Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Allocation of Forces
Assignment to London
After Pearl Harbor
Operation Torch
Operation Overlord
Changing of the Guard
Colonel Walter I. Jordan
General Franklin A. Hart
Colonel Peter J. Ortiz
Colonel William A. Eddy
Major General Homer L. Litzenberg
Colonel Francis M. Rogers
Brigadier General Richard H. Jeschke
Major General Robert O. Bare
Special Subjects
Marine Detachment: American Embassy, London, England

A DIFFERENT WAR: Marines in Europe and North Africa
by Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)

Changing of the Guard

On 18 August 1944, the Marine Barracks, Londonderry, was disbanded after two years of service. Its original commander, Colonel Burnham, had been replaced the previous year by Colonel Shaler Ladd, and several of the officers who came to Ireland with the battalion had already rotated back to the States.

It was a historic farewell as the battalion marched down the Strand, led by its own bagpipe band playing a favorite Irish air, "The Wearin' of the Green" (a song that seemed as appropriate for the Marines as it was for the Irish). As the unit boarded ship at Lisahally pier and headed down the River Foyle bound for the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy Band played the "Marines' Hymn" for a final salute. One month later a ship bearing 35 Irish brides of American Marines left Londonderry bound for the U.S., and the name of the ship that transported them was The Marine Haven!

An 80-man Marine detachment, under command of Lieutenant Chester A. Goodwin, Jr., took the place of the battalion. Its mission was much more limited — to provide security for the Naval Radio Station, which was a key communications facility for all naval operations in this theater. This detachment would remain at Londonderry until disbandment on 12 November 1945.

A rotation of command at the embassy detachment in London in August 1944 brought this writer to that post, to succeed First Lieutenant Alan Doubleday. The author embarked on the Queen Elizabeth in New York in company with some 17,000 troops. Officers were billeted six to a stateroom. The ship traveled without escort in a blackout condition, at an average speed of 32 knots. The crossing was made in three and a half days without incident, in spite of the continuing presence of German U-boats. The procedure at that time permitted any ship, which could travel at a speed of 16 knots or faster, to travel without escort since it was assumed that it could outrun a submarine.

LtGen Thomas Holcomb
On 31 December 1943, after a seven-year tour as Commandant of the Marine Corps and a 44-year Marine Corps career, LtGen Thomas Holcomb retired and was appointed Minister to South Africa, where he served 1944-1948. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Also embarked were a number of Marine replacements bound for London; all were Pacific war veterans. Many of the ship's passengers were Army Air Corps pilots returning for a second or third tour of combat duty. This was probably the reason why so much money was being wagered in wardroom card games. One soldier was even caught trying to cheat a few Marines with crooked dice in a crap game. He barely escaped being thrown overboard for his efforts, and was given a court-martial on board and convicted.

The ship docked in Greenoch, Scotland, just across the River Clyde from Gourock. The saying there was: "If you can see Gourock, it's going to rain; it you can't see it, it's raining."

This writer traveled to London by train and, just as he arrived, a V1 buzz-bomb passed over the train. That was an introduction to what would become an almost daily occurrence in the months ahead. Buzz-bombs were used by the Germans to devastate large areas of London, only to be replaced (on 8 September 1944) by even more deadly V2 rocket bombs. These travelled at such high speeds and high altitudes that there was no defense against them at the time.

The author was lodged temporarily in the top floor of a large hotel and quickly discovered that it was not a preferred location. No one with knowledge of the threat from buzz-bombs wanted to be on an upper floor.

The detachment was billeted as a unit in Grosvenor Square at the headquarters of ComNavEu, quite vulnerable to rocket attacks. The Marines had many close calls and suffered some minor injuries from concussion. The Marine detachment was the only military organization to be billeted together, enabling it to provide security for the naval headquarters and the embassy if needed.

The detachment maintained its military proficiency with small arms by frequent visits to the pistol range at Wormwood Scrubs, a British prison on the outskirts of London. It was also able to assist naval personnel in small arms qualification prior to their transfer to duty stations in Europe. For rifle marksmanship training, members of the detachment were sent to the range in Londonderry. The London detachment also occasionally exchanged personnel for disciplinary reasons or simply as a change in type of duty. The detachment operated the Navy brig in London, and furnished orderlies for a number of flag officers, such as those in charge of communications and intelligence. At least two men were on duty with Admiral Stark's office, another with a British flag officer, another with the chief of staff of ComNavEu. Later in the war, Marines were sent to Paris to perform a similar service for Commander, Naval Forces, France, and in Germany for Commander, Naval Forces, Germany. Every effort was made to replace the men who had not yet performed service in the Pacific, but that became difficult when a flag officer expressed a strong interest in retaining the orderly assigned to him. Admiral Stark's reliance upon Sergeant Francis M. Connolly, who served as his orderly for more than three years, was an example.

The detachment also performed a regular schedule of drills and ceremonies, and a weekly parade in the square with a small Navy band was always well attended. As the Marines wore dress blues, civilians looking on seemed to be cheered by this touch of color in what was otherwise a very drab military scene.

The detachment was given a Christmas present on 12 December 1944 when it was invited to a concert by Army Air Corps Major Glenn Miller and his orchestra at the Queensbury All-Services Club. During the evening, he paid a special tribute to the detachment as representatives of the Marine Corps. This turned out to be the last performance of his life. On a flight to Paris the following day, his plane was apparently shot down by the Luftwaffe and he was never heard from again.

The detachment participated in a very special occasion on 16 September 1945 when the Commandant ordered it to deliver, with appropriate ceremony, a set of Marine colors to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF), whose regimental headquarters was located in Wrexham, Wales.

A color guard was selected, which included Platoon Sergeant Floriano P. Sampieri, Sergeant Ray Fitzgerald, and Privates First Class Matthew Ryan and Marvin Bullard. They traveled to Wrexham, where they paraded with an RWF unit to the parish church and presented the colors. The colors are still displayed there in commemoration of the close association between the two services: The RWF is the oldest military organization in Wales, with a long history of foreign duty, especially during the Boxer Rebellion in China, where it fought alongside the U.S. Marine Corps.

On display at the Royal Welsh Fusiliers' regimental chapel was the original score of John Philip Sousa's march, "The Royal Welsh Fusiliers," which he composed and delivered to the regiment in person on 26 June 1930, just two years before his death. The Marine color guard also paid honor to the grave of Elihu Yale, the Welsh founder of Yale University, who is buried in Wrexham.

At the time of this author's arrival in July 1944, one month after the D-Day landing in Normandy, London was a city of considerable devastation. German buzz-bombs were a daily occurrence, and in daylight they were clearly visible as they came lumbering over like large trucks in the sky, setting off a siren warning system in the danger area. As each landed the result would be nearly a square block of destruction, frequently with many casualties, since the target area was so well populated. Yet, in spite of this danger and the many shortages caused by the war, there seemed to be a great spirit among the people, as they seemed to know they would eventually win out.

London was also a city of people in uniform. It appeared that half the population wore some type of uniform, many from countries that were hard to identify. There were quite a number of Dutch Marines, who had escaped to the United States and been trained at Camp Lejeune and wore the regular American Marine green uniform with their own insignia. Their frequent failure to salute American officers resulted in complaints to the detachment commander, which was a difficult problem for him to resolve.

Marine Detachment
The Marine Detachment, American Embassy, London, poses in Grosvenor Square in January 1945. Maj Harry Edwards, the detachment commander, is on the left of the rear row, while PlSgt Floriano P. Sampieri, senior NCO, is on the right. Photo courtesy of LtCol Harry Edwards. USMC (Ret)

The London Marine detachment muster rolls continued to carry the names of many Marines who were listed for reporting purposes only. Their duties covered a wide range of activities. Most were highly classified, especially those with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) performing clandestine services on the Continent. Two of these, Sergeant Charles Perry and Platoon Sergeant Frederick J. Brunner, were killed in action in Europe. Another OSS Marine was Lieutenant John Hamilton (movie star Sterling Hayden), who was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his work with guerrilla forces in Yugoslavia.

The muster rolls of the detachment also listed Captain Marvin C. Ross, who was assigned to the G-5 section of the SHAEF staff, representing Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives, with a mission to help salvage and preserve the art treasures of Europe. Another was a Marine colonel, Wethered Woodworth, who had served in France in World War I. He was a field commissioner in the U.K. in the headquarters office of the Army-Navy Liquidation Commissioner. There was also Lieutenant Alan K. Magary, who was on the staff of the Naval Technical Mission, Europe. Marine Captain John Dickson was shown as an intelligence officer with ComNavEu. He was a German linguist, whose wife was a former member of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.

One of the most prominent members of the group was Marine Lieutenant Edward T. Dickinson, Jr. He was an expert on factories who was given the responsibility, prior to D-Day, to develop plans for the sabotage of key factories in occupied Europe, and subsequently to pinpoint targets for destruction by guerrilla forces.

There also was Lieutenant Colonel John M. Maury, Jr., an assistant naval attache for air in the American Legation at Murmansk, Russia, representing the War Shipping Administration. Murmansk was the port to which large amounts of supplies were sent, starting in 1941, in support of the Russian war effort. It was the shortest route over the Arctic Circle and around the North Cape of Norway, but to use it was extremely dangerous. German submarines and aircraft, floating mines and horrible weather conditions took a heavy toll of Allied shipping, in spite of the protective presence of Allied warships. On one such convoy early in the war, the American admiral in command disappeared from his flagship, the Washington (BB 56), under mysterious circumstances. It was presumed that he had been washed overboard in the dark from his flagship. The convoy could not stop or slow down, however, because of the submarine threat, and he was listed as lost at sea.

When Admiral Hewitt arrived in 1945 in relief of Admiral Stark, as ComNavEu, he soon found fault with his Navy security personnel and promptly assigned to the Marine detachment all security duties for the entire headquarters. And when he left on an inspection trip to the Mediterranean to visit the cruiser Helena (CL 50) and the battleship Missouri (BB 63), he took with him the detachment's senior Marine NCO, Platoon Sergeant "Sam" Sampieri, and one other Marine.

Shortly after the fall of Berlin, Coast Guard Commander J. Skelly Wright and the Marine detachment commander paid a liaison visit to two German cities, Bremerhaven and Berlin. They learned that they were the first members of their respective services to visit those two cities since the end of the war. At the time of this visit, both cities were almost completely devastated.

firing range
Maj Harry Edwards looks on as his detachment Marines supervise ComNavEu staff members firing their pistols at targets located in Wormwood Scrubs, London. Photo courtesy of LtCol Harry Edwards, USMC (Ret)

They returned to London to join the celebration of V-E Day, on 8 May 1945. By this time everyone was so thoroughly fed up with blackouts, food rationing, buzz-bombs, and the war in general that the whole city seemed to erupt with joy and relief. This was tempered only by the knowledge that British military forces in Europe fully expected to be deployed to the Pacific to join in the fight against Japan. Of course, they were spared when the Japanese surrendered just three months later. V-J Day called for a repeat celebration, since that meant the world war had finally ended.

At the time of the author's departure from London, in April 1946, the name of his organization was changed. It would no longer be the Marine Detachment, American Embassy, but rather Marine Detachment, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe.

With the war's ending, it seemed like more than a change of name for the London detachment, but rather the terminal point for an organization that had been the focus of nearly all Marine activities in the European theater over an historic five-year period (1941-1946).

The unit muster rolls during that turbulent time reveal the names of many Marines who participated, either as Special Naval Observers, Assistant Naval Attaches, staff officers, trainees, or combatants. Many of the officers shown on those reports were in the ranks of lieutenant, captain, and major at the time, but went on to become colonels and generals before the end of the war, and one, Major Wallace M. Greene, Jr., became the 23d Commandant of the Marine Corps.

For its part, the London detachment received recognition for its war time service in the form of service streamers for the detachment colors:

American Defense Service Streamer with one Bronze Star

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Streamer

World War II Victory Streamer

National Defense Service Streamer with one Bronze Star (Korean War)

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division