Tag Archives: Mexico

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 3)

Sailors Returning to their Ships After Combat Ashore in Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)
Sailors Returning to their Ships After Combat Ashore in Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

This is the third of a three part series on the American occupation of Veracuz in 1914. The first and second installments can be found here and here.

24 April marked the end of the combat phase of the U.S. invasion of Veracruz, with the “ABC Powers” of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile offering to mediate between the U.S. and Mexico.  President Wilson agreed to participate in these talks and ordered the troops ashore to refrain from offensive operations.

The negotiations proceeded to drag on even though one of Wilson’s original objectives behind the operation was was met in July when Mexican President Victoriano Huerta resigned.  However, negotiations with Venustiano Carranza, the head of the Constitutionalist opposition to Huerta who then took power, proved to be not particularly fruitful either, with the parties only coming to a satisfactory agreement for the withdrawal of American troops in November.

Of note, the other main reason for the invasion, preventing the delivery of the weapons onboard Ypiranga to Huerta’s army, was never achieved and did not matter regardless, as they were eventually delivered (the Americans let the ship leave Veracruz in early May and deliver its cargo at Puerto Mexico), but Huerta resigned before they could have any impact on helping the Army keep him in power. 

Probably the main reason why some history buffs know about Veracruz is the number of medals awarded to the participants, including men like Smedley Butler and John McCloy who each earned one of their two Medals of Honor there.  Members of the sea services earned fifty-five Medals of Honor for heroism or service during the four days of fighting.  One reason for that high number was that Veracruz was the first action in which Navy or Marine officers were eligible for the award.  Butler was embarrassed by his, stating in his biography that

“I received one, but I returned it to the Navy Department with the statement that I had done nothing which entitled me to this supreme decoration.  The correspondence was referred to Admiral Fletcher, who insisted that I certainly deserved the decoration.  The Navy Department sent the medal back to me with the order that I should not only keep it this time, but wear it also.”

Another frequently told anecdote has an admiral conducting an inspection in the 1920s, who upon seeing the medal on the chest of a man that had earned it in the First World War exclaimed “Holy smoke! Here’s a Medal of Honor that’s not for Veracruz!”

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps both learned some lessons from Veracruz.  It marked Naval aviation’s first involvement in anything resembling combat.  It also marked one of the last instances that ship’s company sailors fought ashore as infantry, something that had been relatively common up to that time, with U.S. sailors having recently fought ashore in Latin America, Hawaii, Korea, Samoa, China, and the Philippines.  As for the Marine Corps, the 3,000 Marines eventually assembled and sent ashore was “the largest concentration of Marines in the history of the Corps, to date.”

While U.S. memories of Veracruz are almost non-existent today, it had a massive and lasting impact on Mexican attitudes towards its northern neighbor. In Jack Sweetman’s the Landing at Veracruz: 1914, he describes the occupation as “a kind of Caribbean Pearl Harbor.”  Even the Constitutionalists fighting against Huerta opposed U.S. military intervention in Mexican affairs, with Pancho Villa the only leading figure in Mexican politics who did not oppose the U.S. landing, ironic in light of him being the main target of another U.S. invasion a few years later.  Just as the niños heroiques of 1847 entered the pantheon of national heroes, martyred defenders of the Naval Academy like Cadet Virgilio Uribe and Lieutenant Luis Felipe José Azueta are remembered to this day.  A new adjective was added to the title of the Naval Academy, now known as the Heroica Escuela Naval Militar in honor of the cadets’ resistance to the norteamericano invasion.  This year the Mexican Navy is participating in a months-long series of events to mark the centenary of an event that the service actually played little part in.

Whether or not the Veracruz operation was a success is difficult to determine. Huerta was forced from office, but one would be hard pressed to prove that the American attack against Veracruz caused his removal.  It did not end the Civil War, with Mexico undergoing several more years (or decades, depending on when one believes that the Civil War actually ended) of chaos and violence.  A prominent event in Mexican history, it remains mostly a source of obscure service lore to Americans.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

 

 

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 2)

Sailors Parading through Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)
Sailors Parading through Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

This is the second installment in a three part series on the American occupation of Veracuz in 1914.  The first article can be found here.

On the morning of 21 April 1914, Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the U.S. Navy task force offshore Veracruz, Mexico, complied with the order he had received from from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels the night before. Fletcher ordered the landing of 1200 Marines and sailors from his ships to seize the customs house in Veracruz in order to prevent the delivery of the weapons onboard the German freighter Ypiranga to the Mexican Army, even before he was reinforced by ships commanded by his counterpart off Tampico, Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, and the Atlantic Fleet’s steaming from Norfolk. According to John Eisenhower’s Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, the Americans anticipated resistance from the Veracruz garrison of 600 soldiers, and 2000-3000 other Mexican troops in the region that could be augmented by militia and freed prisoners. Fletcher hoped that moving ashore quickly  would preempt a defense by local troops, enable a potential occupation, and allow him to avoid using his ships’ big guns to obliterate the city.

According to another account of the Veracruz operation, Jack Sweetman’s the Landing at Veracruz: 1914, the “Naval Brigade,” commanded by Captain William Rees Rush, the commanding officer of USS Florida, was composed of two regiments: the First Marine Regiment (22 officers and 578 men assembled from Marines onboard Fletcher’s ships) and the First Seaman Regiment (30 officers and 570 sailors from Florida and USS Utah).  They went ashore from their ships anchored in the harbor onboard whaleboats towed by motor launches to Pier Four in the port.

As soon the landings started, the American consul in Veracruz telephoned General Gustavo Maass, the local Mexican commander, encouraging him not to fight back and allow the Sailors and Marines to come ashore unopposed.  Maass, in a rage, instead immediately informed 100 men from a regiment billeted nearby to engage the Americans.  After a conversation with the Minister of Defense, Maass was forced to reverse himself, however, as the Minister instructed him to withdraw his troops ten miles inland to the town of Tejería.  The Mexican Army’s involvement in the fight thus almost immediately ended, with the bulk of resistance over the next few days conducted by Veracruz’s civilian residents, who had some military training and organization as a militia (the “Society of Defenders of the Port of Veracruz”) as part of a program Huerta had implemented the previous year.

That same morning, Ypiranga was sighted steaming towards the harbor and was interdicted by crew from USS Utah.  The master cooperated and provided shipping documents to the boarding team, which ironically showed that the weapons on the ship had not originated in Hamburg, but were Remingtons made in the U.S. that had been routed through Europe to evade Wilson’s embargo on arms exports to Huerta’s army.

With the Mexican Army out of the fight, one of the main sources of resistance left was from the Naval Academy, where cadets fired at the at the Americans landing at Pier Four.  They emulated the example of the niños heroiques, cadets at the Mexican military academy in Mexico City in 1847 who threw themselves to their deaths from the cliffs of Chapultepec to save the flag and avoid surrender to a previous generation of American invaders.  The cadets defending the Naval Academy in 1914 soon joined the ranks of the honored dead after fire from the guns of Fletcher’s ships silenced their resistance (enabled by Chief Boatswain John McCloy, who drove the motor launch he commanded towards the Academy, fired against it to draw a response, thus allowing the location of the defending cadets to be spotted and engaged by the ships’ guns, an act earning McCloy his second Medal of Honor).

That afternoon Admiral Fletcher cabled Washington with his first report of the landing stating that

“Mexican forces…opened fire with rifle and artillery after our seizure of the Custom House…Ypiranga arrived Veracruz two PM anchored in outer harbor and [was] notified he would not be allowed to leave port with munitions of war aboard.  Holding Custom House and section of city in vicinity of wharves and Consulate.  Casualties two PM four dead twenty wounded.”

The following day on 22 April, additional forces flowed into Veracruz with the arrival of ships and Marines from both Tampico and the Norfolk-based Atlantic Fleet, with the additional Sailors and Marines augmenting the Brigade ashore and expanding the American occupation throughout the whole city by engaging in fierce house-to-house fighting.  The famous Marine hero Smedley Butler, then a Major, described a urban battle scene not particularly different from those in which Marines would fight throughout the next century:

“The sailors who traveled openly through the streets were badly shot up, not only by Mexicans but in at least one instance by their own men, but the Marine casualties were slight.  Two of my men were killed and four or five wounded.  We Marines decided on different tactics than the sailors.  Stationing a machine gunner at one end of the street as a lookout, we advanced under cover, cutting our way through the adobe walls from one house to another with axes and picks.  We drove everybody from the houses and then climbed up on the flat roofs to wipe out the snipers.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan apologized to the German government for the unlawful detention of Ypiranga.  Bryan, like President Woodrow Wilson and Navy Secretary Daniels was well known as a devout Christian with a pacifist reputation and opposition to the military adventurism of the previous Republican administrations in Latin America and the Philippines, but was ironically overseeing the violent invasion of one of the U.S.’s closest neighbors on remarkably flimsy grounds.

By 23 April Admiral Fletcher had transferred his command ashore with most of the resistance having melted away, but, according to Sweetman’s account, was unable to convince any of the local authorities to restore some form of government, as a law passed in the wake of the 1862 French invasion of Mexico made holding “office under a foreign power occupying Mexican soil” a criminal offense.  The official casualty figures by 24 April listed 126 Mexicans killed and 195 wounded (an amount probably significantly lower than the actual total, since these numbers were based only on wounded and dead recorded by local hospitals), with 17 killed and 63 wounded Americans.

Although the Naval Brigade had been reinforced and occupied virtually all of Veracruz, Admiral Fletcher was concerned that the Mexican Army was massing up to 16,000 troops in the vicinity of the city, dwarfing the number of Marines and Sailors ashore, many of whom were also needed back on ship in case of future operations at sea.  Therefore the U.S. Army’s Fifth Reinforced Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Frederick Funston, was dispatched from the U.S. on 24 April, arriving a few days later.  After negotiating the status of the Marines, the Army troops went ashore and took responsibility for the city from the naval units in a ceremony on 30 April (the debate over who “owned” the Marines foreshadowed future arguments over task organization in a joint force.  Ultimately the Marines that were attached to Navy ships returned to their afloat commands, while the rest of the force “chopped” to Army control).  Despite significant support for a broader war with Mexico in the press and segments of Congress, Funston led an uneventful, combat-free, occupation of Veracruz for another seven months as the machinations associated with a diplomatic solution to the crisis were worked out.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of this series, which discusses the aftermath of the occupation.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 1)

Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

This April marks the 100th anniversary of one of the strangest episodes in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the mostly forgotten 1914 occupation of Veracruz.

A relatively minor event during the lengthy and violent Mexican Revolution, it is also overshadowed by another American armed intervention in Mexico, the 1916 “Punitive Expedition” led by General John Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa.  The Veracruz occupation is remembered, if at all, for the embarrassingly large quantity of medals awarded to its participants, and as one of the numerous “small wars” conducted by the Marine Corps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The roots for the 1914 occupation of Veracruz started a few years earlier, in the chaos caused by the Mexican Revolution.  Porfirio Díaz had ruled Mexico as a dictator since the 1870s (re-elected as President through periodic sham elections), but was finally forced from office in 1911 in the face of an opposition coalition that represented the whole spectrum from liberals to warlords and bandits.  His successor, the aristocratic but principled liberal Francisco Madero, was soon overthrown and murdered during a 1913 coup led by General Victoriano Huerta, who proceeded to declare himself President.

The U.S. first began creeping towards possible military intervention in Mexico in 1911, with President Taft instructing the Army to create a “Maneuver Division” for use in potential contingencies south of the border.  Madero’s death during the Ten Tragic Days (La Decena Trágica) of February 1913, weeks before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration following his defeat of both Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election, resulted in the deployment of U.S. Navy ships to ports on both the east and west coasts of Mexico to observe the situation and protect American citizens and interests.

A month later, in March 2013, Venustiano Carranza established the “Constitutionalist” opposition to Huerta’s government by bringing together another coalition of liberals, regional leaders, and warlords/bandits.  By the next spring, Constitutionalist forces had made their way to the vicinity of Tampico, where there was a substantial American presence (mostly due to Tampico’s central role in the Mexican oil industry).  Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo commanded the U.S. Navy forces offshore Tampico.

A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)
A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)

The direct cause of the U.S. seizure of Veracruz was enabled by the convergence of the U.S. Navy and Constitutionalist army on Tampico.  On 9 April 1914, personnel from USS Dolphin were mistakenly and briefly detained by Mexican soldiers (Federales loyal to Huerta) while buying fuel from a warehouse along the river near the front line between the two opposing Mexican armies.  Although the Mexican General in command of Huerta’s forces quickly released the American sailors and apologized, Mayo would only be appeased by the Mexicans giving a 21-gun salute to the U.S. flag after it was raised ashore in Tampico; a stipulation that would be unacceptable to any Mexican patriot.

In the following days, tensions were also raised by additional minor insults to U.S. honor, including the arrest of a “mail orderly” from USS Minnesota ashore in Veracruz, and the detention of a courier working for the embassy in Mexico City.  In response, on 14 April, President Wilson, whose personal and political distaste for Huerta and his manner of assuming power in Mexico was well known, ordered that the entire Atlantic Fleet immediately proceed from Norfolk to Mexico’s Gulf coast.

By 20 April the stakes had been raised even higher, as the President secretly informed a small group of Congressional leaders that he had been informed by the U.S. consul in Veracruz that a shipment of arms for Huerta’s army was on its way to Veracruz onboard a German cargo ship, Ypiranga.  Although Wilson wished to ask for congressional authorization for the use of force against Mexico, he did not wish to publicly disclose his knowledge of the Ypiranga shipment.

Later that night, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (most historically notorious for outlawing drinking onboard Navy ships) sent a warning order to Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the ships off Veracruz, to “be prepared on short notice to seize customs house at Vera Cruz.  If offered resistance, use all force necessary to seize and hold city and vicinity”   The following morning, Fletcher received the order from Daniels to “Seize customs house.  Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or any other party.”

This is the first of a three part series on the 1914 invasion and occupation on Veracruz.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

MFP 9: Final Predictions For The Future

Any final predictions?

This is the ninth and final regular post in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
Navy’s experiments with biofuels will fizzle out as an abundance of natural gas and crude oil prices it out of the market.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

La Marinha do Brasil
La Marinha do Brasil

The international maritime security debate is dominated by U.S. future capabilities, European decline, and the Asian arms race – in particular China. Yet beyond that Brazil will be an interesting player. The country seems to pursue an ambitious fleet-building agenda. Moreover, Brazil trained China’s carrier pilots. With a mid- to long-term perspective, a Brazilian blue-water navy might go on expeditionary tours – not to win wars per se, but to take part in international operations or underline Brazil’s new geopolitical status. Why shouldn’t Brazilian and Chinese carriers visit each other’s countries to deepen political ties between both governments?

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
Most of my predictions will be wrong.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
Attributed to Benazir Bhutto

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
In the most likely conflicts, large numbers of vessels will be needed to perform blockade and marine policing to prevent use of the use of the seas for transport of weapons, supplies, and personnel. We will never have “enough.” The U.S. Coast Guard will be needed to supply some of them.

Biometrics, the ability to positively identify individuals, is already in use in counter-piracy operations and may become important in tracking down terrorists and agents in unconventional asymmetric conflicts.

States led by China will attempt to reinterpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to apply the restrictions and requirements of Innocent Passage to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as the Territorial Sea. Most important is Article 58 Section 3 of UNCLOS: “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the EEZ, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.” China will interpret this to mean that anything other than expeditious transit including “spying,” “hovering,” flight ops, and submerged operations might be considered illegal.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:

I see your EEZ is as big as mine.
                                                                            I see your EEZ is as big as mine.

The notion of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not new (the formal definition of it extending out 200 nautical miles dates to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but it seems to increasingly be at the heart of the various maritime disputes. China’s differences with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas revolve around the desire to secure control of underwater resources by maximizing its EEZ. In addition, China has advocated a state’s right to control or regulate the military activities of other states occurring in its EEZ. If accepted by the rest of the world (which most countries currently do not), such a notion would significantly impact the ability of states like the U.S. to operate forward at sea like it traditionally has. In addition, it is the realization of the negative impacts of a state’s inability to enforce activity in its EEZ (such as piracy in Somalia, maritime banditry and oil theft in the Gulf of Guinea) that has led many states to realize that capable maritime security forces are important, although they may not be able to afford them.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
The U.S. Navy is a vital force in our nation’s defense and will continue to be vital to providing secure waterways around the world. But the fact that it is a national navy and not an international one will cause leaders in other countries to make greater efforts to become more self-reliant.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
Few in the U.S. want war with China, and few in China want war with the U.S. That being said, the wisdom of the ancients suggests that we are on a collision course. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides wrote “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” Fear, power and interest, often involving third parties (see Corcyra in 440 B.C. or Japan today), drive nations to war, and human behavior remains largely unchanged over the last 5,000 years of recorded history, despite our fallacious belief in “progress.” War will come when it is most inconvenient, unexpected, dangerous, and costly – not when we are prepared.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
DDG 1000 will cost even more than we expect and none of the three we are building will ever see 20 years of service life. Neither this ship nor anything else like it will be a part of our Navy’s future.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:
These are a little further out in left field, and focus a bit more on geopolitics than the predictions made to earlier questions, so I fully expect them to make me look a bit ridiculous in the years ahead:

While much has been written about Brazil’s burgeoning economic power – slowing of late – and the nation’s drive to reinvigorate its naval capabilities, it will be Columbia and Mexico that surprise the Western Hemisphere’s observers with their growing naval clout. The focus of these nations’ fleets will also shift from the traditional hemispheric concerns to protecting trade ties to Africa and Asia. This is of course predicated on both countries’ ability to keep a lid on domestic discontent and violence while extending their economic booms. Other South American armadas – such as those of Peru, Uruguay, and Chile – will endeavor to maintain their small but professional capabilities, and undertake a similar drive (underway in many cases) to boost ties across the Pacific and Atlantic.

The leaders of both Cuba and Venezuela have not long to live, yet neither change at the top will mean much in terms of naval policy. Both nations may seek to defrost relations with the U.S. and strengthen integration in cooperative regional maritime efforts – although again, little change from now.

The professionalization of Africa’s maritime forces will continue apace in those nations enjoying peaceful transitions of government. Cooperative regional efforts will combat the threats of piracy, maritime robberies, and drug-running – but the dangers will continue at modest levels and readily flourish in any coastal power vacuum. Counter-drug ops will prove the hardest to due to pervasive levels of corruption in states such as Guinea-Bissau.

The Persian/Arabian Gulf will remain a tinderbox – not due to a looming confrontation with Iran, but because the Arab Spring has yet to fully play out on (or off the coast of) the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t presume to know the outcome or timeline, but escalating repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain could lead to untenable situation for the U.S. Fifth Fleet HQ, and/or a change of government.

Lastly, in Asia, the oft-overlooked Indonesia has the potential to develop into a naval power in its own right. The nation’s leadership has aspirations of becoming a key player in South Asia, and it will likely attempt to play the role of a non-aligned honest broker in any regional stand-off. If you’re looking for good coverage of Indonesia (and its ties with Australia), check out the sites Security Scholar and ASPI.

Of course, we could always just end up with this:

Simon Williams, U.K.:
Something this writer believes policy makers and the military should be mindful of in the coming decades will be the increasing significance of the maritime realm in dictating the machinations and dynamic of international relations. Not only are burgeoning economic powers in the Far East developing credible naval forces to guard their interests, but, having suffered a bloody nose in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, Britain and the United States will find it difficult to conjure up the public support for any ground operations in the near future.

LCDR Joe Baggett, USN:
No predictions – Just observations:
– In my opinion, the United States and its partners find themselves competing for global influence in an era in which they are unlikely to be fully at war or fully at peace.
– The security, prosperity, and vital interests of the United States are increasingly coupled to those of other nations.
– We must be as equally committed to preventing wars as we are to winning them.
– As ADM Locklear once said “I value surface forces that are:
1) Sufficient in number: you have to be there in order to make a difference
2) Capable, both offensively and defensively: our lethality must be compelling, and our presence re-assuring to our allies
3) Ready, both in proficiency to the full range of potential missions and in proximity to where they’re needed
4) Relevant: the right mix of the above factors to achieve the broad missions sets assigned.”