" The March Up" by Ray Smith and Bing West


Book Reviewer
Just got this out of the library.......out of curiosity mostly. It's an account of the USMC 1st Marine Division's stately progress to Baghdad via Nasiriyah etc.

I was interested because everywhere I went in Umm Qasr were spray painted signs saying 'Fox Company EoD ' etc etc. I was hoping to read a bit about their experience of taking the port ( sideshow near Az Zubayr - 1 casualty)

Anyway, I can recommend it to anyone who, like me, was unsighted on the Log Lite 30 day campaign which took the US Marines by road from Kuwait via a crossing point at Safwan to standing on the roof of Saddam's palace in Baghdad.

The authors were both Vietnam-era marines who begged, wheedled and blagged to be included with the armoured column. The fact that Ray Smith was a company commander in the street-fighting to re-take Hue City in Vietnam, one of only seven men who walked OUT of that action - and wound up as a Major General - probably didn't do the pair any harm 8)

( Edit: - turns out Bing West was an Assistant Sec Defense in the Reagan administration...hmmm)

They did most of the trip in a commandeered Iraqi Nissan SUV, coloured bright yellow.

Gritty account, right down with the boots on the ground, but more wide-ranging and more professional than a 'Grunts-eye' view, because they also had access to the higher command level, both the overall Divisional Commander and to each of the Regimental Combat Team leaders (one of whom, Colonel Joe Doody, was replaced in the field during the action, a rare event in USMC history).

Lot of interesting points on taking fast-moving mechanised war to an enemy that either fought suicidally or not at all...and the difficulty of sorting fedayeen with RPGs from civilians. The Marines were well aware of the parallel strands of gung-ho 'Kill the enemy' and 'Hearts and Minds', certainly at the Command level.

One thing that it brought home to me was the range of organic capability in an MEU ......and the fact that this key arm of the World's only super-power ALSO operates with 46 year old equipment and Infantry basics. The authors were continually surprised at what had NOT changed in the 30 years since they had fought with the USMC in another war.....

Extract from Amazon critique:
Though the authors obviously support the war, they do not shy away from criticism of certain aspects of the campaign. Sometimes they even make plain their criticism to other Marines they are journeying with. West does not likes the policy of shooting at civilian vehicles that do not respect Marine challenges—but he admits that he didn’t have a better policy for preventing suicide bombers. In one controversial part of the book, West writes of his complete disgust when a foreign officer (the country is not mentioned) on exchange to the Marine Corps opens fire with a LAV-25's 25mm cannon, cutting down two Iraqis who did not seem to be combatants.

The book successfully gives an insight into the personalities of the Marines at all levels. West writes of Marine generals and colonels who constantly keep themselves engrossed in all details of the campaign. Then there are the infantrymen who constantly feel chagrined that the Marine Abrams tanks are "getting all the kills" of Iraqis who challenge the vehicle columns. This pent up desire to slay the enemy finally releases itself in an awesome display of infantry movement and firepower at Baghdad University. New York Times and Guardian readers will surely be horrified at the Marines’ attitudes but the account rings true. Professional American Marines, while not warmongers, feel like athletes who train constantly but never get into the big game. For many of the Marine infantry, the march to Baghdad was their big game and they wanted to get into it to prove what they could do.
I'd be interested to read an account of the parallel 3 Cdo Bde Op to take Al Faw etc but haven't seen one advertised anywhere ?

Good book anyway, worth a glance, whatever your view on how the US Army conducted itself in OIF and subsequently.

Le Chevre
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