Thursday, August 8, 2013



I tend to hunt down experts if I want to know something for a book—and in the process have met some remarkable people, many of whom subsequently became friends.

One such was a Royal Marine NCO sniper called John Napier who was involved in the first ground action in the Falkland’s war—the re-taking of South Georgia. The weather was vile, the British were heavily outnumbered, and the Argentinians were warm and snug inside heated buildings. Outside, conditions were artic.

When I asked John why they had gone up against such superior odds, he remarked that “It was too bloody cold to do otherwise.” Their attack was entirely successful.

The marines performed with distinction in the Falkland’s war and developed a reputation for “fighting smart” as well as effectively. For instance, whereas other units attacked Argentine units entrenched in the hills around Port Stanley in classic infantry fashion—using suppressive fire, grenades and flanking attacks—the marines identified all the main enemy positions and took them out with Milan missiles (a relatively novel approach back in 1982). A consequence was that they kept their casualties way down.

The Royal Marines are a tiny force—they number slightly over 8,000 strong—compared to the USMC (which pretends it’s small but numbers around 200,000), but they are particularly well trained and are regarded as highly effective. Basic training for marines, for instance, lasts 34 weeks—and, for officers, a formidable 64 weeks. After that comes endless  specialized training. They have fought just about everywhere—and don’t seem inclined to change their ways.

John’s first taste of combat involved assaulting Indonesian infiltrators during what was known as the Indonesian Confrontation—one of the UK’s numerous colonial wars. He remarked that the attack went well, but they hadn’t planned how to exfiltrate—so that ended up as something of a mess. Thereafter, he commented, “I always planned how to bug out before going in.”

The last I heard of John was that he was doing strange and dangerous things in Russia.

WW II TRIVIA: The last U.S. marine killed in WW2 was killed by a can of spam. He was on the ground as a POW in Japan when rescue flights dropping food and supplies came over, the package came apart in the air and a stray can of spam hit him and killed him.  

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