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“The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age” Stephen Decatur and the Defeat of the Barbary Pirates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who has followed my writings on this site knows that I love Naval history, especially that of the United States Navy. It was one of those subjects that I began reading about in grade school. Since I grew up as a Navy brat it is unsurprising that even after a detour of seventeen and a half years in the Army that I ended up in the Navy.

In 1803 the still very young United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  The Navy, which had been disestablished after the Revolution was reestablished by Congress to protect American merchant sailors who were constantly being accosted by British, French, and Barbary ships, on March 27th 1793.

For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of the Rulers of the Barbary states for free passage of its ships in the Mediterranean, as well as hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions as he had when the French demanded similar tribute in 1797.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him.

These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused to pay tribute, Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a Naval small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more without Congressional approval. Despite the fact that Tripoli had declared war on the United States, Congress did not issue a declaration of war, but instead authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships and commanded by officers that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the Brig USS Argus, the Frigates USS Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, EnterprisePhiladelphia, Schooner Enterprise and Brig Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolitan ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such a transfer would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber; but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge was lured into shoal water and ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner an imprisoned while the ship was floated off the reef by the Tripolitans. The ship was partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor. For the moment the powerful frigate was out of action until her foremast which had been cut down by Bainbridge in his unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal could be replaced.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble ordered Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers and make a plan to destroy the Philadelphia while the ship was at anchor and unable to put to sea.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well. The Intrepid was re-rigged with the

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolitan ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  The ship was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using an Arabic speaking Sicilian sailor to request permission to enter the harbor under the ruse that she was a merchant ship that had lost her anchors in a storm.

The request was granted the and Decatur sailed the Intrepid to bring her alongside the Philadelphia without Securing permission from the Tripitolan watch standers aboard Philadelphia to tie up alongside the frigate. When he drew alongside the massive ship Decatur ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control, and after ensuring that the ship was unseaworthy, he and his sailors set the frigate ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of Tripolitan shore batteries and gunboats.

The mission complete Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring, said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War.

In that final Barbary war, Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron, Rais Hamidu.

Following the defeat of the Algerian fleet, the  Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  More than any one man Stephen Decatur was responsible for the end their reign of piracy and terror in the Mediterranean.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Semper Fidelis! Happy 236th Birthday Marine Corps!

In 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines. The first order of business was to appoint Samuel Nicholas as the Commandant of the newly formed Marines. Robert Mullan the owner and proprietor of the said Tun Tavern became Nicholson’s first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  They served throughout the War for Independence and like the Navy they were disbanded in April 1783 and reconstituted as the Marine Corps in 1798. The served on the ships of the Navy in the Quasi-war with France, against the Barbary Pirates where a small group of 8 Marines and 500 Arabs under Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon made a march of 500 miles across the Libyan Desert to lay siege Tripoli but only reached Derna. The action is immortalized in the Marine Hymn as well as the design of the Marine Officer’s “Mameluke” Sword. They served in the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican-American War where in the storming of the on Chapultepec Palace they continued to build and enduring legacy. In the months leading up to the Civil War they played a key role at home and abroad.  In October 1859 Colonel Robert E. Lee led Marines from the Marine Barracks Washington DC to capture John Brown and his followers who had captured the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry.

The Corps would serve through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).  In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

During the inter-war years the Marines were quite active in the Caribbean and Asia and also developed amphibious tactics and doctrine that would be put to use in the Pacific Campaign.  During the war the Marines served in all theaters but won enduring fame at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and numerous other battles in the Pacific war. Marine Aviators flew in some the most desperate actions in the war to support the Navy and amphibious operations ashore.

After the war the Truman Administration sought to eliminate the Marine Corps but the Corps was saved by the efforts of Americans across the country and Marine supporters in Congress.  That was a good thing because the Marines were instrumental in keeping the North Koreans from overrunning the South during the Korean War on the Pusan Perimeter, turned the tide at Inchon and helped decimate Communist Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir.  After Korea the Marines would serve around the World in the Caribbean and Lebanon and in Vietnam where at Da Nang Keh Sanh, Hue City, Con Thien fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies.  The Marines took the initiative to implement innovative counter insurgency measures such as the Combined Action Platoons which enjoyed tremendous success until they were shut down by the Army high command.  These lessons would serve the Marines well in the new millennium during the Anbar Awakening in Iraq which changed the course of that insurgency and war.

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After theirwithdraw from Iraq the Marines became a central player in Afghanistan where today they are engaged around Khandehar and in Helmand Province.

The Marines are elite among world military organizations and continue to “fight our nations battles on the air and land and sea.” The Corps under General John LeJeune institutionalized the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday and their establishment at Tun Tavern. General LeJeune issued this order which is still read at every Marine Corps Birthday Ball or observance:

MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

I have had the privilege of serving with the Marines in peace and war and the most memorable Marine Corps Birthday celebrations for me were in Ramadi with the Marine advisors to the Iraqi 7th Division and with the Marine Security Force Company at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The highlight of my career was serving with the Marines in Iraq and I wear my Iraq Campaign Medal with pride.  The Marines have helped my professional development as an office through the Amphibious Warfare Course, Command and Staff College and the Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification. I count my Marines as some of my most enduring friends.

Happy Birthday Marines. Thank you for all you do.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Navy is the Future of National Security

USS HUE CITY CG 66 in the Arabian Gulf 2002.  “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones 

“Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”  President George Washington

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” President Woodrow Wilson

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….” President John F. Kennedy

There are a great many debates in Congress and the Pentagon regarding the current and future military budgets in light of the massive budget deficits and economic crisis facing the nation.  Complicating the issue is our massive commitment to land campaigns that contribute little to the long term national security of the United States and its friends. These wars constrain our diplomatic military and economic ability to respond to other crises at home and around the world be they military threats, terrorism or natural or man made disasters.

Until the mid 20th Century theUnited States viewed the land forces when used abroad as expeditionary forces which were employed overseas for relatively short periods of times of combat.  The mission and strategy was to fight the war, bring all or most of the forces home, assist with security as needed and depend on a naval presence to show the flag without a continued large “boots on the ground” presence.   The two times that we have elected to fight protracted ground wars with no definable condition of victory we have come out weaker than we went in.  This was the case inVietnam a war which badly divided the nation and nearly destroyed the military as a viable force.  The present campaign in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq which is close to ending have the potential to do the same.

In the prosecuting the Global War on Terror which was launched in response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 we have for the most costly and historically flawed ways to use an American Army.  In doing so we have had to invest a huge amount of our expenditures simply to maintain a force to keep the status quo in a country that will turn on us as soon as it convenient to do so.

In the process of focusing on these aspects of this war we have forgotten the more crucial long term aspects of national security which can only be addressed by maritime power.  This power includes the military might of the Navy and Marine Corps team but also includes our Merchant Marine and Coast Guard.

Ninety percent of world trade is transported by ship via sea lanes that have choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz,Strait of Malacca, the Bab El Mendeb and the Horn of Africa, and the Strait of Gibraltar.  Likewise other traffic must pass through the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits or around Cape Horn.  Then there are the two major maritime canals the Panama and Suez Canals.  Terrorists, pirates, rogue nations and ascending Naval powers such asChinapose real threats in all of these critical maritime commerce choke points.

Real and potential threats to the choke points: Iranian Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval forces, Somali pirates, the new Chinese aircraft carrier and a Pakistani Navy that may become an enemy overnight 

Most of the world’s population lives in what are called the littorals, the areas of land adjacent to oceans and major waterways.  Likewise most industry is located in these areas. Most of these populations and industries are also in areas under the same type of threats as the sea lanes and choke points.  Simply put the sea and the littorals are much more important to this country and the world than landlocked Afghanistan.  They also are much more easily influenced by naval power that is not bound to land bases in nations where governments and their policy to the United Statesand our friends can change overnight and which large land armies would have minimal impact.

The United States Navy has been and still is the world’s preeminent naval power. It will likely remain so for the foreseeable future but the navy is strained.  Since 2001 it has shrunk in size, shed some 52,000 sailors and seen its scope of responsibility and operational tempo increase putting greater strain on the ships, aircraft and personnel remaining.  Ships are aging, maintenance was deferred and the planned new construction has not materialized.  The Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers are nearing an average age of 20 years, our carriers average 23 years old, many of our submarines are nearing the end of their projected service lives and some other ships are far older.

Ship classes like the Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), San Antonio Class Landing Ships (LPD) and the DD-1000 Zumwalt Class are badly over budget, plagued with technical and workmanship issue and are behind in production.

USS Freedom (above) and USS Independence Littoral Combat Ships

The LCS in particular seems like a bad investment, the ships are undermanned and under armed, planned weapons modules are not in production and they are not designed for survivability.  In effect they are large fast ships with almost no offensive or defensive capabilities that would be hard pressed to survive in a fight with any current or future Corvette or Frigate fielded by an opposing naval force. In order to be effective they need heavier armament and larger crews and need a redesign to improve their survivability. It makes no sense to spend more than half a billion dollars each on ships that are not survivable and cannot fulfill their intended missions.  A better choice would be something similar to the Dutch De Zeven Provincien  German Sachsen or the French Lafayette Class frigates which have a heavy armament and good endurance or the smaller and cheaper German Braunschweig class Corvettes.

DD-1000 the Zumwalt Class

The Zumwalts are 14,000 ton “Destroyers” that were designed as a replacement for the battleship.  Originally 32 were planned but the high cost and multiple problems associated with the design. These issues have included such things as seaworthiness due to their hull form and other hull issues, its integrated advanced electro-magnetic propulsion system and its surface and air warfare capabilities.  Their armament has been an issue since the beginning as they cannot meet the standards of the Aegis equipped Cruisers and DDGs and cannot support the Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities of those ships.  Their naval gunfire support capability which was advertised as one of their main selling points is woeful. They are to be equipped with two 155mm long range naval guns designed to use a “smart” munitions. The ships will carry a limited supply of shells for these guns and because of the need for extended range and guidance capabilities the shells will have a smaller charge than their land based counterparts.   They will have only two-thirds of the VLS cells than Ticonderoga class ships meaning that they can carry few missiles of all types.  It is likely that the Tomahawk cruise missile will comprise the bulk of their missile armament but if one wants a ship that’s only significant capability is launching Tomahawks then there are many other ideas which are more economical and can carry far more missiles than the Zumwalts. One of these was the Arsenal ship which was designed to carry 500 Tomahawks on a stealthy platform that requires a small crew and had an estimated cost of 500-800 million dollars.  It was cancelled in favor of the project that eventually turned into the Zumwalt class. The DD-1000 program began with the DD-21 program in 1994 and the first ship may not enter service until 2015. The cost of just two of these ships has grown exponentially to 6.6 billion as of 2011.  The two ships under construction have little place in the current or future Navy and would likely serve as technology test beds.

The Arsenal Ship

While we have increased the numbers and continued the production of the highly successful Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers (DDG) and Wasp class Amphibious Assault ships (LHD) it is not enough to compensate for the continued attrition.  If worst case budget projections occur the Navy could experience massive cuts without any decrease in maritime threats or operational commitments.  The Coast Guard is in even worse shape.

The USS John S McCain DDG 56

The most important aspect of national defense, free trade and humanitarian assistance in the coming years are America’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  Without a strong Navy and the other components of maritime power we are at the mercy of tin-horned dictators, pirates and terrorists who live and operate in the most vital areas of the world’s maritime transportation network.

Humanitarian assistance: USNS Comfort off Haiti 

As our political leaders meet in the coming weeks and months decisions will be reached in matters of national security.  They will be based budget considerations alone as we have not operated on a clearly defined national security strategy since the end of the Cold War.  Force structure has to be decided based on the over arching national strategy and broad brushed and un-thought out cuts are a recipe for disaster.

History tells us this. Following our Revolution the nation was deep in debt and eliminated the Navy.  Since our merchant shipping was no longer protected by the Royal Navy and the treaty withFrancewas allowed to lapse American ships became easy prey for the Barbary Pirates.  Rather than build a navy to protect American citizens and shipping the nation paid “tribute” to dictators which amounted to tens of millions of dollars until Thomas Jefferson sent the new re-established Navy to counter the threat.   Our history and that of other maritime powers such asGreat Britainand theNetherlandsprovide many precedents for this use of power.

What needs to happen now is for the LCS ships and Zumwalt class production to end with the current ships building.  No carriers except the 50 year old USS Enterprise should be decommissioned until a full up national strategy review is completed and agreed to by both political parties.  That strategy needs to actually prioritize the most important areas of engagement that the military should focus its efforts.  The Middle East will remain important but will fade as Asia continues to gain importance.

Regarding other ship classes much needs to happen.  DDG production should be stepped up and an affordable yet fully capable replacement to the Ticonderoga class designed, to include the ability to conduct ballistic missile defense.  A diesel electric attack submarine needs to be fielded to complement the Virginia Class attack boats.  A Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier design should be designed and produced to compliment the Nimitz and Ford Class Carriers now in commission or building. The Navy should design or take an off the shelf Corvette or small Frigate type ship to fill the role envisioned by the LCS.  Such ships should be designed for specific tasks to avoid the massive cost overruns and simplify production.  When one remembers that it as the United States Navy that first developed the Destroyer Escort type ship to fill a specific role such an undertaking should be well within ship designer and capabilities so long as they do not try to “gold plate” the type and make it a jack of all trades and master of none ship.  Other types of ship should be studied to include smaller but still capable aircraft carriers and new amphibious ships to support the Marine Expeditionary forces.

Ships need to be designed with combat power, survivability as the first priorities and they need to be affordable and easy to mass produce.  Designs do not need to be over thought.  George Patton’s adage “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week” applies today for this nation and the Navy.  To adapt Patton’s adage I say that “a combat effective and survivable ship class that we can afford and mass produce now is better than a perfect ship that bankrupts us and cannot be produced in the numbers needed to secure the seas.” 

The Navy is the American Armed Force of the Future. Of all the Armed Services the Navy offers the United States the ability to protect its interests abroad and homeland security without the need to base large numbers of ground forces overseas.  Naval forces are flexible, are easily sustainable and conduct security, combat and humanitarian operations better and more affordably than any armed service in the world. When coupled with the expeditionary capability of the Marines offer a force that affordably provides national security.  George Washington, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all knew this.  I do hope that the current Administration, Congress and their successors will not allow the current superiority that we enjoy on the high seas to decay just as our greatest economic and military competitors build up their naval capabilities and the threat of terrorists, pirates and the small but dangerous navies of rogue states threaten the sea lanes that are absolutely vital to our economy and national security.

The Navy is also the least provocative armed service and history has repeatedly shown that naval forces are a deterrent to war and guarantee of peace.

On that last note…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The most bold and daring act of the age” Stephen Decatur and the Burning of the USS Philadelphia at Tripoli

 

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Stephen Decatur

This is the latest of a series of articles that I am writing this month in celebration of the brave men and proud ships of the United States Navy on its 236th Anniversary. Thursday October 13th is that day and I ask my readers to wish any United States Navy Sailor that you know a “Happy Birthday” and thank them for their service in this time of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

In 1803 the United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of these states for free passage of its ships and hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him. These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused the demand and put his beliefs into practice Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more. Congress did not issue a declaration of war but authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia and Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolian ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such an event would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron under the command of Captain William Bainbridge ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner and the ship floated off by the Tripolians partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor until her foremast could be remounted having be cut away by Bainbridge in his  unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble order Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers to destroy the Philadelphia at anchor.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well.

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolian ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  Posing as a Tripolian ship he was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using a Sicilian sailor who spoke Arabic to request permission. This was granted and Intrepid approached Philadelphia and when close enough ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control of the vessel and set it ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of the shore batteries and gunboats.

Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War. Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron Rais Hamidu.  The Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  Stephen Decatur more than any one man ended their reign of terror against Christian Europe.

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Happy 235th Birthday Marines!

In 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines. The first order of business was to appoint Samuel Nicholas as the Commandant of the newly formed Marines. Robert Mullan the owner and proprietor of the said Tun Tavern became Nicholson’s first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  They served throughout the War for Independence and like the Navy they were disbanded in April 1783 and reconstituted as the Marine Corps in 1798. The served on the ships of the Navy in the Quasi-war with France, against the Barbary Pirates where a small group of 8 Marines and 500 Arabs under Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon made a march of 500 miles across the Libyan Desert to lay siege Tripoli but only reached Derna. The action is immortalized in the Marine Hymn as well as the design of the Marine Officer’s “Mameluke” Sword. They served in the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican-American War where in the storming of the on Chapultepec Palace they continued to build and enduring legacy. In the months leading up to the Civil War they played a key role at home and abroad.  In October 1859 Colonel Robert E. Lee led Marines from the Marine Barracks Washington DC to capture John Brown and his followers who had captured the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry.

The Corps would serve through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).  In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

During the inter-war years the Marines were quite active in the Caribbean and Asia and also developed amphibious tactics and doctrine that would be put to use in the Pacific Campaign.  During the war the Marines served in all theaters but won enduring fame at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and numerous other battles in the Pacific war. Marine Aviators flew in some the most desperate actions in the war to support the Navy and amphibious operations ashore.

After the war the Truman Administration sought to eliminate the Marine Corps but the Corps was saved by the efforts of Americans across the country and Marine supporters in Congress.  That was a good thing because the Marines were instrumental in keeping the North Koreans from overrunning the South during the Korean War on the Pusan Perimeter, turned the tide at Inchon and helped decimate Communist Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir.  After Korea the Marines would serve around the World in the Caribbean and Lebanon and in Vietnam where at Da Nang Keh Sanh, Hue City, Con Thien fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies.  The Marines took the initiative to implement innovative counter insurgency measures such as the Combined Action Platoons which enjoyed tremendous success until they were shut down by the Army high command.  These lessons would serve the Marines well in the new millennium during the Anbar Awakening in Iraq which changed the course of that insurgency and war.

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After theirwithdraw from Iraq the Marines became a central player in Afghanistan where today they are engaged around Khandehar and in Helmand Province.

The Marines are elite among world military organizations and continue to “fight our nations battles on the air and land and sea.” The Corps under General John LeJeune institutionalized the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday and their establishment at Tun Tavern. General LeJeune issued this order which is still read at every Marine Corps Birthday Ball or observance:

MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

I have had the privilege of serving with the Marines in peace and war and the most memorable Marine Corps Birthday celebrations for me were in Ramadi with the Marine advisors to the Iraqi 7th Division and with the Marine Security Force Company at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The highlight of my career was serving with the Marines in Iraq and I wear my Iraq Campaign Medal with pride.  The Marines have helped my professional development as an office through the Amphibious Warfare Course, Command and Staff College and the Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification. I count my Marines as some of my most enduring friends.

Happy Birthday Marines. Thank you for all you do.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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