Operation Blue Bat - 1958
Tension in the Middle East began to increase in 1957, when it seemed as though Syria was about to fall to communism. Acting on his recent increased commitment to the region, and in order to protect neighboring Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, President Eisenhower approved the deployment of USAF fighters from Germany to Adana. The crisis quickly abated, but set the stage for the next upheaval the following year in Lebanon.
Lebanese Moslems rebelled and rioted over fears that the delicate balance between Christianity and Islam in the Lebanese government was in peril. Adding to the regional tension, leftist Iraqi officers assassinated their nation's king and prime minister on 14 July 1958. This prompted the President of Lebanon and the King of Jordan to request military assistance from the US.
The purpose of Operation Blue Bat in Lebanon was to bolster the pro-Western Lebanese government of President Chamoun against internal opposition and threats from Syria and the United Arab Republic. The plan was to occupy and secure the Beirut International Airport, a few miles south of the city, then to secure the port of Beirut and approaches to the city. The operation involved approximately 14,000 men, including 8,509 Army personnel and 5,670 officers and men of the Marine Corps.
Army participation was conducted by USAREUR under the February 1958 revision of its Emergency Plan (EP) 201. The plan called for a task force (Army Task Force 201) to cope with any emergencies in the Middle East. The task force consisted of two airborne battle groups reinforced with minimum essential combat sand service support elements. The task force would comprise five echelons, four of which were actually committed to the operation in Lebanon.
While both Army and Marine forces were ordered to Lebanon on 15 July, only Marine units made assault landings. Army forces from USAREUR did not close in Beirut until 19 July. On this date, Force ALPHA, composed of 1 reinforced airborne battle group and the task force command group (1,720 personnel) arrived at Beirut by air. Since combat did not develop in Lebanon, Force BRAVO, a second airborne battle group and the advance headquarters of the task force (1,723 personnel) never left its station in Germany.
Force CHARLIE, containing combat, combat support and combat service units, left Germany by sea and air on 19 July and closed at Beirut by 25 July. According to EP 201, Force CHARLIE contained the main headquarters, the task force artillery (2 airborne batteries of 105-mm. howitzers), 1 section of a 762-mm. rocket battery, and the headquarters element-an airborne reconnaissance troop, an engineer construction company, the advance party of the task force support command, an evacuation hospital unit, elements of an airborne support group, and an Army Security Agency detachment. Political considerations subsequently eliminated the 762-mm rocket battery from the operations in Lebanon.
Force DELTA comprised the sea-tail of the airborne battle group, including 2 light truck companies, a section of a 762-mm. rocket battery, an engineer construction battalion (-), an antiaircraft artillery (AW) battery, technical service support units, and a military police unit. This echelon left Germany on 26 July and closed in Beirut from 3 to 5 August.
Force ECHO, a 90-mm. gun tank battalion, was to move by sea, according to EP 201. Its embarkation was delayed at Bremerhaven pending a decision whether to send one tank company or the entire battalion. Leaving Germany on 22-23 July, the echelon arrived at Beirut on 3 August 1958.
By 5 August, all major ATF-201 forces had reached Beirut and the bulk of their equipment and initial resupply had arrived or was en route. By 26 July, the Marines had deployed, in and around Beirut, four battalion landing teams and a logistical support group.
Besides authorizing the Navy's Sixth Fleet to conduct air operations and to land Marines in Beirut, the President ordered Tactical Air Command (TAC) Composite Air Strike Force Bravo to deploy from the US to Incirlik AB. The strike force, under command of Maj Gen Henry Viccellio, was in place by 20 July. It consisted of F-100s, B-57s, RF-101s, RB-66s, and WB-66s. These aircraft and supporting personnel overwhelmed the facilities at Incirlik, which also supported cargo and transport aircraft deploying an Army battalion from Germany to Lebanon. As no ground fighting involving Americans broke out, the strike force flew missions to cover troop movements, show-of-force missions over Beirut, aerial reconnaissance sorties, and leaflet drops. The Air Force had no tactical controllers in Lebanon, therefore the Navy established procedures for all tactical aircraft involved in the operation.
All operations had gone according to plan. Stable conditions were maintained until a new government was installed in Lebanon. American troops left in October, after the tension diminished.
The absence of opposition, and the underlying problem of whether such contingency forces should be supplied by USAREUR or STRAC in the United States, were factors in the Lebanon operation. The major logistical problems developed primarily from the non-combat status of the task force. The airlift of a Marine battalion from the continental United States to the objective area demonstrated that such a movement was both feasible and expeditious. It further pointed up the difficulty of reconciling the need for a USAREUR contingency force for the Middle East when STRAC was being maintained for this very purpose.
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