The Twelfth Liberian Brigade

Dr. Plavus Yernblatt Lister, Ph.D.

Unit histories have become, as the Estonians say, "a chicken in a duck pond," and I would normally refrain from writing them. In this case, however, the topic seemed to merit coverage, especially with the centenary anniversary of the unit's founding hovering just around the corner. Thus, with this caveat, I bring you the Twelfth Liberian Brigade.

As I said above, the Twelfth was founded on January 13, 1907, as the first mechanized brigade of the Army of the Liberian Republic. At its outset the brigade was less than company strength, with just under seventeen platoons of mechanized infantry (the Liberian platoon corresponding to the French Corps-de-Ville, 1845 reckoning). The vast majority of the troops were rear-echelon support-staff, as the Liberian Army only had two trucks, both purchased under the Treaty of Westphalia from the United States in 1905.

Throughout the pre-war period (1909-1912), the Twelfth was deployed on the contentious Ivorian border and saw action in the Battle of Jefferson Heights, wherein one of its trucks broke down and had to be abandoned. At this point, the brigade was three-quarter strength and had no gasoline, so much of the transportation of troops was given over to mules, "the tanks of Liberia" as Lieutenant-General James Madison Sobo, commander of the brigade from 1908-1910, called them.

With the outbreak of the Great War, the Twelfth found itself on the sidelines of this massive conflict, but the entry of the United States into the war brought an influx of technology, and the Twelfth replaced its aging trucks with newer models. At the cessation of hostilities, there were numerous German and Ottoman tanks in north Africa which, according to the Treaty of Versailles, could not be returned. The Twelfth "inherited" twenty-five of these tanks and began to resemble a proper mechanized brigade, its strength topping out at just over 5,000 men, of which only one third were support personnel.

In the inter-war period (1919-1934), the state of Liberia, in contrast to other, larger powers, poured resources into modernizing its forces, and, by the time Italy invaded Ethiopia, the Twelfth possessed close to one hundred modern tanks. It was in World War II that the Twelfth would see its most important action.

The staple of Liberian tankers was the Krombeck Mark II Light Tank, manufactured by Krombeck Armory in the south of the country. With its 3-inch, high-velocity gun, the KR-II could punch through even the sloped armor of the German half-track at close range and was more than a match for the Italian Rombaldo IX medium tank, which would see only short action in north Africa before the Rombaldo plant was destroyed by suspected Mafia saboteurs. The KR-II had a top speed of seventeen m.p.h. and could travel almost twenty miles on a single tank of ethyl alcohol, the preferred fuel in Liberia since petroleum resources were scant.

Following these powerhouses were the highly mobile infantry companies, riding in American-made or captured Italian trucks. In this way, the tanks would create a gap in the enemy line and the infantry would exploit it, using much the same tactics as the German Panzers. Truly, this was a sight to behold.

With the invasion of Poland, Liberia remained neutral but, through a policy of Lend-Lease (echoed, surprisingly, by the Americans several years later, a fact seldom credited), sent supplies to Ethiopia in return for spiced-goat products. Once it became apparent that neutrality was not possible in the face of the menace of Fascism, Liberia sided with the British at the close of 1940. The Twelfth participated with distinction in such battles as El Alamein, Abu Simnal, and the Olaran Heights before the German Afrika Korps was driven from the continent.

The Twelfth was then sent to Asia to shore up the defenses along the Indian-Burmese border. In the sweltering jungle conditions, the KR-II fared badly, but the spirited defense of Jinpur Wat by elements of R Company has been oft-overlooked in its contribution to the eventual victory against the Japanese. After driving the Japanese back into the jungle, the Twelfth came upon the site of various atrocities committed by the retreating soldiers, and, at the end of the war, the commander of M Company, Major Samuel "Jap Killer" Adams, testified before the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

With the end of hostilities in the Pacific, the Twelfth began the slow process of returning to Liberia, some troops remaining on police duty in Burma until early 1946. Once all the heroes had returned home, the Liberian government, convinced war was no longer possible in the new state of the world, disbanded the Twelfth on June 15, 1951, with much fanfare. Truly, as the people of Papua New Guinea say, they were, "like large rocks with mouths carved in them to scare evil spirits."