Skip to main content

Naval Reserve, U.S.

headword amended djb 2003-09-12: print edition has lead-in text before headwordNaval Reserve, U.S. The U.S. Naval Reserve was created by several statutes enacted in the period 1915–18 as the successor to the “naval militia”—naval versions of the National Guard—of several states. The naval militia, as was the case with their army counterparts, was established in the late nineteenth century as part of a general attempt by state military forces to seek higher status and readiness and obtain more federal recognition.

The Naval Reserve did not become a force of federally controlled “citizen‐sailors,” who underwent periodic peacetime training, until the 1920s and 1930s. During those decades, the reserve provided core crews for ships not in commission and personnel to augment crews of both active U.S. Navy ships and the navy shore establishment upon mobilization for war. (In addition to these organized reserves, many people who served on active duty in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, or the peacetime navy, were designated naval reservists, although they were not members of an organized reserve unit called to active duty in time of crisis.) Between the end of the Korean War in mid‐1953 and March 1995, Naval Reserve strength has fluctuated from a low of 82,800 in 1978 to a high of 152,800 in 1990. Planned strength for the post–Cold War era is about 94,000.

Most Naval Reserve units have not mobilized and deployed to a theater of war as units. Rather, individuals and small groups have been used to augment units of the active navy. Reasons for this include the requirements of highly complicated vessels and aircraft for full‐time manpower, which limits the extent to which a reserve ship or aircraft squadron can be manned by reservists (a Naval Reserve frigate, for example, actually has a crew of 72 percent active navy and 28 percent reserve sailors). In addition, the need for a large overseas naval presence in peacetime requires the navy and Marine Corps to maintain more of their total force structure—active and reserve—in the active component than do the other services.

Until recently, the “service culture” of the U.S. Navy has probably reflected somewhat more disdain in its attitude toward its reserve component than have the other services' active components. Some of this probably results from the factors noted above, which do limit the extent to which the active navy can rely on reserves. It may also be driven by what was, until recently, a much more inbred hierarchy and socially conservative milieu than the other services (Naval Academy graduates, for example, form a much greater proportion of admirals than do service academy graduates in the army and air force).

This attitude has changed considerably in the late 1990s—out of necessity. Austere defense budgets have forced the navy to rely increasingly on the Naval Reserve to meet its peacetime commitments as well as to provide mobilization assets. Naval Reserve ships, aircraft, and shore units operate with active navy units around the world; individual naval reservists spend tours of duty varying from a few days to many months as integral parts of active navy or joint operations. Finally, the activation of over 21,000 naval reservists (out of a total of about 250,000 reservists from all five military services) for the victorious Persian Gulf War has given immense legitimacy to this military institution.
[See also Navy, U.S.: 1899–1945; Navy, U.S.: Since 1946.]


Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs , The Reserve Components of the United States Armed Forces (June 1994; updated and reissued periodically).
Sol Gordon,, Gary L. Smith,, and and Debra M. Gordon , 1996 Reserve Forces Almanac, 1996.

Robert L. Goldich

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Naval Reserve, U.S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 20 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Naval Reserve, U.S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (February 20, 2019).

"Naval Reserve, U.S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.