A Target for History Buffs

The Evolution of Marine Cryptologic Units

as interpreted by Jim Quisenberry

(Note: Jim Quisenberry, better known to most of us as "Q", was guest speaker at our banquet and offered a few remarks on a subject of some interest to him by outlining the evolution of Marine cryptologic units. We asked "Q" to draft the essence of his remarks as an article for the Radio Log so those members unable to attend the reunion could benefit from his commentary. The following are his comments at our banquet. Enjoy!)

Prologue. As the title indicates, this article is intended to present basic factual information in the form of a chronological outline and to serve as a starting point for serious students of Marine Cryptologic history. The term "unit" refers to an entity with a table of organization, therefore, detachments and individuals were not specifically included. As to sources of information, the existence of Mr. Trithemius was uncovered at Fort Meade's National Cryptologic Museum, which is commended to all as an interesting place to spend a couple of hours or more. The source material for the period including World War II is drawn largely from a 1985 publication on Radio Intelligence Platoons, compiled by Colonel Jim McIntire. Many thanks are owed to that publication, as well as to a few members of the Radio Intelligence Platoons who also provided information on specific platoons and events. While the material for the period following World War II is drawn from a number of sources, including a brochure provided by one of the Radio Battalions, it is primarily drawn from the author's experience and memory.

Background. Cryptology is not exactly a new field. Indeed when one recognizes that the data used in cryptology comes from reading someone else's mail, or monitoring (listening in on, if you prefer) someone else's message traffic, sent in any number of ways, one reaches the conclusion that it is a fairly common practice, even in cyberspace - and not necessarily unique to today. In fact, as early as 1508, Johannes Trithemius felt the need to write on the subject and, in 1518, two years after his death, his six books on cryptology were published as "Polygraphia". It would be more than four hundred years before any Marine cryptologic units would be established.

RI Platoons. While Marines, as individuals or members of teams and detachments, were trained and served with Naval units performing cryptologic functions as early as the 1920s, the first Marine cryptologic organization, with an identifiable table of organization, was not proposed by the Marine Corps until 1942. The unit was identified as a Radio Intelligence (RI) Platoon with a proposed strength of one officer and forty-seven enlisted and was intended for use in support of Amphibious Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The Platoon was identified as a platoon of the Signal Company and also as a separate platoon with its own table of organization, identical to that of the RI Platoon of the Signal Company. Most of the platoons later deployed were assigned both ways for some part of their active periods.

The unit had a three-fold mission: to monitor Japanese communications, to locate the transmitters by direction finding and to perform communications security monitoring on friendly forces. The platoon's equipment was to be determined by the platoon commander. In March 1943, the Navy Department authorized RI Platoons with certain stipulations, among which were that technical control of the platoons would rest with the Navy communications intelligence organization, exercised through the Fleet Radio Units, Pacific (FRUPAC). The Platoons were under the operational control of, and provided immediate tactical support to, the amphibious or local tactical commander and collected data would be forwarded through FRUPAC to Naval Headquarters. The individuals who would become RI Platoon members were identified by Headquarters, Marine Corps and, in addition to Marine training, many of these individuals also received special training at such sites as: Northwestern University; the Great Lakes Naval Training Center; Fort Monmouth, New Jersey; and, Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Seven Platoons were activated - all at Camp Elliott, near San Diego, California. The first three were activated on 14 June 1943. One of the RI veterans advises that another platoon was activated shortly thereafter, as the 5th RI Platoon, and was deployed under Lt. W. C. Smith, a former MCCA member. That platoon was later absorbed by the 2nd RI Platoon and another platoon was then activated as the 5th. Six of the seven platoons were deployed to the Pacific Theater and the 7th Platoon was deactivated before leaving Camp Elliott, about three months after activation. The six deployed platoons earned a total of 12 battle stars for combat operations, including: the defense of Guadalcanal; consolidation of the Solomons Islands; the amphibious assault on Peleliu in the Palau Group (where three members lost their lives in September of 1943); the assaults on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian in the Marianna Islands; the assault on Iwo Jima in the Bonins; and, the assault on Okinawa in the Ryukus. Together, the platoons earned six Navy Commendations for support of Marine Amphibious Corps' and six more for support of the Naval cryptologic organization and its supported headquarters. All but one of the deployed platoons served some time with the FRUPAC unit in Wahiawa in Hawaii and one served a short period with a Naval supplementary radio station on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

As with all Marine forces in the Pacific, the platoons spent much time at sea aboard a variety of types of ships. There were merchant ships such as the SS Meteor and Typhoon; Naval transports and cargo ships such as APAs - USS Brisco, USS Elmore, USS George Clymer and, the USS Renate, an AKA. Some found themselves on the carriers USS Wasp (CV-18) and USS Solomons (CVE-67), while others operated from the AGCs USS Appalachian, USS Auburn, USS Eldorado, USS Estes and USS Panamint. One platoon even moved from the assault on Saipan to the assault on Tinian under combat conditions on a landing craft (LCVP). In addition to the locations already mentioned, the platoons also listed among their ports of call Noumea in New Caledonia, Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, Pavuvu and Binaka in the Russell Islands, Tanku-Taku and Tientsin in China and, finally, Sasebo in Japan, where two platoons served with the occupation forces. Two other platoons served n the same capacity in northern China. All six of the RI Platoons, which deployed to the Pacific Theater were deactivated overseas.

Expansion during the 1950s. In the postwar period, force reductions and preparation for anticipated review of missions, functions and strengths were the ongoing tasks of all the military services. No record is available of Marine cryptologic units during the period, however, it is likely that a few individual Marines were assigned to Naval billets related to cryptology. In July 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act, identifying the missions, functions and strengths of the services, including the U.S. Air Force, established by the Act. The National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency were also established by the Act, leading to publication of various directives pertaining to the consolidation of intelligence and cryptologic resources as well as defining their relationships in support of national objectives.

In the summer of 1949, the Marine Corps activated the 5th Supplementary Signal Company (that may not be the exact title) as a component of the Reserve establishment in Washington. The company was transferred to Quantico about a year later and, in February 1951, it was called to active duty at Camp Pendleton, California and redesignated as 1st Radio Company, FMF. By then, the Korean conflict had been in progress for about a year and a few members of the RI Platoons had been recalled to active duty. There is no available record, however, to indicate deployment of any Marine cryptologic units to Korea during the course of the conflict.

The company's authorized strength was about 10 officers and 150 enlisted and it was placed under the administrative control of Force Troops, FMF Pacific. Personnel who were to serve in cryptologic billets were sent to various special schools, such as the Naval school at Imperial Beach, California, the ASA Training Center at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and the Army Intelligence School At Fort Holabird, Maryland. Some individuals received training before reporting to the company, while others received their training after assignment to 1st Radio. Whereas RI Platoon commanders had been given the authority to select appropriate equipment for their platoons, 1st Radio Company was given a letter of fabrication in March 1951 and, on that authority, the company acquired various types of trucks and shelters and configured them with pieces of equipment appropriate to the mission.

The company's mission was similar to that of the RI Platoons, but contact with other cryptologic entities was almost nonexistent, making technical training within the company very difficult. Additionally, the First Marine Division was being deployed to Korea and few Marine forces remained with which 1st Radio Company could train. As the training situation resulting from the division's deployment evolved, the company was transferred in July 1954, with all its unique (fabricated) equipment, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Some 40 officers and enlisted actually made the trip, with the remaining personnel being transferred to other organizations, including the First Marine Division. The unique equipment was driven to San Diego and moved by LST to Morehead City, NC through the Panama Canal. A select group from among those being transferred was tasked to accompany the equipment on the voyage. Upon arrival at Camp Lejeune, 1st Radio Company was assigned to Force Troops, FMF Atlantic for administrative purposes, while operational control rested with the CG, Fleet Marine Forces, Atlantic (FMFLANT). Headquarters USMC retained control of the assignment of personnel with special skills directly to the company. Technical contact began to increase with other cryptologic entities and the Second Marine Division was available for training for some security aspects of the company's mission. In addition, more and more skilled Marines began to join the company.

In the meantime, "G" Company was established as a part of Headquarters Battalion, HQMC in the early 1950s. "G" Company administered Marines who were beginning to be assigned in greater numbers to Naval and National cryptologic billets, both as individuals and as detachments. This expansion let, sometime during the mid-1950s, to an agreement between the Marine Corps and the Navy, who was having difficulty filling its newly authorized increase in cryptologic billets. The agreement addressed both an increase n the number of Marine billets serving with Naval cryptologic entities and the number of Marine billets authorized by table of organization in support of tactical Marine commanders. Bear in mind that until the details of the agreement were identified, 10 officers and 150 enlisted were expected to perform the same mission that six RI Platoons performed in World War II; namely, support three Marine Amphibious Corps'. By comparison, the six RI Platoons were authorized some 292 enlisted and, although it doesn't appear that the total of 292 was ever reached, the actual total was still somewhat larger than the 150 authorized for the Radio Company.

In 1958, a group was formed to recommend the missions, functions and strength of Marine FMF cryptologic units to be created under the expansion agreement. Shortly after the group reported out, "G" Company was redesignated as Marine Support Battalion, with appropriate changes to its tables of organization. The former detachments of "G" Company became companies of Marine Support Battalion and additional companies were added. Later that year, as a result of the negotiations for expansion, an additional Radio Company was established. Specifically, 1st Radio Company, FMF, was redesignated as 2nd Radio Company and remained in Camp Lejeune, NC. At the same time, 1st Radio Company, FMF, was activated at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), Kaneohe, Hawaii. In the summer of 1959, both companies were redesignated as a Composite Radio Company and each received a new table of organization and equipment, bringing their peace-time strength to about 18 officers and 214 enlisted each, if my memory serves, with an increase in war-time strength to about 34 officers and 450 enlisted each. The T/O's included the capability for augmentation from Marine Support Battalion under certain training and crisis situations and that augmentation was executed for the first time during the Cuban missile crisis.

These changes were accompanied by closer relationships between the companies and Naval and National authorities concerning access to technical data and guidance. Company missions expanded from the capability of targeting one enemy, which the RI Platoons had, to targeting any and every potential threat, worldwide. Each company was assigned primary responsibility for selected targets, creating differences between the T/O's of the two companies regarding certain skills. The closer relationships provided the opportunity to conduct specialized technical training at appropriate locations and to send tailored detachments to sites of sister services for more specific target-oriented training. As an example of the impact of the changes, in one year in the early 1960s the training budget for one of the companies was increased from about $4,000 annually to some $72,000. In addition, with minimal impact on the training budget, detachments could be deployed with Marine combat units to provide support, as well as to exercise the integration of the detachment and its functions and requirements into the tactical unit's planning and procedures. At the time, special security communications teams were formed to facilitate contact between the companies and Marine Divisions and Wings. These teams would later provide access to special intelligence links for the tactical commanders.

The fall of 1963 saw both Companies drop the term "Composite" from their designations and later, in May of 1964, they became First and Second Radio Battalions, with appropriate adjustments in their tables of organization and equipment. Since that time, Marine cryptologic units have continued to serve with distinction. They have received citations and commendations and have been awarded a number of "technical" trophies at the National level for our brand of support to the combat commander. The first such award was for service in Vietnam; the second, for service in the Persian Gulf; and, the latest, I believe, for support of a rescue mission in Bosnia. We can assume that the structure, size, and strength of Marine cryptologic units will continue to evolve as their mission, responsibilities and functions change. We can also assume that the men and women who man the Marine cryptologic billets of today and tomorrow will make us proud to have helped to lead the way.