Combat Leadership: Sgt Henry Hanneken


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Sergeant Henry Hanneken
U.S. Marine Corps
Haiti, 1919

Following serious rebel uprisings, the United States began a prolonged occupation of Haiti in 1915. Charlemagne Peralte was the leader of the rebel army, known as the “Cacos.”

The 2d Marine Brigade spent several months in unsuccessful attempts to topple Charlemagne’s group. Henry Hanneken, a sergeant in the brigade, devised a bold plan to separate Charlemagne from the bulk of his troops and ambush him. Sgt Hanneken sent one of his most reliable men to become a member of the Caco band. In a short period of time the infiltrator had earned the outlaws’ trust. Then Sgt Hanneken had his spy feed the Cacos the location of a Marine unit that was vulnerable to attack. Hanneken’s spy soon returned with information of a rebel plan to attack these Marines, as well as Charlemagne’s location during this attack.

On 31 October 1919, Sgt Hanneken led 22 local militiamen in an attack on Charlemagne. Disguised as rebels, Hanneken and his unit moved through several guard posts and boldly walked into the unsuspecting rebel camp. When he was within fifteen yards of Charlemagne, Sgt Hanneken drew his pistol, and shot and killed the rebel leader. In the fire-fight that followed, the small raiding party captured the rebel position and defended it from a series of counterattacks.

The Marines who were the target of the rebel attack had been warned by Sgt Hanneken of the impending strike and were well prepared for the rebel attack. The rebels were thoroughly defeated. The morning after the actions, Sgt Hanneken reported his exploits to his commanding officer. Hanneken’s actions had routed more than a thousand outlaws, killed their leader, and virtually shattered the entire bandit resistance movement in northern Haiti. For his actions, Sgt Hanneken was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lessons:

  • Sgt Hanneken displayed outstanding initiative and tactical proficiency in devising and acting upon a plan to defeat a large rebel force. This plan supported the brigade’s mission in Haiti. Sgt Hanneken accepted great risk, but displayed the courage and nerve to see his plan through. His bold action achieved decisive results.
  • With a small band of men, Sgt Hanneken was able to defeat a larger rebel force by adhering to tactical fundamentals. His 22-man Main Effort attacked the enemy Center of Gravity, the rebel leader. Without leadership, the rebel force quickly disintegrated.
  • Sgt Hanneken used the elements of surprise and deception to execute his attack. Surprise is one of the most important tactical fundamentals and was essential to this tactical undertaking.
  • Sgt Hanneken’s actions illustrate how tactical decisions at the squad level can impact the operational and strategic levels of war, and can ultimately affect U.S. policy. Sgt Hanneken’s attack greatly affected the balance of power in Haiti, lessening the turmoil in the country. It was a major step towards ending the rebellion on the island.

Source:

Lieutenant M.M. Obalde and Lieutenant A.M. Otero. “The Squad Leader Makes the Difference: Readings on Combat at the Squad Level. Volume I”

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, 1998

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3 thoughts on “Combat Leadership: Sgt Henry Hanneken”

  1. I love these combat leadership posts (as well as every other post) – you and i aspire to exemplify the same values that the world requires of humanity every so often (actually, more like on a daily basis)

    thank you for taking the time out of your day to draft and post these articles

  2. If I remember my USMC Basic Training history/heritage classes he was commissioned a 2nd Lt after this and topped off as a Brig. General as well.

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