Perspectives on foreign command of U. S. forces

by Dave Schuler on January 5, 2006

As part of our ongoing conversation about the international community and the U. S. role in it, Joerg of Atlantic Review asked that I substantiate some of the claims I’d made. In this post I’ll attempt to do just that and review the U. S. experience in placing its forces under foreign command. This topic is sufficiently dense that it would be more appropriate for a book or doctoral dissertation than a blog post but I’ll do what I can in the medium.

The U. S. is allergic to placing its military forces under foreign command. The current U. S. military doctrine is that, while its forces may be placed under foreign command, they are never placed under foreign operational control. Whether the president has the power to place U. S. forces under foreign operational control is a topic for legal scholars and is beyond the scope of this post but the reality is that at least four presidents have placed U. S. forces under both foreign command and foreign operational control.

Some definitions might be in order. PDD-25 defines “command” as “the authority to issue orders covering every aspect of military operations and administration” and “operational control” as “the authority to assign tasks to U.S. forces already deployed by the President, and assign tasks to U.S. units led by U.S. officers”.

The U. S. military doctrine is a consequence of the experience that the U. S. has had with foreign command of its forces in World Wars I and II, Korea, Lebanon, and, finally, Somalia.

World War I

When the U. S. entered World War I in 1918, the initial units that reached Europe were integrated into French and British units. This was a practical necessity since there were so few of them, they had not received enough training, and the French and British units were already in place.

The senior officer of the U. S. forces, General John “Blackjack” Pershing soon recognized that the French and British were not satisfied with the U. S. forces at their disposal in their training, demeanor, or numbers and began to lobby for American command of the American forces. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of the Great War, Pershing is quite discrete but it’s clear that he recognized the morale problems that foreign command caused for our forces.

This stands to reason. The composition of the officer corps of the European forces differed quite markedly from ours. Consider this list of World War I military commanders. Dukes, princes, barons, baronets. Of course, the regular soldiers were mostly from lower classes. Here’s Pershing’s biography:

John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948) was born on 13 September 1860 in Laclede, Missouri.

After a period spent as a schoolteacher at Prairie Mound, nine miles from Laclede, Pershing (known as ‘Black Jack Pershing’) entered a competitive examination for an appointment to West Point in spring 1882; his primary aim being to secure further education. Pershing won the exam and went to West Point.

Although not an especially outstanding student (graduating 30th out of a class of 77) he was noted early on by officers for his leadership qualities. He was elected president of the class of 1886, and each year held the highest rank in the Cadet Battalion. Pershing commanded the Corps of Cadets when it crossed the Hudson from West Point to Garrison to stand and present arms while the funeral train of Ulysses S. Grant passed by.

Pershing took up duty as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska in September 1891, a post he held for four years.

During his varied military career Pershing performed frontier duty against the Sioux and Apache from 1886-90, where he won the Silver Star Medal; fought in the Cuban War in 1898; in the Philippines in 1903, cleaning up the Moro insurrectionists; and with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5, as an observer. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1906. This was followed by the Mexican Punitive Expedition (of 10,000 men) to capture Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1915.

Following the U.S. declaration of war against Germany in 1917, Pershing – now a General – was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). At the time of his appointment there was no expeditionary force available as such; the regular army comprised 25,000 men at most, and no effective reserves. Pershing needed to recruit an organised army and get it into the field; 500,000 men. Eventually the National Army grew – over the period of a year and a half – to nearly 3 million men.

Pershing personally led the successful Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918.

In 1921 Pershing became U.S. Army Chief of Staff. He retired from active duty in 1924 at the age of 64, having been awarded the title ‘General of the Armies’ by Congress, a post previously held only by George Washington (and only then retrospectively awarded in 1976).

His autobiography, My Experience of War, was published in 1931, winning the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1932.

John Joseph Pershing died on 15 July 1948 in Washington, D.C.

Our officers were, by and large, from the same social class as the men they commanded. And that, IMO, inevitably resulted in a different attitude towards their men on the part of American commanders than was typical for aristocratic European commanders.

It’s also apparent, at least to me, that the British and French political leaders incurred less political cost when casualties suffered were not British or French, respectively. This, I think, is a partial explanation for the treatment of Australian troops at Gallipoli.

Pershing was soon successful and, under American command, the American Expeditionary Force served with distinction for the rest of the war.

Let’s consider a single action: the AEF action in Northern Russia. In this action roughly 5,000 American soldiers were placed under British command along with a significantly larger number of British troops. In the opinion of the senior American officer the expedition was not particularly well managed and his troops were subjected to needless hardships. More than 400 casualties were suffered by this small American force, most of them occurring after the fighting had ceased on the Western Front. In spite of this, however, and the trying nature of their service, the American units performed their duties with great fortitude and bravery. Here’s how Vincent Cortright described the situation in an article in Military History magazine:

As darkness closed in, the situation turned critical. Ammunition was low, and since the one telegraph line to the rear had been cut, neither supplies nor reinforcements were on the way. The temperature had plunged as well, bringing on the first heavy snowfall of winter.

One advantage, at least for the Americans, was that no communications meant no outside British control. Captain Boyd of B Company was in charge of the garrison as ranking Allied officer. Deciding to use his powers to the fullest, Boyd proposed a daring gamble to break the siege.

This, IMO, is a pattern that is repeated with some regularity: American forces under foreign command face dwindling morale; for one reason or another (in this case a breakdown in communications) American command is asserted; our forces display initiative; and significant progress is made in what otherwise was a stalled sitution.

World War II

U. S. forces were under foreign command in the following theaters:

Southwest Pacific Land forces Under control of Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey 1942
North Africa Units of the 1st Infantry Division Placed in British and French corps November 1942 to February 1943
North Africa Units of 1st Armored Division Placed in French corps November 1942 to February 1943
North Africa (Ousseltia Valley) Units of 1st Armored Division Under operational control of French Algiers Division January 1943
North Africa (Fondouk Gap) 34th Infantry Division Attached directly to 9th British Corps April 1943
Northern Europe (Battle of the Bulge) Northern portion of 1st Army Assigned to British Field Marshall Montgomery December 1944 to January 1945
Northern Europe (Battle of the Bulge) 36th Infantry Division Passed to French First Army control December 1944 to January 1945

All of these arrangements rapidly proved unworkable.

The difference between American and European commanders was similar to what it had been in the Great War. French Supreme Allied Commander Maurice-Gustave Gamelin was a graduate of Saint Cyr, the elite French military academy. In the late 19th century, when Gamelin attended the school, it was primarily reserved for young aristocrats or the scions of distinguished military families. Here’s a snippet from the biography of the American Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons born to David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, and their only child born in Texas. He was named David Dwight, but quickly began to go by his middle name. The Eisenhower family is from German descent and came from Forbach, Alsace, but had lived in America since the 18th century. The family moved back to Abilene, Kansas, in 1892. Eisenhower graduated from Abilene High School in 1909 and he worked at Belle Springs Creamery from 1909 to 1911.

Once again, he was a member of the same social class as the men he commanded.

Here’s what Col. David Hackworth had to say about his experience with foreign command during World War II (and relates it to the Somalia debacle):

I am opposed to American troops ever being placed under foreign command. Fifty-three years ago, as a young soldier, I got my first bitter taste that Yanks don’t fare well under other than the U.S. military when my 351st Infantry Regiment was placed under the Brits only a few hundred miles from Kosovo. We were fighting the same serial killers, not over Kosovo, but a similarly ethnically divided Territory of Trieste.

It also didn’t work in the dozens of other debacles I’ve waded through as a soldier or a reporter since then. Take Somalia as an example. There, on Oct. 3, 1993, our Ranger Task Force got into trouble executing a dumb Clinton order to snatch Mohammed Aidid in the Civil War-shattered streets of Mogadishu. Our Special Operations soldiers were surrounded by Aidid’s rebels and in deep trouble. They’d taken casualties but couldn’t get them out. U.S. tanks were needed to bust through Aidid’s lines, but Clinton and his inner circle failed to have them available. Then, when American Gen.Thomas Montgomery went to his commander, a Turkish general, and asked for U.N. tanks, it took six hours to saddle them up and six more for them to bust into the Ranger’s position. Phone calls to foreign capitals had to be made; orders — sometimes given at gun point — had to be translated from English to Malaysian and Pakistani tank crews. While all this jabbering was going on, Ranger James Smith, Bravo Company, 3/75th Ranger Regiment, bled to death from a leg wound. An American skipper would have had that armor into Smith’s position, and he and the other wounded Rangers would have been in the hospital within an hour. Clinton should remember Ranger Smith and the 17 other American warriors who died following his orders on that fateful day in Mogadishu, and think out the consequences of his Kosovo call before it’s too late.

U. N. Peace Operations

The following table summarizes the U. S. participation in U. N. peace operations since 1990:

Location Dates Peak U. S. forces involved
Iraq and Kuwait 1991-present 35,000
Somalia 1992-1994 25,800
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1993-1999 600
Rwanda 1994 3,600
Haiti 1994-present 21,000
Bosnia 1996-present 26,000
Kosovo 1999-present 7,100
East Timor 1999-present 1,300

Note: the data in this table is from 1999.

The “Blackhawk Down” debacle, attributed by American officers (as noted above) to U. N. chain of command issues was the last straw for many Americans. I suspect that it may be a generation before U. S. forces in any substantial numbers are placed under foreign command or operational control.

As a coda to this post I’d like to draw your attention to a very interesting article which argues that U. S. forces make poor U. N. peacekeepers. Here’s the nub of the argument:

There are four major reasons why United States troops make poor peacekeepers. They are: political decision making, super power status, training , and expectations. Political decision makers in the United States are pragmatic, results orientated individuals who are weak in the historical aspects of problems. Consequently, they tend to make decisions looking for concrete results in a short time period. The United States super power status dictates that peacekeeping deployments it is involved with must succeed. They must succeed because of the tremendous combat power available. Unfortunately, the availability of combat power encourages people to try to solve a problem by using it. Doctrinal training for soldiers emphasizes the aggressive, warrior image that is not normally compatible with peacekeeping. Finally, the United States soldier is always regarded as primarily under control of Washington, even when supposedly under the United Nations.

All of these reasons make it extremely difficult for United States troops to make good peacekeepers.

I think that these observations have relevance for the situation in Iraq and, in particular highlight why it’s a shame that most Europeans don’t seem to share the U. S. vision of a democratic Iraq.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Powell January 6, 2006 at 3:49 am

A very interesting article but it misses the gist of what’s going on. To argue that US troops don’t make good peacekeepers is simplistic and ignores the unique circumstances of each peacekeeping mission, ill-respective of the identity of the peacekeepers. If two formerly warring parties are sincerely looking to avoid conflict, a troop of boy scouts would make as effective peacekeepers as a battalion of marines. By the same token, if no real peace exists and the belligerents are still itching to fight, a marine would be as effective as a boy scout if the political will does not exist to enforce the peace.

Isn’t this what happened in Bosnia? European peacekeepers would be better described as ready-made hostages then soldiers. Would the Srebrencia Massacre have occured if Americans were on the ground instead of the Dutch? Those qualities that supposedly make Americans bad peacekeepers are the very things that would have prevented the mass murder of civilians. Who can deny that the European peacekeepers in Bosnia now are more effective after the Dayton Accords then before. What changed? US boots on the ground and the power, violence and prestige that implies by their commitment by this country.

By the same token, would the Hutus who carried out the Rwandan genocide conceive of trying to massacre American peacekeepers like they did with the Belgians? Would American soldiers or marines allow themselves to be massacred? I seriously doubt it. Any one of Donald Kagan’s imperial grunts would have been better equipped to hand the Rwandan crisis than Annan or Dallaire. And there lays the problem.

The postmodern culture that now exist in Europe is mirrored in their military and political elite. Europe is not taken seriously because they’ve lost the capacity to generate fear. This is widely recognized, by everyone, from the guerillas in the African bush to the suburban streets of Paris, except for the Europeans themselves. Given this delusional mentality, any president willing to place US troops under foriegn control should be impeached, and deservedly so.

This notion of an international community is just like heaven. Everyone want to go there but not if it means dying.

collounsbury January 6, 2006 at 1:25 pm

I think that these observations have relevance for the situation in Iraq and, in particular highlight why it’s a shame that most Europeans don’t seem to share the U. S. vision of a democratic Iraq.

Actually as a general matter they seem to have fuck all to do with Iraq, do make a fine example of American navel gazing and the last bit about Europeans not sharing the US vision of democratic Iraq is pure idiocy.

(Unless of course you modify the statement to say “do not share the entirely magical and self deluding US vision of sprinkingly pixie dust in Iraq and wishing really hard as a vision for a democratic Iraq.”)

A more interesting and enlightening approach to your question, such as it is, would be to ask how well – as a general matter – subordinated forces under foreign command fare and where the problems are found. Then move to the specific of whether Americans are particularly spoiled brats or is it a general issue. Wrapping the question up self-involved American exceptionalism rather highlights the myopia.

Having read, by the way, outsiders accounts on Somalia, I never cease to be amazed at how the US command managed/s to blame outsiders for its own idiocies in Somalia.

Joerg January 7, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Thank you for this great and illuminating post! I understand US skepticism or opposition to UN operations much better now.

I know that the European officer corps in the first half of the 20th century was still very aristocratic. You wrote in your previous post “In most countries in the world—including many European countries—the officers and enlisted soldiers belong to different social classes. This is not true in the United States.” http://theglitteringeye.com/?p=1618 and I thought you were referring to the present.
Are these class differences still so big in Europe while non-existent in the US?

You give only one example of UN failure in Somalia concerning General Montgomery and his Turkish boss. This is what I found in a RAND report:

“A Turkish general,
Lieutenant General Çevik Bir, commanded the UNOSOM II military
contingent. His deputy was an American, Major General Thomas
Montgomery, who also commanded a separate U.S. quick reaction
force (QRF) that was not under UN command. The United States
contributed approximately 3,000 logistics soldiers to UNOSOM II but
kept its combat forces distinct. Washington later deployed U.S. Army
Ranger and Delta Force units. These did not fall under the local U.S.
command but were controlled directly from the United States.”
http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1753/MR1753.ch4.pdf

You let Hackworth complain about the six hours it took the UN. If Montgomery wanted a quicker response, why didn’t he use the “quickk reaction force” under his command?

I haven’t studied Somalia in detail, but if I remeber correctly, it was a US obsession to snatch Aidid. The UN did not think that arressting Aidid was so important. The UN knew that this is a tribal conflict and some deal has to be made with Aidid. Or they thought that snatching Aidid was too risky and that they did not have the tools and that attacking Aidid would escalated everything.

When Aidid was finally killed in 1996, his son took over. His son was a naturalized US citizen and a Marine:
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20D14FD345A0C718DDDA10894DE494D81 or:
http://www.netnomad.com/aydiidyounger.nyt.html

If the US had killed Aidid in 1993, his son might have taken over as well and command his tribe…So why was the hunt on Aidid so important?

Hackworth says that the order came from Clinton, not from the UN. So why do you blame the UN for not giving you the tanks fast enough?

The UN knew its limits, that’s why they did not give an order to snatch Aidid. It was a US call. And now you blame the UN for not getting you out of the mess fast enough that you got yourself in…

Again, I have not studied this in detail. I have just searched for Montgomery in this RAND document, which also says:

“The command structure for UNOSOM II
was also unwieldy and confusing. International troops were led by
the Turkish UNOSOM II Commander (Bir), who had an American
Deputy Commander (Montgomery). U.S. combat troops reported
separately to Montgomery and were not under UN command.”

If US troops were not under UN command, why does Hackworth refer to Somalia to make his argument?: “I am opposed to American troops ever being placed under foreign command.”

Tom Powell commented: “By the same token, would the Hutus who carried out the Rwandan genocide conceive of trying to massacre American peacekeepers like they did with the Belgians? Would American soldiers or marines allow themselves to be massacred? I seriously doubt it. Any one of Donald Kagan’s imperial grunts would have been better equipped to hand the Rwandan crisis than Annan or Dallaire. And there lays the problem.”

a) No Belgians were massacred in Rwanda.
b) Americans were killed in Somalia.
c) “Imperial grunts” was written by Robert D. Kaplan and I heard it is a great book: http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400061326/303-9667354-9130652
Kaplan certainly knows what he is talking about.
d) Donald Kagan wrote about the Peloponnesian War and is the dad of the Mars and Venus guy Robert Kagan.

Dave Schuler January 7, 2006 at 8:29 pm

Thanks, Joerg. I can’t speak with any conviction about contemporary European military commanders but I’m pretty confident about U. S. military commanders. If you look at the biographies of the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they mostly grew up poor.

An even greater issue is the difference between the relationship between U. S. military commanders and their men and Third World military commanders who make up a substantial proportion of the forces in UN peacekeeping missions and theirs.

Hackworth attributes the decision to go after Aidid to President Clinton. I don’t know the truth of it. The issue with the Turkish commander was tanks. The UN force had them. The U. S. quick response force didn’t have them.

Just for the record I have opposed every U. S. military intervention for the last 30 years for a variety of reasons (including the Gulf War, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq) so I don’t feel much need to defend them or the tactics used in them.

You might find this description of the “oil on water” relationship between U. S. and French military officers interesting.

Joerg January 7, 2006 at 9:03 pm

“The issue with the Turkish commander was tanks. The UN force had them. The U. S. quick response force didn’t have them.”

I don’t know what the mission of the UN tanks was. It seems to me that the US only asked for the UN tanks after they got in trouble rather than before starting their mission. The mission to hunt Aidid on that fateful day was not a UN mission

Rather than blaming the UN, I suggest that you ask why the US did not have tanks for their own mission.

From PBS Frontline: “In a decision that is later highly criticized, US Defense Secretary Les Aspin denies requests from General Montgomery for armored reinforcements, despite support for Montgomery’s request from General Colin Powell. Aspin says that he did not want to create the appearance that the US was increasing forces in Somalia at a time when they were trying to reduce military presence. He later concedes,”Had I known at the time what I knew after the events of Sunday, [October 3]. I would have made a very different decision.” In December, he is forced to resign.”
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ambush/etc/cron.html

The US screwed up, but many Americans blame the UN: Washington did not give the troops, what they needed, but you blame the UN and don’t want to participate in UN peacekeeping.

The European media blames America for most problems, the Europeans are partly responsible for. And many Americans blame the UN for problmes, they are partly responsible for.

Just in general: The UN is such a popular scapegoat in the US media…

“Just for the record I have opposed every U. S. military intervention for the last 30 years for a variety of reasons”

Would describe yourself as an isolationist?

Dave Schuler January 8, 2006 at 12:03 am

I wouldn’t say “isolationist”. Isolationism is unrealistic in the modern day and would be injurious to the U. S. economy and people. I do consider myself something like a neo-Jeffersonian. I think that we should be more careful than we are about international treaties and should only enter into them when they actually further U. S. interests. And, of course, when we do enter into such agreements I believe that we should adhere to their terms rigidly. I also think we should be significantly more reluctant to use military force than we are particularly when there isn’t enough domestic political support for its use. When we aren’t willing to expend the full force of our arms to secure our objectives (as is true most of the time), I believe the use of force should be avoided.

Phoenician in a time of Romans January 8, 2006 at 7:52 am

I think that these observations have relevance for the situation in Iraq and, in particular highlight why it’s a shame that most Europeans don’t seem to share the U. S. vision of a democratic Iraq.

If your friend takes LSD and jumps off a tall building, is your refusal to join him as he leaps a “failure to share his vision of flying through willpower alone”?

Anyhow, you forgot to mention the parallel to Australian and New Zealand experiences with the British, including the Boer War prior to Gallopolli and strategic disagreements during WWII (the Prime Ministers of the countries felt that the ANZACs should be back home fighting the Japanese rather than in Europe fighting the Nazis, for some reason).

Tom Powell January 8, 2006 at 1:49 pm

Joerg,

a) No Belgians were massacred in Rwanda.
b) Americans were killed in Somalia.
c) “Imperial grunts” was written by Robert D. Kaplan and I heard it is a great book: http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400061326/303-9667354-9130652
Kaplan certainly knows what he is talking about.
d) Donald Kagan wrote about the Peloponnesian War and is the dad of the Mars and Venus guy Robert Kagan.

a) Ten Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect the life of Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana failed to save her from assassination and were themselves killed.
b) Yes, 19 American soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, vastly outnumbered and outgunned and inflicted massive casualties on the Somali gunmen. The point I was making is that we fought back, unlike the UN peacekeepers in Bosnia and Rwanda. I understand the point you’re making. I’m suggesting a massacre primarily carried out by machetes would have been prevented if the UN peacekeepers acted as soldiers instead of passive observers. By demonstrating their unwillingness to protect the PM as well as themselves, the Hutus were given the green light to carry out their genocide without the expectation of a response or consequence from the international community.
c & d) Thanks for the corrections. The only excuse I have is that I work for the New York Times as a fact-checker. ;-)

It seems to me that when a soldier puts on a blue helmet, whatever national prestige that his government or society intrinscally place in his person is automatically made irrevelant. It’s as if he’s no longer a French or a British or a German soldier anymore but rather a property of the United Nations. If something bad happens to him or if he acts or involved in something disgraceful, his country of origin is not held into account, even at a visceral level, by its authorities or civilian population. I can’t imagine this disconnect happening if US troops are involved.

For example, the debacle in Mogadishu resulted in the Sec of Def resigning. A carrier was dispatched to there to apply pressure for the release of Mike Durant and Clinton paid a political price for US involvement in Somalia which undoubtedly resulted in our inaction in Rwanda and his almost exclusive use of politically safe, low risk cruise missiles to strike Saddam and bin Laden.

I wonder what, if any, were the repercussions European capitals felt when their soldiers were constantly being pushed around in Bosnia? Did anything happen to make UN peacekeeping more effective? Was anyone held to account for the failed UN policy in Bosnia and Rwanda?

I wouldn’t want to put the lives of our soldiers into a culture that so blatantly shuns responsibility, doesn’t not work towards a mission’s success and hold no sense of obligation for the peacekeeper’s safety, pride, and soldierly honor. For the love of Christ, Annan was head of peacekeeping during Bosnia and Rwanda and what happened to him. He got promoted! With all due respect to Dave’s insights, in looking to why the US is reluctant to put our troops under UN control one needs not go further than just plain common sense.

Patrick Skelly January 8, 2006 at 10:29 pm

Col. Hackworth is a man of strong opinions. He is not present to defend his view, but I differ with his opinion and wish to make a factual correction and my own opinion.

His 351st Infantry Regiment was not under British command during WW2.

From October 1945 to September 1947 it, and the 88th Infantry Division, were under command of British XIII Corps as occupation forces in the disputed territory between Jugoslavia and Italy.

From September 1947 to late 1954 (I forget the exact date) the 351st was the tactical unit of TRUST, Trieste United States Troops, under command of Allied Forces Trieste. Also part of AFT was BETFOR, British Element Trieste Force. Both were limited by treaty to 5000 troops.

The General Officer Commanding, BETFOR, was also the GOC, AFT, and Military Governor, Free Territory of Trieste, reporting to the UN Security Council as its first, and still unrecognized, peacekeeping force. The Commanding General, TRUST, was also Deputy Commander, AFT.

In general, the COs of the 351st Inf. Regt. went on to impressive careers in the Army, while the CGs, TRUST, were on the dead end to retirement.

It is my opinion that the friendly rivalries between forces did not extend to any significant objection to being under British command.

- Patrick Skelly

lirelou January 10, 2006 at 7:42 am

You fail to mention Vietnam, where Australians (and at least 1 Kiwi) from the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam served within both MAC-V (the U.S. Advisory Command) and the 5th Special Forces Group. Most of the latter served with the MIKE Forces. The largest of these (20 companies in 1969) was the II Corps MIKE Force, which was normally commanded by a USSF MAJ or LTC. For a brief period in 1969, it was commanded by an Australian Major. Down in the companies, where the real war was fought, you found 5 or 6 “Roundeyes” commanding 165 parachute qualified Montagnard troopers from 17 different tribal groups. These “Roundeyes” could be all U.S., but were often a mix of U.S. and Australian soldiers. MIKE Force companies could perform independent missions, or find themselves “chopped” to any U.S. Commander (there were no Australian Forces in the II Corps area) such as the 4th Infantry Division, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (which had had an attached RAR battalion in 1965), or any of the District or Special Forces B Team commanders. They even occasionally fought under Vietnamese command. Australian soldiers who commanded US Special Forces soldiers soldiers during 1968-69 included CPT David Savage, CPT Pete Harris, WO Barry Tolley, WO Rayenne Simpson VC, CPT “Roo” Rothwell, CPT JED White, CPT Ray Hinde, CPT Burke, and WO “Wallaby” Wilkes. Serving under American command had its disadvantages. Not only was the beer horrible, but exemplary performance in combat often went unnoticed within Australian channels. In point of fact, WO (Ret) Barry Tolley is scheduled to receive a belated Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for his actions as a MIKE Force commander at Duc Lap on 25 August 1968. Barry had previously received the Silver Star for his actions at Ben Het in 1969, this sometime in the 1990s. Presentation will be at the Annual RAR Association banquet in Townsville, QLD, on 11 Feb 2006. As for this “bloody Yank”, I left the MIKE Force to join a tank battalion at Fort Hood, where I found a battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers and a tank company of the Royal Irish Hussars on a six month rotation to the 1st Armored Division. My Bn XO was a British officer, first from the 17/21st Lancers (MAJ Michael Canning), and then the Queens Dragoon Guards (MAJ Michael Mates, later MP). Both of those officers rated me during my staff duties. Later in my career, I served on exercises with the Canadian, French, and British armies, and as an instructor within the U.S. Army School of the Americas. I would gladly serve under the command of any of those European armies, and met not a few professional soldiers from the Latin armies who equalled the very best that the U.S. Army (and in one case, the Marines) had to offer. My supervisor at the School of the Americas was an Argentine Marine, later a battalion commander in the Falklands. Understand tht when I say “command”, I mean operational control. Command (less OPCON) includes the responsibility to equip and pay, and the power of coercion (UCMJ) over the soldier. That responsibility remains in U.S. channels. (Australians in the MIKE Force were supplied by the U.S. government, who billed the Australian government for ammunition expended.)

Dave Schuler January 10, 2006 at 8:22 am

Thanks for the contribution, lirelou. I was unaware of the incident.

Dan April 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Joerg makes a good point. I’ve read that Major General Montgomery was in direct command of U.S. forces in Somalia. I found it to be ridiculous that U.S. commanders said they would never work with the UN again after what happened to the Rangers. In a way it is disrespectful to those Rangers and is shortsighted on the part of the U.S. military. Military forces working together would benefit all sides and provide more efficient operations abroad.

TIM HINKLEY November 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm

How about the battle for HAMEL, France, 4th, July 1918. A small but significant battle involving mainly Australian troops and a number of US infantry attached. An interesting battle but not much noted in US history.

US forces in 1918 more like the Australian forces in1915. Some good basic skills and enthusiastic but inexperienced in combat and large scale modern warfare. Needing to develop tactics, organisation and leadership very quickly.

Australian forces had been able to learn from bloody experience and despite heavy casualties were still effective. The heavy fighting
in 1918 had pushed Australian units to their limits. Troops were fatigued and many units under strength. With German forces also
weakened it was important to continue offensive action and not to
give them time to rest and regroup. US forces had to adapt quickly.

Brave and fresh US troops could be cut down by German guns.
Enthusiasm and bravery were important but useless without
the skills needed. Sorry to drag on like this I only wanted to
let you know about the battle for Hamel. I can go on about
that particular battle if anyone is interested.

Charles Sibthorp April 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm

The reference to the Australians at Gallipoli is not very accurate. Despite Commonly held belief (Which are usual incorrect as I know as a student of history), more British soldiers died at Gallipoli than all the ANZAC casualties combined. People seem to have the idea that the Australian, New Zealand, South African etc identities matter when it came to their armies. Most of the officers who served in WWI in the Imperial forces were British, because most of the Army had only been formed between 1899 and 1905 and the British could supply the officers. I might add that the French suffered the heaviest casaulties in the entire Campaign.

Another reference that has to be correct to the supposed reference in attitude of ‘European’ and ‘American’ officers. First I should just say the British aaren’t European and the entire ethos and attitude of the British Army and the Imperial Expeditionary Forces were different from the French for example. Until 1916, there was no conscription within the British Army unlike the French who had conscription since the 1870s. The Regimental system had evolved in such a way that the officers and men were usually the sons of former officers and men. Training of British Officers was such that they knew they had a responsible towards their men. Also like the American Army, there was a strong NCO presence. The Officer’s authority relied on the support of the NCOs.

The Aristocratic claims is untrue. Following the Reforms by various British Government from the 1870s onwards, the Officer Class of the British Army were drawn from what was called the ‘Service Class’. These were middle class men who would have gone to a public school like Eton and usually onto a University such as Oxford before the going onto Officer Training acedamy at Sandhurst (Interestingly founded in the same year at West Point). They were educated almost from birth of the ideas of duty and responsibility. The only difference the American troops placed under British command in particular, would have been the langauge. Compared to langauge and attitudes of most working class British men of the era (now to some extent), blue collar american men fighting under British command were relatively genteel and respectable. The sense of humour may have been a barrier too. The British Political leadership were (despite commonly held opinion) far more prepared to sacrify British lives than they were foreigners, because the reports home could be censored. This created a huge resentment towards politicians which had it’s outlet in satire and humour against the politicians with a degree of savagery, which would have shocked most Americans of the era, who had a far more reverent view of politicians than the British have ever had. This is shown in three polls done over the course of the 20th Century which asked whether the public though politicians were self-serving, 1914: 50%, 1945: 60% and 1992: 70%.

Jay August 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I’ll stay out of the firefight about Somalia and address the primary issue.

You have it backwards in your opening remarks. US forces may never be placed under foreign command. Nor would any other countries allow their troops, sailors, airmen or marines to be commanded by an American. That implies the US can fire or administer discipline to those troops. Exceptions may exist for those officers on exchange duty at the lower levels. However, US forces may be placed under foreign operational control or tactical control. That is a lesser degree of authority than command, even though you seem to imply it is greater. You cannot change the units mission (reason it was deployed) nor its make-up (can’t strip organic artillery away from a unit). You also have no responsibility for logistics of the unit.

The definitions are contained in AAP-6 for all of the terms in case anybody is interested.

Fred January 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm

President Obama on January 17, 2013 appointed an Richard Burr an Australian without US citizenship as Deputy Commanding General – Operations of the United States Army Pacific.
The entire US Army Pacific has been under direct foreign command for more than a year, under your friend and mine President Obama, and he never needed to swear his oath of allegiance to the United States of America as a citizen of Australia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=32678229

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