The history of the United States Marine Corps began with the founding of the Continental Marines in 1775 to conduct ship-to-ship fighting, provide shipboard security and discipline enforcement, and assist in landing forces. Its mission evolved with changing military doctrine and foreign policy of the United States. Owing to the availability of Marine forces at sea, the United States Marine Corps has served in nearly every conflict in United States history. It attained prominence when its theories and practice of amphibious warfare proved prescient, and ultimately formed a cornerstone of the Pacific Theater of World War II. By the early 20th century, the Marine Corps would become one of the dominant theorists and practitioners of amphibious warfare. Its ability to rapidly respond on short notice to expeditionary crises has made and continues to make it an important tool for American foreign policy.
In the earliest days of naval warfare, there was little distinction between sailors and soldiers on a warship, as the oarsmen of Ancient Greek and Roman ships had to be capable of fighting the rowers of opposing ships hand-to-hand; though hoplites began appearing on Greek ships specifically for the boarding of enemy ships. The Roman Navy's two legions, I Adiutrix and II Adiutrix, were among the first distinct naval infantry units. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the progenitor of seafaring soldiers was lost throughout the archaic history of the world, being revived when the cannon became practical for use on naval vessels. Perhaps the earliest predecessor of the United States Marine Corps dates back to the creation and evolution of the marines from the European naval wars throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The monarchies of Netherlands, France, Spain, and England all contended with each other in control over territorial water, which would increase naval organization and stability. The first organized corps of Marines was created when Charles V first assigned the naval infantry of the Compañías Viejas del Mar de Nápoles (Naples Sea Old Companies) to the Escuadras de Galeras del Mediterráneo (Mediterranean Galley Squadrons) in 1537, progenitors of the current Infantería de Marina corps. France and the Netherlands opted to train seamen for combat; however, England instead in 1664 formed a regiment of maritime infantry (progenitors of the modern Royal Marines) to provide military projection under the complete control of the Admiralty. These special soldiers became the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot, or the "Admiral's Regiment", seeing action during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. By 1702, the British government assembled six regiments of marines for naval service. The marines found themselves fighting ashore the beaches of Gibraltar and Spain as part of a landing force during the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1741). By the time war ended, the maritime infantry regiments were disbanded, the majority of the marines folded into the British Army.
During the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739, the British navy reestablished ten regiments of marines for campaigns against the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and north coast of Latin America. Four of the regiments, three thousand in strength, were formed from the thirteen American colonies. The majority were drafted from the army directly into naval service with Admiral Edward Vernon's fleet. Edward Vernon can be considered by many naval history enthusiasts the 'first' commander of American marines. Two companies of Marine Boatmen drawn from the Georgia Militia, commanded by Captains Mark Carr and Noble Jones under General James Oglethorpe, helped in defeating an amphibious landing attempted by the Spanish on St. Simons Island in the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and the Battle of Bloody Marsh.
A "four-battalion" regiment of 3,000 American colonial marines was raised in the colony of Virginia, under the command of Governor William Gooch. This 43rd Regiment of Foot, better known as "Gooch's Marines", has a lineage that can be traced to the origin of the United States Marine Corps. Although it may had been composed of men from surrounding colonies intent for a Crown commission, it was also used as a dumping ground for its debtors, criminals, scoundrels, and vagrants. As a successful method in social purification, only 10-percent survived the unsuccessful assault on a seaport during the Cartegena expedition. One of the regiment's officers, Lawrence Washington, a half-brother of George Washington, was amongst the survivors. Lawrence named his estate after his vice admiral, Edward Vernon, whom he greatly admired. Thereafter, when George inherited his estate, he kept the name "Mount Vernon".
Like their British components, the colonial marines disbanded as a regiment in 1742, the remaining independent companies were merged with another regiment in 1746. Other maritime-based militias were raised for the various state navies that came into existence shortly before the Revolutionary War.
When the American Revolutionary War started on 19 April 1775 at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the individual colonies each had navies, and marines, of their own. These American Colonial Marines have no lineage traceable to the Continental Marines or modern Marine Corps, but fought the British as American Marines as early as May. Units of the Continental Army and groups of militia were sometimes pressed to serve as sailors and naval infantry in these ships, such as the 14th Continental Regiment (also known as the "Marblehead Regiment") on Washington's small fleet at the Siege of Boston in the summer of 1775.
The modern United States Marine Corps traces its institutional roots to the Continental Marines, a natural result of the establishment of the Continental Navy on 13 October 1775. The Second Continental Congress formed the Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 (a date later used as the official birthday), planning to draw them from among Washington's army in Boston and send them to capture supplies from Halifax, Nova Scotia. However, Washington was unenthusiastic about the plan and suggested the Marines be recruited in New York or Philadelphia instead. Captain Samuel Nicholas was commissioned as the Continental Marines' first officer on 28 November 1775. Though legend places its first recruiting post at Tun Tavern, historian Edwin Simmons surmises that it was more likely the Conestoga Waggon [sic], a tavern owned by the Nicholas family. Robert Mullen, whose mother owned Tun Tavern, later received a commission as a captain on 25 June 1776 and likely used it as his recruiting rendezvous. Marines would mainly participate in in the naval battles of the war, fighting ship-to-ship, such as the Battle of Valcour Island and famed Battle of Flamborough Head. Marksmen would perch in the upper riggings and masts of the ship to fire on enemy sailors from above. However, unlike British Marines, the Continental Marines would take the then-unorthodox missions of landing parties and other services ashore. For example, Marines would support batteries ashore at the Siege of Charleston in the spring of 1780.
By December 1775, five companies of about 300 Marines were raised. While armed, they were not equipped with standardized uniforms. However, they did not head north as originally planned, but south for the Caribbean. The five companies joined Commodore Esek Hopkins of the Navy's first squadron on its first cruise. Hopkins ignored his ambitious orders to sweep the southern seas of British ships, and instead raided the Bahamas for gunpowder for Washington's army. Nicholas's Marines their first amphibious assault at the Battle of Nassau on 3 March 1776, where 234 of them made an opposed landing on the island of New Providence, seized Fort Montagu, then marched to Fort Nassau the next day to seize shot, shells, and cannon. However, the failure to achieve surprise allowed the British governor to send off the stock of gunpowder in the night. Sailing back to Rhode Island on the 16th, the squadron captured four small prize ships. The squadron finally returned on 8 April 1776, with 7 dead Marines and four wounded. Though Hopkins was disgraced for failing to obey orders, Nicholas was promoted to major on 25 June and tasked with raising 4 new companies of Marines for 4 new frigates then under construction. Marines would repeat on smaller scale the raid on Nassau in January 1778 under Captains John Trevett and John Rathbun, and again in May 1782 with Bernardo de Gálvez to secure the island for the Spanish. Meanwhile, John Martin's enlistment to serve on the USS Reprisal in Philedelphia in April 1776 gave him the role as the first black Marine.
In December 1776, the Marines were tasked to join Washington's army at Trenton to slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. Unsure what to do with the Marines, Washington added the Marines to a brigade of Philadelphia militia, also dressed in green. Though they were unable to arrive in time to meaningfully affect the Battle of Trenton, they assisted in the American victories at the Battles of Assunpink Creek and Princeton. They wintered with Washington's army at Morristown, New Jersey, getting their first taste of field artillery there. On 5 September 1776, uniform regulations were published specifying green coats with white facings (lapels, cuffs, and coat lining) and a high leather collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man's head erect, leading to the nickname "leatherneck"; officers of all ranks wore a single silver epaulette. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Continental Marines mostly carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the blue of the Army and Navy or the red of the British. Also, Sam Nicholas's hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation was for green. Notably, Marines aboard USS Bonhomme Richard wore red, though they were mostly Irish soldiers of the French Army. Marines made another overseas strike, raiding the coast of Britian (notably at Whitehaven) with John Paul Jones on the USS Ranger in April 1777.
Continental Marines landed and briefly captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula in the Penobscot Expedition in 1779, but withdrew with heavy losses when Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's force failed to capture the nearby fort. A group under Navy Captain James Willing left Pittsburgh, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship later known as USS Morris, and in conjunction with other Continental Marines, brought by ship from the Gulf of Mexico, raided British Loyalists on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain on 10 September 1779. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to escort a stash of silver, on loan from Louis XVI of France, from Boston to Philadelphia to enable the opening of the Bank of North America. However, Marines did fight on the duel between USS Alliance and HMS Sibyl on 10 March 1783, the last recorded shots of the war, and Pvt Robert Stout of that ship would be the last recorded mention of a Continental Marine one year later. Major Nicholas would die from yellow fever on 27 August 1790. In all, the Continental Marines suffered 49 dead and 70 wounded.
At the end of the Revolution in 1783, both the Continental Navy and Marines were disbanded in April. Although individual Marines stayed on for the few American naval vessels left, the last Continental Marine was discharged in September. In all, there were 131 Colonial Marine officers and probably no more than 2,000 enlisted Colonial Marines. Though individual Marines were enlisted for the few American naval vessels, the organization would not be re-created until 1798. Despite the gap between the disbanding of the Continental Marines and the establishment of the United States Marine Corps, Marines worldwide celebrate 10 November 1775 as the official birthday. This is traditional in Marine units and is similar to the practice of the British and Netherlands Royal Marines. Despite the Continental Navy being older in establishment (13 October vs. 10 November 1775) and reestablishment (27 March 1794 vs. 11 July 1798), Marines have taken the position of precedence, awarded due to seniority of age, because they historically and consistently maintained their birth as 10 November, while the Navy had no official recognition of 13 October as their birthday until 1972.
In preparation for the Quasi-War with France, Congress created the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The "Act to provide a Naval Armament" of 27 March 1794 authorizing new build frigates for the war had specified the numbers of Marines to be recruited for each frigate. Marines were enlisted by the War Department as early as August 1797 for service in these frigates. Daniel Carmick and Lemuel Clerk were commissioned as Lieutenants of Marines on May 5, 1798. Under the "Act for establishing and organizing a Marine Corps", signed on 11 July 1798 by President John Adams, the Marine Corps was to consist of a battalion of 500 privates, lead by a major and a complement of officers and NCO's. The next day, William Ward Burrows I was appointed a major. In the Quasi-War, Marines aboard the USS Constitution and other ships conducted raids in the waters off Hispaniola against the French and Spanish, making the first of many landings in Haiti and participating in the Battle of Puerto Plata Harbor.
Among the equipment Burrows inherited was a stock of leftover blue uniforms with red trim, the basis for the modern Blue Dress uniform. When the capital moved to Washington, D.C. in June 1800, Burrows was appointed Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of the Marine Corps; the first de jure Commandant, though Samuel Nicholas is traditionally accorded as the first de facto Commandant for his role as the most senior officer of the Continental Marines. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson and Burrows rode horses about the new capital to find a place suitable for a Marine barracks near the Washington Navy Yard. They chose the land between 8th and 9th, and G and I streets and hired architect George Hadfield to design the barracks and the Commandant’s House, in use today as Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.. Burrows also founded the United States Marine Band from an act of Congress passed on July 11, 1798, which debuted at the President's House on 1 January 1801 and has played for every presidential inauguration since.
The Marines' most famous action of this period occurred in the First Barbary War (1801–1805) against the Barbary pirates, when William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led a group of eight Marines and 300 Arab and European mercenaries in an attempt to capture Tripoli. Though they only made it as far as Derne, Tripoli has been immortalized in the Marines' Hymn. The Ottoman viceroy, Prince Hamet Karamanli was so impressed with the Marines that on December 8, 1804, he presented a Mameluke sword to O'Bannon inscribed in memory of the Battle of Tripoli Harbor, a traditon continued today by the swords worn by Marine officers.
In May 1811, 2 officers and 47 Marines established an advanced base on Cumberland Island, Georgia to be used for actions against pirates in Spanish Florida, and captured Fernandina on 18 March 1812 for occupation until May 1813. This was the first peacetime overseas base of the United States.
The Marine Corps' first land action of the War of 1812 was the establishment of an advanced base at Sackets Harbor, New York by 63 Marines. This gave the Navy a base on the shores of Lake Ontario, and later, headquartered their operations in the Great Lakes; Marines helped to repel two British attacks (the First and Second Battle of Sacket's Harbor). The Marines also established another base at Erie, Pennsylvania. Marine ship detachments took part in the great frigate duels of the war, the first American victories of the war. By the end of the war Marines acquired a reputation as marksmen, especially in ship-to-ship actions. On 27 April 1813, Marines participated in United States Army Colonel Winfield Scott's landing at York (now Toronto). Under Commodore Joshua Barney and Captain Samuel Miller, they acted to delay the British forces marching toward Washington at the Battle of Bladensburg. During the battle, they held the line after the Army and militia retreated, though were eventually overrun. Tradition holds that the British respected their fighting enough to spare the Marine Barracks and Commandant's house when they burned Washington, though they may have intended to use it as a headquarters; a related legend cites that two NCOs buried treasure at the site (to prevent its capture) that is yet unfound. At the Battle of New Orleans, the Marines held the center of Gen Andrew Jackson's defensive line. A total of 46 Marines would die and 66 were wounded in the war.
Together with sailors and Army troops, they again captured Amelia Island and Fernandina in Spanish Florida on 23 December 1817. Fernandina was occupied until Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. In 1823, Marines also established an advanced base on Thompson's Island, now called Key West, for Commodore David Porter to use against pirates around the island of Cuba. They garrisoned Pensacola, Florida in 1825 to use it as a base against pirates in the West Indies.
After the war, the Marine Corps fell into a depressed state. The third Commandant, Franklin Wharton, died while in office on September 1, 1818, causing a battle for succession between Majors Anthony Gale, Samuel Miller, and Archibald Henderson (then acting Commandant). The latter two were unable to successfully impeach Gale, who assumed the role on March 3, 1819, ending a six month vacancy. After a falling-out with Secretary Smith Thompson, Gale was court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, convicted, and fired on October 18, 1820.
Henderson secured a confirmed appointment as the fifth Commandant in 1820 and breathed new life into the Corps. He would go on to be the longest-serving commandant, commonly referred to as the "Grand old man of the Marine Corps". Under his tenure, the Marine Corps took on a new role as an expeditionary force-in-readiness with a number of expeditionary duties in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Key West, West Africa, the Falkland Islands, China, Fiji, Peru, Buenos Aires, Nicaragua, and Sumatra, in addition to many of the Indian Wars. Previously having rarely done anything but guard ships and naval depots, Henderson siezed every opportunity to deploy his Marines in "landing party operations" and other expeditions. One example of this was the acquisition artillery pieces and training for use with landing parties, which would bear fruit at the Battle of the Pearl River Forts. Henderson is also credited with thwarting attempts by President Andrew Jackson to combine the Marine Corps with the Army. Instead, Congress passed the Act for the Better Organization of the United States Marine Corps in 1834, stipulating that the Corps was part of the Department of the Navy, as a sister service to the United States Navy. This would be the first of many times that Congress came to the aid of the Marines.
When the Seminole Wars (1835–1842) broke out, Commandant Henderson volunteered the Marines for service, leading 2 battalions to war, which accounted for about half the strength of the Marine Corps. They garrisoned Fort Brooke in Tampa and held off an Indian attack on 22 January 1836. Col. Archibald Henderson commanded the mixed Marine/Army Second Brigade at the Battle of Hatchee-Lustee on 27 January 1837, for which he was brevetted a brigadier general. Marines also fought at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp that November.
A decade later, in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), the Marines made their famed assault on Chapultepec Palace, which overlooked Mexico City, their first major expeditionary venture. Since marching to Mexico City would be a long and perhaps impossible venture, a combined force (containing some 200 Marines) under Major General Winfield Scott made an landing south of Veracruz on 9 March 1847 and captured the city on 29 March. From there, they fought their way to Mexico City and commenced their assault on 13 September. The Marines were given the task of clearing the Chapultepec Castle, the "Halls of Montezuma", where they cut down the Mexican colors and ran up the Flag of the United States. The high mortality rate amongst officers and non-commissioned officers is memorialized in the dress uniform's "blood stripes", as well as the line "From the Halls of Montezuma" in the Marines' Hymn. Marines were later placed on guard duty at the palace and Captain Jacob Zeilin, a future Commandant, was made military governor. Marines also served as part of the Navy's blockade of Mexico that successfully prevented overseas arms and munitions from reaching the Mexican forces, and as part of the California Battalion under Major Archibald H. Gillespie; engagements included the battles of Monterey, Los Angeles, Dominguez Rancho, San Pasqual, Rio San Gabriel, La Mesa, and 2nd Tabasco. Other battles included the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Tuxpan, capturing La Paz, defending La Paz, Mulege, and capturing and defending San José del Cabo.
In the 1850s, the Marines would further see service in Panama, and in Asia, escorting Matthew Perry's fleet on its historic trip to the East. Two hundred Marines under Zeilin were among the Americans who first stepped foot on Japan; they can be seen in contemporary woodprints in their blue jackets, white trousers, and black shakos. Marines were also performed landing demonstrations while the expedition visited the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands. Upon Henderson's death in 1859, legend cites that he willed the Commandant's House, his home of 38 years, to his heirs, forgetting that it was government property; however, this has proven false.
Despite their stellar service in foreign engagements, the Marine Corps played only a minor role during the Civil War (1861–1865); their most important task was blockade duty and other ship-board battles, but were mobilized for a handful of operations as the war progressed.
During the prelude to war, a hastily-created 86-man Marine detachment under Lieutenant Israel Greene was detached to arrest John Brown at Harper's Ferry in 1859, after the abolitionist raided the armory there. Command of the mission was given to then-Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide, Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, both having been on leave in the Washington when President James Buchanan ordered Brown arrested. The ninety Marines arrived to the town on October 17 via train, and quickly surrounded John Brown's Fort. Upon his refusal to surrender, the Marines stormed the building with bayonets, battering down the door with hammers and a ladder used as a battering ram. Greene slashed Brown twice and would have killed him had his sword not bent on his last thrust; in his haste he had carried his light dress sword instead of his regulation sword.
At the opening of the war, the Marine Corps had 1892 officers and men, but two majors, half the captains, and two-thirds of the lieutenants resigned to join the Confederacy, as did many prominent Army officers. Though the retantion of enlisted men was better, the Confederate States Marine Corps formed its nucleus with some of the best Marines the Corps had. Following the wave of defections, thirteen officers and 336 Marines, mostly recruits, were hastily formed into a battalion and sent to Manassas. At the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), they performed poorly, running away like the rest of the Union forces. Commandant John Harris reported sadly that this was "the first instance in Marine history where any portion of its members turned their backs to the enemy."
Congress only slightly enlarged the Marines due to the priority of the Army; and after filling detachments for the ships of the Navy (which had more than doubled in size by 1862), the Marine Corps was only able to field about one battalion at any given time as a larger force for service ashore. Marines from ship's detachments as well as ad-hoc battalions took part in the landing operations necessary to capture bases for blockade duty. These were mostly successful, but on 8 September 1863, the Marines tried an amphibious landing to capture Fort Sumter in Charlestown harbor and failed, one of the few failed landings of the Marine Corps. Due to a shortage of officers, the Marines of Commander George Preble's naval brigade that fought at the Battle of Honey Hill in 1864 started the battle with First Lieutenant G.G. Stoddard as the battalion commander (normally accorded a lieutenant colonel), the only officer in the battalion (the company commanders and other staff being sergeants).
On 15 May 1862, the Battle of Drewry's Bluff began as a detachment of ships under Commander John Rodgers (including the USS Monitor and USS Galena) steamed up the James River to test the defenses of Richmond as part of the Peninsula Campaign. As the Galena took heavy losses, the unwavering musket and cannon fire of Corporal John F. Mackie would earn him the Medal of Honor on July 10, 1863, the first Marine to be so awarded.
In January 1865, the Marines took part in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, tasked with acting as marksmen on the flank of the attack to shoot any Confederate troops that appeared on the ramparts of the fort. Even though they were ordered from their firing positions by Admiral Porter's second in command, Porter blamed the Marines for the failure of the naval landing force to take the fort. Despite this, the fort was successfully captured; five Marines earned the Medal of Honor during the battle. In all, Marines received 17 of the 1522 awarded during the Civil War. A total of 148 Marines would die in the war, the most casualties up to that point.
On the opposite side of the lines, the Congress of the Confederate States authorized the creation of the Confederate States Marine Corps on March 16, 1861. Initially authorized at 45 officers and 944 enlisted men, the CSMC was increased to 1,026 enlisted men on September 24, 1862, but actual manpower never approached that number, maxing below 550 total. Its first and only Commandant, Colonel Lloyd J. Beall, stood the corps up in Richmond, and headquartered it at Fort Darling.
The Confederate Marines, much like its progenitor, played small roles through the Civil War. Much of its service in the war was shipbound, such as the CSS Virginia's famous duel with the USS Monitor at Battle of Hampton Roads. Detachments on land guarded several naval bases, including the defense of the CSMC's headquarters at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff. One of the few notable operations included an assault on a Union prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout. Toward the end of the war, Marines were pressed for the defense of Richmond, such as the Battle of Sayler's Creek.
The remainder of the 19th century would be a period of declining strength and introspection about the mission of the Marine Corps. The Navy's transition from sail to steam put into question the need for Marines on naval ships; indeed, the replacement of masts and rigging with smokestacks literally left Marine marksmen without a place. However, the Marines would serve as a convenient resource for interventions and landings to protect American lives and property in foreign countries, such as action in Formosa in 1867. In June 1871, 651 Marine deployed for the expedition to Korea and made a landing at Ganghwa Island in which six Marines earned the Medal of Honor and one was killed (an landing also taken by the French in 1866 and Japanese in 1875), 79 years before the famed landing at nearby Inchon. After the Virginius Affair caused a war scare with Spain, Marines took part in naval brigade landing exercises in Key West in 1874, Gardiners Island in August 1884, and Newport, Rhode Island in November 1887. Three Marines earned Medals of Honor in the Samoan Civil War. Altogether, the Marines were involved in over 28 separate interventions in the 35 years from the end of the Civil War to the end of the 19th century, including China, Formosa, Japan, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Mexico, Korea, Panama, Egypt, Haiti, Samoa, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, including the Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which would be annexed five years later. They would also be called upon to stem political and labor unrest within the United States, such as guarding mail. In 1885, war correspondent Richard Harding Davis popularized the phrase "The Marines have landed and have the situation well in hand" when describing Americans intervention in a Panamanian revolt.
Under Commandant Jacob Zeilin's term (1864–1876), many Marine customs and traditions took shape. The Corps adopted the Marine Corps emblem in essentially its modern form on 19 November 1868, borrowing the globe from the Royal Marines, but introducing the fouled anchor and an American bald eagle. In 1869, the Corps adopted a blue-black evening jacket and trousers encrusted with gold braid, that survives today as officer's mess dress. It was also during this time that the "Marines' Hymn" was first heard. Around 1883, the Marines adopted their current motto "Semper Fidelis", Latin for "Always Faithful" and often shortened by Marines to "Semper Fi". In 1885 1st Lt. H.K. Gilman wrote the first manual for enlisted Marines, Marines' Manual: Prepared for the Use of the Enlisted Men of the U.S. Marine Corps and in 1886 the first landing manual The Naval Brigade and Operations Ashore. Previous to this, the only landing instructions available were those in the Ordnance Instructions for the United States Navy. John Philip Sousa, previously an apprentice in the Marine Band as a child, returned to lead the band in 1880 at the age of 25, making a name for himself and the Band with his composed marches.
During the Spanish–American War (1898), Marines would lead American forces ashore in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, demonstrating their readiness for deployment. At the Battle of Cienfuegos, Marines from the USS Marblehead and USS Nashville cut undersea telegraph cables under heavy Spanish fire to support the blockade of Cuba, 12 of them earning the Medal of Honor for their actions. The 1st Battalion, under LtCol Robert W. Huntington, invaded and captured Guantánamo Bay in order to set up an advanced base and refueling station for the fleet. In the seizure of Cuzco Well, a Spanish counterattack was aided by friendly fire from the USS Dolphin, and Sergeant John H. Quick would later receive the Medal of Honor for braving both Spanish rifle fire and naval gunfire to signal the Dolphin and shift fire.
In the Puerto Rican Campaign, Marine detachments under Lieutenant John A. Lejeune landed in Fajardo in order to seize boats for a subsequent landing by Army forces. While they were waiting for the Army, they were attacked by strong Spanish forces in a night attack. Upon a prearranged signal, the Marines and sailors occupying the Cape San Juan Lighthouse took cover while the American ships bombarded the area. They left the next day when they found out that the Army commander had changed his mind and landed on the other end of the island at Guánica, securing the beach for the Army.
In the Philippines, Marines landed at Cavite following the Battle of Manila Bay under Commodore George Dewey, and saw action at the Capture of Guam and Siege of Baler. In the subsequent Philippine–American War, Marines played little role in fighting but did serve as occupiers and peacekeepers. In all, fifteen Marines would earn the Medal of Honor, most of them at Cienfuegos; and additional six in the Philippines.
The successful landing at Guantanamo and the readiness of the Marines for the Spanish-American War were in contrast to the slow mobilization of the United States Army in the war. In 1900, the General Board of the United States Navy decided to give the Marine Corps primary responsibility for the seizure and defense of advanced naval bases. The Marine Corps formed an expeditionary battalion to be permanently based in the Caribbean, which subsequently practiced landings in 1902 in preparation for a war with Germany over their siege in Venezuela. Under Major Lejeune, in early 1903, it also undertook landing exercises with the Army in Maine, and in November, blocked Colombian Army forces sent to quash a Panamanian rebellion, an action which led to the independence of Panama. Marines stayed in Panama, with brief intermissions as they were deployed for other actions, until 1914. From 1903 to 1904, 25 Marines protected American diplomats in Abyssinia, modern day Ethiopia. A small group of Marines made a show of force in Tangier to resolve the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris in the summer of 1904. The Marine Corps Advanced Base School was founded as was the Advanced Base Force, the prototype of the Fleet Marine Force.
Marine aviation began on May 22, 1912, when Lieutenant Alfred Austell Cunningham reported to the Naval Aviation Camp in Annapolis, Maryland, "for duty in connection with aviation." As the number of Marine Aviators grew over the next few years, so did the desire to separate from Naval Aviation, realized on January 6, 1914, when Lt Bernard L. Smith was directed to Culebra, Puerto Rico, to establish the Marine Section of the Navy Flying School. In 1915, the Commandant George Barnett authorized the creation of an aviation company consisting of 10 officers and 40 enlisted men. The first official Marine flying unit arrived with the February 17, 1917, commissioning of the Marine Aviation Company for duty with the Advanced Base Force at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Marines played a role in China, which would continue on through to 1950s. Originally dispatched in 1894 to protect Americans during the First Sino-Japanese War, Marines defended western legations in the Battles of Tientsin and Peking during the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) and China Relief Expedition. The Boxers, seeking to drive all foreigners from China and eradicate foreign influences, became violent and began murdering westerners. The remaining foreigners banded together in the Beijing Legation Quarter and were protected by a small military force, which included 56 Marines, until reinforcements from the Eight-Nation Alliance, including the Army's 9th Infantry Regiment and a battalion of Marines stationed in the Philippines, arrived on 14 August 1900 to end the rebellion. Private Daniel Daly would earn his first Medal of Honor here, as well as 32 other Marines. Marines would redeploy from April 1922 to November 1923, and again in 1924, to protect Americans during the First and Second Zhili–Fengtian Wars. The 4th Marine Regiment would arrive in 1927, to defend the Shanghai International Settlement during the Northern Expedition and Second Sino-Japanese War, later being called China Marines. The regiment would leave in 1941 for Cavite to fight in World War II.
Between 1900 and 1916, the Marine Corps continued its record of participation in foreign expeditions, especially in the Caribbean and Central and South America, which included Panama, Cuba, Veracruz, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Nicaragua. These actions became known as the "Banana Wars", and the experiences gained in counter-insurgency and guerrilla operations during this period were consolidated into the Small Wars Manual in 1935. Action in these places south of the United States continued through World War I, and after for many. Many of these actions were part of the Monroe Doctrine; that is, the efforts of the United States to prevent further colonization and interference in the Western Hemisphere. Marines occasionally had to fight against thier reputation as the private army of the State Department. A total of 93 Marines would die throughout the various conflicts.
In December 1909, Major Smedley Butler commanded 3rd Battalion 1st Marines in Panama. The battalion, which had occupied Panama since that nation's independance from Colombia in 1903, would remain until 1914, with intermissions where it was sent to Nicaragua, Veracruz, and Haiti.
The United States occupied Cuba since the Spanish left on 1 January 1899, but could not annex it as a territory (unlike the Philippines and Guam) per the Teller Amendment. After establishing Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, the Marines assited in the occupation from 1899 to 1902 under military governor Leonard Wood, and again from 1906–1909, 1912, and 1917-1922.
In 27 May 1910, Major Butler arrived in Bluefields with 250 men to protect American interests in Juan José Estrada's rebellion. Marines returned to occupy Nicaragua from 1912-1933 in order to prevent the construction of the Nicaragua Canal without American control. Butler returned in the summer of 1912 with 350 Marines on the USS Annapolis to supplement the 100 Marines sent there the previous month, again augmented by another 750 Marines under Colonel Joseph Henry Pendleton. Resistance from Luis Mena and Benjamín Zeledón was crushed that October, and the majority of the Marines left, having lost 37 of their number. The remainder occupied the nation, mostly fighting Augusto César Sandino and his group until the Good Neighbor policy and the Great Depression prompted their withdrawal in January 1933. A total of 130 Marines were killed in the 21 years in Nicaragua, while two earned the Medal of Honor there.
Marines also returned to Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. From 5 to 7 September 1903, Marines protected Americans evacuating the Yaqui River Valley. In response to the Tampico Affair and to intercept weapons being shipped to Victoriano Huerta in spite of an arms embargo, Marines were deployed to Veracruz on April 21, 1914 to occupy it. Landing unopposed from USS Florida and USS Utah, Marines under Colonel Wendell Cushing Neville fought their way to their objectives on the waterfront. Around midnight, additional ships arrived, bring with them Maj Butler and his battalion from Panama, and in the morning, captured the Veracruz Naval Academy. Another regiment under Colonel Lejeune arrived that afternoon, and by the 24th, the entire city wa secure. On 1 May, Colonel Littleton Waller arrived with a third regiment and took command of the brigade. Marines were grandually replaced with soldiers and returned to their ships until the American withdrawal on 23 November. Fifty-six Medals of Honor were awarded, including Butler's first. The Army would return to Mexico in two years for the Pancho Villa Expedition.
Marines saw action in the Dominican Republic in 1903, 1904, and 1914, then occupied it from 1916 until 1924. After Desiderio Arias siezed power from Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra, Rear Admirals William B. Caperton and Harry Shepard Knapp landed Marines in May 1916 to restore order. Locals began a resistance that lasted until 1921, and the Marines were withdrawn the following year, with a total of three having earned the Medal of Honor. Marines would return in 1965.
The Marines also occupied Haiti from 28 July 1915 until 1 August 1934. When Cacos overthrew the government and the possibility of an anti-American Rosalvo Bobo became the likely president of Haiti, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines in to secure American business dominance, but publicly announced to "re-establish peace and order". On November 17, 1915, Major Butler led a force of Marines to capture Fort Riviere, a Caco stronghold. After organized armed resistance was over, the governance from the United States began to improve infrastructure and living conditions, but denied the Hatians any real self-governeance. In 1930, after the Forbes Commission criticized this, and President Herbert Hoover began a withdrawal in 1932. The last Marines departed on August 15, 1934. In the nineteen-year occupation, eight Marines would earn the Medal of Honor, including the second awards to Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly and Major Butler, the only Marines to be twice awarded. The latter would later express his disapproval of the occupation and gunboat diplomacy in his book War Is a Racket. The Marines would return to Haiti in 1994 and 2010.
Marine Aviators began to experiment with air-ground tactics during the Banana Wars and making the support of their fellow Marines on the ground their primary mission. It was in Haiti that Marines began to develop the tactic of dive bombing and in Nicaragua where they began to perfect it. While other nations and services had tried variations of this technique, Marine aviators were the first to embrace it and make it part of their tactical doctrine. Cunningham had noted in 1920 that "...the only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting the troops on the ground to successfully carry out their missions." On 3 May 1925 the Marine Corps officially appeared in the Navy's Aeronautical Organization the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics authorized three fighter squadrons.. Also in the 1920s, Marine squadrons began qualifying on board aircraft carriers.
In World War I, battle-tested, veteran Marines served a central role in the United States' entry into the conflict. Unlike the majority of Allied armies, the Marine Corps had a deep pool of officers and non-commissioned officers with battle experience, and experienced a smaller growth. They participated in small ways throughout 1918 (such as Château-Thierry, Soissons, and Saint-Mihiel), but its most famous action of the war would come that summer as the Spring Offensive neared its end. From 1 to 26 June, Marines fought their celebrated Battle of Belleau Wood, then the largest in the history of the Corps, creating their reputation in modern history. Rallying under the battle cries of "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!" (Capt Lloyd Williams) and "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?" (GySgt Dan Daly), the Marines drove German forces from the area. While its previous expeditionary experience had not earned it much acclaim in the Western world, the Marines' fierceness and toughness earned them the respect of the Germans, who rated them of storm-trooper quality. Though Marines and American media reported that Germans had nicknamed them "Teufelhunden" [sic][note 1] or "Devil Dogs", there is no evidence of this in German records. Nevertheless, the name stuck, such as a famous recruiting poster.
The French government renamed the forest to "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade"), and decorated both the 5th and 6th Regiments with the Croix de Guerre three times each. This earned them the privelege to wear the fourragère, which Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Secretary of the Navy, authorized them to henceforth wear on the left shoulder of their dress and service uniforms. Marine aviation also saw exponential growth, as the First Aeronautic Company which deployed to the Azores to hunt U-boats in January 1918 and the First Marine Air Squadron which deployed to France as the newly renamed 1st Marine Aviation Force in July 1918 and provided bomber and fighter support to the Navy's Day Wing, Northern Bombing Group. By the end of the war, several Marine aviators had recorded air-to-air kills, and collectively dropped over 14 short tons (13,000 kg) of bombs. and their number totals included 282 officers and 2,180 enlisted men operating from 8 squadrons. In 1919 the 1st Division/Squadron 1 was formed from these units, and exists as VMA-231.
Near the end of the war in June 1918, Marines were landed at Vladivostok in Russia to protect American citizens at the consulate and other places from the fighting of the Russian Civil War. That August, the Allies would intervene on the side of the White Russians against the Bolsheviks to protect the Czechoslovak Legions and Allied war materiel from capture. Marines would return on 16 February 1920, this time to Russky Island to protect communications infrastructure, until 19 November 1922.
The Marine Corps had entered the war with 511 officers and 13,214 enlisted personnel and, by 11 November 1918, had reached a strength of 2,400 officers and 70,000 men. The war cost 2,461 dead and 9,520 wounded Marines, while eight would earn the Medal of Honor.
Between the world wars, the Marine Corps was headed by Major General John A. Lejeune, another popular commandant. Under his leadership, the Marine Corps presciently studied and developed amphibious techniques that would be of great use in World War II. Many officers, including LtCol Earl Hancock "Pete" Ellis foresaw a Pacific war with Japan and took preparations for such a conflict. While stationed in China, LtCol Victor H. Krulak observed Japanese amphibious techniques in 1937. Through 1941, as the prospect of war grew, the Marine Corps pushed urgently for joint amphibious exercises, and acquired amphibious equipment such as the Higgins boat which would prove of great use in the upcoming conflict. The various Fleet Landing Exercises were a test and demonstration of the Corps' growing amphibious capabilities. This amphibious mindset was shown in the establishment of the Fleet Marine Force in 1933, as the focus shifted from expeditionary deployment to the seizure advanced naval bases.. Marine aviation also saw significant growth in assets; on 7 December 1941, Marine aviation consisted of 13 flying squadrons and 230 aircraft. The oldest squadron in the Corps, known today as VMFA-232, was commissioned on 1 September 1925, as VF-3M.
In World War II, the Marines played a central role in the Pacific War, participating in nearly every significant battle. The Corps also saw its peak growth as it expanded from two brigades to two corps with six divisions, and five air wings with 132 squadrons. In addition, 20 Defense Battalions were also set up, as well as a Parachute Battalion. In all, the Corps totaled at a maximum end strength of over 475,000 Marines, the highest in its history. The battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Guam, and Okinawa saw fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army. The secrecy afforded their communications by the now-famous Navajo code talker program is widely seen as having contributed significantly to their success.
During the battle for Iwo Jima, photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous photo Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima of five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who had come ashore earlier that day to observe the progress of the troops, said of the flag raising on Iwo Jima, "...the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years." The acts of the Marines during the war added to their already significant popular reputation, and the Marine Corps War Memorial adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery was dedicated in 1954.
As the Marine Corps grew to its maximum size, Marine aviation also peaked at 5 air wings, 31 aircraft groups and 145 flying squadrons. The Battle of Guadalcanal would teach several lessons, such as the debilitating effects of not having air superiority, the vulnerability of unescorted targets (such as transport shipping), and the vital importance of quickly acquiring expeditionary airfields during amphibious operations. After being dissatisfied with Navy air support at the Battle of Tarawa, General Holland Smith recommended that Marines should do the job, put into effect at New Georgia. The Bougainville and 2nd Philippines campaigns saw the establishment of air liaison parties to coordinate air support with the Marines fighting on the ground, and the Battle of Okinawa brought most of it together with the establishment of aviation command and control in the form of Landing Force Air Support Control Units
By the war’s end, the Corps had grown to include six divisions, five air wings and supporting troops totaling about 485,000 Marines. 19,733 Marines were killed and 68,207 wounded during WWII and 82 received the Medal of Honor. Marine Aviators were credited with shooting down 2,355 Japanese aircraft while losing 573 of their own in combat, as well as 120 earning ace.
Despite Secretary Forrestal's prediction, the Corps faced an immediate institutional crisis following the war. Army brass pushing for a strengthened and reorganized defense establishment also attempted to fold the Marine mission and assets into the Navy and Army. Drawing on hastily assembled Congressional support, the Marine Corps rebuffed such efforts to legislatively dismantle the Corps, resulting in statutory protection of the Marine Corps in the National Security Act of 1947. Despite the introspective crisis, Marines also suffered from major post-war cutbacks and drawdowns in size. For example, aviation fell from 116,628 personnel and 103 squadrons on August 31, 1945 to 14,163 personnel and 21 squadrons on June 30, 1948, with another 30 squadrons in the reserves.
Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson in particular singled the Navy and Marine Corps out for budget cuts. A strong believer in unification and the idea that the United States' monopoly on the atomic bomb was adequate protection against any and all external threats, he began a campaign to strip away much of America's military power, especially naval and amphibious. Shortly after his appointment, Johnson had a conversation with Admiral Richard L. Connally, giving a revealing look at his attitudes towards the Navy and Marine Corps and any need for non-nuclear forces:
|“||Admiral, the Navy is on its way out. There’s no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.||”|
President Harry S. Truman had a well-known dislike of the Marines dating back to his service in World War I, and would infamously say in anger in August 1950, "The Marine Corps is the Navy's police force and as long as I am President, that is what it will remain. They have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin's." Johnson exploited this to reduce or eliminate many Marine Corps' budget requests. Johnson attempted to eliminate Marine Corps aviation entirely by transferring its air assets to the Navy and Air Force, and again proposed to progressively eliminate the Marine Corps altogether in a series of budget cutbacks and decommissioning of forces. Johnson ordered that the Commandant be barred from attending Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings in his role of chief of service (including meetings involving Marine readiness or deployments), deleted him from the official roll of chiefs of service branches authorized a driver and limousine, and for whom a special gun salute was prescribed on ceremonial occasions. He further specified that there would be no future official recognition or celebration of the Marine Corps birthday. The Navy's surface fleet and amphibious ships were drastically reduced, and most landing craft were reserved for Army use.
After Johnson announced the cancellation of the 65,000-ton USS United States, under construction and the Navy's hope to participate in strategic nuclear air operations, without consulting the Department of the Navy nor Congress, Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan abruptly resigned, beginning the Revolt of the Admirals. In June 1949, the House Committee on Armed Services launched an investigation into charges of malfeasance in office against Secretary Johnson. While ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the congressional rebuke weakened Johnson's power with the military and President Truman, and few subsequent cuts were made. After his severe cutbacks resulted in a military too weak to perform effectively in the initial days of the Korean War, Johnson resigned on 19 September 1950, replaced with George Marshall. Ironically, it was the Marines who were most ready to deploy, and made an amphibious operation at Inchon at the opening of the war.
Shortly after, in 1952, the Douglas-Manfield Bill afforded the Commandant an equal voice with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on matters relating to the Marines, and established the structure of three divisions and air wings that remains today. This allowed the Corps to permanently maintain a division and air wing in the Far East and participate in various small wars in Southeast Asia - in Tachen, Taiwan, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. A small guard force was sent to Jerusalem to protect the United States Consul General in 1948.
Marines would take a large role in the initial days Occupation of Japan, beginning with the 4th Marine Division landing at Kanagawa on August 28, 1945, just 13 days after Emperor Hirohito announced surrender. It was soon replaced by the Eighth United States Army in 1946. About 50,000 Marines would take part in the post-war occupation of North China from 1945 until 1947, and would reappear in 1948 and 1949. III Amphibious Corps would control major infrastructure points and repatriate Japanese and Soviet troops, as well as evacuate Americans when the Communist Party of China began to win the Chinese Civil War.
Despite cuts in number, Marine aviation did progress in technology: propeller aircraft were gradually phased out as jet aircraft improved and helicopters were developed for use in amphibious operations. The first Marine jet squadron came in November 1947 when VMF-122 fielded the FH Phantom, while HMX-1, the first Marine helicopter squadron, stood up in November 1947. General Roy Geiger had observed the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll the year earlier and instantly recognized that atomic bombs could render amphibious landings difficult because of the dense concentrations of troops, ships, and materiel at the beachhead. The Hogaboom Board recommended that the Marine Corps develop transport helicopters in order to allow a more diffuse attack on enemy shores, resulting in HMX-1 and the acquisition of Sikorsky HO3S-1 and the Piasecki HRP-1 helicopters. Refining the concept for several years, Marines would use the term "vertical envelopment" instead of "air mobility" or "air assault".
The Korean War (1950–1953) saw the hastily formed 1st Provisional Marine Brigade holding the line at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, where Marine helicopters (VMO-6 flying the HO3S1 helicopter) made their combat debut.. To execute a flanking maneuver, General Douglas MacArthur called on Marine air and ground forces to make an amphibious landing at the Battle of Inchon. The successful landing resulted in the collapse of North Korean lines and the pursuit of North Korean forces north near the Yalu River until the entrance of the People's Republic of China into the war. Chinese troops surrounded, surprised and overwhelmed the overextended and outnumbered American forces. However, unlike the Eighth Army, which retreated in disarray, the 1st Marine Division, while attached to the Army's X Corps regrouped and inflicted heavy casualties during their fighting withdrawal to the coast. Now known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, it entered Marine lore as an example of the toughness and resolve of the Marine. Marines would continue a battle of attrition around the 38th Parallel until the 1953 armistice.
The Korean War saw the Marine Corps rebound from its drastic cuts of about 75,000 at the start to a force, by the end of the conflict in 1953, of 261,000 Marines, most of whom were reservists. Aviation grew to four air wings, 20 aircraft groups and 78 flying squadrons, a level that has remained more or less consistant to this day. 4,267 Marines were killed and 23,744 wounded during the war, while 42 were awarded the Medal of Honor.
In the intervening years, Marines would continue to be dispatched to regional crises. During the Suez Crisis in the fall of 1956, Marines from 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines evacuated Americans from Alexandria. In 1958, Marines were dispatched to Lebanon as part of Operation Blue Bat in response to the crisis there. Marines returned to Cuba from 1959 to 1960 to protect Americans during the Cuban Revolution. 5,000 Marines were sent to Thailand on May 17, 1962 to support the government's struggles against Communists until withdrawn on July 30.
Marines also returned to Haiti for Operation Power Pack on 28 April 1965. Originally sent to evacuate Americans in the midst of fighting between forces loyal to assassinated dictator Rafael Trujillo and the Dominican Revolutionary Party supporting Juan Bosch, President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the intervention to prevent a second Communist nation on America's doorstep. Joined by the 82nd Airborne Division and the Organization of American States, Marines quickly forced a cease-fire, but would continue to be harassed by small-scale combat and sniper fire until their withdrawal on 31 August. Remaining peacekeepers enforced a truce, and Bosch would never regain power.
The Marines also played an important role in the Vietnam War at battles such as Da Nang, Huế, and Khe Sanh. The Marines operated in the northern I Corps regions of South Vietnam and fought both a constant guerilla war against the Viet Cong and an off and on conventional war against North Vietnamese Army regulars. Marines also conducted the less well-known Combined Action Program that implemented unconventional techniques for counterinsurgency warfare. The Marine presence was withdrawn in 1971, but returned briefly in 1975 to evacuate Saigon and attempt to rescue the crew of the Mayagüez. 13,091 Marines were killed and 88,594 wounded during the war. Fifty-seven were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Returning from Vietnam, the Marine Corps hit one of the lowest points in its history with high rates of courts-martial, Nonjudicial punishments, unauthorized absences, and outright desertions. The re-making of the Marine Corps began in the late 1970s when policies for discharging inadequate Marines were relaxed leading to the removal of the worst performing ones. Once the quality of new recruits started to improve, the Marines began reforming their NCO corps, an absolutely vital element in the functioning of the Marine Corps. After Vietnam, the Marine Corps resumed its expeditionary role.
On 4 November 1979, Islamist students supporting the Iranian Revolution stormed the Embassy of the United States in Tehran and took 53 hostages, including the Marine Security Guards. Marine helicopter pilots took part in Operation Eagle Claw, the disastrous rescue attempt on 24 April 1980. An unexpected sandstorm grounded several RH-53 helicopters, as well as scattering the rest, and ultimately killing several when one struck a EC-130 Hercules staged to refuel them. The mission was aborted, and the Algiers Accords negotiated the release of the hostages on 20 January 1981. The mission demonstrated the need for an aircraft that could take off and land vertically, but had greater speed than a helicoper, realized decades later in the V-22 Osprey.
Marines returned to Breuit during the 1982 Lebanon War on 24 August with the arrival of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit (later redisignated as 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit) and the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF). As part of a peace treaty, the Palestine Liberation Organization was withdrawn to Tunisia, and the Marines returned to their ships. Due to increased violence from the still-ongoing Lebanese Civil War, President Ronald Reagan ordered the Marines to return on 29 September in the form of 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. Relieved by 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in October, the MNF increasingly drew fire from different factions. The United States embassy was bombed on 18 April 1983 in opposition to the MNF's presence; 1st Battalion 8th Marines was rotated in under the command of the 24th MAU. On 23 October 1983, the Marine barracks in was bombed, causing the highest peacetime losses to the Corps in its history: 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers, as well as 58 French soldiers of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment in a near-simultaneous bombing 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) away. As violence increased, public pressure mounted to withdraw forces from Lebanon. After an additional 24 American deaths, the Marines were ordered to leave and began on 7 February 1984, and finished on the 26th.
Marines recovered from this low point and began a series of successes. The Invasion of Grenada, known as "Operation Urgent Fury", began on 25 October 1983 in response to a coup by Bernard Coard and possible "Soviet-Cuban militarization" on the island. The 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit quickly took the northern sectors, and were withdrawn by 15 December. Interservice rivalry and cooperation issues shown during the invasion resulted in the Goldwater–Nichols Act of 1986 altering the chain of command in the United States military. When Operation Classic Resolve began on 2 December 1989 in the Philippenes (in retaliation for the coup attempt), a company of Marines was dispatched from Naval Base Subic Bay to protect the Embassy of the United States in Manila. The Invansion of Panama, known as "Operation Just Cause" began on 20 December of the same year, and deposed the military dictator Manuel Noriega.
Marines were also responsible for liberating Kuwait during the Gulf War (1990–1991), as the Army made an attack to the west directly into Iraq. The I Marine Expeditionary Force had a strength of 92,990 making Operation Desert Storm the largest Marine Corps operation in history. A total of 23 Marines were killed in action or later died of wounds from the time the air war was launched on January 16 until the cease-fire took effect 43 days later . A total of 24 Marines would die, while 92 were wounded.
Marines played a modest role in the Bosnian War and NATO intervention. Operation Deny Flight began on 12 April 1993, to enforce the United Nations no-fly zone in Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide air support to the United Nations Protection Force. The F/A-18D Hornet was proven to be a "highly resourceful multirole platform", in addition to showcasing the importance of precision-guided munitions. In 1995, the mission was expanded to include a bombing campaign called "Operation Deliberate Force". On 2 June 1995, Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady's F-16 was shot down by a Bosnian Serb Army surface-to-air missile in the Mrkonjić Grad incident. Marines from the 24th MEU, based on the USS Kearsarge, rescued him from western Bosnia on 8 June. Marines would support the IFOR, SFOR, and KFOR until 1999. On 3 February 1998, an EA-6B Prowler from VMAQ-2, deployed to Aviano Air Base to support the peacekeeping effort, hit an aerial tram cable and killed 20 European passengers.
In the summer of 1990, the 22nd and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units conducted Operation Sharp Edge, a noncombatant evacuation in the west Liberian city of Monrovia. Liberia suffered from civil war at the time, and citizens of the United States and other countries could not leave via conventional means. With only one reconnaissance team having come under fire with no casualties incurred on either side, the Marines evacuated several hundred civilians within hours to Navy vessels waiting offshore. On April 8, 1996, Marines returned for Operation Assured Response, helping in the evacuation of 2,444 foreign and United States citizens from Liberia. On May 23, 1996, President Bill Clinton diverted Marines from Joint Task Force Assured Response to Bangui, Central African Republic until June 22, where they provided security to the American Embassy and evacuated 448 people. Due to increased threats against Americans as part of the fallout from the Lottery Uprising in Albania, 200 Marines and 10 Navy SEALs were deployed on 16 August 1998 to the American embassy there. As Indonesian occupation of East Timor ended in the fall of 1999, President Clinton authorized the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based on the USS Belleau Wood, to deploy there until the International Force for East Timor could arrive in October.
Marines participated in combat operations in Somalia (1992–1995) during Operations Restore Hope, Restore Hope II, and United Shield. While Operation Restore Hope was designated as a humanitarian relief effort, Marine ground forces frequently engaged Somali militiamen in combat. Elements of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion 9th Marines with 15th MEU were among the first troops of the United Nations effort to land in Somalia in December 1992, while Marines of Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion 1st Marines participated in the final withdrawal of United Nations troops from Somalia in 1995.
Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush announced the War on Terrorism. The stated objective of the Global War on Terror is "the defeat of Al-Qaeda, other terrorist groups and any nation that supports or harbors terrorists". Since then, the Marine Corps, alongside other military and federal agencies, has engaged in global operations around the world in support of that mission.
These operations have worn out their equipment and reduced their readiness because equipment is not available for training.
In 2002, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa was stood up at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti to provide regional security. Despite transferring overall command to the Navy in 2006, the Marines continued to operate in the Horn of Africa into 2010.
In the summer of 2006, Marines from the 24th MEU evacuated Americans from Lebanon and Israel in light of the fighting of the 2006 Lebanon War. The 22nd and 24th MEUs returned to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in January as part of Operation Unified Response.
Marines and other American forces began staging in Pakistan and Uzbekistan on the border of Afghanistan as early as October 2001 in preparation for Operation Enduring Freedom. The 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units were the first conventional forces into Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2001, and in December, the Marines seized Kandahar International Airport. Since then, Marine battalions and squadrons have been rotating through, engaging Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit flooded into the Taliban-held town of Garmsir on April 29, 2008, in Helmand Province, in the first major American operation in the region in years. In June 2009, 7,000 Marines with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade deployed to Afghanistan in an effort to improve security, and began Operation Strike of the Sword the next month. Thus far, 109 Marines have been reported killed.
Most recently, the Marines have served prominently in the Iraq War as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The I Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, spearheaded the 2003 invasion of Iraq and received the Presidential Unit Citation, the first time a Marine unit has received that award since 1968. The Marines left Iraq in the fall of 2003, but returned for occupation duty in the beginning of 2004. They were given responsibility for the Al Anbar Province, the large desert region to the west of Baghdad. During this occupation, the Marines spearheaded both assaults on the city of Fallujah in April (Operation Vigilant Resolve) and November 2004 (Operation Phantom Fury) and also saw intense fighting in such places as Ramadi, Al-Qa'im and Hīt. Their time in Iraq has also courted controversy with the Haditha killings and the Hamdania incident. The Anbar Awakening and 2007 surge reduced levels of violence. On March 1, 2009, President Barack Obama announced an accelerated withdrawal during a speech at Camp Lejeune, promising all combat troops out by August 2010. The Marine Corps officially ended its role in Iraq on January 23, 2010 when they handed over responsibility for Al Anbar Province to the United States Army. 851 Marines have been killed in the war with an additional 8,623 wounded, while only Cpl Jason Dunham received the Medal of Honor.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Congressional Research Service.