Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lt. Col. Earl Hancock Ellis (1880-1923): Marine, Visionary and Spy

Sixty-seven years ago, my late father was an eighteen year old Marine who survived the landing on Guam's Red Beach 2 with Able Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, the slaughter on Bundschu Ridge where only he and a dozen other Marines were not killed or terribly wounded, the largest and most savage Banzai charge of the Pacific war and fighting toward the northern jungles of Guam in the Marianas. Guam was American soil and had been taken by Japan hours after Pearl Harbor. From 1941-1944, America captured islands from Japan through amphibious assault. Vast fleets of ships brought troops to shore, covered by air and ship-to-shore bombardments from plans developed by a Marine officer in the 1920's. Though Guam was declared secured on August 10, 1944, fighting on Guam would continue after Japan surrendered.

Twenty one years before and a year before my Dad's birth, another Marine, a forty-three year old Lieutenant Colonel and the man who developed amphibious warfare doctrine, on authorized leave and in the guise of an American Businessman for the Hughes Trading Company died under mysterious circumstances on the Japanese controlled islands of Palau group in the Caroline Islands. Earl Hancock "Pete" Ellis joined the Marines in 1900 in Chicago, Illinois, as a private. Ellis served on Guam and the Philippines and was commissioned as an officer in 1901.

From 1901 up to WWI, Pete Ellis earned a reputation as planning genius and as a violent alcoholic. Ellis proved, on Guam during an exercise, that heavy artillery could be successfully landed in an amphibious attack. During a very dull dinner with a Navy chaplain, Ellis livened things up by shooting the glasses off of the dinner table. The balance of genius and self-destruction kept Pete Ellis in the game.

During WWI, Ellis rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and directed operations and planning for the 4th Marine Brigade through the Armistice. For his courage and genius French Marshal Foch awarded the Marine Brigade honors still worn of the uniforms of certain regiments and said this of Pete Ellis, "From the 2nd to the 10th of October, 1918, near Blanc Mont, Lieutenant Colonel Ellis has shown a high sense of duty. Thanks to his intelligence, his courage and hi energy, the operations that this Brigade (Fourth Brigade, Second Division) took part in, have always been successful."

Military men should and do plan for the next war and Ellis was certain that America would face the growing ambitions of Japan in a vast and bloody conflict on the earth's greates ocean. The Pacific and Japan dominated Ellis' thoughts and energies, but beer and whiskey controlled his blood stream and toxified his vital organs. Lt. Col. was hospitalized several times for alcohol related illnesses immediately after the World War, but, in 1920,he energetically drafted a study for the necessity to plan for war across the Pacific Ocean.

"Operation Plan 712 - Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia", which underlined that in the events of hostilities of Japan, advanced bases would be required to support the fleet. To include that the Territory of Hawaii constituted the 'only' support for the United States Navy due to the lack of facilities in the Philippines and Guam. In since, Japan has already occupied the Marshall, Caroline, and the Palau Islands, which flanked the U.S. lines of communications in the region by more than 2,300 miles. Ellis's conclusion in his document predicted that Japan will initiate the war, and furthermore indicating that Japan would stay near their own territorial waters until encountered by the U.S. fleet. He also added that great losses to the Marine forces would occur during the amphibious assault in what he termed "ship-shore belt". He advised the war planners to avoid 'blue-water' transfers, to form task forces prior to leaving base ports, and not to divide units up among several transports.

'... a major fleet action would decide the war in the Pacific; the U.S. fleet would be 25 percent superior to that of the enemy; the enemy would hold his main fleet within his defense line; fleet unites must be husbanded; preliminary activities of the U.S fleet must be accomplished with a minimum of assets; Marine Corps forces must be self-sustaining; long, drawn-out operations must be avoided to afford the greatest protection to the fleet; sea objectives must include a fleet anchorage.'[

It is at this point the Father of Amphibious Warfare asked for and received the permission of Marine Corps Commendant John Lejune and Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. to quietly resign his commission and travel incognito through Japan's expanding Pacific empire.

A recent biography and study of Lt. Col. Ellis by Dirk Anthony Balendorf and Merrill L. Bartlett probes the mysterious death of Ellis and the loss of the charts, maps, tide schedules, and reports that were confiscated by the Japanese upon his death.

Tomorrow, I will post more on this fascinating American.

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