinese Liaison Office in Washington, to the State Department, gave him the same message, and asked him to relay it forthwith to Phnom Penh.

On May 13, several flights of U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers took off from bases in Thailand and appeared over the Mayaguez. The aircraft circled overhead and strafed in front of and around the containership in a futile effort to prevent the Cambodians from removing the crew and complicating matters by moving the ship. In desperation, the Cambodians on board returned fire with small arms. Following the strafing, four of the armed Cambodian guards, by now somewhat shaken, hustled the Mayaguez crew off the ship in two groups onto two small fishing boats and took them toward Koh Tang Island. Instead of landing on the island, however, they moored the boats in a nest with two other boats full of armed Cambodians, just off the islandís northern shore. After spending a sleepless night at the mooring, the American crewmen watched as F-4s again buzzed the Mayaguez in a further attempt to persuade the Cambodians not to move the ship or crewmen from the area. In the meantime, U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft reported that the captured crewmen had been taken to the island of Koh Tang.

In rapid response to the navy report, and assuming that the crew were being taken ashore, President Ford ordered a marine assault on the island and air strikes to be launched against targets on mainland Cambodia.

In reality, the two fishing boats carrying the crew of the Mayaguez were still moored off the island. Early the next morning one boat was observed heading for the Cambodian mainland port of Kompong Som. When the navy P-3 aircraft approached the single fishing craft at low level as it chugged the fifty miles northeast to the mainland, the airmen spotted Caucasians on board, and they reported that these men may be some of the American hostages. Because the second fishing boat had not left for the mainland, the impression continued that some of the crewmen had been taken ashore on Koh Tang. Unfortunately, this assumption proved incorrectóthe entire crew had left Koh Tang.

More U.S. jets buzzed the small boat with the Mayaguez crewmen and their Cambodian guards as it continued toward the mainland. The airplanes fired into the water around its hull, trying to make it reverse course, fearing that the Americans would be dispersed on the mainland, further complicating a rescue. Aircraft rockets slightly wounded several of the Mayaguez crewmen, while their terrified captors hid belowdecks. Despite the attack, the fishing boat arrived in Kompong Som, and Captain Miller and all thirty-nine crewmen were put ashore on Rong Sam Lem, an island inside the harbor. They were kept there for some hours, their fate apparently in the hands of a local Khmer Rouge commander.

Meanwhile, some twelve hundred miles to the north, U.S. Navy Commander John Michael Rodgers, commanding officer of the guided missile destroyer USS Henry B. Wilson, was piloting his ship out of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where he and his crew had spent three days relaxing. The visit to Kaohsiung had followed the emotional days spent evacuating the last Americans and thousands of loyal South Vietnamese from the beleaguered capital, Saigon, two weeks earlier. It had been a draining experience for the men of the Wilson, and Rodgers had let his crew choose their favorite liberty port.

USS Wilson, Rodgersís fourth command at sea, had gained a reputation as one of the most efficient ships in the Seventh Fleet. During the Saigon evacuation, he had been ordered around to the mouth of the Rung Sat River near Vung Tau at Cape Saint Jacques. His mission was to find and escort a convoy of tugs towing large steel barges filled with fleeing Vietnamese. Off Vung Tau, Rodgers saw two sets of radar contacts going south in the narrow canals from Saigon into the Rung Sat. The contacts were two American- manned tugs operated by contract engineers. As the tows passed close to the shore at Vung Tau they came under heavy fire from the bank, presumably from Communist forces. While some Vietnamese aboard the crowded barges returned fire with small arms, Rodgers saw the danger, approached the coastline, and began to suppress the shore fire with his five-inch guns. ìThat worked for a while,î said Rodgers, a no-nonsense New Englander, ìuntil I observed the tugs had slipped their tows and begun to race away to safety, leaving the barges, crowded with thousands of hapless Vietnamese, stranded and still under fire from the shoreline. I grew very angry.î Without awaiting orders, Rodgers quickly demonstrated his character. He steamed alongside the lead tug and trained his forward five-inch gun on it, then radioed the skipper via the International Distress Frequency. A harried first mate answered. ìTell your master,î said Rodgers, ìto reconnect your tow immediately, or I will blow you out of the water.î After a short pause, another voice from the tug came over the radio: ìRight away, Captain.î

As the Wilson passed the sea buoy heading out of Kaohsiung, Rodgers retired to his sea cabin. He switched on the radio to the BBC and heard the news announcer give details of an act of piracy: An American merchant ship had been boarded and detained by the Khmer Rouge off the island of Koh Tang in the Gulf of Siam. Rodgers returned immediately to the bridge navigation plot and quickly laid out a rough track to Koh Tang. Without waiting for orders, Rodgers sent a brief message to his immediate tactical commander and to the commander of the Seventh Fleet: ìUnless otherwise directed, am proceeding at 33 knots to Koh Tang island to render assistance. Estimated time of arrival forty-eight hours, request tanker enroute.î (The phrase ìunless otherwise directedî is used traditionally in the navy by a junior to pry a timely response for his action from his senior commanders.) The Wilson commenced a two-day full-power run toward the scene of the action, while Rodgers and his men anticipated a fight. They would arrive off Koh Tang at 7:00 a.m. on May 15, just after a second U.S. Navy ship, the frigate USS Harold E. Holt, arrived from Subic Bay.

As the Wilson steamed south, navy officials diverted the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea from Indonesian waters where she was heading for Australia to participate in a commemoration of the Battle of Coral Sea. As the carrier raced north toward Cambodia she was ordered by President Ford to launch air attacks against a naval base and fuel dumps on mainland Cambodia. While these strikes were under way, on May 15, navy and air force fighters engaged and sank at least half a dozen Khymer patrol boats along the coast.

While the air strikes were in progress, a contingent of marines and air force personnel led by Lieutenant Colonel Randall W. Austin, commander of the Second Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment, prepared to land on Koh Tang to seize, occupy, and defend the island. Their specific tasks were to search for the crew of the Mayaguez and to deny the use of the island as a base of fire that could interfere with the recapture of the containership. The president ordered the attack before receiving the navy report that part of the crew may have been taken toward the Cambodian mainland.

The assault on the islandówhich would last seventy-eight hoursówas being pulled together quickly, and the specific intelligence to help prepare the marines was scanty. Lacking concrete detailed information on the strength and disposition of Cambodian forces on the island, the Intelligence Center Pacific (IPAC), located in Hawaii, had estimated that possibly one hundred to two hundred Khmer Rouge infantry, called Khmer Kraham, with small arms supported by heavy weapons, might be present on the north end of the island. The estimate was nearly correct numerically but was unfortunately vague regarding their specific location, their disposition, and the status of entrenchment on the island. There was no mention of the existence of permanent, bunkered emplacements of heavy weapons or antiaircraft positions on the island. This was to prove costly to the 179- man marine force that landed in the first wave.

During the brief hours before the planned assault, the marine commander of the landing force and one staff officer made a single hurried reconnaissance flight over the island. They noted it was approximately five miles long and covered with jungle canopy; a cleared path ran through the jungle across its narrow northern neck. Although the marines successfully completed their reconnaissance flight, aerial photographs of the island were not provided in time for a thorough study of the defenses. Some photographs were brought out to the airfield and shown to Captain James Davis, the G Company commander who was to lead the blocking platoon of his company, as he stood on the dark runway just moments before boarding his helicopter. When viewed by flashlight, these images confirmed that there were fixed bunkers and open heavy-caliber gun pits on the northern part of the island, but their locations were not exact. It proved too late to modify the planned assault.

The Second Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment was scheduled to land by Seventh Air Force HH-53 and CH-53 helicopters in two waves, four and a half hours apart. They flew from U Tapao, Thailand, 195 nautical miles from Koh Tang. The plan called for the first wave, one reinforced platoon of G Company with Captain Davis, to land on the west coast of the island and the remainder of the company, led by battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Austin, to land simultaneously on the east side. The two groups would then converge toward the center of the island, clearing a corridor across, sweeping the northern tip, then taking a hill in the south that was the highest point of the island. As the assault on the island began, another company of marines from the First Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment would board and retake the Mayaguez, which remained at anchor off the northeast tip of the island, from the decks of USS Harold E. Holt. A second wave of marines would follow four and a half hours lateróthe time required to shuttle more marines from Thailand and reinforce the marines on both sides of the island.

At 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 15, the 227-man assault team, flying in eleven helicopters, swooped south from Thailand. Three would divert to retake the containership, and the remaining eight would attack the island. Forty-eight marines and twelve navy men rappelled down ropes onto the deck of the Holt from three air force HH- 53 helicopters. The frigate then moored alongside the Maya-guez, and the marines crossed to retake the containership without a fight.

As 179 marines from Captain Davisís company began the attack on the island supported by air force fighter-bombers, they immediately ran into heavy resistance. During the storming of the east side of the island, where three platoons and the battalion command group were to land, two helicopters were immediately hit by heavy-caliber ground fire from bunkered positions. One helicopter burst into flames and went down in the water, killing seven marines, two navy corpsmen, and the air force copilot; three more men died in the surf while the remaining thirteen swam out to sea and were rescued by the USS Henry B. Wilson four hours later. One of the marine swimmers used his survival radio to direct air force fighter-bombers to targets on the island while treading water in the offshore seas. A second helicopter managed to land on the east side of the island despite having its tail destroyed. The twenty marines and four air force men it carried disembarked, formed a perimeter in the trees along the beach, and held out under intense fire for the remainder of the day.

More helicopters from the first wave tried repeatedly to land their marines on the eastern side of the island but came under heavy automatic weapons fire. That landing area turned out to be the most heavily defended, with gun pits and bunkers located directly on the beach. By 6:10 a.m. there were only thirty marines ashore of the planned ninety from the first wave, and after repeated attempts to reinforce those on the eastern shore, the additional helicopters were driven off by intense fire. Two of the eastern first-wave helicopters diverted to the west shore and landed the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Austin, and twenty-nine men at a random point there. At first this group was pinned down on a small beach one kilometer to the south of the blocking platoonís planned position on the west side of the island. They attempted to fight their way north, where other marines were expected to land.

The helicopter assault on the islandís west beach by the single blocking platoon led by Captain Davis began at 6:30 a.m. when four helicopters approached from the northwest and tried to land but encountered intense heavy fire from machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades. The first helicopter from this group was shot down after its marines disembarked and landed in the water; the four crewmen were killed. The second, with Captain Davis aboard, was severely damaged, aborted its landing, and returned to Thailand. The third helicopter successfully landed the remainder of the blocking platoon. The fourth was driven off and withdrew, awaiting clearance to try again to land its marines. Austinís group, which had diverted to the west side, then fought its way north against stiff opposition and joined the main group in the west, expanding their number to eighty-two men.

Three helicopters had gone down, two on the eastern side and one in the water on the west side, while two others limped back to base badly damaged, all the marines, including the company commander, still aboard. All but one of the eight helicopters bringing in the first wave of marines to the island were destroyed or damaged. That meant only five helicopters were available to bring in the 127 marines for the second wave. The marines on the east side of the island had been pinned down immediately and separated into two groups. After the fiercely opposed landing, the marines fought a fourteen-hour pitched battle against more than one hundred well-disciplined Khmer Rouge infantry.

At 7:00 a.m. USS Henry B. Wilson sailed into radio range of the air force officer acting as the on-scene commander located on board the Airborne Battlefield Command, Control, and Communications EC-130 Hercules aircraft flying over the island. Captain Rodgers reported that he had arrived to render assistance. He was amazed when the airborne commander told him to orbit at ten thousand feet and await instructions. After gently explaining that he would have to confine his altitude to sea level because of the restraints of gravity, Rodgers steered close to the eastern side of Koh Tang and at 7:20 observed heavy firing ashore. The Wilson crew sighted the downed helicopters and detected round spheres, which, Rodgers said, ìappeared to be coconuts in the water off the island.î Suddenly realizing that the coconuts were instead the helmets of helicopter flight crewmen, Rodgers sent the shipís motor whaleboat and his captainís gig, well armed with machine guns and small arms, to haul the surviving helicopter crews from the waters near the beach. They attracted intense fire from the Khmer Rouge forces.

Air force fighter-bombers from bases in Thailand attempted to support the marines during their fight on the island, but their air-control team on the ground had been separated in the landings and several team members were killed. As a consequence, overall air support was makeshift and spotty, although Rodgersís small boat crews provided some accurate guidance to the pilots. Several A-7 bombers also directed other aircraft in supporting strikes.

For reasons unknown to this day, but probably because of the initial air strikes on the mainland, the Khmer Rouge suddenly released the Mayaguez crew in the midst of the fighting, sending them out from Kompong Som in a commandeered Thai fishing boat. Captain Rodgers received a report from an orbiting P-3 aircraft that a small gunboat was approaching from Kompong Som. Given permission to close, engage, and destroy the gunboat, Rodgers turned the Wilson toward the approaching boat and bore down on it at twenty-five knots, preparing his forward five-inch gun mount to take the boat under fire. Fortunately, a gunnerís mate perched aloft saw the craft through the powerful optics of the gunfire director and noticed it was a fishing boat. He then reported that he saw Caucasian faces aboard. Rodgers held his fire, and by 10:00 a.m. the entire crew was safely in his hands.

After Captain Miller and his men were safely on board the Wilson, Miller told Rodgers that he had promised the Cambodians who released them that, upon reaching U.S. forces, he would ask that further air attacks against the mainland and Koh Tang be called off. Rodgers immediately reported the request in a message to his superiors, as he and the merchant skipper looked aloft to see the sky alive with aircraft from the USS Coral Sea heading directly for Kompong Som. It was too late to call back the next strikes. Miller shrugged: ìI tried.î

With the Mayaguez crewmen safely aboard the Wilson, President Ford ordered the Marines on Koh Tang, who had been fighting for more than twelve hours, to disengage and withdraw from the island. Rapid communications with Washington almost spelled tragedy for the beleaguered marines when five more helicopters flying south from Thailand, bringing the badly needed reinforcements, complied with the presidentís order to withdraw and turned back. These helicopters reversed course a second time at the furious insistence of Lieutenant Colonel Austin, who was by now leading the combined force of the two groups on the island. The fighting on Koh Tang had become so intense that the relief troops were unquestionably needed to protect the withdrawal of their comrades.

Four of the five helicopters carrying the second wave landed one hundred more marines. The fifth helicopter tried to pick up the twenty-four men trapped on the eastern beach, but it was heavily damaged and returned to Thailand. At that point there were 225 U.S. troops on the island. For eight more hours after the order was given to disengage, the marines continued to fight against more than a full battalion of Khmer infantry supported by a heavy-weapons company. As the ground fighting continued, sailors in the Wilsonís whaleboat continued to support the marines with .50-caliber machine-gun fire. Air force fighter-bombers flew over the island before dark to assist the marines, but their pilots were unable to see them through the jungle. Meanwhile, the frigate Harold E. Holt was towing the Mayaguez clear of the action.

Just after dark, at 6:10 p.m., air force pilots made another attempt to rescue the marines. Three helicopters landed on the east side of the island in the face of heavy ground fire. A small covering infantry force landed to protect the helicopters, while the stranded marines scrambled aboard. Helicopter crews stood in the cargo bay firing their GAU-5 mini-guns with one hand and pulling marines aboard with the other.

The final effort on the ground was the withdrawal of the larger group from the west beach. Thirty marines were still heavily engaged on the southern flank of the west beach with Lieutenant Colonel Austin in command. Twenty-seven fought their way onto the last helicopter, which had set down on the narrow beach with its tailgate down facing the island. Air crewman Technical Sergeant Wayne Fisk charged out of the last CH-53 into a hail of automatic weapons fire to take one last look for any remaining men. He found two young marines still firing into the tree line. Fisk sent them to the helicopter and continued to search for more of the missing. Fisk and a second marine barely made it back to the helicopterís rear door while being pursued by Khmer Rouge soldiers. As the helicopter lifted off, the ramp suddenly released, in a terrible moment, causing the last men to begin tumbling out the back. They were saved from falling from the helicopter by the other marines, including Captain Davis, who formed a human chain to hoist the dangling men from the rear door.

After the chaotic but largely successful withdrawal, there was a frantic head count of marines. As those pulled out earlier had been taken to various ships and air bases, the count was prolonged and confused. Eventually the battalion commander determined that three marines were unaccounted for, probably left behind in the hasty departure. The three missing were part of a machine-gun team from E Company that had landed in the second wave. They were last seen by another marine who recalled passing them ammunition during the hasty retreat before the last helicopter departed. Twenty-five years later, Cambodian veterans of the action told western researchers that all three marines left behind had been killed. Over the years, American journalist-researchers who revisited the scene found evidence on the island that the three remaining marines had resisted until the last, although their remains have still not been positively identified.1

Cambodian forces engaged during the fight included approximately twelve patrol boats and at least one Cambodian battalion of Khmer Kraham infantry. Losses in the action included a Khmer base and oil-storage facility destroyed, eight or ten patrol boats sunk, and about one hundred Khmer infantry killed or wounded. U.S. casualties were eighteen killed and fifty wounded.

The reaction in Washington to the hijacking of Mayaguez reinforces the view that senior statesmen like Secretary of State Kissinger, tempered by the many years of cold war, had a tendency to relate lesser regional events to the larger global superpower competition. In this case, Kissinger and the National Security Council aides hastened to make the point that the United States could still act forcibly despite the fall of Saigon two weeks earlier. They were determined not to suffer another USS Pueblo incident.2 Using this reasoning, Kissinger persuaded President Ford to order immediate air strikes against Kompong Som and to assault Koh Tang Island without waiting for diplomatic measures to secure the release of the Mayaguez crew. We now know from information from the Cambodians that the crew was in the process of being released as the air strikes and island assault were under way, unbeknownst to the authorities in Washington.

After an analysis of Khmer communications intercepted by air force intelligence, it became apparent that the seizure of the Mayaguez might have been the deed of a local commander and not an official government act. President Ford subsequently canceled additional B-52 strikes he had previously ordered to launch from Guam to hit Cambodian targets on the mainland. It was nevertheless too late to call back the navy air strikes from the Coral Sea, which continued even after the Mayaguez crew was safely aboard the Wilson.

After the fight was over and the Mayaguez crew recovered, some criticized the United States for reacting hastily with excessive force. However, this incident was not a complex political crisis that called for a measured response. Since no response was ever received from the Cambodian government through diplomatic channels, the seizure was considered a brazen deed that validated a rapid and forceful response. While twentieth- century piracy certainly did not cease with the recapture and rescue of the Mayaguez crew, no more American-flagged ships have been seized by pirates since.

Militarily, the Mayaguez rescue and the fight on Koh Tang were important events, and successfully demonstrated that the United States could take swift and decisive action. It is clear that the rapid application of land- and carrier-based air power caused the Cambodians to change whatever plans they had in store for the captured American ship and crew. However, the precise relationship between the Cambodian government and those who conducted the seizure is still uncertain. The successful outcome of the Mayaguez rescue mission, despite its high cost in casualtiesómore killed and wounded than the number of crew originally capturedówas the beginning of a slow process to reassert U.S. military prestige after it had reached its nadir in Vietnam. Not all of the U.S. rescue attempts that followed would be as successful.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-05-26:
The title references the 1898 U.S. bombardment and invasion of Cuba (which gained the U.S. Guantanamo Bay), summed up by then Secretary of State-to-be John Hay as a "splendid little war." From the perspective of achieving military objectives, recent "small" U.S. actions have been a decidedly mixed bag, with Desert Shield, Desert Storm and the Vietnam-era Mayaguez incident in the "win" column, and the Iranian hostage rescue, peacekeeping in Beirut and the humanitarian intervention in Somalia in the "loss." In the latter cases, Huchthausen (October Fury) shows, inter-service rivalries, inadequate forces or failure to understand the local political situation and the motives of opponents played decisive roles. In between lay cases such as Grenada, where the intervention was successful but costly as a result of every service trying to get a piece of the pie, and Kosovo, where U.S. air attacks were met with civilians used as shields. For Huchthausen, a retired naval officer who writes with great respect for the American fighting man and woman but somewhat less so for those who give them their objectives and limitations, the most unequivocal and least publicized success of the last 30 years was the relative protection U.S. air power offered the Kurds in the wake of the Gulf War. With a solid bibliography, this popular account will serve for a quick brushup of on-the-ground events, if not for political analysis of their causes and repercussions. (July 24) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2003-07-01:
Huchthausen is a retired navy captain and author whose previous books include October Fury and K-19: The Widowmaker. (He was a consultant on the film K-19.) His new book is a review of America's conflicts since the fall of Saigon in 1975. Each of the 15 chronologically arranged conflicts has its own chapter, and they are also grouped by presidential administration, with the author demonstrating how U.S. foreign policy changed during each administration. The author does an excellent job of describing the circumstances surrounding the different conflicts, including eyewitness testimony and solid research to tell each story. While this book is not intended as an in-depth account of every conflict, Huchthausen succeeds admirably in his coverage of these "little wars." Unfortunately, the book ends in 2000, leaving off any discussion of subsequent American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless, this book should appeal to subject specialists and casual readers alike. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Mark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ., GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2004-03-01:
The title of the book is satirical because many of the US military engagements since the end of the Vietnam War were neither small nor splendid. Huchthausen, a retired Navy analyst and author of several books including K-19: The Widowmaker--The Secret Story of the Soviet Nuclear Submarine (2002), from which a movie was made, produces short overviews of 15 engagements. The essays are brief, factual, and informative. Although the author is not analytical and provides minimal commentary, most entries do include a short assessment of the engagement. In a cursory two-page conclusion, Huchthausen intones that moral indignation is not a substitute for an adroit foreign policy, and the failures in interventions such as the Iran hostage rescue, the Beirut intervention, and the Mogadishu incursion came from bad policy rather than poor military execution. Obviously, this is not a book for specialists, but it is interesting and useful for novice readers or for students. The maps and a few pictures help to make it an engaging chronicle. A brief and disappointing bibliography is included on each engagement. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. School and public libraries. Lower-division undergraduates. J. P. Dunn Converse College
Reviews
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Publishers Weekly, May 2003
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Library Journal, July 2003
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Summaries
Main Description
Since the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, America has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In America's Splendid Little Wars, distinguished U.S. Naval Captain Peter Huchthausen explores the modern development of America's tradition of small wars. From the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam to the 1999 "relief intervention" in Kosovo, Huchthausen presents an intimate history of each military engagement. Through eyewitness accounts, thorough research, and his unique insider perspective as an intelligence expert, he offers a fresh analysis of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, and the missions in Somalia and Bosnia. This timely and riveting military history shows how America-now the world's sole remaining superpower-has enforced the global "Pax Americana" by developing and honing its military capability and making sophisticated use of the media and public sentiment.
Main Description
Since the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, America has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In America's Splendid Little Wars , distinguished U.S. Naval Captain Peter Huchthausen explores the modern development of America's tradition of small wars. From the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam to the 1999 "relief intervention" in Kosovo, Huchthausen presents an intimate history of each military engagement. Through eyewitness accounts, thorough research, and his unique insider perspective as an intelligence expert, he offers a fresh analysis of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, and the missions in Somalia and Bosnia. This timely and riveting military history shows how America-now the world's sole remaining superpower-has enforced the global "Pax Americana" by developing and honing its military capability and making sophisticated use of the media and public sentiment.
Unpaid Annotation
From the author of October Fury and K-19 comes a unique and expertly told history of America's twelve "little" wars since Vietnam. Since the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, America has committed its forces to combat in more than a dozen military operations. In America's Splendid Little Wars, distinguished U.S. Naval Captain Peter Huchthausen explores the modern development of America's tradition of small wars. From the 1975 operation to recover the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam to the 1999 "relief intervention" in Kosovo, Huchthausen presents an intimate history of each military engagement. Through eyewitness accounts, thorough research, and his unique insider perspective as an intelligence expert, he offers a fresh analysis of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, and the missions in Somalia and Bosnia. This timely and riveting military history shows how America--now the world's sole remaining superpower--has enforced theglobal "Pax Americana" by developing and honing its military capability and making sophisticated use of the media and public sentiment. PRAISE F
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. vii
List of Mapsp. xi
Introductionp. xiii
Gerald R. Ford: Rebounding Against Piracyp. 1
Recovering SS Mayaguez and the Fight on Koh Tangp. 3
James E. Carter, Jr.: Choosing Military Actionp. 19
America and Special Warfarep. 21
The Hostage Rescue Attemptp. 27
Ronald W. Reagan: Lashing Outp. 43
Intervention in Lebanonp. 45
Intervention in Grenadap. 65
Retaliatory Attacks on Libyap. 87
Escort and Retaliation in the Persian Gulfp. 97
George H. W. Bush: Using a Big Stickp. 111
Storming Panamap. 113
The Gulf War: Desert Shieldp. 127
The Gulf War: Desert Stormp. 142
The Rescue of the Kurds in Northern Iraqp. 152
Intervention in Somaliap. 159
President Bush Responds to Starvationp. 161
President Clinton Crosses the Mogadishu Linep. 170
William J. Clinton: On the Edge of the Balkansp. 183
Intervention in Bosniap. 185
Intervention in Kosovop. 212
Conclusionsp. 219
Notesp. 221
Bibliographyp. 231
Indexp. 241
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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