For Proceedings’ first examination of expeditionary warfare, one goes back to the legendary Captain Stephen B. Luce and the introductory words to his 1877 article “Fleets of the World”: “Beginning with the earliest authentic history we find that among the Greeks and Phoenicians the higher officers, and often the entire personnel of navies, fought on shore as well as at sea. It was natural, therefore, that the tactics of the land army, which was of an earlier growth, should be applied to the sea army as far as the nature of the two elements would admit.”
There were many famous Marine Corps expeditions: the Marines storming Tripoli in 1805; the 1847 Mexican-American War’s Battle of Chapultepec, with the red stripe on Marines’ blue trousers now honoring the ferocity of that fighting; to Peking at the turn of the century to protect embassies and U.S. commerce; to France in World War I; and to several expeditionary brigade campaigns in the Caribbean and Central America between the world wars.
Much closer to home, Second Lieutenant Wallace M. Greene, future Marine Corps Commandant, captured the pre-Revolutionary War history of “Piscataqua’s Pirates” and the daring of a landing force of New Hampshire men who surprised and captured the English fort of William and Mary at the mouth of the Piscataqua River in 1775, four months before the battles of Lexington and Concord.
Thomas Pickering, miller and militia captain, was in the lead, taking several small sailing craft loaded with men through a December night:
Before the harbor mouth was reached, the boats turned into a shallow inlet. Three boat-lengths from shore, the heavy craft buried their stems into the shelf of sand. . . . Without hesitation, the crews went over the sides into icy water reaching nearly to their waists and pushed their boats silently and quickly to the shore, where they were partly drawn up, and given to the charge of a few men.
In the 1898 Spanish-American War, as the United States prepared to take its place on the world stage, delivering troops, then having troops back on board ship for the return voyage to the United States after the fighting had stopped, was a key component. Some in the U.S. Navy had been preparing well in advance for just such an expeditionary mission. Captain Caspar Goodrich, who commanded the troop transport USS St. Louis during the conflict, described his prior training with the British enroute to an Egyptian campaign:
The writer had, in 1882, made a trip on board a chartered trooper in the Tel-el-Kebir campaign under General Sir Garnet Wolseley, and he had studied the question of how British soldiers are conveyed in merchant steamers hired for the purpose and temporarily equipped. He had but to recall this former most interesting and valuable experience and to consult the official report to recognize the imperative of making certain preparations and establishing an orderly method of procedure in advance.
The Navy was still in a quandary in the late 1920s about how best to land and recover troops, as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke recalled from when he was a junior lieutenant ordered to the staff of Marine Brigadier General Charles Lyman on the Pacific Battle Fleet.
He had come on board the USS Procyon (AG-11) with some of his staff. They were going to conduct his first amphibious force landing on Culebra when we got around into the Atlantic.
We had all the boats that were issued to the ships—motor launches, whale boats—we used all of them. We got offshore for the landing. We had cargo nets but did not know how to use them to get the Marines off the ships. They didn’t know how to get off either without the gangways. That is how, in desperation, they decided on cargo nets for the Marines to land.
The exercise timing was slow. In those days, when boats were lying offshore, they’d frequently stop their engines to save gasoline. . . . When they wanted to start their engines, in half an hour or an hour, a lot of them wouldn’t start.
I was desperate. I had repair people trying to restart the engines. A coxswain came up and said, “Mr. Burke, why don’t you just keep the things going and running round in circles?” That’s my contribution to amphibious warfare! . . . The other thing was, we had three-inch field pieces, landing force guns. . . . We could get them into the boats alright, but when we got to the beach . . . we broke up a lot of boats, lost a lot of landing force guns. The things got dumped into too deep water.
Marine Major Harold H. Utley sounded the call in his October 1931 article “Special Boats for Landing Operations.”
As to the necessity for something more than the regular allowance of boats furnished ships in the fleet, it may be stated that the Marine Corps School recently made a computation of the boats of existing types that would be required in executing a forced landing by one Marine Corps division and two battalions of 155-mm guns. It was found that all the boats the Navy has in store in east coast navy yards plus all that the Coast Guard has in store on the east coast, plus everything except lifeboats on ships of the Scouting Fleet, plus the three experimental boats at Quantico—317 boats of 13 different types—would be barely sufficient to land the foot troops.
Utley went on to describe the new landing boat design competition between an armored, self-propelled 50-foot motor lighter “A” boat and an armored 40-foot motor lighter “B” boat, as well as the design of a 45-foot artillery lighter,
which, strange as it may seem appears to satisfy everyone who has observed it. It is a shallow-draft, not self-propelled, square-stern barge with the gunwale across the stern cut away to permit the vehicles to be run off easily. Two short ramps pivoted as to swing outboard easily and allow their outer ends to rest on the bottom furnish runways from the deck level to the ground.
The 1930s would see advances on a far-larger scale in the Marine Corps’ effective positioning for expeditionary warfare. Commandant Major General John Russell gave a Proceedings update with “The Fleet Marine Force” in 1936.
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, 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.”
In February 1942, the Marine Corps established the 1st and 2d Raider battalions, modeled in part on British Commandos and China’s communist guerrillas. In Proceedings’ sister publication, Naval History, Midshipman First Class Michael Tesluk wrote in his article, “The Marines’ Commando Experiment,” about how during World War II, the Raiders served as both commando-style raiders and conventional Marines. In addition to their special ops training, members of the 2d Raider Battalion also had a special form of transportation to aid in their stealthy insertion: submarines.
After special training in Hawaii, most of the battalion’s A and B companies set out in two massive submarines, the Argonaut (SS-166) and Nautilus (SS-168), for a raid against Makin Atoll, the main purpose of which was to divert Japanese attention, reinforcements, and supplies from Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Disembarking from the subs early on 17 August 1942, the Raiders, led by Carlson, who had been promoted to lieutenant colonel, made their way to the atoll in rubber boats. By noon they had virtually wiped out Makin’s Japanese garrison.
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Julian C. Smith, in his Proceedings article “Tarawa,” wrote on the 2d Marine Division in the first brutal, successful attack on a heavily fortified and armed atoll in the Pacific.
Tarawa was a battle of firsts. It was the first time a landing had been made across a reef in the face of opposition, the first time amphibious tractors had been used in battle as troop carriers, the first time that tanks were used in a landing operation, and the first time that air and naval gunfire were used together in supporting a landing attack, with the fire controlled by radio from the beach.
Tide depths for the landing had not been accurately forecast. Marine landing craft were hung up on the atoll reef, forcing long landing force wades ashore under intense fire. Other landing craft carrying tanks were stopped outside the reefs, with some loss of men and equipment. Years later, pioneering underwater demolition team/Frogman leader Draper Kauffman would recall in his oral history, “Admiral Richmond K. Turner stated in his Tarawa report, ‘We must never make another amphibious landing without exact information as to depths of water or the ability to eliminate obstacles before landing.’”
Tarawa was taken, and the Navy–Marine Corps march across the Pacific continued. Quoting from Major Robert D. Heinl Jr.:
Tarawa was defended by 4,836 Japanese, whereas Iwo’s garrison exceeded 22,000, all but about 500 of whom had to be killed. Before Tarawa, although the Fleet Marine Force possessed elite troops and ample doctrinal bases for successful execution of frontal amphibious assault against opposition; this fact nevertheless remained theoretical. Less than two years later, the Fleet Marine Force had come through not only Tarawa, but the Marshalls, the Marianas, and Peleliu, all bitterly contested assaults which in some sense prepared the Marine Corps for Iwo Jima, its most harrowing single struggle.
In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and a largely unprepared United States was again at war. In September 1950, as the North Koreans pressed their attack and captured the South Korean capital Seoul, Navy forces launched a surprise amphibious attack and landing at Incheon, South Korea. The First Marine Division, with some of its reduced peacetime number augmented by Marines brought in from as far away as the Mediterranean, spearheaded the landing in company with soldiers of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division. Seoul was recaptured, and the tide of battle turned in favor of the United States and United Nations Command.
The supreme commander of the U.N. Forces, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, pushed the in-theater Navy and Marine Corps senior leaders to carry out the surprise landing.
He emphasized the advantages of taking the largest west coast seaport, then driving inland to seize Kimpo, chief airport of the peninsula, and Seoul, the former Republic of Korea capital that the enemy had made the hub of his communications.
The gist of the senior Navy and Marine officers’ findings was that the proposed operation was difficult and hazardous, but not impossible. Islands, shoals, and reefs limited the approach to the outer harbor. The inner harbor was a mud flat at low tide. The maximum tidal range of 32 feet was one of the greatest in the world. At least 29 feet was needed for the LSTs, and this depth was assured only on September 15–17.
The beaches of the seaport, if such they could be called, consisted at high tide of mere strips of urban waterfront surmounted by a seawall. Scaling ladders would have to be used, since the wall was too high for ramps to be dropped by landing craft. And once past this barrier, the assault force faced the task of storming an Oriental city with a prewar population of 250,000. Altogether the problems and perils of an Inchon landing made it unique in Navy and Marine experience.
Following the August 1964 attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the USS Maddox (DD-731) in the Gulf of Tonkin, President Lyndon B. Johnson began an increased U.S. military presence in South Vietnam. The Marine Corps was swinging into a new expeditionary warfare operation, including helicopters, which had debuted in Korea.
“On the morning of 8 March 1965,” Marine Colonel Edwin Simmons wrote in “The Marines and Crisis Control,”
Battalion Landing Team 3/9—the 3d Battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment—began landing across Red Beach Two, just north of Da Nang, South Vietnam. Some 4,000 yards offshore were the amphibious ships. Surf conditions were rough. Waves were running four to five feet high and breaking. At the same time, air-lifted elements of BLT 1/3 began arriving at Da Nang Air Base from Okinawa.
By evening, these two battalion landing teams of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Force were firmly ashore. The landings had not been opposed but they might well have been. South Vietnamese forces had skirmished with the Viet Cong in the vicinity of Red Beach the day before. As it was, hostile reaction was limited to small arms and automatic weapons fire against the transports bringing in the airlifted elements; not much, but enough for the aircraft to take a number of small-caliber hits.
Marine seaborne landings in Vietnam were few. Politicians in Washington and the armed services in the field struggled over how best to engage to limit the conflict as the fighting went ahead in concert with South Vietnamese forces to keep a free South Vietnam. Expeditionary warfare was changing.
Francis J. West Jr. looked at this transition period in “Marines for the Future.”
For the past quarter century, and perhaps the next quarter century, the helicopter stands forth as the primary factor in explaining major Marine land force structure and amphibious shipping decisions. . . . The helicopter assault concept was also the basis for the composition of the amphibious fleet. It further contributed to the growth in the relative capabilities and expense of Marine tactical air, given that naval gunfire was on the wane and the organic fire support systems of Marine infantrymen were weight-restricted.
While the balance had shifted to airborne assault, air and surface landings both would continue. Close to home in the Caribbean in October 1983, in the wake of considerable unrest, violence—and the possibility of Soviet and Cuban subversion—on the island of Grenada, the United States was called on to restore peace and order and rescue some 600 U.S. medical students studying at St. George’s University. Operation Urgent Fury involved all U.S. military services. The Navy–Marine Corps team played a key role with the insertion of SEALs and airborne and seaborne landings of Marines. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Byron documented the operation in his May 1984 Proceedings article, “Fury from the Sea: Marines in Grenada.”
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were waged by the United States and coalition partners from August 1990 through February 1991 following Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force all played important roles, with air operations from carrier and land-based aircraft leading the way. In “Getting Marines to the Gulf,” Marine Brigadier General Edwin Simmons wrote in the May 1991 Proceedings:
The 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade deployed by sea, and the 1st and 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigades were airlifted to Saudi Arabia. The Maritime Prepositioning Ship (MPS) program had been in place for a decade and was one of the major success stories of the operation. Three MPS squadrons—carrying three brigade-sized sets of equipment and 30 days of supplies—converged on Saudi Arabia from Western Pacific and Indian Ocean locations to meet airlifted troops.
Years later, retired Marine General Walter E. Boomer, who had commanded Marine Forces Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force during the operations, recalled a key ground attack/amphibious attack decision point in his February 2011 article, “Inside the Storm”:
In January , General Schwarzkopf, Admiral Arthur, and I met on the USS Blue Ridge(LCC-19) to discuss the amphibious operation. Prior to the meeting Arthur had been conducting mine-clearing operations as fast as they could be conducted.
Schwarzkopf asked two questions. The first was a surprise. ‘Will there be collateral damage to that part of Kuwait City where you land?’ The answer was yes. . . . Schwarzkopf then turned to Arthur asked when the mines would be cleared sufficiently to conduct the operation. Stan’s answer was weeks not days. This caused Schwarzkopf a great deal of consternation because he felt that would delay the entire operation. He asked ‘Walt, can you accomplish your mission without the amphibious operation?’ I said ‘Yes, General, I can, but we must put every effort into making the Iraqis believe there will be a landing, because we must keep the enemy division defending the coast tied up.’
The deception plan, executed brilliantly by the Navy and the 4th and 5th MEBs, has been well documented.
Navy battleship bombardments played a key part.
“Protecting civil rights abroad is a job Navy and Marine amphibious forces do frequently—but never routinely,” writes Marine Colonel T. W. Parker in his May 1991 Proceedings article, “Operation Sharp Edge.” Sharp Edge was a noncombatant evacuation operation by the 22nd and 26th MEUs, supported by Amphibious Squadron Four. Increasing violence during the First Liberian Civil War required U.S. civilian and diplomats to evacuate. On 5 August 1990, 234 Marines were inserted by a mix of CH-46s and CH-53Ds.
AH-1T attack helicopters and UH-1N command-and-control helos orbited all three LZs ready to provide close-in fire support; two AV-8Bs maintained a five-minute alert on the Saipan’s flight deck. The Peterson was positioned in a predetermined fire support area three miles west of Bushrod Island to provide naval gunfire support.
Daily, from 6 August through 21 August 1990, 22d MEU (SOC) helicopters continued to evacuate U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from the embassy.
Marines were once again called to defend civilians abroad in early December 1992, when President George H. W. Bush sent Marines to Mogadishu during the Somali civil war in Operation Restore Hope to safeguard food distribution and humanitarian aid. Restore Hope also gave Americans at home their first opportunity to see amphibious operations live, in action. Marine Colonel T. A. Richards details the operation in his May 1993 Proceedings article, “Marines in Somalia: 1992.”
Early on 9 December, U.S. Navy SEALs swam ashore at Mogadishu, followed closely by reconnaissance Marines in rubber boats. Their arrival was greeted by the glare of video lights and photo flashes. . . . Halfway across the world, Americans—for the first time ever—watched a live broadcast of a landing operation.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States declared a war on terrorism. In Operation Enduring Freedom, units of U.S. armed forces and intelligence units launched multipronged attacks on al Qaeda and the Afghanistan Taliban—troops on the ground, attacks from the air, and attacks by Navy fighter-attack aircraft flying from carriers in the North Arabian Sea. Expeditionary warfare turned another new chapter.
Marine Corps Colonel Kenneth McKenzie and Majors Roberta Shea and Christopher Phelps described some of the action in their November 2004 Proceedings article, “Marines Deliver in Mountain Storm.” The operational concept
called for the 22nd MEU to enter Afghanistan through the southern airfield at Kandahar in March 2004. The physical and logistical challenges were daunting. Located in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar Airfield lies just ten miles southeast of the former Taliban capital, Kandahar City. The ship-to-shore movement to Kandahar Airfield required the MEU to traverse southern Pakistan’s Baluchistan region, one of the most rugged and remote lands in the world. Avoiding the 8,000-foot ridges with rotary-wing aircraft lengthened the transit to 420 miles.
MEU planners visited Bagram twice to conduct detailed planning with the CJTF-180 staff, the core of which came from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. It was decided the MEU would function as a Marine air-ground task force with its own area of operations and attendant freedom of movement.
The 22nd MEU’s deployment to Afghanistan demonstrated the inherent capabilities of the MEU(SOC) program. It traveled inland more than 500 miles to some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world and proved to be an expeditionary and exceptionally lethal force.
Establishing a forward operating base was essential to operations against Taliban sanctuaries. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ben Braden wrote in “Forward Operating Base Ripley” in the same issue of Proceedings that “its construction reduced dependence on the single-trail supply route between the FOB and Kandahar airfield.”
“The landing strip was extended to the 6,054 feet needed to launch fully loaded C-130s. This strip was the lifeline for fuel—more than 400,000 gallons—and critical supplies; it received as many as four sorties per night.”
Eight years of land combat in Afghanistan and Iraq moved the Marine Corps far from its maritime origins. In his May 2010 article, “Return Marines to Their Naval Roots,” Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edward W. Novack highlighted guidance from the Commandant in the new Marine Corps Service Campaign Plan 2009–2015. The bottom line: The Marines had fought and would continue to fight valiantly and successfully far from the sea, but they needed to relearn life at sea and life with the Navy—regain expeditionary force and amphibious landing proficiencies.
Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work and retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hoffman spelled out the honing of those proficiencies in “Hitting the Beach in the 21st Century” in the November 2010 issue, writing that as adversaries and weapons grow more advanced, amphibious doctrine must evolve.
There is broad and growing agreement that the future security environment is likely to see increasing antiaccess and area denial (A2/AD) threats overseas. . . . the joint force should again plan to avoid enemy ‘surfaces’ and learn to exploit the sea as maneuver space to set up our initial landing, independent of any assumptions about ports and airfields. This is where the maritime prepositioning squadrons with new mobile landing platforms and joint logistics over the shore assets can be applied to good effect to enhance joint movement of forces and supplies after initial landings.
Current Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger provided important new details of the Marines’ return from land warfare to the expeditionary role of operating with the future naval force in his 2019 article “Together We Must Design the Future Force.”
In future conflicts, the Navy and Marine Corps will be challenged to achieve sea denial and control in contested and confined maritime regions such as the South China Sea, East China Sea, Persian Gulf, and Black Sea. The Navy and Marine Corps together will need to fight for sea control from within contested spaces. Our war games highlight the real threat of long-range missiles; to succeed, we must possess the capability to persist within the arc of adversary fires. We must evolve into the nation’s “stand-in” force.
Success will be defined in terms of finding the smallest, lowest signature options that yield the maximum operational utility, potentially including long-range unmanned surface vessels, unmanned combat aerial vehicles, unmanned underwater vessels, loitering munitions, directed energy weapons, and precision-strike with ranges in excess of 350 nautical miles. We must always be mindful of the ratio of operational contribution to employment cost. We will test various forms of expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) against specific threats in war games and experiments and ask ourselves whether EABO contributions to the joint force are worth their logistical and security burdens. This ratio should be more favorable than other joint force options, and if it is not, we will have the moral courage to say so and seek other remedies.
1. CAPT S. B. Luce, USN, “Fleets of the World,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 13, no. 1 (1887).
2. Lt Wallace M. Green Jr., USMC, “Piscataqua’s Pirates,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 58, no. 2 (February 1932).
3. CAPT Caspar F. Goodrich, USN, “The St. Louis as a Transport,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 25, no. 1 (March 1899).
4. A. Denis Clift, “Burke: My Contribution to Amphibious Warfare,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 146, no. 4 (April 2020).
5. Maj Harold H. Utley, USMC, “Special Boats for Landing Operations,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 57, no. 4 (April 1931).
6. Maj General John H. Russell, USMC, “The Fleet Marine Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 62, no. 10 (October 1936).
7. MIDN 1C Michael Tesluk, USN, “The Marines’ Commando Experiment,” Naval History 28, no. 4 (July 2014).
8. LtGen Julian C. Smith, USMC, “Tarawa,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 79, no. 11 (November 1953).
9. RADM Draper L. Kauffman, USN, Oral History, U.S. Naval Institute.
10. Maj R. D. Heinl Jr., USMC, “The U.S. Marine Corps: Author of Modern Amphibious War,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 73, no. 11 (November 1947).
11. Lynn Montross, “Fleet Marine Force Korea, Part I,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 79, no. 8 (August 1953).
12. Col Edwin H. Simmons, USMC, “The Marines and Crisis Control,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 91, no. 11 (November 1965).
13. Francis J. West Jr., “Marines for the Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 104, no. 2 (February 1978).
14. LtCol Michael J. Byron, USMC, “Fury from the Sea: Marines in Grenada,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 110, no. 5 (May 1984).
15. Gen Walter E. Boomer, USMC (Ret.), “Inside the Storm,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 137, no. 2 (February 2011).
16. Boomer, “Inside the Storm.”
17. LtCol T. W. Parker, USMC, “Operation Sharp Edge,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 117, no. 5 (May 1991).
18. LtCol T. A. Richards, USMC, “Marines in Somalia: 1992,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 119, no. 5 (May 1993).
19. Col Kenneth F. McKenzie and Majs Roberta L Shea and Christopher Phelps, USMC, “Marines Deliver in Mountain Storm,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 130, no. 11 (November 2004).
20. LtCol Ben Braden, USMC, “Forward Operating Base Ripley,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 130, no. 11 (November 2004).
21. LtCol Edward W. Novack, USMC, “Return Marines to Their Naval Roots,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136, no. 5 (May 2010).
22. HON Robert O. Work and LtCol F. G. Hoffman, USMCR (Ret.), “Hitting the Beach in the 21st Century,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136, no. 11 (November 2010).
23. Gen David H. Berger, USMC, “Together We Must Design the Future Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings
145, no. 11 (November 2019).