The act of mutiny occurs whenever a group of people (especially soldiers or sailors) refuses to obey orders and (or) attempts to take control away from their lawfully appointed officers or senior NCOs. In all, there were 19 mutinies in the Royal Navy. Two of these occurred in 1797, known as the Spithead and Nore mutinies — the first in an increasing number of outbreaks of maritime radicalism in the so-called Atlantic passage. At the first, the Spithead mutiny was peaceful and successfully addressed common economic grievances. The Nore mutiny was just the opposite.
A Word About Marines
Historically, as a principal duty, marines serve as naval infantry. The word is French for “by sea,” which is probably why the French have always referred to English troops as marines. They always arrived by sea.
Initially, a ship’s crew assumed the tasks of marines at sea. They were, first, sailors. There was not much distinction between sailors and soldiers aboard ships because, for the most part, the crews of vessels fighting one another met in close combat, and it was a melee. Sailors had to know how to fight. But they also had to know how to fight once they reached their destinations.
In antiquity, Roman soldiers fought on Roman combat ships as marines. The Italians were the first to employ specially trained sailors to serve as naval infantry (c. 1200s). The chief magistrate of Venice assigned ten companies of these specialized troops to a naval squadron and sent them off to address some disagreement with the Byzantines. The mission went well for the Italians, and so they decided to retain such men and called them “sea infantry.” Soon after, the idea caught on with other countries. The Spanish Marine Corps, founded in 1537, is the world’s oldest (still-active) corps of marines. The Netherlands created its corps of marines in 1665. In most cases, though, modern marines are specially trained sailors.
The British Royal Marines were the first naval infantry who were NOT sailors. During the 1600s and 1700s, the Royal Navy would form regiments of marines by taking soldiers from the British Army and disbanding them when no longer needed on active service. In 1775, the American Congress formed Marine battalions modeled on the role of their British counterparts — to serve as naval infantry. Today, U.S. Marines are trained from the beginning of their commissions/enlistments to serve as naval infantry — although the Continental Congress stipulated in the recruitment of marines “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required.”
The employment of Marines as general handymen and orderlies for flag officers of the Navy is no innovation. So ingrained had this idea become by 1881 that a naval encyclopedia in that year defined the word “orderly” as “a Marine private detailed as a messenger for the commanding officer.” The admiral’s orderly, therefore, had to be a leatherneck — a bluejacket wouldn’t do. And it became the role of marines, not engaged in combat at sea, to preserve order aboard ship. In port, sentinel posts were established to prevent desertion — and at all times, marines kept an ear cocked for the faintest rumblings of mutiny.
Mutiny at sea was always problematic — and in 1797, what made it so was the fact that Great Britain was at war with Revolutionary France. The Royal Navy was a primary component of the war effort. There were also concerns among home offices — that the mutinies might be part of broader attempts at revolutionary sedition instigated by “troublemaking organizations,” such as the London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen (see also: “Conclusion”).
Spithead was an anchorage near Portsmouth, and at anchor were sixteen ships under the command of Admiral Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport. No country has done a marvelous job caring for its Navy’s ships or the men who handle them, and the United Kingdom is no exception. And the men were not happy. Between 16 April to 15 May, the men of the channel fleet protested against the living conditions aboard ship, they demanded more pay for their services, better food, increased shore leave, and compensation for sickness and injury.
On 26 April, a supportive mutiny broke out on the additional 15 ships, each of which sent delegates to Spithead to participate in negotiations. It was probably about time for a review of pay accorded to the men of the sea. Their pay tables dated to 1658. The pay was still reasonable for those times — even through the Seven Years’ War. But in the last decades of the 18th century, nations experienced high inflation rates. Sailors with families to support were struggling to make do.
Another sore point for the Navy was the fact that, in recent years, the government granted pay increases to the British Army, to militia forces, and even to naval officers. But another issue affecting morale — and perhaps the Royal Navy’s budget- was its new practice of coppering the hulls of its warships. In 1761, coppering meant that combat ships no longer had to return to port as often to have their hulls scraped. The additional time at sea significantly altered the sea service rhythm, yet the Admiralty had made no adjustments. Senior officers were slow to grasp the difficulty of the deck-hands work. Impressment was a common practice suggesting that some of the crew served against their will.
Finally, in the war with France, the British Admiralty announced a new quota system known as the Quod. More than one clever politician discovered that sending convicted criminals to serve with the Navy was convenient. Generally, these “conscripts” did not mix well with a ship’s company. Dissention aboard ship was one of the items on a marine’s to-do list.
The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay, demanding an end to the so-called 14-ounce purser’s pound. And the men wanted to get rid of a few officers, as well. No one mentioned flogging or impressment … but they could not abide an ass wearing an officer’s uniform. Throughout the mutiny, the crews maintained their regular naval routines aboard their ships and their discipline, and they consented to allow some ships to leave Spithead for convoy escort duties or combat patrols and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.
Negotiations broke down over such issues as pardons for mutineers, and some minor incidents broke out with a few unpopular officers. When the situation calmed down again, Fleet Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe (brother of Major General Sir William Howe) intervened to negotiate an agreement to obtain a royal pardon for all crews, the reassignment of some unpopular officers, a pay raise, and abolition of the purser’s pound.
The Nore Mutiny
The Nore is a long bank of sand and silt running along the south-central portion of England’s final narrowing of the Thames Estuary. Until 1964, it was the seaward limit of the Port of London. It was so dangerous that the world’s first lightship was established there in 1732.
Inspired by the example of their comrades at Spithead, the sailors at The Nore also mutinied an incident that began on 12 May 1797. The sailors of HMS Sandwich seized control of the ship, and several other ships within call’s reach followed their example. Other ships quietly slipped away despite gunfire from the ships in rebellion. Scattered ships make it difficult to organize mutinies among other ships, but each involved vessel quickly elected its delegates. The men of HMS Sandwich elected Seaman Richard Parker to serve as President of the Delegates of the Fleet.
Seaman Parker was a former master’s mate who was reduced in rank at a court-martial for insubordination and subsequently discharged. Life was hard for Parker in Exeter, and he fell into debt. This situation caused the county council to nominate Parker for duty with the Navy, and he found himself as an ordinary seaman aboard Sandwich. He had only recently joined the crew when the mutiny broke out. Parker, an older and more experienced man, fully aware of the squalid conditions aboard Sandwich, took no part in the mutiny, but he did empathize with the crew, and he agreed to represent them with the officer commanding — even though he exercised no control over the actions of the mutineers.
Crewmen formulated a list of eight demands and, on 20 May 1797, presented them to Admiral Charles Buckner. They wanted pardons, increased pay, and modifications of the Articles of War and demanded that the King dissolve Parliament and make immediate peace with France. As one might imagine, the demands infuriated the Admiralty, which offered nothing in return except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty. By the first of June, mutinied ships formed a blockade of the Thames.
Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, commanding HMS Neptune in the upper Thames, put together a flotilla of fifty loyal ships and determined to use them to prevent mutineers from reaching the City of London. It was essentially Gower’s intentions that made the mutineers at Nore begin to waiver, but not before they made the wrong decision to blockade London, which prevented merchant vessels from entering port. Parker then decided to move the mutinied ships to France — which infuriated the regular English sailors and caused them to take back a few ships.
Among most of the mutineers at The Nore, if anyone was thinking about treason, it was only a few. Most men simply wanted less squalid living conditions, better food, and better pay. Parker issued orders to allow passage to merchant ships on the Thames but ordered the detention of the Royal Navy’s victualling ships. Historians claim that Parker wanted the Admiralty to have a good impression of the mutineer’s intent; other academics argue that it was a bit more complex than that. And, in any case, Parker was out of his depth.
After the successful resolution of the Spithead mutiny, the Admiralty was not inclined to make any further concessions, mainly as they felt some leaders of the Nore mutiny had political aims beyond improving pay and living conditions. The rebellion fell apart when Parker signaled ships to sail to France. When the mutineers (on most ships) observed the signal, they refused.
It did not take long for the Royal Navy to convict Seaman Parker — of treason and piracy. It also did not take the Royal Navy to hand him from the yardarm of Sandwich. Shown at right is Parker’s death mask.
Following Parker on the yardarm were 29 other seamen. An additional 29 went to prison. Nine men received a flogging, and several more found themselves headed for the penal colony in Australia. Most men, however, received no punishment — which until then was unheard of in the Royal Navy.
One tidbit: posting the watch
Ship’s crews stand their watches (periods of duty) according to the hour of the day. In the days of sail, watches were divided into two sections: port and starboard. Each of these was on duty for four hours, and then they were off duty for four hours. One stroke of the bell indicates the first half hour of the watch. An additional bell strikes for each succeeding half-hour. Eight bells indicate the end of a four-hour watch. Whenever the time calls for two or more bells, they are sounded in groups of two.
The first five watches
First watch: 20:00 to 00:00
Middle watch: 00:01 to 04:00
Morning watch: 04:01 to 08:00
Forenoon watch: 08:01 to 12:00
Afternoon watch: 12:01 to 16:00
Following the afternoon watch, the next four hours are divided into two “Dog Watches.” The first dog watch occurs from 16:01 to 18:00, and the second dog watch from 18:01 to 20:00. The dog watch can be changed every day so that each watch gets a turn at eight hours of rest at night. Otherwise, each crew member would be on duty for the same hours daily.
Before The Nore mutiny, Royal Navy vessels sounded five bells to signal the end of the last dog watch; after The Nore mutiny, five bells no longer signified the last dog watch because that was the signal aboard Sandwich to begin the mutiny.
There have seldom been what one might call “good feelings” between the English and the Irish. The Society of United Irishmen was a sworn association in the Kingdom of Ireland formed after the French Revolution to secure “equal representation” of all the people. In 1798, the society instigated a republican insurrection in defiance of the British Crown. Espousing principles they believed had been vindicated by the American Revolution, and the French Declaration of the rights of man, Presbyterian merchants who formed the organization in Belfast vowed to make cause with their Catholic brethren. In 1800, England abolished the Irish legislature, and everything went downhill from that point forward.
At the time of the Spithead and The Nore mutinies, British politicians assumed that the United Irishmen were behind these troubles as part of a plot to overthrow the British monarchy and establish in its place a British Republic. This was not true, of course, but given their turbulent past, everyone (Irish or British) was prepared to believe it.
Nalty, B. Certain Aspects of Manpower Utilization in the Marine Corps: Historical Background. Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1959.
Roulo, C. Why Are Marines Part of the Navy? U.S. Department of Defense, online publication.
Manwaring, G. E. The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797. Harcourt-Brace, 1935.
Woodman, R. A Brief History of Mutiny. Carroll & Graff, 2005.
 Introduced by Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) in 1795. The system required every British county to provide a certain number of men for service in the Royal Navy. The quota depended on the population of the counties. In some cases, county commissions found it difficult to meet their quota, so they offered bounties to landsmen, which created some dissension among regular swabbies. The system lasted through 1815, when the British decommissioned most of its navy.
 The purser’s pound was an arrangement where the ship’s purser was allowed to keep 2 ounces of food for every 16 ounces of food sold to the crew.
 Howe commanded HMS Baltimore during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745.
 Master’s Mate is no longer a rank in the British or American navies. Originally, the master’s mate was an experienced senior petty officer who assisted the ship’s master but was not in line for an officer’s commission. By the mid-18th century, though, this rate was a senior midshipman awaiting a commission to lieutenant.
Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers. It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).
Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other. France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces. Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results. Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.
The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain). At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain also aligned with France (1761). Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.
Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare. These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later. In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent. Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.
Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful. As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.
Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power. Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.
What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare. Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders. Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great. At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.
What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.
Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions. It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution. For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”
Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament. His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature. But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare. The doctrine belongs to him alone.
There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.
Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.” Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement. He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment. His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation. The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations.
His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war. Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability. He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat. Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.
The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship. There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years. Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea. But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754. And opportunities that no one imagined. Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years. It had simply not reached its full potential.
We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques. This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey. It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history. Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years. Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks. At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece. They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.
At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul. He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine. To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast. He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque. Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.
In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar. The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy). There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.
With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul. In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult. None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however. Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.
Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion. He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer. A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.
The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships. Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline. The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations. The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective. But the Veneti ships were also slower. The Romans were engineers. They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships. The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water. The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae. After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword. From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore. However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners. See also: Mare Nostrum.
Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries. The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people. In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England). But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful. Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.
The Marines and their Corps
The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas. The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start. Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.
While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore. Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.
U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts. In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.
Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916). As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace. Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments. This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.
Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested. Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.
To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well. In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.
By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine. These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.
After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned. At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles. Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific. For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.
In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high. Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort. Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943). The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war. Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.
When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan. They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater. No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.
The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly. Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns. The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy. They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy. This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.
And one did
Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”
One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old. He was from the “old school” American military. He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument. But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action. And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war. If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along. This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.
Two significant facts about this decision stand out. First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten. They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago. Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten. Two. There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.
When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended. The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years. Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years. While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East. In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949. In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).
Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations. As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.
For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil. ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic. One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.
When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past. They could not have been more wrong about that. The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.” The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it. Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help. The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.
The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action. It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years. What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done. It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong. While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea. On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.
Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas. In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group. The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).
More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet. Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year. Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.
Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur. Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.
During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements. Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations. Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.
No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement. At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.
Anderson, F. The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books, 2006.
Baden, C. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Brill Publishing, 2010.
Blanning, T. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Yale University, 2016.
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War. Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
Fowler, W. H. Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America. Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare. Marine Corps University, 2020.
Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
Ricks, T. E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Press, 2012.
Savage, M. U.S. Marines in the Civil War. Warfare History Network, 2014.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918. Oxford Press, 1954.
Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922. Indiana University Press, 2009.
 “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.
 Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Random House, 2007.
 The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad). The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years. Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.
 After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim. For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled. That would be the Marines, of course. For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.
 For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage. This may be true. There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II. On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?
 In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation.
Archaeologists and historians will say that maritime history dates back “thousands” of years, citing evidence of sea trade between ancient civilizations and the discovery of pre-historic boats, such as dugout canoes developed somewhat independently by various stone age populations. Of course, fashioning out a handmade canoe and using it to cross a river may not exactly qualify as “maritime.” Nor should we conclude that Austronesian explorers qualified as a naval force, per se, but it was a start.
Egyptians had well-developed trade routes over the Red Sea to Arabia. Navigation was known to the Sumerians between 4,000-3,000 B.C., and it was the search for trade routes that led the world into the Age of Exploration and Discovery.
Minoan traders from Crete were active in the Mediterranean by 2,000 B.C., and the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese) became a somewhat substantial maritime culture from around 2,500 to 64 B.C. What the ancient Syrians, Greeks, and Romans knew of sailing vessels, they learned from the Phoenicians. At least, that’s what we believe.
The Romans were an agricultural/land-based culture. There is evidence of a “warship” that carried a Roman ambassador to Delphi in 394 BC, but history’s first mention of a Roman navy didn’t occur until 311 B.C. In that year, citizens of Rome elected two men to serve as “naval officers,” charging them with creating and maintaining a fleet of ships. They were called Duumviri Navales (literally, “two men for dealing with naval matters). Each officer controlled twenty ships. There is some confusion, however, whether these officers exercised command over Roman ships or those of Roman allies. The ships were very likely triremes — a type of galley with three banks of oars (one man per oar).
Because Rome was a land-based culture, its primary defense and expansionist element was its land army. Maritime trade did become an important element of the Roman economy, but this trade involved privately owned ships who assumed the risk of losses at sea due to storms and pirates rather than “Roman flagged” vessels. When Rome did incorporate naval warships, they always served in a support role and as part of the Roman Army. Any career soldier today will tell you that’s the way it should be — but then this would be the same kind of soldier who thought it would be a good idea to use camels in the U.S. Cavalry.
Ships capable of survival at sea were always an expensive proposition, and comparatively speaking, there were never large numbers of people standing in line to go to sea. Men of the ancient world were always fearful of the sea (as they should be even now). To avoid the expense of building and maintaining ships, a Roman legate generally called upon Greeks to provide ships and crews whenever necessary to impose blockades.
It wasn’t until the Romans set their sights on Sicily in 265 BC that they realized that their land-based army needed the support of a fleet of ships to maintain a flow of supplies and communicate with the Roman Senate. This realization prompted the senate to approve the construction of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes in 261 B.C. Note also that quinqueremes were referred to as “the fives” because the rowers were arranged in groups of five. The Romans arranged their ships’ company as centuries (100 men per ship). Contrary to Hollywood films, Roman crews, particularly the rowers, were seldom slaves. Roman crewmen were free-born citizens or provincials who signed on as rowers, artisans, riggers, or Marinus (Marines).
To the Marines (naval infantry) fell the task of defending their ship or assaulting an enemy vessel. This was accomplished by archers, followed by boarders armed with the Roman gladii (short sword). Thus, the primary tactical objective at sea was to board and seize enemy ships. What a fantastic experience that must have been. Boarding activities remained prevalent long after the advent of sailing ships, gunpowder, and massive cannon.
Naval Forces in the Middle Ages
Beginning sometime after 1300 rowed A.D. galleys were replaced by sailing ships armed with broadside-mounted cannons. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this innovation because combining the striking power of massed artillery with shipboard Marines firing from the topsail rigging was an enormous leap forward in naval warfare. Equally significant, naval power became the means by which Europeans created and maintained their overseas empires.
However, early in the Elizabethan era, ships were thought of as little more than transport vehicles for troops. The goal then was to corral an enemy ship, storm it, and capture it. There was no value to sinking an enemy ship. A sea captain could sell a captured ship, its cargo, and occasionally, he could ransom passengers and crew or sell them into slavery.
Beginning in medieval times, the design of ships emphasized resistance to boarders. A ship’s aft and forecastle, for example, closely resembled towering fortresses bristling with archery and gun slits. Necessity being the mother of invention, maritime tactics evolved further when it became apparent that defeating the enemy would require “other means.”
The Royal Navy’s Articles of War
What the United States Navy knew about operations at sea it learned from the British Royal Navy, and if we are to understand how the Royal Navy became the world’s most formidable sea power, then we must look to the British Navy’s Articles of War. The Articles of War governed how men in uniform conducted themselves under almost every set of circumstances, including during combat.
To begin with, a British navy commander’s defeat at sea was never acceptable to either the sovereign, the admiralty, or to the Parliament. The commanding officer of a British warship must engage the enemy and defeat him, or he must die in the attempt — even if the British ship was “outclassed.” The standard applied to naval warfare in the 1700s and 1800s was that a British naval commander entrusted with the control of a warship should defeat an enemy ship twice as large as his own. Fighting the vessel was the British commander’s first critical mission; winning the fight was the second.
Article XII, Articles of War, 1749:
“ Every person in the Fleet, who through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection, shall in time of action withdraw or keep, or not come into the fight or engagement, or shall not to do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of His Majesty’s Ships, or those of his allies, which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death.”
Before 1749, British naval officers had demonstrated a tendency to refuse to engage the enemy if there was any possibility that the British ship would be lost. This behavior was, perhaps, caused in part by common sense and the fact that naval courts refused to inflict severe punishments on such officers. The Articles of War of 1661 allowed that losses at sea could result from the ill fortunes of nature, but Article XII ruled out all such excuses.
Nor was there, after 1749, a great deal of “special trust and confidence” in the fidelity and ability of British naval commanders. We know this because it was the duty of the ship’s First Lieutenant to maintain a log of his captain’s actions — he was the ship’s watchdog. If the First Lieutenant had formed a too-personal relationship with his captain, other lieutenants were encouraged to watch and record the actions of the First Lieutenant. The ship’s master also maintained a journal. The Royal Navy’s intent was clear: there would be no lying or “fudging” journals in His or Her Majesty’s navy.
Nothing was more motivational, however than case law.
The island of Minorca had been a British possession since 1708, captured during the War of Spanish Succession. In 1748, government cost-cutting measures reduced the Royal Navy to three ships of the line in the Mediterranean Sea. As the British sought to expand their territory in North America in 1754, hostilities broke out between the British and French (and their Indian allies), quickly spreading to British and French allies in Europe.
In 1755, France began the process of constructing twelve new warships. British diplomats warned the Home Office that France would soon be in a position to attack Minorca. Lord High Admiral George Anson, out of his concern of a possible French invasion of England, recalled the Mediterranean squadron and assigned them to patrol duties along England’s long coastline. The Royal Navy could not afford to lose three ships of the line.
On 11 March 1756, the British Admiralty ordered Admiral John Byng to raise a fleet of ten ships, proceed to Toulon to protect the British garrison at Port Mahon. However, only six ships were present in Portsmouth, and all of them were in a state of disrepair (not ready for sea). Moreover, none of those ships were fully manned. Admiral Byng, realizing that there was no money to repair the vessels or construct four additional ships and because no one in England was willing to enlist in the Royal Navy, struggled to find a solution to the problem. There were no solutions. Admiral Byng promptly protested his orders. What the Admiralty demanded of him was impossible to achieve.
The Admiralty eventually provided funds for ship repairs and instructed Byng to carry out his orders. When shipwrights informed Byng that repairs would take longer than expected, the Admiralty ordered Byng to outfit channel ships and proceed to Port Mahon in advance of his somewhat diminished fleet.
On 6 April, still short of men, the British army loaned the navy Colonel Robert Bertie’s fusilier regiment, enabling Admiral Byng to set sail from Portsmouth. While Byng was en route to Toulon, a fleet of French naval vessels escorted 1,000 tartanes and other transports carrying 15,000 French troops to the far western side of Minorca.
Upon his arrival at Gibraltar, Admiral Byng reported to the senior officer, Lieutenant General Thomas Fowke. In their meeting, Byng presented Fowke with a letter from the British Home Office instructing him to provide Admiral Byng with such troops as he may require toward completing his mission.
When Byng realized that the French had landed a large force of soldiers at Minorca, he requested a regiment of Royal Marines to bolster his forces. General Fowke refused. His refusal may have had some justification if, for example, providing the Marines would have reduced Fowke’s ability to defend the British garrison as Gibraltar. In any case, Admiral Byng’s problem was further complicated because the ship repair facility at Gibraltar was inadequate to the task of repairing his ships. Frustrated, Byng dispatched a terse note to the Admiralty explaining his situation and then, despite his dire circumstances, sailed toward Minorca to assess the situation first hand.
The Battle of Minorca was fought on 20 May 1756. Byng had gained the weather gauge and ordered a lasking maneuver but his lead ship, HMS Defiance, rather than steering directly toward the enemy’s front, took a course parallel to that of the French fleet — with HMS Portland, Buckingham, and Lancaster, following in trace. The delay in getting his ships back into the proper formation allowed the French to make the rest of the battle a running fight.
After a battle of around four hours in duration, the French successfully withdrew from Minorca with 38 dead seamen and 168 wounded. Admiral Byng suffered extensive damage to one ship and the loss of 43 sailors killed and 173 wounded. Still, Byng took up station near Minorca for four days. After holding a council of war with his captains, Admiral Byng decided to return to Gibraltar for repairs, arriving on 19 June.
Before Byng could return to sea, a ship arrived from England with dispatches. The Admiralty relieved Byng of his command, the Home Office relieved General Fowke of his command, and both men were ordered back to England to face court-martial charges.
Upon arrival in England, authorities took Byng and Fowke into custody; both men received courts-martial. The Home Office charged General Fowke with disobeying an order to support Byng with troops. The Admiralty charged Byng with violating Article XII, failing to do his duty against the enemy.
Admiral Byng’s court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the charge of cowardice, but he was found guilty of failing to exercise command of his fleet and failing to engage the enemy. He was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Admiral of the Fleet John Forbes, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, was the officer who defeated the French at the Battle of Toulon in 1744. It fell upon Forbes to sign Byng’s death warrant. Forbes refused to sign the warrant because he believed Byng’s sentence was excessive and illegal. King George II refused to grant clemency to Byng and further declined to approve Prime Minister William Pitt’s recommendation for commutation. Thus, on 14 March 1757, Admiral Byng was escorted to the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch and shot dead by a squad of Royal Marines.
Article XII established the standard for command responsibility, but Byng’s court-martial set the legal precedent: a commanding officer is responsible for the actions of his subordinates. If a junior officer runs the ship aground, the captain is responsible. If a ship’s commander fails to maneuver his vessel properly, his senior officer is responsible. If a captain fails to fight his ship, his admiral is responsible.
The American Navy
The power of Congress to regulate the Army and Navy was first established during the Second Continental Congress, which on 30 June 1775, legislated 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army (which, at the time, also included the Navy). The Articles of War, 1775, were not identical to the Articles of War promulgated by Great Britain but quite similar. Congress retained this power in the U.S. Constitution, promulgated within Article I, section 8, stating, “It shall be the power of the Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”
On 10 April 1806, Congress enacted 101 Articles of War. These were not significantly revised until 1912 and remained in effect until 31 May 1951, when Congress developed and implemented the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Notably, Article 52 of the Articles of War (1806) stated:
“Any officer or soldier, who shall misbehave himself before the enemy, run away, or shamefully abandon any fort, post, or guard, which he or they may be commanded to defend, or speak words inducing others to do the like, or shall cast away his arms and ammunition, or who shall quit his post or colours [sic] to plunder and pillage, every such offender, being duly convicted thereof, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.”
About navy fighting formations
There were only a few fighting formations of a naval fleet under sail. Responsibility for selecting which formation (or variation) employed during a sea battle fell to the fleet admiral (or commodore): line ahead, line abreast, and line of bearing. The admiral also determined sailing order — first ship in line, second, and so forth. In establishing his combat formation, the fleet admiral would attempt to gain the weather gauge and signal his intent to subordinate commanders through signal flags.
The line ahead formation did not allow for concentration of fire because, for naval guns to be effective on a rolling platform, combatants had to close to 300 — 500 yards of the enemy. The most devastating assault came from raking fire, initiated either from the bow or stern where cannon shot would do the most damage by traveling the length of the enemy ship.
Admiral Horatio Nelson was the first British officer to break the line in 1797 and again in 1805. His instruction to his captains was, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of his enemy.” Breaking the enemy’s line disrupted the enemy’s cohesion and made it possible to overwhelm individual ships and seize them. Again, the primary aim of the battle formation was to board and capture the enemy’s ships.
Boarding Operations may be the world’s oldest example of naval warfare. The boarding of an enemy vessel, or a friendly one to capture it from pirates and other low vermin, is an example of up close and personal extremism — which more or less defines all close combat. To achieve cross-ship boarding, the offending vessel needed to sail alongside the enemy vessel and direct an assault onto the enemy vessel. The individuals performing this operation were sailors and Marines who were (and are) trained for such missions. In the days of sail, sailors performed the task when the attacking ship was too small for a detachment of Marines.
Armed with swords, cutlasses, pistols, muskets, boarding axes, pikes, and grenades, the boarding party attacked the enemy crew, beginning with the helmsman and officer of the watch, or the ship’s captain if present on the bridge, all gun crews, and any other crewman left alive. Again, the purpose of boarding operations was to seize the ship, which was always the intent of privateers and pirates — even today.
Captain John Paul Jones conducted a classic example of boarding operations during the American Revolution. Jones’ Marines assaulted HMS Serapis from the sinking USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779. Captain Jones’s boarding operation is exemplary because it was the only known fight during the Age of Sail when a ship’s captain captured an enemy ship while losing his own. In 1813, the British returned the compliment by boarding and seizing USS Chesapeake from HMS Shannon.
Boarding enemy ships was also the purpose of the “cutting out” operations during the Age of Sail. To “cut out” is to seize and carry off an enemy vessel while at anchor in a harbor or at sea. The operation would typically target a small warship (a brig, sloop, or a two-masted ship of fewer than 20 guns). Cutting out operations avoided larger ships because of the crew size (300 or so men).
A cutting-out party would generally include sailors and Marines who began the assault in the dark of night. For an example of a cutting-out operation, see also At the Heart of the Corpsand the capture of the Sandwich during the Quasi-War with France.
Boarding operations are rare in modern times. U. S. Marines conducted their last boarding operation during the Mayaguez Incident in 1975, which involved a vertical assault from helicopters. Current operations may also involve small submarines and inflatable boats. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely incorporates boarding operations as part of its maritime drug interdiction operations.
A Final Note
While the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a massive improvement over the articles of war, severe penalties are still prescribed for certain crimes. The Manual for Courts-martial, Article 99 (Misbehavior Before the Enemy) includes, as offenses: (a) running away from a fight, (b) shamefully abandoning, surrendering, or delivering up any command, unit, place, or military property, which it is a duty to defend, (c) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct, endanger the safety of any command, unit, place, or military property, (d) casting away arms (weapons) or ammunition, (e) displaying cowardly conduct, (f) quitting one’s place of duty to plunder or pillage, (g) causing false alarms, (h) willfully failing to do one’s utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is a serviceman’s duty to do, and/or (i) failing to afford all practicable relief and assistance to troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces of the United States or their allies when engaged in battle. Any person found guilty of these offenses shall face a maximum punishment of death.
Abbot, W. J. The Naval History of the United States. Collier Press, 1896.
Bradford, J. C. Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two centuries of American Naval Leaders. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1955.
McKee, C. A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U. S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991
Rak, M. J., Captain, USN. The Quasi-War and the Origins of the Modern Navy and Marine Corps. Newport: U.S. Naval War College, 2020
The Library of Congress, Military Legal Resources, online.
Warming, R. An Introduction to Hand-to-Hand Combat at Sea: General Characteristics and Shipborne Tactics from 1210 BCE to 1600 CE. Academia College, 2019.
Winthorpe, W. Military Law and Precedents. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920.
United States Constitution, Article I, section 8.
 The quinquereme was the more common Hellenistic-era warship, and the heaviest at that particular time. The Romans seized a Carthaginian ship, took it back to Rome, reverse-engineered it, and used it as a blueprint for Roman-made ships. The quinquereme had three to five banks of oars. The trireme had only three banks of oars but was much lighter and faster.
 Roman commanders of these ships were “Magistrates,” who knew nothing of sailing ships, but they were supported by lower-ranking officers who were seasoned sailors (most likely Greek seamen).
 Sinking ships as a naval strategy didn’t evolve until the mid-1800s when nations began building ironclad ships.
 In time, a ship’s captain would share the prize money with his crew as a reward for their victory at sea.
 The term “ship’s captain” is the traditional title of the person who serves in overall command of a ship. The naval rank of that person could be Lieutenant, Commander, or Captain — but no matter what his rank, he is called “Captain.” A ship’s master is the person who runs the ship (rather than commanding it). He is the most experienced seaman, and what he doesn’t know about running a ship isn’t worth knowing.
 One could understand this mindset in the British Army, where aristocrats bought and sold commissions. Under those conditions, there was never a guarantee that a colonel knew what the hell he was doing. The Royal Navy never sold commissions. All navy officers were promoted on merit.
 Channel ships (or Packet Ships) were medium-sized vessels designed to carry mail, passengers, and cargo. They were not suitable for sea battles with regular ships of the line.
 A fusil is a flintlock musket; a fusilier is someone who shoots a fusil. Also, musketeer or in modern parlance, a rifleman.
 A tartane was a small coastal trader/fishing vessel.
 A maneuver in which all ships turn into the enemy at once.
 King George II dismissed Fowke from the Army. King George III later reinstated him.
 Line-ahead battle formation (also, Ship of the line warfare) was a columnar formation developed in the mid-17th Century whereby each ship followed in the wake of the ship ahead at regular intervals. This formation maximized the firing power of the broadside and allowed for rapid “melee formation” or, if necessary, disengagement. Note that a ship of the line was of the largest (most formidable) fighting ship used in the line of battle (formation).
The first colonial resolution for creating a naval force came from Rhode Island on 12 June 1775. One old saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Not that a navy was a new idea, but rather the realization that if the colonies intended to make good on their declaration of independence, they would need freedom of navigation and stout defense of the colony’s long coastline to do it. Rhode Island took this initiative because the Royal Navy’s harassment costs to that colony’s shipping were high. Two months later, Rhode Island proposed a single Continental Fleet (funded by all thirteen colonies, of course).
In October 1775, Congress passed a resolution creating the Continental Navy. It would take something more than a piece of paper to build an adequate navy, of course, and the fact is that the Continental Navy had a somewhat rough beginning. But by the early part of 1779, America’s naval effort against British shipping had a favorable impact. Privateers, particularly those working the Atlantic between New York and Nova Scotia, had become exceptionally proficient in intercepting and assaulting British cargo vessels — so well, in fact, that by the spring, the Royal Navy began escorting convoys of cargo ships to North America.
The downside of the British convoy system was that it siphoned off Royal Navy ships from other tasks. Moreover, the activities of American privateers forced the British to develop the strategy of taking shelter in protected anchorages near active sea lanes — places from which they could dispatch patrols against American raiders. The coast of Maine was especially useful in this regard because of its many estuaries, because the region contained a large number of British loyalists, and because the forested areas in Maine were a primary source of timber for American shipbuilding.
General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the colonies, instructed the commander of British forces in Nova Scotia, Brigadier General Francis McLean, to establish a fortification on the Penobscot River — one capable of housing 400-500 men, with a magazine. Beyond the construction of a fortification, Clinton also instructed McLean to offer land grants to local inhabitants in exchange for their oath of loyalty to the British Crown. McLean’s regiment would consist of 400 men from the 74th Regiment of Foot (Argyle Highlanders) and another 100 men from the King’s Orange Rangers (a loyalist regiment in New Jersey).
In May 1779, General McLean decided to enlarge his force to 640 men. Four-hundred forty of these would come from the 74th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell, and, since the King’s Orange Rangers could not provide an additional 100 men, McLean decided to excuse the rangers from service and replace them with 200 men from his own regiment, the 82nd.
General McLean’s convoy departed Halifax on 30 May escorted by HMS Blonde, HMS North, HMS Nautilus, HMS Albany, and HMS Hope. Pathfinders reconnoitered the banks of the Penobscot River in mid-June to find a suitable site for the fort. McLean decided on a peninsula that extends into the bay from the eastern shore known as Bagaduce. At the time of McLean’s arrival at Bagaduce, the land was covered by an evergreen forest of fir and pine. A protected bay opened to the South. For his building site, the General chose an elevated plateau near the middle of the peninsula. From that position, McLean’s cannon could command access to the bay. A thick forest obscured the river (western side) of the arm.
Once General McLean’s force and supplies had been off-loaded, he anticipated that Captain Andrew Barkley, commanding the flotilla, would leave several ships at anchor in the bay. Barkley, however, intended to withdraw all his ships except HMS Albany (under Captain Henry Mowat). An argument ensued between Barkley and McLean, which was only resolved when Barkley became aware that several American frigates operated off the coast of Halifax. Without Barkley’s flotilla, Halifax was virtually at the mercy of the American navy. Eventually, Captain Barkley permitted HMS Albany, HMS North, and HMS Nautilus to remain behind at Bagaduce along with McLean’s transport ships.
American rebels quickly learned of McLean’s landing. One rumor warned that General McLean commanded 1,500 men. Brigadier General Charles Cushing of the Massachusetts militia suggested that several county militias might be required to disengage McLean. Rebel spies kept the Council of Massachusetts regularly informed of McLean’s activities. With so much reliance upon the sea for its economic welfare, it would only be a matter of time before the Americans challenged the British in Nova Scotia.
The alarmed Council of Massachusetts wasted no time in making an appeal to the Congressional Navy Board for their assistance in removing the British threat. The Navy Board advised its Marine Committee of these circumstances and tendered its recommendation that Congress order its ships to address this new British threat.
Money was tight in 1779. Even before the Marine Committee could formulate its reply, the Navy Board sent a letter back to the Massachusetts Council informing them that the Navy Board concurred with any “proper measures” Massachusetts may undertake to dislodge the enemy from Penobscot. Apparently, without saying as much, the Continental Congress thought it would be great if Massachusetts paid for the operation. Congress did offer them the services of Captain Dudley Saltonstall and four Continental Navy ships to achieve the ouster of the British garrison at Penobscot, however.
As a senior Continental Navy officer, Saltonstall would serve as commodore of Continental and Massachusetts ships. Preparation for the sea began aboard the sloops Warren, Providence, and Brige. Taking a ship to sea in 1779 was difficult because recruiting experienced crews was nearly impossible. Experienced sailors preferred to serve aboard privateers where the pay was better and sea passages much safer.
On 29 June 1779, the Council of Massachusetts formed a small committee whose task was to direct the province of New Hampshire to raise a militia. The Council of New Hampshire agreed to send a 20-gun privateer, the Hampden. Hampden was armed with six and 9-pound cannon and carried a complement of 130 men. In addition to Hampden and the four Continental ships, the American flotilla would include three vessels of the Massachusetts Navy, twelve privateers paid for by Massachusetts, and several merchant ships hired to carry supplies from Boston and militia from York Lincoln, and Cumberland counties.
In addition to Continental Marines serving aboard Captain Saltonstall’s ships, the plan for the Penobscot Expedition included 1,500 militia recruited from Maine’s three southern-most counties. Unfortunately, it was no easier to recruit soldiers than it was sailors and Maine recruiters fell short of their quota by around six hundred men.
The solution to Maine’s shortage of volunteers was conscription, which netted mostly young boys, invalids, and elderly men. Without waiting for a second draft effort, Maine’s Adjutant General marched his 433 men to a rendezvous at Townsend (present-day Boothbay Harbor). The number of men drafted from York and Lincoln was also disappointing. At Townsend, militia Brigadier General Solomon Lovell, the designated commander of land forces, could only muster 873 men.
There was no time to train these men. The Council of Massachusetts wanted to assault Bagaduce before the British could complete the construction of their fort. General Lovell opted to take his small force ahead to Bagaduce while a call for more men went out to adjacent colonies. If mustered, these additional men would proceed to Bagaduce as soon as possible; if not, then Lovell would have to make do with what he had.
Small groups of transport ships and privateers rendezvoused in Nantasket Roads during mid-July. Given the primitive communications of the day, one wonders how long a ship’s captain would wait around for something to happen before losing interest. Still, by 23 July, all naval units were anchored off Townsend, and militia began boarding their transports.
Captain Saltonstall’s flotilla set sail on 24 July. He had earlier sent Tyrannicide and Hazard ahead to scout for British ships. A short distance into the Bay, Captain Williams of the Hazard dispatched Marine Second Lieutenant William Cunningham ashore to find local inhabitants who might provide valuable intelligence about enemy activities. We do not know the details of Cunningham’s scouting party; we only know that he returned with three men.
After Saltonstall arrived in Penobscot Bay on 25 July, Captain Williams dispatched Cunningham and his men to the flagship Warren to brief Commodore Saltonstall on what they’d learned. Meanwhile, through other sources, Saltonstall learned of the presence in nearby Camden of Mr. James Mills Mitchell, a man reputedly familiar with the area where the British fort was under construction. We know Saltonstall conferred with Mitchell; we simply do not know what they discussed.
After that, Captain Saltonstall ordered Lieutenant Brown, commanding Diligent, to reconnoiter the riverbank near Bagaduce. While performing this mission, Brown observed three men waving from shore to gain his attention. One of the three men reported that he had observed British activities and estimated the number of soldiers between 450-500. He said that the fort was not quite half-completed. Brown sent these men along to Warren, where they made their report to Captain Saltonstall. Lieutenant Brown had no personal knowledge of McLean’s dispositions or activities, but that didn’t prevent him from advising Saltonstall to prepare for an immediate attack. In Brown’s opinion, the fort could be “easily taken.”
Commodore Saltonstall was not easily persuaded. He remarked to Brown, “Only a madman would go in before they had reconnoitered, and it would be the height of madness even to attempt it.” Saltonstall was wisely prudent because nothing of what had been reported to him had any basis in fact. Saltonstall, for example, was told that the fort’s walls were barely three feet high when the fortification was much further along.
General McLean had either co-opted local inhabitants or pressed them into labor parties to strengthen the fort. He had mounted his cannon to support his infantry, the defensive lines had been closed, and his construction included chevaux-de-frise defensive works. His shore battery firing positions had been raised to allow for firing in barbette. McLean had also stripped the cannon from the starboard side of British vessels (they were arranged in line with the port side outward), placing these cannons at various sites ashore.
In preparation for the American assault, General Lovell directed Marines and militia to probe the British line. Undercover of naval artillery from Hazard, Tyrannicide, and Sally, Lovell ordered the landing force ashore on Sunday, 25 July (the first day of hostilities). Seven American boats were able to approach the shore, but strong winds produced a severe chop in bay waters, preventing most boats from reaching shore. Seven boats did approach the beach, but intense British fire turned them back. Irregular cannonades were exchanged with minor damage to either side. Lovell canceled the attack.
The sporadic naval fire was again exchanged throughout the day on 26 July, with minor damage to either side. Still, the action did cause the British to re-position their ships further up into the harbor to tighten their defensive line.
At 18:00 on Monday, Captain Saltonstall dispatched Marine Captain John Walsh to Banks Island, where the British had established several cannon positions. Walsh secured his objective, but with no further orders, he set up defensive positions on the island and ordered his Marines to begin constructing field cannon positions from which the Americans might fire on British ships and land positions. Walsh’s landing forced the British ships to once again re-position themselves.
While Walsh led his Marines to Banks Island, Major Daniel Littlefield, commanding militia, led an assault force to seize a British position near the entrance to the Bagaduce River. While approaching the shore, a shot from British cannon landed in Littlefield’s boat, killing him and three others. General Lovell detailed a third force of men to go ashore and begin constructing a siege position. The Americans were under constant British fire throughout their effort to develop a foothold.
On Tuesday evening, a substantial disagreement developed between General Lovell, his deputy, Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth, Captain Saltonstall, and a few more senior naval commanders. Militia officers favored a vigorous naval assault against the British vessels in the harbor. If these ships could be destroyed, they argued, the land campaign would be more easily started and more likely of success on the harbor side of the peninsula. Navy officers, including Saltonstall, argued that the army and Marines should first land and overrun the fort; this would allow the American fleet to “safely destroy the British vessels.” Overrunning the fort would be easier said than done given the precipitous cliffs fronting the fort. Further complicating the discord between the naval and land commanders, several privateer captains grew impatient and circulated a petition urging Saltonstall to proceed with this operation without further delay.
At this council of war, which was held aboard Warren, the Americans decided to proceed with their assault on Bagaduce. The landing force consisted of around 850 militia and 227 Marines. Eighty cannoneers served under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.
Saltonstall directed that preparations for the assault begin at midnight, which achieved little more than deprive the men of sleep. His plan divided the landing force into three sections. As the senior Marine officer, Captain John Walsh would lead his men ashore on the American right. Colonel McCobb’s Lincoln County militia and LtCol Revere’s artillerists would serve in reserve. Colonel Jonathon Mitchell’s Cumberland County militia would go ashore on the American left. Once ashore, Brigadier General Wadsworth would exercise overall command of the land forces.
Loading flat bottomed boats with so many armed men was a time-consuming effort, and the men were left standing in the boats for most of the night. American naval fire began at 03:00. At first light, the landing boats began their movement to shore under the cover of a dense fog, which made the movement to shore dangerously confusing. Marines and militia began their landing at around 05:00; they were met by heavy British musket fire. Moving in small groups, the men started their climb up the precipice essentially one-handed while holding their weapons on their non-dominant hand.
Mitchell’s force encountered McLean’s 82nd Regiment. For the most part, the 82nd was composed of inexperienced soldiers, which allowed the militia to overrun them without much difficulty. On the right, Walsh confronted McLean’s more experienced men, then serving under Lieutenant John Moore. While the Marines advanced with deadly resolve, Lieutenant Moore, with only twenty soldiers remaining alive, was equally tenacious in holding the line. Captain Walsh was killed, his second in command, First Lieutenant William Hamilton was severely wounded, yet the Marines continued their assault. Moore, in danger of being encircled, finally withdrew to the fort.
As the Marines regrouped, they counted their losses of 34 men, including Welsh and Hamilton. Marine First Lieutenant William Downe assumed command on the right and continued his assault. According to Downe, it looked as if General McLean was ready to concede the fort — and might have done so were it not for the fact that the Marines did not receive the naval artillery support they expected from Saltonstall. Saltonstall’s failure to support the Marines and murderous fire from the British forced Downe to assume defensive positions.
By the end of the day, the Americans had established a 180° defense and proceeded to move their artillery ashore. McLean, however, was firmly in control of Fort George. Concentrated artillery fire forced the Americans to entrench. Sleep-deprived, the militia were becoming unruly and not simply a little displeased with the navy’s lack of artillery support.
Sometime during the morning of 29 July, Commodore Saltonstall decided that it might be a good idea to construct a fortification facing the British. Captain Salter of Hampden and Captain Thomas of Vengeance would supervise the work of sixteen engineers to build the American fort. Now, if Saltonstall believed the militiamen were rowdy on 29th July, the attitude of the troops on 5 August was positively murderous. They were tired of “dicking around.”
General Lovell, commanding ground forces, sent a note to Saltonstall asking whether his ships would enter the harbor to support the land force. Everyone ashore wanted to know the answer, but Saltonstall felt it necessary to convene another series of war councils before answering. Saltonstall decided, finally, that Lovell would receive no naval support until after he had taken Fort George. At a subsequent meeting of militia officers, it was unanimously decided that if those were Saltonstall’s terms, he could bloody well take the fort himself.
For his part, General Lovell was steadfast in keeping the Massachusetts Council apprised of the progress of the Penobscot Expedition; the Council had heard nothing at all from Saltonstall. When the Council finally understood how dire the situation was at Penobscot, they requested immediate reinforcements from General Horatio Gates, who was then at Providence. Gates had no opportunity to respond to this emergency — it would have taken him far too long to recruit adequate reinforcements. In any case, by that time, the Penobscot Expedition had already fallen apart.
By 13 August, General McLean had nearly completed his fort and a British fleet, having heard of the assault on 28 July, was en route to Penobscot under the command of Admiral Sir George Collier. Lovell and his officers, no longer participating in expedition planning with the naval force, developed their own plan for assaulting the British fort. Before the operation could be implemented, however, a heavy fog set in. When it lifted, Collier’s flotilla was observed entering the lower bay with ten warships. Although fewer in number than the Americans, the British fleet was experienced, proven in warfare, and more heavily armed. Saltonstall was lucky that a rain squall appeared, followed by more fog and then darkness — but the American’s luck didn’t hold.
At first light, the British began their approach. The American ships broke and ran from the fight and headed upstream, hoping to find small inlets where they could hide. By nightfall, most American ships, including transports, had either been captured by the British or destroyed by their own crews. Most of the landing force fled through the Maine wilderness, leaving behind them on the shores of the Penobscot River the smoldering remains of the American fleet. The expedition’s survivors began filtering into Boston during the first week in September.
News of the Penobscot disaster shocked and demoralized the colony of Massachusetts. Except for the three Continental ships and one ship from New Hampshire, the Massachusetts colony agreed to indemnify the owners of its ships for any damages or losses. Including the cost of the expedition, Massachusetts added more than £4-million to its debt. Worse, Massachusetts had lost its entire navy. Someone would have to account.
Courts-martial exonerated Generals Lovell and Wadsworth of ineptitude. Commodore Saltonstall, on the other hand, was tried and found guilty of gross incompetence. A navy board determined that Saltonstall was wholly unfit to command a navy ship and stripped him of his commission.
As for the Continental Marines, their numbers being relatively small, they were never able to influence the events of the Penobscot River Expedition. They performed admirably when called upon, as evidenced by the seizure of Banks Island, and seizing the heights at Bagaduce. Still, this valor was insufficient to compensate for the navy’s failed leadership.
There are as many lessons in failure as there are from success. Despite achieving a near-victory, the Americans guaranteed their own defeat — first by failing to maintain unity of command, second by failing to develop a communications plan, third by poor operational planning, the employment of an untrained militia, and worst of all, timid senior commanders.
The cost of Penobscot was high. From a strength of around 700 soldiers and ten warships, McLean held off an American force of 3,000 (navy and militia), 19 warships, and 25 support vessels. McLean lost 86 men, killed, wounded, captured, or missing. The Americans gave up 474 killed, wounded, captured, or missing, 19 warships destroyed, and 25 support ships sunk, destroyed, or captured. General McLean retained his small settlement in Maine until the British force was withdrawn of their own accord. General McLean passed away from an illness in 1781.
The United States did not seriously consider another large-scale amphibious operation until the Mexican-American War (1846-48).
Bicheno, H. Redcoats, and Rebels: The American Revolutionary War. London: Harper Collins, 2003.
Buker, G. E. The Penobscot Expedition: Commodore Saltonstall and the Massachusetts Conspiracy of 1779. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
Smith, C. R. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
 Maine was then known as the Eastern Provinces of Massachusetts Bay. Some historians believe that Maine might have been looked upon as a location for a new British colony — one set aside for British loyalists in American. It would be called New Ireland, and it would be located between the Penobscot and St. Croix rivers.
 Roughly one-third of the residents of New Jersey remained loyal to the British crown.
 Boston had become a center for privateering activities; McLean’s presence in Maine threatened the privateers, who were heavily invested in ships and crews.
 Saltonstall (1738-1796) was a descendant of Sir Richard Saltonstall and John Winthrop, who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century. Politically well-connected in the colonies, Dudley received his commission in the Continental Navy upon the recommendations of his brother-in-law, Silas Deane, who served on Connecticut’s Naval Committee. He first commanded the flag ship of Commodore Esek Hopkins, Alfred and was responsible for hiring John Paul Jones as First Lieutenant. In 1779, Saltonstall was the senior Continental Navy officer based in Boston.
 The chevaux-de-frise was an anti-cavalry defense work consisting of a portable frame covered with several to many long-iron projections, spikes, or spears.
 Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth (1748-1829) served as a general officer in the Massachusetts militia, district of Maine, as Adjutant General of Massachusetts, and as second in command to Brigadier Solomon Lovell during the Penobscot Expedition. He later served as a congressman from Massachusetts. He was the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
 Thirty-two naval officers from 11 ships signed the petition.
 Later, Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (1761-1809), also known as Moore of Corunna, was known for his tenacity in combat. During the Peninsular War, Moore repulsed the army of Marshal Soult at Corunna, giving up his life in a valiant contest of martial will.
 A fictionalized account of the Penobscot Expedition was the subject of Bernard Cornwall’s book entitled The Fort (published 2010).
Before the American Revolution, the thirteen British Colonies experienced few difficulties in matters of commercial navigation because all commercial shipping was protected by the Royal Navy, at the time the strongest navy in the world. This invaluable protection came to an end when the colonies rebelled. After the Revolution, the United States (having achieved its independence), would have to fend for itself. That, of course, was easier said than done. It would take the newly created country several decades to sort it all out.
The revolution threw the United States deeply into debt. Complicating those matters was the fact that the United States was operating under the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, the cash-strapped congress disbanded the Continental Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
Three hundred years before the United States won its independence, the Barbary Coast states (Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco, and Tunis) began preying upon European ships. The method used by the Mohammedan pirates was simple enough. Cruising the Mediterranean in small but fast ships, pirates overtook merchant ships, boarded them, overpowered the crew, captured crew and passengers, and held them as prisoners until either their home country paid a ransom demand, or until the captives were sold into slavery. To avoid these difficulties, most European states reasoned that in the long-term, it would be cheaper to pay the Barbary states an annual tribute, guaranteeing free passage through the Mediterranean Sea.
Barbary pirates seized their first American-flagged ship, the merchantman Betsey, in 1785. The crew of that ship languished in irons for eight years. The Maria, home ported in Boston, was taken a few months later. Dauphin, from Philadelphia was next. Ship owners complained, of course, but there being no money for a naval force, there was nothing congress or the states could do about the Barbary Pirates. Between 1785 and 1793, 13 American ships were lost to the Mediterranean pirates. In 1793 alone, the Mohammedans seized eleven ships. To America’s shame, Congress agreed to pay the pirates tribute, and, at that point, the camel’s nose was under the tent. The amount of tribute increased with each passing year. In 1792, the United States paid ransoms totaling $40,000.00, and paid a tribute of $25,000.
Historians estimate that between the early-to-mid 1500s through 1800, Moslem pirates captured over one million white Christians from France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Great Britain, Iceland, and the Americas. Released crew and passengers recounted horrifying tales of their inhumane treatment, but even if some of these stories were exaggerated, they weren’t very far off the mark. The Berbers made no distinction between passengers or crew, or whether they were male or female. All captives were stripped of their clothing, robbed of all their possessions, and imprisoned awaiting ransom or enslavement. Women were repeatedly raped — which under Islamic law, was permitted and encouraged. Most captives languished in prison filth for years; many died in captivity. The only possible respite available to those luckless captives was to convert to Islam. Many of the converted sailors joined the corsairs as raiders.
In modern parlance, Barbary pirates carried out state-sponsored terrorism. It was an extortion racket, pure and simple, and every North African state was complicit. How the extortionists made their living was not entirely unusual and European heads of state well-understood the game. British, French, and Spanish privateers pursued a similar (albeit, more civilized) course of action. Insofar as the Europeans were concerned, paying tribute was merely the cost of doing business in the Mediterranean. Tribute costs increased as a matter of course whenever a new ruler assumed power. What made this a complication is that the voyage from Philadelphia to Tripoli took around six weeks. An increase in tribute between the time a ship left the United States and its arrival in North Africa would involve an additional twelve (or more) weeks sailing time.
Global Conflict and American Diplomacy
Barbary Pirates were not the United States’ only concern. The outbreak of war between France and Great Britain (and other countries) in 1793 ended the ten years of peace that enabled the United States to develop a system of national finance and trade. Ship building and commercial shipping were America’s largest industries in 1793.
From the British perspective, improved relations with the United States was most desirable, particularly in terms of the UK’s attempt to deny France access to American goods. From the American point of view, it would be most beneficial to normalize relations with the British because in doing so, the US would be in a better position to resolve unsettled issues from the 1783 Treaty of Paris. This is not how things worked out, however.
In mid-1793, Britain announced its intention to seize any ships trading with the French, including those flying the American flag. In protest, widespread civil disorder erupted in several American cities and by the end of the following year, tensions with Britain were so high that President Washington ordered the suspension of trade to European ports. But, at the same time, Washington sent an envoy to England in an attempt to reconcile differences with the United Kingdom. Britain’s behavior, meanwhile, particularly given its earlier preference for good relations with the United States, was perplexing. The British began the construction of a fortress in Ohio, sold guns and ammunition to the Indians, and urged them to attack American western settlements.
President Washington’s strongest inclination, as a response to British provocations, was to seek a diplomatic solution. Unhappily, Washington’s envoy to England, John Jay, negotiated a weak treaty that undermined America’s preference for free trade on the high seas and, moreover, the treaty failed to compensate American shippers for loss of cargo seized by the Royal Navy during the revolution. Worse than that, however, the Jay Treaty did not address the British practice of impressment. Given the fact that there were several favorable aspects to the Jay Treaty, the US Senate approved it with one caveat: trade barriers imposed by the UK must be rescinded.
Mr. Washington, while dissatisfied with the Jay Treaty, nevertheless signed it. Doing so brought the President his first public criticism and helped set into motion political partisanship within the Congress, toward the administration, and popularly directed at both. It was also in 1794 that the President and Congress had finally reached the limits of their patience with the Islamic barbarians.
President Washington asked Congress to reestablish a naval force and for authorization to construct six new warships. Clearly, there was no reason to build six warships if the United States didn’t intend to use them. Mr. Washington’s message to Congress was unambiguous: “If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it. If we desire to secure peace, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”
The Naval Act of 1794 authorized the construction of six warships at a total cost of just under $700,000. It was not a unanimous decision; some members of Congress believed that the money could be better spent elsewhere — such as in westward expansion. The navy hawks won that argument. Along with six new ships, the navy began to appoint offers to command those ships and recruit the men who would crew them. And one more thing — the Navy would require United States Marines as well.
It took time to build the ships, reform the naval service, and hire the right men as captains. Meanwhile, in 1796, the United States concluded a peace treaty with Algiers. The United States paid $642,500 cash, up front, and agreed to a healthy annual tribute and assorted naval stores. The total cost to the United States for this one treaty was $992,463. In modern value, this would amount of well over $14-million. By way of comparison, the entire federal budget for 1796 was $5.7 million.
The Jay Treaty was not well received in France because in 1778, the United States signed an agreement with King Louis XVI of France — termed the Franco-American treaty of Alliance — where, in exchange for French support for the American Revolution, the United States agreed to protect French colonial interests in the Caribbean. The Alliance had no expiry date.
The French Revolution began in 1789. By 1791, the crowned heads of Europe watched developments in France with deep concerns. Several crowned heads proposed military intervention as a means of putting an end to the chaos and the terror. The War of the First Coalition (1792-1797) involved several European powers against the Constitutional Kingdom of France (later the French Republic) — a loose coalition, to be sure, and a conflict fought without much coordination or agreement. The one commonality in the coalition was that everyone had an eye on a different part of France should they eventually divide the country among them.
France looked upon the United States as its ally, pursuant to the Alliance of 1778, but there were several contentious issues:
First, the Americans strenuously objected to the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793.
Second, the Senate ratified the Jay Treaty (Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation).
Third, the United States passed the Neutrality Act of 1794. The Act forbid any American to engage in war with any nation at peace with the United States. Hence, no American could side with France against the British.
Fourth, the Neutrality Act cancelled the United States’ war debt to France. Members of Congress reasoned that since America’s debt agreement existed between the United States and the King of France, the king’s execution cancelled America’s debt Adding insult to injury, the Act also ended the Alliance of 1778.
Fifth, in retribution for reneging on the Alliance of 1778, the French Navy began seizing American ships engaged in trade with the UK — both as part of its war with the First Coalition, and as a means of collecting America’s revolutionary war debt.
Sixth, there was the so-called XYZ affair. With Diplomatic relations already at an all-time low between these two countries and owing to the fact that the United States had no naval defense, the French expanded their aggressive policy of attacking US commercial ships in American waters.
Re-birth of the United States Navy and Marine Corps
Without an American Navy, there could be no American response to French or Barbary depredations on the high seas. Driven by Thomas Jefferson’s objections to federal institutions, Congress sold the last Continental warship in 1785. All the United States had remaining afloat was a small flotilla belonging to the US Revenue Cutter Service; its only coastal defense was a few small and much neglected forts. As a result, French privateers roamed American coastal waters virtually unchecked. Between 1796-97, French privateers captured 316 American ships — roughly 6% of the entire US merchant fleet. The cost to the United States was between $12-15 million.
What the French accomplished through their program of retribution was to convince Federalists that the United States needed a Navy. In total, Congress authorized the construction of eight ships, including USS United States, USS Constellation, USS Constitution,USS Congress, USS Chesapeake, USS President, USS General Greene, and USS Adams. Congress additionally authorized “subscription ships.” These were ships supported (paid for) by American cities. The ships included five frigates and four sloops, which were converted from commercial ships. Two noteworthy of these was USS Philadelphia and USS Boston.
In finally realizing that national honor demanded action, Congress re-established the U. S. Navy and along with it, the United States Marine Corps — as before, during the Revolutionary War, providing seagoing detachments became the Corps’ primary mission. Serving aboard ship as naval infantry is the Marine Corps’ oldest duty. Americans didn’t invent this duty; it’s been around for about 2,500 years — all the way back to when the Greeks placed archers aboard ship to raise hell with the crews of enemy ships.
The Marines had several missions while at sea. During the 18th and 19th centuries, ship’s crews were often surly and undisciplined, and mutiny was always a possibility. With armed Marines aboard, the chance of mutiny dropped to near zero. Marines not only enforced navy regulations and the captain’s orders, but they also meted out punishments awarded to the crew when required. In those days, there were no close-knit feelings between sailors and Marines — which has become an abiding naval tradition.
Marines led naval boarding parties … a tactic employed to invade and overrun enemy officers and crews in order to capture, sabotage, or destroy the enemy ship. They were also used to perform cutting out operations, which involved boarding anchored enemy ships from small boats, often executed as ship-to-ship boarding operations after nightfall. Marine detachments provided expert riflemen to serve aloft in their ship’s rigging, their duty was targeting enemy officers, helms men, and gunners. When the ship’s captain ordered landing operations or raiding parties, Marines were always “first to fight.” Marines also served as gunners aboard ship. Naval artillery was always a Marine Corps skill set, one that later transitioned to field artillery operations — as noted during the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland.
The Quasi-War with France
Ships of the Royal Navy blockaded most of France’s capital ships in their home ports. The U. S. Navy’s mission was twofold: first, to locate and seize or destroy smaller French ships operating along the US seacoast and in the Caribbean, and to protect convoys of cargo ships across the Atlantic. There was no formal agreement between the US and UK — it simply worked out as an informal cooperative arrangements between British and American sea captains.
The largest threat to American shipping came from small, but well-armed French privateers. These ships were constructed with shallow drafts, which enabled them to operate close to shore and within shallow estuaries. French privateers used French and Spanish ports to launch surprise attacks on passing ships before running back to port. To counter this tactic, the US Navy employed similarly sized vessels from the Revenue Cutter Service.
The first US victory over the French was capture of La Croyable, a privateer, by USS Delaware. La Croyable was captured after a lengthy pursuit along the southern New Jersey coast. After the ship’s capture, she was renamed USS Retribution. There were several other sea battles, but it may be sufficient to say that the U. S. Navy shined in its confrontation with a major European naval power.
U. S. Navy Captain Silas Talbot previously served during the Revolutionary War as an officer in the Continental Army. On 28th June 1777, Talbot received a commission to serve as a captain of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment. After the siege of Boston, Talbot marched with his regiment to New York. En route, the regiment rested at New London, Connecticut where he learned of Navy Captain Esek Hopkins’ request for 200 volunteers to assist in operations in the Bahamas. Silas Talbot was one of Hopkins’ volunteers, but he retained his status as an officer of the Continental Army.
After having been recognized for his exceptional performance of duty and promotion to lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army (while serving at sea), the Congress commissioned Silas Talbot to captain, U. S. Navy, and gave him command of the American privateer General Washington on 17th September 1779. In his final Revolutionary War engagement, the feisty Talbot tangled with the British fleet off the coast of New York. He attempted to withdraw but was forced to strike his colors to HMS Culloden. Talbot remained a prisoner of war until December 1781.
Following the Revolutionary War, Talbot served in the New York state assembly and as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives. In early June 1794, President Washington selected Talbot to become the third of six newly commissioned captains of the United States Navy. His first assignment was supervision of the USS President then under construction in New York. On 20th April 1796, Congress suspended work on President and Talbot was discharged. Two years later, with the outbreak of the Quasi War, Talbot was recommissioned and assigned command of USS Constitution.
Captain Talbot’s mission was to protect American commercial ships, and to seek out and capture or destroy French Privateers. In addition to commanding Constitution, Talbot was assigned overall command of the Santo Domingo Station. In early May 1800, Constitution noted the presence of an armed French vessel anchored in Puerto Plata. Talbot planned a “cutting out” expedition to either capture this vessel or fire it. The ship’s identification was Sandwich, formerly a Royal Navy ship that had been captured by the French and operated as a privateer.
Sandwich, in addition to being well-armed, was anchored under the protection of heavy guns of Fortaleza San Felipe. Talbot’s problem was that Constitution was too large to enter the harbor at Puerto Plata. On 9th May, Talbot detained a small American sloop christened Sally, a 58-ton ship based out of Providence, Rhode Island, under the command of Thomas Sanford. Since Sally frequented the waters off Puerto Plata, her presence was not likely to raise the alarm of French and Spanish forces protecting Sandwich.
Commodore Talbot’s plan called for the detachment of one-hundred sailors and Marines from Constitution to serve under the command of Lieutenant Isaac Hull, USN with Marines under the command of Captain Daniel Carmick, USMC. The American sailors and Marines would hide inside Sally as the ship sailed into the harbor and then execute the capture of Sandwich. Overall command of the cutting out operation would fall to Captain Carmick. According to Carmick’s journal, “By this means it was easy to take the vessel by surprise [sic]; it put me in mind of the wooden horse at Troy.”
As Sally made her way into port, she was fired on by a British frigate and subsequently boarded. The British officer commanding found not a small vessel engaged in trade, but one filled below decks with US sailors and Marines. Lieutenant Hull provided the British officer with an overview of the intended operation. As it happened, the British were also watching Sandwich with interest. After some discussion, the Americans were allowed to continue their mission with the Royal Navy’s best wishes for success.
On 11th May, with Sally maintaining her cover, the ship sailed into Puerto Plata. Hull ordered the sailors and Marines to remain below decks until his order to board Sandwich.Sally laid alongside the French privateer and, when Hull ordered it, Carmick led his Marines over the side of Sandwich in “handsome style, carrying all before them and taking possession” of the enemy ship without any loss to themselves. Following Captain Talbot’s plan, Captain Carmick and First Lieutenant Amory led their Marines toward the fort. Their assault was stealthy and quick. Before the Spanish Army commander had time to react, the Marines were already in control of the fort, had spiked its guns, and withdrew to board Sandwich, which they promptly attempted to sail out of the harbor. Unfavorable winds delayed their departure until the middle of the night.
The action at Puerto Plata was significant because it marked the first time United States Marines conducted combat operations on foreign soil. The operation was boldly executed and lauded by Commodore Talbot. He wrote, “Perhaps no enterprize [sic] of the same moment has ever better executed and I feel myself under great obligation to Lieutenant Hull, Captain Carmick, and Lieutenant Armory, for their avidity in taking the scheme that I had planned, and for the handsome manner and great address with which they performed this dashing adventure.”
Commodore Talbot was criticized, however, because it was the decision of the admiralty court that seizure of Sandwich whilst anchored in a neutral port, was an illegal act. Not only was Sandwich returned to France, the officers and crew forfeited their bounty. Not even the official history of the Marine Corps remembers this FIRST action on foreign shore. Rather, the official history of the Corps skips over the Quasi-War and addresses the Barbary Wars as if the former never happened.
The United States Navy and Royal Navy reduced the activities of French privateers and capital warships. The Convention of 1800, signed on 30 September 1800, which ended the Quasi-War, affirmed the rights of Americans as neutrals upon the sea and reiterated the abrogation of the Alliance of 1778. It did not compensate the United States for its claims against France.
The courage and intrepidity of the naval force at Tripoli was without peer in the age of sail, heralded at the time by British Admiral Horatio Nelson as “The most-bold and daring act of the age.” Pope Pius VII added, “The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states have done.” But politically, all we can say is that the United States government is consistent in its perfidy.
While Thomas Jefferson proclaimed victory, his ambassadors were working behind the scenes cutting deals with barbarian pirates. Consul-General Tobias Lear negotiated a less-than-honorable peace treaty with Tripoli. Jefferson agreed to pay $60,000 for all American prisoners, agreed to withdraw all naval forces, granted a secret stipulation allowing the Pasha to retain Ahmad’s family as hostages, and without a single blink, betrayed Ahmad Qaramanli. The Senate ratified this treaty in 1806 over the objection of Federalists and it did not seem to matter, to either Jefferson or James Madison, that they lost the respect of the American people. Of course, Madison added to this in 1812 by starting a war with the United Kingdom that ultimately ended up with the destruction of the nation’s capital — except for the US Marine Barracks and Eighth and I Streets.
Nor did the Barbary pirates end their misdeeds; the United States simply decided to ignore them (even at the expense to American-flagged merchant ships). After the end of the War of 1812, it was again necessary to address Mohammedan piracy. On 2nd March 1815, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against the pirates. Madison dispatched two naval squadrons to deal with the miscreant Moslems. Commodore William Bainbridge commanded one of these, Commodore Stephen Decatur commanded the other.
Decatur reached the Barbary Coast first, quickly defeated the blighters, and forced a new arrangement favorable to the United States. Decatur would not negotiate, but he didn’t mind dictating terms and in doing so, marked the first time in over 300 years that any nation had successfully stood up to the barbarian horde. Commodore Decatur’s success ignited the imaginations of the European powers to — finally — stand up for themselves. In late August 1816, a combined British and Dutch fleet under Lord Exmouth visited hell upon Algiers, which ended piracy against almost everyone except France. Mohammedan depredations against France continued until 1830 when France invaded the city of Algiers — remaining there until 1962.
Abbot, W. J. The Naval History of the United States. Collier Press, 1896.
Bradford, J. C. Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two centuries of American Naval Leaders. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1955.
McKee, C. A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U. S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991
Rak, M. J., Captain, USN. The Quasi-War and the Origins of the Modern Navy and Marine Corps. Newport: US Naval War College, 2020
 The Articles served as a letter of instruction to the central government, giving it only those powers which the former colonies recognized as those belonging to king and parliament. Although referred to as the Congress of the Confederation, the organization of Congress remained unchanged from that of the Continental Congress. Congress looked to the Articles for guidance in directing all business … including the war effort, statesmanship, territorial issues, and relations with native Indians. Since each state retained its independence and sovereignty, all congressional decisions required state approval. Congress lacked enforcement power, the power to raise revenues, or the power to regulate trade. Under the Confederation, government had no chief executive beyond “president of the congress assembled,” nor were there any federal courts.
 There was a single casualty from all this. Washington’s advisers presented him with evidence that Edmund Randolph, Jefferson’s successor as secretary of state, had allegedly solicited a bribe from a French envoy to oppose the treaty with England. Although Randolph denied the charges, an angry Washington forced his old friend to resign. With this action, another important precedent was set. The Constitution empowers the President to nominate his principal officers with the advice and consent of the Senate; it says nothing, however, about the chief executive’s authority to dismiss appointees. With Washington’s dismissal of Randolph, the administrative system of the federal government was firmly tied to the President. In total, Washington dismissed three foreign ministers, two consuls, eight collectors, and four surveyors of internal revenue — all without seeking the advice or approval of Congress.
 An American diplomatic mission was sent to France in July 1797 to negotiate a solution to problems that were threatening to escalate into war. American diplomats included Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry. These diplomats were approached through informal channels by agents of French foreign minister Charles Talleyrand, who demanded bribes and a loan before formal negotiations could begin. Talleyrand had made similar demands of other nation’s diplomats and collected from them. The Americans, however, were offended by these demands and returned to the US without engaging in any diplomatic resolution to the problems.
 A frigate was any warship built for speed and maneuverability. They could be warships carrying their principal batteries of carriage-mounted guns on a single deck (with smaller carriage-mounted guns on the fo’c’sle and quarterdeck. Frigates were too small to stand in the line of battle, but they were full rigged vessels (square rigged on all three masts).
 A sloop of war had a single gun deck that carried up to 18 guns, an un-rated ship, a sloop could be a gun brig or a cutter, a bomb vessel or a fireship.
 In 1800 (as today) a navy lieutenant was equivalent in rank to Marine Corps captain. In the navy, however, there were but three ranks: lieutenant, master commandant, and captain. In the Marine Corps, there were five ranks: lieutenant colonel commandant, major, captain, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant. Navy command has always taken precedence for seaborne operations, including of the landing force until the Marines first set foot ashore. At that time, if a Marine officer is present, he would assume command of land operations. Daniel Carmick also served with distinction in the Mediterranean and commanded US Marines in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 (See also: At Chalmette, 1815). He passed away in 1816 from wounds sustained in December 1814.
 Captain Silas Talbot resigned from the Navy following the Quasi War. He passed away at the age of 67-years in New York on 30th June 1813. In two wars, Captain Talbot was wounded in action thirteen times. He carried with him to the grave the fragments of five bullets.
 Captain H. A. Ellsworth published this history in 1934 (reprints in 1964, 1974) in a work titled One Hundred Eighty Landings of United States Marines, 1800-1934. Captain Ellsworth stated, “Every United States Marine should have indelibly impressed upon his mind a picture of the island which now contains the Dominican Republic, because the city of Puerta Plata (Port Au Platte), in this republic is the birthplace of the history of the landings, other than in time of war, of his Corps.”
“No man will become a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself placed in jail.”—Dr. Samuel Johnson, 1773
Samuel Johnson’s advice is not something one would expect to see in a navy recruiting pamphlet in 1800, but it was an honest appraisal of the life of a seaman in that year. From every account, from around 1775 to the mid-1800s, life at sea was so difficult that most men avoided it in the same way they would avoid bubonic plague, and it was infrequent when a ship went to sea with a full complement of crewmen. During the Revolutionary War, American ships remained tied up because few men were interested in taking on the harsh life. Young boys between the ages of twelve and sixteen, on the other hand, filled as they were with romantic notions about life aboard a ship, became a primary focus for navy recruiters.
Life at sea was about the same for Americans as it was for an Englishman, a Swede, or a Spaniard. A grown man imbued with common sense, particularly one with previous experience at sea, did his best to avoid the sea service because sailing ships were filthy, smelly, unhealthy, and rampant with rats and other vermin. If that wasn’t enough, sailing ships were cold, damp, and confining. Once at sea, one may as well have been placed in jail because there was nowhere to go, but as Dr. Johnson suggested, jail should be preferred. The general unattractiveness of life at sea was so predominant that ship’s captains often sent “press gangs” ashore to round up able-bodied seamen, many of whom, having been whacked on the head, were carried unconscious aboard ship and placed in irons until the ship left harbor. Once the ship was at sea, the impressed men were welcomed aboard, congratulated for making a good decision, and given “the word” — the rules by which they would govern themselves while a member of the crew. The term “able-bodied seaman” meant that a crewman had two legs, two arms, and most of his fingers.
At a time when most Americans were illiterate, navy training was an oral tradition and “on the job” instruction. The first task assigned to “trainers” was to make sure that all hands acknowledged the Navy’s regulations and the policies of the ship’s captain. In most cases, “the word” lasted until the ship was again in port because this was when sailors had an opportunity to escape. Some historians claim that desertion from the naval service numbered in the thousands, prompting ship’s captains to send out impressment crews in the middle of the night to locate and “recruit” drunken sods. Age didn’t matter, but the younger person was always preferred, and it would help if the impressed crewman spoke English, but this was not a hard and fast rule. French speaking sods could be whacked on the head just as easily as a Spaniard.
Manning the ships with officers
There were two sources of recruitment for young seamen. Generally, midshipmen were officer trainees. The term originated in the 17th century from the place aboard ship where they worked or birthed — amidships. Army and Navy candidates for officer service were often the sons of wealthy families not destined to inherit their fathers’ estates. Unless the eldest son died before maturity, a younger son did not expect any inheritance. Still, in fairness, it was believed that something should be done for the younger sons.
It may have been that if younger sons had no demonstrated ability or interest in the study of law or accountancy, or some other noteworthy profession, particularly if the younger sons were disrespectful or rebellious, then their influential fathers would try to have them accepted into the army or navy. Obtaining officer’s commissions differed between the British Army and Royal Navy, and some of these traditions were transferred to the US Army and Navy. Between 1683 and 1871, British Army commissions were frequently purchased; a wealthy father would pay to have a son placed at Sandhurst; afterward, the purchase of commissions was up to the officer.
The Royal Navy employed a different system. Beginning in 1661, influential fathers would obtain “letters of service” from the Crown. The King’s letter instructed admirals and captains to “show the bearer of this letter such kindness as ye shall judge fit for a gentleman, both in accommodating him in your ship and in furthering his improvement.” The bearer of the King’s letter was titled/rated as volunteer per order, also often known as the King’s letter boys; it distinguished them as a higher apprentice class from those of normal midshipmen ratings.
The life of a midshipman was particularly challenging — more so than for an army subaltern. Rising to a position above midshipman required six to eight years of training at sea, the favor of ships officers under whom they trained, passing a written examination, and the approval of the ship’s captain who always had the last word.
Historically, there were four classifications of midshipman. Between 1450-1650, a midshipman was an experienced seaman from the deck who supervised ordinary seaman below the rank of ship’s officers. This fellow may also have called a master’s mate. He was not an officer trainee, but perhaps more on the order of a warrant officer. In the 1700s, midshipman extraordinary were young men serving below the rank of post-captain, paid as midshipmen until they could find a position aboard another ship. Midshipman served as apprentice officers, and midshipman ordinary were older men who either failed to pass the examination for lieutenant or, men having passed the examination yet deemed of insufficient character for advancement. Midshipmen did not have the luxury of “resigning.” As a King’s letter boy, a midshipman was honor-bound to serve the six-to-eight years, after which he might resign to find other opportunities.
Manning the ships with enlisted men
Once “recruited,” the young seaman received his initial and ongoing training under the authority of the ship’s schoolmaster. It the ship did not have a schoolmaster, the duty for training fell to either the ship’s chaplain or captain’s clerk. Not much effort was applied to the formal training of boy-seamen, however. Most seamen learned their tasks while “on the job.” Life at sea was already dangerous, particularly among the youngsters who had to learn, in addition to their routine shipboard tasks, to manage their fears. Climbing into the rigging some 80 feet above the main deck was a frightening experience — worse when at sea with the ship rolling from side to side. The only way to conquer such fears was to ‘just do it.’ More than a few boys fell to their death.
In 1837, the U. S. Navy adopted the Naval Apprentice System for enlisted boys no younger than thirteen years, nor over eighteen years, to serve until age 21. Occasionally, a ship’s captain offered a boy-seaman a temporary appointment to serve as an apprentice officer. Still, generally, the boy-seaman remained in the lower ranks for the duration of his service at sea.
In 1902, the U. S. Navy published its first Bluejacket’s Manual, written and issued to recruits as an instruction for basic seamanship and shipboard life. In 1902, as in the previous 100 years, literacy was a problem among recruits for navy service. The Bluejacket’s Manual continues to serve this purpose with annual updates to keep pace with evolving technologies.
Health and Hygiene
In 1818, U. S. Navy Regulations required captains to keep wind sails and ventilators in continual use. The purpose of this regulation was to keep ships at sea “well-ventilated.” Senior officers believed that a well-ventilated ship (drying below-decks from ever-present seawater and dampness) was a healthy ship. The proposition may have been true, except that a constant stream of cold air blowing through the ship could not have been beneficial to men with colds and may have even caused more than a few illnesses and deaths. Navy regulations also prohibited seamen from wearing wet clothing. The ship’s system helped dry wet clothing. With limited facilities to store extra clothing, this too became a chore aboard ship.
Meals aboard ship today are generally tasty and nutritious but it wasn’t always that way. In 1818, the American sailor could expect three pounds of beef per week, 3 pounds of pork per week, one pound of flour, 98 ounces of crusty bread, two ounces of butter, three ounces of sugar, four ounces of tea, one pint of rice, a half-pint of vinegar, and three and a half pints of rum. Boy-seamen below the age of 18 were not permitted to have rum; they were paid money instead … about thirty-five cents per week ($6.86 today). In later years, seamen were provided with raisins, dried apples, coffee, pickles, and cranberries. Food aboard ship was always “salty.” Before refrigeration, food subject to spoilage was packed in brine. It was often “too salty” and unsuitable for human consumption. These problems led some sea captains to keep livestock on board, including pigs, ducks, geese, and chickens.
Ships of the Navy carried enough fresh water to last a typical cruise, carried below decks in wooden casks. Stagnant water was a problem, however, which frequently required the rationing of water. When water stores became a problem, the ship’s captain would order a boat ashore to obtain fresh water when possible. Getting freshwater was no easy task, either. Regulations stated that crewmen were not permitted to drink any water alongside the ship, that freshwater, when obtained, must be allowed to settle before consumption. In the early 1800s, no consideration was given to the natural impurities of freshwater, which did cause sickness among the men, including cholera. Boiling water before consumption did not evolve until many years later.
As previously mentioned, there was no heat aboard sailing ships. The only fire allowed aboard ship the carefully controlled fire maintained for cooking in the ship’s galley. If there were any heated spaces aboard ship, they would most likely be found in the sickbay and usually took the form of hot coals in an iron bucket. These conditions assured that the men were always cold, and it became a worse ordeal when the men’s clothing became wet or damp.
Regulations also required crewmen to wash two or three times a week, which must have been an unhappy task while operating in the North Atlantic during winter months. Among the common ailments of seamen were rheumatism, consumption, debility, scurvy, and syphilis. The latter disease often endangered the operational efficiency of the ship due to physical incapacitation. In certain seasons, ship’s crewmen experienced outbreaks of yellow fever and smallpox. Since there was no cure for consumption (tuberculosis), men so affected continued their service until death overtook them. Whether these men were isolated away from others is unknown.
The Slops and other Uniforms
The American sailor’s wardrobe, called “slops,” generally consisted of a peacoat, two cloth jackets, two cloth trousers, two white flannel shirts, two white flannel drawers, two pair of white yarn stockings, two black handkerchiefs, two duck cotton frocks, two duck cotton trousers, four pair shoes, one mattress, two blankets, one canvas hammock, one red cloth vest, and two black hats.
Quarters — or not
Living quarters aboard the ship were spartan. Officers were assigned cabins according to their rank and seniority, but crewmen lived communally. For the crew, sleeping quarters were dark, frequently awash in seawater, and almost always infested with vermin. Despite rules for bathing, crews’ quarters were often rancid smelling was nauseous. Part of this problem is explained by the fact that ship’s crews washed their clothing in urine and saltwater. Presumably, this was designed to save freshwater for drinking and, perhaps, to address the problem with lice and other biters.
The US Navy always mandated religious services while at sea, but not every ship was large enough to warrant a chaplain. In the case of small ships, it was either the ship’s captain or his clerk who conducted religious services — which included two divine services each day and sermons on Sunday. Attendance at religious services as mandatory for everyone not on watch. But even when there were shipboard chaplains, it was unlikely that the individual fulfilling that duty was an ordained minister. In 1862, US Navy Regulations stated that ship’s captains “… shall cause divine service to be performed on Sunday, whenever the weather and other circumstances allow it to be done,” and recommended, “… to all officers, seamen, and others in the naval service diligently to attend at every performance of the worship of Almighty God.”
In today’s navy, recreational pursuits are available to every member of the crew, including workout rooms, libraries, computer centers, and various thematic clubs. It wasn’t until 1825 that the navy set aside a place for libraries, which were generally placed under the charge of chaplains and ship’s clerks. Since most crewmen were illiterate, officers were the usual patrons of ship’s libraries.
Members of the crew who played instruments often provided music. In the old navy, the number one recreational activity was shore leave or liberty. Officers often went on sightseeing tours, hunting parties, or were “invited guests” to the homes of locally prominent members of society. Enlisted men were left to their own devices, which were generally activities in contravention of every religious service or sermon heard while aboard ship — and this may be the one remaining tradition of the early American navy.
Paying the Piper
Discipline aboard ship was draconian. Among the more severe transgression was the stealing of food. Individual discovered stealing food were in some cases punished by nailing the offender’s hand to a mast and then cutting it off. Flogging was also a common punishment — the number of lashes depending on the offense charged, but several dozen was not uncommon. If it ever actually existed as a punishment, Keelhauling was, to my knowledge, never employed in the US or Royal Navy, whence American naval traditions originated.
 Primarily a system in the British Army whereby an officer would pay a sum of money to the Army for a commission in the cavalry or infantry, thereby avoiding the need to wait for a seniority or merit-based advancement. The payment was a cash bond for good behavior liable to forfeit in the case of cowardice, desertion, or misconduct. This system was abolished in 1871.
Most people associate the World War II Era Navy and Marine Corps with the Pacific War — which is certainly accurate; the U. S. Navy was unquestionably the dominant force in the Pacific. But the Allied powers could not have won the European war without superior naval power, as well. Victory at sea was a keystone for allied triumph over the Axis power in all World War II theaters.
Europe (Nordic, Western, Eastern fronts)
Mediterranean, Africa, Middle East
Victory at sea involved the formidable task of keeping sea lanes open for the movement of troop transports, combat equipment, raw materials, and food stores — in massive quantities earmarked for the United Kingdom, nearly isolated by hostile German forces.
Complicating the Navy’s Atlantic mission was the fact that theater area commanders had to compete for limited naval resources. There were only so many aircraft carriers, only so many landing craft, only so many carrier-based aircraft — only so many men. It was up to theater area commanders to find the best way of distributing these limited assets where they would do the most good. As one can imagine, the Navy’s mission to protect ships, men, and material over vast areas of the world’s major oceans was no small undertaking — and neither was denying access to them by the Axis powers.
Within 15 years from the end of World War I, Germany began rebuilding its military and naval forces. Between 1933 and 1939, without opposition and emboldened by European politicians who sought to avoid war at any cost, Germany seized and annexed Alsace-Loraine, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. When Adolph Hitler discovered that the “free world’s” only response to this aggression was appeasement, and in concert with the Soviet Union, he launched a lightning invasion of Poland. Allied powers responded to the invasion by declaring war on Germany, prompting Germany’s invasion of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France — and then began its assault on the United Kingdom through aerial bombing and naval blockades. Once Germany believed that it had neutralized the United Kingdom, Hitler foolishly invaded the Soviet Union.
Following the First World War, the United Kingdom decided to place all of its military aircraft under the Royal Air Force, completely neglecting its naval arm vis-à-vis sea-launched aircraft. As a result of this poor thinking, the United Kingdom lost its maritime superiority.
In the years leading up to World War II, Royal Navy Aviation competed with the RAF for scant resources. The decision taken by Britain’s war policy board was that strategic bombing must occupy a higher priority than seaborne attack aircraft — and did so even after the United States proved that long-range bomber aircraft were only marginally effective against moving ships at sea. The use of B-24 Liberator aircraft against Japanese ships of war during the Guadalcanal campaign in 1942-43 reinforced the American’s earlier conclusion.
In 1939, the Royal Navy had a substantial base structure at both ends of the Mediterranean, at Alexandria, Egypt, Gibraltar, and Malta. The French Navy had naval bases at Toulon and Mers-el-Kébir and deluded themselves into believing that the Mediterranean was “their sea.”
In September 1939, when the UK declared war against Germany, there were only seven aircraft carriers in the British fleet. These were capital ships highly vulnerable to German submarines, battleships, and land-based aircraft. Because the British had no carriers in the First World War, there was no battle-tested procedure for protecting aircraft carriers.
Substantial loses during the UK’s initial carrier operations underscored weaknesses of command decisions and employment doctrine. HMS Courageous was lost in the second week of the war, sunk by the German submarine U-29. HMS Ark Royal might have been lost in the following week were it not for defective torpedoes fired by U-39. From these two incidents, the British Admiralty decided that carriers were too vulnerable for use as a submarine screening force. In early June 1940, HMS Glorious was lost to German battleships off the coast of Norway [Note 1].
At the beginning of 1942, the U. S. Atlantic Fleet operated Carrier Division Three, which included the fleet attack carriers (CVA) USS Ranger, USS Hornet, and USS Wasp, and the escort carrier (CVE) USS Long Island. Over the course of the war, American and British carriers became increasingly effective in a number of operational assignments — from providing air cover during amphibious operations to patrolling in search of enemy ships.
Unlike the Pacific war, where naval and ground commanders planned and implemented combat strategies and operations, European heads of government were the decision-makers in the Atlantic war. Both Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler directly involved themselves in the details of operational planning; in contrast, Franklin Roosevelt left the details of fighting to his military commanders.
The Battle of the Atlantic
The Battle of the Atlantic was a contest of strategies between the Allied and Axis powers. Both sides attempted to deny use of oceanic shipping. British and American navies sought to blockade German shipments of raw materials from Norway; the Germans attempted to block American shipments of food and vital supplies to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
Germany relied principally on its submarines, merchant raiders, battle cruisers, and land-based aircraft to destroy American shipping — of those, submarines were by far the most effective [Note 2]. Allied use of aircraft carriers contributed significantly to the ultimate success of the Battle of the Atlantic — used not only to protect convoys, but to locate and destroy German submarines, as well. This success was the direct result of the Allied capture and deciphering German code machines.
In September 1939, Germany had fifty-seven submarines; twenty-two were suitable for combat operations in the Atlantic and only eight or nine could operate “on station” because of the time it took to return to their base for fuel, refit, and replenishment. By March 1940, this small submarine force accounted for the sinking of 222 Allied ships — including two aircraft carriers, a cruiser, and two destroyers. Germany’s application of underwater naval assault was “unrestricted,” evidenced by Germany’s sinking of the civilian passenger ship Athenia.
On land, it took Germany only six weeks to conquer France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (10May-24 June 1940). With the fall of France, Germany was able to establish a submarine base along the French coast, which brought their U-boats 1,000 miles closer to Allied convoy routes.
Within the space of two years, the production of German U-boats was sufficient to allow Germany’s Grand Admiral Erich Raeder and Admiral Karl Dönitz to begin employing submarines in groups (from eight to twenty) (the wolf pack). In April 1941, German submarines destroyed half the convoy ships transiting from Halifax to Liverpool. The action was significant enough to cause President Roosevelt to order the transfer of USS Yorktown, three battleships, and six destroyers from the Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic Fleet. In September 1941, Roosevelt transferred 50 American destroyers to the Royal Navy [Note 3]. It was at this time that the United States Navy began escorting Britain-bound convoys as far as Iceland. Despite these efforts, by the time the United States entered the war, German U-boats had destroyed 1,200 cargo ships.
American Attitudes, 1939-41
The American people well-remembered the terrible loss of life during World War I and they wanted nothing whatever to do with another European War. Franklin Roosevelt campaigned for reelection with the promise of neutrality [Note 4]. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Roosevelt declared American neutrality — but he also established a “neutral zone” in the Atlantic within which the United States would protect shipping. The Navy assigned USS Ranger to patrol this “neutral” zone.
Even before 1939, Roosevelt’s opposition party in Congress watched developing world events and the president with growing concerns. Members of Congress were well aware that Roosevelt was itching to involve himself in the European war, so in the 1930s, the congress passed a series of neutrality acts (1935, 1936, 1937, and 1939) that reflected the mood of the American people. Americans had become isolationist and non-interventionist. Whether these were carefully thought-out restrictions may not matter today, but the Acts made no distinction between victim or aggressor.
As Congress pushed back against Roosevelt’s apparent desire to engage in the emerging world war, Mr. Roosevelt crafted clever ways around congressional restrictions. The so-called Lend-Lease program was enacted in early March 1941; it permitted President Roosevelt to provide Great Britain, Free France, the Republic of China, and Soviet Union with food, oil, and war materials [Note 5]. Congress earmarked more than $50-billion for this purpose (about 17% of the USA’s total war expenditure) (in modern dollars, around $600-billion), most of which went to the United Kingdom. Under this agreement, nations receiving war materials could use them until returned to the United States (or were destroyed). Very little war material was returned to US control [Note 6]. The net-effect of Lend-Lease was that it removed any pretense of neutrality by the United States.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. On 11 December, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. Mr. Roosevelt had his war.
Carriers and Their Functions
Large areas of the Atlantic were beyond the range of land-based aircraft in Canada, Iceland, and Great Britain. The UK, with insufficient fleet resources, initiated programs to enhance convoy protection. In 1940-41, Britain converted three ocean-going vessels, a seaplane tender, and an auxiliary cruiser [Note 7] to help extend the protective range of land-based aircraft. They called these vessels Fight Catapult Ships (FACs), Catapult Aircraft Merchant Ships (CAMs), and Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MACs). Germany sank three of these ships in 1941 — the same year the British converted thirty-five additional merchant ships into catapult ships.
In January 1941, the United Kingdom began converting captured German merchant ships to escort carriers (CVEs). While CVEs were slow and lightly armored, they did provide platforms for dispatching and retrieving land-based aircraft. Britain’s first CVE was christened HMS Audacity. The ship carried six operational aircraft with room for an additional eight, but because there was no hanger deck or elevator, aircraft were maintained on the flight desk.
In April 1941, the United States began converting merchant hulls to CVEs. The first American CVE was christened USS Long Island. A second American CVE was transferred to the UK, who christened her HMS Archer. Archer was capable of operating 15 aircraft. The Americans constructed five additional CVEs, (transferring four to the Royal Navy): HMS Avenger, HMS Biter, HMS Dasher, HMS Tracker, and the USS Charger.
Lessons learned from USS Long Island led to substantial improvements to forty-four successive CVEs. The new constructs were capable of carrying between 19-24 aircraft. Thirty-three of these went to the United Kingdom. Additional CVEs were constructed from tanker hulls, which were longer and faster than the merchant hull ships.
Aircraft carriers operating in both oceans had similar functions. They supported amphibious landings, raided enemy ports, searched for enemy submarines, escorted merchant convoys, transported aircraft, troops, vital supplies, and served as training platforms for carrier-rated pilots.
The Turning Point
In the spring of 1943, German submarines assaulted 133 Allied ships, a major decline from previous periods. The Battle for the Atlantic had taken an abrupt turn. On 21 April, Germany sent 51 U-boats to attack a 42-ship convoy transiting from Liverpool to Halifax. Designated Convoy ONS-5, the shipments were protected by nine naval escorts. U-boats sunk thirteen ships; escort vessels and Catalina flying boats sunk seven U-boats and badly damaged seven more. In total, for that month, Allied forces destroyed 43 German submarines. For the next six months, beginning in May 1943, the Allies dispatched 64 North Atlantic convoys with 3,546 ships to Great Britain. Not a single ship was sunk en route.
Faced with such massive losses, Grand Admiral Dönitz ordered his submarines into the Central Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. These were the areas used by the United States to transport men and materiel to the Mediterranean to support operations in Sicily and the India-Burma campaign. To counter Dönitz’ strategy, the U. S. Navy authorized anti-submarine groups, which included destroyers and CVEs, to operate apart from convoys. Between June – December 1943, Allied hunter-killer groups [Note 8] destroyed 31 German U-boats, including ten of the so-called resupply submarines. Admiral Dönitz’ strategy in the Central and South Atlantic fared no better than his North Atlantic scheme.
Hunter-killer battle groups were a team effort. CVEs used the F4F Wildcat fighter to look for submarines, and when spotted (either by air or radar), dispatched TBF Avengers with bombs, depth charges, and torpedoes. Allied destroyers and destroyer escorts served to screen the CVE hunter-killer groups [Note 9].
By the end of 1944, the Allied powers dominated the Atlantic. Dönitz moved his submarine force around, but the US & UK were reading the admiral’s mail. He ordered 58 U-boats to counter Allied landings at Normandy. German U-boats sank four Allied ships at the cost of 13 U-boats. After Normandy, Dönitz withdrew his submarines to Norwegian waters, which drew the Allies’ attention to the German battleship Tirpitz (a sister ship to Bismarck), which lay at anchor in Norway. Tirpitz did very little during World War II, but the ship did offer a potential threat to Allied navies. In early 1944, the Allies’ focus on Tirpitz deceived the German high command into believing that an Allied invasion of Norway was imminent. Once Tirpitz was sunk in November 1944, the Royal Navy felt comfortable sending the carriers HMS Formidable and HMS Indefatigable to the far east to join the British Pacific Fleet.
At the beginning of 1945, HMS Implacable was the only Allied fleet carrier in the Atlantic, supported by 12 British and 10 American CVEs. All other fleet carriers were sent to the Pacific Theater to finish the war with Japan even as the war with Germany continued. Thirty German U-boats attacked a 26-ship convoy in February 1945, supported by German Torpedo-Bombers, but aircraft from CVEs Campania and Nairana drove the U-boats away with no loss of merchantmen. Convoys bound for Russia continued through May 1945 [Note 10].
Marines in the Atlantic
We seldom read or hear about Marines who served in the Atlantic War. This is very likely because fewer than six-thousand Marines participated in Atlantic, North African, and European campaigns during World War II. Of course, before the war, US Marines served at various U. S. Embassies.
In 1941, about four-thousand Marines of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade served in Iceland through February 1942. But given the expertise of U. S. Marines in amphibious warfare, the Navy Department assigned several senior Marine officers to serve as planners/advisors for invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. For example, Colonel Harold D. Campbell [Note 11], an aviator, was responsible for planning air support for the 6,000 man raid on Dieppe [Note 12]. Marines were also responsible for training four U. S. Army combat divisions in preparation for their amphibious assault of North Africa. In North Africa, Marines from ship’s detachments executed two raids in advance of the main invasion: one operation involved seizure of the old Spanish Fort at the Port of Oran; a second raid secured the airfield at Safi, Morocco. Both operations took place on 10 November 1942, the Marine Corps’ 167th birthday.
Fifty-one Marines served with the U. S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), participating in behind the lines operations in Albania, Austria, Corsica, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Rumania, Sardinia, and Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1945. See also: Marines and Operation Torch, Behind the Lines, and Every Climb and Place.
At sea, Marines assigned to detachments aboard battleships and heavy cruisers served as naval gun crews during the North African, Sicily, and Normandy invasions [Note 13]. Reminiscent of the olden days of sailing ships, Navy ship commanders sent their Marine sharpshooters aloft to explode German mines during Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy) [Note 14]. On 29 August 1944, Marines from USS Augusta and USS Philadelphia participated in the Allied acceptance of the surrender of Marseilles and 700 German defenders.
When General Eisenhower assumed the mantle of Supreme Allied Commander, his staff consisted of 489 officers. Of these, 215 were American officers, including Colonel Robert O. Bare, who served on the staff of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, Allied Naval Commander. Bare worked on the plan for the Normandy invasion. While serving with the British Assault Force, Bare was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. At the completion of his tour in Europe, Bare participated in the Palau and Okinawa campaigns. During the Korean War, Bare served as Chief of Staff, 1st Marine Division.
Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk served Eisenhower as Commander, Western Naval Task Force. Assigned to Kirk’s staff was Marine Colonel Richard H. Jeschke [Note 15]. Jeschke served Kirk as an assistant planning officer in the operations staff. Of the total 1.5 million Americans serving in Europe, 124,000 were naval personnel. Fifteen-thousand of those served on combat ships, 87,000 assigned to landing craft, 22,000 assigned to various naval stations in the UK, and Marine Security Forces, United Kingdom. On 6 June 1944, Rear Admiral Don P. Moon (Commander, Force Uniform), frustrated with delays in landing operations, dispatched Colonel Kerr ashore to “get things moving.” Kerr diverted troops scheduled to land at Green Beach to Red Beach, which expedited the operation. Colonel Kerr credited the low casualty rates during the landing to the accuracy and rate of fire of naval artillery.
The landing at Omaha Beach was a different story. German defenses inflicted 2,000 casualties on a landing force of 34,000 men. Rear Admiral John L. Hall dispatched Colonel Jeschke and First Lieutenant Weldon James ashore at Omaha Beach to observe and report back to him the effectiveness of naval gunfire support from USS Texas.
Colonel John H. Magruder II, USMC served as the naval liaison officer to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group. Many Marine officers were assigned to various posts because of their fluency in foreign languages. Magruder was fluent in Dutch. Major Francis M. Rogers served as an interpreter for General Edouard de Larminent, Commander, II French Corps. Rogers was fluent in both French and Portuguese.
Allen, H. C. Britain and the United States. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1955.
Dawson, R. H. The Decision to Aid Russia, 1941: Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.
DeChant, J. A. Marine Corps Aviation Operations in Africa and Europe. Washington: Marine Corps Gazette, 1946.
Donovan, J. A. Outpost in the North Atlantic. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1992.
Edwards, H. W. A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa. Washington: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1994.
Eisenhower Foundation. D-Day: The Normandy Invasion in Retrospect. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1971.
Morrison, S. E. The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963.
Menges, C. A. History of U. S. Marine Corps Counter-intelligence. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1991.
Roskill, S. The Navy at War, 1939-1945. Chatham, Kent, Great Britain: Mackays of Chatham, 1960.
 Glorious was ordered to help evacuate aircraft during the UK’s withdrawal from Norway. The ship left the main body of the fleet when discovered by the German battleships. German 11-inch guns literally ripped Glorious apart. Alone, without aircraft aloft, and only 4-inch protective guns, Glorious had no chance of survival in a hostile sea. Captain Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, commanding Glorious, was a former submarine skipper. He decided to set out alone so that he could, once at sea, court-martial Wing Commander J. B. Heath, RN, and Lieutenant Commander Evelyn Slessor, RN, who had refused to obey an order to attack shore targets. Heath admitted his refusal, but argued that his mission was ill-defined and his aircraft unsuited to the task.
 German submarines accounted for 70% of world-wide allied shipping losses.
 The agreement was also known as the Destroyers-for-Bases Agreement.
 In a joint statement issued on 14 August 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill announced their joint goals for the world following World War II. Later dubbed The Atlantic Charter, it established an outline of objectives that included dismantling the British Empire, the formation of NATO, and a general agreement on tariffs and trade. An American-British alliance was formed in 1939 with Roosevelt and Churchill secretly meeting eleven times. The Atlantic Charter made clear Roosevelt’s support of Great Britain, but in order to achieve the charter’s objectives, the United States would have to become a participant in the war. This could not happen, politically, unless there was first of all a cataclysmic event that propelled the United States into the war. From 1939 forward, Roosevelt did everything he could to cause the Japanese to attack the United States —which they did on 7 December 1941.
 Canada had a similar program they referred to as “Mutual Aid.”
 The Lend-Lease arrangement with China (suggested in 1940) involved a plan for 500 modern aircraft and enough war materials to supply thirty divisions of ground troops. With the Chinese civil war “on hold” until the defeat of China’s common enemy (Japan), Roosevelt dealt independently with both sides through General Joseph Stilwell. Neither Chiang Kai-shek nor Mao Zedong ever intended to return Lend-Lease equipment to the United States; rather, both sides intended to use these armaments on each other after war with Japan was settled. As it turned out, American Marines died from weapons and ammunition manufactured in the United States when turned against them by Mao’s communist forces in 1945.
 OBVs were merchant ships pressed into service by the Royal Navy and converted into auxiliary carriers.
 The hunter-killer groups included US CVEs Card, Bogue, Core, Block Island, Santee, and HMS Tracker and Biter. USS Block Island was the only American CVE sunk in the Atlantic War.
 At a time when the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty (1922) limited the construction of large battleships, the United States began building replacement ships for obsolete World War II destroyers. The Navy produced 175 Fletcher-Class destroyers (DD), designed as torpedo attack ships with a secondary mission of anti-submarine warfare and screening for capital ships. Destroyer Escorts (DE) were a smaller variant ship with specialized armaments capable of a smaller turning radius. Both ships were referred to as “tin cans” because they were lightly armored. They relied more on their speed for self-defense. During World War II, the U. S. Navy lost 97 destroyers and 15 destroyer-escorts.
 Convoys to Russia during the war involved 740 ships in 40 convoys, which provided 5,000 tanks and more than 7,000 aircraft. German U-boats destroyed 97 of these merchantmen and 18 escorting warships. Germany lost three destroyers and 38 U-boats.
 Harold Denny Campbell (1895-1955) served in both the First and Second World War. On 6 December 1941, Colonel Campbell assumed command of Marine Aircraft Group 11 at Quantico, Virginia. In May 1942, he was personally selected by Lord Mountbatten to serve as a Marine Aviation advisor to the British Combined Staff. After promotion to Brigadier General in 1943, Campbell assumed command of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in Samoa and in 1944 commanded the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in the Peleliu campaign.
 The raid was conducted by British and Canadian commandos. Tagged as Operation Jubilee, the purpose of the amphibious raid to test the feasibility of lightening raids for intelligence gathering and boosting the morale of “folks back home.” It was a much-needed learning experience because aerial and naval support was inadequate, the tanks were too heavy for a “lightening raid” and the Allies under-estimated the strength of German defenses. Within ten hours of the landing, the German army killed, wounded, or captured 3,623 British/Canadian commandos. The British also lost 33 landing craft and a destroyer. Operation Jubilee became a textbook lesson on what not to do in an amphibious operation.
 U. S. Navy battleships usually included a detachment of two-hundred Marines; battle cruisers usually had a detachment of around 80 Marines.
 I am trying to imagine a Marine sharpshooter 200 feet in the air on a pitching ship, shooting German anti-ship mines with any degree of accuracy. Damn.
 Colonel (later, Brigadier General) Jeschke (1894-1957) served with distinction in both the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns: on Guadalcanal, and during the invasions of Sicily and Normandy.
The first American ship to carry the name Essex was a 36-gun frigate [Note 1] constructed by Mr. Enos Briggs of Salem, Massachusetts, a design of Mr. William Hackett, and named in honor of Essex County, Massachusetts [Note 2]. United States Ship Essex was launched on 30 September 1799, presented to the United States Navy in December, and accepted for service on behalf of the Navy by Captain Edward Preble, USN, the ship’s first Commanding Officer. In January 1800, USS Essex departed Newport, Rhode Island in company with USS Congress; their mission was to serve as escorts for a convoy of merchant ships. The United States was then engaged in the Quasi-War with France [Note 3]; Essex and Congress were ordered to protect these merchant vessels from assault and confiscation by the French Navy. After only a few days at sea, a storm de-masted Congress and she was forced to return to the American coast. Essex continued on alone. USS Essex was the first US Navy ship to cross the equator and the first American man-of-war to make a double voyage around the Cape of Good Hope (March, August 1800).
The second cruise of the Essex took her to the Mediterranean under the command of Captain William Bainbridge, serving in the squadron of Commodore Richard Dale [Note 4]. During this journey, Essex participated in the Barbary Wars through 1806. Upon return to the United States, Essex underwent refit until 1809 when she was re-commissioned as a patrol vessel along the East Coast of the United States.
The Jay Treaty of 1795, more formally The Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, was the framework of Alexander Hamilton, supported by George Washington, and brokered by John Jay. The Jay Treaty was intended to resolve certain deficiencies in the Treaty of Paris (1783) whose sole purpose was to avoid further confrontations with Great Britain. The goals of the Jay Treaty were mostly fulfilled (withdrawal of British Army forces in the Northwest Territory, cessation of US confiscation of property belonging to British loyalists, etc.) but several issues remained unresolved, such as Great Britain’s impressment of American sailors from ships and ports. From 1803, when Great Britain went to war with Napoleonic France, the British established a naval blockade to choke off trade with France. The United States disputed this blockade, proclaiming it illegal under internationally recognized laws of the sea. But to enforce the British blockade, and to make its point of naval supremacy, the British navy increased its impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy. This behavior, more than any other, inflamed the passions of the American people. In 1811, USS President closed with a Royal Navy sloop operating off the coast of North Carolina, challenged her, and then fired upon the smaller vessel. Eleven British sailors were killed. So now the passions of the British people were inflamed. As a result of this incident, the British became greatly annoyed and began arming North American Indians and encouraging them to attack American frontier settlements. The United States declared war against the United Kingdom on 18 June 1812. It became known as Mr. Madison’s War.
With the outbreak of war, David Porter [Note 5] was promoted to Captain on 2 July 1812 and assigned to command USS Essex. Sailing his ship to Bermuda, Porter engaged several British transports, taking one of these as a prize of war. On 13 August, Porter captured HMS Alert, the first British warship captured during the conflict. By the end of September, Essex had taken ten British merchantmen as prizes.
In February 1813, Porter sailed Essex into the South Atlantic where he sought to disrupt the British whaling fleet. His first action in the Pacific was the capture of the Peruvian vessel Nereyda. His purpose in seizing this vessel was that it held captive and impressed American whaling crewmen. Over the next year, Porter captured 13 British whalers; one of these was a French registry vessel, captured by the Royal Navy, sold to the owner of a British whaling fleet, and re-named Atlantic. In capturing these ships, Porter also took 380 British seamen as prisoners. In June, Porter offered parole to these captives, providing that they would not again take up arms against the United States. Porter renamed Atlantic as Essex Junior and appointed his executive officer, Lieutenant John Downes, to command her.
John Marshall Gamble (1791-1836) was only eight-years old when Essex went into service in 1799. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gamble received his appointment to second lieutenant of Marines on 16 January 1809 when he was only 17 or 18-years old. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Gamble commanded the Marine Detachment, USS Essex [Note 6]. Gamble was an accomplished Marine Corps officer but he is distinguished as the only Marine officer to command a United States Navy ship of war. Actually, Lieutenant Gamble commanded two ships, both British prizes pressed into United States service — seized and renamed USS Greenwich [Note 7] and USS Sir Andrew Hammond. Gamble also distinguished himself during a land action on an island called Nuku Hiva where Captain David Porter established the first US Navy Base in the Pacific Ocean.
Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia). Captain Porter arrived at Nuku Hiva at a time when island natives were at war with one another. Shortly after landing his shore party, Porter claimed the island on behalf of the United States and ordered the construction of a fortification and an adjacent village, which he named Fort Madison and Madisonville, respectively, after President James Madison. He also constructed a dock that was needed to facilitate repairs to his growing fleet of ships. For reasons known only to himself, Porter involved himself in the tribal conflict —possibly to curry favor with the majority of the warring natives.
Porter’s first expedition into the interior was led by Lieutenant Downes. He and forty others, with the assistance of several hundred native islanders called Te I’is, captured a redoubt held by as many as 4,000 Happah warriors. Afterwards, the Happah joined the Te I’is and Americans against another island group called Tai Pi. Captain Porter led a second expedition, which involved an amphibious assault against the Tai Pi shoreline. This second expedition, with Captain Porter in overall command, included 30 American sailors and Marines (with artillery), under Lieutenant Gamble, and 5,000 native warriors. From this point on, however, Captain Porter’s fate took an unfortunate turn.
On or about 13 July 1813, following a sharp naval engagement, Lieutenant Gamble, commanding USS Greenwich, captured the British armed whaler Seringapatam. [Note 8] The engagement was significant because, at the time, Seringapatam posed the most serious British threat to American whalers in the South Pacific. Subsequently, Captain Porter wrote to Lieutenant Gamble, stating, “Allow me to return to you my thanks for your handsome conduct in brining Seringapatam to action, which greatly facilitated her capture, while it prevented the possibility of her escape. Be assured sir, I shall make a suitable representation of these affairs to the honorable Secretary of the Navy.”
Captain Porter reported Gamble’s conduct to the Navy Department: “Captain Gamble at all times greatly distinguished himself by his activity in every enterprise engaged in by the force under my command, and in many critical encounters by the natives of Madison Island, rendered essential services, and at all times distinguished himself by his coolness and bravery. I therefore do, with pleasure, recommend him to the Department as an officer deserving of its patronage.”
During the sea battle between Greenwich and Seringapatam, which took place off the coast of Tumbes, Peru, damage to Seringapatam was not particularly significant, but did necessitate repairs to return the vessel to a state of sea worthiness. There were no human casualties on either side. Once the Americans repaired Seringapatam Captain Porter assigned Masters Mate James Terry of the USS Essex as prize master, and Seringapatam joined Porter’s squadron.
In September 1813, Porter returned Essex to Nuku Hiva (along with four prizes) for repairs. Around mid-December, Porter ordered Essex re-provisioned and readied for sea. With Essex Junior as an escort Porter began a patrol of the Peru Coast. Seringapatam, Hammond, and Greenwich remained at anchor under the guns of Fort Madison and Gamble assumed command of the garrison. Many of the crewmen of the captured ships were American; they and several British crewmen volunteered to serve under Porter. There were also six British prisoners of war who refused to serve the United States. Not long after Porter set sail, local natives became so troublesome that Gamble was forced to land a detachment of men to restore order. At this point, Gamble’s mission was to maintain order, guard the captive ships, guard prisoners of war, and do so with but a hand full of men.
Four months later, Lieutenant Gamble despaired of Porter’s fate [Note 9] and ordered repairs and rigging for sea of Seringapatam and Hammond. When signs of mutiny appeared among the men, Gamble ordered all arms and ammunition placed aboard Greenwich. Despite these precautions, mutineers freed the British prisoners of war and captured Seringapatam on 7 May, wounding Lieutenant Gamble in the scuffle. Mutineers placed Gamble in an open boat and Seringapatam sailed for Australia.
Gamble, returning to Hammond, set sail with a skeleton crew bound for the Caribbean Leeward Islands but was intercepted en route by the British sloop HMS Cherub. As it turned out, Gamble’s capture served the interests of the United States. At the time of his capture, Gamble was in possession of gifts intended for the King of the Leeward Islands. Captain Tucker of HMS Cherub seized these gifts as prizes of war. More than that, Tucker, having discovered several American ships in the Leeward Islands harbor, sent demands to the king to surrender these ships to him at once. When the king refused, Tucker landed a detachment of Royal Marines to enforce his demands.
Upon landing, the Royal Marines discovered that it was literally impossible to enforce their captain’s demands while surrounded by very angry Caribs [Note 10]. Captain Tucker wisely withdrew his force and sailed away. Meanwhile, when the king learned that his gifts had been confiscated by the Royal Navy, he was incensed and diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Leeward Islands deteriorated.
At the conclusion of the War of 1812, Gamble returned to his duties as a Marine officer. He was promoted to captain on 18 June 1814, advanced to Brevet Major on 19 April 1815, and to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel on 3 March 1827.
John M. Gamble died on 11 September 1836 at the age of about 44-45 years. In terms of the family’s legacy, the destroyer USS Gamble (DD-123) and Port Gamble, Washington were named in honor of John Gamble and his brother, Peter, who served as a Navy lieutenant during the War of 1812. USS Gamble served as a destroyer in World War I and a minesweeper in World War II. Owing to the ship’s condition after two world wars, the Navy scuttled the ship in July 1945.
1.Daughan, G. C. The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the USS Essex During the War of 1812. Basic Books, 2013.
2.Captain David Porter, USS Essex, and the War of 1812 in the Pacific. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, 2014. Online.
3.Porter, D. D. Memoir of Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy. Albany: J. Munsell, 1875.
4.Toner, R. J. Gamble of the Marines: The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told. I. C. Martin, 2017.
5.Turnbull, A. D. Commodore David Porter, 1740-1843. New York and London: Century Press, 1929.
 A frigate in the days of sail was a warship that carried its principal batteries on one or two decks. It was smaller in size than a ship of the line (which is to say, smaller than the warships that were used in the line of battle), but full rigged on three masts, built for speed and maneuverability and used for patrolling and escort duty. They were rated ships having at least 28 guns. The frigate was the hardest-worked warship because even though smaller than a ship of the line, they were formidable opponents in war and had sufficient storage for six-months service at sea. A “heavy frigate” was a ship that carried larger guns (firing 18-24 pound shot) developed in Britain and France after 1778.
 Essex County, Massachusetts was created by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on 10 May 1643. Named after the county in England, Essex included the towns of Salem, Lynn, Wenham, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Gloucester, and Andover. Essex County was the home of Elbridge Gerry, known for creating a legislative district in 1812 that gave rise to the word gerrymandering, which suggests that politicians in Massachusetts have been corrupt for at least the past 208 years.
 An undeclared war between the US and France from 1798 to 1800. John Adams was president. When the US refused to repay its debt for the Revolutionary War, American politicians argued that after the French overthrew their king, the nation to whom this debt was owed no longer existed; accordingly, said certain members of the US Congress, the debt was null and void. In response, France began seizing US flagged ships and auctioning them for payment.
 After 1794, the US Congress was unwilling to authorize more than four officer ranks in the Navy. These were Captain, Master Commandant, Lieutenant, and Midshipman. Commodore, therefore, was a title only, temporarily assigned to a U.S. Navy captain who, by virtue of seniority, exercised command over two or more U.S. naval vessels, and the rank Master Commandant was later changed to Commander.
 David Porter (1780-1843) was a self-assured naval officer who served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1790-1825, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican Navy from 1826-1829. He later served as Chargé d’Affaires of the United States to the Ottoman Empire (1831-1840) and United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire (1840-1843). Porter was the adoptive father of David G. Farragut, the U.S. Navy’s first admiral.
 Gamble was promoted to Captain USMC in June 1814.
 Captain Porter later decided to burn Greenwich to keep the ship from being recaptured by the British South Atlantic squadron; it was a sensible decision because destroying the ship deprived the British of valuable whale oil, which at the time, was in high demand in England.
 Seringapatam was constructed in 1799 as a warship for Tippu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. The British stormed his citadel at Seringapatam, and Sultan was killed. The British then sailed the ship to England where it was sold to British a whaling merchant. The ship made six voyages to the Southern Atlantic and Pacific until captured by Greenwich.
 Gamble’s concern was well-founded. On 28 March 1814, Royal Navy Captain James Hillyar forced Captain Porter’s surrender at the Battle of Valparaiso. HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub disabled Essex to the point where he could no longer resist. Following the battle, Captain Hillyar provided care and comfort to Porter’s wounded crew, disarmed Essex Junior, and gave Porter his parole to return to the United States. Captain Hillyar sailed the Essex to England, where it was used as a transport ship, prison ship, and then ultimately sold at public auction for £1,230.
 The Caribs (now called Island Caribs) for whom the Caribbean was named, inhabited the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. They were noted for their aggressive hostility and fiercely resisted European colonization. They identified themselves with the Kalina people, or mainland Carib of South America. They continue to exist within the Garifuna people, also known as black Caribs in the Lesser Antilles.
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, interconnecting river and sea trade routes transformed Europe’s economy.This development led to Europe becoming the world’s most prosperous trade networks.The only limiting factor to river or sea trade was the inadequacy of ships for that purpose.As Spain began a campaign to push Moslems out of the Iberian Peninsula, it realized economic growth in Andalusia and eventually allowed Spain to seize Lisbon in 1147.In Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, the Italians dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean.In the North Atlantic, Norsemen began their conquest of England, which evolved into the development of peaceful trade along the North Sea.Trade organizations developed, which involved merchant guilds in northern Germany.
Historians credit the beginning of the Age of Discovery to the Portuguese, under the patronage of Infante Dom Henrique (also known as Prince Henry the Navigator).Henry directed the development of lighter ships, a design known as the caravel.With improved sails, the caravel could sail farther and faster than any other ship of the day.The caravel was highly maneuverable and could sail nearer the wind.With this ship, the Portuguese began exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa [Note 1].
In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias reached the Indian Ocean by sailing around the Horn of Africa.Perhaps the most significant discovery of all was Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the American continent in 1492.This discovery set into motion competition between Portugal and Spain, under whose patronage Columbus made his discovery.To avoid conflicts between these two nations, the Pope issued bulls, which divided the world into two exploration regions. The Pope granted each kingdom exclusive rights to claim newly discovered lands [Note 2].
Gradually, other European states developed maritime interests that placed them into direct competition with Portugal and Spain.In pursuing these interests, exploring nations attacked the ships and seized their competitors’ cargos; it was a behavior that led European countries toward the development of navies, which they used to protect their ships, shipments, and foreign operating bases.Newly discovered lands would be of no benefit to European adventurers unless or until these new lands were conquered, controlled, and colonized.Through the use of superior military technologies, Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples. They used them to harvest the new lands’ bounties, which included precious metals, previously unknown grains, spices, and fruits.
By the 16th century, Italians and Arabs shared a monopoly on overland trade with India and China.The Portuguese broke this monopoly by developing sea routes to both countries.Rivals for business, notably the Dutch East Indies Company, soon eclipsed the Portuguese by establishing bases of operation in Malacca, Ceylon, several Indian port cities, Indonesia, and Japan [Note 3].
In this competitive setting, European powers pursued their overseas interests through treaty, colonization, conquest, or a combination of all three.Trade with China was desirable because of the high demand for Chinese goods and because they offered immense profits.Through the 1700s, China had become the center of the world economy [Note 4].Every European power wanted a trade relationship with China that favored their country at every other competitor’s expense.The inability of the Qing (also Ch’ing) Dynasty to deal with internal challenges in the late 1700s sent a strong signal to the European powers (and Japan) that China was ripe for the taking.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was China’s last imperial dynasty.Evidence of dynastic decline became evident when Chinese officials proved incapable of ending sectarian violence among Sufi Moslem groups.The Qing’s interference in Moslem affairs led to an insurrection that lasted from 1781 to 1813.It was only with the assistance of a third Moslem group that the rebellion was finally put down.
Soon after the uprising, the European powers (and Japan) began chipping away at Chinese sovereignty —and continued to do so for nearly seventy years.For the Chinese, European and Japanese encroachments were far more than a lengthy series of military assaults; they were the catalyst of a national identity crisis and damaged the Chinese psyche.After several hundreds of years of deluding themselves into believing China was the center of the universe, the Chinese suddenly learned that much-younger nations possessed far superior technologies and had no hesitation in using them to achieve selfish interests.Foreign powers took advantage of every opportunity to whittle away at Chinese sovereignty, including the illegal importation of opium from Afghanistan, India, and Turkey.
In earlier times, chemists believed opium contained harmless healing properties, but in the early to late 1700s, its true nature became apparent as tens of thousands of people became addicted to opium.As more Chinese became opium-dependent, increased demand drove prices higher, which increased the profits of foreign trading companies, smugglers, dealers, and government officials who accepted bribes to look the other way.Finally, realizing opium’s effects, Emperor Jia-Qing issued a succession of edicts (1729, 1799, 1814, and 1831) declaring opium illegal and imposing severe penalties for its importation use.The only tangible result of these laws was that (a) they made opium even more profitable, and (b) high demand for opium guaranteed its continued importation.Everyone involved in the opium trade was making money —except the user.
Opium aside, China enjoyed a favorable trade balance with European interests.China sold porcelains, silks, and tea in exchange for silver bullion.In the late 18th century, the British East India Company (BEIC) expanded the cultivation of opium within its Indian Bengal territories, selling it to private traders who transported it to China.In 1787, BEIC sent 4,000 chests of opium to China annually.By 1833, 30,000 chests went to China.American shipping companies were also engaged in opium, including the grandfather of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ancestors of former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.The opium trade was euphemistically called the “Old China Trade.”Other foreign powers became involved in opium, as well. BEIC may have lost its monopoly, but profits remained high.
Partly concerned about his people’s moral decay, and somewhat concerned about the outflow of silver, the Emperor directed his high commissioner, Lin Tse-Hsu, to end the trade.Lin ordered the seizure of all opium, including that held in foreign trading company warehouses.Charles Elliott, Chief Superintendent of British Trade (in China), was very quickly inundated with British merchants’ complaints.To assuage their concerns, Elliott authorized the issuance of credits to merchants for 20,000 chests of opium, which he promptly turned over to Commissioner Lin.Lin destroyed the opium; Elliott immediately cabled London, suggesting the British Army’s use to protect the United Kingdom’s investments in the opium trade.
A small skirmish occurred between British and Chinese vessels in the Kowloon Estuary in early September 1839.In May 1840, the British government sent troops to impose reparations for British traders’ financial losses in China and to guarantee future security for trade.On 21 June 1840, a British naval force arrived off Macao and began a bombardment of the city of Din-Hai.Chinese naval forces sent to interdict the Royal Navy were utterly destroyed.The Treaty of Nanking (1842), which ended this First Opium War, was the first of many “unequal treaties” imposed on China.China agreed to cede to the British the island of Hong Kong (and surrounding smaller islands) and granted treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ning-Po, Foo-Chow, and Amoy.
In 1853, northern China became embroiled in a massive civil war known today as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64).Its leader was Hong Xiu Quan —a man who believed that he was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.The stated intentions of the Taiping were to (a) convert the Chinese people to Hong’s version of Christianity, (b) overthrow the Qing Dynasty, and (c) reform the state.Hong established his capital at Nan-King.
Despite this massively disruptive upheaval, the Emperor appointed Ye Ming-Chen as his new high commissioner and ordered him to stamp out the opium trade.Ye’s seizure of the British ship Arrow prompted the British Governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Browning, to again request the Royal Navy’s assistance.The British fleet, under Admiral Sir Michael Seymour [Note 5] responded by bombarding fortifications outside the city of Canton.
When Chinese mobs set British properties on fire on 15 December, Browning requested military intervention.The murder of a missionary prompted the French to align with Great Britain against the Chinese government.The Russian Empire soon joined the fray, demanding greater concessions from China, including the legalization of the opium trade and exempting foreign traders from import duties.In late June 1858, foreign powers forced China to pay reparations for the Second Opium War, open additional port cities to European commerce, and authorize missionaries’ unlimited access to Chinese cities.Like circling sharks, Europeans and the Japanese began to carve out their niches in China —sometimes through secret agreements, at other times through military conflict.
By the late 1800s, Shandong Province in North China, long known for social unrest, strange religious sects, and martial societies, had had enough foreign meddling in Chinese affairs.One of these societies was the Yihe-Quan, loosely translated as The Righteous and Harmonious Fists.They were called “Boxers” because of their martial arts expertise and their use of traditional Chinese weapons.The Boxers were staunchly anti-Imperialistic, anti-foreign, and anti-Christian.
The people of North China had long resented the arrogant meddling of Christian missionaries. This outrage grew worse after the Treaty of Tientsin in 1860, which granted foreign missionaries’ freedom of movement throughout China and the government’s authority to purchase land and build churches.Chinese villagers objected to the foreign settlements that developed around these Christian church communities.Natural calamities did not help matters [Note 6].
In November 1897, a band of armed Chinese men stormed a German missionary’s residence and killed two priests.The murders prompted Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II to send a naval squadron to seize Jia-Zhou Bay on the Shandong Peninsula’s southern coast [Note 7].Wilhelm’s intent to seize Chinese territory initiated a scramble for further concessions by the British, French, Russians, and Japanese.Germany gained exclusive control of developmental loans, mining, and railway systems in Shandong.Russia gained complete control of all territory north of the Great Wall, which they soon occupied with Russian military forces.The French gained control of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong provinces.The Japanese gained control over Fujian province, and the British gained control over the entire Yangtze River Valley, from Tibet to the Henan and Zhejiang provinces.The Italians, for whatever reasons, were excluded.
In Chinese religious myth, the Jade Emperor represents the first god, one of three pure ones and the highest power of all Chinese deities.A temple to the Jade Emperor had been built in the village of Li-Yuan-Tun.In 1869, the temple was converted to a Catholic Church.Soon afterward, the French minister in Peking demanded (and received) authorization for the Li-Yuan-Tun priests to bypass local officials in family law and authority to resolve regional disputes.In 1898, the Guangxi Emperor proclaimed the so-called Hundred Days of Reform (22 June-21 September).The reform period enraged Chinese conservatives, as it served to prove that the Qing Dynasty was corrupt, weak, or both.Boxers attacked the Christian community, murdering priests and others.
In an attempt to avoid another uprising, the Empress Dowager Cixi [Note 8] placed the reformist Guangxi Emperor under house arrest and assumed absolute power in China.What made the Boxers particularly worrisome to Cixi was that they were mostly unemployed teenagers with nothing better to do.After several months of ever-increasing violence against foreigners (generally) and missionaries (mostly) in Shandong and on the North China Plain, the Boxers covered on Peking (present-day Beijing). They demanded either the expulsion or extermination of all foreigners.
The Boxer crisis was one of national prominence and one primarily caused by foreign aggression in China.From the Chinese perspective, foreigners were slowly but steadily dismembering China, destroying Chinese culture, and demeaning Chinese religious beliefs.
Initially, Cixi viewed the Boxers as bandits, but realizing that most Chinese conservatives supported the Boxers, she changed her position and issued edicts in their defense.In the spring of 1900, the Boxer movement spread rapidly north from Shandong into the Peking countryside.The Boxers burned Christian churches, killed Chinese Christians, intimidated Chinese officials, or murdered anyone who stood in their way.American Minister Edwin H. Conger cabled Washington, stating, “…the whole country is swarming with hungry, discontented, hopeless idlers.”
Christian missionaries flocked to the Legation seeking the protection of their various ministers on 28-29 May.On 30 May, British Minister Claude Maxwell MacDonald requested multinational troops to secure the Legation.Ambassador Conger cabled Washington to protect the Asiatic Fleet; Kaiser Wilhelm II was so alarmed by the Chinese-Moslem troops that he requested intervention by the Caliph Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire.
The situation in Peking continued to deteriorate, prompting Admiral Seymour of the Royal Navy to dispatch a second force
On 31 May, Captain John Twiggs (Handsome Jack) Myers, U. S. Marine Corps, arrived in Peking in command of two ship’s detachments of American Marines.The guard force consisted of Myers and twenty-five Marines from USS Oregon, Captain Newt Hall, 23 Marines, five sailors, and U. S. Navy Assistant Surgeon T. M. Lippert from the USS Newark.British and Russian troops, numbering around 325, arrived the same day.
On 5 June, Boxers cut the railway line to Tianjin, isolating Peking and making further military reinforcements difficult.
On 10 June, the “Great eight” organized a second multi-national force under British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour [Note 5] —the largest contingent of which were British, augmented with 112 American sailors and Marines. Captain Bowman McCalla of the U. S. Navy was appointed to serve as Admiral Seymour’s second in command.
Admiral Seymour obtained the Chinese foreign office (headed by Prince Qing) to proceed. Still, when the Empress Dowager learned about Qing’s approval, she replaced him with Prince Duan, a radical anti-western member of the royal family.Prince Duan was the de facto head of the Boxer movement, and it was Prince Duan who ordered the Chinese Imperial Army to attack the western powers.
Admiral Seymour’s expedition had not progressed very far when he discovered that Chinese Boxers destroyed the railway tracks in front of him.He considered returning to Tianjin [Note 9] but found that the Chinese also ripped up those tracks.The distance between Tianjin and Peking was only about 75 miles, prompting Seymour to proceed on foot.
On 11 June, the Japanese minister to China was attacked and murdered by Chinese soldiers guarding the Yong-Ding Gate on the southern wall.The murder was likely intentional because the Chinese commander, General Dong Fu-Xiang, had earlier issued violent threats toward foreign legations.On the same day, German sentries observed the first Boxer in the Legation Quarter.German Minister Clemens von Ketteler ordered his soldiers to capture the Boxer, a teenager, whom Ketteler ordered executed.
Beyond inhumane, killing the lad was a foolish decision because the boy’s execution served only to enrage the Boxers further.In retaliation, thousands of Boxers attacked the walled city.So furious were the Boxers that they began a systematic campaign of pillaging, arson, and murder of all Christian properties and persons, including Chinese Christians.Joining them were gleeful Chinese Moslems.In fear for their lives, dozens of American and British missionaries took refuge inside the Methodist Mission.A Boxer onslaught there was repulsed by U. S. Marines.
On 18 June, Vice Admiral Seymour received word of the Boxer attacks.
On 18 June, the Empress Dowager warned foreign ministers that a state of war would exist between China and the western powers unless they withdrew from Peking within 24-hours.Cixi promised safe passage out of Peking, but only as far as Tientsin.Presumably, after that, the diplomats would be “on their own.”
The Seymour expedition had advanced to within 25 miles of Peking when his relief force was set upon by overwhelming numbers of Boxers and Imperial Chinese soldiers [Note 10].The attacks were so unrelenting (and bizarre) that Seymour was forced to seize and then occupy the Chinese forts at Taku [Note 11].By that time, two hundred of Seymour’s men had either been killed or wounded, and the men were low on ammunition, food, water, and medical supplies.It was a victory for the Chinese, but at a terrible cost in Boxer and Imperial Army lives.Seymour dispatched a Chinese servant with word of his predicament to the Peking legation.
On 19 June, the foreign ministers within the Legation informed the Empress Dowager that they had no intention of withdrawing from Peking.Cixi issued her declaration of war on 20 June; a Boxer/Imperial army siege of the city began on the same day.
Also, on 19 June, Major Littleton W. T. Waller arrived at Taku in command of 107 Marines detached from the First Regiment at Cavite, Philippines.Along with another detachment of 32 Marines, those men formed a light battalion, who immediately moved inland to join a Russian column of 400 men.The small force set off for Tianjin at around 0200 on 21 June.Facing them were between 1,500 to 2,000 Chinese combatants.
The Chinese outnumbered the joint force from the start.When the international force encountered intense enemy fire, they retreated.Waller and his Marines served as a rearguard contingent, forced to leave behind his dead and drag his wounded men.Waller successfully fought off a numerically superior Chinese force and reached the relative safety of Tianjin City. After providing for his wounded Marines, Major Waller immediately attached his remaining men to the 1,800-man British column formed under Commander Christopher Cradock, Royal Navy.At 0400 on 24 June, Cradock’s international expedition (consisting of Italians, Germans, Japanese, Russians, British, and American military contingents) set off again to relieve the Legation.They instead ended up rescuing Admiral Seymour.
In Peking, the Boxers were initially content to harass the foreign Legation with harassing rifle and artillery fires, but there was no organized assault.Foreign ministers agreed to form pro-active, mutually supporting military defenses with the few men at their disposal.On 15 June, Captain Myers placed his Marines on the Tartar Wall, a critical position that would otherwise allow Boxers to direct devastating fire into the legation area.
On 25 June, Seymour was at the point of being overrun by Chinese Boxers and Imperial soldiers when Cradock’s regiment reached what remained of Seymour’s expedition.Admiral Seymour and the relief force marched back to Tianjin unopposed on 26 June.In total, Seymour suffered 62 killed and 228 wounded.
In Peking, Boxers decided to employ the anaconda tactic of squeezing legation guards to death.To accomplish this, they constructed barricades some distance from the front of the Marine position—each day moving them further forward to the legation perimeter.During the night of 28 June, Private Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by low-crawling to the barricade.His observation of Boxer activities provided useful intelligence as to the Boxer’s intentions.
On 2 July, Captain Myers determined that he had had enough of the Chinese “squeezing” strategy.The Chinese barricade was, in Myers’ opinion, unacceptably close to the legation perimeter.He decided to organize his men for an assault against the Chinese fence.
Myers launched his assault at 0200 on 3 July.The timing and weather conditions couldn’t have been more perfect.The attack commenced in the middle of a torrential downpour.The legation guard’s attack drove the Boxers back several hundred yards.Two Marines were killed during the attack, and Captain Myers received a severe wound in the leg from a Chinese pike.After the action, Captain Myers was evacuated to the Russian Legation. He received medical treatment; his injury was significant enough to cause Myers to pass his command to Captain Newt Hall.After the assault, sniper and artillery fire died down, and diplomats agreed to an informal truce on 16 July.The desultory fire continued, however, until the foreign legations were relieved on 14 August.
On 6 July, the U. S. Ninth Infantry Regiment joined the allied force near Tianjin.
On 10 July, Colonel Robert L. Meade, commanding the First Marine Regiment, led 318 Marines ashore from USS Brooklyn.Meade led his Marines to Tianjin and joined up with Waller’s battalion.Meade assumed command of all American military forces.
On 13 July, the allied forces launched an assault against Tianjin under Major General Alfred Gaselee, British Army (known as the Gaselee Expedition), appointed as Supreme Commander of the international force [Note 12]. Fighting took place for most of the day with little allied advance.Meade’s 450 Marines suffered 21 casualties.A Japanese-led night attack broke through the Chinese defenses, giving international force access to the walled city.
On 28 July, diplomats in the Legation Quarter received their first message from the outside world in more than a month.A Chinese boy—a student of missionary William S. Ament, covertly entered the Legation Quarter with news that a rescue army of the Eight-Nation Alliance had arrived in Tianjin and would shortly begin its advance.For some, the news was hardly reassuring because the Seymour expedition had failed to break through the Chinese Boxer and Imperial Army.
On 30 July, Brigadier General Adna R. Chaffee, U. S. Army, arrived in Tianjin to assume command of all U. S. Forces in China.Also arriving with Chaffee was one battalion of Marines under Major William P. Biddle [Note 13], two battalions of the Fourteenth U. S. Infantry, the Sixth U. S. Cavalry, and one battery of the Fifth U. S. Artillery.On 4 August, the international expedition of approximately 18,000 men departed from Tianjin for Peking.Chaffee’s force included around 2,500 men, including 425 Marines.
On 5 August, Japanese forces of the international expedition engaged and defeated Chinese forces at Pei-Tsang.A second battle occurred the next day at Yang-Stun.For many allied troops, the unseen enemy was the broiling heat, which caused numerous heat casualties during the 75-mile march to Peking.
On 13 August, the Chinese broke the temporary truce with the foreign Legation with a sustained artillery barrage.The barrage lasted until around 0200 on 14 August.
Five national contingents advanced on Peking’s walls on 14 August: British, American, Japanese, Russian, and French.Each of these had a gate in the wall as their primary objective.The Japanese and Russians encountered the heaviest Chinese resistance.The British entered the city through an unguarded entrance and proceeded into the city with virtually no Chinese opposition.
Rather than forcing their way through a fortified gate, the Americans decided instead to scale the walls.Marines destroyed Chinese snipers and set up an observation post from the vantage point of being on the high wall.In the Marine’s assault, First Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler and two enlisted men received gunshot wounds.
U. S. Marines advanced to the Old Imperial City on 15 August, encountering sporadic resistance, but scattered gunfire did continue to plague the American Legation for several more months.By the end of the siege, Marine casualties included 7 killed, 11 wounded, including Captain Myers and Assistant Surgeon Lippert.
Among the Marines who participated in the Boxer Rebellion, thirty-three received the Medal of Honor … including Private Harry Fisher [Note 14], killed on 16 July 1900; he was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Diplomats signed a Boxer protocol in September 1901.
Cohen, P. A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Edgerton, R. B.Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military.Norton & Co., 1997.
Harrington, P.Peking, 1900: The Boxer Rebellion.Osprey Publishing, 2001.
Martin, W. A. P.The Siege of Peking: China Against the World.New York: F. H. Revell Company, 1900.
Myers, John T. “Military Operations and Defense of the Siege of Peking.Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, September 1902.
O’Connor, R. The Spirit Soldier: A Historical Narrative of the Boxer Rebellion.New York: Putnam, 1973.
Plante, T. K.U. S. Marines in the Boxer Rebellion.Prologue Magazine, Winter 1999.
 Aided by a Chinese invention known as the magnetic compass, first used in Europe around 1200 AD.
 Later modified by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which established an arbitrary line east of which were relegated to Portugal, west of which belonged to Spain.
 In 1599, Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate closed its borders or limited contacts with foreigners until the mid-1800s.
 Between the 15th and 18th centuries, silver had become the medium of exchange between China and Spain.Approximately 35% of all silver bullion produced in the Americas found its way to China.
 Sir Michael Seymour was the uncle of Sir Edward Seymour, also a Royal Navy admiral.
 Traditional Chinese viewed natural (cyclic) events, such as earthquakes, droughts, and severe flooding, as omens that the ruling Emperor had lost the mandate of heaven.Such periods were frequently accompanied by civil unrest and dynastic changes.
 The German government was likely less bothered about the murder of two priests and more interested in using the incident to obtain more concessions from the Chinese government.
 Empress Dowager is the English title given to the mother or widow of an East Asian emperor.Cixi was born with the name Yehe Nara Xing-Zhen of the Manchu clan.She was selected as a concubine to the Emperor Xian-Feng and gave birth to a son in 1856.When the Xian-Feng Emperor died in 1861, her son became the Tong-Zhi Emperor, and she became the Empress Dowager.Calling herself Cixi, she ousted a group of regents appointed by the late Emperor and assumed the regency.She gained control over the dynasty after installing her nephew as the Guangxi Emperor when her son died in 1875.She may have poisoned her nephew after keeping him under house arrest for a while.
 The cities Tianjin and Tientsin are the same; they are merely English language spelling variations from the Chinese lettering.However, there were two distinct areas of the city.In 1900, there were two adjacent subdivisions, one to the Northwest was the ancient high-walled city measuring about one-mile on each side.To the Southeast, about two miles away along the Hai River, was the treaty port and foreign settlements, measuring about a half-mile wide.Around a million Chinese lived within the walled city; the port settlement housed around 700 European merchants, missionaries, and approximately 10,000 Chinese servants, employees, or businessmen.Two of these residents were the American Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry-Hoover.Hoover later became President of the United States.
 Seymour’s glaring error was that (a) he assumed that his western force could easily push aside the Chinese Boxers, and (b) he elected not to include field artillery within the expedition’s composition.
 Chinese Boxers and Imperial troops employed well-aimed artillery against Seymour, and a number of different tactics to keep the western powers off their guard.For example, the Chinese redirected waterways to flood the main routes of march, ambuscades, pincer assaults, and sniper attacks.Seymour’s discovery of a substantial cache of Imperial Chinese arms and ammunition (including Krupp field guns), a million or so pounds of rice, and ample medical supplies saved the expedition from total destruction.
 The actual senior military officer present was General (Baron) Motomi Yamaguchi.Yamaguchi was not selected as supreme commander owing to the fact that he wasn’t a white man.The Japanese contingent did distinguish itself during this series of actions.
 Biddle served as 11th Commandant of the Marine Corps (Major General Commandant) (3 February 1911-24 February 1914).
 Harry Fisher was a soldier and a U. S. Marine and the first to receive a posthumous award of our nation’s highest military decoration.After his award, it was discovered that Private Fisher had enlisted in the Marine Corps under a false name.He had previously served in the U. S. First Infantry Regiment.When the Army refused his request for sick leave (having contracted malaria during the Spanish-American War), he deserted for the purpose of receiving proper medical treatment.When he afterward attempted to restore himself to duty, the War Department refused, and he was “discharged without honor.”His real name was Franklin J. Phillips (20 Oct 1874 – 16 July 1900).With a dishonorable discharge on his record, he changed his name to Harry Fisher and joined the U. S. Marine Corps.