With the current drive to save money, the post Cold War Navy is being reimagined once again. This exercise in policy is as old as the nation itself, but has had some very dramatic consequences over the past 61 years. Studying a white paper recently, the role of the Navy has always been dependent on the political and economic winds of change. The types of ships and subs is determined by strategies that can change at any time and the results are almost always dramatic.
As hard as it is to believe, after Word War 2, the United States went from being the predominant Blue Water force in the world to being a target for destruction by its own government.
The new “Secretary of Defense” which resulted from the National Security Act of 1947 was no fan of the Navy. Louis A. Johnson, in a conversation with one of the Navy’s admirals infamously said:
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.
Both Johnson and Harry Truman were convinced that all future wars would be fought using superior technology. Just as some now see unmanned drones as a way to project power and limit loss of US forces, they saw a time where defense dollars could easily be cut and put to use in other places.
The outrage by the Naval leadership took a very public form and was known as the Admiral’s Revolt. From the Secretary of the Navy on down, the protest led to firings and demotions for anyone who would not publicly toe the line set by Truman and Johnson. The first super carrier USS America was cancelled and a program of systematically shutting down the Navy and Marines was begun.
“By 1950, Johnson had established a policy of faithfully following President Truman’s defense economization policy, and had aggressively attempted to implement it even in the face of steadily increasing external threats posed by the Soviet Union and its allied Communist regimes. He consequently received much of the blame for the initial setbacks in Korea and the widespread reports of ill-equipped and inadequately trained U.S. forces. Johnson’s failure to adequately plan for U.S. conventional force commitments, to adequately train and equip current forces, or even to budget funds for storage of surplus Army and Navy war-fighting materiel for future use in the event of conflict would prove fateful after war broke out on the Korean Peninsula.
In June 1950, the lightly armed South Korean Army and its U.S. advisors found themselves under attack from North Korean aircraft and waves of well-trained infantry equipped with Soviet tanks and artillery. In an initial response, Truman called for a naval blockade of North Korea, and was shocked to learn that such a blockade could only be imposed ‘on paper’, since the U.S. Navy no longer had the warships with which to carry out his request.
Ordered to intervene in Korea by the President, U.S. armed forces were short of both men and equipment. Army officials recovered Sherman tanks from World War II Pacific battlefields, reconditioning them for shipment to Korea. Army Ordnance officials at Fort Knox pulled down M26 Pershing tanks from display pedestals around Fort Knox in order to equip the third company of the Army’s hastily formed 70th Tank Battalion.
Without adequate numbers of tactical fighter-bomber aircraft, the Air Force took F-51 (P-51) propeller-driven aircraft out of storage or from existing Air National Guard squadrons, and rushed them into front-line service. A shortage of spare parts and qualified maintenance personnel resulted in improvised repairs and overhauls. A Navy helicopter pilot aboard an active-duty warship recalled fixing damaged rotor blades with masking tape in the absence of spares.
Army infantry reservists and new inductees called to duty to fill out under strength infantry divisions found themselves short of nearly everything needed to repel the North Korean forces: artillery, ammunition, heavy tanks, ground-support aircraft, even effective anti-tank weapons such as the M20 3.5-inch (89 mm) Super Bazooka. Some Army combat units sent to Korea were supplied with worn-out, ‘red-lined’ M-1 rifles or carbines in immediate need of Ordnance overhaul or repair.
Unlike the U.S. Army, the Soviet Union had retained its large World War II surplus arms inventories and kept them in a state of combat readiness. With this abundance of military hardware, the Soviet Union had supplied the North Korean Army over a period of several years with heavy tanks, machine guns, mortars, combat aircraft, and artillery, together with instructors to train the North Korean Army.
As a consequence, initial combat encounters by the 24th Infantry division and other Army units at the Battle of Osan with North Korean armored spearheads proved disastrous. Ironically, only the U.S. Marine Corps, whose commanders had stored and maintained their World War II surplus inventories of equipment and weapons, proved ready for deployment, though they still were under strength and in need of suitable landing craft to practice amphibious operations (Johnson had transferred most of the remaining craft to the Navy and reserved them for use in training Army units).
As U.S. and South Korean forces lacked sufficient armor and artillery to repel the North Korean forces, Army and Marine Corps ground troops were instead committed to a series of costly rearguard actions as the enemy steadily progressed down the Korean peninsula, eventually encircling Pusan.”
The consequences were painfully dramatic. The 24th Division suffered over 3,600 casualties in the 17 days it fought alone against the 3rd and 4th North Korean divisions. The “police action” dragged on for close to four years and technically still exists today. North Korea has a nuclear capability and a history of erratic leaders. Johnson was eventually forced to resign and the rest is history. The United States Air Force built it’s strategic inventory but political decisions limited its use. Even the carpet bombing employed during the Viet Nam war failed to prevent the eventual capitulation of our allies.
Ships are expensive to maintain and to build. Greater technology requires more complicated weapons platforms. Electronics can be overcome with more sophisticated systems and devices. God only knows what the Chinese and modern day Russians are scheming now to counter the aircraft carrier battle groups that we rely on so heavily now. But a balanced approach to the defense posture will continue to be need in a world increasingly hostile to our way of life.
How much does freedom cost?
What price would you put on one of those Marines or Navy Corpsmen who were at Pusan and never made it home? We will be tested again. We will need men and women who are willing to stand in the breach for our defense. Every ship, every submarine, every amphibious craft will prove once again to be the best way to project American power.
There are two types of people in the country today.
There are those with good intentions who feel that a weaker posture will encourage diplomacy and good will. Talking with our adversaries will result in an understanding that will prevent violent actions. Then there are people who see the history of mankind. Counting on the eventual goodwill of someone who is currently inclined to kill you and your people is a fool’s game. The choice between the two camps is that simple.