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Sailors as Infantry in the US Navy

Patrick H. Roth (Captain, US Navy, Ret.)

Burke, Virginia

October 2005

USS Topeka (CLG-8) landing party school, Dam Neck, VA, circa 1960.
USS Topeka (CLG-8) landing party school, Dam Neck, VA, circa 1960.


· Up until the 1970s, competency as naval infantry—sailors performing as infantry, and sometimes providing land based artillery support—was an integral part of the Navy’s operations and mission.

· The use of sailors as infantry (and as artillerymen ashore) was common during the 19th century. At sea boarding was a recognized tactic. Likewise, landings and operations ashore were normal. Marines were a minority and landings were generally a ships company evolution, i.e., involving both marines and sailors.

· Use of sailors as infantry was part of the late 19th century great debate by naval reformers over the direction of the Navy. The debate centered on how to best use “our officers and men as efficient infantry and artillerymen,” not around the desirability or utility of use of sailors as infantry. Everyone in the Navy accepted that the use of sailors as infantry was a required Navy’s competency.

· Sailors performed as infantry a lot: at least 66 landings and operations ashore on distant stations during the 19th century; 136 instances in the Caribbean and Central America during the first three decades of the 20th century; numerous times on China Station and elsewhere. Using sailors as infantry ashore was what the Navy’s primarily did during the Seminole Wars and the War with Mexico. It was the Navy’s most valuable contribution during the Philippine Insurrection. Operations ranged from election security, pacification, peacekeeping, land convoy escort, protection of roads and railroads, occupation, and guard duty to large-scale major combat operations against regular Army forces.

· The Navy promulgated infantry tactical doctrine in 1891and continuously refined and updated it until 1965. During the Cold War period naval infantry schools existed. Navy infantry tactics followed U.S. Army, not Marine, tactical doctrine during its formative period reflecting a desire for inter-service interoperability. All fleet units were required to maintain, and train, landing parties.

· It was not until establishment of the Fleet Marine Force in 1933 that the use of Navy landing parties declined. Even then, organized infantry capabilities continued to be required both afloat and ashore until the 1970s.

· During the Cold War practical emphasis shifted to infantry defense of shore installations, although fleet units still maintained infantry capabilities.

· Sustainability has been the Achilles heel of the use of Navy forces as infantry. Logistics and support poor, naval infantry could not sustain itself very long. Future consideration of sailors as infantry must consider combat support services.


On June 7 2005 Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, directed development of a “Navy Expeditionary Sailor Battalion Concept” with the goal of standing up a combat battalion in fiscal year 2007.1 This is return to the past. Up through the 1970s, competency as naval infantry—sailors performing as infantry, and sometimes providing land based artillery support—has been an integral part of the Navy’s operations.2 While this competency has been gone from the fleet for a generation, its return can be facilitated by an examination of a rich history.

The Early Navy: Late 18th-19th Century

The use of sailors as infantry (and as artillerymen ashore) was common during the 19th century. At sea, boarding was a recognized tactic. Likewise, landings and operations ashore were normal. Marines assigned to ships were small in numbers and their primary duty was as ship’s guard, accordingly navy infantry assault operations, be it boarding or operations ashore, were largely ships company evolutions.3 Only when a small number of landing personnel were required might the marines carry them out without assistance of the ships crew.4 During the 19th century, marines were not permanently organized into tactical maneuver organization such as battalions and regiments. They rarely operated as an independent organized force.5

Naval infantry operated ashore regularly during the Quasi War with France, the War of 1812, Seminole Wars, the War with Mexico, the American Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.6 The Seminole Wars and the War with Mexico are particularly illustrative. Operations ashore were what the Navy did during these wars. The Seminoles, of course, had no navy. Mexico also had no navy to speak of. Almost all naval operations in both wars involved the use of sailors ashore in traditional Army roles. During the War with Mexico, sailors operated ashore in the capture of California and Mexican coastal cities and towns. Sailors famously landed Home Squadron heavy guns and operated them ashore during the siege of Vera Cruz. In fact, throughout the nineteenth century, the Navy provided, and sailors provided artillery/crew serviced light artillery and machine guns supporting landing operations by the naval services.

Exercising naval infantry (small-arms capability) was enshrined in Navy Regulations. Commanding officers were required “frequently to exercise the ships company in the use of…small arms.” Specific numbers of men (“exclusive of marines”) were required to be exercised and trained: 44 gun ships, 75 men; 36 gun ships, 60 men; 32 gun ships, 45 men; 24 gun ships, 40 men; 18 gun ships, 30 men; all smaller vessels, 20 men.7 US Navy Ordnance Instructions mandated that “the whole crew are to be exercised by divisions in the use of the musket, carbine, pistol and sword, and in firing at a target with small arms…boat’s crews [are] to be exercised in all preparations for attacking the enemy, either by land or water…”8

Following the Naval Academy’s founding in 1845, infantry tactics were an integral part of the curriculum being required in both the First and Second Class years.9 The Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography published a manual of exercises for small arms and field artillery in 1852 that was used at the Academy.10 Specialized landing party ordnance was developed. Commander John Dahlgren’s 1850 model 12-pounder boat howitzer, which was capable of being rigged on a field carriage, “was considered the best boat gun of its day in the world.”11 Dahlgren later, while commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War, ordered that boat artillery and sailor infantry be “landed occasionally for practice.”12

When not engaged in war the 19th century Navy operated on distant stations with a mission to support commerce.13 With regularity, this involved operations ashore in order to maintain order and protect property. During the years before 1900, exclusive of wartime operations, sailors operated ashore as infantry at least 66 times while on distant stations. Operations might involve ensuing order, capturing pirates, punitive operations, or any number of reasons.

Reform At the End of the 19th Century and the New Navy

During the 1880s, a strong current of reform began to take hold in the Navy. This reform involved great advances in all aspects of naval endeavor: education, training, tactics, and the introduction of the steel steam Navy. The reformers did not neglect operation by sailors ashore as infantry, and as artillerymen.

Practical Drills and Training

On the waterfront, unlike earlier years when formal coordinated infantry training was rare, the Navy began to conduct landing drills and maneuver ashore. The North Atlantic Squadron conducted a large-scale landing at Key West in March 1874. In this exercise involving 2,700 men, a naval brigade consisting of five battalions of sailors as infantry and one of artillery maneuvered ashore.14 Navy training and education reformer Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce conducted the first ever “no notice” amphibious landing while temporarily commanding the North Atlantic Squadron during August 1884. A brigade consisting of two infantry battalions (one composed of sailors) artillery and supporting elements landed at Gardiner’s Island, New York.15

Luce was not alone in applying formal training to landing tactics. Reproduced below is the North Atlantic Squadron training program for the winter of 1885-1886. Points 4 thru 6 involve infantry operations.

1. “Sight enemy cruisings, engage—fleet tactics, target practice, torpedo practice
2. Repairing damage after action. Sail and spar drill
3. Enemy located at Tampa, under guns of fort, guns and fort silenced, enemy attacked by torpedo boats of squadron
4. Capture of fort—land under guns of squadron, seize fort—land naval brigade
5. Seize enemy town (upriver). Boats equipped for distant service, 2 or 3 days away from squadron
6. Occupation of enemy’s position on shore
7. Rumors of torpedoes and fire rafts. Squadron at anchor. Protect from torpedo and fire rafts”16

Following his tour as first President of the Naval War College, Luce, again in command of the North Atlantic Squadron, conducted a major training exercise that included naval infantry landings and mock battles on Coddington Point at Newport. The attacking force consisted of ten companies of sailors. Additional fleet practical landing party training occurred in 1888, 1894, and 1895.

When compared to today’s standards of training the frequency of landing exercises might seem to indicate that this facet of naval expertise was undervalued. In fact the whole idea of organized fleet training was in its’ infancy. Landing exercises involving sailors as the primary source of infantry were in the latter part of the 19th century conducted on a schedule comparable to exercises involving fleet tactics. Infantry skills were considered very important and the consensus was that they, like fleet tactics, improved with practical exercise.

The Intellectual Debate: Organization and Tactics

Practical training was a manifestation of an ongoing intellectual debate. A long running discussion among the navy reformers occurred in the pages of the Naval Institute Proceedings.17 It begins in 1879 with a paper by Lieutenant T.B M. Mason entitled “On the Employment of Boat Guns as Light Artillery for Landing Parties.” Mason’s, and subsequent arguments over then next decade or so, revolved around how to make “our officers and men efficient infantry and artillerymen.”18 The debate would revolve around this question not the desirability or utility of use of sailors as infantry. No article, or critical commentary, questioned the use of infantry operations ashore by sailors as a navy mission. All articles and comment sought to improve naval infantry organization, equipage and tactics.

A year after Mason’s article, Lieutenant John C. Soley submitted a paper that in part was a history of landing parties and in part a landing party manual. Significantly, he called for the development of efficient landing craft.19 The Naval Brigade was the subject of the Naval Institute prize essay contest in 1887. Lieutenant C.T. Hutchins won the gold metal with an essay entitled “The Naval Brigade: Its Organization, Equipment, and Tactics.”20 His essay was a proposed organization, organizational manual, operations manual and practical guide rolled into one. It foreshadowed the Navy’s Landing Party Manuals of the 20th century.

There was unanimous agreement among naval reformers about the need for regular infantry drill. The debate revolved around organization and tactics, i.e., whether to use current organizational tactics developed by Army training guru Emory Upton or a new organization proposal by Alfred Mahan’s reformist brother, Lieutenant Dennis Hart Mahan. The younger Mahan argued for closely tying ships’ divisional organization to landing party requirements. His proposed system also placed greater responsibility of petty officer leadership, as opposed Upton’s more central tactical control.21

D.H. Mahan appears to have been more or less isolated in his argument. Accompanying commentary was negative to a greater or lesser degree. In any event, the organizational and tactics question was settled in 1891 when the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation issued “Instructions for Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy” which largely adopted Upton’s recommended organization and tactics.22 Mahan’s detractors wrote that pocket-sized manual—the first ever issued by the Navy.23

What Should the Navy Infantryman Train For?

A sub-theme in the 1880s debate was the question of what kind of warfare should Navy infantrymen train for? Perhaps influenced by Civil War experience, a majority agreed with Ensign William Ledyard Rogers that history shows that “ almost every war the Navy is called upon to take a more or less active part against the best troops of the enemy.”24 Accordingly, training and tactics should acknowledge this. Lieutenant William F. Fullam argued differently. He asserted, “…mob or street fighting, or service in the streets of cities, is that which naval battalions are most likely to perform, and therefore more attention should be paid to it.”25 Accordingly, Fullam argued for a simple landing party manual and drills optimized to the street fighting/mob control mission. His line of argument would theoretically degrade the usefulness of sailors as infantry. As it turned out, the Navy’s first infantry manual was a relatively simple one that did not emphasize street fighting. During ensuing decades, Navy infantrymen would face the enemies “best” as well as mobs in streets, and an assortment of everything in between.

What Are the Limitations of Sailors As Infantry?

While naval reformers argued the question of what kind of fighting to train for, there was general agreement that naval infantry sustainability was normally limited to 2-3 days and operations were limited geographically.

Who Does Naval Landings? Should Marines Be Embarked On Ships?

In 1889 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a board, headed by Commodore James Greer, to examine shipboard organization and landing party practices. The Greer Board took the position that ships crews should handle all evolutions. It recommended removal of the marine ship guard from naval vessels. The Secretary of the Navy did not accept this recommendation, but Board member Lieutenant Fullam began to lead a campaign over the next decade and a half to remove marines from ships.26 Most of the uniformed US Navy leadership supported Fullam.27 The campaign dragged on until 1908, when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 969 redefining the Marine Corps duties to exclude ship guard and other on-board duties.28 Congress quickly reversed this decision.

Regardless of the outcome of the debate over embarked marines, it is quite clear that the professional Navy considered sailors to have a mission as infantrymen and that these bluejackets, with proper organization and training, to be as proficient as marines.

Tactical Doctrine Is Promulgated

Debate over organization and training spurred issuance of the Navy’s first formal publication outlining in detail training and organizational requirements for landing parties and their operation ashore. In 1891, the Bureau of Ordnance issued “Instructions for Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy.” Prior to this, aside from general requirements, some embodied in Navy Regulations, individual ship commanding officers and Commodore/Flag Officers were largely on their own. They adopted tactics from recognized sources such as Upton’s Tactics.29 “Instructions for Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy” provided a Navy standard—a point that the Reformers had argued for.

Besides providing instructions for drill and tactics for infantry and artillery, “Instructions” general regulations directed that:

"Each ship and squadron will have a permanently organized landing force composed of infantry and artillery….”
“ The section, consisting of one officer, two petty officers, and sixteen men, is the unit of organization. All sections are drilled both as infantry and artillery.”30

In 1905 “Instructions for Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy” was superceded by “The Landing-Force and Small Arms Instructions.” This manual went through various editions before the US entered World War I.31 All editions required maintenance of permanent organized landing forces. By 1907, tactics to cope with street fighting and riots were included as a part of the instruction/manual alongside conventional operations.32 In1918 the Landing-Force Manual, United States Navy was promulgated. The 1918 edition was a major revision with much more information on tactics, conduct of fire, and field fortifications. This document, went through various editions until 1950 when it as superceded by the “Landing Party Manual”33

An Era of Sailors Performing As Infantry

Although ships’ landing parties were permanently organized, the Spanish-American War provided little opportunity for their employment. Subsequently the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1903) involved numerous instances of the use of bluejacket landing parties ashore. Historian Vernon Williams claims “the most important role played [by the Navy during the Philippines Insurrection] was that of conducting land operations.”34

The Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America provided the backdrop for extensive use of bluejackets ashore in almost every conceivable type of infantry activity. In this region, there were at least 136 instances of individual groups of bluejackets operating ashore as infantry (from squad to brigade level) between 1901 and May 1929.35 Operations ranged from election security, pacification, peacekeeping, land convoy escort, protection of roads and railroads, occupation, and guard duty to large-scale major combat operations against regular Army forces. Ships landing parties or multiple landing parties organized into battalions, regiments, or brigades conducted almost all of this activity. Some of it—notably the “Bluejacket Expeditionary Battalion” sent to Nicaragua in 1928—was, however, conducted by units organized in the U.S. and then sent overseas.36

The largest operation during the early years of the 20th century involved the occupation of Vera Cruz Mexico in 1914. A seaman brigade of some 2,500 bluejackets conducted the landing and infantry assault alongside a 1,300 man marine brigade.37 Vera Cruz highlighted two problems associated with naval infantry: tactics and sustainability. The Mexicans, using machine guns, repulsed the assault by the Second Seaman Regiment on the Mexican Navy Academy when the regiment, used the massed infantry tactics of 1891 and earlier. The bluejackets quickly had to adopt improvised small unit tactics to cope with the street fighting.

Tactics could be changed. The second problem—sustainability—would be more difficult. Even during the age of sail, there was recognition that landing party sustainability was limited. At Vera Cruz, the sustainability problem was finessed when US Army formations quickly relieved the sailor brigade. Introduction of steam and complex gun systems also made the problem more difficult. Sailors were really required aboard ship in order to work and maintain it. In the sail navy, sailors were largely interchangeable and there were few specialists. The new steel, steam, navy was a different organization. Sailors were specialists and ships operation was more complex. Some specialists were just too valuable to send ashore—gun pointer and turret captains could not be included in landing forces. Sufficient men, with the right skills, were necessary to remain on board in order to maintain and fight the ship.38 After Vera Cruz very large-scale fleet bluejacket landings did not occur. Effectively use of the landing party was constrained, but not eliminated.

Ship Organization and Tasking for Operations Ashore

Ships continued to be required to organize and train landing parties and the Fleet planned, and did, use them. Two examples illustrate ship organization for operations ashore during much of the rest of the century:

USS New Mexico Organization and Regulations, 192939
  New Mexico Standard Service Landing Force
    · 1st Infantry Company (marines)
· 2nd Infantry Company (seamen)
· 3rd Infantry Company (seamen)
· Artillery Section
· Machine Gun Company
· Battalion Headquarters Company
· Pioneers
Standard Organization Book for 2200-ton Destroyers, October 194440
  &#x20The landing force organization will consist of two rifle squads…The first Lieutenant will be in charge of the landing force.”
    · No. 1 rifle squad
      o BM2 2nd division
o 9 riflemen 1st and 2nd divisions
    · No. 2 rifle squad
      o GM1c O division
o 9 riflemen E division

U.S. Asiatic Fleet Regulations 1931 is typical of Fleet tasking.41

Art. 521. [General] Every ship of the Fleet shall have a landing force composing one or more complete units (squad, section, platoon, company, or battalion) depending on complement, organized in accordance with the Landing Force Manual.
Art. 522. Emergency Force. When in port where conditions on shore are disturbed and when the necessity for a quick landing may arise, there shall be kept in readiness an emergency landing force consisting of one commissioned officer, one signalman, and a squad of eight men, one of whom shall be equipped with an automatic rifle.
Art. 523. Exercise Frequency”. [Landing parties will be exercised frequently.]

Tactical Doctrine Parallels Army Doctrine

The Navy took care to be compatible with Army operations ashore. An Army officer helped author the 1891 “Instructions for Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy.”42 The 1905 and subsequent editions of “The Landing-Force and Small-Arm Instructions” drew heavily on US Army Infantry drill-regulations. In an effort at standardization, Navy documentation adopted Army nomenclature for units and sub-units (squad, platoon, etc.). The 1918 Landing Force Manual stated this explicitly: “when operating on shore, whether alone of in conjunction with vessels of the fleet, the landing force, it well trained and efficiently handled, carries out the same tactics, and in the same manner, as would a similar force from the US Army under the same conditions.”43 The 1927 edition was specifically updated to be in agreement with US Army Training regulations for infantry, machine-gun units, and combat principles.”44

The reasons for alignment of Navy infantry tactics with the Army appear to be several. There was a great deal of interest in cooperation with the Army during this period. The Naval War College and the General Service School at Fort Leavenworth were cooperating on combined operations studies. At the strategic level, the Navy Officer professional organization, the Naval Institute, was promoting interest in joint Army and Navy Operations is a long series of articles during the years 1924-25.45 The Joint Army-Navy Board was also effective in stimulating cooperation. More practically, adoption of Army infantry tactics might have been stimulated by the decade and a half effort to remove marines from ships. This may have been a key underlying factor. In any event, The Navy perceived a need to align itself with Army tactics, and acted upon it.

The Marines Take the Lead: 1930s and World War II

The Marines eventually took the lead in amphibious assault operations, making the role of bluejackets largely unnecessary. This was a slow process. Initially, during the years before World War I, the Corps, under pressure from the Navy’s General Board and the Secretary of the Navy, took up a mission of defending temporary advanced bases.46 The process began very early in the 20th century, but a permanent marine advanced base defense force organization was not formed until 1913. Meanwhile there was a need to have greater numbers of marines available for expeditionary duties. Facilitating this expeditionary mission, in November 1902, a battalion embarked on USS Panther beginning a practice of having an embarked battalion available for expeditionary duties in the Caribbean and Central America. The landing party mission, however, continued to be in conjunction with Navy bluejackets.47

Implicit in the advanced base defense concept was that marines might have to seize advanced bases and to do this the Marine Corps had to be organized for field operations. Following World War I, the Corps under the leadership of Commandant General John A. Lejeune, concluded “to accompany the Fleet for operations ashore in conjunction with the Fleet” was “the real justification for the continued existence of the Marine Corps”.48 The Marines put action behind statement and major landing exercises were held in 1922, 1924, 1925, and 1926. Amphibious infantry assault and infantry operations ashore—from the sea—were by then the acknowledged major mission of the Marine Corps.

By 1927 the final version of Joint Action of the Army and the Navy recognized that the marines had “assumed responsibility for land support of the fleet for initial seizure and defense of advanced bases and for such limited land operations as are essential to the prosecution of the land campaign.”49 In 1932, SECNAV, on recommendation of CNO Admiral William V. Pratt, formally approved Lejune’s vision. A year later Navy Department Order 241, with the support of Admiral Pratt, established the Fleet Marine Force. By the mid to late 1930s, the Marines had largely and near exclusively become the navy’s infantry. They exercised this capability in a series of Fleet Landing Exercises.50 The Navy assumed the role that which is recognizable today—support, transportation, naval fires, etc.

USS Houston (CA-30), ship's landing force reembarks from a motor launch, after exercises ashore at Dumanquilas Bay, Mindanao, circa 1931-33; note whale boat alongside. Collection of Lt. Oscar W. Levy, USN (SC), RET, Naval Historical Center, Photographic Branch #NH 94182.
USS Houston (CA-30), ship's landing force reembarks from a motor launch, after exercises ashore at Dumanquilas Bay, Mindanao, circa 1931-33; note whale boat alongside. Collection of Lt. Oscar W. Levy, USN (SC), RET, Naval Historical Center, Photographic Branch #NH 94182.

This did not mean that the Navy ships landing force went away. Guidance on amphibious landings continued to be included in Navy Landing Force Manuals until 1938. By then amphibious landing tactical doctrine had been subsumed by publication of the Marine Corps developed “Tentative Landing Operations Manual” of 1935, which was adopted by the Navy in 1938 as “Fleet Publication 167.” Landing party organization continued to be required and infantry drill and tactics continued to be part of the Landing Force Manuals. Bluejacket infantry continue to have a role, albeit much more minor than it had been decades earlier. In China, infantry operations ashore by sailors continued as an integral part of the Asiatic Fleet’s operations along the Yangtze River even though the marines had taken over the bulk of activity.

During World War II there were few examples of the use of sailors as infantry. Most famously, a Naval Battalion, formed from the remnants of the shore establishment of the 16th Naval District in the Philippines, performed bravely and effectively on Bataan in late 1941 and early 1942. The USS Philadelphia landed a landing party to assist the 47th Infantry in capturing airport at Loa Senia, Morocco, during Operation Torch. Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet sailors, organized as three battalions of infantry, assisted marines and a British Landing party with the occupation of Yokosuka Naval Base at the end of World War II. Samuel Eliot Morison suggests that the sailor battalions were necessary because not enough marines were available to Third Fleet.

The Cold War: Fading of a Mission

Use of ship landing parties appears to absent, or at least very limited, during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The author has been unable to uncover no overseas Cold War use of sailors from ships as infantry. The last instance he has been able to identify of ship landing parties going ashore is domestic—the formation of a naval battalion from the landing parties of ships in port Long Beach California in connection with the 1965 Watts Riots.51 Nonetheless, formal requirements for organization and training of parties continued at least into the 1970s.52 A Landing Party School existed at Dam Neck, Virginia. The Amphibious School at Coronado, California, Special Operations Department taught a course in infantry base defense in support of Navy operations in Vietnam.

During the Cold War, it is in the connection with naval infantry formed from shore stations that the use of sailors as infantry has its most impact. Naval Emergency Ground Defense Forces were formed at overseas stations. They were vigorously exercised at places where there was a threat. Very active Navy Emergency Ground Defense Forces were organized at Naval Support Activity Danang, South Vietnam and at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland.53

Landing Party Manual 1960 (OPNAV P 34-03)

The Landing Party Manual superceded the Landing-Force Manual in 1950. It was issued in 1950 and 1960. The last edition was revised in 1962 and again in 1965. Because it is the last official Navy guidance it is treated in some detail.

By 1960, each ship, division, force and fleet was required to “maintain a permanently organized naval landing party consisting of headquarters, rifle, machine gun, and other units as prescribed by the force or fleet commander.” Organization was based on ship type:54

· BB, CVA, CVS, CVL, all cruiser classes…. One rifle company (6 officer, 195 enlisted)55
· Amphibious ships………………………….. One rifle platoon (1 officer, 44 enlisted)
· Destroyer types…………………………….. One rifle squad (13 enlisted)
· Divisions of capital ships (battleships, cruisers)….. A battalion headquarters (8 officers, 48 enlisted)
· Destroyer squadrons……………………….. Two platoon and one company headquarters (Company headquarters: 2 officers, 9 enlisted)

A 1960s Naval Landing Party Battalion consisted of 28 officers and 636 men; a company 6 officers, 195 men; rifle platoon 1 officer, 44 men; machine gun platoon 1 officer, 55 men. A rifle squad had one petty officer squad leader and 12 men divided into three fire teams.

Starting in 1950, the Landing Party Manual applied not only to ships but also to the shore establishment. Shore Stations were required to “maintain naval emergency ground defense force (NEGDF) organizations consisting of headquarters, rifle and other units as prescribed by responsible naval authority.”56

The 1960 edition modified 1950 requirements to some extent. Cruisers landing parties were increased in size. Destroyer type requirements were reduced. Both editions recognized the priority of maintaining afloat unit effectiveness. Landing personnel requirements were not to detract from the ability to conduct split-plant operation (two watch sections), operation of all aircraft, antiaircraft weapons, one turret, all control stations, and Combat Information Center and radars (three section watch). Probably in recognition of competing shipboard requirements, P 34-03 ordered that marines compose the entire landing party whenever their numbers were adequate.

Landing force and ground defense force operations were limited both in scope (limited to ground force operations requiring small arms) and duration (approximately one week). The Landing Party Manual did not envision the more complex infantry operations of its predecessors. The Manual attributes this to the impracticality of getting several ships’ landing parties together for large ground force operations.57 While not stated, this constraint seems to reflect Cold War operating tempo.

US Navy personnel attached to Commander Naval Forces Vietnam, keep their guns ready as they watch during Viet Cong attacks on Saigon. Photo taken in February 1968. Photo by PH1 G.D. Olson. Naval Historical Center Photographic Branch collection, #USN 1129709.
US Navy personnel attached to Commander Naval Forces Vietnam, keep their guns ready as they watch during Viet Cong attacks on Saigon. Photo taken in February 1968. Photo by PH1 G.D. Olson. Naval Historical Center Photographic Branch collection, #USN 1129709.

A Word About the Scope of This Paper

The scope of this paper is deliberately limited to the organized use of sailors as infantry, and artillerymen, ashore. It does not touch on other organized Navy units such as the Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees), organized in October 1941, which are trained in light infantry tactics. It also does not include discussion of Navy Special Operations Forces—SEALS and their predecessor UDT organization. Both of these organizations would be included in a wider definition of “sailors as infantry.”58


1. “Implementation of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Guidance—Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Capabilities.” Director Navy Staff Memorandum of July 6, 2005.

2. A more definitive definition is provided by LT John Soley in a paper presented in 1880 and reproduced in the Naval Institute Proceedings 6, no. 13 (1880): 271. “The term Naval Brigade, as you all know, is applied to the forces of a ship or ships which may be landed for operations on shore, and is composed of infantry and artillery, with their necessary accompaniments.”

3. They were in a minority aboard ship. The Naval Act of 1794 provided for the assignment of one marine officer and 44-54 enlisted marines to a 44-gun frigate. Smaller ships carried proportionally smaller numbers of marines

4. Even then they were usually accompanied by a signalman and many times commanded by a navy officer.

5. During the 19th century the Marine Corps only organized at the battalion and regimental level nine times: for the defense of Washington during the War of 1812 (1814); the Seminole War (1836-38); the Mexican War (1847); the Civil War (3 instances—1861, 63, 64); Panama 1885; War with Spain (1898); and Philippine Insurrection (1899). Brigades were raised in 1885 (Panama) and 1899 (Philippines). The other organized efforts were at the battalion level.

6. Except for naval fires and transport, almost all Navy operations during the Mexican War were ashore.

7. Navy Regulations 1814.

8. Navy Department. Instructions in Relation to the Preparation of Vessels of War for Battle: to the Duty of Officers and Other When at Quarters: and to Ordnance and Ordnance Stores. (Washington DC: C. Alexander, Printer, 1852): 3. This language was retained through all five editions up to the last edition in 1880.

9. Todorich, Charles. The Spirited Years, A History of the Antebellum Naval Academy. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984): 115-120.

10. Exercises in Small-Arms and Field Artillery: Arranged for the Naval Service, Under an Order of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography of the Navy Department. Philadelphia, PA: T.K. and P.G. Collins, 1852. The Academy Commandant’s copy is at the Navy Department Library.

11. Tucker, Spencer. Arming the Fleet, U.S. Navy Ordnance in the Muzzle-Loading Era. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989): 203. A pair of Dahlgren boat howitzers, mounted on Navy field carriages, is in front of the old Fairfax County Court House, Fairfax VA. The left gun is a medium 12 pound boat howitzer manufactured at the Washington Navy Yard in 1856. The right gun is a 24 pound boat howitzer. A pair of 24 pound boat howitzers mounted on ship pivot carriages are adjacent to the flagpole at the Naval War College in Newport RI. Twenty-four pound boat howitzers were generally not used ashore.

12. Commander South Atlantic Blockading Squadron letter, August 8, 1864. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, vol. 15 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1902): 622-624.

13. Distant Stations were the Mediterranean, Brazil/South Atlantic, East Indies/Asiatic, Pacific, West India, and Africa Stations. Normally ships deployed for a three year cruise on station. Except for the Africa station which was an anti-slavery patrol, operations generally involved protection of commerce.

14. The brigade was rounded out by a battalion of ships marines (infantry) and sailors in support roles (pioneers, medical, staff, etc. This was the normal brigade organization. See Landing Drill of Naval Brigade at Key West March 23, 1874. Navy Department, Bureau of Ordnance, 1874. The only previous peacetime landing party training evolution apparently occurred prior to the Civil War when sailors of the Paraguay Expedition exercised ashore near Corrientes Argentina during 1859 while the expedition was preparing for possible combat in Paraguay.

15. As a Lieutenant, Luce had revised the gunnery manual Instructions of Naval Light Artillery, Afloat and Ashore in 1862.

16. North Atlantic Squadron winter 1885-86 exercise plan prepared by Radm James Jouett and staff. Quoted in Daimon E. Cummings. Admiral Richard Wainwright and the United States Fleet. (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1962): 47

17. The depth and quality of this commentary is astonishing.

18. The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 5 (1879): 208-230.

19. Soley, John C. “The Naval Brigade.” The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 6, no. 13 (1880).

20. The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 13, no. 3 (1887): 303-339.

21. D.H. Mahan’s argument, along with critical commentary by numerous Institute members, is in D. H. Mahan, “Three Considered as a Tactical Unit.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 14, no. 2 (1888): 343-393. [Mahan's remarks are in the discussion on pages 363-393.].

22. W.H. Russell argues that Marines subsequently adopted Mahan’s recommendations, which also involved an organization based around three infantrymen. “The Genesis of FMF Doctrine: 1879-1899.” Marine Corps Gazette 35, nos. 4,5,6,7 (April, May, June, July 1951). See June, p. 54.

23. Authors are Commander C.M. Thomas, Lieutenant C.E. Colahan, Lieutenant W.F. Fullam, Ensign F.J. Haeseler, and U.S. Army First Lieutenant L.W.V. Kennon. Fullam, Haeseler, and Kennon had critically commented on Mahan’s proposal in the pages of Proceedings.

24. Rogers, William Ledyard. “Notes on the Naval Brigade” The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 14, no. 1 (1888): 95.

25. Fullam, W.F. Comment on Mahan’s article. The Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 13, no. 4 (1887): 367.

26. This the same Fullam who was prominent in the earlier debate over how to best organize and train sailors as infantry. Fullam would retain an interest and was one of the authors of the first two editions of the Landing Force Manual.

27. Prominent “Fullamites” included Robley Evans, Seaton Schroeder, and William S. Sims. A notable exception to the list of line officers endorsing Fullam was Commodore Stephen B. Luce.

28. Roosevelt’s Executive Order gave the Corps the mission to provide expeditionary forces as necessary and to provide defense of naval bases beyond the Continental US This echoed Fullam’s argument that the Corps should be organized geographically in six expeditionary battalions and provided dedicated shipping.

29. Ordnance Instructions, while providing drill for boat/field guns, provided only sketchy instructions for infantry drill and operations. By the 1880s, there were some efforts to correct this. In 1886, the Navy issued a “Professional Paper” on the subject: Bureau of Navigation. The Naval Brigade and Operations Ashore, A Hand-Book for Field Service Prepared from Official and Standard Authorities. Authored by First Lieutenant H.K Gilman, USMC, it was issued in 1886.

30. Thomas, Commander C.M, et al. “Instructions of Infantry and Artillery, United States Navy.” Washington, DC: Navy Department, Bureau of Ordnance, 1891. p. 9.

31. Editions were issued in 1905, 1907 (with corrections dated 1910 and 1911), 1912, and 1916.

32. Fullam, one of authors, finally made a point he raised in 1888 when commenting on the D.H. Mahan article.

33. The Navy issued the Landing Force Manual in 1918, 1920, 1927, 1938, and 1941.

34. Williams, Vernon. “Naval Operations in the Philippine Islands (1898-1903).” In Benjamin Beede, Ed. The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions 1898-1934, An Encyclopedia. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994): 363.

35. Farquharson, R.B. “A Study Made in the Office of Naval Intelligence by Lieut-Col R.B. Farqharson, U.S. Marine Corps, of Expeditions Formed and Landings Effected by U.S. Naval Forces, in Central America, Mexico and West Indies, from 1901 to 1 May, 1929.” Washington DC. Office of Naval Intelligence, June 17, 1929. Navy Department Library, Naval Historical Center. This count includes instances of landing parties relieving each other during the same operation.

36. The “Bluejacket Expeditionary Battalion” was organized at San Diego, California.

37. Subsequent reinforcement would bring the sailor brigade to about 3,700 and marines to 2,500. Casualties included 59 sailors (15 KIA) and 18 marines (4 KIA).

38. Prohibition on gun captain/pointers: “U.S. Atlantic Fleet Regulations”, 1917. Retain men in order to fight the ship: Landing Force Manual,” 1927.

39. USS New Mexico Organization and Regulations, 1929. Navy Department Library, Naval Historical Center.

40. Commander Destroyers Atlantic Fleet. Standard Organization Book for 2200-ton Destroyers, October 1944. Navy Department Library, Naval Historical Center.

41. U.S. Asiatic Fleet Regulations, 1931. Navy Department Library, Naval Historical Center.

42. First Lieutenant L.W.V. Kennon.

43. Landing Force Manual 1918, p. iv.

44. Landing Force Manual 1927, p. iii. Part 3 of the 1927 edition is an extensive reprinting of Army doctrine related to “Combat Principles for combat organizations up to regiment size. All are taken from Army Training Regulation-420.

45. See Captain W.S. Pye, “Joint Army and Navy Operations”. Naval Institute Proceedings. 50, no. 12; 51, nos. 1-6 (December 1924-June 1925). For War College involvement, see Col. Edward L. King. “Overseas Expeditions” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 47, no.12, (December 1921).

46. During November 1902, a battalion arrived at Culebra for Fleet Winter maneuvers and base defense exercises. Advanced base exercises were held the following year at Subic Bay in the Philippines. At the same time the Marine Corps stubbornly held on to the 19th century missions including that of ships guards.

47. Advanced Base Forces, and the battalions embarked on Panther and subsequent ships were not very capable of assault landings. They landed administratively, except at Vera Cruz in 1914, where they came ashore, along with their bluejacket brethren, in towed open pulling boats albeit under combat conditions.

48. Quoted in Allan R. Millett. Semper Fidelis, the History of the United States Marine Corps, (New York: Free Press, 1991): 325. This study is recommended for those interested in addition information on adoption of roles and missions by the Marine Corps.

49. Joint Board. Joint Action of the Army and the Navy. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1927): Quoted in ibid, page 328. Author's italics.

50. 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941 (twice).

51. The Battalion never left the Long Beach Naval complex and was disbanded after one day.

52. The author is unable to document when they no longer were required.

53. In Vietnam the Navy took over responsibility for all support services in I Corps. At the time, NSA was the largest overseas logistic command. Subordinate activities were established at Chu Lai, Hue, Tan My, Dong Ha, Cua Viet, Phu Bai, and Sa Huynh. The Keflavik NEDGF conducted base wide monthly defense drills.

54. OPNAV P 34-03, 1960. p. 6. Detailed breakdown of manning by rate is available in OPNAV P34-03. For reference purposes, the cruiser landing party was about sixteen percent of the crew.

55. Maintenance of a landing party was not obligatory for CVAs [attack aircraft carriers].

56. Landing Party Manual, 1950 edition, p. 4; 1960 edition, p. 6.

57. Landing Party Manual, 1960 edition, p. 5.

58. Seabees might be considered descendants of the pioneers that were part of organized landing parties. By 1938, the pioneer section of the landing party consisted of shipfitters, machinists, blacksmith, carpenters mate, electricians, “men familiar with explosives”, and a number of non-rates.

[The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Naval History and Heritage Command]


Published: Mon Oct 30 16:36:28 EDT 2017