Marine Corps History
On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress passed a resolution stating that "two battalions of Marines be raised" for service as landing forces with the fleet. This established the Continental Marines and marked the birth of the United States Marine Corps. Serving on land and at sea, early Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations, including their first amphibious raid on foreign soil in the Bahamas in March 1776, under the command of the Corps' first commandant, Capt. Samuel Nicholas. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and as the last of the Navy's ships were sold, the Continental Navy and Marines disbanded.
Following the formal re-establishment of the Marine Corps on July 11, 1798, Marines fought in conflicts with France, landed in Santo Domingo and conducted operations against the Barbary pirates along the "Shores of Tripoli."
Marines participated in numerous operations during the War of 1812, including the defense of Washington at Bladensburg, Md. They also fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the defeat of the British at New Orleans. Following the War of 1812, Marines protected American interests around the world in areas like the Caribbean, the Falkland Islands, Sumatra and off the coast of West Africa, and close to home in operations against the Seminole Indians in Florida.
During the Mexican War, Marines seized enemy seaports on both the Gulf and Pacific coasts. While landing parties of Marines and Sailors were seizing enemy ports, a battalion of Marines joined General Winfield Scott's army at Pueblo and marched and fought all the way to the "Halls of Montezuma," Mexico City.
Although most Marine Corps service during the Civil War was with the Navy, a battalion fought at Bull Run, and other units saw action with blockading squadrons at Cape Hatteras, New Orleans, Charleston and Fort Fisher. During the last third of the 19th century, Marines made numerous landings around the world, especially in the orient and the Caribbean.
Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Marines fought during the Philippine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion in China, in Nicaragua, Panama, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico and Haiti.
In World War I, Marines distinguished themselves on the battlefields of France, as the 4th Marine Brigade earned the title of "Devil Dogs" for actions at Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Michiel, Blanc Mont and the final Muesse-Argonne offensive. Marine aviation, which began in 1912, was used for the first time in a close-air support role during WWI. More than 309,000 Marines served in France and more than a third were killed or wounded in six months of intense fighting.
During the two decades before World War II, the Marine Corps began to more completely develop its doctrine and organization for amphibious warfare. The success of this effort was proven at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, New Britain, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. By the war's end in 1945, the Corps had grown to include six divisions, five air wings and supporting troops, about 485,000 Marines. Nearly 87,000 Marines were killed or wounded during WWII and 82 earned the Medal of Honor.
As the Marine Corps attempted to modify the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) for operations in the nuclear age, the Corps began a decade long struggle to save the FMF and, in affect, its own existence. The Marine Corps had peaked in strength in 1945 at nearly half a million men in six divisions and five aircraft wings. The postwar Corps shrank to fit federal budgets rather than adjust realistically to fit the contingency needs of the Cold War era. Available manpower fell to 83,000 men in 1948 and dropped to just over 74,000 by the spring of 1950. About 50,000 men were assigned to the operating forces, but the FMF had only about 30,000 men in the two skeltal divisions and aircraft wings. Fewer than 12,000 Marines comprised FMFPac which included the 1st Division at Camp Pendleton and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) at El Toro, California. On the East Coast, the 2d Division at Camp Lejeune and the 2d MAW at Cherry Point, making up FMFLant, numbered just under 16,000 Marines. At the outbreak of the Korean War, no Marine unit of any size was based or deployed in the Far East.
The Corps' supporting establishment was so small and its tasks for maintaining Marine Corps bases so extensive that many FMF troops spent more time housekeeping than training. The Marine Corps share of the federal budget was simply not enough to buy adequate manpower, training, or new equipment. The main threat to the nation was seen in inflation and unbalanced budgets rather than in the Soviet armed forces. On the eve of the Korean War, the FMF seemed doomed to fall to six battalion landing teams and twelve squadrons in 1950.
While Marine units were taking part in the post-war occupation of Japan and North China, studies at Quantico, Va., concentrated on attaining a "vertical envelopment" capability for the Corps through the use of helicopters. Landing at Inchon, Korea, in September 1950, Marines proved that the doctrine of amphibious assault was still viable and necessary. After the recapture of Seoul, the Marines advanced to the Chosin Reservoir only to see the Chinese Communists enter the war. In March, 1955, after five years of hard fighting, the last Marine ground forces were withdrawn. More than 25,000 Marines were killed or wounded during the Korean War.
The realities of the Korean War brought major changes in the basing and deployment of Marine Corps forces. The Corps strength ballooned to 192,000 men in June 1951, to 232,000 a year later and nearly 250,000 by June 1953. More than half the troops actually served in the operating forces, and the 1st Marine Division and 1st MAW, operationally employed in Korea, were kept up to strength. In the meantime, the 2d Marine Division and 2d MAW reached full strength for their European contingencies. In June 1951 Headquarters activated the 3d Marine Brigade, built around the 3d Marines at Camp Pendleton. In 1952 the brigade expanded to become the 3d Marine Division, and the same year the 3d MAW formed and occupied a new base in Miami. In another important reorganization, Headquarters in 1951 formed an organization known as Force Troops in order to provide the heavy artillery and other combat support and combat service support units necessary to sustain a Marine division in a land war.
The three-division/three-wing force structure decreed by the June 1952 passage of the Douglas-Mansfield Act, gave legislative support to the stated roles and missions of the Corps. The defense assumptions and programs of the Eisenhower Administration, however, left the Marine Corps role, and the corresponding basing and deployment strategy, less clearly defined. The emphasis on strategic forces over conventional forces, coupled with domestic economic implications of high defense costs and unbalanced federal budgets, challenged Marine Corps leaders of this period.
During the years 1953 to 1955, significant changes in the basing and deployment of Marine forces were realized. The 3d Marine Division deployed from Camp Pendleton to the Far East in the summer of 1953. Based in Japan, the Division followed regimental landings in Japan and Okinawa with a full-dress division landing exercise on Iwo Jima in March 1954. Significantly, the division began redeploying from Japan to Okinawa in 1955 and by February 1956 the Headquarters of the 3d Marine Division was moved to Okinawa where its remains today. Teamed with the 3d Division, the bulk of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in Japan with headquarters at Atsugi, provided the air portion of a ready U.S. expeditionary force in the Far East.
The 1st Marine Division, meanwhile, which had been in Korea since the summer of 1950, was returned to Camp Pendleton in 1955. The 3d MAW during the same period moved from the East to the West Coast to support Pacific deployments.
In 1954, the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force, built around a reinforced infantry regiment and a reinforced air group, was established at Hawaii in response to strategic requirements in the Pacific Theater. One reinforced regiment of the 3d Marine Division, together with elements of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing were shifted from the Far East to Oahu to build the task force, later called the 1st Marine Brigade, to desired strength.
On the other side of the world, the commitment of a Marine battalion landing team to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, which began in 1948, continued except for brief periods in 1950-51 and 1955. During the Korean War, this practice was briefly interrupted due to wartime needs and during 1955 a reduction in amphibious shipping forced the termination of the rotating assignment for nearly a year. The deployment to the Sixth Fleet was designed to give the fleet commander a ready landing force in an area left unstable in the aftermath of World War II.
Events in the Far East from 1955 on likewise pointed out the need for a ready battalion of Marines afloat with the fleet, and from 1960 on, the 3d Marine Division maintained such a floating battalion under Commander Seventh Fleet.
In July 1958, a brigade-size force landed in Lebanon to restore order. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, a large amphibious force was assembled, but not landed. In April 1965, a brigade of Marines landed in the Dominican Republic to protect Americans and evacuate those who wished to leave.
The period from 1956-1960 witnessed the Corps' continuing development of a permanent base structure to support its force in readiness mission as well as the procurement of supplies and equipment for a wide range of contingencies. Bases were developed stateside for cold-weather training at Pickel Meadows, and for desert warfare and supporting arms training at Twentynine Palms, both in California. Budget cuts and resulting reduced end strengths, however, became formidable obstacles to meeting desired manning levels for FMF units. The reductions resulted in all three divisions being placed on reduced manning levels in 1957 and total Marine Corps strength fell below 200,000. Commandant of the Marine Corps Annual Reports for the years 1957 through 1960 reflect the reduced manning levels throughout the FMF, stating of the Divisions and Wings, "their capability for sustained combat has been seriously diminished." Reserve training also suffered during this period due to lack of funding.
By 1960, Marine Corps strength had fallen to 170,000 - down 30,000 in just three years. Over the same period the Marine Corps "green dollar" budget dropped from an already austere $942 million in FY1958 to $902 million in FY1961. Certain elements of the FMF had to be placed in cadre status. Perhaps just as damaging to the Corps' readiness posture was the low priority given in the "blue dollar" budget to the construction of amphibious shipping and particularly helicopter-carrying ships, which threatened the development of the vertical assault mission.
To improve readiness in the Pacific, a system was implemented to rotate infantry battalions between the 3d and 1st Divisions. Beginning in 1959, the "transplacement" program had battalions forming and training in the 1st Division, then deploying to Okinawa for fifteen months' service as a cohesive unit. The 2d Division began a similar program in 1960 which aided personnel stability and continuity, but as in the Pacific, it meant that several battalions could not be easily deployed in a crisis.
Nevertheless, in 1960 the Marine Corps began a five-year surge in its readiness that brought it to its highest level of peacetime effectiveness by the eve of the Vietnam War. The results of the Presidential election of 1960, coupled with internal redirection in the Corps, combined to form the highly favorable conditions for the Marine Corps to consolidate its amphibious force in readiness mission. The "Flexible Response" strategy of the new administration was ideally suited to the Marine Corps -- stressing conventional force improvements in manpower, equipment modernization, and strategic mobility. Marine Corps budgets grew, as did the strength ceilings, and just as significantly, improvements were realized in obtaining amphibious shipping. During this period, as well, Headquarters enhanced the readiness of the Reserve with the formation of the 4th Marine Division and 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in the Marine Corps Organized Reserve.
The combination of increased amphibious exercises and contingency deployments kept the tactical units of the FMF busy during the early 1960s. The size of the possible Marine role in Europe grew as Headquarters aimed at a larger role in NATO. In 1964 II MEF conducted Operation Steel Pike I, an amphibious exercise in Spanish waters that exceeded all earlier exercises in both the size of the Marine force deployed and the distance covered. An amphibious force of 60 ships carried 22,000 Marines and over 5,000 vehicles to the amphibious objective area.
While FMF Atlantic forces were being exercized in Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, FMF Pacific units trained throughout the Far East, Hawaii, and California. In 1964 there were 45 landing exercises worldwide, and by the beginning of the major U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in 1965, the FMF, both regular and Reserve, was as effective a force as the Corps had ever fielded in peacetime.
The landing of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang in 1965 marked the beginning of a large-scale Marine involvement in Vietnam. By the summer of 1968, after the enemy's Tet Offensive, Marine Corps strength in Vietnam rose to about 85,000. The Marine withdrawal began in 1969 as the South Vietnamese began to assume a larger role in the fighting. The last ground forces left Vietnam by June 1971. The Vietnam War, the longest in the history of the Marine Corps, exacted a high cost, with more than 13,000 Marines killed and 88,000 wounded.
The Vietnam War proved to be the ultimate test of the Corps' basing and deployment decisions of the 1950s and early 1960s. From the March 1965 landing of Marine ground troops as Da Nang until the departure of the last large Marine units in June 1971, the war impacted drastically on all Marine forces within and outside the III Marine Amphibious Force. Peak Marine strength in Vietnam was reached in 1968 when more than 85,000 Marines were in Vietnam out of a Marine Corps numbering just over 300,000.
By 1972 the Marine Corps was once again down to 200,000 men and post-Vietnam redeployments had returned the Corps to the same basing and deployment patterns that had been in effect from 1960 to 1965. The 3d Marine Division was back on Okinawa and the 1st Marine Brigade had been reconstituted in Hawaii. The 1st Marine Division was back in Camp Pendleton and the 3d MAW remained at El Toro. On the East Coast, the 2d Marine Division and 2d MAW remained in North Carolina.
In July 1974, Marines evacuated U.S. citizens and foreign nationals during the unrest in Cyprus.
During the 1970s, the Marine Corps assumed an increasingly significant role in defending NATO's northern flank as amphibious units of the 2nd Marine Division participated in exercises throughout northern Europe.
As it moved into the 1970s, the Marine Corps once again faced close scrutiny of its missions, force structure, and personnel policies. The Marine Corps continued to emphasize global strategic flexibility and reemphasized the Corps' amphibious mission, developing the concept of "sea-basing," which aimed at greatly increasing sea-borne logistic support. At the same time, FMF Atlantic launched its first time NATO exercise outside the Mediterranean when a Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) conducted maneuvers in Norway and northern Germany in 1975. These exercises, which became annual and expanded to brigade size, and their underlying mission of preparing to assist in the defense of NATO's Northern flank, represented the Marine Corps single most significant change in deployment patterns until the end of the decade.
The revolution in Iran, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and hostages there, and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 gave impetus to a Department of Defense plan to improve U.S. non-NATO military capability. The Rapid Deployment Force was created in response to the realization of the range of contingencies short of general war that faced the United States. In particular, the CONUS-based joint task force, with designated forces from all four services, was created with responsibility for operational planning, training, and exercises for designated rapid deployment forces worldwide with the initial focus on Southwest Asia and the Indian Ocean. The new force widened the FMF's force in readiness role without compromising its amphibious mission.
The Corps played a key role in the development of the Rapid Deployment Force, a multi-service organization created to ensure a flexible, timely military response around the world. The Maritime Pre-Positioning Ships (MPS) Program was instituted in late 1979 with the goal of providing three Marine amphibious brigades ready for airlift to potential crisis areas where they would unite previously positioned ships carrying their equipment and supplies. The MPS concept gave the Marine Corps and the U.S. a significant new dimension in mobility, sustainability, and the global response.
An increasing number of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies around the world took place in the 1980s. In August 1982, Marines landed at Beirut, Lebanon, as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. For the next 19 months these units faced the hazards of their mission with courage and professionalism. In October 1983, Marines took part in the highly successful, short-notice intervention in Grenada.
In December 1989, Marines responded to instability in Central America during Operation Just Cause in Panama to protect American lives and restore democracy.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 led to the largest movement of Marine forces since World War II. Between August 1990 and January 1991, 24 infantry battalions, 40 squadrons (more than 92,000 Marines) deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. The air campaign of Operation Desert Storm began Jan. 16, 1991, followed by the main overland attack Feb. 24 when the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions breached the Iraqi defense lines and stormed into occupied Kuwait. Meanwhile, the threat from the sea in the form of Marine Expeditionary Brigades held 50,000 Iraqis in check along the Kuwait coast. By the morning of Feb. 28, 100 hours after the ground war began, the Iraqi army was no longer a threat.
In December 1992, Marines landed in Somalia marking the beginning of a two-year humanitarian relief operation there. In another part of the world, land-and carrier-based Marine Corps fighter-attack squadrons and electronic warfare aircraft supported Operation Deny Flight in the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. During April 1994, Marines once again demonstrated their ability to protect American citizens in remote parts of the world when a Marine task force evacuated 142 U.S. citizens from Rwanda in response to civil unrest in that country.
Closer to home, Marines went ashore in September 1994 at Cape Haitian, Haiti, as part of the U.S. force participating in the restoration of democracy in that country. At the same time, Marines were actively engaged in providing assistance to America's counter-drug effort, battling wildfires in the western United States, and aiding in flood and hurricane relief operations.
The Marine Corps continued its tradition of innovation to meet the challenges of a new century. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory was created in 1995 to evaluate change, assess the impact of new technologies on warfighting, and expedite the introduction of new capabilities into the operating forces of the Marine Corps. Exercises such as “Hunter Warrior,” and “Urban Warrior” were designed to explore future tactical concepts, and to examine facets of military operations in urban environments.
During the late 1990's, Marine Corps units deployed to several African nations, including Liberia, the Central African Republic, Zaire, and Eritrea, in order to provide security and assist in the evacuation of American citizens during periods of political and civil instability in those nations.
Humanitarian and disaster relief operations were also conducted by Marines during 1998 in Kenya, and in the Central American nations of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In 1999, Marine units deployed to Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force. Soon after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Marine units deployed to the Arabian Sea and in November set up a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2002, the Marine Corps continued to play a key role in the Global War on Terrorism. Marines operated in diverse locations, from Afghanistan, to the Arabian Gulf, to the Horn of Africa and the Philippines. Early 2003 saw the largest deployment of Marine forces since the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 when 76,000 Marines deployed to the Central Command area for combat operations against Iraq.
The I Marine Expeditionary Force, including Task Force Tarawa and the United Kingdom’s 1st Armored Division, were the first conventional ground units to enter Iraq in late March as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft from the 3d Marine Air Wing provided continuous close air and assault support to Marine and coalition units as they drove deeper into Iraq. On the ground, Marines from I MEF moved nearly 400 miles from the Kuwait border to Baghdad and Tikrit, Iraq, and eliminated the last organized resistance by Iraqi military forces. Although I MEF would transition to stabilization and security operations and then redeploy to the U.S. by late September, I MEF began preparing for a return to Iraq in early 2004. The adaptability and reliability of Marine forces continued to be highlighted around the world from the Horn of Africa to Haiti and to the Philippines.
Across the U.S., Marine units from both coasts fought and contained wildfires, and also supported hurricane relief efforts in various parts of the country. In December, 2004, a tsunami struck numerous nations in the Indian Ocean region killing more than 150,000 and causing enormous devastation. Marine units from III MEF were immediately deployed to Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to assist in disaster relief operations.
In early 2005, the II Marine Expeditionary Force replaced I MEF in Iraq as the primary focus began to shift to partnership operations with the Iraqi Security Forces. Marine units continued to provide air and ground support to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Closer to home, the flexibility and responsiveness of the Navy/Marine team was exhibited during September and October when nearly 3000 Marines and sailors conducted search and rescue, humanitarian relief, and disaster recovery operations in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Iraqi security forces assumed responsibility for security of Al Anbar Province on o1 September 2008. The Marine Corps main area of operation, Al Anbar was the 11th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to come under provincial Iraqi control. Marines remained deployed to the area to provide support and training to the Iraqi security forces. The last of the 3,000 Marines stationed in Fallujah, Iraq, were pulled out of the city center on 14 November 2008 as part of the U.S. plan to hand security operations for the city over to Iraqi security forces. On 03 December 2008 Marines with RCT-5 finalized the demilitarization of the Haditha Dam located along the Euphrates River in Iraq. Security for the area was turned over to the Iraqi government.
Security in Afghanistan has worsened significantly in the 3 years after 2006, impeding both U.S. and international partners' efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. The security situation, including the overall increase in insurgent attacks from 2005 to 2008, is the result of a variety of factors including a resurgence of the Taliban in the south, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, a continuing and thriving illicit drug trade in the south, and the threat emanating from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. In discussing his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009, the President noted his goals were to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.
By 2012 nearly 20,000 Marines were conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) remained the top priority. Marines reported seeing measurable progress along all lines of operation in the Helmand Province: security, reintegration, rule of law, governance, development, education and health. Over the previous year, violence and the level of collateral damage had decreased significantly. Throughout 2012, Marines in Regional Command-Southwest [RC(SW)] continued transitioning to partnership training missions as they transfered even greater security responsibility to the maturing Afghan National Security Forces; police and army forces in Helmand province have progressed in training and capability.
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