Chapter 2
Administration and Aviation1

Administrative Functions and Contacts

When the guns fell silent in 1945, the time had arrived to take stock and determine where the organizational structure of the Marine Corps had gone during the war years and what direction it would take in the future. The expanded Fleet Marine Force in the summer of 1945 bore little resemblance to the embryo organization that had existed during the early days of World War II, when a few defense units had been scattered among widely separated islands in the Pacific. Within the overall structure of the Marine Corps and the remaining armed forces of the United States, the Fleet Marine Force was not an isolated entity. All of its titles and functions resulted from tactical considerations; in fact, the numerous changes in both were inherently the result of a flexible response to widely varying demands made on the Corps in the course of the evolution of amphibious warfare.

One name that recurs unfailingly during all of World War II in connection with this evolution is that of General Holland M. Smith. This officer, among others, made it his life purpose to perfect amphibious doctrine and organization to a point where both won general acceptance, despite numerous skeptics and critics who still remembered the unsuccessful Allied expedition to the Dardanelles in World War I. The experience of the U.S. Marine Corps in all aspects of amphibious landings during World War II removed that type of warfare once and for all from the sphere of experimentation that had occupied much thought and time of planners during the 1920s and 1930s. It was fortunate that "this tough, egocentric, cantankerous, exacting little Marine general, who became one of the most controversial figures in World War II, provided the main power drive to all amphibious training on the east coast in the crucial year of 1941."2 Nor did this drive diminish during the war years, for throughout the war General Smith kept in mind the fundamental reason for the existence of the Fleet Marine Force: the Navy's need for an efficient, highly mobile striking force


that was the master of amphibious assault. In assessing the role played by Holland Smith in the evolution of his command and in enumerating some of his personal qualities, one historical account concluded:

Whatever may be the judgment of his contemporaries or of history concerning his role in the Pacific War, there can be little doubt that he played the leading part in forging a fighting amphibious team that made possible the eventual successful landings in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. General Smith's primary qualifications for the particular job at hand were that he was a driver and a perfectionist. Never did he allow himself the comfortable satisfaction of believing that the training exercises under his direction came off as well as might have been expected under the circumstances and therefore could pass muster. Never did he allow his subordinates in the Navy and Marine Corps or his equals and superiors in the Navy to relax in the drive for perfect planning and execution of all phases of landing operations.3

The very nature of the successively redesignated commands he headed dictated that General Smith should work in close coordination with elements of the other Services. Thus, during the early phase of World War II, he not only supervised the amphibious training of the 1st Marine Division but at the same time initiated the U.S. Army's 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions into the intricacies of amphibious warfare. While this activity was in progress on the East Coast of the United States, the 2d Marine Division and the Army's 3d Infantry Division were similarly trained in California. Once his activities had shifted to the West Coast, General Smith took over the amphibious training of the 2d Marine Division and the Army's 7th Infantry Division. Almost from the very outset, both the embarkation and debarkation of troops from the vessels then available posed serious problems as did accommodations on the transports themselves. At the time, the Higgins craft with bow ramp remained to be perfected. Once a landing force made it ashore, endless confusion ensued until an effective shore party organization could be established.

Within the scope of any amphibious landing, overall coordination and the quantity and quality of naval gunfire support loomed as ominous factors. The controversy regarding the effectiveness of such support was to flare up here and there across the Pacific throughout the war. In 1941 there were no concrete answers to this question since during the landing exercises held at the time all naval gunfire support was simulated. One problem arising in the course of these exercises was the difficulty of coordinating the efforts of the three Services; the naval shore observation parties were without adequate communications equipment and lacked experience, while Army officers were generally unfamiliar with standard naval signal procedure.4

Similar exercises conducted in 1942 resulted in answers to some of these problems only to have new ones crop up, notably in connection with the shore party. In the end, the elements of amphibious training were decentralized so that various centers could devote their full resources to a specified activity. In consequence, special schools to conduct


the training of shore tire control parties were set up at Quantico and Parris Island. Transport-loading training was given at Quantico and Norfolk, while both Quantico and Fort Bragg, N. C., provided much needed theoretical and practical instruction in radio code, the operation of message centers, and the fundamentals of joint Army-Navy communications procedure. The effects of this training were to be felt across the globe as the Marine and Army divisions who had absorbed it headed for different theaters of operations.

Along with improvements in training came significant technological developments in the machinery of war that would move amphibious assault troops to their objectives. First came the Higgins boats, which had already been tested and improved during the late 1930s, followed in 1941 by the adoption of the Higgins tank lighters which were to become the standard medium landing craft (LCM ) used in amphibious landings throughout World War II. The development of the tracked landing vehicle, subsequently to become known as the LVT, followed a tortuous path similar to that of the Higgins boat. Initially invented for rescue work in the Everglades of Florida, the amphibian tractor first came to the attention of the Marine Corps in the 1930s. In late 1940 the first of the Roebling "Alligators" was demonstrated at Quantico, after which time funds were set aside by the Navy for the large-scale production of this vehicle.

While these developments were in progress, the Marine Corps Equipment Board was working on plans for an armored amphibian vehicle based on the design of the "Alligator." AS this project got under way:

Plans called for a vehicle of over twenty feet in length, twelve feet wide, and six and one half feet high. The hull was to be composed of structural steel, turrets were to be of y8 -inch steel castings and would be operable by hand. Each such vehicle was to be armed with a 37-millimeter gun and one .3o caliber machine gun in the center turret, one .50-caliber machine gun in each side turret, and two fixed .5o caliber machine guns fired by the driver by means of buttons at the top of the two steering levers. Propulsion would be obtained from 4-inch T-shaped curved cleats bolted to roller chains. Roebling accepted the idea with modifications. By November 1940, Marine Corps Headquarters had given approval, and production of the first model armored amphibian (LVTA) was begun.5

Also during the early phase of the war, rapid improvements were made in naval gunnery that would assure an assault force effective fire support as it approached and seized an enemy shore. Once again, General Smith, on this occasion with the active support of Admiral Ernest J. King, initiated a general reorganization of the shore fire control party. One of the basic changes adopted was the substitution of a Marine or U.S. Army officer for naval personnel who had previously acted as naval gunfire spotters. Henceforth, specially trained naval officers were to act as liaison officers of the shore fire control party. Signal personnel of the assault units, either Marine or Army, were to be made available to the gunfire spotter. In order to familiarize naval personnel with the problems that an amphibious assault force could expect to


face during actual landings, a number of naval gunfire liaison officers were sent to Quantico and Parris Island where they received joint training with Marine artillery officers between September 1941 and March 1942. Artillery officers of the 1st Marine Division received similar training with those of the Army's 9th Infantry Division at Fort Bragg, N. C. around the same period. Eventually the graduates of these courses, though their number remained small, found their way into the various theaters of operations, where their special training benefited those headquarters to which they were assigned.

In a parallel development, naval observation pilots received special instruction in spotting shore targets during early 1942, both at Quantico and at Fort Bragg. In order to train these officers in practical gunnery without having to resort to extensive travel in the Caribbean, an island was purchased off the eastern shore of Maryland in Chesapeake Bay to serve as a firing range for naval bombardment. It was the first amphibious gunnery range ever established for this specific purpose, and a new chapter in the history of naval gunfire training got under way.

As combat operations expanded and the size, mission, and capabilities of the Marine Corps increased, the administrative contacts between the various components of the Corps became more complex. The directive establishing the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, had defined the role of the commander of that organization as that of a type commander for all units comprising FMFPac. As such General Smith came under the direct command of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.6 At the same time, however, the Commander, FMFPac also was a direct administrative subordinate of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In line with this organizational structure, overall tactical control of the Fleet Marine Force was vested in the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, while CMC! handled routine administrative matters. Since no distinct line existed between matters of tactical and administrative concern, there evolved a no-man's-land in which the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, exercised a certain influence. Any change in the organization of the Fleet Marine Force, for example, could have a direct and profound effect on the tactical employment of Marine units despite the administrative nature of such changes.

During the Central Pacific Campaign successive islands were seized, which made it incumbent upon General Smith's headquarters to establish and maintain contact with the commanders of the more recently seized islands, notably those on Tinian, Guam, and Peleliu. In their capacity as island commanders these Marines were indirectly subordinate to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, the channel of command leading to them from the latter by way of the area commander.

There was no chain of command between Headquarters, FMFPac and the Commander, Marianas Area, or the Commander, Marshall-Gilberts Area. Each of the latter was directly under the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean


Marine Infantry and Artillery landing exercise, New River, N.C. 1942
MARINE INFANTRY AND ARTILLERY landing exercise, New River, N.C. 1942. (USMC 5125)

Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger takes command of the Fleet Marine Force,
Pacific, from Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith at Oahu, Hawaii, 7 March 1945.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ROY S. GEIGER takes command of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, from Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith at Oahu, Hawaii, 7 March 1945. (USMC 127386)


Areas. The area commanders exercised operational control over certain units of the Fleet Marine Force, either through the island or the atoll commanders. In relation to the business of these commands, the normal flow of communications passed through the Commander in "Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, though shortcuts were frequently taken to simplify procedures and conserve time.

The Commander, Amphibious Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Commander, Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet were type commanders under the direct control of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Their status thus paralleled that of the Commanding General, FMFPac. In the case of these commands, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas acted as the hub of the wheel, though liaison officers were often directly employed between the commands.

Even though no administrative command relationship existed between units of the U.S. Army and the Fleet Marine Force in the Pacific Ocean Areas, it was inevitable that interservice cooperation and coordination would be required on an ever increasing scale as joint operations became more commonplace. During the early phase of the war in 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had already authorized the creation of the amphibious corps, under a Marine officer whose staff included such Army and Navy personnel as were required. Of necessity, such officers provided the necessary liaison with their respective Services. In line with this concept, most of the U.S. Army personnel attached to Headquarters, VAC, were transferred to Headquarters, FMFPac when that organization was activated.7 There, they remained in their respective capacities and continued to serve on the general and special staffs until the cessation of hostilities.

By early 1945, it had become common practice to exchange staff representatives monthly between Headquarters, Marine Corps and FMFPac. Such an exchange provided a better liaison between the two headquarters in addition to routine communication that already existed. At the same time, a liaison officer of the Fleet Marine Force attached to the staff of Admiral Nimitz looked after the interests of his organization. The principal contacts between Headquarters, FMFPac, and Headquarters, Department of the Pacific pertained to the exchange of administrative information on personnel matters and business mutual to Marine garrison units of the Navy's shore establishment and the Fleet Marine Force. A similar exchange of information took place with the Commanding General, Marine Garrison Forces, Fourteenth Naval District, since no chain of command existed between that command and Headquarters, FMFPac.

During the early part of 1945, the trend towards representation of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, on Army staffs continued in the Pacific Theater. Towards this end, based on purely tactical considerations, the Marine Detachment, Tenth Army was activated on the first day of the year and assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Tenth Army, where it carried out a vital liaison function


during the planning and execution of the Okinawa campaign. The Marine Detachment, U.S. Sixth Army, was slated for a similar role during the impending assault on Kyushu in the Home Islands, in which VAC was to participate.

Pursuant to an agreement reached between the Commander in Chief, Army Forces, Pacific, and the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas on 16 May 1945, provision was made for Headquarters, FMFPac to be represented on the staff of the Commanding General, United States Army Forces, Western Pacific. The liaison officers thus assigned were to provide the Army headquarters with information on the capabilities of FMFPac, obtain logistic support for Fleet Marine Force units under U.S. Army operational control, and make certain that directives of Army commanders corresponded to the capabilities of FMFPac. It was intended that representatives of the Fleet Marine Force would become an integral part of the Army staffs to which they were assigned; their primary duty would be to assist in planning for future operations. In their capacity as representatives of FMFPac, they could contact that headquarters directly in all matters pertaining to Fleet Marine Force policy. Activation of the Marine Detachment (Provisional), U.S. Army Forces, Western Pacific, took place on 19 June 1945. This detachment remained attached to the Army headquarters until the end of the war.

The expansion of Marine Corps staffs and headquarters in the course of World War 11 can be understood only when viewed in an overall relationship with the expanded responsibilities and size of the Corps. From a total strength of 54,359 officers and men in the summer of 1941, the Marine Corps expanded eight-fold within the span of four years; on 30 June 1945, within six weeks of the war's end, the Corps numbered 37,067 officers and 437,613 men, a total of 474,680.8

By the time the war entered its final phase, the Marine Corps in the Continental United States had become a huge replacement training organization. The last Fleet Marine Force unit to be organized was the 29th Marines. When that unit left Camp Lejeune in 1944, training shifted for the most part to individual replacements who, upon completion of boot camp, either went on to technical schools or moved in a steady flow towards the combat areas of the Pacific Theater, according to the dictum that "there are only two kinds of Marines: those who have been overseas and those who are going."9 Thus, in a few short years, the Fleet Marine Force truly had come a long way, eventually comprising some 185,000 trained men in ground organizations, organized into six divisions and other supporting units.10

Beyond training members of the U.S. Marine Corps, an additional temporary function emerged for the Fleet Marine Force in 1943, when Dutch Marines were trained at Quantico and Camp Lejeune in line with the reorganization of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps,


which was then being reconstituted in exile. Before the end of World War II, several thousands of these Netherlands Marines were to absorb some of the doctrine and experiences of their American counterparts.


The development of the aviation arm of FMFPac during World War II paralleled that of the ground units. It portrayed the gradual ascendancy of an instrument of war which, long neglected in peacetime appropriations like most of the military establishment, was to be forged into a potent striking force. The history of Marine aviation passed through several stages of growth. Following the establishment of the Fleet Marine Force in the 1930s, the fledgling force grasped for a clearcut mission. The years prior to World War H saw the training of pilots and ground crews and the acquisition of newer type aircraft. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Marine aviation initially maintained a defensive posture during the early months of the war in the face of overwhelming enemy superiority. Eventually, there followed the establishment and consolidation of bases along the outer perimeter of the Japanese advance; and finally, a gradual movement got under way to the northwest, across the Pacific, towards the Japanese Home Islands, slow at first, but steadily accelerating as the offensive across the Pacific gained momentum.

The mission of Marine aviation, as set forth by the Navy General Board in 1939, was primarily to support the Fleet Marine Force in landing operations and in the field. As a secondary mission, Marine air was to furnish replacement squadrons for carrier-based naval aircraft. To carry out their mission, Marine pilots had to utilize airfields within a relatively short range of the objective; the only alternative to nearby airfields was to station Marine squadrons on carriers. During the early 1930s, Marine aviators gained considerable experience in that type of operation when stationed on board the Saratoga and Lexington. A lack of carriers, on the other hand, precluded such combat employment of Marine squadrons until the final phase of World War II.

Attempts to obtain carriers for the exclusive use of Marine aviation invariably resulted in a rebuff similar to that administered by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral H. R. Stark, who on 15 March 1941 made this comment:

In fleet landing exercises recently completed, naval squadrons were landed from and marine squadrons embarked in both carriers available, and so doing is considered to be in accordance with correct principles. Assignment of a few particular carriers to the Fleet Marine Force would inevitably fail to meet possible requirements in carrier operation of marine squadrons. At the same time it would permanently reduce the number available for purely naval operations. Thus there would be imposed definite disadvantages


without adequate compensating advantages. The assignment of a carrier to operate marine squadrons only could not be permitted to involve any replacement of the ship's own personnel by marines. It could not, without definite reduction of efficiency and definite violation of principles of unquestionable standing, be permitted to involve command of important units, such as carriers and their necessary supporting ships, by marine officers.12

The U.S. Navy's attitude with respect to the exclusive assignment of carriers to Marine aviation is understandable enough when it is recalled that during the 1930s the Saratoga and the Lexington were the only carriers the Navy had. As more of these types of ships became available, they had to be assigned to other uses. As a result, for most of World War II, Marine air support of amphibious operations was limited to landings carried out within range of land-based airfields.

Organizationally, Marine Corps aviation had humble beginnings. There were 129 Marine pilots in 1931, a figure that had increased by 9 four years later. By mid-1940, there were 245 Marine pilots; expansion of the Corps then under way resulted in an increase to 425 by the end of that year.13 In 1935, Marine aviation was transferred from the Division of Operations and Training at Headquarters, Marine Corps and established as an independent section under the Commandant. Less than a year later, on 1 April 1936, the Officer in Charge, Colonel Ross E. Rowell, was appointed Director of Marine Corps Aviation. In this capacity, he continued the functions his predecessors had carried out since the days of Major Alfred A. Cunningham in 1919, by advising the Commandant on all matters pertaining to Marine aviation and acting as liaison between the Marine Corps and the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics,

When Congress established a 10,000-plane program for the U.S. Navy in June 1940, Marine Corps aviation was allotted slightly more than 10 percent of this number, a total of 1,167 planes. In line with this expansion, the 1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wings were activated at Quantico, Virginia and San Diego, California, respectively. On paper, a wing was authorized 4 air groups with 16 squadrons, though at the time there were not even enough aircraft on hand to equip a single group. When the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor, the total Marine aviation organization consisted of 13 squadrons with a total of 204 aircraft of all types, as follows:14



Director: Col Ralph J. Mitchell

1st Marine Aircraft Wing, BGen Roy S. Geiger, Quantico
Wing Hq, 1 JRB-2, 1 SBC-4

MAG-11, LtCol Harold D. Campbell, Group Hq, 2 SBD-1

VMF-111* 15 F4F-3A 2 SNJ-3 Maj Thomas J. Walker, Jr.
VMF-121* 20 F4F-3 2 SNJ-3 Maj Samuel S. Jack
VMO-151* 12 SBC-4     Maj Thomas C. Green
VMSB-131 18 SB2U-3 5 spares Capt Paul Moret
VMSB-132 19 SBD     Maj Albert D. Cooley
VMJ-152 1
Maj Thomas J. McQuade
2d Marine Aircraft Wing, BGen Ross E. Rowell, San Diego
Wing Hq**

MAG-21, LtCol Claude A. Larkin, Ewa, T.H.

VMF-211 12
SNJ at Ewa
Maj Paul A. Putnam
VMF-221 12 F2A-3 in Saratoga Maj Verne J. McCaul
VMO-251***         Capt Elliott E. Bard
VMSB-231 18
Maj C.J. Chappell, Jr.
VMSB-232 19 SBD-1 3 SBD-2 Maj Ira L. Kimes
VMJ-252 2
Maj Perry K. Smith
Virgin Islands, Base Air Detachment 3
VMS-3 7 J2F-4 1 JRF Maj Roger T. Carleson
Total planes, 204****

Just one week prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, once more commented on the size of the Marine Corps contemplated under the then existing state of limited emergency. In outlining the overall mission of the Corps in the immediate future, the Admiral foresaw three types of operations calling for the employment of Marines. These were broken down into:

  1. small expeditions for the seizure of


    small islands, such as a small atoll; or a compact group of islands, well separated from other islands or land masses, such as the Azores;

  1. large expeditions requiring the simultaneous or successive capture of several islands spread over a considerable area, with a view to developing a secure advanced base area for future operations of the fleet, and

  2. large expeditions to overseas continental areas for the seizure of bases to be used subsequently as bridgeheads for extensive land campaigns.15

In cautioning against too large an expansion of the Marine Corps, Admiral Stark stated:

It seems apparent that were the Navy to insist on building up amphibious assault troops in numbers sufficient for all three of the categories of operations mentioned in paragraph 3, the effect would be that the Navy would be attempting to create a separate army of its own, entirely independent of the United States Army, and of a size greater than has heretofore been contemplated. Unfavorable reactions would ensue, which might even result in the absorption by the Army of all Marine Corps units at shore stations. Were this to occur, the Navy would be deprived of troops especially trained to work with the fleet, and to take the lead in amphibious operations. Assembling all the equipment for a third Marine division would be of little use, because it takes a long time to enlist and train the personnel of a division, and during the training period the two existing divisions would be more or less broken up to provide for the new division a nucleus of trained men. The net result would be that, for a considerable period, the Navy would be without the services of even one trained division.16

At the same time the Chief of Naval Operations also outlined his objections to provisions that the General Board had made in the summer of 1941 with respect to the 15,000-plane program then recommended. This plan called for two air wings, each to be attached to a Marine division, and the establishment of four base defense air groups for the defense of advance bases in cooperation with Marine defense battalions. According to the program that the General Board had approved, medium bombers were to be eliminated from the aircraft wing and dive bombers substituted in their place. In view of the mission of the Marine Corps which was to capture positions and defend them once they had been seized, Admiral Stark felt that medium range bombers would be far more valuable than dive bombers. In outlining his objections to the proposed course of action, the Chief of Naval Operations added:

Once the wing is established ashore after capture of the position, medium range bombers are needed for reaching into back areas for attack on enemy reinforcements which may be coming up, or, if established on an island, to reach out at considerable distances to attack enemy bases or naval vessels. Providing only dive bombers for Marine aircraft organizations is considered unsound, since dive bombers are not effective against well armed ships or shore bases except at considerable sacrifice. War experience has demonstrated the need not only for dive bombers, but also for long range bombers and torpedo planes.17


This high-altitude bomber versus dive bomber controversy remained unsolved, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, immense enemy victories during the initial phase of the war in the Pacific, and requirements in men and material that now became global in nature put an end to the gradual increase of Marine Corps strength. In the words of one historical account:

The amphibious character of the war in the Pacific imposed on the Marine Corps greater tasks than any it had ever been called on to perform. Expanding the Corps and equipping it with the weapons and support facilities demanded by modern amphibious undertakings was an administrative achievement of the first magnitude but was overshadowed by the readiness of the Fleet Marine Force to undertake the Guadalcanal Operation at a critical time early in the war when other ground forces were still undergoing training.18

The development of the command organization of Marine aviation was to follow a course that was somewhat similar to that of the ground units. In August 1942, at a time when Marine aviation was undergoing a rapid expansion in line with the demands of the war in the Pacific, the need for a command echelon above that of the Marine air wing became apparent. In order to meet this requirement the Commandant, General Holcomb, on 10 August 1942 ordered the establishment of a new command to be known as Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, under Major General Ross E. Rowell, who up to this time had commanded the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing.

The new command was to consist of the Headquarters, a Service Group, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, and the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing.19 While Headquarters was to be located at Pearl Harbor, the Service Group was to be situated at a place where it could best carry out its function of dealing with personnel and supplies. The 1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wings were to retain all units assigned to them at this time, except for squadrons and groups stationed at outlying bases for defense purposes. These latter units were to be incorporated into the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing.

Operating under Admiral Nimitz, the new headquarters was responsible for the organization, administration, and distribution of personnel and supplies within the command. Its area of responsibility extended to all Marine aviation units in the Pacific except for those assigned to a specific task organization. General Rowell was to make recommendations to Admiral Nimitz as to the employment of Marine aviation units in the Pacific Theater.

Headquarters Squadron, Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, was activated at the Naval Air Station, San Diego on 15 August 1942. Initially, the organization consisted of 10 officers and 24 enlisted men.20 Five days later, the Service Group was activated, in accordance with the original authority which had stated that the group was to be established "for the distribution of personnel and material with operating


agencies at such localities as may be appropriate."21 The first officer to command the Service Group was Colonel Lewie G. Merritt.

One of the first measures initiated by General Rowell was to field the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, commanded by Brigadier General Roy Geiger. Orders to this effect were issued on 21 August, directing Headquarters and Service Squadron, 1st MAW and MAG-12 to head for the South Pacific. There, the battle for Guadalcanal was just getting under way, and General Geiger's pilots would soon make a name for themselves in the defense of Henderson Field. By 24 August, the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing was organized under Colonel Claude A. Larkin. Initially, this wing was to consist of units of the 1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wings which were assigned to the defense of outlying bases.

Once the 4th Wing had been organized, the time had come for Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, to leave the Continental United States. Accordingly, Admiral Nimitz on 5 September requested General Rowell to move his headquarters to Hawaii, where it was to be based at Ewa, which had been commissioned as a Marine Air Station only five days earlier. The move to Hawaii was designed to bring about closer liaison between Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, its subordinate units in the Pacific Theater, and the headquarters of Admiral Nimitz. Pursuant to these orders22 General Rowell left San Diego for Hawaii on 16 September, followed less than two weeks later by Headquarters Squadron, Marine Air Wings, Pacific, which made the voyage by ship and reached Pearl Harbor on 4 October. On 19 November, MAG­23 returned from Guadalcanal en route to the Continental United States, where personnel of this group were broken up and split into cadres that were to become Marine Aircraft Groups 41, 42, 43, and 44. Some of these cadres became the nuclei for new Marine air stations to be established at El Centro, Santa Barbara, and Mojave.23

Meanwhile, the expanding needs of Marine aviation in the Pacific Theater placed a heavy workload on the Service Group, both with respect to personnel replacement and the procurement of materiel. In order to furnish additional support for the Service Group, which had remained in the Continental United States, General Rowell on 3 December 1942 ordered it to be expanded into a larger unit designated as Marine Fleet Air, West Coast. This organization was activated on 22 January 1943 under the command of Colonel Merritt, who had previously been in charge of the now defunct Service Group. One of the immediate problems facing General Rowell's recently constituted headquarters was that of channeling replacements into the combat area. The 1st Wing estimated at the time that 5 percent enlisted ground personnel, 25 percent pilots, and 20 percent radioman-gunner replacements would be required for each month of combat in the South Pacific.24 In response


to this problem, the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, commanded by Colonel Francis P. Mulcahy, was ordered into the South Pacific area to relieve General Geiger's wing in late February 1943.

Major General Ralph J. Mitchell, who had served as Director of Aviation until late March 1943 assumed command of Marine Aircraft, South Pacific on 21 April, thus heading the principal subordinate echelon of Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific. Both the 1st and the 2d Marine Aircraft Wings came under his headquarters. In a reflection of the stepped up operations in the South Pacific during the summer of 1943, several changes were made in the organization of Marine aviation. In August, Admiral Nimitz ordered Headquarters of the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing to be established in Samoa, where it was to function under the operational control of the Commanding General, Samoan Force. On the 21st of the month, Brigadier General Harold D. Campbell assumed command of the Aircraft Defense Force, Samoan Area. Embarkation of the first echelon of the 4th Wing for Samoa got under way on 28 August.

The continued expansion of Marine aviation in the field necessitated additional changes in the areas farther to the rear. Accordingly, on 1 September 1943, Marine Aircraft, Hawaiian Area was activated. In another development highlighting the increasingly important part played by Marine aviation in the South Pacific, General Mitchell, in November 1943, became Commander of Aircraft in the Solomons Area ( ComAir Sols) in addition to his other duties, relieving Army Air Forces Major General Nathan Twining.

As of the beginning of 1944, Marine Air Wings, Pacific, still commanded by General Rowell, functioned under Air Force, Pacific Fleet, alternately designated as Task Force 59.11. The units subordinated to General Rowell's headquarters at this time were Marine Aircraft, South Pacific; the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing; Marine Aircraft, Hawaiian Area, and Marine Fleet Air, West Coast. By this time the staff at Headquarters, Marine Air Wings, Pacific, numbered 27 officers and 118 enlisted men.25

On 8 May 1944 the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, which had previously been a training command on the East Coast, and was on this date commanded by Brigadier General Walter G. Farrell, who had just taken over from Brigadier General Larkin, reached Ewa. There, it assumed the functions which had previously been assigned to Marine Aircraft, Hawaiian Area. The latter headquarters was deactivated.26 All elements of the former command were incorporated into the new wing.

The establishment of Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, in the summer of 1944 brought with it the question as to who was to control the Fleet Marine Force aviation units. In August of that year, the Commandant had directed


that Marine aviation in the Pacific was to be under the newly organized Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. This order had been revoked at the direction of Admiral Nimitz, and for a month the status of these aviation units remained unclarified. This uncertainty ended on 11 October 1944, when Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific was redesignated as Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.27 The implementation order issued by General Mulcahy, who had assumed command of Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific on 16 September, spelled out in detail:

Aircraft Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, is a major unit of the Fleet !Marine Force, Pacific. The Commanding General, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force performs type command functions under the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force with respect to matters for which the latter is responsible. He also performs type command functions under Commander Air Force, Pacific Fleet, with respect to aviation matters. The operational control of the tactical units of Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, rests with Commander Air Force, Pacific Fleet, unless they are otherwise assigned.28

Two additional subordinate commands were established on 21 October 1944. One was the Provisional Air Support Command at Ewa under Colonel Vernon E. Megee. The overall purpose of this command was to act as a liaison group in amphibious operations between ground forces and supporting aircraft. The other was Marine Carrier Groups, Aircraft, FMFPac, which was organized at Santa Barbara, California, under the command of Colonel Albert D. Cooley. Creation of the latter organization marked the end of years of Marine efforts to have men and aircraft assigned to carriers. Colonel Cooley's command consisted of MBDAG­48 at Santa Barbara and MAG-51 at Mojave, shortly thereafter redesignated as Marine Air Support Groups. Each Air Support Group was to consist of four carrier air groups, each with an 18-plane fighter squadron and a 12-plane torpedo-bomber squadron.

At the beginning of 1945, the units subordinate to Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, were the 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th Marine Air Wings; Marine Fleet Air, West Coast, and the newly established Provisional Air Support Command. This organization remained in effect during the early months of 1945, though changes in command were frequent. Thus, on 23 February, Major General James T. Moore, who had led the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing during the campaign in the Palaus, traded commands with Major General Mulcahy. General Moore became Commanding General, Aircraft, FMFPac, while General Mulcahy assumed command of the 2d Wing, which subsequently was to take part in the invasion of Okinawa.

One final change was to mark the Marine aviation organization in the Pacific Theater prior to the end of the war. On 21 April 1945, the Provisional Air Support Command was disbanded and


the personnel and equipment of that unit were taken over by the newly established Marine Air Support Control Units, Amphibious Forces, Pacific. This command, under Colonel Megee, consisted of a headquarters and four teams designed to furnish close air support control for ground forces in amphibious operations. The command, functioning under the Commander, Amphibious Forces, Pacific, continued to carry out its administrative function at Ewa until the end of the war.

The evolution of Marine Corps aviation administrative headquarters must be viewed from the organizational requirements levied on that arm. Thus, by the end of World War II, Marine aviation had expanded to a total of 103 tactical squadrons, numbering 10,049 pilots and a total of 116,628 personnel.29 Not included in these figures are those nontactical squadrons used for transport and observation. In a span of four years, Marine aviation had mushroomed from 2 aircraft groups with 9 aircraft squadrons to 5 aircraft wings, 32 aircraft groups, and 131 aircraft squadrons.30

In retrospect, the organization of Marine Aviation met the demands made upon it, oftentimes by trial and error, within the limitations imposed by time and recurrent shortages in manpower and materiel. The flexibility of the administrative support available to the tactical squadrons in the field contributed much in helping these units to carry out their tactical missions. Thus, when compared to the development of the Fleet Marine Force organization as outlined in the previous chapter, it becomes readily apparent that the growth of Marine aviation was directly proportionate to overall Marine strength. The effect of this administrative expansion on the units in the field will be demonstrated in subsequent parts of this volume which describe in detail the performance of Marine aviators and their equipment in a tactical environment.


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


1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: FMFPac Administrative History; The Development of FMFPac; Shaw, Nalty, and Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive; Reports of Organization and Expansion of the U.S. Marine Corps during the 1940s (OAB, NHD). Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass; Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War; Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea; Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1952), hereafter, Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II; U.S. Historical Statistics.

2. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 62,

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 65.

5. Ibid., p. 69,

6. Pac Flt Itr 53L-44 dtd 110ct44.

7. FMFPac SO No. 3-44, dtd 26Aug44.

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

9. Statement attributed to General Vandegrift in Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea, p. 508.

10. Furer, Administration of the Navy Department in World War II, p. 595.

11. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: Division of Aviation, Marine Corps Aviation Status Sheet (Pers&Lot, May42­Dec46); Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific Administrative History, 7Aug 42­16Sep44, hereafter AirFMFPac Administrative History; Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific, War Diary, Aug1942­Sep1944, hereafter MAWPac WarD; Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, War Diary, Sep1945­Dec1946, hereafter AirFMFPac WarD; Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II.

12. CNO Itr to Chairman, General Board, Op-12A-4-drc (SC) A21-2/CV, Ser 020512, dtd 15 Mar41, in Organization and Expansion of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1940s (OAB, NHD).

13. Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, p. 30.

14. In this table, adapted from Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, p. 33, V equals aircraft (heavier-than-air); M stands for Marine; F equals fighter; SB stands for scout bomber; J designates utility; R equals transport; O stands for observation. (*) On maneuvers at New Bern, N. C. Returned to Quantico 9 December. (**) No record has been found which indicates how many planes were at San Diego in wing headquarters, if any. The same is true of group headquarters at Ewa. (***) Commissioned 1 December at Naval Air Station, San Diego. No record of any planes received by 6 December. (****) Available records show only 204 planes in the Marine organization as of 6 December 1941, as compared to a figure of 251 compiled in Historical Division, HQMC in 1944.

15. CNO ltr to SecNav, dtd 1Dec41 Op.12-VDS (SC) P-16-1KK Serial 0120712, in Organization and Expansion of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1940s (OAB, NHD).

16. Ibid., p. 2.

17. Ibid., p. 4.

18. Furer, Administration of the Navy Department in World War II, p. 595.

19. CMC ltr to MajGen Ross E. Rowell, dtd 10Aug52, App 1 to MAWPac WarD, p, 1.

20. MAWPac Hist, p. 2.

21. CMC ltr to MajGen Rowell, dtd 10Aug42, Ibid.

22. CinCPac Dispatch #050113, as cited in MAWPac Hist, p. 1.

23. MAWPac Hist, p. 4.

24. Ibid., p. 5.

25. Ibid., p. 7.

26. MAWPac Chronology in MAWPac WarD, p. 4.

27. Pacific Flt Ltr 53L-44, dtd 110ct44, in Organization and Expansion of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1940s (OAB, NHD).

28. FMFPac GO No. 3-44, dtd 240ct44, App 2 to MAWPac WarD.

29. Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, p. 422.

30. Ibid., p. 434. An additional monthly breakdown of Marine aviation units, location, and personnel is contained in Division of Aviation Monthly Status Sheets, Mar43­Dec46, Division of Aviation, HQMC.

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