“Advantage is taken of this opportunity to state that the Department, after maturely considering the subject, and particularly in view of the honorable record made by the United States Marine Corps, which has been a part of our Navy since its organization, is convinced of the usefulness of that corps, both ashore and afloat, and of the propriety of continuing it on service on shipboard.”
On july 31, 1894, Hilary A. Herbert, Secretary of the Navy, laid down his pen after signing Navy Department Special Circular Number 16. That particular order was promulgated as a result of increasing pressure—extending even to the doors of Congress—on the part of a group of Navy officers to remove Marine detachments from combatant vessels of the Navy.
Again in 1895 this contention against the seagoing Marine was stirred up by a group of junior Navy officers, largely sparkplugged by Lieutenant W. F. Fullam, U. S. Navy, but spear-headed by Captain Robley D. “Fighting Bob” Evans. These officers proposed total elimination of ships’ Marine detachments as unnecessary and undesirable. Again the Secretary of the Navy took pen in hand and this time replied in no uncertain terms.
“There has always been more or less objection on the part of some officers of the Navy to Marines on board ship, but as Marines have constituted a part of our naval establishment, both on shore and at sea, from its infancy, it may fairly be presumed that experience has, in the opinion of those who control, demonstrated the wisdom of maintaining this branch of the service. The Department has recently had occasion to consider carefully whether, under the conditions at present existing in the Navy, it was for the interests of the service to depart from the long established custom and entirely dispense with all Marines on battleships.
“The modern battleship is largely a floating fort. It remains as indeed all naval vessels under steam alone must for much the greater part of the time, in port, where it exercises its crew in landing parties and infantry drills far more than was permissible when ships were for long periods at sea. These drills on shore and afloat, together with the handling of great and rapid fire guns, constitute also a much larger proportion of the actual experience of the modern sailor than of the old-time tar, who was much of his time occupied in performing duties peculiar to sailing vessels, and it is precisely in infantry and gun drills that the Marine is or may be an expert. It would therefore seem that there is far more propriety in having the ship’s crew composed in part of Marines now than there could have been in the days of the sailing ship.
“No reason appears why Marines should not man a portion of the guns on board ship as well as handle small arms, nor is it perceived why their officers cannot, subject to the orders of the captain, command gun crews and even gun divisions. The fact that Marines are enlisted for five years, while sailors are only enlisted for three, is clearly an argument in favor of retaining the Marines; and the having on board of two different organizations, if a proper spirit of rivalry between the two is encouraged, ought to be considered another advantage, especially in cases of insubordination. For these and other reasons the Department decided to put sixty Marines and two Marine officers on board the Indiana and it will put Marines on the other battleships as they are severally commissioned.”
This portion of the annual report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1895 has served as a charter for the functions of the shipboard Marine detachment up to the present day.
Navy Regulations, 1920, Article 600, had the following provisions for drill and distribution for battle of the Marine detachment:
“The marine detachment when detailed for duty aboard ship is a distinct part of the complement of the ship and forms a division in the detail of the whole force for battle. It shall be thoroughly drilled and instructed at such guns as may be assigned by the commanding officer and, when practicable, shall be stationed as a division thereat, under its own officers, as the commanding officer of the ship may direct. If impracticable to so assign the marines as a division, they shall be detailed as gun’s crews, the marine officer or officers to command as many of such crews as practicable, and after the assignments above outlined, surplus men, if any, shall be distributed as the commanding officer of the ship deems most effective for battle.”
That portion of Navy Regulations 1948 (Articles 1047 and 1051) which deals with the duties of ships’ detachments continues to show an unquestionable relationship and similarity to the 1895 directive of the Secretary of the Navy.
But 1895 was not the only year that the ship’s detachment underwent critical examination. In 1908-09, the question of Marines on board ship was again agitated (by the Fullam clique, again), and detachments were actually removed—by Presidential order—from the majority of combatant vessels.
Necessity—and a stern rebuke from Congress to the Executive—brought them back again.
While no one has raised the question today—some fifty-odd years after Secretary Herbert issued his order—current trends of warfare, particularly amphibious warfare, suggest that we could well subject present day shipboard Marine detachments to the same critical scrutiny.
Are Marine detachments on our cruisers, carriers, and battleships actually paying their way, or are they a decorative, possibly inspirational, anachronism to be tolerated only as a part of our naval tradition?
Do ways exist in which we can improve the shipboard detachment as it presently stands?
Should the mission of the Marine detachment be altered?
To provide a basis for discussion, let’s take a look at the mission and charter of the Marine detachment as it exists today, and at the same time explore the flexibility of that mission and charter.
In the first place, what legal basis exists for the seagoing Marines?
(Section 206 (c), National Security Act of 1947). “... In addition, the Marine Corps shall provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the Navy ...”
Navy Regulations (Article 1047) outlines the general functions of present-day shipboard detachments:
“A Marine detachment detailed for duty on board a ship of the Navy shall form a separate division within the organization thereof. Its function shall be:
1. To provide a unit organized, trained, and equipped for operations ashore, as part of the ship’s landing force; as part of a landing force of Marines from ships of a fleet or subdivision thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations.
2. To provide gun crews.
3. To provide internal security for the ship.”
Navy Regulations (Article 1051) has something to say about other possible assignments:
“Marines may be detailed to other duties afloat, including but not limited to communications, staff, liaison, guard, and aviation duty, when so ordered by competent authority ...”
It is interesting to compare the regulations listed above with those issued by Secretary Herbert. It is also interesting to note the wide latitude which Navy Regulations give us with respect to the functions that may be performed by seagoing Marines.
Are we taking full advantage of this carte blanche?
The answer: a resounding “No.”
The average Marine detachment afloat today performs many tasks. Primarily, it is a guard detachment, but the duties of its individual members are many and varied. Marines man the very light antiaircraft weapons; act as orderlies for the skipper and whatever flag officer may be aboard; the detachment commander is usually the ship’s legal officer and assistant gunnery officer—light AA. In addition to these tasks, the detachment does its share of the ship’s routine work such as policing its spaces, and contributing to (all hands) working parties and shore patrol.
Certainly these average duties do not take full advantage of the training and capabilities of Marines stationed aboard ships. On the other hand, neither do the individual Marines get full advantage from the training and experience afforded by a tour at sea.
Thus, it seems, neither service, Navy or Marine Corps, presently obtains full benefit from the Marine detachment, although Navy Regulations provide ample latitude for each service to obtain such benefit.
Just what does the Marine detachment have to offer the Navy?
Both the detachment commander and his junior officer are Marine officers. Ipso facto, they are well versed in the many ramifications of advance base and amphibious warfare, including not only landing force techniques, but also the rudiments of naval gunfire and close air support. Enlisted members of the detachment also possess valuable specialties. True, some seagoing Marines are “fresh caught,” but, on the other hand, it is possible to find within a Marine detachment trained communications personnel, artillery crewmen, demolitions men, antiaircraft artillery crewmen, fire control men, and many other specialists, to say nothing of the trained Marine infantryman.
All this adds up to the fact that there often exists a wealth of unused talent in the ship’s detachment which has yet to be exploited. These latent resources can pay off dividends to the Marine Corps and Navy.
As a matter of fact, both services have already derived substantial benefits because Marine detachments have been part of our naval tradition. Today’s naval gunfire support may largely be traced to the fact that in the late thirties a trained Marine artillery officer (a Naval Academy graduate also) commanded a detachment in one of our heavy cruisers. Through his enthusiasm, professional ambivalence, and perseverance, that officer fathered gunfire support as we know it today. Yet, despite that example, we repeatedly fail and neglect to obtain full benefit from the varied experience of Marine detachment officers and men.
The obvious benefits of a tour of sea duty include acquisition of military bearing and the spit-and-polish which marks the seagoing Marine, knowledge of ships and shipboard life, ability to live under crowded conditions, and a host of similar things.
But Marines afloat should get something more. Not only should they continue as much as possible as well trained Marines in their chosen specialties, but in many other Marine duties as well. On board ship, they can continue to learn communications, gunnery, and fire control. As a trained ship’s landing force, they could, and should, be able to learn the tricks of amphibious reconnaissance and raids, control of naval gunfire and air support, and associated skills.
A few major changes in policy (all within the framework of Navy Regulations) can transmute the Marine detachment into a real dividend-paying stock.
Let’s examine the essential provisions of existing regulations and see what can be done with the seagoing Marines.
“To provide a unit organized, trained, and equipped for operations ashore, as a part of the ship’s landing force; as part of a landing force of Marines from ships of a fleet or subdivision thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations ...”
Certainly we can exploit this provision.
An important task for the shipboard Marine detachment should be formation of amphibious reconnaissance and raiding groups. There are many instances of U. S. ships sending such groups ashore along the coast of Korea to obtain intelligence information, execute demolitions, and harass the enemy rear. Such missions properly fall within the assigned as well as the traditional duties of Marines and should be carried out by Marines under command of one of the Marine officers. It is merely a matter of using Marine initiative and amphibious know-how to the utmost.
With world conditions continuing as at present, U. S. warships will surely be called upon to evacuate American citizens or soldiery under conditions just short of actual battle. To have a detachment Marine officer ashore at such a time and unpredicted place with a provisional shore fire control party and tactical air control party made up of trained ship’s Marines might well prevent or blunt the edge of disaster. A few rounds of main battery fire or a well placed air-strike will usually produce a positive effect on activity designed to interfere with the evacuation. By including trained communicators and field radio equipment in the detachment, the formation of shore fire control and tactical air control parties would be simple and practical. Existence of these control agencies would also provide support for the Marine raiding and reconnaissance groups mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
“To provide gun crews ...”
Considering the shore-based artillery and antiaircraft artillery experience of many members of the average Marine detachment, is it reasonable to assume that the 20-millimeter gun is the battle station best suited to their capabilities? That’s where most ships use seagoing Marines at present.
Time was when Marines adorned (usually with “E’s”) an honored spot serving the secondary batteries of every major combatant ship. In fact, prior to World War II, there were instances of Marines manning entire main battery turrets of light cruisers and even battleships. Proud of the opportunity to man the “great guns” of big ships, Marine gun crews constantly distinguished themselves—as any survey of gunnery records discloses. With their feeling of fellowship for the men on the beach, Marine gun crews would be a formidable machine when a ship is executing shore bombardment.
With the advent of automatic weapons, seagoing Marines suddenly found themselves evicted from the five-inch mounts. In fact, they were soon literally on the outside—on 40-millimeters—looking in. Soon even the forty became a thing of the past as far as Marines were concerned, for at the end of World War II, the Navy had made them strictly small-bore, manning the smallest weapon aboard—the twenty millimeter.
It is interesting to note that our brethren, the Royal Marines, still man both main and secondary armament of the capital ships of the Royal Navy!
Let’s combine tradition, ability, and a page from the Royal Marines’ book and put some of our own seagoing Marines back on the larger caliber weapons. They’ll prove a real asset, and individual gunnery will improve.
“To provide internal security for the ship ...”
This portion of the regulations appears to be the only one presently being exploited to the utmost, so we’ll leave it alone and pass on to Article 1051.
“Marines may be detailed to other duties afloat, including but not limited to communications, staff, liaison, guard, and aviation duty, when so ordered by competent authority ...”
Let’s explore the staff and liaison aspects of this portion of the shipboard Marine’s charter.
About the only staff and liaison function presently carried out by the average Marine officer on board ship is that of legal officer and assistant gunnery officer—light AA.
The detachment commander possesses a fund of amphibious knowledge; he is of course well acquainted with the problems of troops on shore, and he knows (or should know) the gunnery installations of the ship. In the case of the Marine detachment commander of a battleship or cruiser, what would be more logical than to give him additional duties as shore bombardment officer in the gunnery department? A precedent for such assignment exists in the composition of the Amphibious Group staff organization which includes a Marine major (a naval gunfire specialist) as shore bombardment officer. If this step is taken, the Navy would get the advantage of the Marine officer’s special experience, and he in turn would be able to maintain proficiency in a field which constitutes the backbone of amphibious firepower.
Closely related to the shore bombardment officer billet would be the duties of amphibious intelligence officer. Procurement and dissemination of amphibious intelligence vitally and directly affects the efficiency of ships engaged in shore bombardment missions. In addition, reconnaissance and raiding parties from ships executing harassing missions deep in the enemy rear provide an excellent vehicle for collection of intelligence. Such activities should properly fall under the direction of the Marine detachment commander.
Other staff and liaison duties that might be properly carried out by the Marine detachment commander would include assignment as advisor to the commanding officer in amphibious matters, liaison officer in military matters, and permanent operations and training officer for the ship’s landing party.
Insofar as the junior Marine is concerned, his best bet is to become a naval gunfire spotter. With a little extra training—if he does not already possess it—this officer will make an efficient spotter either temporarily on the beach with a Marine detachment provisional shore fire control party, or airborne in the organic aircraft of the ship. This last duty would come under the provision for “aviation duty” outlined in Article 1051. It also possesses historical precedent. Not only did Marine officers spot from aircraft of capital ships during World War II—particularly at Saipan—but recently in Korea, seagoing Marine officers spotted fire of ship’s guns from helicopters.
It’s a sound practice.
Ships’ Marine officers know the problems of troops ashore and they are familiar with the types of targets which need to be attacked. They also know, it goes without saying, the characteristics and the problems of the supporting ship.
Up to now, we have not mentioned the aircraft carrier’s Marine detachment. In general, these Marines may be called upon to perform the majority of the duties discussed above. Additional areas for exploitation exist, however. Over and above his regular duties, the carrier detachment commander could, and should, serve as liaison officer between the ship and Marine squadrons based aboard. He certainly could be the staff expert on close air support.
The Marine junior officer aboard a carrier could carry out many additional duties. If two-seater planes are available, he could be exploited as a tactical and gunnery observer and could be used to good effect on reconnaissance flights to obtain beach intelligence and other amphibious information. When carriers act as a part of a larger force to maintain the status quo in areas of unrest, the junior Marine could be sent ashore as a forward air controller, with Marines from the detachment providing the necessary communications. Such a tactical air control party could be employed in the same manner as the Marine shore fire control parties from cruisers and battleships.
But how can we expect ground Marine officers to possess the technical knowledge of close air support that is possessed by the average Marine aviator?
The answer is simple. We can’t.
But is there anything wrong in having the Marine detachment commander on an aircraft carrier a naval aviator? He would be able to maintain his flying proficiency by virtue of the fact that he is based on a floating airdrome. His opportunity for varied experience in his own specialty would not be diminished; rather it would broaden considerably. In addition, he would benefit from the experience of troop command which so few junior aviators get. Let the junior Marine officer be a groundling. His experience in the carrier may well be the stepping stone to flight training. Some of our finest Marine aviators started out as ground officers in carrier detachments.
Additional assignments for the Marine officers of the carrier detachment could include air combat intelligence and analysis. Experience of carrier-borne Marine aviators in Korea indicates the desirability of intelligence and liaison officers familiar with problems of support of ground troops. Why can’t we follow the example set by the British in World War II and establish a carrier-borne air liaison group to handle such intelligence and liaison details? Officers of the Marine detachment are available for such duties.
With one or two exceptions, the duties to be performed by carrier Marine detachments are similar to those appropriate for cruiser and battleship Marines. The problem in each case is inherently the same. We must get full value and benefit from our seagoing Marines. At the present time we do not.
Clearly, there would have to be a program to implement the recommendations I have made. This program can be considered under the headings of composition and organization of the Marine detachment, training, and equipment.
In general, the composition and organization of the Marine detachment need not undergo radical change with the assignment of additional missions. On board major ships with large Marine detachments, the rank of the detachment commander should definitely be upped to major. The Royal Marines traditionally have a major as squadron Marine officer on battleship or cruiser flagships or on fleet carriers. During World War II, many U. S. seagoing detachment commanders held the rank of major. The added rank would give added weight to the Marine officer’s expert opinions relative to shore bombardment problems and amphibious matters in addition to other advantage. Whatever his rank, the detachment commander should have more than a smattering of knowledge of amphibious matters, and gunfire support in particular. Experience in the naval gunfire and amphibious reconnaissance fields would be most desirable.
If nothing else, the detachment junior officer should be a trained naval gunfire spotter (with a naval gunfire MOS number) before he reports aboard.
As far as the enlisted personnel are concerned, the detachment gunnery sergeant should possess extensive experience in the demolition and amphibious reconnaissance fields. There will also be a requirement for a nucleus of trained communicators to maintain and operate radio equipment needed by the detachment.
As a part of the detachment training program, all its Marines should be trained in tactics and techniques of shore fire control parties, amphibious raids, and reconnaissance.
Training of personnel to insure input of well qualified Marines for duty afloat must depart radically from our present system. If our sea school system continues as presently conceived, we are not going to get the training necessary for the type of man we will need for the ships’ detachments. There appears to be no reason why we cannot reorient the sea schools so as to include the new training.
Marine officers earmarked for sea duty as ships’ detachment commanders should have completed the appropriate course of instruction for their rank at the Marine Corps Educational Center. In addition to that schooling, they should be given at least two months’ training with emphasis on gunfire and air support, shore bombardment problems and techniques, aerial observation, amphibious intelligence, and tactics and techniques of amphibious raids and reconnaissance.
The detachment junior officer should qualify as a naval gunfire spotter prior to joining his ship. He too should learn the basic elements of the special landing operations just mentioned.
The enlisted Marines at sea school should undergo instruction which would not only include knowledge necessary to everyday life aboard a combatant ship but also complete training in amphibious reconnaissance and raiding techniques. Instruction should also be given in shore fire control party and tactical air control party tactics and techniques.
The equipment to implement these recommendations includes man-pack, field radios, demolitions equipment, and equipment necessary to the conduct of night landings. This small investment will, in training alone, more than pay for itself.
This article may have omitted additional functions for the ship’s Marine detachment, but those suggested will give a point of departure for modern-times employment of Marines afloat.
For all parties, the advantages are many.
The Navy can again begin to reap the amphibious know-how of its seagoing Marines. Over and above all duties presently performed, the detachment can provide its ship with an experienced shore bombardment officer; a naval gunfire spotter (ground or airborne); a forward air controller; a shore fire control or tactical air control party; a raider-type landing party to execute amphibious raids and patrols; and traditionally excellent gun crews once again for heavier weapons.
The Marine Corps will benefit because sea duty Marines will continue to work in functional fields closely allied to those of Fleet Marine Force Marines. Members of the Marine detachment will themselves benefit individually by continued application in fields closely allied to their specialty. This will create even higher morale among seagoing Marines. There was no more galling experience than that of the average Marine officer aboard combatant vessels during the past war when those vessels Were conducting shore bombardment. There, with a fund of experience, he found himself a spectator when he should have been playing the game in CIC. Let’s put him to use.
And let’s change that anachronistic Marine detachment into an up-to-date asset.
Commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1941, Lieutenant Colonel Reichner served as a battery commander of a 155 mm. gun battery in the 9th Defense Battalion for thirty-two months in Cuba, Guadalcanal, New Georgia, and Guam during World War II. Following other gunnery assignments in the Pacific area, he returned from overseas duty to attend the Amphibious Warfare School and then to instruct in naval gunfire. At present he is attached to the staff of Fleet Marine Force Pacific as Assistant G-3, Training Officer, and Force Naval Gunfire Officer.
THE FORTUNES OF WAR
Contributed by CAPTAIN EDWARD N. PARKER, U. S. Navy
I first heard of the whaleboat when I went over to the Dutch cruiser de Ruyter to report to Admiral Doorman for duty and to deliver an account of our action in Badoeng Strait. Since the air raids had started it was difficult to find a taxi-cab in the harbor area of Surabaya so the trip was made by boat.
At the time (1942), I was Commander Destroyer Division 59 of the Asiatic Fleet, with my pennant in the U.S.S. John D. Ford, Lieutenant Commander “Jock” Cooper, commanding. The U.S.S. Pope was the only other ship of the division present in Surabaya.
Apparently there had been another air raid alarm while en route, as I found the de Ruyter quarterdeck deserted. As I stood wondering what you did aboard a foreign man-of-war under these circumstances, shouts and beckoning from the upper level of the de Ruyter’s imposing foremast tower told me where the officers were. As I looked around for the first ladder, a Dutch sailor appeared and indicated that I was to follow him. A sixty-foot climb led us to the topmost bridge of the tower where the Captain and Gunnery Officer of the ship greeted me cheerfully, and said they were at air defense stations.
We discussed the recent action as it had appeared to the cruisers and to the destroyers, and I told them our impression of the last moments of HNMS Piet Hein, a Dutch destroyer, which had been heavily hit and sunk just ahead of the Ford.
It was then I realized that they had heard from survivors of the Piet Hein, for the Gunnery Officer stated that those who had been rescued were grateful to the U. S. destroyer for the boat we had dropped in the water for them. This didn’t quite make sense to me; there was something new here. Questioning brought out the story that after the battle some thirty of the crew of the Piet Hein returned to Java in a U. S. Navy motor whaleboat, which they stated had been floating in the Strait near the place where their ship had gone down. At first the Dutch had assumed that one of our destroyers had been sunk; when this turned out to be in error they decided that we had gallantly dropped the whaleboat into the water when we saw the Piet Hein hit. As I was not entirely sure that some destroyer of the other division involved in the attack that night had not lost a boat, I kept quiet and we left the matter there.
On my way back to the Ford it dawned upon me that the whaleboat found by the survivors just might have been that of the J. D. Ford. During the battle, after the Piet Hein had been sunk, my two ships had come under heavy gunfire from Japanese cruisers or destroyers. About the same time the skipper of the Ford was informed that his motor whaleboat had had to be cut loose. The after boat falls had apparently been cut by a fragment so that the boat was left hanging by its forward falls and banging into the water or the ship with every wave. In order to prevent damage to the ship, a boatswain’s mate had cut the forward falls, thus jettisoning the boat. As the whaleboat had been buffeted with considerable force for some time, and then dropped into the sea while the Ford was making about 30 knots, it seemed likely that the whaleboat was seriously damaged and had promptly sunk, and quite unlikely that it had been in sufficiently good condition to rescue some 30 people.
Several days later we had a minor sensation aboard. For some reason the pharmacist’s mate had visited the Surabaya Hospital. There he had run into several of the survivors of the Piet Hein who were loud in their praise of the J. D. Ford. Of course, the pharmacist’s mate took it all modestly.
Here was the story:
The Piet Hein, heavily hit by a Jap cruiser lying close in against Bali, had gone dead in the water with a big fire amidships. The men at the after stations were cut off from the bridge and their officers by the fire, and when they decided the situation was hopeless, had abandoned ship. After swimming around for a time, one of them found the whaleboat floating partly filled with water. He climbed in, picked up several other swimmers, and started bailing. The oars, which were lashed to the thwarts, were broken out and they started rowing around picking up other men. One of their number, an engineer, cleared the water from the engine and engine compartment. However, they found the gas tanks empty so continued to row. Toward morning, with 31 or 32 men in the boat which had a maximum capacity of 26, they set course for the Southern end of Badoeng Strait, keeping well off the Bali Shore where they knew the Japs had landed.
It looked like a long row to Java ... at least 30 or 40 miles; long and difficult due to the crowded condition of the boat. Then, shortly after dawn, they spotted a steel drum floating in the water. It was taken aboard, opened and found to contain gasoline . . . yes, gasoline; not diesel oil or lube oil or any other type of oil that comes in steel drums; just plain gasoline! The gas tanks were filled, the engine was primed ... it started and away they went at eight knots for Java. Out of Badoeng Strait, around the South end of Bali, West across Bali Strait and up the Strait to Java. Gaily they went ... at least more gaily than they had any right to expect after such a start.
The motor whaleboat? The number “228” was on the bow and some of the life-jackets stowed in a locker were stencilled John D. Ford.