Sandino Against The Marines:The Development of Air Power for Conducting Counterinsurg
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    Cool Sandino Against The Marines:The Development of Air Power for Conducting Counterinsurg

    Sandino Against The Marines:
    The Development of Air Power for Conducting
    Counterinsurgency Operations in Central America

    Although Project Warrior studies often concentrate on the role of Army Air Corps, the U.S. Marine occupation of Nicaragua during the late 1920s and early 1930s made significant contributions to the development of air power. After Marine Corps units had occupied Nicaragua for more than a decade and were withdrawn in 1925, U.S. adventurers flew in the Nicaraguan Civil War in 1926, and Marine aviators participated in the counterinsurgency campaign against Augusto Sandino when Marines were redeployed to the troubled nation.

    As one examines Marine air activities and the legacy of ironies that the Marines left behind when they finally departed in 1933, two important lessons emerge from the Nicaraguan counterinsurgency experience: air power should be used with sufficient ground forces and a comprehensive effort to "win the hearts and minds" of the people, and air power must be used selectively to avoid generating support for the insurgents. These lessons remain applicable to today's Central American insurgencies.

    1926-27: Free-Lancing in the
    Liberal-Conservative Civil War

    The first major use of the airplane as an instrument of war in Central America took place during the mid-1920s in Nicaragua as a result of internal political strife. The roots of this conflict went back to the 1800s when Liberal and Conservative Party factions engaged in civil wars and rebellions against each other. In response to this turmoil, the United States sent in the Marines to protect its political and economic interests. The longest period of occupation lasted from 1912 until 1925 and involved as many as 2700 Marines.

    When the Marines left in 1925, the United States helped to establish a Nicaraguan constabulary (under a retired U.S. Army major) in an attempt to promote stability. The United States provided arms to the constabulary and hoped that it would remain a nonpartisan military force serving the coalition government agreed on by the Liberals and Conservatives. Soon the Conservatives seized power, however, and the constabulary became an instrument for the Conservatives. The Liberals resorted to arms in 1926 to oppose the Conservatives and obtained support from Mexico.

    Former U.S. aviators received commissions in the Nicaraguan Military Air Service and started flying a variety of missions in support of the Conservative forces, including seaborne interdiction missions against Mexican gunrunning vessels. Their best-remembered air operation took place in February 1927 in Chinandega, located about sixty miles northwest of the capital of Managua. The pilots bombed Liberal positions to support a Conservative attack to regain possession of the city. When the Conservatives recaptured the city, more than ten blocks of the town had been destroyed by a fire. The pilots were criticized for setting off the blaze with their bombs, but the fire had probably been started by the Liberal forces.

    These early pilots were often forced to improvise. Because there were no bombs in Managua for the Chinandega operation, the pilots made three homemade devices. The four-foot-long, eighteen-pound bombs consisted of "dynamite and percussion caps set in containers and weighted with metal." In addition to this type of homemade bomb, the pilots used assorted kinds of bombs for other operations, including shrapnel shells and homemade incendiary bombs made out of noxious-smelling ant poison, iron balls, and explosive powder. According to one of the pilots, "it looks bad and falls awry but makes lots of noise, dust, and odors when it goes off."

    These early air operations demonstrated that the airplane was an especially valuable asset in Nicaragua for conducting reconnaissance, sending messages, and disrupting enemy concentrations through air support and interdiction operations. The effectiveness of the airplane was further demonstrated by the U.S. Marines when they returned for their second occupation in 1927.

    U.S. Marines in Nicaragua, 1927-33:
    The Second Time Around

    U.S. Marines clearing barriers from the track

    The Marines increased their troop strength in Nicaragua throughout January 1927; by late February, there were more than 5400 Marines occupying all the principal cities. While the Marines deployed throughout Nicaragua and the United States provided massive aid to the Conservative government and Nicaraguan National Guard, the United States did not intend to enter the fighting directly. In May 1927, the United States negotiated an end to the hostilities, reportedly threatening the Liberals that the Marines would take to the field against them if the Liberals did not come to terms.

    Although this agreement ended the Liberal-Conservative conflict, one of the Liberal leaders, Augusto Sandino, felt that the Liberals had sold out to the Americans. He vowed to continue to fight against the U.S. occupation. On 16 July 1927, Sandino and his forces attacked the Marine garrison at Ocotal.

    The Battle for Ocotal:
    First Dive Bombing in History

    Sandino's attack against Ocotal in mid-July would no doubt have been successful, were it not for Marine air power. The Marines had started organizing their air assets in February 1927 when they received their first aircraft under the command of Major Ross Rowell. Six two-seater de Havilland biplanes arrived, as well as four two-seater scouting planes. The de Havillands could carry twenty-five-pound bombs and were equipped with both a forward fixed machine gun fired by the pilot and a rear swivel machine gun controlled by the observer.

    Ocotal, approximately 110 miles north of Managua, was defended by forty-one Marines and forty-eight Nicaraguan National Guardsmen when Sandino's attack began at 0115 on 16 July. A Marine sentry discovered the attack, as approximately 300 of Sandino's men in three columns were closing in on the Marine's position under the cover of darkness. The Marines beat back several attacks during the night and refused several summons by Sandino to surrender during the morning. By mid-morning, two Marine reconnaissance planes arrived on their daily patrol and read an aerial panel message laid out by the Ocotal garrison requesting help. One pilot strafed the rebel positions, while the other landed briefly outside of town to get an assessment of the situation from a local peasant. The pilots departed for Managua to obtain reinforcements, and the first major Marine air operation in Nicaragua began when five de Havilland bombers under the command of Major Rowell arrived at 1435 hours. After conducting reconnaissance flights to locate the concentrations of Sandino's forces, "one after the other, the planes peeled out of formations at 1500 feet, fixed machine guns blazing as they dived to 300 feet, where they dropped their bombs." The observers used the rear swivel machine guns to shoot additional Sandinistas as the planes climbed back up to altitude. A ground observer of the air attack stated that it "was as if hell broke loose. Quick explosions, then a heavy thundering one, sometimes indescribable." During the forty-five-minute aerial attack, the aircraft strafed the rebels with 4000 rounds of ammunition and dropped twenty-seven bombs, killing more than 100 of Sandino's men.

    OC-2 Nicaragua, 1929 by A.M. Leahy.
    The print depicts Marine Aviators of VO-7M providing air support to ground operations at Ocotal Nicaragua, Nov 1929.

    Most of the rebels fled from the bombing attack, but a small number continued to fight. The ground battle continued until after 1700 hours. When it was over, Sandino had lost as many as 300 of his estimated 400-500 men who participated in the battle; Marine and Guard losses were placed at one dead and five wounded.

    The battle at Ocotal proved significant for air power by introducing several innovations to air warfare. As Neill Macaulay, a historian and expert on Sandino, observes, the Marine aviators conducted "the first organized dive-bombing attack in history––long before the Nazi Luftwaffe was popularly credited with the 'innovation'." Another authority on the Marine campaign, Lejeune Cummins, adds that the battle marked "the first time in military annals that the relief of a beleaguered town was effected through the air."


  2. #2

    Marines with Sandino's Flag, 1932 ~~ National Archives

    The battle at Ocotal made a definite impression on Sandino also. Before the battle, he reportedly belittled the airplanes and bombs and was quoted in the New York Times as telling his men that "they only made noise." Once the air attack began, his followers were concentrated in groups, making them better targets for the Marine pilots. Richard Millett, a historian on Central America, states that Sandino "admittedly, had completely omitted from his pre-battle calculations" the activity of the Marine aircraft. The defeat was costly, but Sandino learned from his mistakes; after Ocotal, Sandino "concentrated on ambushes and sudden raids instead of open attacks on a strong and fortified enemy."

    The Siege of El Chipote:
    Broadening the Scope of Air Operations

    As demonstrated at Ocotal, the airplanes conducted air support operations for the ground forces and "performed the functions of artillery with their concentrated bomb attacks." In November 1927, the concept of air operations broadened from just supporting ground forces to independent air actions. On 23 November, Marine aircraft located Sandino's mountain headquarters of El Chipote in northern Nicaragua and started bombing it almost daily. In January, the bombing campaign became more effective when the de Havilland planes were replaced with new Vought Corsairs and Curtiss Falcons having greater bomb-carrying capabilities. The bombing campaign against El Chipote reached the conclusive stage on 14 January 1928 when Major Rowell led an air attack with four of the new two-seater Vought Corsair planes. Each plane was armed with machine guns, and together they bombed El Chipote with eighteen seventeen-pound and four fifty-pound demolition bombs. The aviators, as Major Rowell stated in an interview, "finished the party up with [eighteen] infantry [white phosphorous] hand grenades."

    Marines in Nicaragua during 1932 Presidential Election.

    This operation proved to be significant in the development of air power. Jane's All the World's Aircraft, acknowledged for its expertise on military affairs, stated in its l928 edition that the independent air attack against El Chipote was believed to be "the first aeroplane attack, unsupported by ground troops, ever made against a fortified position." While it succeeded in driving Sandino and his force of 1000 to 1500 combatants out of the base, they escaped before U.S. ground forces could engage them.

    de Havilland DH4

    Expanding Air Power:
    Observation and Reconnaissance Missions

    By l928, the Marine aircraft inventory included twelve Falcon and Corsair observation-bombers, as well as seven Loening amphibian observation-bombers. Five trimotor Fokker transports also supported Marine operations. All of these were based at Managua initially, but several of the Loenings were later transferred to an airfield at Puerto Cabezas on the east coast.

    This aircraft inventory played several vital roles throughout the occupation. In addition to ground-attack operations, the pilots also conducted observation, communication, and transportation missions. Observation, or aerial reconnaissance, missions met with some difficulty as a result of the terrain and Sandino's guerrilla tactics. Many of the Marine operations were conducted in the northern Department of Nueva Segovia, along the Honduran border. Cover and concealment provided opportunities for Sandino's forces to move or set up ambushes without being noticed from the air. A New York Times correspondent flew over the area in 1928 and described the terrain as "thickly wooded mountains . . . tortured into a patternless wilderness of peaks, ridges, and rock-strewn cliffs.... Its infrequent trails are almost invisible from the air."

    Sandino's new tactics added to the terrain problems for those conducting observation missions. Bernard Nalty, author of the U.S. Marine Corps historical study on the Nicaraguan campaign, points out that "Sandino's men were adept at camouflage. Seldom did they move in large groups, and, if at all possible, they marched at night." Carleton Beals, a correspondent visiting Sandino's forces in March 1928, made similar comments. Beals noticed that Sandino's forces traveled in the early morning before the planes made their patrols or late in the afternoon/evenings after the planes returned to base. Sandino's troops learned the habit patterns of the Marine aerial reconnaissance flights and took advantage of them; when his forces moved at other times during the day, they used the jungles for concealment.

    The Marine aviators refined their techniques of reconnaissance to achieve the best possible results. Usually flying patrols with two planes, the pilots would "throttle their engines and glide in over suspicious places from behind hills or mountains, flying low enough to look into windows and doors." The Marines looked for signs of Sandino's forces, "taking into account the proportion of men to women visible, the amount of wash on clotheslines, the number of animals present, and the general bearing of the people."

    Air observation missions provided essential support for both ground patrols and isolated outposts. Marine aircraft could sometimes detect ambushes for ground patrols, but the planes also alerted the Sandinistas to the possibility of Marine patrols in the area. In addition, the planes flew over every outpost almost daily. Since Sandino's forces would not expose themselves to air attack in a prolonged siege of one of these outposts, if "a garrison could hold out for twenty-four hours, it was usually safe."

    Combat aerial patrols for supply trains made up of bull carts also played an important role. For example, in February 1928 officials in Ocotal sent supply trains (one consisting of 185 oxcarts) to support Marine operations farther to the north in Nueva Segovia. The airplanes accompanied them until nightfall to watch out for ambushes after the trains cleared the outskirts of the city everyday.

    At times, these patrols were dangerous. On 8 October 1927, two planes were patrolling near Quilali when they discovered and attacked one of Sandino's pack trains. The rebels returned fire with rifles and hit one of the planes. It crashed, but the pilot and gunner survived and the other plane dropped them a map and notified several garrisons to send help. Search parties looked for the two men, but they were too late. Sandinista forces had captured and shot the aviators the same day of the crash. The rebels had also hanged the body of the pilot from a tree and photographed it; the picture was later published in Mexican and Honduran newspapers.

    The airplanes also played an important role in facilitating communication between dispersed units and headquarters. During the early phases of the occupation, when an aircraft was unable to land, air-to-ground communication usually consisted of messages that pilots dropped from their airplanes. Ground-to-air communication involved several methods. White cloth signal panels laid out on the ground indicated the status of the unit or requests for supplies, air support, or medical assistance. Hand semaphore and catching messages "on the fly" were also used. "On the fly" meant that an airplane with a line suspended from its fuselage would pick up a message that was suspended in a pouch on a wire or string between two poles. Later in the occupation, both the amphibian and transport planes used radios, but radios were not used in the observation-bombers because of their unreliability.

    Transportation Missions:
    The First Air Ambulance and "Autogiro" Tests

    Aviation made the difference in transportation as well. The rough terrain, dense brush, and possibility of ambush made transportation and supply difficult in "this impenetrable jungle where bull carts, the normal means of transportation, often make three to six miles a day." Initially, the pilots were unable to provide much help in transport missions because their de Havillands were not big enough. In December 1927, however, they received a trimotor Fokker transport that was capable of carrying either two thousand pounds of cargo or eight fully equipped soldiers. By August 1928, the Marines were flying five Fokkers on supply and transport missions. According to Bernard Nalty, "everything from cigarettes to mules was delivered by air; in fact, some remote outposts received payrolls by airdrop."

    Another "first" in aviation occurred in the field of airborne transportation in January 1928. Never before had a pilot used his aircraft as an air ambulance in combat. First Lieutenant Christian Schilt became one of the aviation heroes of the Nicaraguan campaign and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his air evacuation of wounded men under fire from a makeshift airfield in Quilali. After an attack by Sandino's forces, the Marine commander at Quilali requested an airplane to evacuate the wounded. Quilali had no airfield, however, so the necessary tools had to be air-dropped in. In three days, the Marines constructed a landing field 200 yards long in Quilali by cutting down trees and burning some of the Nicaraguan residents' houses.


  3. #3

    Fokker trimotor with experimental NACA cowlings, 1929

    Four Marines posing for photo, Nicaragua

    Amphibian plane and long boat on shore, with apparently Marine oarsmen in Miskito longboat, in Nicaragua

    Between 6 and 8 January, Lieutenant Schilt made ten trips in a Vought Corsair to bring in medicine and supplies and pick up the wounded, while another plane acted as an escort, flying figure eights to suppress rebel fire. The landings were risky because Schilt's plane had been reequipped with wheels from a de Havilland and had no brakes. Each time the plane landed, the Marines ran forward to seize the wings and slow the plane down with their weight to prevent it from crashing off the runway. For takeoffs, the Marines would hold the plane in place until Schilt reached full throttle and then let go, enabling him to achieve short takeoffs.

    By 1931, the Nicaraguan National Guard had replaced the Marines throughout the country, but the Guard still relied on Marine aviation for supplies and transporting troops, especially when Sandino intensified his operations. Entire units were occasionally moved by air. In 1931, for example, the entire cadet corps of the Nicaraguan Military Academy was airlifted from Managua to reinforce Estelí.

    A basic problem for aerial transportation in Nicaragua was that adequate landing strips were not always available where they were needed. Recognizing this problem, the Marines started field-testing the predecessor to the helicopter in Managua in 1932. The "autogiro" had short wings and a forward propeller in addition to the rotor. On takeoff, the pilot would switch the engine from the rotor to the forward propeller after the rotor was spinning. While the takeoff was not vertical, it used much less runway than conventional aircraft. When the pilot disengaged the forward propeller, the rotor would autorotate and the pilot would land. The Marines were disappointed, however, because the aircraft could carry only two people and fifty pounds of cargo efficiently.

    Special Operations Missions:
    Long-range Patrols and Leaflets

    The role of aviation in assisting transportation and supply overlapped into what can be called special operations missions. In 1928, First Lieutenant Merritt Edson conducted several long-range reconnaissance ground patrols from the east coast into central Nicaragua. His objective was to plan for an operation to catch Sandino's forces in a pincers movement. Edson and his patrol operated for several months behind enemy lines, with planes occasionally bringing him reinforcements, supplies, and the mail from their new east coast air base at Puerto Cabezas. Initially, some of Major Rowell's Corsairs operated from this base. In May, however, five amphibian planes arrived on station. Amphibian planes were preferable because sudden rain squalls were common in the northeast and these planes could land on one of the lakes or rivers in the region to ride out the storms. They could also use these waterways to evacuate the "sitting wounded."

    In another aspect of special operations, the Marines conducted leaflet drops to influence the will of the Sandinistas. In November 1928, Marine aircraft dropped thousands of leaflets over the area of Sandino's headquarters. Some leaflets carried the message that preparations were under way to finish off the Sandinistas, while others were signed by Sandino's father and asked Sandino to go see his sick mother before she died.

    End of the Occupation:
    A Legacy of Ironies

    When the last contingent of Marine aviators left Nicaragua in January 1933, they left behind a legacy of ironies about the Marine occupation. The Marines had supervised the 1932 presidential election and the 1 January 1933 inauguration of Liberal President Juan Sacasa. Sacasa had been the popularly elected vice-president in the 1926 elections, whose opposition to the Conservative takeover of the government had sparked the civil war that provoked the second U.S. intervention. There is speculation that the entire civil war and Sandino's insurrection could have been avoided if the United States had supported Sacasa's efforts to prevent the Conservative takeover in 1926.

    Another irony was the buildup of the National Guard to replace the Marines when they left, with the objective of making this military force a professional, nonpolitical institution. Since the U.S. ambassador pushed for Anastasio Somoza (who was also Sacasa's nephew) to be designated as the National Guard commander, President Sacasa appointed him as such after winning the election. Somoza then subverted U.S. efforts to make the Guard nonpolitical. He developed the Guard as his power base and, in 1936, consolidated his control over Nicaragua to begin the forty-three-year Somoza family dynasty.

    The final irony is the legacy of Sandino. As Richard Millett has pointed out, after five years of fighting Sandino, the Marines left him "as great a threat in January 1933 as he had been at any previous point in his career." A month after the Marines left, however, he met with Sacasa and agreed to end the insurrection. In February 1934, Sandino was killed by members of the National Guard, apparently acting under Somoza's orders.

    Sandino's assassination and legacy served as inspiration to the new Sandinistas who fought Somoza's son and National Guard in the 1970s. The National Guard's indiscriminate use of air power against civilians increased popular support for the Sandinistas and played an important part in the July 1979 Sandinista victory. Today, the counterrevolutionary insurgents (contras) are confronting the Sandinista air and ground forces by using many of the same strategies and operating in the same areas as Sandino did.

    What were the benefits of air power during the Nicaraguan intervention? Lejeune Cummins asserts a theme that several other observers echo: while there was a loss to U.S. military prestige in failing to catch Sandino, the armed forces received invaluable training in "such significant developments as the 'invention' of dive bombing and large-scale aerial logistical support." Bernard Nalty concludes his Marine study on the same note, mentioning the importance of the Marines' gaining experience, but adding that more important ". . . was the fact that Marine aviators and infantrymen functioned smoothly as a unified team."These observations, written some thirty years after the conflict, are interesting when compared to those of a correspondent writing in the New York Times on 21 January 1928; he points out that, from a tactical standpoint, the operations "furnish the first practical laboratory for the development of postwar [World War I] aviation in coordination with ground troops."

    Results of Marine Air Power:
    Impact on Sandino's Strategy

    What impact did air power have on Sandino's insurgency strategy? The airplane saved the day at Ocotal, but it also convinced Sandino to start using innovative tactics in the face of this new weapon. As a result, he initiated hit-and-run attacks, operating in small patrols, utilizing cover and concealment, and building support among the local populace.


  4. #4
    In addition, the air attack on El Chipote demonstrated that "Sandino had learned at last the rudiments of antiaircraft defense." During the El Chipote bombings, the pilots faced not only rifle and machine gun fire but also a "barrage of incendiary sky rockets," which Sandino's troops called dynamite rockets; these were probably launched from the iron pipes affixed to tripods they had reportedly been making. Realizing the folly of fighting the planes, Sandino ordered his men to gather piles of wood on his fortress so that large fires would cover their escape during the bombing. Several days after the air attack, aerial observers reported that there were no signs of life at the mountain stronghold "except two men and a mule, where formerly the place was swarming with men." In a 1928 interview with Sandino after he escaped from El Chipote, Sandino asserted that his strategy was to sit and wait for the Marines to mobilize and come to him––and then to slip out of the trap into another part of the country.

    Marines fording Coco River in Nicaragua

    Front end shot of Marines and Miskitos crowded into length of pitpan, in Nicaragua

    Lessons Learned:
    Central America Today

    What are the lessons to be learned about air power in the campaign against Sandino, and how do they relate to today's counterinsurgency operations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua? The first lesson is that a combined effort of both sufficient air and ground forces, with a program designed to win the allegiance of the people, is required to conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

    Despite the fact that Sandino was still a threat, the United States reduced its ground forces during the latter stages of the occupation in an attempt to disengage from the prolonged conflict. By 1931, there was an overdependence on the Marine air assets to support the remaining U.S. and Nicaraguan ground forces. The result was a stalemate: the air assets restricted Sandino's activities, but there were not enough ground troops to defeat Sandino's insurgency. Critical of President Hoover's Nicaraguan policy, Senator Hiram Johnson from California asserted in 1931 that the United States "should pursue one of two courses: either withdraw the Marines entirely, or send enough there to do the job."

    In addition to relying on air assets to make up for not employing sufficient ground forces, there was not enough done during the campaign to attract popular support to the Nicaraguan government. Sandino's major asset was popular support. Sandino recognized the value of good public relations early during his struggle: "The people of the countryside kept him supplied with provisions, sheltered his soldiers, and, most important of all, kept him informed of every move the Marines and Guard made." As a result, Sandino "proved to the world that a 'people's army' could resist every effort of the most modern military machine." Sandino's effort of using old rifles, machetes, and even bombs made from discarded Marine sardine cans to confront U.S. machine guns and dive bombers was "one of the first modern examples of what a guerrilla army with mass popular support could do against a technologically superior army."

    This lesson is still important, as demonstrated in the 1979 Sandinista Revolution. Somoza's heavy emphasis on air assets, along with inadequate ground forces and few attempts to improve the legitimacy or popular appeal of his government, contributed to his downfall. Today the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are using air power to combat their insurgents, but as yet they have been unable to translate their superior firepower into a total victory. Additional ground forces and greater efforts to secure popular loyalty are required to consolidate the advantages that their air power provides them on the battlefield.

    The second lesson learned from the campaign against Sandino is that air assets must be employed selectively to avoid creating popular support for the insurgents. Thomas Walker, a political scientist and authority on Nicaragua, illustrates this point: "Practices such as the aerial bombardment of 'hostile' towns and hamlets and the forced resettlement of peasant populations only intensified popular identification with the guerrilla cause." George Black, an author on Nicaragua, follows Walker's line of reasoning and points out that Marine airstrikes "only served to swell Sandino's forces, by increasing peasant hostility to the U.S. presence and failing miserably in their military objectives." Black asserts that Sandino specialized in diversionary attacks to provoke useless bombing raids as "the only American response to the impotence of their ground forces, bogged down in unfamiliar territory." As historian Richard Millett points out, in the final analysis, the counterinsurgency campaign against Sandino "clearly demonstrated that the Guardia, even with Marine air support, was hard pressed to contain, let alone destroy, Sandino's forces."

    In recognition of the responsibility for protecting civilian populations, rules of engagement did exist as guidelines for the Marine aviators. Orders prevented the aviators from attacking groups unless they were carrying weapons, were located in the vicinity of a recent guerrilla action, or behaved suspiciously by running for cover. Although under orders not to bomb towns, the aviators bombed and strafed houses and animals believed to be used by the Sandinistas. The "fog of war" no doubt caused some civilian casualties and created the basis for Sandinista charges of aerial atrocities. On the other hand, Major Rowell complained about the "restrictions of a political nature" that hurt the morale and efficiency of his air power forces, particularly given the fact that some towns were used as sanctuaries by the Sandinistas.

    Fifty years later, Somoza isolated himself from both domestic and international support by bombing his own cities during the Sandinista Revolution. Today's guerrillas in each country have been effective at either criticizing actual attacks against civilians or lying about them through propaganda. While the ability to distinguish between civilians and guerrillas is very difficult at times in a counterinsurgency conflict, the insurgents capitalize on excesses in the use of air power. They publicize each occurrence not only to build popular support at home for their cause but also to exploit the propaganda value abroad against their country's government.

    Additional Sources:

    The U.S. Marine occupation of Nicaragua made significant contributions to the development of air power. Marine aviators expanded the concepts of close air support and independent aerial bombardment. They refined other uses of air power by conducting reconnaissance, communication, transportation, and even special operations missions. In addition to these developments, the coordination between air and ground forces provided valuable experience prior to World War II. The Marine campaign against Sandino provided several lessons about the role of air power in counterinsurgency conflicts––lessons that are still applicable today to current and possible future turmoil in Central America. The governments of El Salvador, Guatemela, and Nicaragua can improve their chances of defeating the insurgents if they follow these lessons and use their air power both selectively and in conjunction with an integrated ground force and popular support campaign. While these lessons cannot guarantee success, Nicaraguan history has demonstrated that refusing to follow these lessons can result in failure. The results of today's conflicts will be determined in large part by how well the lessons learned in the Nicaraguan counterinsurgency conflict more than fifty years ago are applied to today's insurgencies.


  5. #5

    Vought O2U Corsair

    Christian Franklin Schilt


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