"Swabbies to Horse!"
The phrase "Horse Marines" is rather well known. And while it seems to depict a seemingly improbable combination of man and beast, in fact there have been numerous occasions on which Marines – whether the American or some other variety – have served mounted.
Just to cite some examples from the history of the USMC, we can find,
- Florida, 1836-1839: a company of Marines served mounted during the Second Seminole War.
- Peking, 1907-the early 1930s: the Legation Guard had a mounted platoon.
- Haiti, 1915-1933: several companies or parts of companies served mounted.
- France, 1918: during the final Allied drive to the Meuse River in early November, Marines were seen to mount the horses of fallen French cavalrymen in order to better chase the Germans
- Nicaragua, 1927-1928: several detachments of Marines served mounted during the Sandino War.
- Panama, 1989: some Marines made use of local horses and even mules when conducting patrols.
Surely, however, an even odder notion than “Horse Marines” is that of "Horse Sailors." Yet some of Uncle Sam’s sailors served mounted on at least one occasion.
Following a contested election in 1916, there was widespread unrest in Cuba. American intervention was requested, and quickly forthcoming. For the little port of Manati, that presence took the form of the armed yacht USS Eagle, commanded by Lt. H. Kent Hewitt. Eagle slipped into Manati Bay late on March 17th, and promptly put a company of bluejackets ashore to secure the local sugar mill, railroad station, and other installations.
Now there were a number of rebel bands in the surrounding countryside, which was quite rugged, and there were not enough Cuban troops to patrol the area effectively. So Hewitt decided to undertake the task himself. Borrowing horses from the local sugar company, Hewitt organized a mounted squad of eight sailors, led by Eagle's coxswain, who had seen prior service in the U.S. Cavalry, perhaps the only man aboard Eagle who understood that a horse is conned differently than a ship. As these men were armed only with rifles and cutlasses, Hewitt proceeded to provide them with some heavier firepower by mounting machine guns on two automobiles. Over the next few days the horsed bluejackets made several aggressive patrols in the surrounding region. Supported by the improvised motor-machine gun carriers, on a number of occasions the improvised cavalrymen helped beat off insurgent bands. Shortly calm was restored to the area.
Hewitt thus not only provided the U.S. Navy with what were possibly its first "Horse Sailors" but also with its first mechanized cavalry as well, demonstrating some of the talent that would later lead him to command of the Eighth Fleet in North African and Mediterranean waters during World War II.
By the way, if you still think “Horse Marines” and “Horse Sailors” pretty odd, then you must surely think “Camel Marines” totally outré. Nevertheless, the USMC also has the distinction of having once deployed a contingent of "Camel Marines," for during the Derna Expedition of 1805 1st Lt. Presley N. O'Bannon and his men spent much of their time mounted on dromedaries.
"'Down 200!' No, Wait, I Mean 'Over 200!'"
Among the more amusing differences between the Army and the Navy in the years prior to World War II was the way in which observers monitoring the fall of artillery rounds were wont to call in corrections.
Navy and Marine procedures called for reporting the correction to be made, while Army procedures called for reporting the error that had been made. That is, if a Navy or Marine observer said "Down 200" he was saying the a round had fallen 200 yards beyond the target, whereas if an Army observer had said this he would have meant that the round had fallen 200 yards short of the target.
Needless to say, this difference could easily have had some tragic consequences. Fortunately the discrepancy was discovered during joint amphibious training early in 1942. Just why this discovery occurred in 1942 is difficult to determine, since by then the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps had been practicing amphibious operations together for about two years.