Story by James Andrews on 05/15/2017The Advance Base Force begat the Marine Corps Expeditionary Force that later begat the Fleet Marine Force on 7 December 1933. Shortly after this force structure change, the Marines at the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico began to create an amphibious operations manual which would be adopted by all sister services as doctrine.
This manual was based on the ideas, concepts and prognosticated theories of a previous document created by a single Marine, Lieutenant Colonel Earl "Pete" Ellis. Ellis provided Commandant of the Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune with Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia in 1921.
The Prophet of the Potomac
Outlined in Ellis's 30,000 word portfolio was a plan that included details, futuristic capabilities and tactics that would eventually be looked back upon like the quatrains of Nostradamus, with the exception being that Ellis was proved right.
Among his many precise specifics, Ellis warned the Corps that they would eventually have to face heavily fortified Japanese islands and capture advance bases needed to project power across the Pacific, the blueprint for the later successful island hopping campaign. Also included in his work were capabilities and roles of new weapons such as the carrier, submarine, torpedo plane and long range bombers.
A full 20 years before the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Ellis surmised that the Japanese would strike first at Pearl Harbor and that the U.S. Pacific Fleet would be destroyed.
Ellis based this forecasts on strategic balance of power in the Pacific. At the conclusion of World War I, Japan was granted possession of many islands in the Pacific that were previously controlled by Germany. The Treaty of Versailles that effectively ended World War I would be the foundation of the United States entry into World War II.
With this deep zone of island outposts and a very capable navy, Ellis knew Japan would be difficult adversary and the Marine Corps was the only fighting force that could defeat them.
"To effect [an amphibious landing] in the face of enemy resistance requires careful training and preparation, to say the least; and this along Marine lines. It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry men or artillery men of high morale; they must be skilled water men and jungle men who know it can be done--Marines with Marine training." With these words, Ellis knew the hallmarks of adaptability and determination for mission success would be vital for the victory of future amphibious landings.
While the death of Ellis remains a mystery of legendary proportions, the impact he would have on amphibious doctrine and war strategy long after his death is undeniable. In his foresight, Ellis knew the Marine Corps would one day become a mighty amphibious force and not continue to be relegated to the protection of naval bases.
Turning ideas into doctrine: Students and instructors work as peers to create doctrine
In November 1933, all classes at the Marine Corps Schools were suspended, and, under the guidance of Colonel Ellis B. Miller, Assistant Commandant of the Schools, both the faculty and students set to work to write a manual setting forth in detail the doctrines and techniques to be followed in both training and actual operations. Under the title, Tentative Manual for Landing Operations, it was issued in January 1934.
With the creation of this detailed manual, the Marine Corps and the Marines stationed at Quantico cemented the amphibious nature that is innate in the Marine Corps.
Although largely theoretical, the manual was so concise and detailed that the Navy and Army adopted it as their own with little changes other than the name and cover.
The students of the Marine Corps School were broken into groups and lead by instructors as they produced a logical and chronological approach to amphibious landing operations which detailed many of the common pitfalls of historical amphibious assaults.
Command relationships, naval gunfire support, aviation support, ship-to-shore movement, securing the beachhead and logistical issues were finally compiled into one document.
Army got the credit, but the Marines should be recognized for the assist
At the time of World War II, the Marine Corps was still fighting against outdated ideas and visions of where the Marines fit in the overall defense of a nation and what their role would be moving forward.
The mission of the Marine Corps had been changing as fast as technology and tactics since its inception. However, the creation of these two documents and the execution of the battles they helped to win gave the Marine Corps solid footing as the go-to force for amphibious operations.
Marines were not present at the great amphibious assaults of the European theater: the seaborne invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Normandy. But, it was the Marine Corps who trained, educated and provided the doctoral leadership for all of those missions the Army provided the muscle, the Marines provided the brains.
Marines at Quantico prove their worth once again
Without the Marines at Quantico possessing the foresight and fortitude to create doctrine and expert analysis in the face of doubt and criticism, many of the text books read by children around the world may not have the same endings.
While the motto of the Marine Corps has always been Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), the words Semper Determinari (Always Determined) could also apply to the history of Marines in Quantico. But, when it comes to Marines like Ellis or the students and instructors of the Marine Corps Schools, they operated on the theory of Aut Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam (I will either find a way or make one!)