Forever loyal:The ROC Marine Corps in the Cold War era




The two sides of the Taiwan Straits have been separated by politics for 60 years. Today, tensions have eased but, in the Cold War period, especially the first few decades, at a time when daggers were drawn and the ROC was desperate to “reclaim the mainland,” the ROC Marine Corps was the force that would strike the first blow in the campaign to liberate the people of China. The TELDAP Union Catalogs contain much precious historical material relating to the ROC Marine Corps in the Cold War period, allowing us, through the Internet, to take a trip back time to those strange and dangerous times.

The ROC Marine Corps was established before the Anti-Japanese War broke out in 1937. However, because Japan ruled the seas, the Corps didn’t have much opportunity to engage in amphibious warfare and its men played a role similar to that of ordinary infantrymen. In the Chinese Civil War period the nature of the battlefields led to the Corps being absorbed into the army where it played a minor supporting role.

However, in 1947 as the war with the Chinese Communists intensified, the ROC reconstituted Marine Corps combat units in Mawei, Fujian, however, only in 1949 when the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan and the two sides of the Taiwan Straits came under separate governments did the importance of sea power and the value of the Marine Corps become really obvious. Then, in 1950 the Korean War broke out and the US took on more responsibility for defense in Asia, dispatching military advisers to Taiwan and supplying US hardware and passing on US military thinking, leading to a rapid “Americanization” of the ROC military.

After being ejected from China upon losing the Chinese civil war but still regarding itself as the legitimate government of China, to the government of Taiwan wanting to reclaim the mainland was an extremely reasonable objective. To do this the ROC Marine Corps would first have to establish a bridgehead which would then be expanded by the ROC regular army and thus “save” the mainland.. The US had also relied on its marines to land from the sea and storm enemy defenses in the Pacific theater in WWII. Heavily influenced by the US military, from the 1950s the ROC actively developed its marine corps and it went from having a minor role supporting the army or navy, to becoming a fearsome elite force that would fire the first bullet in the campaign to take back the mainland.

This tri-service joint exercise, held in 1965, was named Chongqing and mainly involved ROC forces. President Chiang Kai-shek was present to watch this massive show of military power.

Film:Chongqing exercise

This ROC-US joint exercise named "Marine Roar” was held in September 1958. This was at the height of the “August 23 artillery battle” and brought the PRC and ROC to the edge of a hot war. This was not only the first time the ROC and US had staged joint amphibious warfare exercises, setting combat norms, it was also meant as message to Mao Zedong that Taiwan could not be taken easily.
It must have been comforting for the people of Taiwan at the time to see US and ROC forces holding exercises together and preparing to fight side by side. Just like it was comforting to see US helicopters help out with the relief effort after the August 8th typhoon disaster…


Film: Marine Roar, a major ROC-US military exercise in 1958


The joint ROC-US exercise held in 1964, “Combat Ready,” was attended by a number of VIPS, including Chiang Kai-shek and the US ambassador. In terms of the international situation at the time, neither the US or USSR wanted to have a hot war with the other and, at the most, would only contemplate a war between proxies. Without US support the ROC did not have the ability to attack any part of China by sea or air and the more the ROC military developed in the American direction the more it could be controlled by the US. Therefore, looked at from today, apart from having the effect of boosting the morale of the people, the exercise seems somewhat ironic. Having said that, 10 million people had died in the three years of bitterness after the Great Leap Forward and the people of China wanted change. Senior Communist party officials from that era revealed in their memoirs that if the ROC had invaded in the 1960-4 period, even if the Chinese Communist Party didn’t lose its grip on power, the KMT would have been able to win back a large swathe of territory and create some kind of stalemate, causing a serious problem for the Communist regime.


Film:ROC-US “Combat ready” exercise

After landing what would the marines do? Political work “calling on the mainland compatriots to switch allegiance to the Nationalists” was important work. The ROC armed forces’ political warfare system was unique in the Free World and was especially important in the ROC Marine Corps, the force that would lead the way in any attempt to reclaim the mainland. In this film we can see the political warfare officers engaging in some pre-battle “pep talk,” raising morale during the landing, removing Communist slogans and covering them with “Reunify China according to the Three Principles of the People,”even comforting the people.

In some ways political warfare was ridiculous but this exercise actually invited a group of people—old people, children and women—to play the role of “mainland compatriots in dire straits,” making it very realistic.


Film: Basic level Marine Corps propaganda work

It has been said that the best benefit a soldier can have is training. In this film from the 1960s we see the marines undergoing intensive training. The marines at the time used WWII-era M1 Garand rifles, aging but very practical weapons, and praised by General Patton as the best infantry rifles. The M16 the author and many other young people who have served in the military have used was being put to the test by US marines in real combat in the Vietnam War at the time. A surprising thing is that in the communications class one instructor is wearing a broad-brimmed hat. This is a pure US army item. Anyone who has seen the film Full Metal Jacket should be very familiar with the fierce drill sergeant who shouts abuse at the Marine recruits and wears a broad-brimmed hat. After the US broke off diplomatic relations with the ROC in 1979 this hat gradually disappeared from the ROC military and the hats worn after were the standard military hats like the ones worn in the film “Report To The Squad Leader.”
Film: The marines undergoing intensive training

Of course, aside from its mission to reclaim the mainland, there was also a more relaxed side to the ROC Marine Corps in the 1950s and 60s. For example family days gave the marines some family warmth, respite from the harsh environment they usually lived in. The wives on stage receiving awards for being dutiful, the dragon dance and song and dance performances give us a view of a lighter side of military life.

Film :Marine Corps family day

The US Marine Corps also provided entertainment for the Taiwanese public. This film shows a performance in the square outside Zhongshan Hall by the US Marine Corp’s Drum & Bugle Corps when it visited Taiwan. To people like the author born in the 1980s and after it is amazing to see that there was once such a large square outside the hall, illustrating the massive transformation Taipei has undergone since then and stirring a “from seas into mulberry fields and from mulberry fields into seas  (a Chinese proverb meaning great change) wistful feeling.

Film: The drum and bugle corps of the US Marine Corps giving a public performance.
There have been a number of detailed reports about the ROC Marine Corps in recent years, however, most popular only have a vague idea of its development. It is hoped that through the efforts of TELDAP people will acquire an understanding of the history of this elite branch of the ROC military which has “Forever Loyal” as its motto. 
Teldap e-newsletter/ Chen Tai-ying
Text and films are provided by TELDAP e-Newsletter (February, 2010)