1926: Amphibious Warfare (War)
Ninety years ago a series of unlikely events, propelled by equally rare personalities, combined to transform the U.S. Marine Corps into the world’s leading amphibious force.
A brilliant, volatile Marine officer from Kansas named Pete Ellis was convinced that the U.S. would one day go to war with Japan. Working alone starting in 1921, Ellis began scripting a 50,000-word blueprint for island war called Operation Plan 712. Under the guise of a businessman he traveled throughout the Pacific. In Palau he befriended the native royal family, married a woman 25 years his junior, came down with several tropical diseases and eventually drank himself to death.
Ellis’ blueprint survived. And in the mid-1920s the Marines began taking Operation Plan 712 seriously. But a series of war games proved just how unprepared the Marines were to assault enemy beaches. Landing barges were too unwieldy. Swimming tanks were unseaworthy. The 1924 war game was “well worth while,” officers wrote, “because almost every possible mistake occurred.” Then in 1926, gruff, whiskey-swilling Louisiana lumberman Andrew Higgins designed the Eureka boat, a shallow-draught, flat-bottom craft optimized for oil drillers and game trappers navigating the swampy Gulf Coast. The key to the boat’s effectiveness: a propeller recessed in a tunnel running underneath the hull, protecting it from flotsam.
When war broke out between the U.S. and Japan, the sailing branch ordered 20,000 Eureka boats to carry Marines ashore and execute Ellis’ Operation Plan 712. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of allied forces, called Higgins “the man who won the war for us.”