Pete Ellis: Father of Amphibious Warfare•
September 7, 2016Add Comment Email This Post Print This Post
Unpredictable Pete Ellis was the father of amphibious warfare.
by Al Hemingway
He suffered from acute alcoholism and severe bouts of depression. As a result of his heavy drinking, he would wander about for days yelling incoherently. His bizarre actions produced momentary fits of rage that resulted in his throwing a Japanese man down a flight of stairs and punching a hole in his hotel room wall.
The many plots to assassinate the madman responsible for the death of millions… Get your copy of Warfare History Network’s FREE Special Report, Killing Adolf Hitler Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, however, was a military genius.
It was he who foresaw the growing Japanese threat in the Pacific and wrote about the island-hopping campaign that the Marine Corps needed if it was to defeat them. And of all of this occurred more than two decades before it actually happened.Pete Ellis: Prophet of Amphibious Warfare“Pete” Ellis was born in Iuka, Kansas, in 1880.
After enlisting in the Marine Corps in Chicago in 1900, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1901. Ellis attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, from 1911 until 1913. The Marine Corps Commandant, Brig. Gen. Charles Haywood, agreed with the General Board of the Navy in 1900 that the mission of the Marines was to secure advance bases for its landing forces.
Ellis concurred as well. But it was he who perfected the concept of amphibious warfare. While at the War College, he wrote a number of essays on this subject.When he was stationed on Guam in 1915, Ellis and a party of other leathernecks transported a 3-inch artillery piece across the reef to Orote Point on the island. It was the first time that a large cannon was taken ashore from a naval ship.Gen. John A. LeJeune.
World War I interrupted Ellis’s advance base theory. He served in France under the legendary General John A. LeJeune. His planning abilities were put to the test when he devised a strategy for the Marines to capture Mont Blanc Ridge.
The operation was a resounding success. For his extraordinary efforts, Ellis would be awarded a Navy Cross and French Croix de Guerre.After the conflict ended in November 1918, Ellis was sent to the Operations and Training Division by the new commandant, Maj. Gen. LeJeune, who had seen Ellis’s potential when he served under him in France. It was here that the brilliant Ellis wrote his masterpiece: Operations Plan 712-H: Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia (an island group in the North Pacific Ocean) in 1921.In his work, the former farm boy accurately predicted that the United States would fight a major war with the Japanese Empire. In their book Pete Ellis: An Amphibious Warfare Prophet, Dirk A. Ballendorf and Merrill L. Bartlett wrote, “Ellis predicted three phases in such a naval campaign: first, the reduction of the Marshalls; second, seizing of the Carolines as far west as Yap; and third, the taking of the remainder of the Carolines, including the Palaus.”It was as if Ellis had peered into a crystal ball and watched the Marines storm the beaches at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Guam, and Iwo Jima.
He said that the naval service needed a better base than Guam and suggested Hawaii (Pearl Harbor soon followed). He said pre-invasion bombardment from the fleet was essential to the success of the landings. Ellis’s paper catapulted him into the forefront of Navy/Marine Corps strategy for the future.
It was a “radical departure from accepted doctrine.”Confused and DisturbedA dark cloud hung over his rising fame, however; Ellis experienced nervous breakdowns and severe bouts of depression, which at that time were described by the medical community with such terms as “neurasthenia” or “psychosthenia.”Also, Ellis was an alcoholic, and his conditioned worsened as the years passed. His hospital stays became more numerous and lengthy as well. D
ue to the camaraderie among Marine officers during this period, people with drinking problems like Ellis’s were protected. Alcoholism was not considered a disease as it is today, and it was largely overlooked.
No doubt LeJeune knew of Ellis’s heavy drinking but obviously chose to ignore it and keep him in long-range strategic planning.“Graphologists analyzing Ellis’s handwriting at different stages in his life have also called attention to evidences of confusion and disturbance,” wrote Dr. Dirk Anthony Ballendorf, Director of the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam. “
[He was always] fighting an inner battle with himself. Possibly his motivation for joining the Marines had something to do with trying to resolve inner conflicts and feelings of inadequacy….
[H]e always strove to excel.”A Long Leave of AbsenceEllis’s work, however, would soon propel him into another field and cause him to embark on a strange trip—a journey that remains surrounded by controversy to this day.When World War I began, …………