Jump to content

USMC battle of Alcatraz

Recommended Posts

would anyone have refrence pics of the Marines who took part in that operation? I have done some research on this topic and find it very interesting, Any info on Marine operations would be great, also would you say they went ashore wearing the leggings? thanks for the help

Link to post
Share on other sites

All I know is they brought them in from nearby Treasure Island. My grandfather had two buddies who he had been in L Company 3rd Bn 6th Marines with at Guadalcanal and Tarawa and they were among the 180 plus from the battalion whose names were drawn to go back stateside. What they did not know is they were going back stateside to become part of the newly created 5th Marine Division. One of the guys was with them for a while as they were put into the 27th Marines but then was detached to serve on Treasure Island and was involved in that whole fiasco. Pretty interesting situation and not too much known about it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

There used to be a private basketball tournament on alcatraz put on by "And1" and redbull. At the time, I worked for the staging company that built the risers for the guests. I won't get into how much of a P.I.A. it is to get large amounts of heavy gear into the prison yard from the boat docks, but there is a reason we started in the afternoon friday and finished at dawn saturday. That place is inhospitable in every way especially during the eerie, foggy, and cold nights. Equally impressive is the history you see everywhere, especially when the prison is closed and you have it to yourself. I remember having some time in the wee hours of the morning and talked to a national park service ranger about some of the history and he walked me around a little bit. I got to see between the cell blocks where all the plumping is. It's like a finely built pocket watch. I explicitly remember walking into the corridor between cells where some people had been injured or killed by hand grenades in that incident. I'm pretty sure I took pictures, but I remember how small of a scar/crater those grenades left on that granite floor. There's a lot of reasons that place is called 'the rock."

Link to post
Share on other sites

A 1946 Leatherneck detailed all the action to include mentioning some of the Marines that took part. I'll have to see if I can find it....Think I also have it in USMC Chevron Newspaper.


I think I also have photos of the frag marks on the deck of the cell house where the Marines dropped grenades on the rioters from the vents on the rooftop.




Link to post
Share on other sites



I think I also have photos of the frag marks on the deck of the cell house where the Marines dropped grenades on the rioters from the vents on the rooftop.



That's it!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for all the great info, I found an old news reel on this event showed some Marines on a ship heading to Alcatraz and found it intresting what there uniform was they were wearing the green combat trousers, wool shirt, and parson jacket,and there garrison cover.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree.


It also occurred to me, specifically about tactics the Marines learned on the islands, that I have not read much about that.


Ive read a lot of personal accounts / memoirs, and orders of battle, but nothing on engagement mechanics.


So what they seemingly did at Alcatraz, was use the grenades to corral the rioters into a concentrated fire area.


The Japanese certainly changed their tactics, from beach defense to more inland crossfire. I now wonder how the Marines adapted to that.




Wow!! I had never heard of this incident before this thread. Fascinating!!



Link to post
Share on other sites

Follow-up, I looked in June-Dec 1946 Leatherneck and couldn't find the article, but I know I've seen it somewhere in Leatherneck. Below is the text from the article pulled from Marine Corps Association website. I did find it in my Chevron bound copy for 1946, photo of article attached.





Operation Alcatraz

By PFC Robert Prosser

Marines were called when a band of this country's worst cutthroats made a frantic bid for freedom

Lying offshore in the early evening light, the 20 Marines in the PC boat could taste the thrill of excitement. Each could also taste the bitterness of salt water as the crowded craft bobbed and ducked in the grey waters of San Francisco Bay.

Up ahead, rising almost vertically from the water, lay "the Rock," and although the craft was still 200 yards away, the dull echo of rifle fire could be heard.

"They must be expecting us. I hear their reception committee warming up," one Marine grunted nervously.

"Yeah, but I'd rather land this way and be shot at than be on their welcoming committee," his companion returned.

Except for a single word splashed in letters of red on the roof of a towering building ahead, the clean, compact rock and its brilliant snowflower vegetation, this might have been another enemy stronghold, daring its invaders. But the single word was "ALCATRAZ."

The day was 3 May 1946, and the occasion was an attempted prison break during which a crime-crazed band of the nation's worst criminals attempted to blast its way back into a society from which it had been banished. The Marines were the first of several groups rushed to the fight from nearby Treasure Island at the request of aged Warden James A. Johnston.

The Marines were called three hours after the first shot had been fired by a frenzied convict. When they arrived the cons already held hostages, a seizure that resulted in the killing of two guards and the wounding of 14 others.

As the Marine craft bobbed in the swift current off the Rock it could not be determined how many cons had been casualties of the prison guards' guns. Before the last shot had been fired and the beaten, humbled cons had crawled back into their bleak cells, three of them lay dead and murder charges were being prepared against another trio of ring-leaders.

Primarily, the Marines were called to guard the large body of case hardened prisoners who had not yet had an opportunity to join the rioters. One hundred and fifty of these prisoners had been scattered over the Rock performing various prison tasks when the riot flared. It became the duty of the Marines to ride herd on them for as long as the riot would last.

"They're in an ugly mood," a prison official warned the Marines who took charge of the group.

The rounded-up prisoners milled about a prison exercise yard which now served as a giant bull pen. The truth of the official's observation was soon proved when it became necessary to forcibly subdue one rotund little gent whose professional name was "Machine Gun Kelly," and whose criminal nuisance value had finally brought him to the attention of the FBI.

After a series of scarlet epithets, hurled at the Marines, fatso Kelly received a workmanlike bopping about by Marines and guards, who then hustled him off to solitary confinement.

"Yaaa yu lousy _________... I bought more War Bonds than any of yu . . . I helped win the war too." This is a well-laundered version of the Kelly tirade against Leathernecks who would prevent him from joining his rioting associates.

Other Marines had been summoned because of their knowledge of special weapons that were unknown to the prison guards. These included Warrant Officer Charles L. Buckner, holder of the Silver Star from Guam and the Purple Heart from Bougainville and who had been officer of the day at Treasure Island when the Alcatraz SOS was sounded. Buckner came armed with hand and rifle grenades. The use of the latter caused civilian newsmen to report that bazookas were being used against the cons.

Barricaded within section D, or the center of the cell block, the cons commanded a full rifle sweep of the western approaches to the Rock. Aware of this, the Marines landed on the eastern side of the island after a midstream transfer from their craft to a passenger ferry which regularly serves the Rock. As the last Marine jumped ashore from the big prison barge the white-sided ferry pulled away and shoved off for the safety of midstream.

Five Navy and Coast Guard cutters, loaded with watchful prison guards, stood off Alcatraz in the swift bay current.

"Just to be safe," a sweating guard explained. "The cons can't get away so long as they have no water transportation, so we'll keep the Alcatraz excursion steamer out of reach."

Within the protective shadow of a grey Alcatraz wall, a prison guard explained to the Marines how the break had begun.

A few hours earlier the prison had lain, as usual, basking on the Rock in the warm sun, its guards unaware of the bubbling ferment that was coming so close to the surface within the cells. The fury had suddenly boiled over, without a moment's warning. Bank robber Bernard Paul Coy, ironically a " trusty,"had been able to mount a window-cleaning ladder near the gun gallery and, using a variety of tools in getting through a wall of bars supposedly impenetrable, he had been able to surprise and over-power the guards.

"Escape," the guard further explained, "is the only thought these men have. They plan for years how they will exploit some weakness of the guard or the prison system. The fact that the odds are thousands to one against them doesn't stop them from making a try."

On Alcatraz there is no such thing as a real trusty, the guard said. Coy had been allowed to work on a cleaning detail outside his cell when the break occurred.

The Marines knew that even those men who weren't actively engaged in the armed break attempt were dangerous. Perhaps the prisoners in the yard were more vicious than those who had arms inside, for on the outside only a five-foot wall, the swift current, and prowling guard boats separated them from San Francisco and freedom.

One of Coy's weapons had been a heavy wrench which he had stolen earlier while working on a detail cleaning the plumbing alley, a dank, steel-sided recess which tunneled beneath cell block D. With proper poetic justice this steel tunnel was soon to become a crypt holding the bodies of Coy and two of his companions, Joseph Paul Cretzer and Marvin Franklin Hubbard.

Coy's other weapon had been a window cleaner's squeegee, when he climbed the ladder and touched off one of the most spectacular revolts in the annals of American penal history. Using the wrench to pry his way into the gun galley, the convict lay in wait for the approaching guard, and at the proper instant attacked with both of his improvised weapons. With the squeegee he raked Guard Bert A. Burch close to him and battered him into insensibility with the heavy wrench. Then he siezed a set of keys that would unlock all the doors within Cell Block No. 1 and took possession of Burch's .45 caliber pistol, and a .30 caliber rifle, with ammunition for both.

Burch was a "gun guard." Cell blocks at Alcatraz are constructed like steel catacombs, tier upon tier of cell rows. Each cell has its own steel-barred door and each tier is further confined by barred balconies. Three complete cell blocks stretch the length of the huge building and are parallel to each other. Guards who had the run of the cell blocks carried no weapons. Only the gun guard, himself a prisoner in a cage that ran along the end of the building, had firearms. He had a commanding view of all the cell entrances, and a clear field of fire. The wall of bars between him and the cell block protected him, theoretically at least, from attack if prisoners should get the run of the building. Coy figured this out and worked out his plans accordingly.

By employing his cunning, Coy had been able to become the commanding figure within the cell block. At the steel door to the outside, however, Coy's rule ended. The gun guard's keys would open doors in the cell block, but Coy had neither the key for nor the knowledge of how to operate the electric doors to the outside.

Although the escape plot was doomed to failure from the first, long confinement had warped the convicts' reasoning until, to them, liberty lay just past the next set of steel doors. A dozen convicts responded to Coy's profane invitation to "shoot every _____ guard and blast our way out of here."

Cretzer, bank robber and killer of a U. S. marshal, soon took the lead, even surpassing Coy in the fury of his attack against the guards. To Cretzer, Coy gave the .45 caliber pistol, a weapon that was used in killing one and wounding at least a half-dozen guards. Guard Robert R. Baker gasped out his story to Marines who heard how he lay for ten hours feigning death on the steel floor of a cell after being shot by Cretzer.

At the wailing of the first alarm soon after Coy attacked the gun guard, Baker and a half-dozen other guards rushed to the scene of the trouble. Unarmed, they at first expected far less serious trouble, but they were met by Cretzer who, brandishing the pistol, herded them into two empty cells. Then he snarled, " And now I'm going to kill you."

Cretzer singled out Deputy Warden William A. Miller from the group and demanded his keys.

"The keys, give me the keys, you _________ . Give me the keys or you'll wish you were never born."

As he continued to brandish the stolen pistol he suddenly spat a savage oath and slugged Miller in the face with the pistol. Miller fell to the steel floor and Cretzer directed the other convicts to hold him over a rude prison bench.

"Hold him. I'll show you how to get the keys," he boasted, and when the other convicts complied, Cretzer began to kick the helpless guard.

"Let me help. I owe that _____ a little trouble, too," another convict volunteered, and as he did, still other cons took up the cry. One of the torturers kicked Miller from the bench and with his heavy prison boots jumped repeatedly on his chest and body in a frenzied rage.

Numbed with torture and coughing blood with every savage blow from the convict's boots, Miller surrendered those of his keys which were a duplicate set to the ones the prisoners had taken from the gun guard. At the first sign of trouble Miller had disposed of the key that would open the door between the cells and the outside.

"These keys aren't the ones," Cretzer stormed as Miller relinquished the set. "We're just as fouled-up as ever."

When Cretzer found that Miller hadn't given him the right key he seemed to go crazy.

"He shot Miller," said Baker, "and he ran up to where we were in a cell and poked his pistol through the bars and started firing. No one could count the shots or had any time to think. I fell to the floor when I was hit and I heard the others hit the floor around me."

The faint smell of freedom that had earlier intoxicated the penned killers was now fast disappearing, leaving in its wake a murderous deadlock, during which armed convicts roamed the cell block and the lives of the hostage guards were at stake.

Wounded or just blood-splattered, the captive guards hugged the cold floors of their prison and heard the motley prison strategists ponder their fate.

"Let's hold them for hostages," one prisoner suggested.

"Hostages, hell, we ain't going to make any bargains. All we want are the keys out of here," Cretzer was heard to reply.

"Let's kill all these witnesses," another con offered.

A few moments later a con, hurrying past the cells containing the imprisoned guards, sent a full magazine of .45 caliber slugs ricocheting among the bleeding forms on the floor. Possum-playing, wounded guards were later unable to identify this wanton gunman.

The fight soon centered around the rescue of these guards in a test tube battle, with Marines and free guards chalking the deadly score from behind a glass visitors' shield which offered a full view of operations within the cell blocks. In a counterattack measure the guards adopted Marine street-fighting tactics, moving into the cell block under a protective curtain of small-arms fire.

WO Buckner was lavish in his praise of the guards' actions.

"In the best Marine tradition," he later told a radio audience, "those guards braved the fire of the convicts to rescue their wounded comrades. They'd all make good Marines."

It was in this phase of "Operation Alcatraz" that veteran guard Harold B. Stites was killed by a rifle volley fired by a hidden convict.

The guards had ranged themselves behind the visitors' glass and, after blasting portholes in the heavy panes, which provided covering fire, with their rifles, pistols and riot guns attempted to drive the cons away from the cells containing the captive guards. Since the glass was not bulletproof guards hugged the steel lower wall to get as much protection as possible from the convicts' fire.

Although the two pieces taken from the gun guard were the only weapons in the cons' possession during the entire riot, the prisoners were able to use them with deadly accuracy. By passing the guns around among themselves, they could snipe from any of a hundred steel-sided cells.

After delivering several withering blasts from riot guns and rifles, Stites and several others rushed toward the cell where it was thought the imprisoned guards lay. Instead of completing the rescue, Stites was killed and his companions wounded by convict fire that seemed to come from everywhere.

New volleys from behind the glass drove the convict snipers to cover and while the guards kept up a steady covering fire, a second group of guards recovered Stites's body. A similar, third action was carried out later when the rescue of the dying Miller and the other imprisoned guards was completed.

As a priest performed the final rites of the Catholic church, guard Miller signed a statement which took the last of his failing strength. It said tersely:

"I was shot to death by Joseph Cretzer."

With the rescue of the guards, the bombardment of the embattled cons began in earnest under the direction of WO Buckner.

Although the pounding given cons lasted more than 24 hours, a single methodical plan rah through the entire operation. To all requests for negotiations, aging, tired Warden Johnston simply replied, "Throw out your weapons." To this ultimatum the cons had their own eloquent reply-a fresh burst of shots.

Buckner's plan was to drive the battered cons away from the two outside cell blocks and thus deprive them of the mobility which they enjoyed as the only armed men within the building. After isolating them he hoped to pound them into submission with a variety of weapons.

As a beginning step, guards covered the outside windows while Buckner used a grenade thrower against the center windows. This proved only partially effective since few of the grenades could be aimed carefully enough to pass between the bars. The over-all strategy was sound, though, and with the first burst of a smoke grenade against the windows the cons were seen to go scurrying toward the center cells. More than that, the actual ring-leaders climbed to the top of the cells where they perched between the cell block roof and the roof of the building. When the cons left the outside cells, riot gun guards could move in closer and pin them down in their new positions.

Apparently the cons felt themselves in a position to withstand a lengthy siege. But they were due for a second shock. With the aid of the guards, Buckner started to methodically raise the roof. He called for tools to gouge a duct through the massive roof. When the first small hole was completed, he drew the pin from a hand grenade and dropped it through. Screams of terror came from the surprised convicts.

"We surrender . . . we surrender . . . don't do that again . . . don't" were among the cries that echoed back through the hole in the roof. A guard approached cautiously to receive the surrendered weapons, and received instead a defiant shot which had apparently been fired blindly by a now-frenzied con.

Realizing that their refuge on top of the cell block was no longer safe, the cons, still armed, moved to a lower level. The grenade shower followed them. By lowering pineapples through cold air ducts on strings, Buckner was able to methodically herd the cons into the one protected spot in the cell block. This was the steel alley, deep in the entrails of the building, which served as an outlet for the cell, block plumbing.

Thus, in isolating themselves, the cons signed their own death warrants. Grim-faced guards sent blast after blast from their riot guns rattling down the steel tube.

Forty-five hours after the revolt first flared, Bernard Paul Coy lay stiff in rigor mortis. Apparently the first to die, Coy was society's mad dog even in death. Although his stolen rifle had been used by others for hours after his death, his arms were still locked in firing position. Near-by, and dead, too, lay Cretzer, and kidnapper Marvin Hubbard. The surviving cons had crawled back into their own cells and there sullenly awaited the next move, which was to be the law's.

The Marines went back to Treasure Island and caught the liberty due all who participated in the operation. With their tongues in their cheeks they were already asking for Alcatraz campaign ribbons. They suggested black and grey horizontal prison, stripes for the design.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.