The Fleet Marine Force is a unit of the United States Fleet, and serves under the orders of the Commander in Chief. It was authorized by the Secretary of the Navy in General Order No. 241, dated December 7, 1933. It consists of such units as may be designated by the Major General Commandant of Marines, and it is maintained at such strength as is warranted by the general personnel situation of the corps. It is available to the Commander in Chief for fleet operations, and for exercises in connection with fleet problems, either afloat or ashore. The Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, and his staff, are detailed by the Major General Commandant. In matters pertaining to the employment of the force, its general communicates directly with the Commander in Chief of the fleet and makes routine reports to that officer on the strength and dispositions of his several units. The Major General Commandant, naturally, is kept informed of the requirements and employment of the force; takes the necessary steps for its maintenance and general administration; and supervises matters of armament and equipment.
The headquarters of the Fleet Marine Force are now established at San Diego, under Brigadier General Douglas C. McDougal, U. S. Marine Corps. The personnel are divided between San Diego, California, and Quantico, Virginia. Tactically, it corresponds to an infantry division, containing infantry, artillery, aircraft, the special weapons, and the maintenance units necessary to make it tactically independent.
Owing to the fact that the supply of marines is exceeded by the demand for them, the Force is substantially below strength. In case of emergency, it would be forced to exceedingly rapid expansion, and this circumstance receives the scrupulous attention of the responsible officers in the Marine Corps.
Navy General Order No. 241 is less than three years old, but the employment of armed men in the manner it specifies is as old as maritime warfare. In the Mediterranean fleets of antiquity, the Greeks had their Epibatai, the Romans their Classiarii, who served in ships of war. The medieval fleets embarked soldiers for their operations, and a company of soldiers was a unit of the man-of-war complement in the Tudor period. The English Marine Corps, which is the direct ancestor of our own, dates from 1664, when they raised "The Duke of York and Albany's Regiment of Foot," "land souldgers prepared for sea service." The United States Marine Corps was authorized by act of the First Continental Congress, in November, 1775, although there had been several colonial marine formations prior to the American Revolution.
All naval experience has indicated the value of such a corps, habituated to sea customs and at home aboard ship, and trained and equipped for those amphibious operations which have always been inseparable from naval warfare. History is rich in examples: the British seized Gibraltar in 1704 with an amphibious force, and hold it to this day. Our own marines have performed important duties in every war of this republic. The Civil War offers numerous cases of the joint or simultaneous employment of land and sea forces. The Gallipoli episode in the World War is still fresh in mind.
Such attempts-at-arms have been successful, or unsuccessful, in exact ratio to the degree of co-operation obtaining between the military and naval elements involved. The passionate recriminations between McClellan and Goldsborough come to mind; they gravely compromised the issues of the Peninsular Campaign against Richmond in 1862. It is hard to lay a charge against the British soldiers and sailors of the Gallipoli adventure, because they appear generally to have done the best they could, and except Sir Roger Keyes, to have kept quiet about it since. But a fleet marine contingent landed early in 1915, when Sir John de Robeck first attempted the entrance of the Dardenelles, would have been able to seize and, in all probability, to hold the salient features of that hard littoral which later cost the British Empire 120,000 fruitless casualties.
In the plans for the employment of the naval forces, the Marine Corps has certain definite missions. It furnishes detachments to serve on board cruisers and capital ships; it provides guards for naval shore stations; it maintains garrisons in certain outlying possessions and embassies; and it holds forces in readiness for such expeditionary duty as may be indicated.
The first three assignments are normal in peace time and war time alike. The Marine Corps has been called upon to perform the fourth in every war this country has waged, and on many occasions other than in formal war, the Marine Corps has dispatched expeditions for duty beyond the seas. As a war mission, the last is of the highest importance.
The United States naval establishment is, potentially at least, as strong as any in the world. But the geographical situation of the United States is such as to impose unusual strains upon the Navy. We lack naval bases. England, for example, has a chain of these right around the world. Outside the Caribbean, there are Panama, Honolulu, and Manila, and no other naval stations in the world where an American man-of-war can refuel and refit.
A fleet without bases is, axiomatically, a fleet limited to its home ports and the waters immediately adjacent. It is not a blue-water outfit. Weighing and providing for the possibilities of war—as it is the duty of responsible officials to do—it is obvious that, should we become embroiled with any people whose political and economic requirements clash with ours, the first phase of such a conflict would be naval. Our fleet, or parts of it, would at once become involved in situations a long way from our coasts. Lacking bases for distant operations, the fleet would have to seize them. It is for this purpose that the Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces have been held in readiness in the past; and to meet such an emergency in the most efficient manner possible, the present Fleet Marine Force has been developed from the former expeditionary forces. In composition there is little new, but the placing of the force under the orders of the Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet, is a long step forward. The Fleet Marine Force is now an integral unit of the combatant sea establishment.
There has always been something like it in the Marine Corps; a permanent nucleus from which the required organizations could be developed. For many years the old First Company, called the Advanced Base Force, was maintained at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In those days Marine Corps expeditions were formed around the relatively few officers and men of the Advanced Base detachment, by transferring individuals from wherever they could be spared, throwing them aboard a transport or battleship, and organizing them during the voyage to the objective. Such measures were adequate in the innocent days before the World War, but military operations have now grown vastly more complicated. You can no longer hit the beach with some navy landing guns, some pushcarts, and your rifles and bayonets. Infantry, artillery, the special weapons, the communication details, air forces, chemical warfare experts, in addition to the sanitary, supply, and recreational units, are all features of the modern expeditionary forces. Automatic riflemen, machine gunners, artillerymen, radio operators, aviation pilots and observers, the smoke and gas people, and the mechanics for tanks, armored cars, and tractors, are specialists whose individual training is a matter not of months, but of years. They can neither be improvised overnight from the recruit depots nor called up on short notice from the reserves. Furthermore, the efficiency of every military force depends upon the co-ordination of its parts; each element must be trained in conjunction with the other elements. Finally, naval plans envisage the possibility of immediate action upon the development of emergency. In the event of naval war, it is not likely that time will be granted for the assembly and training of a fleet unit.
Marine officers, and not a few naval officers, have been thinking along these lines for a long time. In 1933 there were drawn up, and presented for the consideration of the Major General Commandant, plans calling for the actual organization of a staff, whose duties would be the perfection of the arrangements for Marine Corps emergency mobilization. Plans already existed for the creation of such a staff, to be brought into being at the time of mobilization, and the units composing our East Coast and West Coast expeditionary forces, maintained at Quantico and San Diego, had been earmarked for emergency employment in the same manner. The plans were approved, and the proposed staff was assembled at the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia.
Proceeding along the logical lines of development, it was recommended that, in order to achieve a more satisfactory state of readiness, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces, then in being, be included in the Fleet organization as a unit of the sea establishment, subject to the orders, for tactical employment, of the Commander in Chief.
Study by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and by the Commander in Chief, resulted in their endorsement of these conclusions and recommendations, which had, moreover, the cordial support of all informed marine officers. It was further decided that the term "Expeditionary Force" was not exactly applicable to a fleet unit and the term "Fleet Marine Force" was adopted as more specifically describing the unit and its functions. Mutual study by the marine officers and the naval officers involved clarified the matters of maintenance and supply. In due course, there was issued the administrative order set forth in the opening paragraph of this paper and the Fleet Marine Force came into being.
Its progress, so far, has been highly satisfactory to all concerned. The Marine Corps has been gratified by the expressions of approval proceeding from the naval officers under whom the force has operated and for their helpful and constructive criticisms. The drills and training schedules of the force are carried out with scrupulous adherence to its war-time missions, and every maneuver has been subjected to careful and critical scrutiny, in order that the fullest advantage may be taken of every phase of its experience and the lessons learned usefully applied to the future. Under energetic commanders and skillful staffs, the Fleet Marine Force has consistently maintained the Marine Corps tradition of efficiency and resourcefulness. It is the Marine Corps' most important contribution to the great cause of national security.