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125th Infantry Regiment

125th Infantry soldier (from cdninstagram.com)

 

Introduction

The 125th Infantry Regiment of the Michigan National Guard has adopted new methods of fighting and has evolved throughout its long history of warfare, from the Civil War to the war on terror in the Middle East.

The 125th Infantry Regiment was organized on December 24, 1857 as two independent militia companies in Saginaw and Flint.  Regarding their coat of arms, their symbol is a blue shield with a palm tree, eleven stars, and a crowned lion, and their motto is “Yield to None” (The Institute of Heraldry, U.S. Army).

Civil War Through World War I

The unit expanded and was federally activated in 1861 and formed the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  During the Civil War, the Confederate government tried to persuade rebels who sought refuge in Canada to attack and raid the northern states, especially Michigan.  Because Michigan is along the Canadian border there were constant threats of potential invasion.  In 1864, over five thousand militiamen that had expired contracts reenlisted with veteran status into various cavalry and infantry units with the purpose of protecting the Michigan border from possible invasion.  Among these tasked units was the 2nd Infantry.  By the end of the war, they had contributed to the state of Michigan’s more than eight hundred engagements (Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, 2017).  At this point, the 125th is still using older conventional styles of fighting, such as from a firing line.

In addition, during the Civil War there was an introduction of much more effective rifles, such as breechloaders and repeaters.  The repeaters, particularly, provided a great advantage over the soldiers using standard single shot muskets.  If more of these weapons were put into production it was debated whether the war could have been won much sooner for the Union, however, they were argued to be too costly (about $36.00 for a repeater as opposed to $20.00 to produce a standard Springfield musket) and also too heavy, weighing more than nine pounds each (Ripley, 1861).  Due to the introduction of interchangeable parts, the Michigan National Guard thought they might be able to supply higher quality weapons at a lower cost but turned out that it was not achievable.

In April 2015, the 125th Infantry was reactivated and redesignated as the 33rd Infantry Division, which was a consolidation of National Guard units.  It was important and necessary to consolidate National Guard units because it was the quickest way to send a large number of trained troops to Europe.  Prior to WWI, the infantry would fight in mass attack formations.  However, WWI revolutionized the way the infantry fought by introducing more flexible formations, trench warfare, fire and maneuver, and infiltration tactics.  In order to effectively fight under these new conditions the 33rd had operations combining artillery and infantry in combined arms tactics in order to aid the infantry’s movement to infiltrate enemy positions.  This was the first time the 125th was effectively integrated with artillery.  They also utilized new technologies to help suppress enemy artillery by employing barbed wire and machine guns.  This became very important because there was not much of a useful method for countering enemy artillery.  They used to send more infantrymen in at the artillery but that lead to massive amounts of casualties.  The 125th was using old methods of fighting against new technology.  Now, machine guns and barbed wire can be strategically employed to neutralize and counter enemy artillery.

Operations in World War II

On May 31st, 1946, the 125th Infantry Regiment was reactivated again and was assigned to the 46th Infantry Division (formerly the 31st Infantry) during WWII.  During WWII, the infantry began to co-operate with tank units.  In addition, infantry platoons begin to become more specialized by being broken down into squads, which included riflemen, scouts, and fire sections, which contained automatic weapons.  Unit specialization was important with the changing dynamic of the war.  The infantry had to know how to fight against enemies with more advanced weapons and vehicles, and the 125th could have been sent to fight in many different fronts.  They could have been sent to the desert in northern Africa, to Western Europe, or sent to fight an amphibious war in the Pacific; therefore, unit specialization was crucial in order to fight on all fronts during the war.  The 31st Infantry ended up being sent to New Guinea and the southern Philippines to engage in amphibious operations.  During this time, the 125th Infantry became more diversified because they could conduct joint operations with armored, naval, and air assets along with using better individual and heavy weapons.

The 31st Infantry was part of the Sixth Army and contributed to operations in the Luzon campaign.  According to the Sixth United States Army Report of the Luzon Campaign:

The missions were:  (1) to land in the Lingayen – Damortis – San Fernando (La Union) areas of Luzon; (2) to establish a base of operations, including facilities for uninterrupted naval and air operations; (3) to advance southward and seize the Central Plain – Manila area; and (4) by subsequent operations, as directed by General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, to establish control over the remainder of Luzon (Sixth United States Army, 1945, 1).

General MacArthur led this campaign, which was the third most important phase in the plan to liberate the Philippines.  This campaign was extremely important to the 125th Infantry (attached to 31st Infantry) and the rest of the Sixth Army because it involved a large-scale amphibious invasion.

The Sixth Army’s forces were very spread out because there were landings in various locations: New Guinea, Western New Britain, in the Solomons, in New Caledonia, and in the newly acquired islands by the Philippines (Sixth United States Army, 1945, 1).

Because there were so many different points of invasion during the campaign, it provided extensive planning, especially for logistics since the wide spread operations provided a logistical nightmare.  The Philippines was considered a huge strategic location for the Japanese.  The Japanese took the island of Luzon, which is the largest island of the Philippines and it was believed that Japanese control of this island would be a huge threat to American success.  In response to the Japanese capture of the island, MacArthur coordinated a joint operation with the U.S. Pacific Commander, Admiral Nimitz, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral King.  Before the operation was launched, the U.S. had established a base of operations nearby at Mindoro to set up airbases in order to provide air support to the invading forces on Luzon.  MacArthur then launched his invasion at the Lingyan Gulf on Luzon and surrounding islands and eventually took control of Luzon and established a dominant presence in the Philippines.

The Luzon campaign was extremely important to the 125th Infantry at the time because it was their first amphibious operation.  Before World War II, the unit was fighting in conventional land combat but they had to adjust their fighting styles to fight effectively by land and sea.  The Japanese had many bunkers established on the beaches during the invasion that the Sixth Army had to worry about knocking out.  This was an entirely new style of fighting for the 125th.  In WWI, they had to fight against machine guns but they had never encountered large sophisticated machine gun nests and bunkers as they had in WWII.  The 125th Infantry had to knock out bunkers via a land invasion and needed violence of action and a quick, hasty method of knocking out bunkers.  The most effective way to knock out a bunker was to deploy smoke grenades for concealment while an element would flank around and toss a grenade inside the bunker.  The stationary element would lay down cover fire and fire at the entrance of the bunker in case anyone was to try to get out when a soldier tossed a grenade into the bunker (The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad (FM 3-21.8)).  This method of knocking out a bunker became universal across the Army, has been established as an official battle drill in operational doctrine, and is still used today.

The Modern Nature of Warfare

The 125th Infantry Regiment has also served in the global war on terror and has been engaged in combat during the surge in Iraq.  During these conflicts, some concerns have been the following: wide area security, flexible isolation and containing resistance, and concentrated force to capture strongholds.  This new era of the global war on terror has forced the unit along with the rest of the Army to utilize advanced technologies designed for precision striking and to work with Special Operations Forces (SOF).  For example, the 125th has sent soldiers in recent years to more specialized training, such as sniper school, in order to maximize fighting capability with great precision.  Just recently on May 22, 2016, the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard, had three soldiers go through a preparation course at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center to try and advance on to Sniper School.  According to an interview with Specialist Matthew Fitzgerald of the 125th Infantry Battalion:

I joined the infantry to be a sniper.  I have always wanted to be part of the “elite” and becoming a sniper will help me on my way to becoming a member of Special Forces (Fitzgerald 2016).

The preparation course that Specialist Fitzgerald participated in a thirty-six hour event to test mental and physical capabilities to simulate the training one would experience at Sniper School.  In the year of 2016, the 125th Infantry sent fifty of its soldiers to try out for a spot at Sniper School when there were twenty-five slots available.  The number of seats available for Sniper School have been increasing over the recent years as the unit has had to deal more heavily with counter-insurgency operations.  The employment of snipers gives the unit a large tactical advantage in taking high value targets in combat, and this expansion of scout sniper attachments is a direct result of the Army wanting to acquire weapons that are more precise and accurate.  Why would the Army want this?  Well, they are so concerned with precision striking lately because it will help reduce collateral damage and hopefully minimize the number of civilian casualties.  It is very difficult to find and identify the enemy so it is important to act with precision.  Snipers are a great asset to cause lots of damage to personnel assets or even physical assets while maintaining a low profile and effectively minimizing civilian casualties.

The 125th has adopted lots of new technology and training in the recent years to fight in the Middle East.  They use them because it is increasingly difficult to identify their enemy.  Most of their enemies do not wear a uniform rather they are embedded in the local population.  Advanced technologies are used in order to better identify their enemies.  The unit, for example, heavily uses night vision goggles.  Since the enemy does not have access to night vision goggles, most of the training and missions occur at night.  The enemy is constantly evolving as they grow in size and strength and the 125th has to be able to evolve as well.

The Evolution of Warfare

The 125th Infantry Regiment has adopted many styles of fighting throughout history and have evolved with the natural progression of warfare.  In the Civil War, they had some availability to repeaters instead of traditional muskets which allowed them to rely more on the capabilities of their weapon rather than their bayonets.  The cost, however, was too high to acquire a lot of them.  In World War I, they adopted different fighting styles to combat the enemies in trench warfare.  This marked the start of them focusing on combined arms maneuvers and flexible formations to and infiltrate the enemy trenches.  As World War II set in, the 125th Infantry had to learn how to maneuver and function in joint operations with the Navy.  They also had to learn how to knock out machine gun nests and enemy bunkers from an amphibious invasion.  Today, the conflicts in the Middle East make it very difficult to identify the actual enemy, since the enemy is embedded in the general population.  Because of this, using tactics and weapons that are more precise is critical to make sure the soldiers are only taking out the enemy and not the civilian population, so as a result, the 125th Infantry has increased its deployment of snipers and use of advanced targeting technology.  All of these tactical changes through the unit’s history shape the evolution of warfare.

125th Infantry Regiment Unit Insignia (Institute of Heraldry)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Primary Sources:

1.  Department of the Army (2007).  The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad (FM 3-21.8).

2.  Staff Sergeant Thomas Vega (May 22, 2016).  MIARNG 125th Infantry Regiment conducts sniper selection training.

3.  33rd Infantry Division (13 March 1945).  Sixth Army Luzon Campaign Map.

4.  Sixth United States Army (1945).  Report of the Luzon Campaign.

Secondary Sources:

1.  Department of the Army (23 July 2012).  Lineage And Honors Information.  

2.  The Institute of Heraldry (October 2017).  125th Infantry Regiment.

3.  Michigan Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (2017).  The Civil War Michigan Answers the Call to Arms.

4.  International Encyclopedia of the First World War (20 November 2015).  Infantry.

5.  United States Army Center of Military History (20 May 2011).  31st Infantry Division.

6.  Mann, David (October 2003).  “Japanese Defense of Bataan, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 16 December 1944- 4 September 1945.”  The Journal of Military History.  Vol. 67. No. 4

7.  Cronin, Audrey (July 2010).  “The evolution of counter-terrorism: will tactics trump strategy?”  Royal Institute of International Affairs.  Vol. 86.  No. 4.

 

Further Reading:

1.  Weapons and Warfare (October 22, 2015).  U.S. Army Tactics WWII.