The Destroyer-Borne Quick Reaction Force
-Or puke downwind, you idiot
It was time for the Commander Amphibious Task Force and the Commander Landing Force to try something new. The five ships of the Amphibious Task Force of the U.S. Sixth Fleet were too slow. If our talents were needed at some remote location in the Mediterranean, it would take forever to get there. Why were we so slow? It was primarily because our Amphibious Squadron consisted of older ships. The USS Terrebonne Parish (LST-1156), the ship upon which my rifle company was embarked, could make a maximum speed of 14 knots. In addition there was the USS Arneb (LKA-56) which could make 16 knots and the USS Chilton (LPA-38) checking in at a blazing 18 knots. This was the last Med cruise for each of those ships. The T-Bone was transferred to the Spanish Navy in October of 1971 and both the Arneb and Chilton were struck from the US Navy register by July of 1972.
But during the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines deployment to the Mediterranean from the fall of 1970 until late spring 1971 as Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/8, these old girls were the best we had. We had a newer LSD and LPD in the PhibRon, but they were constrained by how fast the slowest ships could go.
The CATF, Capt Don Whitmire, USN and my battalion commander, the CLF, LtCol Duff Rice, USMC, conducted an experiment to try to overcome the relatively slow speed of our PhibRon-a destroyer-borne quick reaction force. We had no helicopters. We were the last PhibRon and BLT deployed to the Med which did not have organic Marine helicopters as part of its task organization. All future Sixth Fleet amphibious forces consisted of Marine Amphibious Units (MAUs-now called Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs)) containing a BLT, a service support unit, and a composite Marine helicopter squadron. When BLT 3/8 passed operational control to the 32nd MAU at Rota, Spain on our way home, we were the last of the BLT-only deployed landing forces.
MGen Duff Rice, USMC (Ret) RAdm Don Whitmire, USN (Ret)
The new generation of amphibious ships was designed to make 20-plus knots, but these old veterans could not keep up. Thus the need to deploy Marines to trouble spots faster than the 14 knot limit of our PhibRon. The approach taken by Whitmire and Rice was to embark a pared down rifle company aboard a US Navy destroyer, send the tin can to the trouble spot first, and follow as fast as possible with the PhibRon. My outfit, India Company, was chosen as the guinea pig. I was directed to task organize a 100-man force with the maximum amount of fire power I could muster. This was all that a destroyer could possibly take aboard with the Marines sleeping on the decks in most cases. This essentially meant taking two squads from two of the three rifle platoons, and taking all of my machine guns and anti-tank assault weapons with a small headquarters group. We would arrive first at the objective, land and hold on until the cavalry arrived up to 12 hours later. We were limited in the amount of ammunition we could carry based upon being essentially at half strength and having no vehicles assigned to our small force. It would be a close run thing if we were landed and were expected to fight until relieved.
Terrebonne Parish, Arneb, and Chilton
We tested this approach while ashore for training at Navplion, Greece. A destroyer (I canít recall which one it was-probably a Forrest Sherman class) anchored off the beach at Navplion, and we embarked one morning with the plan being to spend the night at sea and return the next morning and land on the Navplion beach. The idea was to familiarize the Marines with the ship and do at least one practice landing.
USS Barry (DD-933)-Forrest Sherman Class DD
So the salty Marines from India Company who had lived aboard the ships of the PhibRon for three or four months swaggered aboard the destroyer about mid-morning armed to the teeth. This was in January or February of 1971Öwinter in the Med. Each Marine was assigned a space to dump his gear and sleep and ship familiarization began with tours of the destroyer and lunch on the mess decks. Locations of debarkation stations were identified, and the destroyer hauled up her anchor and got underway, heading for the open sea. Now I had spent a Midshipman cruise on the USS Allen M. Sumner (DD-692) in the Med during the summer of 1962 and knew what to expect about life aboard a destroyer. None of my Marines had ever been aboard one of these greyhounds of the sea and had no idea how they handled in rough waters. Oh sure, life aboard the T-Bone was bad enough when the waves were high, but they were not prepared for this. Being winter, the winds were strong and the seas were choppy and the ship was bouncing around like a corkÖnot only the flat-bottomed roll you got with the T-Bone, but that and a lot more. Before you knew it a lot of the salty Marines from India Company were turning green around the gills. A good number of them lined the rails by squads and heaved their recently consumed lunches into the Med. Those downwind on the rails suffered doubly.
Venetian fortress in Navplion harbor. We landed and trained in the mountains in the background.
After a pretty rough night, the destroyer raced into Navplion Bay with the Marines at debarkation stations. The ship had played the game right and had served steak and eggs at breakfast to continue a Navy tradition before an amphibious landing. As the ship dropped anchor cargo nets were tossed over the side and the Marine scrambled down them into small boats for the assault ashore. There were no ramps on these boats so over the side we went into the shallow surf, then rushed ashore and seized the small hills behind the beaches.
The exercise was a success, and about a month later we almost got the chance to do it for real. There was some problem that arose in Turkey several days after we had left Izmir in that country after a port visit. I canít remember the details, but it involved the kidnapping of an American citizen or something along those lines. At midnight I was summoned to the Captainís cabin on the T-Bone and informed to prepare my 100-man raiding force to go aboard the destroyer. We were going to seize and defend the airfield at Izmir. The PhibRon had changed course 180 degrees and was headed back toward Turkey at a blazing 14 knots. As we were preparing to board the destroyer (where I donít know), to include the issue of live ammo, the crisis somehow resolved itself and we stood down, and the PhibRon turned around and continued toward Naples, that jewel of the Mediterranean.
It was an interesting experiment. Of course with the arrival of Marine helicopters and faster ships in the Med in May of 1971 there was no longer a need for such a capability. I was honored to have my company chosen as the raiding force, and to be a participant in this little bit of Marine Corps history.
Another adventure from the Med.
Dirck Praeger sends