Fleet Marine Force, Pacific

Chapter 1
The Development of FMFPac1


During World War H, the primary tactic employed by the United States in the Pacific Theater was the amphibious assault. In photographs, newsreels, and books dealing with the progress of American operations against Japan, there appears the familiar sight of United States Marines wading through the surf to assault a hostile beach or of waves of amphibian tractors approaching enemy-held shores. So closely has the U.S. Marine Corps been identified in the public mind with amphibious warfare that such terms as "The Marines have landed" have long since become a commonly-used phrase in the American vocabulary. Amphibious warfare and amphibious assault, over a period of many years, have assumed a very definite meaning: that of landing a force to wrest islands or other terrain from the enemy, as opposed to uncontested amphibious landings. Generally, the preparedness of the United States to conduct amphibious operations during the early phase of World War II has been conceded to be the result of foresight and planning on the part of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.33

In order to obtain a balanced picture of the U.S. Marine Corps, its organization and its tactics in World War II, it


becomes necessary to follow the evolution of that service since its inception. The tradition of Marines serving on board ships and landing on foreign shores dates back to the Revolutionary War. Throughout the Nineteenth Century, as occasion demanded and as dictated by the expanding interests of the United States, Marines distinguished themselves in operations on the seas or on foreign soil. Their exploits became legend at home and abroad; their existence and immediate availability in time of need became a factor in the foreign policy of the United States. To those viewing this country with unfriendly eyes, they became a force to be reckoned with.

Even though, from the very inception of the Corps, ship-based Marines had made landings on enemy soil, real interest in amphibious warfare, as the term has since become widely known, did not develop until the Spanish-American War. At that time, both in Cuba and in the Philippines, a military force was needed to accompany the fleet to seize and hold advanced bases.4 Once this requirement had been established, The General Board of the Navy recommended the activation of a permanent base force. In November 1901, the Secretary of the Navy ordered the Commandant of the Marine Corps to organize a battalion for such advance base work. Instruction of Marines in this special activity began in 1902 at Newport, Rhode Island and Annapolis, Maryland. The training covered field fortifications, transportation of guns, construction of telegraph and telephone lines, and the planting of land mines. Of necessity, it was limited in scope, since the Marine Corps was fully occupied with other commitments abroad. Amphibious landing exercises were not held until 1914. Advance base training was shifted to New London, Connecticut in 1910 and to Philadelphia a year later. There it remained until 1920, when the activity moved to Quantico, Virginia.

During World War I, the Marine Corps gained little combat experience in advance base warfare despite the existence of an Advance Base Force of more than 6,000 officers and men. The big battles of that war were fought on terra firma by large land armies locked for weeks or months in trench warfare that featured little movement. As in the past, Marines distinguished themselves on the battlefield, but the war they waged was that of the foot soldier. Since armies tend to refight battles of a previous war in peacetime in anticipation of the next conflict, instruction in the years following World War I emphasized the Army type of fighting that had become the trademark of that war. As a result, emphasis in those years was on land warfare at the expense of amphibious training.

Another reason for a lack of interest in amphibious warfare in the immediate post-World War I years was the dismal experience of the British in launching their ill-fated Dardanelles-Gallipoli operation in 1915. The general conclusion among military strategists at the time was that large scale amphibious operations


against a defended shore were comparable to a "Charge of the Light Brigade," particularly if such an assault were attempted in the daytime. Still, there were others who did not share this pessimism. The subject of amphibious landings was discussed in the Annual Report of the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1921. At the same time, a then unknown student at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, Major Holland M. Smith, began to expound his views on behalf of the role he envisioned for the Marine Corps of the future in the realm of amphibious warfare.5

During the immediate postwar period, the voices raised in support of the feasibility of amphibious warfare were crying in the wilderness. By mid-1921, at a time of isolationism and retrenchment, the strength of the U.S. Marine Corps diminished to 1,087 officers and 21,903 enlisted men,6 a figure that was to drop even lower during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the wake of demobilization the entire Corps was suffering from a letdown that invariably follows the return of a military organization to peacetime conditions. Most of the men who had signed up for the emergency had returned to their civilian pursuits. Many wartime officers had left the service and wholesale demotions in rank had become necessary, while recruiting was slow. The status of the officers who remained was uncertain and, as with the other Services, retrenchment and budgetary restrictions obscured the peacetime mission and status of the Corps.

Postwar economy and public apathy subjected the Marine Corps and the other Services to severe limitations in men and resources, notwithstanding the fact that Marines were deployed in the Caribbean and later in Central America on peace-keeping missions that occasionally extended to fighting brushfire wars. The lean years, which were to extend to the very eve of World War II, placed severe restrictions on the scope of Corps operations, yet the maxim that "necessity is the mother of invention" once again proved its validity during this period. Lack of manpower and equipment forced Marines to concentrate on intellectual pursuits, primarily that of defining their mission and planning ahead for the future. At times, bigness tends to stifle initiative; lacking all but the most elementary resources, Marines relied on improvisation that, despite some manifest disadvantages, was to serve them well in the years to come.7

Two factors combined to bring about a gradual reversal of the negative thinking regarding amphibious operations. One resulted from the Five-Power Washington Conference of 1921-1922, which put an end to the further fortification


of naval bases in the Pacific west of the Hawaiian Islands; the other was the emergence of the Japanese presence in the Pacific, one of the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, the bitter fruits of which were not to be confined to Europe alone. Having jumped on the Allied bandwagon just in time in World War I, Japan was free to consolidate and expand her foothold in the Central and Western Pacific.

Among the first to recognize that expansion-minded Japan might well become a major adversary in any future war was Major Earl H. Ellis, a Marine Corps officer who by 1921 foresaw the possibility that the United States some day would have to seize bases from Japan in the Marshall, Caroline, and Palau Islands.8 Though high-ranking Marines, including the Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune, shared his views, little concrete planning could be accomplished at the time. Major Ellis went on to write an ingenious plan for "Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia," which was to become a partial blueprint for American operations in the Central Pacific 20 years later during World War II. But Major Ellis was far ahead of his time and was destined to perish obscurely in the Palaus-either on a personal or semi-official reconnaissance-‹before his seeds could fall on fertile soil.

Creation of the Fleet Marine Force9

During the early 1920s, the Marine Corps involvement with amphibious warfare very gradually gained ground, though a number of years were to elapse before it became the Corps' primary mission. In 1921, the Advance Base Force at Quantico was superseded by the Marine Corps Expeditionary Force. Emphasis was on support of the fleet and in 1924 and 1925 this force took part in extensive maneuvers in the Caribbean and in Hawaii. By 1927, a Joint Army-Navy Board recommended that the Marine Corps, in keeping with its close association with the Navy, be given special preparation for the conduct of amphibious warfare,

Thus was laid the groundwork for what was to become the main occupation of the Corps. But the road from recommendation to concrete planning to actual implementation was a rocky and tortuous one, and in the late 1920s a clear definition of the primary Corps mission was still lacking. By this time, large Leatherneck contingents were stationed abroad, notably in Nicaragua and China. Neither funds nor personnel were available for the creation of an amphibious force as envisioned by some of the farsighted Marine commanders. Once again, internal and external developments lent a helping hand to the budding amphibious force. The year 1929


saw a significant reduction in the number of Marines on foreign service; by early 1933 the last contingent had left Nicaragua.

Major General John H. Russell, who commanded the Marine Corps at the time, took the initiative in approaching the Chief of Naval Operations with a plan that would supplant the Expeditionary Force Staff at Quantico with a "Fleet Base Defense Force" or "Fleet Marine Force." Under the new concept espoused by the Commandant, this force would not be subject to continuous interruption in training through detachment or diversion to other tasks. It was visualized that the new force would become an integral unit within the Fleet under operational control of the Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet. General Russell's recommendations were approved and thus was created on 7 December 1933 the Fleet Marine Force10 with headquarters at Quantico, Virginia, an event that was to be described as perhaps "the most significant development within the Marine Corps."11

Immediately following the establishment of the 3,000-man Fleet Marine Force, the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico prepared an amphibious operations manual which set forth a philosophy of command relations, modern concepts, and techniques for a controlled ship-to-shore movement; possible means of ship-to-shore communications; doctrines for air support and naval gunfire; combat loading of troops and supplies; and basics of shore party organization. The finished guide was introduced as the Tentative Landing Operations Manual. Within four years, the manual was to be adopted by the Navy as official doctrine for all landing operations. Subsequently, with additional modifications, it also emerged as an Army Field Manual.

In September 1935, Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force moved from Quantico to San Diego. At the same time, the Fleet Marine Force was organized into two brigades. The 1st Brigade was stationed at Quantico, while the 2d moved to the Marine Corps Base, San Diego. In order to have available an organization that could cope with the testing of equipment that was to be used for amphibious warfare, a Marine Corps Equipment Board was established at Quantico, which subsequently was instrumental in the development of the amphibian tractor.

Beginning in February 1934, units of the Fleet Marine Force took part in the annual maneuvers of the U. S. Fleet. In the Pacific, such maneuvers were held off the coast of California, in Hawaii, and at Midway, while similar landing exercises in the Atlantic were conducted in the Caribbean. In 1936 and again in 1938, elements of the U. S. Army participated in some of the exercises, but in 1939 the Army declined to take part, thus for all practical purposes leaving the field of amphibious warfare entirely in the hands of the Marine Corps. Along with the refinement in landing techniques during the late 1930s came the introduction of suitable vessels that


Amphibious Exercises at Culebra, Puerto Rico, 1936
AMPHIBIOUS EXERCISES at Culebra, Puerto Rico, 1936. (USMC 529463)

Marines in steel Higgins boat, 1939
MARINES in steel Higgins boat, 1939. (USMC 526331)


would move an assault force from the troop transports to its objective. Following extensive experimentation and controversy, Higgins-designed landing craft were found to be best suited to this purpose, and their manufacture in large numbers was initiated.

When World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, the Marine Corps, with a strength of less than 20,000 men, already had laid a sound basis for its subsequent expansion. This got under way when President Roosevelt proclaimed a state of limited national emergency and, in keeping with a general expansion of the armed forces, increased Marine Corps strength to 25,000. While the war in Europe ran its course and a victorious German Army overran Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and finally France‹in the end placing Great Britain under threat of imminent invasion‹the Marine Corps continued to train for a war in which the United States might eventually become involved.

In the autumn of 1940, the 1st Marine Brigade departed from Quantico for Cuba and subsequently underwent extensive amphibious training in the West Indies. On 1 February 1941, the newly organized 7th Marines joined the 1st Brigade at Culebra, where the two combined units were designated as the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Holland M. Smith, who up to this time had headed the 1st Marine Brigade.

In the course of the landing exercises conducted by the division, various types of landing craft and new tank and artillery lighters were tested. The boats employed to bring the Marines ashore were totally unsuitable in high surf, such as existed off Culebra, as were the Navy tank lighters tested. On the other hand, the Higgins boat, which made its first appearance during 1940, had much to recommend it and, according to General Smith, "this craft, in my opinion, did more to help win the war in the Pacific than any other single piece of equipment. . . . Without it our landings on Japanese-held beaches in large numbers would have been unthinkable."12

Also on 1 February 1941, the 2d Brigade was designated the 2d Marine Division. It is interesting to note that at the very threshold of the greatest expansion the Marine Corps had even seen, the Fleet Marine Force was temporarily disbanded. This development resulted from war plans that called for the establishment of a two-divisional expeditionary force with each fleet for the specific purpose of carrying out amphibious assaults as required. These amphibious forces were to be further supplemented by an additional division per fleet obtained from the Army and to be trained by the Marines. Upon the recommendation of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Thomas Holcomb, the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions were assigned to the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets respectively, while the defense battalions of the Fleet Marine Force, which had been created in 1939 for advance base service, were distributed to other commands.

For all practical purposes, the Fleet Marine Force was converted into a training command that would pass on its knowledge and experience to the other Services. In June of 1941, barely


six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, certain organizational changes occurred. Major General Holland M. Smith on 13 June relinquished command of the 1st Marine Division and became Commanding General of I Corps (Provisional), U. S. Atlantic Fleet, composed of the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 1st Infantry Division. Two weeks later, the organization was redesignated as Task Force 18, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, followed within two days, on 28 July 1941, by a redesignation to the 1st Joint Training Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet, By mid-August 1941, the title had been changed again to Atlantic Amphibious Force, and in late October of the same year, the organization became the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. This designation was retained until 3 March 1942, at which time the command received yet another title, that of Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet.13 Significantly, regardless of this multitude of titles bestowed upon the organization, there was a continuity of command if not in name, and General Holland Smith continued to preside at each consecutive baptism.

By mid-1941, with war clouds now looming ominously over the Pacific, Marine Corps strength had doubled over that of the preceding year totalling over 54,000.14 The rapid expansion continued throughout 1941 and skyrocketed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By 30 June 1942 the Marine Corps numbered 142,613 officers and men.15 Even during the period of rapid expansion in the summer of 1941, no one could surmise the scope of global warfare in which the United States would shortly become involved. Thus, in May of that year the Navy General Board, in dealing with the expansion of the Marine Corps, concluded that:

The composition, organization and strength of the Marine Division as submitted to the General Board by the U.S. Marine Corps appear to be satisfactory for the overseas landing operations to be required of Marine Corps ground troops. The question as to the number of Marine Divisions necessary has been fully discussed and while it appears that a major war conducted in both the Atlantic and Pacific might require three Marine Divisions, most of the probable operations incident to the seizure of any one outlying overseas base probably can be carried through successfully with one Marine Division fully supported as it would be by a Naval Attack Force.16

The global commitment of the Marine Corps was to go far beyond the strength contemplated in early 1941, but at the time a steady increase in strength over a protracted period of time was envisioned. Hand in hand with the augmentation of the Corps went the enlargement of existing bases and acquisition of new ones. One of these on the East Coast was the New River base in North Carolina, later to become Camp Lejeune; another was the Marine air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. On the West Coast, Camp Holcomb, subsequently renamed Camp Elliott, came into being. Early in the year, the first planes of the 2d Marine Aircraft Group were stationed


on Oahu at Ewa.17 Marine defense battalions at the outbreak of the war were stationed on Midway, Palmyra, and Johnston Islands, and on Wake. Other detachments held forward outposts in the Pacific in American Samoa, at Subic Bay, Luzon, and in the Aleutians.

As the expansion of the armed forces of the United States continued and was further accelerated during 1942, a concept was adopted which charged the Army with primary responsibility in the Atlantic, while the Navy was to reign in the Pacific. As a result of this concept, amphibious training activities on the East Coast of the United States generally became the responsibility of the Army, while similar activities on the West Coast were assigned to the Marine Corps. In line with this thinking, the 2d Joint Training Force had been created on 1 November 1941 at Camp Elliott near San Diego. This force had been planned as a joint Marine-Army training organization, paralleling General Holland Smith's setup on the East Coast. There were similar gyrations in name and title to those the Marine establishment on the East Coast had experienced. On 10 February 1942, Major General Clayton B. Vogel's command became the Amphibious Force, U. S. Pacific Fleet, to be rechristened as Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, less than two months later. (See Chart 1.) Effective 3 August 1942, General Vogel, who up to this time had also acted as the senior Fleet Marine Force commander at San Diego, was placed in command of all Fleet Marine Force units, both ground and air, in the 11th Naval District.

World War II Expansion18

By mid-1942 it had become apparent that predominance of the Army on the East Coast had deprived the Amphibious Training Staff, Fleet Marine Force, of the lion's share of its training mission in the Atlantic or the Caribbean. At the same time, developments in the Pacific Theater left very little doubt that the offensive in the South Pacific would be based on large-scale amphibious warfare, all or most of which would be carried out by the Marine Corps. As a consequence of this shift in strategic emphasis, General Smith and his Amphibious Training Staff, Fleet Marine Force, departed from Quantico in September of 1942 and proceeded to San Diego. There, the Amphibious Training Staff was disbanded and its personnel assigned to Headquarters, Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. At the same time, General Smith took over as Commander of the Amphibious Corps and as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, San Diego Area. General Vogel, who had been displaced by the arrival of General Smith, took charge of the I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) at San Diego, a unit whose staff was composed largely of personnel who had previously served with General Vogel on the staff of the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. Shortly thereafter, General Vogel left


Genealogy of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific
Organization chart: Genealogy of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific


the West Coast to assume command of the IMAC in the South Pacific.

Despite the tortuous and somewhat confusing road that the Marine Corps command organization had travelled, an effective command organization was beginning to emerge by the middle of 1942, though many difficulties remained to be overcome. In his capacity as Commanding General, Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, General Smith was responsible for the organization and training of Fleet Marine Force units as they became available for employment with the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet. At the same time, in his dual capacity as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, San Diego Area, General Smith was charged with the administration of training activities at San Diego, Camp Pendleton, and Camp Dunlap, as well as command of Fleet Marine Force units that were not specifically assigned to the Corps. Since the Amphibious Corps was a joint command and consisted of U. S. Army as well as Marine units, its primary mission for a number of months was to train Army units, specifically for operations in the Aleutians.

Meanwhile, American troops were pouring into the Pacific Area in ever increasing numbers, making it necessary for the I Marine Amphibious Corps, originally planned only as an administrative command for Marine units, to assume tactical functions. By late 1943, augmentation of the Pacific Fleet and availability of manpower made possible the initiation of the Central Pacific offensive, whose purpose was to strike out westward across the Pacific along the most direct route to Japan. Pursuant to this mission, Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance became commander of the Central Pacific Force and the Fifth Fleet. In August 1943, the Fifth Amphibious Force was organized under Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and later that month the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, was redesignated as the V Amphibious Corps (VAC ), with General Holland Smith in command.

Even though the newly-created VAC directly succeeded the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, there was a major difference in its mission, which became a dual one. First, the organization was to constitute an administrative command with control of Marine units in the Central Pacific. Secondly, it had the tactical mission of directing amphibious assaults of both Marine and U. S. Army troops. At the time of these administrative changes, the new organization turned over its responsibility for amphibious training on the West Coast of the United States to a newly established Troop Training Unit, Amphibious Training Command, Pacific Fleet. In September 1943, VAC moved to Hawaii, where preparations were then in full swing for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.

It soon became apparent that the organizational expedient that had been sought in establishing such a multitude of organizations whose missions were bound to overlap would not be a happy one. In the words of one history dealing with this organizational maze:

Assumption of tactical functions by Amphibious Corps headquarters gave rise once again to the problem of conduct of administrative matters of Fleet Marine Force units in the Pacific. Now two parallel echelons functioned directly with Headquarters, Marine Corps while performing duplicate administrative activities


with respect to subordinate units. It became necessary to divorce tactical elements from administrative elements during operations, hence the formation of rear echelons of substantial size for each amphibious corps headquarters.19

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided as early as 1942 to split command in the Pacific Theater between the Southwest Pacific Area under General MacArthur and the Pacific Ocean Areas under Admiral Nimitz. Until 1944, most FMF units had served in the Southwest Pacific under MacArthur, but the new Central Pacific drive demanded trained amphibious troops and the Navy wanted Marines for the assault role. Effective 25 March 1944, the I Marine Amphibious Corps passed to the command of Admiral Nimitz, who now controlled it in addition to the V Amphibious Corps.

General Holland Smith, who had just received his promotion to lieutenant general, recognized that the time was ripe for a reorganization of the Marine command structure under the new setup in the Central Pacific. He recommended the creation of Headquarters, Amphibious Troops, Pacific, to include I Marine Amphibious Corps, II Marine Amphibious Corps, an Army Corps, along with Defense Troops, Expeditionary Troops Artillery, and the Service of Supply, Amphibious Troops Pacific. The new organization, which for all practical purposes constituted a field army, would be divided into two echelons: an administrative rear headquarters in Hawaii to take care of administrative and logistical matters, and a forward headquarters to command and direct amphibious assaults.20

On 29 March 1944 the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, authorized the Commanding General, VAC, to exercise, as an additional duty, complete administrative control and logistical responsibility for all Fleet Marine Force units committed for operations in the Central Pacific.21 General Alexander A. Vandegrift, who had been appointed as Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 January, was on an inspection tour in Hawaii when the above authorization arrived and on this occasion proposed the establishment of an Administrative Command, VAC. The latter was to function just below VAC with responsibility for the administrative work of all Pacific Fleet Marine Force units concerning supply, evacuation, sanitation, construction, salvage, personnel management, quartering and general supervision of censorship. Further, it was to handle the command and administration of all Fleet Marine Force units in the Pacific which remained at bases during combat operations or which were assigned by the Commanding General, VAC. Finally, the Administrative Command was to supervise the routine administrative activity of units that would normally be handled by the rear echelon of the Corps headquarters.

Admiral Nimitz expressed his belief that the efficiency of both the administration of Marine units in the Pacific Ocean Areas and the logistic support of


their combat operations would be greatly improved by the measures proposed by General Vandegrift, except that he desired the new organization to be designated as the V Amphibious Corps Marine Administrative Command in order to avoid any misconception that the functions assigned to the new organization would affect such Army units as were assigned or attached to VAC. The Commandant's recommendations were put into effect without further delay and on 10 April 1944, the Marine Administrative Command, VAC, was activated.22

Under the reorganization, the newly created unit consisted of Headquarters, Marine Administrative Command, VAC, and Marine Supply Service, VAC. At the same time that the organizational changes became effective, the Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Corps, was relieved of his administrative functions, retaining only those of a tactical nature, unless otherwise directed by the Commanding General, VAC. Under the new setup, the functions of the Supply Service, IMAC and those of the Marine Supply Service, VAC, were consolidated.

While the above reorganization and consolidation no doubt were steps in the right direction, it soon became evident that additional changes were necessary as a consequence of the constantly changing tactical situation in the Pacific Theater. By April 1944 the Fleet Marine Force units in the theater consisted of four divisions, a brigade which lacked only a regimental combat team in order to constitute a full division, corps troops and a steadily expanding Supply Service. The 5th Marine Division was still being trained and equipped in the Continental United States, but its arrival in the theater was also expected around the turn of 1944-1945.

During 1944, imminent operations in the Marianas made the establishment of an overall Marine Command in the Pacific highly desirable, if not imperative. Since operations in the Marianas were to be carried out in two major phases‹ an attack against Saipan and Tinian in the north, followed by the assault against Guam farther south, two task forces would be necessary. One of these was the Northern Attack Force under Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, who also led the Joint Expeditionary Force. The Southern Attack Force came under Rear Admiral Richard L. Connolly. General Holland Smith was to wear two hats during the operations, for he was to serve as Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops and at the same time as Commanding General, Northern Troops and Landing Force. Major General Roy S. Geiger, commanding the 111 Amphibious Corps (IIIAC), a new title for IMAC, was to command the Southern Troops and Landing Force in the assault on Guam.23 In order for General Smith to exercise tactical command in both IIIAC and VAC, a higher headquarters had to be organized. Prior to the landings, VAC thus had to set up


two tactical staffs. Organization of the staff took place at Pearl Harbor on 12 April 1944, on the same date that the Marine Administrative Command was formed. For all practical purposes, a Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific was now in existence in all respects except for the name.

Events occurring during the spring of 1944 were designed to correct this deficiency. On 27 May 1944, the Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet queried the Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet with respect to the desirability of creating a Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific Ocean Areas, under General Holland Smith. In reply, Admiral Nimitz expressed his concurrence and recommended that the change become effective upon completion of the assault phase of the campaign in the Marianas. As far as the organizational structure was concerned, Admiral Nimitz recommended that the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific Ocean Areas, consist of a headquarters with the IIIAC, the VAC, and the Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific Ocean Areas, as subordinate units.

Following the above discussions, on 5 June 1944 Admiral King designated the Commanding General, VAC, as the type commander for all Fleet Marine Force ground units in the Pacific Ocean Areas effective that date. He further specified that, as ordered by the Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet, a Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, be established under the command of General Holland Smith. The Marine Administrative Command, VAC, was to be redesignated as Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.24

Since at the time General Holland Smith was participating in the Saipan-Tinian campaign as Commanding General, VAC, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas directed that in his absence the Commanding General, Marine Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, assume additional duty as Deputy Commander, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. Upon his return from the Marianas, General Smith assumed command of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. On 24 August 1944 Headquarters, Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, was redesignated Provisional Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.25 Subordinate units of the Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific were redesignated units of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. Headquarters and Service Battalion, Administrative Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, also underwent a change in that it became Provisional Headquarters and Service Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

Presumably, the term "provisional" was inserted in the titles of Force Headquarters and Force Headquarters and Service Battalion because it had previously been stipulated that the Administrative Command would continue to function as a separate entity under Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. Instead, the Provisional Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific


now assumed those functions previously assigned to the Administrative Command.

Within a week, there was to be a further change in the round of redesignation and reorganizations. On 31 August 1944, the Commandant ordered the abolition of the Administrative Command and organization of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. At the same time an organizational chart was drawn up listing as components of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, the FMFPac Headquarters Troops, III Amphibious Corps, V Amphibious Corps, FMF Air Pacific, Force Artillery, Force Antiaircraft Artillery, Force Amphibian Tractor Group, Force Reserve, FMF Supply Service, Force Service Troops, FMF Transient Center, and Marine units under island commands for administration only.26 In line with this authority from CMC, Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and Headquarters and Service Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific were formally activated effective 17 September 1944.27

As of this date, the following major elements comprised Fleet Marine Force, Pacific:


The far-reaching changes in the organizational structure of the Marine Corps found their echo in the status of the Fleet Marine Force aviation units in the Pacific, which also was subject to modification. On 7 September 1944, General Vandegrift acted on instructions received from Admiral King and ordered deletion of FMF Air Pacific from the initial organizational chart of 31 August, leaving the command status of aviation units to be clarified at a later date. On 16 September, Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, was redesignated as Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

A final decision on the status of the aviation units of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, was reached on 11 October 1944 in Pacific Fleet Letter 53L-44, which also regulated the status of FMFPac. Accordingly, the Commanding General, FMFPac, was a type commander for all units comprising his command and in this capacity came under the direct command of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. He had responsibility for the overall administration and supply of all subordinate units, except for aviation supplies. He was charged with coordinating the activities of the Fleet Marine Force; establishing policies relating to its organization, maintenance, and support; issuing directives for its training, operations, administration, and supply, except for the operation of aircraft. Further, he was to keep the Commander


in Chief, Pacific Fleet, informed of matters affecting the readiness or operating capabilities of subordinate units; allocate and distribute personnel; and exercise operational control of all FMF units (except aviation) unless they were otherwise assigned. In addition to the above, the Commanding General, FMFPac was to act as advisor to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas on matters pertaining to the Marine Corps in general and on amphibious operations. He was to study and keep abreast of the strategic situation and make recommendations for the employment of the Fleet Marine Force. Finally, he was to command a task force in combat operations when directed to do s.29

With reference to the aviation units, the same letter spelled out the status of Aircraft, FMFPac. The latter organization was defined as a major unit of FMFPac. Its Commanding General was charged with performing type-command functions under the Commanding General, FMFPac within the latter's field of responsibility. In aviation matters, the Commanding General, Aircraft, FMFPac, was to perform type-command functions under the Commander, Air Force, Pacific Fleet. Operational control of Aircraft, FMFPac tactical units was to remain with the Commander, Air Force, Pacific Fleet, unless such units were otherwise assigned.

Even though the letter more clearly spelled out the mission and responsibilities of FMFPac, and as such signified a large step forward for the Marine Corps command structure, it still fell short of one objective. There now existed an amphibious organization in the Pacific which had come a very long way from the basic structure that had existed at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Nevertheless, the new establishment still had not attained the status of a tactical field army type of headquarters that General Smith had envisioned and proposed in March 1944 and which the Commandant had previously endorsed. A gap in the doorway had been opened through the provision that the Commanding General, FMFPac, could at times act as a task force commander in combat operations, but at this stage the door was still far from ajar.

In November 1944, General Smith submitted proposed tables of organization for his headquarters staff. These proposals rested on the premise that FMFPac would represent a tactical headquarters for a Marine field army of two corps, as well as an administrative headquarters in the rear. In the course of January 1945 these proposals formed the subject of discussion between representatives of General Vandegrift, Admiral Nimitz, and General Smith. When it became apparent that no operations were scheduled calling for the commitment of a Marine field army, and in the light of personnel shortages, it was decided that the staff of Headquarters, FMFPac would be large enough only to take care of the administrative duties, with sufficient additional personnel for inspection parties, observers, and small task force staffs.30


Assurances were provided that General Holland Smith in his capacity as Commanding General, FMFPac, would retain responsibility for conducting combat operations as a task force commander when directed to do so. In practice, he was able to exercise such command only during the Iwo Jima operation in February-March 1945. Prior to the end of World War II, the status and organizational structure of Headquarters, FMFPac remained essentially unchanged. The only other major change was the redesignation of the Supply Service, FMFPac, as Service Command, FMFPac, which became effective on 1 June 1945.

At the time of the Japanese surrender, FMFPac consisted of the Service Command, FMFPac, the III and V Amphibious Corps, composed of six Marine divisions, and Aircraft, FMFPac consisting of four Marine Aircraft Wings and Marine Fleet Air, West Coast.

The American drive across the Pacific to the doorstep of Japan rendered acute the question of the forward displacement of Headquarters, FMFPac. It was proposed initially to move elements of Headquarters, FMFPac, from Hawaii to Guam in the Marianas. A study of the question brought out the fact that there was a continuing necessity for certain sections of General Smith's headquarters to maintain liaison with Headquarters, Commander in Chief, Pacific. There was an additional requirement for other headquarters sections to advise the Commanding General, FMFPac, in the forward area. Basically, the latter would comprise the personnel who would act as the operating staff of the Fleet Marine Force in the field.

As of December 1944, it was envisioned that major portions of the G-2 and G-4 Sections, Headquarters, FMFPac, would remain in Hawaii, since the Joint Intelligence Center, POA, and most of the logistical operating sections would also remain there. The Deputy Commander, FMFPac, was to remain at Pearl Harbor, and all staff sections were to be represented on his staff, so that normal administrative functions as an area command could be retained. Since a Field Service Command was already present on Guam, no further displacement of Headquarters, Supply Service, FMFPac, was anticipated.

After a considerable delay resulting from General Holland Smith's participation in the Iwo Jima operation, he recommended to Admiral Nimitz that Headquarters, FMFPac, and Headquarters, Supply Service, FMFPac, displace forward either to Guam or Okinawa once VAC embarked upon its next amphibious operation. General Smith felt that since FMFPac constituted a major element within the Pacific Fleet, the eventual location of his headquarters should depend on that of the Pacific Fleet. In any case, he felt that all of the Fleet Marine Force should in time be located either in the Marianas or further west, in any case at least as far west as Guam.31

On 26 April 1945, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas authorized the forward displacement of Administrative Headquarters, FMFPac, to Guam


subsequent to 1 July. However, inasmuch as the primary function of the Commanding General, FMFPac, was that of an administrative commander, General Smith felt that it would not be feasible for the main body of the administrative staff to remain in Hawaii while he himself relocated to Guam. Since he was divorced from operational duties, the bulk of the daily decisions dealt with questions of personnel and logistics whose solution required immediate access to all of the records retained in Headquarters, FMFPac. The physical separation of the major portion of his staff from these records would, for all practical purposes, strip him of his primary function as administrative commander of FMFPac while delegating the command of that headquarters to the Deputy Commander, FMFPac.

An additional factor mitigating against the forward displacement of FMFPac was the lack of headquarters facilities on Guam. There was a critical shortage of engineers and it was felt while some construction could be completed for subordinate elements of FMFPac with limited space requirements, adequate housing for the Headquarters would not be available on Guam for an indefinite period. In view of this problem, the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific reversed his thinking as to the forward displacement of his headquarters and requested that his earlier recommendation to this effect be held in abeyance, pending a major change in the overall situation.

In July 1945, following the assumption of the command of FMFPac by Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger on 3 July, action on the forward move of the headquarters was again initiated. It was tentatively planned that the forward headquarters would consist of the commanding general and a small operating staff and that initially the bulk of the administrative work would be handled in Hawaii under the Deputy Commander, FMFPac. As before, Guam was to serve as the forward location. Initial housekeeping support at the forward headquarters was to be provided by small advance echelons of the Headquarters and Service Battalion, the Signal Battalion, the Marine Detachment (Provisional), Marianas Area, and the Transient Center, Marianas Area. Subsequent echelons were to displace forward over an extended period of time. In order to provide for an uninterrupted handling of the workload, it was anticipated that certain Headquarters files and records would have to be duplicated and that certain special staff sections would have to be combined with appropriate general staff sections at either location.

In response to General Geiger's request, the Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas on 19 July 1945 authorized FMFPac to establish an advance headquarters on Guam, to consist of approximately 72 officers and 350 enlisted men. However, it was specified that the Island Commander, Guam, was not in a position to furnish engineering assistance for the construction of the necessary facilities. Despite difficulties that could be expected with reference to office space and quarters, final preparations for the forward displacement were all but completed by early August 1945. The initial


echelon which was to include General Geiger, the Chief of Staff, G-3 Section, and appropriate general and special staff representatives, was slated to be established on Guam on or about 3 September 1945.32 The main body of Headquarters, FMFPac was to remain in Hawaii under the Deputy Commander, FMFPac, as stipulated in the earlier plan.

During the absence of General Geiger, the Deputy Commander was to exercise the former's administrative functions, in addition to controlling and supervising units and the staff groups remaining in Hawaii. The division of staff functions between the forward and rear echelon was to be handled in such a way that operational planning, allocation of troop units, training directives, organization, and troop movements would all be taken care of on Guam while personnel administration, allocation of replacement drafts, intelligence functions, procurement of maps and aerial photographs, supply and evacuation, transportation, and other administrative matters both special and routine would be the responsibility of the Deputy Commander.

The end of the war forestalled the forward displacement of FMFPac, and the headquarters remained at Pearl Harbor.33 The immediate problems inherent in the invasion of Japan, for which planning was well under way by the time of the Japanese surrender, could now be shelved as the uncontested occupation of the Home Islands became a reality. In nearly four years of global warfare, the Marine Corps had succeeded in putting an untried concept of amphibious warfare to the acid test. The evolution of the administrative structure of the FMFPac represented a small but vital link in the chain of events that led from prewar experimentation with the ways and means of amphibious assault on the peaceful shores of islands in the Caribbean to such places as Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. To make these assaults feasible required not only vast quantities of materiel and men trained in their use, but also an efficient organization that could assure that both were available when and where needed.

The twists and turns taken during the evolution of the Fleet Marine Force are but a reflection of the ever-changing war situation that called for a highly flexible command organization. Thus, the development of the Fleet Marine Force saw its beginnings before war came to the United States; it was destined to continue long after the last shot had been fired. The lessons of that war, many of them learned by trial and error, were to become an invaluable asset in the overall offensive and defensive capability of the United States, to be available as needed for the use of future generations.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (I-1) * Next Chapter (II-2)


1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: Administrative History of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, 10Apr44-31Aug45, dtd 15May46, hereafter FMFPac Administrative History; Historical Outline of the Development of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, 1941-1950 (Preliminary), HQMC, n.d., hereafter The Development of FMFPac; LtCol Frank O. Hough, Maj Verle E. Ludwig, and Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal--History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, v. I (Washington: HistBr, G-3, HQMC, 1958), hereafter Hough, Ludwig, and Shaw, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal; Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Bernard C. Nalty, and Edwin T. Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive--History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, v. III (Washington: HistBr, G-3, HQMC, 1966), hereafter Shaw, Nalty, and Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive; Maj Edwin N. McClellan, The United States in the World War (Washington: HistBr, G-3, HQMC, 1968 Reprint of 1920 Edition) ; General Holland M. Smith and Percy Finch, Coral and Brass (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1949), hereafter Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, used with permission; Jeter A. Isely and Philip Crowl, The U S. Marines and Amphibious War, Its Theory and Its Practice in the Pacific (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), hereafter Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War; Clyde H. Metcalf, A History of the United States Marine Corps (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939), hereafter Metcalf, A History of the U.S. Marine Corps; Robert D. Heinl, Jr., Soldiers of the Sea--The United States Marine Corps, 1775-1962 (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1962), hereafter Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea.

2. Additional information in this section is derived from: William H. Russell, "The Genesis of FMF Doctrine: 1879-1899," Marine Corps Gazette, v. 35, nos. 4-7 (Apr-July 1951); LtGen Holland M. Smith, "The Development of Amphibious Tactics in the U.S. Navy," in Marine Corps Gazette, v. 30, nos. 6-10 (Jun-Oct 1946).

3. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, chaps. 1-2.

4. For a detailed account of Marine involvement in shaping the concept of amphibious warfare, see Hough, Ludwig, and Shaw, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, Pt. I.

5. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, pp. 47-54.

6. Historical Statistics of the United States-Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington: Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, GPO, 1961), hereafter U.S. Historical Statistics.

7. Recalling this period many years later, one Marine was to comment: "Prior to World War II, the Marine Corps was a great "make do" outfit despite extremely limited means. Where else could you find men who, after four years, shipped over for PFC?" Col R.M. Baker ltr to Head, Hist Br, G-3 Div, HQMC, dtd 21Jul69, in FMFPac History Comment File.

8. As a captain prior to World War I, Ellis had already written on "The Security of Advanced Bases and Advanced Base Operations" (IntelSec, DivOps and Trng Files, HistDiv, HQMC).

9. Additional material in this section is derived from: MajGen John H. Russell, "The Birth of the FMF," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, v. 2, no. 515 (Jan 1946).

10. Navy Dept GO No. 241, as cited in The Development of FMFPac, pp. 6-7.

11. Metcalf, A History of the U. S. Marine Corps, p. 550.

12. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 72.

13. Ibid., pp. 82-83.

14. U.S. Historical Statistics, p. 736.

15. Ibid.

16. Report of General Board on Expansion of U.S. Marine Corps, G.B. No. 432, Serial No. 139, dtd 7 May 1941, in Organization and Expansion of the USMC, 1940s (OAB, NHD).

17. The growth of Marine Corps aviation and the evolution of its command organization will be dealt with in a separate chapter.

18. Additional material in this section is derived from: BGen D.A.D. Ogden (AUS), "Amphibious Operations," Reprint of Lecture at the U. S. Army Engineer School, Ft. Belvoir, Va.: 15Mar49.

19. FMFPac Administrative History, p. 11.

20. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 154.

21. CominCh ltr ser 001015, dtd 29Mar44 as cited in FMFPac Administrative History, p. 11.

22. VAC GO No. 53-44, dtd 6Apr44, as cited in FMFPac Administrative History, p. 14.

23. The redesignation which became effective on 15 April 1944, reflected the fact that the corps, like VAC, was a command including troops of all Services, not just Marines.

24. FMFPac Administrative History, p. 15.

25. FMFPac SpecO No. 2-44, dtd 23Aug44.

26. CMC ltr to CG, FMFPac, Serial O03E23944, dtd 31Aug44.

27. FMFPac GO No. 12-44, dtd 18Sep44.

28. FMFPac Administrative History, pp. 113-114,

29. Pacific Fleet Letter 53L-44, dtd 110ct44.

30. FMFPac Administrative History, pp. 19-22, 33-34.

31. Ibid., pp. 73-74.

32. FMFPac GO No. 75-45, dtd 30Aug45.

33. The Japanese surrender voided the imminent move of Headquarters, FMFPac to Guam. Detailed notes pertaining to this move for the period 12-27Aug45 are contained in LtGen Merwin H. Silverthorn ltr to HistBr, G-3 Div, HQMC, dtd 20Jun69, in FMFPac History Comment File.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation