UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


U.S. Marine Corps - Small Wars Manual (1940 Edition)

Chapter I. Introduction.

Section I

Small wars defined					1-1
Classes of small wars					1-2
Some Legal Aspects of Small Wars			1-3
Function of headquarters Marine Corps			1-4
Phases of small wars					1-5
Summary							1-6

11. Small wars defined. -- a. The term Small Wars' is often a vague name for any one of a great variety of military operations. As applied to the United States, small wars are operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as are determined by the foreign policy of our Nation. As herein used the term is understood in its most comprehensive sense, and all the successive steps taken ill the development of a small war and the varying degrees of force applied under various situations are presented.

b. The assistance rendered in the affairs of another state may vary from a peaceful act such as the assignment of an administrative assistant, which is certainly nonmilitary and not. placed under the classification of small wars, to the establishment of a complete military government supported by an active combat force. Between these extremes may be found an infinite number of forms of friendly assistance or intervention which it is almost impossible to classify under a limited number of individual types of operations.

c. Small wars vary in degrees from simple demonstrative operations to military intervention in the fullest sense, short of war. They are not limited in their size, in the extent of their theater of operations nor their cost in property, money, or lives. The essence of a small war is its purpose and the circumstances surrounding its inception and conduct, the character of either one or all of the opposing forces, and the nature of the operations themselves.

d. The ordinary expedition of the Marine Corps which does not involve a major effort in regular warfare against a first-rate power may be termed a small war, It is this type of routine active foreign duty of the Marine Corps in which this manual is primarily interested. Small wars represent the normal and frequent operations of the Marine Corps. During about 85 of the last 100 years, the Marine Corps has been engaged in small wars in different parts of the world. The Marine Corps has landed troops 180 times in 37 countries from 1800 to 1934. Every year during the past 36 years since the Spanish-American War, the Marine Corps has been engaged in active operations in the field. In 1929 the Marine Corps had two thirds of its personnel employed on expeditionary or other foreign or sea duty outside of the continental limits of the United States.

1-2. Classes of small wars. -- a. Most of the small wars of the United States have resulted from the obligation of the Government under the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine and have been undertaken to suppress lawlessness or insurrection, Punitive expeditions may be resorted to in some instances, but campaigns of conquest are contrary to the policy of the Government of the United States. It is the duty of our statesmen to define a policy relative to international relationships and provide the military and naval establishments with the means to carry it into execution. With this basis, the military and naval authorities may act intelligently in the preparation of their war plans in close cooperation with the statesman. There is mutual dependence and responsibility which calls for the highest, qualities of statesmanship and military leadership. The initiative devolves upon the statesmen.

b. The legal and military features of each small war present distinctive characteristics which make the segregation of all of them into fixed classifications an extremely difficult problem. There are so many combinations of conditions that a simple classification of small wars is possible only when one is limited to specific features in his study, i. e ., according to their legal aspects, their military or naval features, whether active combat was engaged in or not, and many other considerations.

13. Some legal aspects of small wars. -- a. According to international law, as recognized by the leading nations of the world, a nation may protect, or demand protection for, its citizens and their The President of the United States as property wherever situated. the Chief Executive is, under the Constitution, primarily charged with the conduct of foreign relations, including the protection of the lives and property of United States citizens abroad, save insofar as the Constitution expressly vests a part of these functions in some other (For example, the participation of the branch of the Government. (For example, the participation of the Senate in the making of treaties.) It has been an unbroken policy of the President of the United States so to interpret their powers, beginning with the time of President Jefferson down to the present with the exception of President Buchanan.

b. The following pertinent, extracts from U. S. Navy Regulations are cited:

On occasion where injury to the United States or to citizens thereof is committed or threatened, in violation of the principles of international law or treaty right, the Commander in Chief shall consult with the diplomatic representative, or consul of the United States and take such steps as the gravity of the case demands ,reporting immediately to the Secretary of the Navy all the facts. The responsibility for any action taken by a naval force, however, rests wholly upon the commanding officer thereof.

The use of force against a foreign and friendly state. or against anyone within the territories thereof, is illegal. The right of self-preservation, however, is a right which belongs to states as well as to individuals, and in the case of states it includes the protection of the state, its honor, and its possessions, and lives and property of its citizens against arbitrary violence, actual or impending, whereby the state or its citizens may suffer irreparable injury. The conditions calling for the application of the right of self-preservation cannot be defined beforehand, but must be left to the sound judgment of responsible officers, who are to perform their duties in this respect with all possible care and forbearance. In no case shall force be exercised in time of pence otherwise than as an application of the right of self-preservation as above defined. It must be used only as a last resort, and then only to the extent which is absolutely necessary to accomplish the end required. It can never be exercised with a view to inflicting punishment. for acts already committed.

Whenever, in the application of the above mentioned principles, it shall become necessary to land an armed force in foreign territory on occasion of political disturbance where the local authorities are unable to give adequate protection to life and property, the assent of such authorities, or of some one of them, shall first he obtained, if it can be done without prejudice to the interests involved. Due to the ease with which the Navy Department can be communicated from all parts of the world, no commander in chief, flag officer, or commanding officer shall issue tin ultimatum to the representative of any foreign government, or demand the Performance of any service from any such representative that must be executed within a limited time, without first communicating with the Navy Department except in extreme cases where such action is necessary to save life. (U. S. Navy Regulations. NR. 722,723,and 724.)

c. The use of the forces of the United States in foreign countries to protect the lives and property of American citizens resident in those countries does not necessarily constitute. an act of war and is, therefore, not equivalent to a declaration of war. The President, as chief executive of the nation, charged with the responsibility of the lives and property of United States citizens abroad, has the authority to use the forces of the United States to secure such protection in foreign countries.

d. The history of the United States shows that in spite of the varying trend of the foreign policy of succeeding administrations, this Government has interposed or intervened in the affairs of other states with remarkable regularity, and it may be anticipated that the same general procedure will be followed in the future. It is well that the United States may be prepared for any emergency which may occur whether it is the result of either financial or physical disaster, or social revolution at home or abroad. Insofar as these conditions can be predicted, and as these plans and preparations can be undertaken, the United States should be ready for either of these emergencies -with strategically and tactical plans, preliminary preparations, organization, equipment, education, and training.

1-4. Functions of headquarters Marine Corps. -- a. small wars, generally being the execution of the responsibilities of the President in protecting American interests, life and property abroad, are therefore conducted in a manner different from major warfare. In small wars, diplomacy has not ceased to function and the State Department exercises a constant and controlling influence over the military over the very inception of small wars, as a rule, is an official actions. of the Chief Executive who personally gives instructions without action of Congress.

b. The President, who has been informed of a given situation in some foreign country through the usual agencies at his disposal, makes In appropriate cases this decision concerning intervention. In appropriate cases this decision is communicated to the Secretary of the Navy. The senior naval officer present in the vicinity of the disturbance may then be directed to send his landing force ashore, or given authority to do so at his discretion; the Marine Corps may be ordered to have an expeditionary force ready to proceed overseas with the minimum delay. These instructions are communicated to the Marine Corps via the Secretary Frequently a definite number of the Navy or Assistant Secretary. Frequently a definite number of men is called for and not a military organization; for example, 500 men(not one battalion). It is desirable, however, that a definite military organization which approximates the required strength and characteristics for accomplishing the mission be specified, such as one infantry battalion; one infantry regiment (plus one motor transport platoon), etc. The word often comes very suddenly and calls for the immediate concentration of the forces, ready to take passage on a certain transport which will be made available at a given time and place. Generally there are no other instructions than that the force shall report to * * *, "the Commander Special Service Squadron Thereupon Headquarters Marine Corps designates the force, its personnel, organization, arms, and equipment; all necessary stores are provided and orders issued for the commanding officer of the force to report in person or b-y dispatch to the SOP or other authority in the disturbed area. With the present organized Fleet Marine Force ready for movement at a moment's notice, the Marine Corps now has available a highly trained and well equipped expeditionary force for use in small wars, thus eliminating in a large measure the former practice of hastily organizing and equipping such a force when the emergency arose. Accompanying these simple organization and movement orders are the monograph! maps, and other pertinent intelligence data of the disturbed area? to the extent that such information is on file and can be prepared for delivery to the Force Commander within the time limit. Thereafter Headquarters confines itself to the administrative details of the personnel replacements and the necessary supply of the force in the field.

c. The operations of the Force are directed by the Office of the Naval Operations direct or through the local naval Commander if he is senior to the Force Commander.

15. Phases of small wars. -- a. Small wars seldom develop in accordance with any stereotyped procedure. Certain phases of those listed below may be absent in one situation; in another they may be combined and undertaken simultaneously; in still others one may find that the sequence of events or phases maybe altered. The actual operations of small wars may be arbitrarily divided into five phases as follows :

Phase 1. Initial demonstration or landing and action of vanguard.
Phase 2. The arrival of reinforcements and general military operations in the field.
Phase 3. .4ssumptionof control of executive agencies and cooperation with the legislative and judiciary agencies.
Phase 4. Routine Police Functions
Phase 5. Withdrawal from the Theater of Operations
b. First phase. --Initial demonstration or landing and action of vanguard.

(1) One of the most common characteristics of the small wars of the United States is that its forces "dribble in" to the countries in which they intervene. This is quite natural in view of the national policy of the government. It is not at war with the neighboring state; it proposes no aggression or seizure of territory; its purpose is friendly and it wishes to accomplish its objectives with as little military display as possible with a view to gaining the lasting friendship of the inhabitants of the country. Thus our Government is observed endeavoring to accomplish its end with the minimum of troops, in fact, with nothing more than a demonstration of force if that is all that is necessary and reasonably sufficient. This policy is carried on throughout the campaign and reinforcements are added by "driblets," so many companies. or a battalion, or a regiment at a time, until the force is large enough to accomplish its mission or until its peacetime limitations in personnel have been reached. Even after landing, instructions probably will be received not to exert any physical force unless it becomes absolutely necessary and then only to the minimum necessary to accomplish its purpose. Thus orders may be received not to fire on irregulars unless fired upon; instructions may be issued not to fire upon irregular groups if women are present with them even though it is known that armed women accompany the irregulars.

(2) During the initial phase small numbers of troops may be sent ashore to assume the initiative, as a demonstration to indicate a determination to control the situation, and to prepare the way for any troops to follow. This vanguard is generally composed of marine detachment or mixed forces of marines and sailors from ships at the critical points. Owing to its limited personnel the action of the vanguard would often be restricted to an active defense after seizing a critical area such as an important seaport or other city, the capital of a country or disturbed areas of limited extent.

c. Second Phase. -- The arrival of reinforcements and general military operations in the field

During this period the theater of operations is divided into areas and forces are assigned for each. Such forces should be sufficiently strong to seize and hold the most important city in the area assigned and be able to send combat patrols in all directions. If certain neutral zones have not been designated in the first phase, it may be done at this time if deemed advisable. During this phase the organization of a native military and police force is undertaken. In order to release ships' personnel to their normal functions afloat, such personnel are returned to their ships as soon as they can be relieved by troops of the expeditionary force. of control of expeditionary force.

d. Third phase. -- Assumption cooperation with the legislative ancl judicial agencies. If the measures in phase 2 do not bring decisive results, it may be necessary to resort to more thorough measures. This may involve the establishment of military government or martial law in varying degree from minor authority to complete control of the principal ties of the native government; it will involve the further strengthenMore detachments will be sent i ng of our forces by reenf orcements. out to take other important localities; more active and thorough patrolling will be undertaken; measures will be taken to intercept. the vital supply and support channels of the opposing factions and to break the resistance to law and order by a combination of effort of physical and moral means. During this period the marines carry the burden of most of the patrolling. Native troops, supported by marines, are increasingly employed as early as practicable in order that these native agencies may assume their proper responsibility for restoring law and order in their own country as an agency of their government.

e. Fourth phase. -- (1) After continued Routine police functions. pressure of the measures in phase three, it is presumed that sooner or later regular forces will subdue the lawless elements. Military police functions and judicial authority, to the extent that they have been assumed by our military forces, are gradually returnecl to the native agencies to which they properly belong.

(2) Our military forces must not assume any juclicial responsibility y over local inhabitants beyond that expresly provided by proper authority. The judicial powers of commanders of detached posts must be clearly clefined in orders from superior authority. Furthermore, as long as the judicial authority rests squarely upon the shoulders of the civil authorities, the military forces should continually impress ancl indoctrinate them with their responsibility while educating the people in this respect. Each situation presents certain characteristics peculiar to itself; in one instance officers were clothed with almost unlimited military authority within the law and our treaty rights; in another, less authority was exercised over the population; and in the third instance the forces of ouupation had absolutely no judicial authority. The absence of such authority is often a decided handicap to forces of occupation in the discharge of their responsibilities. If the local judicial system is weak, or broken down entirely, it is better to endow the military authorities with temporary and legal judicial powers in order to avoid embarrassing situations which may result from illegal assumption.

(3) During this phase the marines act as a reserve in support of the native forces and are actively employed only in grave emergencies. The marines are successively withdrawn to the larger centers, thus affording a better means for caring for the health, comfort, and recreation of the command.

f. Fifth Phase. -- Withdrawl from the theater of operations. Finally, when order is restored, or when the responsible native agencies are prepared to handle the situatim~ without other support, the troops are withdrawn upon orders from higher authority. This process is progressive from the back country, or interior outward, in the reverse order to the entry into the country. After evacuation of the forces of intervention, a Legation Guard, which assumes the usual functions of such a detachment may be left in the capital.

16. Summary. -- a. Since the World War there has been a flood of literature dealing with the old principles illustrated and the new technique developed in that war: but there always have been and ever will be other wars of an altogether different kind, undertaken in very different theaters of operations and requiring entirely different methods from those of the World War. Such are the small wars which are described in this manua].

b. There is a sad lack of authoritative texts on the methods employed in small wars. However, there is probably no military organization of the size of the U.S. Marine Corps in the world which has had as much practical experience in this kind of combat. This experience has been gained almost entirely in small wars against poorly organized and equipped native irregulars. With all the practical advantages we enjoyed in those wars, that experience must not lead to an underestimate of the modern irregular: supplied with modern arms and equipment. If marines have become accustomed to easy victories over irregulars in the past they must now prepare themselves for the increased effort which will be necessary to insure victory in the future. The future opponent may be as well armed as they are; he will be able to concentrate a numerical superiority against isolated det acl~ments at the time and place he chooses; as in the past he will have a thorough knowledge of the trails. the country, and the inhabitants; and he will have the inherent ability to withstand all the natural ohstacles, such as climate aml disetise, to a greater extent than a white All these natural advantages, combining primitive cunning and modern armament, will weigh heavily in the balance against the advantage of the marine forces in organization, equipment, intelligence and discipline, if a careless audacity is permitted to warp good judgment.

c. Although small wars presenlt a special problem requiring particular tactical and technical measures. the immutable principles of war remain the basis of these operations and require the greatest ingenuity in their application. As any war never takes the form of any of its predecessors, so, even to a greater degree is each small war somewhat different from anything which has preceded it. One must ever be on guard to prevent his views bwwming fixed as to procedure or methods. Small wars demand the highest type of leadership directed by intelligence, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. Small wars are conceived in uncertainty, are conducted often with precarious responsibility and doubtful authority, under indeterminate orders lacking specific instructions.

d. Formulation of foreign policy in our form of government is not a function of the military. Relations of the United States with foreign states are controlled by the executive and legislative branches of the These policies are of course binding upon the forces of Government. intervention, and in the absence of more specific instructions, the commander in the field looks to them for guidance. For this reason all officers should familiarize themselves with current policies. A knowledge of the history of interventions, and the displays of force and other measures short of war employed by our Government in the past, are essential to thorough comprehension of our relations with foreign states insofar as these matters are concerned.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list