Skip to main content

The Navy Department Library

Related Content
Document Type
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Foreword - History of US Naval Operations: Korea

by Rear Admiral Ernest McNeill Eller, USN (Retired)


        Control of the sea has been one of the United States' greatest blessings. As Washington repeatedly pointed out, without superiority on the sea the American Revolution could not have been won.  Three generations later seapower was decisive in preserving the Union in the Civil War, was over-whelming at sea, fundamental to victory ashore.  In the twentieth century it has been indispensable for victory in the giant world wars that have shaken our times.  In the Korean War it was the foundation for successes and repeated salvation against disasters.

        The far possibilities inherent in control of the sea were highlighted at Inchon when General MacArthur signaled, "The Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning."  Yet even the brightest victories are but a fragment of the vast and far-reaching influence of power based at sea - a power that has been growing in leaps and bounds with the growth of science and technology.

        As the industrial revolution gathered momentum generations ago, it began to have profound effects upon navies.  One result was the remarkable increase in power not only for operations afloat but in attack against forces ashore.  Several of the many revolutions that changed navies last century, such as the internal-combustion engine, combined to make possible at about the same time both an effective submarine and a practical airplane. Thus navies began to go under the sea and into the air to gain new dimensions and potentialities unlimited.  Neptune's trident had gained three prongs and become a true trident indeed.

        Most of the ever-expanding technological revolutions have increased the capacity of balanced navies both to control the sea and to operate against the land.  Hence the last generation has witnessed an unprecedented increase in amphibious capacity which wrote a remarkable record of consistent success against island and continent in World War II.  It was America's great fortune that this amphibious capability, though mutilated in the years immediately after World War II, nevertheless by remnants and improvisation could still serve well in Korea.

        Americans think of the Korean War as death and hardship in the bitter hills of Korea.  It was certainly this, and for those who fought this is what they generally saw. Yet every foot of the struggles forward, every step of the retreats, the overwhelming victories, the withdrawals and  last ditch stands had their seagoing support and overtones.

        The spectacular ones depended wholly on amphibious power - the capability of the twentieth century scientific Navy to overwhelm land-bound forces at the point of contact.

        Yet the all pervading influence of the sea was present even when no major landing or retirement or reinforcement highlighted its effect.  When navies clash in gigantic battle or hurl troops ashore under irresistible concentration of shipborne guns and planes, nations understand that seapower is working.  It is not so easy to understand that this tremendous force may effect its will silently, steadily, irresistibly even though no battles occur.

        No clearer example exists of this truth in war's dark record than in Korea. Communist-controlled North Korea had slight power at sea except for Soviet mines.  So beyond this strong underwater phase the United States Navy and allies had little opposition on the water.  It is, therefore, easy to fail to recognize the decisive role navies played in this war fought without large naval battles.

        The United States and the United Nations stopped aggression (and could have won clear cut victory) through the sound exercise of control of the sea. This power is, of course, only one facet of national power and itself, alone, could not assure victory in the Korean War, if in any war; yet loss of it would have assured certain defeat.

        These facts stand out repeatedly in the following graphic account of the interweaving of sea based strength in land conflicts. They point out again the old lesson to America of the importance of the sea to her destiny - an importance that grows rather than lessens with transoceanic missiles, Polaris submarines, nuclear power and space satellites.

        In the writing of this history the author has been given a free hand. All of the large body of documents then accumulated in the custody of the Division of Naval History in preparation for this history, and all of any classification that could subsequently be obtained, were assembled, organized, and made available to him under the able direction of Miss Loretta I. MacCrindle, Head of the Classified Archives Branch of this Office, and after 1958 by her most capable successor, Mr. Dean Allard.  In this work, they had the extremely valuable assistance of Miss Barbara A. Gilmore and Mrs. Mildred D. Mayeux.  Special searches were conducted far and wide for missing documents.  Microfilms of dispatches of the period were researched when they were not available in their original form.  Personal papers of Admiral Joy and others were made available and leading participants were interviewed or sent pertinent portions of the manuscript for comment. Admiral A. D. Struble in particular worked hard over the manuscript and devoted many days to interviews and discussion with Mr. Field and with this office.   Except for a few missing items it is doubtful that a more complete United States naval record of original sources can ever be assembled.

        The manuscript was read in its various stages by Captain F. K. Loomis, Assistant Director of Naval History, and myself.  We did not hesitate to make a number of criticisms, general and specific, but the author made only the changes he thought justified. Hence the book bears no censorship in any way, neither is it a Navy Department publication to express an official view. It is the work of an experienced historian given the facts to tell the story as he saw it.

        Korea is but one chapter in the hot and cold war pressed by those who would destroy democracy.  These pages show the influence of the sea in small and large ways throughout the Korean War.  In a broader sense they reflect the state of the whole free world - a confederacy of the sea joined in united strength only if the sea is held and made one by those who love freedom.

        These nations find that their life blood and liberty itself flow in the sea. In this book, the author writes that the presence of the United States Navy in the Far East has been "the alpha and omega of Korean-American relations."   It has also been, and seems certain to continue to be through the unknown future, the Alpha and Omega of all United States-world relations.

  E. M. ELLER,
Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.),
Director, Naval History Division.
Published: Wed May 27 14:35:43 EDT 2015