World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific

views updated May 18 2018

World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific. In The Armed Forces of the Pacific: A Comparison of the Military and Naval Power of the United States and Japan, published early in 1941, retired Capt. William D. Puleston, former Director of Naval Intelligence, concluded that a war between the two countries would end with an American victory in a climactic naval battle somewhere in the western Pacific. Carrier‐based aircraft would be important, but the decisive element would be the battle line of heavy surface ships. Such thinking was widespread in the pre‐World War II navy.

The circumstances and aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, radically altered the character and course of World War II in the Pacific. Since the three carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were out of the harbor and the eight battleships were heavily damaged, air power would dominate naval action for the first six months of 1942 and would heavily influence strategic planning for the entire war. When surface combat began in August 1942, American heavy cruisers had to do the work of battleships against Japanese capital ships. The battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor would slowly return, along with their newer, faster sisterships, but their chief functions would be gunfire support for landings and escort of carrier task forces. Only twice, at Guadalcanal in November 1942 and at Surigao Strait in the Battle for Leyte Gulf two years later, would there be classic gun duels with Japanese battleships in the manner anticipated by every fresh young ensign of the late 1930s.

Following Pearl Harbor, destruction of small British and Dutch naval forces (along with the inadequate United States Asiatic Fleet) meant that the Allied effort in the Pacific war would become almost exclusively American. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors, reacting more to public pressure and political considerations than to geographical realities, the need for unity of command, and clear administration, assigned to Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur the Southwest Pacific Area, comprising Australia, the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Philippines, while Adm. Chester W. Nimitz commanded all the remaining Pacific Ocean Area. Interservice rivalry and bickering, especially by the more image‐conscious MacArthur, flared repeatedly during the war.

The first, or defensive, phase of the Pacific war lasted from Pearl Harbor until August 1942. Submarines harassed Japanese military and commercial shipping. The celebrated carrier raid on Tokyo (18 April) by James Doolittle's B‐25s proved that Japan was vulnerable and buoyed American spirits. A defensive line, protecting vital communications with Australia, stretched from the Aleutians to Midway to Samoa to New Guinea. Above all, Japanese expansion to the east and southeast had to be stopped. The major engagements of this phase came as Americans blunted each prong of a three‐part Japanese expansion plan for the spring and summer of 1942.

A Japanese effort at a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby in southeastern New Guinea as a base from which to attack Australia led to the Battle of the Coral Sea (4–8 May). Fought entirely between carrier fleets 95 miles apart and tactically unfortunate, the battle accomplished its strategic purpose of preventing the invasion. A month later the Japanese sought to spread the northern end of the defensive perimeter by attacking the Aleutians and to draw the American fleet into a destructive battle by threatening Midway with a large invasion fleet. Once again, air‐to‐air and air‐to‐surface action replaced ship‐to‐ship combat. The Battle of Midway (4–6 June), one of the war's most decisive victories, cost the Japanese four carriers, plus 250 planes and experienced pilots. The United States lost one carrier.

The third part of the overall Japanese plan, a move through the southern Solomons against New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa to cut the communication line to Australia, ended the purely defensive phase of the war. On 7 August 1942 United States Marines invaded Guadalcanal in the southern Solomons to prevent completion of a vital Japanese airfield. The invasion marked the beginning of the second or offensive phase of the Pacific War by the Americans. The centerpiece of this offensive phase was the recapture of the Philippines, preceded by an island‐hopping campaign to get there, and followed by another one to position American forces for the expected seaborne invasion of Japan.

The Solomons campaign lasted from August 1942 until January 1943. It included three major land battles on Guadalcanal and six naval engagements in the southern and eastern Solomons, most of them extremely fierce night surface actions, fought at close range. The Japanese prided themselves on night fighting with searchlights; the Americans had radar, a new weapon not always available and not always well used in combat. Most Japanese cruisers, unlike American cruisers, carried torpedoes. Lingering controversies over tactics and command arose from several engagements, most notably the loss of three American and one Australian heavy cruiser at Savo Island in August 1942. More effective torpedoes increased the efficiency of U.S. submarine raids on Japanese shipping during 1943.

The securing of Guadalcanal on 9 February 1943 focused full attention on Rabaul, a major Japanese base on New Britain, which stood in the way of any approach to the Philippines via the islands to the southeast. Six more naval engagements occurred in the central and northern Solomons and the Bismarck Sea before Rabaul, neutralized and bypassed, ceased to be a threat in January 1944.

The encirclement of Rabaul had clearly required a joint army‐navy strategic effort, although MacArthur had pressed for army dominance in a hopscotch campaign along island chains and the north coast of New Guinea. The assault on the Philippines, whose personal significance to MacArthur matched its strategic significance, also required joint effort to avoid a dangerously unprotected eastern flank. The navy and marine corps, with some army troops as well, swept westward across the central Pacific, beginning with Tarawa in the Gilberts in November 1943, continuing with Kwajalein in the Marshalls, and ending with Saipan, Guam, and Tinian in the Marianas in mid‐1944. The Japanese attempted to destroy the American fleet with air attacks in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19–20 June) but lost three carriers and nearly 500 planes. From this defeat the Japanese naval air arm never recovered.

October 1944 brought the long‐awaited invasion of the Philippines. The Battle for Leyte Gulf (23–26 October), the world's last great naval battle, secured and protected the congested landing beaches. A multi‐phase response to a complex Japanese plan, the battle included the destruction in Surigao Strait of one battleship formation by the gunfire of several repaired Pearl Harbor battleships, heavy air attacks on other Japanese ships in several locations, and the luring away of Adm. William F. Halsey's Third Fleet by a decoy Japanese carrier force. In light of a near disaster, Halsey's judgment has been controversial ever since. The Japanese lost four carriers, three battleships, ten cruisers, and eleven destroyers, permanently ending their ability to challenge the U.S. Navy for control of the seas.

Only the kamikaze or suicide plane remained a major weapon. First used in the Philippines, this desperate sacrifice of both plane and pilot was a terror weapon designed to maximize loss of life among sailors stationed topside on the destroyers and cruisers that screened the carriers, and most importantly to cause as many fires as possible on the carrier. Kamikazes sank 34 ships, none larger than a destroyer, and damaged 368 others, including some carriers, in a failed attempt to prevent the capture of Okinawa (April–June, 1945). But the failure was bloody: nearly 5000 sailors died, more than double the number killed at Pearl Harbor and comprising nearly 15 percent of the navy's total World War II battle deaths in all theaters. Following American use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan agreed to surrender on 14 August, executing the final documents on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

The greatest naval war in history had ended with victory for a naval force of unprecedented size and power. The Marianas campaign alone, for example, required 800 ships manned by 250,000 sailors, transporting 150,000 Marines and soldiers. From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay, the U.S. Navy lost 128 combatant vessels in the Pacific and only 29 in the Atlantic. To a much greater degree than the Atlantic phase, the Pacific phase of World War II evolved into the world's first three‐dimensional format of the traditional navy war, with large formations of ships engaged in surface, submarine, and air combat. Only superior American human and industrial resources made such an effort possible.


Samuel E. Morison , History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, 15 vols., 1947–1963.
E. B. Potter and Chester Nimitz, eds., Sea Power: A Naval History, 1960.
S. E. Smith, ed., The United States Navy in World War II, 1966.
Thomas B. Buell , The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, 1974.
James M. Merrill , A Sailor's Admiral: A Biography of William F. Halsey, 1976.
E. B. Potter , Nimitz, 1976.
Ronald Spector , Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan, 1985.
B. Mitchell Simpson , Admiral Harold R. Stark: Architect of Victory, 1939–1945, 1989.
Craig L. Symonds , The Naval Institute Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, 1995.

James E. Sefton

World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic

views updated May 09 2018

World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic. During World War II (1939–1945), Germany attempted to isolate Great Britain by severing the North Atlantic sealanes by submarine warfare. Initially, the Kriegsmarine Untersee‐Waffe commander, Adm. Karl Doenitz deployed submarines into England's southwestern approaches, where they nearly crippled Allied shipping. The effectiveness of this operation increased substantially when France and the Low Countries capitulated in spring 1940, giving the Germans U‐boat bases on the Atlantic. During the war's first two years, German submarines sank more than 1,200 Allied ships and severely hampered England's supply systems.

In the fall of 1941, with U.S. Lend‐Lease supplies to Britain in jeopardy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered U.S. naval warships to begin escorting Allied convoys. On 4 September, after evading a torpedo from a German submarine, the destroyer USS Greer launched a depth charge attack against the U‐boat. Roosevelt then ordered the navy not to wait until attacked but to shoot German submarines on sight. Eight weeks later, after several other confrontations, a German submarine sank the USS Reuben James. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. naval forces were fighting in a major if undeclared naval war with Germany in the North Atlantic.

After the United States entered the war in December 1941, U‐boats began patrolling off the American East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, where they unleashed Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat) to destroy American shipping. In four months the Germans sank more than 360 ships, including the destroyer USS Jacob Jones. Caught off guard, the U.S. Navy had failed adequately to protect commercial coastal vessels, which were often gunned down by surfaced U‐boats using East Coast city lights to silhouette their targets.

Because U.S. naval forces were spread thin across the Atlantic and Pacific, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Ernest J. King, decided against using a coastal convoy system. Instead, in what was later called the “Bucket Brigade,” merchant captains were advised to sail close to America's shorelines by day and to dash into the nearest harbor at night.

The British criticized King for not providing proper antisubmarine warfare (ASW) defenses. After carefully convoying ships across the Atlantic and into American waters, the U.S. Navy was allowing too many merchant ships to fall prey to the enemy along the coast. Upon transferring several British ASW escort ships to the U.S. Navy, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill suggested that America inaugurate a coastal convoy system.

In May 1942, after continued losses, King did institute such a system, and assigned land‐based airplanes and blimps to patrol along the Atlantic seaboard. As these pressures increased, the U‐boats withdrew from East Coast waters and reconcentrated in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, where they sank another 160 ships.

During the fall of 1942, Doenitz ordered his submarines into the mid‐Atlantic, which was free of Allied air cover. Here, in an area called the “Black Pit,” the Germans in their continuing assault against convoys instituted Rudel taktik (wolf pack tactics). Initially, these attacks on convoys by groups of submarines were quite successful. However, by the summer of 1943, improved ASW tactics, better training, and new technology began extracting a toll on the U‐boats.

The Battle of the Atlantic was ultimately a conflict of attrition: numbers of vessels sunk versus new ships constructed, and numbers of U‐boats sunk versus new submarines constructed. As time passed, the Allies amassed great quantities of merchant ships, war vessels, ASW weapons, and sophisticated equipment. Improved radar, sonar, and radio direction‐finding systems, coupled with extensive use of airpower, slowly turned the tide of war against the U‐boats.

Intelligence gathered from ULTRA and the decoding of U‐boat and other German radio transmissions allowed the rerouting of convoys around the wolf packs. Destroyers equipped with radio direction finders located U‐boats, drove them underwater, and dropped depth charges on them. Airborne and shipborne radar was significant in spotting surfaced submarines. U.S. patrol planes flying over the Bay of Biscay used radar to find and attack surfaced U‐boats transiting in and out of French ports.

In addition to these technical advances, organizational reforms aided the U.S. Navy's effort. During the spring of 1943, Admiral King consolidated all ASW research, training, weapons procurement, and strategy under one command, the Tenth Fleet. Under his authority, the Tenth Fleet coordinated and streamlined all Atlantic operations.

A turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic occurred in the spring of 1943, when the U.S. Navy began using long‐range, land‐based aircraft and escort carriers to patrol the mid‐Atlantic. Planes such as PBY Catalinas and B‐24 Liberators provided extensive convoy coverage across the “Black Pit.” Flying from Iceland, a B‐24 Liberator (with depth charges aboard) could enter the mid‐Atlantic and patrol above Allied vessels for nearly four hours. Many of these planes successfully attacked and destroyed U‐boats. On occasion, patrolling aircraft forced U‐boats into deep water dives, where for extended periods they were unable to threaten the convoys. In May 1943 alone, the Germans lost more than forty submarines.

American hunter‐killer groups, typically composed of one escort carrier and three destroyers, substantially enhanced the U.S. Navy's ability to defend the convoys. Often, in the mid‐Atlantic, after forcing U‐boats to crash‐dive, carrier planes dropped homing torpedoes on the submarines. One particular success occurred on 4 June 1944, when the crew of the escort carrier Guadalcanal captured U‐boat 505 on the surface, along with all of its codebooks and sophisticated equipment.

In part because of these successes. Germany was unable to block the men and material necessary for the invasion of Normandy and the D‐Day landing. By war's end, Doenitz's U‐Waffe was depleted. While his submarines sank more than 2,700 Allied ships, they also lost nearly 800 U‐boats and 28,000 sailors. Yet there were no spectacular, Midway‐style decisive battles for the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic as there were in the Pacific. Instead, for U.S. naval forces, the battle consisted of endless days of searching for elusive U‐boats and once one was found, of launching a prolonged attack upon the submerged enemy.

After the war, because most documents remained long classified, a myth of the highly successful U‐boat campaign developed. However, newly declassified documents have indicated that because of torpedo and other technical problems, U‐boats were much more vulnerable to ASW attacks than previously thought. The evidence also reveals that the submarines destroyed only a very small percentage of the ships crossing the Atlantic. This new evidence, however, has not distracted from the difficulties and the bitterness of one of history's longest and most complex naval campaigns.
[See also Antisubmarine Warfare Systems; Submarines; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course; Strategy: Naval Warfare Strategy.]


Samuel Eliot Morison , The Battle of the Atlantic: September 1939–May 1943, Vol. 1, 1947; and The Atlantic Battle Won: May 1943–May 1945, Vol. X, 1956.
Dan Van der Vat , The Atlantic Campaign: World War II's Great Struggle at Sea, 1988.

Donald D. Chipman

World War I, U.S. Naval Operations in

views updated May 23 2018

World War I, U.S. Naval Operations in. As a direct response to the war in Europe, the Naval Act of 1916 required the United States to construct a battle fleet equal to that of Britain and able to gain command of the sea. President Woodrow Wilson hoped that this radical change in naval policy would strengthen his hand in efforts to arrange a negotiated peace. The United States entered the war in 1917 before this ambitious program was very far advanced. Thereafter, the peculiar exigencies of naval operations caused its abandonment. Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral and noncombatant merchant shipping on the high seas (attack without warning) led to the U.S. intervention. German leaders expected this response, but believed that a maritime strategy, interrupting the flow of supplies to the Allies, would force a decision on the western front within six months, long before U.S. assistance could affect the outcome. This challenge led the United States to concentrate on naval construction to thwart the submarine offensive—building antisubmarine craft to engage the German U‐boats and merchant ships to replace those destroyed at sea. This program forced postponement in constructing battleships and cruisers, the most important elements of a battle fleet.

Adm. William S. Benson, the chief of naval operations, and others wished to continue the 1916 building program, seeking to gain postwar political leverage, but Adm. William S. Sims, sent to London to establish liaison with the British Admiralty, offered counsel that helped fix naval policy for the remainder of the war. Soon grasping the severity of the submarine depredations, Sims urged immediate support of the antisubmarine war. Following British strategy, he became a strong advocate of the convoy, that is, forming groups of merchant ships and escorting them with naval vessels through submarine‐infested waters. This recommendation was accepted in Washington, forcing suspension of the 1916 building program in favor of antisubmarine craft and merchant vessels.

The first move of the Navy Department was to send available reinforcements to European waters. Six destroyers were sent to Queenstown, Ireland, to join the British antisubmarine force there. Others soon followed, helping to escort merchantmen to British ports. U.S. destroyers were later dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea, assisting the Allied fleet there to protect communications with Asia. Beside destroyers, the United States built small submarine chasers, of which 235 reached European waters. In all cases, ships under Sims's control operated under Allied commanders. Thus, American vessels were effectively integrated into the Allied navies, especially the Royal Navy. This approach meant that the U.S. Navy, unlike the army, which resisted integration into European commands, was able to make an early, sustained, and significant contribution to the Allied cause.

In 1918, Admiral Benson pushed for the development of a strong escort service based at the French port of Brest to cover the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force. This force soon became larger than the one at Queenstown that protected commerce. The British continued to stress escort of merchant shipping, but the U.S. Navy Department concerned itself primarily with American army troop transports. Sims supported the Admiralty view, which strengthened the impression that his was unduly pro‐British. Fortunately, conflicts over this questions were kept within reasonable bounds; sufficient resources were found to maintain both types of escort duty. No loaded American troop transports were sunk en route to Europe, although several empty vessels were torpedoed while returning to the United States.

The inter‐Allied antisubmarine campaign eventually contained the German undersea offensive, although the U‐boats were never defeated decisively. Allied tonnage losses were cut from 875,000 tons in April 1917 to about 260,000 tons in April 1918. Effective management techniques and merchant ship construction were sufficient to preserve maritime communications.

During 1918, Admiral Sims devoted considerable attention to the Allied Naval Council, founded to coordinate inter‐Allied naval campaigns. Allied shipping losses in the Mediterranean, especially to Austrian submarines operating from the Adriatic ports of Pola and Cattaro, led Sims to urge offensive naval operations in that theater, particularly raids on enemy bases and barrages to interdict the passage of submarines through choke points such as the Strait of Otranto at the southern end of the Adriatic. This endeavor led to nothing because the Italian Navy effectively opposed operations that might endanger its ships. The Italian government wished to preserve its fleet as leverage in support of postwar territorial claims. Nevertheless, U.S. naval vessels, including thirty‐six submarine chasers, supported the barrage between Otranto and Corfu.

During 1918, the U.S. Navy made two other contributions to the naval war. U.S. super‐battleships (Dreadnoughts) were sent to the North Sea, becoming the Sixth Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. These vessels helped to continue to contain the German High Sea Fleet in its bases. A more ambitious enterprise was the construction of the huge North Sea Mine Barrage, which the Navy Department sponsored despite initial British resistance. The Anglo‐American Mining Squadron laid a belt of 75,000 naval mines between the Orkney Islands and the coast of Norway. About 240 miles long and 15 to 35 miles wide, it was intended to force U‐boats to proceed to the Atlantic Ocean through the English Channel, a dangerous passage. The barrage was not completed until just before the armistice of November 11, too late for a thorough test. Four U‐boats were confirmed lost, and perhaps an equal number more were also destroyed.

Although the U.S. Navy did not conduct independent operations and maneuvered few vessels other than those on antisubmarine duty, it lent notable support to the victory at sea in World War I. Admiral Sims, critical of his superiors' skepticism about his recommendations, precipitated a postwar congressional investigation of the Navy Department, complaining that it had moved slowly and inefficiently during the crises of 1917. Nevertheless, because of its effective antisubmarine work and the protection of the troopships, the U.S. Navy emerged from the war with enhanced prestige and valuable experience that would prove useful during World War II despite the naval disarmament treaties of the interwar years.
[See also Sea Warfare; Strategy: Naval Warfare Strategy; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Elting E. Morison , Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy, 1942.
E. David Cronon , The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913–1921, 1963.
Thomas G. Frothingham , The Naval History of the World War, 3 vols., 1971.
David F. Trask , Captains and Cabinets: Anglo‐American Naval Relations, 1917–1918, 1972.
William S. Sims , The Victory at Sea, ed. David F. Trask, 1984.
Mary Klachko with and David F. Trask , Admiral William Shepherd Benson: First Chief of Naval Operations, 1987.
Paul G. Halperin , A Naval History of World War I, 1994.

David F. Trask

Vietnam War, U.S. Naval Operations in The

views updated Jun 27 2018

Vietnam War, U.S. Naval Operations in The. The U.S. Navy's ability to project its combat power ashore in Southeast Asia, control the coastal waters off Vietnam, and provide logistic support for a major U.S. overseas military commitment mandated its heavy involvement in the Vietnam War. Naval operations took place in the South China Sea, among myriad islands, along the coastline of Vietnam, and on thousands of nautical miles of rivers and canals.

The first significant U.S. naval engagement of the war was the famous Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964. On the afternoon of 2 August, three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats attacked the destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin with gunfire and torpedoes. On the night of 4 August, Maddox and another destroyer, Turner Joy, reported fighting a running battle with hostile patrol craft in the middle of the gulf. Communications intercepts and other relevant information convinced Washington that an attack had taken place. At President Lyndon B. Johnson's direction, on 5 August navy carrier forces bombed North Vietnam. Two days later, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which Johnson thereafter used to wage war in Vietnam.

Even though Washington did not pursue a traditional military victory in the war, the navy made a major effort on the operational and tactical levels. Carrier aircraft of the Seventh Fleet executed round‐the‐clock bombing of enemy logistics facilities, fuel and supply depots, power plants, bridges, and railroads in Laos, North Vietnam, and after 1970, Cambodia. The air campaigns produced no decisive results, and they cost the navy 900 aircraft lost and 881 pilots and other air crew killed or captured. These operations, however, hindered the enemy's resupply efforts and shortened Hanoi's ground offensives in South Vietnam. In addition, the navy–air force bombing and the navy's simultaneous mining of North Vietnam's ports during 1972 and 1973 helped ease the U.S. withdrawal from the conflict.

Navy and Marine Corps aircraft also flew close air support for allied units battling Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces in South Vietnam. Carrier‐based search and rescue helicopters retrieved hundreds of American aviators whose aircraft were shot down ashore or at sea.

The battleship New Jersey and numerous cruisers and destroyers shelled bridges, rail lines, radar sites, artillery batteries, and small vessels along the North Vietnamese coast and Communist troops, fortifications, and supply caches along the coasts and waterways of South Vietnam. During the Communist Easter Offensive of 1972, U.S. naval gunfire devastated enemy armor and infantry units on the northern coast of South Vietnam.

The U.S. Coastal Patrol Force and South Vietnamese naval units mounted Operation Market Time, which limited Communist seaborne infiltration of supplies into South Vietnam. The allied forces destroyed or turned back all but two of the fifty Communist steel‐hulled trawlers discovered heading for the South Vietnamese coast between 1965 and 1972.

Navy–Marine Corps amphibious units exploited the fleet's mobility to carry out assaults from the sea along the coast of South Vietnam. In 1967 and 1968, naval leaders increasingly used the amphibious force as a floating reserve for Marine units fighting near the demilitarized zone.

Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam (COMNAVFORV) also took advantage of the waterways that crisscrossed the Mekong Delta region to deploy combat forces deep into enemy‐controlled territory in South Vietnam. The Swift boats (river patrol craft) and SEAL commandos of COMNAVFORV's River Patrol Force, in Operation Game Warden, disrupted Communist supply traffic on the main rivers. Also important to the inland effort was the army‐navy Mobile Riverine Force of heavily armed and armored monitors. Both forces prompted the Communists to divert their sampans and other supply craft to smaller rivers and canals.

In 1968, an energetic COMNAVFORV, Vice Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., adopted an innovative strategic approach, which he called SEALORDS. In a comprehensive campaign, U.S. and Vietnamese river forces put the enemy on the defensive by setting up patrol boat barriers along the Cambodian border and by penetrating areas deep in the Mekong Delta. Hence, the Communists were unable to mount a major attack there during the Easter Offensive.

The navy also directed the seaborne logistic operation that sustained the American forces and their allies in Southeast Asia. The merchantmen of the navy's Military Sealift Command delivered 95 percent of the vehicles, ammunition, fuel, equipment, and other military supplies that entered the ports of South Vietnam. In addition, navy Seabee construction units developed enormous logistic support bases at Da Nang and Saigon.

The decade of heavy commitment to the war in Southeast Asia, which ended on 30 April 1975, cost the U.S. Navy dearly. Of the 1,842,000 Navy men and women who served in the combat theater, over 2,600 were killed in action and 10,000 were wounded. The navy also had to contend with serious morale, drug abuse, and disciplinary problems. Racial conflict hampered operations on board two Pacific Fleet carriers, Kitty Hawk and Constellation.

Equally serious, the war's high operating costs limited the funds available for needed repairs and for the design and construction of newer and better ships. To help pay for the war, the Ford and Carter administrations reduced the navy's Vietnam era fleet of 769 ships to just over 450.

In some ways, however, the Vietnam experience strengthened the navy. The conflict reaffirmed the critical importance of naval forces to the conduct of warfare in distant waters. Vietnam influenced a whole generation of midlevel naval officers, many of whom rose to prominent command in later years, to recommend to political leaders that they use force judiciously when faced with crises in Central America, Africa, and the Middle East.
[See also Navy, U.S.: 1946 to the Present; Vietnam War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Edward J. Marolda and and Oscar P. Fitzgerald , From Military Assistance to Combat, 1986.
Thomas J. Cutler , Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam, 1988.
R. L. Schreadley , From the Rivers to the Sea: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1992.
Edward J. Marolda , By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia, 1994.

Edward J. Marolda

Korean War, U.S. Naval Operations in the

views updated May 17 2018

Korean War, U.S. Naval Operations in the. In addition to the role of the U.S. Marine Corps, the ships and planes of the U.S. Navy played a vital role in the Korean War (1950–1953). When President Harry Truman ordered U.S. forces to try to block the North Korean invasion of South Korea, the first units deployed were aircraft from the navy and the air force. U.S. naval forces in the western Pacific in 1950 included Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy's force in Japan consisting of a light cruiser and four destroyers and the Seventh Fleet in the Philippines under Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble, comprising the carrier Valley Forge, a heavy cruiser, and several destroyers and submarines. Since the North Korean navy consisted only of 45 small craft, these U.S. naval vessels eventually joined by the British light carrier Triumph and a some other warships, took command of the seas around the Korean peninsula. Naval and air force planes also quickly destroyed the small North Korean air force. This allowed the forces of the United Nations to move and be supplied unimpeded and it enabled carrier‐based planes and sometimes surface ships to bombard the enemy forces and supply lines.

The navy's most dramatic exploit was the Inchon Landing (1950), a daring amphibious envelopment planned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief Far East, to capture the South Korean capital of Seoul and its port, Inchon, then deep behind North Korean lines. The difficulties were enormous, for Inchon lay behind miles of islands, shoals, and mud flats, approachable from the sea only through two narrow, winding channels. These could be easily mined and if an attacking ship were disabled by mine, bomb, or a shell from the guarding fortified island it would trap those ahead and block those behind. Nevertheless, Admiral Forrest Sherman, chief of naval operations, agreed, and an international fleet of 230 ships carried the more than 70,000 soldiers and Marines to the successful Inchon landing, catching the defenders, who had not mined the harbor, largely by surprise.

Later, when the Chinese intervened and the war turned against the U.N. forces again, the navy evacuated 100,000 army and Marine forces from the northeast coast. Despite the Chinese advances, air strikes from land‐ and ship‐based planes destroyed bridges and interdicted roads and railroads by day. Truman rejected MacArthur's proposal to widen the war by bombing the Peoples Republic of China and using the Seventh Fleet to blockade its coasts and transport Nationalist Chinese troops from Taiwan to fight in Korea or mainland China. But the communist forces were soon halted in 1951 and agreed to truce talks.

Naval success in the Korean War, in particular the Inchon landing and the continual employment of carrier‐based air attacks, won congressional support for an expanded navy, including supercarriers, to implement the navy's forward maritime strategy in the Cold War.
[See also Korean War: U.S. Air Operations in the; Navy, U.S.: Since 1946.]


James A. Field, Jr. , United States Naval Operations, Korea, 1962;
Richard P. Hallion , The Naval Air War in Korea, 1986;
Allan R. Millett , Korea, 1950–1953, in Benjamin Franklin Cooling, ed., Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support, 1990.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

About this article

United States Naval Operations

All Sources -
Updated Aug 08 2016 About content Print Topic


United States Naval Operations