Chapter 2: Evolution of Modern Amphibious Warfare, 1920-1941

Early Developments

The success of the Guantanamo Bay operation and the very real possibility that the United States' new position in world affairs might lead to repetitions of essentially the same situation led high-level naval strategists to become interested in establishing a similar force on a permanent basis: a force capable of seizing and defending advanced bases which the fleet could utilize in the prosecution of naval war in distant waters--waters conceivably much more distant than the Caribbean. This in turn led to the setting up of a class in the fundamentals of advanced base work at Newport, Rhode Island in 12901. During the winter of 1902-1903 a Marine battalion engaged in advanced base defense exercises on the island of Culebra in the Caribbean in conjunction with the annual maneuvers of the fleet. Expeditionary services in Cuba and Panama prevented an immediate follow-up to this early base defense instruction, but in 1910 a permanent advanced base school was organized at New London, Connecticut. A year later it was moved to Philadelphia.1

By 1913 sufficient progress had been made in advanced base instruction to permit the formation of a permanent advanced base force. Made up of two regiments, one of coast artillery, mines, searchlights, engineers, communicators, and other specialists for fixed defense, and the other of infantry and field artillery for mobile defense, the advanced base force totalled about 1,750 officers and men. In January of 1914 it was reinforced by a small Marine Corps aviation detachment and joined the fleet for maneuvers at Culebra. But the analogy between advanced base training and the amphibious assault techniques that emerged in World War II is easily overdrawn. Prior to World War I the primary interest was in defense of a base against enemy attack. There was no serious contemplation of large-scale landings against heavily defended areas.

This all but exclusive concern for the defense of bases was clearly borne out by the writing of Major Earl H. Ellis. Ellis, one of the most brilliant young Marine staff officers, was among the farsighted military thinkers who saw the prospect of war between the United States and Japan prior to World War I. Around 1913, he directed attention to the


problems of a future Pacific conflict. To bring military force to bear against Japan, Ellis pointed out, the United States would have to project its fleet across the Pacific. To support these operations so far from home would require a system of outlying bases. Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, which were the most important of these, we already possessed. Their defense would be of utmost importance and would constitute the primary mission of the Marine advanced base force. Ellis discussed in considerable detail the troops which would be required and the tactics they should employ.

In addition to the bases already in the possession of the United States, Ellis foresaw the need of acquiring others held by Japan. To the Marine Corps would fall the job of assaulting the enemy-held territory. Although he did not discuss the problems involved nor take up the tactics to be employed, Ellis foreshadowed the amphibious assault which was to be the primary mission of the Marine Corps in World War II.3

The infant Advance Base Force was diverted to other missions almost as soon as it was created. Hardly were the Culebra maneuvers of 1914 completed when the Marines were sent to Mexico for the seizure of Vera Cruz. The next year they went ashore in Haiti, and in 1916 unsettled conditions in Santo Domingo required the landing of Marines in that country. Expeditionary service in these two Caribbean republics was to constitute a heavy and continuing drain on Marine Corps resources which might otherwise have been devoted to advanced base activities.

The expansion of the Marine Corps to about 73,000 officers and men during World War I served as a temporary stimulant to me Advance Base Force. In spite of the demands for manpower resulting from the sending of an expeditionary force to France, the Advance Base Force was maintained at full strength throughout the war. By the Armistice it numbered 6,297 officers and men.4

Ups and Downs of the Nineteen Twenties

Marines returning from overseas late in 1919 picked up where they left off three years before. At Quantico the Advance Base Force, redesignated the Expeditionary Force in 1921, stood ready to occupy and defend an advanced base or to restore law and order in a Caribbean republic. In that year it included infantry, field artillery, signal, engineer, and chemical troops, and aircraft. A similar expeditionary force was planned for San Diego, but perennial personnel shortages prevented the stationing of more than one infantry regiment and one aircraft squadron there during the 1920's.5

Nothing seemed changed, but delegates of the Great Powers, meeting at Versailles to write the peace treaty ending World War I, had already taken an action which was to have far-reaching consequences for


a future generation of Marines. In the general distribution of spoils, the former German island possessions in the central Pacific had been mandated to the Japanese. At one stroke the strategic balance in the Pacific was shifted radically in favor of Japan. That country now possessed a deep zone of island outposts. Fortified and supported by the Japanese fleet, they would constitute a serious obstacle to the advance of the United States Fleet across the Pacific.

Earl Ellis was one of the first to recognize the significance of this strategic shift. In 1921 he modified his earlier ideas and submitted them in the form of Operations Plan 712, "Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia." In this plan Ellis stressed the necessity for seizing by assault the bases needed to project the Fleet across the Pacific. He envisioned the seizure of specific islands in the Marshall, Caroline, and Palau groups, some of which were actually taken by Marines in World War II. He went so far as to designate the size and type of units that would be necessary, the kind of landing craft they should use, the best time of day to effect the landing, and other details needed to insure the success of the plan. Twenty years later Marine Corps action was to bear the imprint of this thinking:

To effect [an amphibious landing] in the face of enemy resistance requires careful training and preparation, to say the least; and this along Marine lines. It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry men or artillery men of high morale; they must be skilled water men and jungle men who know it can be done--Marines with Marine training.6

The Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune, and other high ranking Marines shared Ellis' views. "The seizure and occupation or destruction of enemy bases is another important function of the expeditionary force," he stated in a lecture before the Naval War College in 1923. "On both flanks of a fleet crossing the Pacific are numerous islands suitable for submarine and air bases. All should be mopped up as progress is made. ... The maintenance, equipping and training of its expeditionary force so that it will be in instant readiness to support the Fleet in the event of war," he concluded, " deem to be the most important Marine Corps duty in time of peace."7

The 1920s, however, were not the most favorable years for training in amphibious operations. Appropriations for the armed services were slim, and the Navy, whose cooperation and support was necessary to carry out landing exercises, was more intent on preparing for fleet surface actions of the traditional type. Still, a limited amount of amphibious training was carried out in the first half of the decade.

During the winter of 1922, a reinforced regiment of Marines participated in fleet maneuvers with the Atlantic Fleet. Their problems included the attack and defense of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the island of Culebra. In March of the following year, a detachment of Marines took part in a landing exercises at Panama, and a battalion of Marines and sailors practiced a landing on Cape Cod that summer.

Panama and Culebra both witnessed landing exercises early in 1924, with a Marine regiment participating. This set of exercises was the high pointy of training


reached in the twenties. It marked the advent of serious experimentation with adequate landing craft for troops and equipment. However, it was most notable for the great number of mistakes made in the course of the exercises, such as inadequate attacking forces, insufficient and unsuitable boats, lack of order among the landing party, superficial naval bombardment, and poor judgment in the stowage of supplies and equipment aboard the single transport used.8

The last landing exercise of the era was a joint Army-Navy affair held during the spring of 1925 in Hawaiian waters. It was actually an amphibious command post exercise, undertaken at the insistence of General Lejeune to prove to skeptical Army officers that the Marine Corps could plan and execute an amphibious operation of greater than brigade size. A force of 42,000 Marines was simulated, although only 1,500 actually participated. It ran more smoothly than had the previous exercise, but still was handicapped by a lack of adequate landing craft.[9

Even this meager amphibious training came to an end after 1925. New commitments in Nicaragua, in China, and in the United States guarding the mails served to disperse the expeditionary forces. By 1928 the Commandant announced in his annual report that barely enough personnel were on hand at Quantico and San Diego to keep those bases in operation.[10

Whatever the shortcomings of the work in amphibious doctrine and technique during the 1920's, the Marine Corps scored a major triumph when its special interest in the field became part of the official military policy of the United States. Joint Action of the Army and Navy, a directive issued by the Joint Board of the Army and Navy in 1927, stated that the Marine Corps would provide and maintain forces "for land operations in support of the fleet for the initial seizure and defense of advanced bases and for such limited auxiliary land operations as are essential to the prosecution of the naval campaign."

Further, in outlining the tasks to be performed by the Army and Navy in "Landing Attacks Against Shore Objectives," this document firmly established the landing force role of the Marine Corps: "Marines organized as landing forces perform the same functions as above stated for the Army, and because of the constant association with naval units will be given special training in the conduct of landing operations."[11

Activation of the Fleet Marine Force

The recognition of a mission did not create the doctrine nor the trained forces to carry it out, and, in 1927, neither was at hand. In January 1933 the last Marine had departed from Nicaragua, and withdrawal from Haiti was contemplated. Troops were now becoming available for training in landing operations, but before any real progress could be made, one preliminary step was essential. A substantial permanent force of Marines with its


MARINES IN FRANCE IN WORLD WAR I, part of the 4th Marine Brigade of the 2d Infantry Division, prepare to move up to the front line trenches. (USMC 4967)

BANDIT-HUNTING PATROL in Nicaragua in 1929 typifies Marine activities between the World Wars when the Corps served as a Caribbean riot squad. (USMC 515283)


own command and staff would have to be organized for the purpose, otherwise training would be constantly interrupted by the dispersal of the troops to other commitments.

No one recognized this more clearly than the Assistant Commandant, Brigadier General John H. Russell. He assembled a staff at Quantico to plan the organization of a force which could be rapidly assembled for service with the Fleet. In August of 1933 he proposed to the Commandant that the old "Expeditionary Force" be replaced by a new body, to be called either "Fleet Marine Force," or "Fleet Base Defense Force." The new force, while an integral part of the United States Fleet, would be under the operational control of the Fleet Commander when embarked on vessels of the Fleet or engaged in fleet exercises afloat or ashore. When not so embarked or engaged it would remain under the Major General Commandant.

Russell's recommendations were promptly approved by the Commandant and by the Chief of Naval Operations. The designation "Fleet Marine Force" (FMF) was preferred by the senior naval staffs, and the Commandant was requested to submit proposed instructions for establishing "appropriate command and administrative relations between the commander in Chief and the Commander of the Fleet Marine Force."12

This directive could well be called the Magna Carta of the Fleet Marine Force. It stated:

  • The force of marines maintained by the major general commandant in a state of readiness for operations with the fleet is hereby designated as fleet marine force (F.M.F.), and as such shall constitute a part of the organization of the United States Fleet and be included in the operating force plan for each fiscal year.
  • The fleet marine force shall consist of such units as may be designated by the major general commandant and shell be maintained at such strength as is warranted by the general personnel situation of the Marine Corps.
  • The fleet marine force shall be available to the commander in chief for operations with the fleet or for exercises either afloat or ashore in connection with fleet problems. The commander in chief shall make timely recommendations to the Chief of Naval Operations regarding such service in order that the necessary arrangements may be made.
  • The commander in chief shall exercise command of the fleet marine force when embarked on board vessels of the fleet or when engaged in fleet exercises, either afloat or ashore. When otherwise engaged, command shall be directed by the major general commandant.
  • The major general commandant shall detail the commanding general of the fleet marine force and maintain an appropriate staff for him.
  • The commanding general, fleet marine force, shall report by letter to the commander in chief, United States Fleet, for duty in connection with the employment of the fleet marine force. At least once each year, and at such times as may be considered desirable by the commander in chief, the commanding general, fleet marine force, with appropriate members of his staff, shall be ordered to report to the commander in chief for conference.13
  • However significant the creation of the FMF may have been in terms of the future, its initial form was modest enough. The Commandant was obliged to report in August 1934 that the responsibility for maintaining ship's detachments and garrisons abroad, and performing essential


    guard duty at naval shore stations, prevented the Marine Corps from assigning the component units necessary to fulfill the mission of the FMF. At this time the total number of officers and men in the FMF was about 3,000.14

    "The Book" Comes Out

    With the creation of the FMF the Marine Corps had finally acquired the tactical structure necessary to carry out the primary war mission assigned to it by the Joint Board in 1927. The next order of business was to train the FMF for the execution of its mission.

    But the training could not be very effective without a textbook embodying the theory and practice of landing operations. no such manual existed in 1933. There was a general doctrine by the Joint Board issued in 1933, and, though it offered many sound definitions and suggested general solutions to problems, it lacked necessary detail.

    In November 1933, all classes at the Marine Corps Schools were suspended, and, under the guidance of Colonel Ellis B. Miller, Assistant Commandant of the Schools, both the faculty and students set to work to write a manual setting forth in detail the doctrines and techniques to be followed in both training and actual operations. Under the title, Tentative Manual for Landing Operations, it was issued in January 1934.

    On 1 August 1934 the title was changed to Manual for Naval Overseas Operations and some changes were effected in the text. A few months later this publication, now retitled Tentative Landing Operations Manual, was approved by the Chief of Naval Operations for "temporary use ... as a guide for forces of the Navy and the Marine Corps conducting a landing against opposition."15 In mimeographed form it was given relatively limited distribution within the Navy, but wide distribution within the Marine Corps. Comments were invited.

    The doctrine laid down in this remarkable document was destined to become the foundation of all amphibious thinking in the United States armed forces. The Navy accepted it as official doctrine in 1938 under the title of Fleet Training Publication 167, and in 1941 the War Department put the Navy text between Army covers and issued it as Field Manual 31-5.
    [See HyperWar for addtional doctrine publications on Amphibious Operations.]

    Remarkable as it was, the Marine amphibious doctrine was largely theory when it was first promulgated at Quantico in 1934. To put the theory into practice, major landing exercises were resumed. They were held each winter from 1935 through 1941 on the islands of Culebra and Vieques in conjunction with fleet exercises in the Caribbean, or on San Clemente off the California coast. A final exercise of the prewar period on a much larger scale than any previously attempted was held at the newly acquired Marine Corps base at New River, North Carolina, in the summer of 1941. These fleet landing exercises provided the practical experience by which details of landing operations were hammered out.

    In light of its importance, here might be as good a place as any to consider briefly the more basic aspects of this doctrine as conceived in the original manual and modified


    by experience in fleet exercises up to the outbreak of the war. Amphibious operations and ordinary ground warfare share many of the same tactical principles. The basic difference between them lies in the fact the amphibious assault is launched from the sea, and is supported by naval elements. While water-borne the landing force is completely powerless and is dependent upon the naval elements for all its support: gunfire, aviation, transportation, and communication. In this initial stage only the naval elements have the capability of reacting to enemy action. As the landing force, however, is projected onto the beach, its effectiveness, starting from zero at the water's edge, increases rapidly until its strength is fully established ashore.

    Command Relationships

    This basic difference between land and amphibious operations created a problem in command relationships which has plagued amphibious operations from earliest times. During the initial stage when only naval elements have the capability of reacting to enemy action it has been generally and logically agreed that the over-all command must be vested in the commander of the naval attack force. It has, however, not been so generally agreed in the past that once the landing force is established ashore and capable of exerting its combat power with primary reliance on its own weapons and tactics that the landing force commander should be freed to conduct the operations ashore as he sees fit.

    The authors of the Tentative Landing Operations Manual, writing in 1934, evidently did not foresee that this particular aspect of command relations presented a problem that required resolution.16 They simply defined the "attack force" as all the forces necessary to conduct a landing operation and added that the attack force commander was to be the senior naval officer of the fleet units making up the attack force. His command was to consist of the landing force and several naval components, organized as task groups for the support of the landing. These included, among others, the fire support, transport, air, screening, antisubmarine, and reconnaissance groups. The commanders of the landing force and of the several naval task groups operated on the same level under the over-all command of the attack force commander throughout the operation.

    This initial command concept was destined to undergo a number of modifications and interpretations which will be discussed in this history as they occur. The first important change did not come about until toward the close of the Guadalcanal campaign.17

    Naval Gunfire Support

    There is nothing new in the concept of using the fire of ships' guns to cover an amphibious landing of troops during its most vulnerable phase: before, during, and after the ship-to-shore movement. Our


    own history contains many examples of this technique, notably: two landing of U.S. troops in Canada during the War of 1812 (York and Niagara Peninsula, summer 1813); General Scott's landing at Vera Cruz in 1847 during the Mexican War; several amphibious operations during the Civil War, e.g., Fort Fisher in 1865; and Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

    However, the evolution of modern weapons posed difficult problems of a technical nature, and the much belabored Gallipoli operation seemed to indicate that these were insoluble. High-powered naval guns, with their flat trajectory and specialized armor-piercing ammunition, proved no true substitute for land-based field artillery, and much study and practice would be required to develop techniques which would make them even an acceptable substitute.

    Nevertheless, a rudimentary doctrine concerning naval gunfire support evolved during the years between 1935 and 1941. But it evolved slowly and none too clearly. Experimentation indicated that bombardment ammunition, with its surface burst, was better suited to fire missions against most land targets, while armor-piercing shells could be employed to good effect against concrete emplacements and masonry walls, The types of ships and guns best adapted to perform specific fire missions--close support, deep support, counterbattery, interdiction, etc.--were determined. And some progress was made in fire observation technique.

    Three types of observers were provided for: aerial, shipboard and, once the first waves had landed, shore fire control parties. For the greater part of this period the latter were made up of personnel of the firing ships, inexperienced in such work, untrained, and wholly unfamiliar with the tactical maneuvers of the troops they were supporting, Not until 1941 were trained Marine artillery officers with Marine radio crews substituted, the naval officers then serving in a liaison capacity.

    Other considerations of a naval nature served as further limiting factors on the NGF support concept. The necessity for the support ships to have a large proportion of armor-piercing projectiles readily available with which to fight a surface action on short notice restricted the accessibility of and limited the amount of bombardment shells carried. In turn, the probability of enemy air and submarine action once the target area became known caused much apprehension in naval minds and dictated the earliest possible departure of the firing ships from the objective. An example of this apprehension at work came to the fore early in the Guadalcanal campaign.18

    Furthermore, tradition dies hard in any service. The traditional belief that warships exist for the sole purpose of fighting other warships dates far back in history, with one of its leading exponents the great Lord Nelson with his oft-quoted dictum: "A ship's a fool to fight a fort." This supposed vulnerability of surface vessels to shore-based artillery remained very much alive in the minds of naval planners. So they dictated that support ships should deliver their fires at maximum range while traveling at high speed and maneuvering radically--not exactly conducive to pin-point marksmanship.19

    In sum, these considerations, the starting concept of naval gunfire support with which we


    entered World War II, added up to this: a bombardment of very short duration, delivered by ships firing relatively limited ammunition allowances of types often not well suited to the purpose, from long ranges while maneuvering at high speeds. Obviously, the best that could be expected would be area neutralization of enemy defenses during troop debarkation and the ship-to-shore movement, followed by a limited amount of support on a call basis, with this, too, to be withdrawn as soon as field artillery could be landed.20

    Area neutralization--that was the basic concept, with deliberate destruction fire ruled out. A blood bath would be required to expunge this from "The Book."

    Air Support

    As the Marine Corps developed the various techniques contributing to a smooth landing operation, it had to give more and more consideration to the fast growth of military aviation as a powerful arm.

    Even the original Tentative Landing Operations Manual considered the vulnerable concentrations of troops in transports, landing boats, and on the beach and called for a three-to-one numerical superiority over the enemy in the air. Later, in FTP-167, the ratio was increased to four-to-one, primarily to wipe the enemy air threat out of the skies and secondarily to shatter the enemy's beachhead defense and to cut off his reinforcements.

    Considerable emphasis was placed, however, on direct assistance to the troops themselves. This included such supporting services as guiding the landing boats to the beach, laying smoke screens, and providing reconnaissance and spotting for naval gunfire and artillery. Most importantly, it included rendering direct fire support to the landing force until the artillery was ashore and ready to fire.

    For this air war, employment of Marine squadrons on carriers was considered ideal but, due to a limited number of carriers, was not always a practical possibility. Planners even considered moving Marine planes ashore in crates and assembling them, after the ground troops had seized an airfield.

    Hence, the Tentative Landing Operations Manual called for the Navy to carry most of the initial air battle. Marine pilots, however, might be employed with Navy air units. Actually, in order to exercise Marine air, most of the early training landing had to be scheduled within round trip flying distance of friendly air fields. Although by 1940 Marine carrier training operations were becoming routine, the heavy reliance upon Navy carrier air over Marine landing lasted throughout the war.

    As noted before, close coordination of air with ground received great emphasis in the Marine Corps. Even in Santo Domingo and Haiti and later in Nicaragua, Marine pilots reconnoitered, strafed, and bombed insurgent positions, dropped supplies to patrols, and evacuated wounded. The Tentative Landing Operations Manual incorporated this teamwork into its new amphibious doctrine, and the landing exercises of the late 30's developed aviation fire power as an important close ground support weapon. By 1939, Colonel Roy S. Geiger advocated and other Marine Corps leaders conceded that one of the greatest potentials of Marine aviation lay in this "close air support."

    The challenge became that of applying the fire power of Marine air, when needed,


    to destroy a specific enemy front line position without endangering nearby friendly troops.

    Refinement of this skilled technique as we know it today was slow because of many factors. There was so much for pilots to learn about rapidly developing military aviation that close air support had to take its place in the busy training syllabus after such basic drill as aerial tactics, air to air gunnery, strafing, bombing, navigation, carrier landings, and communications, and constant study of the latest in engineering, aerodynamics, and flight safety.

    Also, whenever newer, faster, and higher flying airplanes trickled into the Marine Corps in the lean thirties, they were found to be less adaptable for close coordination with ground troops than the slower, open cockpit planes which supported the patrol actions of Nicaragua.

    In Nicaragua the aviator in his open cockpit could idle his throttle so as to locate an enemy machine gun by its sound, but in the maneuvers of 1940 pilots flashing by in their enclosed cockpits found it difficult to see what was going on below or even to differentiate between friendly and "enemy" hills.21 In Nicaragua, the Marine flier was most often an ex-infantryman, but 10 years later many of the new Navy-trained Marine aviators were fresh from college and knew little about ground tactics. The lack of a real enemy to look for, identify, and to shoot at hindered attempts at precision, especially since air-ground radio was not yet as reliable as the old slow but sure system where pilots read code messages from cloth panels laid on the ground or swooped down with weighted lines to snatch messages suspended between two poles.

    The main key to development of close air support lay in reliable communications to permit quick liaison and complete understanding between the pilot and the front line commander. Part of the solution lay in more exercises in air-ground coordination with emphasis on standardized and simplified air-ground communications and maps. By 1939 an aviator as an air liaison officer was assigned to the 1st Marine Brigade Staff. While both artillery and naval gunfire, however, employed forward observers at front line positions, air support control was still being channeled slowly through regimental and brigade command posts.22 In the same year one squadron sent up an air liaison officer in the rear seat of a scouting or bombing plane to keep abreast of the ground situation and to direct fighter or dive bomber pilots onto targets by means of radio.23 This was better but not best.

    Meanwhile, war flamed up in Europe. Navy and Marine planners took note as the Germans drove around the Maginot Line with their special air-ground "armored packets" in which aviation teamed up with the fast, mobile ground elements to break up resistance.24 By this time the Marines were working on the idea of placing


    radio-equipped "observers" on the front lines to control air support for the troops. But the Leathernecks were already in the war before the first standardized Navy-Marine Corps instructions on their employment appeared.25 Also at that time, on Guadalcanal certain infantry officers were given additional duty as regimental "air forward observers." They were coached on the spot by aviators of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.26

    The Ship-to-Shore Movement

    The ship-to-shore movement was visualized by the Tentative Landing Operations Manual in a manner which resembled closely a conventional attack in land warfare: artillery preparation, approach march, deployment, and assault by the infantry. It stressed that this movement was no simple ferrying operation but a vital and integral part of the attack itself and demanded a high order of tactical knowledge and skill.

    The two major problems in the ship-to-shore movement are the speedy debarkation of the assaulting troops and their equipment into the landing boats and the control and guiding of these craft to their assigned beaches. To facilitate the first, the Tentative Landing Operations Manual directed that each transport on which combat units were embarked should carry as a minimum sufficient boats to land a reinforced infantry battalion.27 Thus each transport and its accompanying troops would be tactically self-sufficient for the assault landing, and the loss of one ship would not be a crippling blow. To expedite their debarkation the Marines generally went over the side via cargo nets rigged at several stations on the ship.

    To solve the second major problem in the ship-to-shore movement, that of controlling and guiding the landing craft to their proper beaches, the Tentative Landing Operations Manual provided for: (1) marking the line of departure with buoys or picket boats; (2) a designated control vessel to lead each boat group from the rendezvous area to the line of departure, towing the boats in fog, smoke, or darkness, if necessary; (3) wave and alternate wave guide boats; (4) each boat to carry a signboard with its assigned letter and number indicating its proper position in the formation; and (5) for a guide plane to lead the boat waves in.

    The system for the control of the ship-to-shore movement was still substantially the same as prescribed in the Tentative Landing Operations Manual when the Marines made their first amphibious landing of World War II at Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942.

    Combat Unit Loading

    "Combat unit loading" of transports is the key to amphibious logistics as developed by the Marine Corps. This is a practical process designed to make supplies and equipment immediately available to the assault troops in the order needed, disregarding to a large extent the waste of cargo space which results. In contrast is commercial loading which is equally


    practical in utilizing every cubic foot of cargo space available but prevents access to much of the cargo until the ship is unloaded.

    Highest priority items for combat unit loading vary somewhat with the nature and problems of a particular operation. Relative priorities must be worked out with minute care. The responsibility for handling this was given to a Marine officer designated transport quartermaster (TQM) aboard each amphibious assault ship. He had to know not only the weight and dimensions of each item of Marine gear carried but had to familiarize himself with the characteristics of the particular ship to which he was assigned: exact location and dimensions of all holds and storage spaces in terms of both cubic feet and deck space. This familiarity required at times accurate remeasurement of holds and loading spaces as modifications, not shown in the ship's plans, had often been made in the ship's internal structure. Initially, the Tentative Landing Operations Manual directed that the TQM should be an officer of the unit embarked, but such were the variations in ships that it subsequently proved more feasible to assign a Marine officer, thoroughly familiar with Marine gear, permanently to a particular ship with which he would become equally familiar through experience.

    Practical experience with combat loading between 1935 and 1941 generally confirmed the soundness of the doctrines set forth in the Tentative Landing Operations Manual. Application of these doctrines in the fleet landing exercises was limited, however, by several factors, chiefly the lack of suitable transports. In addition, an uncertainty at times as to ports of embarkation and dates of availability of ships sometimes entangled planning procedures. As a result, there was no ideal approximation of wartime combat loading.

    Shore Party

    One of the most serious problems encountered in early landing exercises was congestion on the beaches as men and supplies piled ashore. To keep such a situation reasonably in hand requires a high degree of control; control difficult to achieve under such circumstances, even when the enemy remains only simulated. Assault troops must push inland with all speed not only to expand the beachhead, but also to make room for following units and equipment to land and to provide space in which personnel assigned strictly beach functions can operate.

    To solve this problem the Tentative Landing Operations Manual provided for a beach party, commanded by a naval officer called a beachmaster, and a shore party, a special task organization, commanded by an officer of the landing force. The beach party was assigned primarily naval functions, e.g., reconnaissance and marking of beaches, marking of hazards to navigation, control of boats, evacuation of casualties, and, in addition, the unloading of material of the landing force from the boats. The shore party was assigned such functions as control of stragglers and prisoners, selecting and marking of routes inland, movement of supplies and equipment off the beaches, and assignment of storage and bivouac areas in the vicinity of the beach. The composition and strength of the shore party were not set forth except for a statement that it would contain detachments from some or all of the following landing force units: medical, supply, working details, engineers,


    military police, communications, and chemical. The beach party and the shore party were independent of each other, but the Tentative Landing Operations Manual enjoined that the fullest cooperation be observed between the beachmaster and the shore party commander, and the personnel of their respective parties.

    It was not indicated from what source "working details" for the shore party would come, but in practice, since there was no other source, the policy of assigning units in reserve the responsibility for furnishing the labort details quickly developed. This in effect, however, temporarily deprived the commander of his reserve.

    No realistic test of the shore and beach party doctrine took place during the early fleet landing exercises. Although some material was landed on the beach, it generally consisted of rations and small quantities of ammunition and gasoline. Not until 1941 were adequate supplies available and the maneuvers on a large enough scale to provide a test of logistic procedures. The results were not encouraging. "In January of 1941 ... the shore party for a brigade size landing ... consisted of one elderly major and two small piles of ammunition boxes," wrote a Marine officer who "suffered" through those years. "The ship-to-shore movement of fuel was a nightmare. We had no force level transportation, [no] engineers and no supporting maintenance capability worthy of the name. In short, the combination of the parsimonious years and our own apathy had left us next to helpless where logistics were concerned."29

    Major General H.M. Smith, the landing force commander at the New River exercise in the summer of 1941, reported that "considerable delay in the debarkation of troops and supplies was caused by lack of personnel in the Shore and Beach Parties. ... Roughly, the supplies except for subsistence it was possible to land ... were insufficient to sustain the forces engaged for more than three days."30

    General Smith, who had a deep respect for logistics, was determined to correct these deficiencies. "It is evident," he reported to Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, "that special service troops (labor) must be provided for these duties in order to prevent reduction of the fighting strength of battalion combat teams. ... The present doctrine results in divided authority between shore party commanders." He recommended that "the beach and shore party commanders be consolidated into one unit, a Shore Party, under control of the landing force."31

    Solution to the problem of divided authority came from a joint board of Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard officers appointed by Admiral King. Its recommendations closely followed those of General Smith and were accepted in toto and published on 1 August 1942 and Change 2 to FTP 167. The principal changes were: (1) joining together of the beach and shore parties under the title Shore Party, as a component of the landing force; (2) designating the beach party commander as the assistant to the shore party commander and his advisor on


    naval matters; and (3) transferring the responsibility for unloading boats at the beach from the naval element to the landing force element of the shore party.32

    Marine Corps Headquarters solved the labor force problem by adding a pioneer (shore party) battalion of 34 officers and 669 enlisted men to the marine division.33 This change occurred on 10 January 1942, too late for the personnel concerned to gain practical experience in large-scale exercises in the techniques of handling vast quantities of supplies or to test the adequacy of the strength and organization provided. At Guadalcanal this lack came close to having serious consequences.34

    General Smith was not content merely to submit his shore party recommendations to Admiral King. At his direction, the logistics staff of the Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet prepared a detailed Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) covering all phases of logistics. Issued as Force General Order No. 7-42, SOP for Supply and Evacuation, it served as the basic guide to combat loading and shore party operations during the Guadalcanal operation.35

    By 7 December 1941 the Marine Corps had made long strides towards amphibious preparedness. It had a doctrine which had been tested in maneuvers and found to be basically sound. Many of the errors in implementation had been recognized and corrected; still others were awaiting remedial action when war broke out. But the simulated conditions of the maneuver ground were now to be abandoned. The Marines and their doctrine were now to submit to the ultimate test of war.


    Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)


    [1] J.A. Isely and P.A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 21-22, hereinafter cited as Marines and Amphibious War

    [2] Annual Report of the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1914 (Washington: GPO, 1914). Hereinafter all anual reports from the Office of the Commandant will be cited as CMC AnRept (year)

    [3] Earl H. Ellis, "Naval Bases" (MS, n.d.). The date and origin of this MS and to whom it was addressed are obscure, but it appears that the work is either a lecture or a series of lectures with the following divisions: "1. Naval Bases; Their Location, Resources and Security; 2. The Denial of Bases; 3. The Security of Advanced Bases and Advanced Base Operation; 4. The Advanced Base Force."

    [4] LtCol C.H. Metcalf, A History of the United States Marine Corps (New York: Putnam's, 1939), 456-460, 472.

    [5] CMC AnReports, 1921-29.

    [6] OPlan 712, AdvBOps in Micronesia, 1921.

    [7] MajGen J.A. Lejeune, "The United States Marine Corps," MC Gazette, December 1923, 252-253.

    [8] Marines and Amphibious War, 30-32.

    [9] BriGen Dion WIlliams, "Blue Marine Corps Expeditionary Force," MC Gazette, Spetember 1925, 76-88; LtGen M.B. Twining ltr to ACofS, G-3, HQMC, 25Jan57; BPlan JA&Nav Exercise, 1925, Problem No 3, Blue MarCor ExpedFor, 8Jan25.

    [10] CMC AnRept, 1928.

    [11] The Joint Board, Joint Action of the Army and Navy (Washington: GPO, 1927), 3, 12.

    [12] CNO ltr to CMC, 12Sep33; Marines and Amphibious War, 33-34.

    [13] Navy Dept GO 241, 8Dec33.

    [14] CMC AnReprt, 1934.

    [15] NavDept, Tentative Landing Operations Manual, 1935, hereinafter cited as Tentative Landing Operations Manual.

    [16] Unless otherwise noted the material in the remainder of this chapter is derived from Tentative Landing Operations Manual; FTP-167, Landing Operations Doctrine, U.S. Navy (Washington: Office of the CNO, 1938) and changes 1 & 2 thereto; 1st MarBrig ltr to CMC, 5 Jun39 and encl (a) thereto; 1st MarBrig Flex 6 Rept, "Notes from Critique for Makee Learn Problem at Culebra, 14-15Feb40; 2d MarBrig Minor Landing Exercises Rept, San Clemente Island, Calif, 17Apr-6May39.

    [17] See Part VI of this history.

    [18] See Part VI, Chap 2, of this history.

    [19] Marines and Amphibious War, 38.

    [20] SM-67, Naval Gunfire in Amphibious Operations (Quantico: MCEC, MCS, 1955), 2.

    [21] From Culebra came the report, "1st MAG as a whole performed in a creditable manner, although at one stage they were impartial in their attack." 2st MarBrig Flex 6 Rept, "Notes from Critique for Makee Learn Problem at Culebra, 14-15Feb40."

    [22] LtGen Julian C. Smith interview by HistBr, G-3, HQMC, 25Jul56.

    [23] Col R.D. Moser interview by HistBr, G-3, HQMC, 31Aug56.

    [24] WD G-2 Memo for C/S, 23Sep41, I.B. 130, Air-GrdOps, Tab C; CinCLant Flex 6 Rept, 13Jun40, 14-15.

    [25] USN, CSP-1536, 5Sep42.

    [26] 1st MarDiv, Final Report on Guadalcanal Operation, 1Jul43, Phase V, Annex D, OPlan 2-42, 5. The directive on appointing air forward observers was dated 2Oct42.

    [27] This general concept that troops and their landing craft should be transported together to the objective area remained valid throughout the war, although at times it was necessary to deviate from it.

    [29] BriGen V.H. Krulak ltr to ACofS, G-3, HQMC, 5Mar57.

    [30] CG LantPhibFor PrelimRept to CinCLant on New River Exercise 4-12Aug41, 27Aug41.

    [31] Ibid.

    [32] Ibid.

    [33] Marine Corps T/O D-94, 10Jan42.

    [34] See Part VI of this history.

    [35] Krulak, op.cit.; Twining, op.cit.

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