Bold Alligator 2012 in Historical Perspective


01/16/2012 by Ed Timperlake

Every Midshipman in the US Navy  has learned in the “Miracle at Midway”  that  in just four minutes on June 4th 1942  the Pacific war changed in favor of America. In just those four minutes, with a tremendous sacrifice of US carrier pilots, three Japanese fleet carriers were mortally wounded.

Many a book has been written about that battle but not until Max Hastings seminal work Inferno; The World at War, 1939-1945 did a complement be made about Admiral Nimitz that puts the success of  his visionary command leadership of  the  great sea  battle in context.

Later this month Bold Alligator 2012 begins with significant coalition and US forces operating together in shaping templates for littoral engagements. Credit Image: Bigstcok

All Naval historians agree that breaking the Imperial Japanese Naval Code, the effort of Commander Rochefort and his team of cryptographers, was the key to providing the fighting Admirals at sea and their carrier pilots the winning edge.

Courage is always assumed, judgment, leadership and situational awareness in battle then becomes everything and America was well served.

A key event infrequently noted is one that author Hastings stresses, it is a simple gesture that says it all:

The U.S Navy had achieved a triumph. Nimitz, with characteristic graciousness, sent his car to bring Commander Rochefort to a celebration party at Pearl Harbor. Before his assembled staff, the commander-in-chief said” “”This officer deserves a major share of the credit for the victory at Midway”


But the war continued until President Truman made the decision to unleash the atomic bomb in August 1945. So after Midway a lot of Marines, Sailors, solders and airman would continue to pay the ultimate price for victory. It was brutal and costly, the war still had to be won, and that is where the Navy/ Marine littoral warfare team developed con-ops and technology while constantly learning and improving by fighting extremely bloody battles.

Most look at US WWII “Island Hopping” as US Marines going shore and the Navy providing support while concurrently maneuvering in “blue water” to engage in fleet action.  But reflecting on the entire Solomon campaign from island hopping along a “littoral” shore line to blue water maneuvering  it is fair to say that one of the most brutal littoral campaigns in history was the Solomon Island campaign.

The Navy/Marine team, especially in the Solomons, were essentially jointly fighting a littoral war. The geography of that island chain shows us that.

The lessons learned from that early action beginning with the US Marine 1st Marine Division going ashore on the island of Guadalcanal is that joint Navy Marine operations against a reactive enemy requires an understanding of several principles.

Situational awareness is critical, and respect for the enemy having better weapons is necessary, Japanese “long lance” torpedoes were better. At the command level it is imperative that commanders must always pay attention to the details while not losing sight of the tactical and strategic objectives.

The Solomon campaign cost the total loss of over fifty ships before the US and allies prevailed and the battles shifted closer to Japan. One moment must be acknowledged is when “signals intelligence” code breaking allowed the US Army Air Corps fighter pilots to intercept and shoot down Admiral Yamato. In removing one of the great Admirals in history, regardless of nationality, the Army Air Force P-38 pilots achieved a significant strategic success.

In essence, the key to victory is a simple to understand hard to execute template for a lot of military forces in history and around the globe today.

The chain-of-command must have the inherent element of trust at all levels, the wisdom to delegate as appropriate, realistic training, evolving dynamic tactics and an understanding of all aspects of technology friend and foe.

If these attributes come together with enough resources and a profound understanding of logistics then the engaged fighting force should ultimately prevail. Nonethelss, everyone who has ever served in uniform will never also not discount luck.

In the Solomons “littoral” campaign many fatal mistakes were made on both sides, equipment found wanting and situational awareness of both sides in understanding the combat moves of a reactive enemy was often unknown or misjudged.

The essence of the American way of war is understanding that training, tactics, technology, and leadership have to be practiced in demanding circumstances.  Now the Navy Marine team is going to practice going into harms way in a joint exercise call Bold Alligator.

We are seventy years from the Solomon Island campaign but off the East Coast the echoes from history will be heard at the human level. Marines will be Marines and practice closing with and destroying the enemy. Sailors will be sailors and maneuver ships to effect the most advantageous positioning to fight and also survive, in this exercise

Senior Admirals are taking a page from Admiral Nimitz legacy and they have delegated to the Admiral fighting the force and the Marines going ashore the confidence to fight the force. Those leaders have appropriately delegated to their planning staffs the confidence and support to create a bottoms up exercise.  This approach is very American and especially very Navy/Marine.

Old con-ops will be studied and validated or dismissed in favor of new lessons learned. Ships planes and weapon systems currently in the fleet will be employed. New advances in command and control will be looked at and vetted. The flying surrogate for F-35 systems will be overhead. Logistical support innovations by the newly introduced MV-22 and ships called T-ake Ships will be employed and tested.  The “miracle hour” of medical care will be addressed.

Many other basic and innovated lessons will be learned-mistakes identified and fixed. The most important lesson of Bold Alligator-“good and other” is both the Carrier the USS Enterprise “The Big E” and the Marines in the MEU will be going into combat this summer-Bold Alligator is a deadly serious exercise.

Seventy years ago the Navy/Marine/AAF team came together in an obscure island chain. Since that time the US Military has fought, trained and fought again numerous battles. In today’s world think cruise missiles are long lance torpedoes (but we know that now and are ready) signals intelligence is called “cyber” and the Strait of Hormuz or the South China Sea have some similarities to the relative threats defeated  in the Solomon Islands—the more thing change the more they stay the same.