Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 15:21:20 -0500
From: "Mike Yared" <email@example.com> | This is Spam | Add to Address Book
from The Leatherneck Magazine of Oct 2002. Letter to the Editos
In studying Marine Corps operations in and around Belleau Wood in 1918, I'm repeatedly struck by the fact that Marine rifle companies and support companies were designated by numbers rather than letters. Example: Ist Battalion of Colonel Wendell C. "Whispering Buck" Neville's Fifth Marine Regiment in 1918 was 17th Company, 49th Co, 66th Co and 67th Co.
Later, these were converted to A, B, C and D companies. In the Civil War and the war with Spain, Marine companies used letters, as did the U.S. Army. In all the voluminous literature about the Great War and watch on the Rhein, I've yet to see an explanation as to why the Corps, very briefly, adopted the European fashion of using numbers for companies, vice letters. Theodore W. Blackburn *
We have Gunnery Sergeant Edward J Herterich, USMC (Ret) to thank for doing the research on this. His answers come, in part, from the "Tactical Notebook," August 1992, edited by Major Bruce I. Gudmundsson, USMCR. Prior to 1911 the Marine Corps had no permanent combat organizations. Marines were assigned to form various detachments into temporary companies as required.
In 1911, as things got hot in the Caribbean and Central America, Marine detachments and Marine barracks, with the exception of a few "housekeeping personnel," were ordered to form permanently into numbered companies. The numbering appears to have been rather haphazard.
Although there had been lettered companies in the SpanishAmerican War and before, there had been no established system because there were no permanent expeditionary forces.
Why numbered vice lettered designation of companies was directed after the turn of the century is unknown. Each company was composed of two officers and 100 men trained as infantry and capable of combining with other companies to form expeditionary forces.
Expeditionary forces usually formed a regiment of eight to 10 companies each. These units were formed and disbanded as the need arose. Further, companies were frequently transferred from one regiment to another but rarely operated independently. Several companies also received additional training for other needed combat skills, such as engineering. During World War I, the Fourth Marine Brigade was composed of numbered companies.
The numbered companies of the brigade also had lettered designations, but seldom used them. The Fifth Marine Brigade, composed oj the 1 th and 13th Marine regiments and 5th Machine-gun Battalion, was formed directly under US. Army procedures and contained lettered companies. Although the 5th Brigade made it to France, it never saw combat as a unit. In Ronald J Brown s book 'A Few Good Men: The Fighting Fifth Marines," he explains that the numbered companies continued until the 1930s: "The 5th Regiment was officially redesignated the 5th Marines and numbered companies were given letter designations in June . ...
This dual number-letter system, a confusing joint-service bureaucratic throwback to the Great War, was retained until 1 January 1933."-Sound Off Ed. Mike Yared