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US House Armed Services Committee




 March 18, 2004 


Good morning Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee.  I appear before you today to offer an historical perspective on the office of the Secretary of the Navy and its relationship with the United States Marine Corps.  The United States Marine Corps, from its establishment in 1775 to the present, has served the United States Navy and has been subject to the civilian executive having authority over the Navy since such a position was established in 1798.  Historically, nations with a strong naval heritage have included their marines as an integral component of their naval forces.  For instance, the Royal Marines and the Royal Netherlands Marines exist within the navies of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. 

When the Department of the Navy was established on 30 April 1798, it was understood by all that the department included Sailors and Marines.  To the executive at the head of the Department of the Navy the act gave the title Secretary of the Navy.  The Secretary is the civilian head not just of the Navy component of the Department of the Navy but of every element that comes under the Department of the Navy.

From the beginning, the word navy in the titles "Department of the Navy," and  "Secretary of the Navy" has been used in the dictionary sense of: "the complete military organization of a nation for sea warfare including yards, shops, stations, men, ships, offices, and officers: the

naval establishment."  [Webster's 3rd International Dictionary.]   The term "navy" is not meant to imply just ships and supporting assets, but is intended to include all components used by the nation in exercising naval power.  Thus, it includes the U.S. Marine Corps.   To change the title to "Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps" would imply that the term navy in the title was not used in the comprehensive sense described above, but in the narrower sense of "the fleet."

1775 - The Continental Navy

On 13 October 1775 the Continental Congress authorized the procuring, manning, arming, and fitting out of armed vessels.  This legislation established the Continental Navy.

On 10 November 1775, two weeks after establishment of the Continental Navy, Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Marines.  On the twenty-eighth of the same month, Congress adopted "Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies" that applied equally to the Marines as to the Sailors.  Marine officers were to serve with naval officers on courts-martial.  Marines and Sailors were to subscribe to the same enlistment papers, binding themselves to be subject to the commanding naval officer of their ship.

After the United States had won its War for Independence, the Continental Congress ordered all the ships of the Continental Navy sold, and the personnel--Sailors and Marines--paid off and discharged.

1787 - The Constitution

The Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1787, gives Congress power to raise money to "provide and maintain a navy."  Nowhere does the United States Constitution state that Congress has the power to create a Marine Corps.  Rather, Marines are implicit in the power to provide and maintain a navy.

In response to attacks on American merchantmen by corsairs of the Barbary Powers of North Africa, Congress adopted an "Act to provide a naval armament," which President Washington signed on 27 March 1794. The act authorized the President to provide, equip, and employ six armed ships, and directed that each ship's complement was to include Marines, a lieutenant, a sergeant, one or two corporals, a drummer, a fifer, and 40 or 50 privates.  Thus, the first naval legislation under the Constitution included Marines as part of the re-established Navy.


On 1 July 1797, President Washington signed another "Act providing a naval armament," which empowered the President to cause three frigates to be manned and employed.  Congress directed that the crews were to include Marines.  The act specifically referred to the Marines as "belonging to the navy."

From the beginning, Marines have been subject to naval discipline.  Marines on board ship are subject to the commands of naval officers.  The historic mission of Marines was to serve the commanding officer of a ship of war-- to protect naval officers, to maintain order, and to act as an offensive force.

1798 - Creation of the Department of the Navy

In response to the obvious need for an executive department responsible solely for, and staffed with persons competent in, naval affairs, Congress passed a bill establishing the Department of the Navy.  President John Adams signed the act on 30 April 1798.   Benjamin Stoddert became the first Secretary of the Navy.

On 28 May Congress authorized the public vessels of the United States to capture armed French vessels hovering off the coast of the United States, initiating an undeclared Quasi-War with France.  That conflict led to the rapid passage of several pieces of naval legislation, including the act that established the United States Marine Corps on 11 July 1798.

The Marines' principal function was to serve as detachments on board naval vessels, but the act also allowed them to be assigned to shore duty.  The Marines were to be subject to the rules and articles of war prescribed for the military establishment and to the rules for the regulation of the Navy.  A leading historian of the United States Marine Corps interprets the act establishing the corps as follows:

The Act of 1798 did not give the Marine Corps an organizational existence or mission independent of the Navy, for the legislation authorized the President to discharge Marines whenever there were changes in the numbers of vessels in commission--if he did not want to use the Marines in other duties ashore.  Nor did it specifically state that service ashore meant that the Marine Corps was to come automatically under the control of the Army, as some Army officers later assumed.  In essence, the law allowed the President as Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of the Navy by implication to use the Corps of Marines as they saw fit.  [Allan R. Millet, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps (New York: Macmillan, 1980), p. 30.]

The Commandant of the Marine Corps reported directly to the Secretary of the Navy.


An Act for the better organization of the United States Marine Corps, approved on 30 June 1834, clarified some of the ambiguities left by the act of 1798.  The new act directed that the corps would be subject to the laws and regulations for the government of the Navy.  Congress also decreed, "no officer of the marine corps shall exercise command over any navy yard or vessel of the United States."  The 1834 act left the relationship of the Marine Corps to the Secretary of the Navy unaltered.


The naval appropriation bill of 1882 provided that graduates of the Naval Academy could be selected to be officers in the Marine Corps, emphasizing the close union of the Marine Corps and the Navy under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the Marine Corps was a small service, numbering no more than a few thousand men, expanding temporarily only in times of crises, such as during the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.  Occasionally during the course of the century, the Marine Corps had to justify its continuance against reformers who believed that its functions could be served more efficiently by Sailors in the Navy or by soldiers in the Army.  Throughout most of the century the Corps' functions remained the same, to guard naval facilities ashore, to maintain discipline on board ships, to man guns and fire weapons in battle, and to join in landing parties.

The emergence of the New Navy in the 1880s and 1890s presented the Marines a new challenge.  In a navy of steel-hulled and armored ships, high-power rifled artillery, rapid-fire guns, torpedoes, and high-pressure boilers, where was there a place for Marine riflemen?

In 1895, in response to pressures within the Navy to abolish the Marines' function as ships guards, the Secretary of the Navy determined that henceforward Marines would be considered "full members of the ships company, liable to the full range of shipboard duties" [Millet, Semper Fidelis, p. 125].

1898 - Spanish American War

At the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, during the Spanish American War, the Army, intent on taking the city by land, was reluctant to capture heights that the Navy wanted secured to support their attack on the Spanish fleet.  The experience at Santiago convinced many naval leaders that the Navy could not rely entirely on the Army and needed its own land force to capture and secure territory.  For example, the Navy sent the Marines to seize and occupy the land surrounding Guantanamo Bay in order to obtain a secure base for a coaling station.  From this time forward, they looked to the Marine Corps to accomplish similar missions.


On November 12, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order redefining the duties of the Marine Corps that did not mention ships guard duty, but emphasized protection of shore facilities and participation in expeditionary forces overseas.  When the Secretary of the Navy learned that Roosevelt had subsequently told aids that he thought that the Marines should be amalgamated with the Army, however, he told reporters, "It will be a very great mistake to put them in the Army.  We want them in the Navy."  Congress came to the defense of the Marine Corps, concluding that the Corps would be indispensable as landing party infantry and as expeditionary forces.  Fearing that the ending of the Marines' role as ships guards would be a prelude to amalgamation with the Army, Congress attached the restoration of the Marines as ships guards as a rider to the Naval Appropriations Act of 1909.

With the responsibility of securing the United States' newly acquired colonies in the Philippine's and in the Caribbean, the Navy found that it needed the Marines to secure bases ashore, and in 1900 the Navy General Board formally assigned to the Marine Corps that new function.  Between the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 and the beginning of World War I in Europe in 1914, overseas military interventions by the United States transformed the missions of the Marine Corps to include those of colonial infantry and expeditionary force.  During those years, Marines helped put down rebellion against American governance in the Philippines and went ashore to protect American lives and property in Honduras, Abyssinia, Syria, Tangier, Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Panama, and Mexico, sometimes remaining as a police force for years.  Shouldering new missions, the Marine Corps remained an integral part of the Department of the Navy.  By the coming of World War I, the role of the Marine Corps had been redefined and its place within the Department of the Navy secured.

World War I

World War I marked the first time in U.S. history that major Marine Corps units operated apart from Navy support.  Fearing that the morale of the French army might crack in the face of a powerful German offensive, the Allied command called for the emergency dispatch to the theater of American combat troops.  Washington responded by sending its best-trained and ready forces.  The Marines fought on the Western Front as one brigade of the U.S. Army's Second Infantry Division.

Inter-War Period

Between 1900 and 1938, on average Sailors comprised 80% of Department of the Navy's personnel and Marines 20%.  [Memo, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Chief of Naval Operations, 10 Mar 1948].

During the interwar years, the Navy Department focused on what it considered to be the greatest threats to the United States-Japan and the Imperial Japanese Navy.  War Plan Orange was the preeminent planning document for a possible war with Japan.  In that plan, the primary strategic mission for the Navy was to fight its way across the vast Pacific Ocean and somewhere in the vicinity of the Philippines defeat the enemy navy.  Japan, however, had occupied and fortified many of the island chains between Hawaii and the Philippines.  The islands would have to be seized not only to neutralize these intervening enemy positions but also to provide the U.S. Navy with land-based airfields, secure anchorages, and supply points on the move toward the Western Pacific. 

To accomplish this mission, during the interwar years the Navy Department developed a comprehensive approach to the strategic problem facing it.  Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Raymond A. Spruance, and other strategists at the Naval War College envisioned employing the full power of the Fleet in the cross-Pacific campaign.  Battleships, aircraft carriers, and submarines would sink any enemy naval vessels that impeded the Fleet's progress through the island chains.   Carrier aircraft and surface gunfire ships would then reduce Japanese defenses ashore.  The next step would involve naval amphibious ships and craft putting naval infantry on the hostile shores.   The Marines would not only seize the islands but also provide garrison troops to hold them.   Thereafter, naval construction forces (later called Seabees) and logistic units would develop robust advanced bases that included airfields, supply depots, and other support facilities.  With its line of communications secure and forward-based supplies assured, the Fleet would then press on for its cataclysmic battle with the IJN.

To facilitate this new mission, during the 1920s and 1930s the naval services investigated appropriate landing ships and smaller vessels and developed a comprehensive amphibious warfare doctrine.

World War II

World War II in the Pacific unfolded much as the pre-war planners had anticipated.  The fast carrier forces under Admirals Spruance and William F. Halsey neutralized opposing Japanese naval and shore-based air units; the Pacific Fleet's submarine force sank enemy naval combatants and interdicted the island-to-island movement of troops and supplies; battleships, cruisers, destroyers, rocket ships, and other surface vessels and naval aircraft destroyed enemy fortifications, communications, and troops ashore; naval amphibious ships and craft transported assault troops to the beaches; Marine infantry, armor, and artillery units seized and occupied key islands; and Seabees and other logistic support units prepared advanced bases.  All of the Navy's resources were employed and all were necessary to carry out the mission.

The Navy's comprehensive approach to winning the war in the Pacific, borne out by the experience of combat, culminated in the multidimensional campaigns to seize the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  Naval air, surface, submarine, Marine, and supporting forces, none more important than the others, were instrumental in bringing about the surrender of Japan in August 1945.


With the advent of the atomic bomb in 1945, some Americans questioned the need for naval aviation and naval amphibious forces.  Some concluded that America's sole possession of atomic weapons would discourage any country from starting a war.  If, however, the unthinkable happened, the employment of a few atomic bombs would quickly bring enemy defeat and surrender.  Long-range bombers, not aircraft carriers or Marine divisions, so it was said, were all that was needed to carry out this mission.  

Congressional hearings during the late 1940s on these issues, often acrimonious, resulted in acceptance of the need for both aircraft carriers and Marine amphibious forces.  In fact, the continued existence of several Marine infantry divisions and Marine aviation was given statutory protection during the period.

Korean War

The Korean War that broke out on 25 June 1950 reinforced the utility, even in the atomic age, of the entire range of naval forces.  U.S. strategic planners recognized that since Korea is a peninsula, sea power would be vital to the U.S. and United Nations war effort.  The Allied strategy was to prevent the spread of conflict throughout the Western Pacific and defeat Communist forces threatening the Republic of (South) Korea. 

The Navy began to execute its role in that strategy almost immediately.  The Seventh Fleet was deployed off China to discourage the Chinese Communists from widening the war; submarine and air patrol units kept watch for Communist naval units in the seas touching Korea; carrier aircraft struck the Democratic Republic of (North) Korea's capital of Pyongyang only one week after the outbreak of war; cruisers and destroyers eliminated the North Korean navy; Navy and Marine air units based afloat and ashore provided critical close air support to UN forces under intense pressure; and sealift ships rushed reinforcements and supplies to the fighting forces.   In September 1950, naval surface and air forces, under Navy command, neutralized enemy defenses around Inchon and amphibious forces deployed naval infantry ashore to seize and hold the critical port, through which soon poured Army reinforcements and supplies.  Allied forces, led by the 1st Marine Division, then captured Seoul, forcing the enemy invaders to flee north.   

When intervention by Chinese Communist forces caused a UN decision to withdraw forces from North Korea, the 1st Marine Division fought its way back to the coast; naval air units, battleships, and cruisers kept the enemy at bay; and amphibious ships re-embarked the UN forces and redeployed them to the south to fight again.  For the remainder of the war, naval forces, including Marine units, fought successfully to preserve the independence of the Republic of Korea. 

The Cold War

Throughout the Cold War, the various components of the Navy operated in support of national strategic objectives.  The ballistic missile submarine force deployed to the depths of the world's oceans to discourage a Soviet nuclear attack on America.  Aircraft carrier, surface ship, amphibious, and Marine forces operated forward around the globe in support of the national Containment Strategy.  These components operated together to enforce American foreign policy objectives in Lebanon, the Taiwan Straits, Laos, and hundreds of other global locations.  In the fall of 1962, the Navy's attack submarines, patrol aircraft, carriers, surface ships, amphibious vessels, and Marine units served to compel the Soviet Union to withdraw its nuclear-armed missiles from Cuba. 


During the long war in Vietnam, Navy and Marine Corps task forces provided critical mutual support in interdiction and close air support, amphibious, coastal patrol, and riverine operations.  Even when the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions deployed ashore, they fought in coordination with carrier aircraft, battleship New Jersey, cruisers, and destroyers, and river warfare forces.  Integral components of the Marine infantry and aviation units ashore were Navy medical battalions, corpsmen, and chaplains.


In 1980, the Commandant of the Marine Corps was made a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in 1986 under the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Marine Corps was given equal status with the other services.

During operations in Grenada and Lebanon in 1983, naval carrier, amphibious, and Marine forces, under the operational control of a Navy commander, carried out national directives. In 1987 and 1988, Navy and Marine forces under a joint task force commander, a Navy flag officer, curtailed Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf and destroyed Iranian fortified platforms and naval combatants.

In the Persian Gulf War, carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships, mine warfare vessels, naval special warfare units, Marine Expeditionary Units, and other naval forces acted in concert to accomplish the mission-drive the enemy from the northern Persian Gulf-assigned them by Vice Admiral Stanley R. Arthur, Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command.  Each of these components was essential to the success of the others.  The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions operated ashore in cooperation with carrier and shore-based aviation units, battleships Missouri and Wisconsin, and Navy and Marine amphibious forces.    

Operations in the Balkans during the late 1990s and operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in the 21st century again demonstrated the utility of mutually supporting naval components, including submarine, air, surface, amphibious, and Marine ground forces.  Our Navy-Marine Corps team, in the first decade of the 21st century, operates on and from the sea, deploys around the globe, and is more closely integrated than the other armed services.


In short, from 1775 to the present, the Department of the Navy has successfully accomplished the national strategic missions assigned to it.  To do so, it has employed all of its forces, routinely under Department of the Navy command, in a coordinated, flexible, and mutually supporting fashion.  Those forces have included, when appropriate, submarine, aviation, surface warship, amphibious, and naval infantry, or Marine, units.  Despite the growth of both Navy and Marine Corps missions over time, this has been one of the most successful combined arms teams in military history.  All this has been accomplished under the direction of a civilian Secretary of the Navy through the Chiefs of Naval Operations and the Commandants of the Marine Corps.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.  I look forward to your questions.

House Armed Services Committee
2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

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