The Navy-Marine Corps Team: Myth Or Reality
SUBJECT AREA Topical Issues
THE NAVY-MARINE CORPS TEAM:
MYTH OR REALITY
The Writing Program
COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE
Major Clifford L. Stanley
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
April 6, 1984
THE NAVY-MARINE CORPS TEAM:
MYTH OR REALITY
Thesis Sentence: The Navy is not committed to operational
competence in amphibious warfare, and its
noncommitment to teamwork seriously de-
grades our nation's ability to maintain
A. Background on Navy-Marine Corps special relation-
B. Subtle evidence regarding lack of teamwork
C. State of readiness of amphibious navy when Reagan
administration assumed office
D. Reasons for personal concern
II. A LOOK AT HISTORY
A. Influence of Mahan on advance-base work
B. Disparity in Navy-Marine Corps efforts toward
C. Lessons of World War II
III. A LOOK AT TODAY
A. The Soviet threat
B. Examples of stumbling blocks to Navy-Marine Corps
IV. A LOOK AT THE FUTURE
A. Secretary Lehman's message to leaders
B. The need for amphibious doctrine changes
C. The importance of teamwork
THE NAVY-MARINE CORPS TEAM:
MYTH OR REALITY
The Navy is not committed to operational competence in
amphibious warfare, and its noncommitment to teamwork seri-
ously degrades our nation's ability to maintain maritime
superiority. Admittedly, I have made a serious indictment,
particularly when considering that the Navy and Marine Corps
have enjoyed a special relationship for over 200 years.
Sailors and marines have sacrificed their lives while work-
ing as a team. The cement of the teamwork that we have can
be found between the many excellent personal relationships
that have developed between our service members. In fact,
I have been indoctrinated so well on the issue of our spe-
cial kinship, that I feel uncomfortable suggesting that
there is a problem. Put simply, there is no doubt that my
indictment about the Navy's poor commitment to teamwork
could be viewed by many sailors and marines as tantamount
to heresy or the airing of dirty linen in public.
Like all families, our special relationship has expe-
rienced growing pains. Both services have clearly defined
missions, separate organizational heads, and a host of paro-
chial interests. As if sensing the sensitivity of our
strained relationship, Secretary Lehman declared himself
the Secretary of Navy and the Secretary of the Marine Corps
when he assumed office in 1981.1 His symbolic gesture was
well received by marines and served as a boost to morale.
His gesture also focused positive leadership on a problem
that has plagued our services since the early 1900s. Since
then, we have shared the common mission of amphibious war-
fare. By the end of World War II, amphibious warfare had
become the "raison d'etre" of the Marine Corps. Conversely,
the Navy had assumed a more neutral position and considered
amphibious warfare to be more of a Marine Corps matter.
Navy support was provided when necessary, but its support
often flirted dangerously close to courting disaster because
of a "laissez-faire" attitude toward coordinated efforts to
perfect amphibious operations during peacetime.
Amphibious warfare is a complicated science that re-
quires the closest cooperation among participating forces.
It requires teamwork and coordination in order to integrate
all types of ships, aircraft, weapons, and landing forces
against hostile shores or when defending advance naval
bases. Ideally, the relationship between sailor and marine
should be symbiotic. In reality, we are far from it.
Supporting evidence regarding our lack of teamwork is
often subtle. The brotherhood between the Navy and Marine
Corps is of such long-standing and so smooth in operation,
that the casual observer may be readily pardoned the erro-
neous conclusion that the Marine Corps forms part of the
Navy.2 We share many of the same duty stations ashore and
at sea. Marines serve aboard ships, provide security for
naval bases, serve on navy staffs, and attend navy schools.
The Navy generally reciprocates in kind by sending its mem-
bers to Marine Corps duty stations. There is a difference,
however, in the quality of our commitment which is not so
obvious to people not attuned to the subtleties of our service
personnel management systems. To avoid sweeping general-
izations on this complex issue, I will limit my comments to
a few simple examples. I will limit my examples to those
of personal experience and to those that relate to Navy and
Marine Corps teamwork in the area of amphibious operations.
1. The Navy typically assigns doctors, lawyers,
reservists, and an occasional aviator to Amphibious
Warfare School and Command and Staff College. Al-
though both schools place heavy emphasis on teaching
amphibious warfare doctrine, surface warfare officers
rarely attend. Navy officers who do attend rarely
apply what they have learned in subsequent assign-
2. The best surface warfare officers are generally
steered away from the amphibious navy. Command of
a destroyer is considered to be much more career
enhancing than command of an amphibious ship.
3. A tour of duty as a naval gunfire liaison officer
with marines is not considered to be career enhancing.
Although naval gunfire officers are critical to the
success of amphibious operations, the best surface
warfare officers are rarely assigned such tours of
4. Unlike the Navy, marines send their best officers
with the appropriate background to navy schools and
other navy assignments. Selection for the Naval War
College, for example, typically involves a competitive
screening process to ensure that the best officers
represent the Corps. The same philosophy is evident
when assigning marines to shipboard and joint navy
There are, of course, more examples. The aforementioned
merely focus on a narrow sampling of assignment issues and
do not address navy amphibious schools where marines train
with the navy. Although navy sponsored amphibious schools
support the teamwork concept, they do not address in suffi-
cient detail unique marine concerns such as infantry tactics
Marine Air Ground Task Force organization, and control of
When the current administration took office, the am-
phibious navy was in deplorable condition. Over twenty years
had lapsed since an amphibious keel had been laid, while
during the same period approximately 300 keels of other
vessels were laid.3 Thus, the first keel laying ceremony
for the LSD-41, a new amphibious ship, was more than a
symbolic gesture to marines. It served as tangible proof
that the Navy-Marine Corps team had the potential to be
more of a reality than a myth.
It takes more than ships, however, to successfully
execute an amphibious operation. Increased lift capability
does not necessarily equate to success in amphibious warfare,
nor does it guarantee teamwork. Teamwork can only be
achieved by working together doing clearly defined jobs
while subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of
the whole. The kind of relationship I envision between the
Navy and Marine Corps is not overly idealistic. I merely
want to be able to train the way I expect to fight. I am
not doing that now.
My concern is borne out of frustration after studying
history and learning about the needless loss of thousands
of lives that could have been saved if our services had
cooperated. The October 1983 Grenada operation provides a
more recent example. Although the Grenada operation re-
sulted in minimal casualties and was successful, it is not
difficult to imagine the countless number of casualties we
could have suffered if our forces had been opposed by a
larger, better trained enemy equipped with today's conven-
tional and nuclear weapons. Yes, we go to sea together,
fight together, and occasionally train together, but there
is something missing. The missing variables become pain-
fully obvious when one reviews history, looks at the present,
or looks into the future.
A Look At History
Shortly after the Spanish American War, the General
Board of the Navy embarked on a determined effort to set up
a permanent advance-base force within the naval establish-
ment. During those formative years, Navy leaders were
literally under the spell of Alfred T. Mahan's persuasive
doctrines. According to Mahan, it was axiomatic that war-
ships powered by steam were tied to their bases by the dis-
tance of their steaming radii. Since it was impractical to
maintain permanent bases in all parts of the world where
the fleet might conceivably engage in action, it would be
inevitably necessary in wartime to seize temporary bases
against opposition. The defense of such bases was also a
problem. The Marine Corps, an organization consisting of
ground troops with naval experience and under naval authority,
was the obvious solution. Thus, tentative steps were taken
to prepare the Corps for this new line of activity.4
Initially, advance-base work appeared to be aggressively
approached by both the Navy and Marine Corps. In 1901, for
example, guns were taken from battleships and mounted on
shore, and a class of officers and enlisted men formed at
Newport, Rhode Island, for instruction in the preliminaries
of advance-base work. In reality, neither the Navy nor
Marine Corps had institutional unanimity on the issue of
advance-base work during the formative years. Regardless,
the Marine Corps literally carried the torch in the develop-
ment of amphibious doctrine, and more than one commandant
openly commented about the obvious widespread indifference
to advance-base work among navy circles in general. In 1914,
the Commandant of the Marine Corps remarked:
The impression seems to prevail that advance-base
work is essentially a marine matter. This is an
error, as there can be no doubt that advance-
base work is essentially a naval matter in which
the entire service is deeply interested, and while
execution of the work is placed in the hands of
the Marine Corps, it is nevertheless necessary for
successful results that it be given earnest coop-
eration by and coordination with various branches
of the naval service.5
The Navy did not have a monopoly on the "market of poor
cooperation." Different mission and budget priorities
created differences, as they do now, in the operational
philosophy of all services. Alfred T. Mahan recognized such
organizational and human frailties. Although his theories
did not directly address the issue of poor cooperation
between the Navy and Marine Corps, they did imply a degree
of teamwork. More specifically, Mahan addressed an issue
dealing with a weakness he observed in the Navy. He was
particularly concerned about navy leaders who assumed that
an incompatibility existed between mastery of theory and
skill in practice.6 Thus, while the Navy eagerly adopted
Mahan's advance-base philosophy in theory, they were reticent
in putting his philosophy to skillful use through practice.
The lack of practice and teamwork became painfully obvious
during World War II.
Amphibious warfare techniques were developed, practiced,
modified, and fine tuned throughout World War II. Proper
combat loading, the importance of preparation fires, close
air support, the evolution of the fire support coordination
center, the training of individual infantrymen, the develop-
ment of special assault craft, the use of radar, and the
importance of effective communications equipment are some
of the areas that required teamwork. Knowledge gained dur-
ing early amphibious campaigns served to improve our ability
to fight successfully in subsequent operations. It was
evident that cooperation between our services before the war
would have reduced the trial and error testing of doctrine
we were forced to endure. Earlier cooperation would have
also facilitated teamwork during the war.
Tactically, lessons learned were widely disseminated.
The necessity of coordinating supporting arms and of timing
everything around the moment the first troops actually
touched the beach was recognized by all. Air and naval gun-
fire support emerged the stronger, and the means for obtain-
ing a smoother flow of supplies from ship-to-shore proved
invaluable for subsequent operations ashore. Navy and ma-
rine leaders also learned valuable tactics that improved the
assault capability of amphibious forces. More control boats
with better communications equipment proved to become the
nerve center of both the tactical and logistical aspects of
future operations.7 The strategic implications of hundreds
of lessons learned resulted in the United States emerging as
the victor of World War II.
Mahan's perception of incompatibility between theory
and practice quickly dissolved during the heat of battle.
Parochial differences continued to exist, but the Navy and
Marine Corps were much closer to being a team than they had
ever been. Thousands of lives were lost during amphibious
operations, but the mood of the country after the attack on
Pearl Harbor made the shock of personal loss easier to absorb.
Indeed, for the first time since the American Revolutionary
War, American citizens appeared to be functioning as a team.
They were behind their fighting men. Thus, amphibious oper-
ations in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters exercised
trial and error privileges that would be difficult to
A Look At Today
During World War II, our enemies were unfamiliar with
the potential of amphibious warfare. The Japanese, for
example, were superb fighters, but they grossly under-
estimated the United States' ability to conduct amphibious
operations. Today, we no longer enjoy the luxury of facing
an enemy who is uninformed about the far-reaching strategic
implications of an amphibious assault. While we were learn-
ing the lessons of amphibious warfare, so was the rest of
the world. Thus, our principal opponent, the Soviet Union,
is well attuned to the business of amphibious warfare.
The Soviets maintain several Sverdlov class cruisers,
with 12 six-inch guns, and a large short-range assault force
of amphibious ships and naval infantry (marines). Their
military doctrine calls for the small naval infantry force
to be followed by army units trained in amphibious operations.
Several army divisions periodically practice amphibious
landings, and a large and readily adaptable merchant fleet
is available to supplement amphibious ships. Airborne oper-
ations are often conducted in conjunction with amphibious
exercises. Also, the diesel and nuclear powered submarines
armed with short-range ballistic missiles apparently have
theater strike roles in support of ground operations.8
Soviet forces train the way they expect to fight. They
are a land power with large land forces. They are cognizant
of their vulnerability to attack from the sea, primarily
because they have been historically plagued by a weak navy.
As a result, they maintain a large navy for strategic of-
fense, maritime security of the Soviet Union, interdiction
of sea lines of communication, support of ground forces,
and to support state policy.
For over 30 years, the Soviets have expanded their Navy
from a coastal defense role to a long-range ocean-going
fleet. Since 1956, they have had one principal architect,
Admiral Sergez Georgizevich Gorschkov. Admiral Gorschkov
wears several "hats." In addition to being the Navy
Commander-In-Chief, he is also a Deputy Minister of Defense
and a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party. His "hats" make him the approximate equivalent of
our Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations.
The continuity and longevity of Admiral Gorschkov's leader-
ship combined with the relative authority that he has over
the navy has been favorable for the Soviet Union. Teamwork
to ensure successful amphibious operations does not appear
to be a problem.9
Soviet threat briefs have become routine in the American
military, but institutional reactions have been slow to
crystalize. As a result, organizational idiosyncrasies
continue to serve as stumbling blocks to Navy-Marine Corps
teamwork. Though not conclusive, the following examples
illustrate the extent of the problem:
1. Approximately 45-50 amphibious ships are required
to lift the assault echelon of a Marine Amphibious
Force (MAF). There are only 64 amphibious ships
available in the entire navy. The geographic location
of our three MAFs would require a major redistribution
of ships in order to lift a minimum of one MAF, be-
cause 31 ships are in the Atlantic and 33 are in the
Pacific.10 Our limited lift becomes more of a problem
when considering the fact that army units also conduct
amphibious operations and require amphibious lift. If
we went to war today, it would not be unreasonable to
expect to lose a few ships. What would we be able to
lift then? How would we secure advance-bases if troops,
landing craft, and equipment had no way of reaching the
amphibious objective area?
2. Control of supporting arms requires communications
equipment, familiarity with weapon systems, familiarity
with the landing force scheme of maneuver, and detailed
coordination between navy and marine leaders. Although
the Commander Amphibious Task Force has overall respon-
sibility for control of supporting arms, the nature of
amphibious operations may require supporting arms con-
trol to be passed from command to command within the
amphibious task force.11 Doctrine provides for flexi-
bility for the control of supporting arms, but success
will be dependent on the experience of commanders, unit
training, equipment maintenance, and available shipping.
3. The lack of naval gunfire training is a particularly
difficult problem area to reconcile. Most marines have
never participated in a training exercise when naval
gunfire was actually integrated with the scheme of ma-
neuver. The lack of naval gunfire training takes on
increased significance when considering that over 5,500
marine, navy, and army personnel were killed during the
battle of Iwo Jima as a direct result of poor coopera-
tion between our services on the issue of naval gun-
fire.12 History should not be allowed to repeat itself.
A Look At The Future
Secretary Lehman has provided words which transcend the
incomplete listing of examples I have provided. Although
his words were not directed toward Navy-Marine Corps team-
work, they were prophetic nonetheless. According to Secre-
tary Lehman, an important prerequisite to maritime strategy
is to pay attention to those military leaders who possess
the foresight to recognize the requirements ahead and the
seasonal judgment to grasp the strategic implications of
those requirements. Such leaders clearly foresaw the re-
quirements of amphibious warfare in the decades before World
War II.13 His message poses a challenge for today's leaders.
It takes courage, foresight, and intestinal fortitude to
study new ideas and to develop doctrine for concepts that
are neither supported nor understood. As a team, we can
forge new doctrine and techniques much better than we can
It is incumbent upon navy leaders to recognize the
urgency of our unique problems. Amphibious doctrine changes
are definitely needed, and those changes will be difficult
to make without cooperation between our services. Adherence
to the World War II doctrine of assaulting a force beachhead
line, normally drawn from a trace of the final terrain objec-
tives of the landing force, should be considered obsolete.
The advent of the vertical envelopment concept and the land-
ing craft air cushioned vehicle also make the term "beach-
head" obsolete. Technology has literally revolutionized
amphibious warfare making over 70% of the earth's litorrals
assailable by amphibious assault. Such a feat would have
been impossible during World War II.
Technological advances, new ships, air cushioned vehi-
cles, helicopters, AV-8 aircraft, and improved weapons will
not make much difference if we have to face the Soviet's
without adequate training. As the Israeli's learned during
the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, unit and crew training are funda-
mental to success. The lethality of our weapons will not be
achieved unless our sailors and marines are trained as a
We cannot afford to lull ourselves into a false sense
of security because of our recent success during the Grenada
operation. Quite frankly, we were lucky. We extend a hand
of fellowship to the Navy. Our amphibious warfare relation-
ship should be more of a reality than a myth. Teamwork
will be the vital link to success in the next war.
1John Lehman, "Amphibious Capability and Maritime
Strategy," Marine Corps Gazette, Oct. '81, p. 38.
2Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., USMC(Ret.), The Marine
Officer's Guide, 4th ed. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press,
1977), p. 80.
3Brigadier General Hudson, Director of Education Center,
Marine Corps Development and Education Command, personal
interview about Navy-Marine Corps Teamwork, Quantico,
Virginia, January 31, 1984.
4Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines
and Amphibious War (New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1951), p. 22.
5Ibid., p. 23.
6Allan Westcott, ed., Mahan On Naval Warfare (Boston:
Little, Brown, and Company,1920), p. 8.
7Isely and Crowl, p. 251.
8Director of Naval Intelligence and Chief of Information
Understanding Soviet Naval Developments, 4th ed., Office of
the Chief of Naval Operations, January 1981, p. 11.
9Ibid., p. 7.
10Commander Laskey, USN, Amphibious Instruction Dept.,
Marine Corps Development and Education Command, personal
interview regarding amphibious shipping, Quantico, Virginia,
February 23, 1984.
11U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 7-1: Fire Support Coordination,
April 23, 1981, p. 4-4.
12Isely and Crowl, p. 444.
13Lehman, p. 40.
Heinl, Robert D., Jr., Col. USMC(Ret.). The Marine
Officers Guide. 4th ed. Annapolis: Naval Institute
Isely, Jeter A. and Crowl, Philip A. The U.S. Marines and
Amphibious War. New Jersey: Princeton University
Westcott, Allan, ed. Mahan On Naval Warfare. Boston:
Little, Brown, and Company, 1920.
Lehman, John. "Amphibious Capability and Maritime
Strategy." Marine Corps Gazette, October 1981,
Hudson, Brigadier General, Director of Education Center,
MCDEC. Personal interview about Navy-Marine Corps
Teamwork. Quantico, Virginia, January 31, 1984.
Laskey, Commander, USN, Amphibious Instruction Dept.,
MCDEC. Personal interview regarding amphibious
shipping. Quantico, Virginia, February 23, 1984.
Director of Naval Intelligence and Chief of Information.
Understanding Soviet Naval Developments. Office of
the Chief of Naval Operations, January 1981.
U.S. Marine Corps. FMFM 7-1: Fire Support Coordination.
April 23, 1981.
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