Reading – For CEOs Only

Reading, what king of reading for a CEO?

Big Red Car here talking only to CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs and innocent bystanders.

What is one to read when they are a CEO? What works, entertains, and teaches.

The Big Red Car sayeth: “Read military history, particularly biographical books. You, Madame CEO, are a similar crisis leader.”

Here’s a new favorite: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC.

Reading about who, Big Red Car?

General Oliver P Smith, known as “OP”, was the CG (commanding general) of the First Marine Division during the Korean War from the audacious Inchon landing to the ferocious fight of the Marines withdrawing from the Chosin Reservoir battling more than 120,000 Chinese down a single lane road in the freezing mountains of North Korea.

A Marine Division, at 25,000 men, is bigger than an Army Division and has its own air wing to support it. The Army calls upon the Navy (aircraft carriers) or the US Air Force for close air support. The Marines have their own.

The First Marine Division was and is the most powerful infantry unit in the history of the United States. It made its bones at Guadacanal, Peleliu, Okinawa, and Inchon and the Chosin. It is a killing machine.

Mao wanted to destroy the First Marine Division more than any other unit in the Korean War as he recognized them to be the best.

[It went on to fight in Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, in Somalia, and in Afghanistan. When someone needs an ass kicking, the American President sends the First Marine Division.]

What did he do, Big Red?

OP Smith was handed the job of putting the First Mar Div back together after WWII when the North Koreans came across the border in June 1950. This was the ultimate startup. He did it in less than thirty days. Re-built a Division in less than thirty days. Wow!

By then, five years after the end of WWII, the American Army was a hollowed out powder puff of an army while the Marines were only slightly better. What the Marines did, which allowed them to assemble the First Mar Div so quickly, was to retain all of their personnel, post-WW II, in reserve units.

When President Truman put out the call, the Marines scoured every overseas post and called up the reserves. It took everything the Marines had to scrounge together sufficient Marines to man the Division.

Now, these were not young men as it was five years from the last war against the Japs in the Pacific, but they were salty and combat experienced. The Marines threw in green recruits with no training to round out these formations. The vets taught the recruits what it meant to be a Marine and how to fight and win. Smith had the great fortune of having excellent regimental, battalion, and company commanders — virtually all of them combat vets of WWII against the Japs.

With no Division level training and with World War II vintage equipment, OP Smith landed his Division in one of the most difficult and daring amphibious operations in the history of warfare. Kudos to General of the Army MacArthur for envisioning it. It was one of the ballsiest moves in the history of war.

Smith, his Division ashore successfully, took Seoul from the North Koreans in fighting so brutal the city was destroyed while cutting their supply lines to the massive NK army to the south around the Pusan Perimeter where the North Koreans were pressing in on the ROK and American Eighth Army commanded by Walton Walker.

If the Inchon landing hadn’t relieved the pressure on the Pusan Perimeter, the North Koreans would have danced on the graves of the Eighth Army.

The Chosin

MacArthur, in what can only be called a fundamental error of tactics, split the Eighth Army and the X Corps sending the Eighth Army up the west coast of North Korea and the X Corps up the east coast. He thought he was chasing a beaten North Korean army and nothing more.

It is always folly to split the FEBA (forward edge of the battle area) of an attacking army.

Into this gap slipped 250,000 Chinese who had made their way south from the Yalu River and Manchuria, moving at night, undetected. Slowly, they began to be found out.

[The Chinese entered the fray with 250,000 men. Eventually 3,000,000 Chinese served in North Korea until the Chinese withdrew from North Korea in 1958. The US and her allies killed almost 200,000 Chinese (later revised stats from the Chinese peg this number at 500,000 or more). The US lost almost 55,000 KIA. When The Boss was there in the early 1970s, the North Koreans were still sending line jumpers and infiltrators across the DMZ and the Second Infantry Division in which The Boss served was still killing them.]

The Marines on the east side, in the area south and west of the Chosin Reservoir found themselves hopelessly outnumbered by the Chinese and fighting in the mountains in one of the bitterest winters in history. Temps plummeted to 20-30 degrees below zero.

The Chinese destroyed and annihilated an Army regiment east of the Chosin and then set upon the Marines to do the same.

Smith, a cautious and careful, but deadly fighter, had built supply dumps and scratched out airfields which were completed as they retreated. His wisdom in ensuring his Division was supplied saved it. Absent those supply dumps, the Division would not have survived.

Completing the airfields allowed him to fly out thousands of casualties rather than having to take them with his Division. It was personal foresight. It was careful, thoughtful planning. It was brilliant crisis management.

On the offense, Smith was a fierce warrior as he proved at Peleliu as the assistant Division Commander of the First Marine Division and on Okinawa. The First Marine Division killed more than 25,000 Chinese and wounded twice as many. While they were driven south by the Chinese, they made the Chinese pay a huge price in the process.

He was a student of warfare and a graduate of the French Ecole Supérieure de Guerre. He went to France before the school started and learned to speak French with sufficient command to be able to excel at a high level.

His entire Marine career prepared him for this challenge and he rose to it.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car!

OK, the fighting withdrawal of the First Marine Division — came out with all their wounded, equipment, arms, and men — is the finest example of extraordinary leadership at the Division level in the annals of American military lore. It stands out because the Division was fighting all by itself. It put General Smith’s command and leadership under a microscope.

It was a brilliant piece of fighting wherein the Division replaced bridges which had been destroyed, swept Chinese formations from commanding heights, and fought their way to safety. Came out as a fighting unit, wounded along with them, and all of their equipment. They did lose seven tanks in a tail end fight with the Chinese.

During all of this, it was the quiet and competent leadership of OP Smith which saved his Division.

How does this apply to me, Big Red Car?

You, dear CEO, are not going to have to fight your way free of 120,000 Chinamen in minus thirty degrees. But, you will face trials and tribulations. You will be tested and you will be challenged.

Read how this man did it. No histrionics. No temper tantrums. Just cold, hard-edged competence.

Read this book:

This book was written by Gail B Shisler, the granddaughter of General Smith. She had access to letters and papers which make this an intimate story. One of the best reads about military leadership I have ever read.

This is you. You can do it. Can you? Yes, you can.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Read the damn book. Sorry.

  • Thank The Boss, BRC. Noting that from 1918 onward, every time the politicians let our military disintegrate, wars begin and millions die.

  • sigmaalgebra

    Good. You told me a lot about how Smith did his work. I tried to find out how Patton did his work in WWII, saw the movie, saw a film documentary, read a book, read lots of Web sites, tried to get details on his battles in North Africa, Sicily, France, and crossing into Germany, what other US generals did wrong in Italy, but still never got any good details that could borrow on how the heck he did his work except his scowling. You told more about Smith than I was able to get on Patton. No doubt the book says still more.

    Once at Christmas at the family farm of my wife, I walked about 100 yards from the house to an outbuilding. IIRC, it was -40 F with maybe 30 MPH winds. That was cold enough to be scary within just a few minutes. How anyone could fight or even live in such weather is nearly beyond me — lots of special clothing and equipment. I wouldn’t have any confidence even that an M1 rifle would even fire. That the mechanism would work at that temperature would surprise me. Live in such temperatures? Heck, all food and water would freeze in minutes.

    Actually, the Indiana farming country was good that day! There were lots of volunteers on snowmobiles and really special clothes, amazing, thick gloves nearly to the elbows, riding around as 30 MPH or some such visiting houses to see if everyone was okay.