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Danger Ashore

Protecting a New Empire

With land running out in the American West, expansionists began to eye overseas territories. Much of the known world had been colonized, and the great powers were scrambling to conquer the last remaining scraps of available territory around the world. The United States began to compete with other nations, particularly in the Pacific. Competition for new markets to sell manufactured goods was heated. On the far-flung islands of the Pacific, the Navy was best positioned to respond. Both Marines and sailors frequently went ashore to pacify local populations, and often engaged in open battle with a variety of adversaries. At right, armed sailors scale a wall in Hawaii during a riot drill in the 1890's, while onlookers observe from the other side of the street. The United States concluded a trade agreement with Hawaii in 1875, and annexed the island chain in 1898. In between, there were a number of uprisings. A strong Navy presence was crucial.

Armed Shore Party

Sailors of the New Steel Navy regularly trained for armed incursions ashore. Ships carried both rifles and heavy weaponry to be used during these landings. In fact, sailors of this era were more likely to engage in land combat, than fighting at sea. The only significant naval engagements of the era were during the Spanish-American War, while land action was a regular occurrence. This photo shows an armed shore party from the cruiser USS Philadelphia posing at the United States consulate on Samoa, in 1899.

Boxer Rebellion

Perhaps the most well known land incursion of the period is the 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion in China. Frustration over the meddling of Western imperialists in China led to a mass uprising against Western nations. In this photo, British and American sailors take cover while under Chinese artillery fire. Sailors were involved in numerous land engagements during the rebellion. 22 sailors were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions ashore during the Boxer Rebellion. George Rose was one of these sailors, click here to see a photo of him.

Attacked in the Philippines

The United States took control of the Philippines as a condition of peace with Spain after the war of 1898. This vast island chain proved particularly difficult to govern. A full-blown insurrection erupted in 1899, and over the course of the next 14 years, perhaps a million Filipinos died, along with several thousand American servicemen. Sailors of the New Steel Navy frequently went ashore, and often found themselves under fire. This 1903 report by Midshipman Earl Finney details an attack by a “party of natives,” leading to a withdrawal by the Navy shore party.

Fighting in the Streets of Veracruz

One of the most dramatic land battles fought by sailors during this era was the invasion and occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in 1914. In the midst of the Mexican Revolution, a diplomatic snafu led to deteriorating relations with the United States, and the Navy was sent to blockade and invade Veracruz. Sailors and Marines went ashore, and a fierce urban battle ensued. At right, sailors can be seen manning heavy machine guns and rifles in the middle of Avenue Independencia.

Wounded Sailors

Casualties in the invasion of Veracruz were relatively light, with only 22 Americans killed and 70 wounded. Here, sailors from the battleship USS Arkansas carry a wounded comrade, the victim of sniper fire.

Heavy Weapons Team

These heavily armed sailors from the battleship USS Michigan demonstrate the fighting power of a Navy shore party during the occupation of Veracruz. In addition to individual rifles, a landing party could bring heavy, portable machine guns to bear on an enemy. The white uniforms of these sailors have been dyed gray, a common practice in these circumstances.

Relieved by the Army

Veracruz was captured easily by the Navy and Marine landing force. After just a few days, Army units arrived to relieve the victorious sailors. This colorized photograph shows sailors being relieved on Veracruz. The large number of armed sailors shows what an important fighting force they were ashore.

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