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Marines from 1694 - Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

Royal Marine in period uniform
Chrono date: 
1694 Jan 01

MARINES (from Lat. mare, sea), the technical term for sea-soldiers, i.e. troops appropriated and specially adapted to the requirements of maritime war. This force—formerly (1694) styled “mariners”—is in origin, use and application peculiarly British. The only other nation possessing a special force discharging exactly similar functions is the United States (see below). In the armed forces of the great European Powers marines and marine artillery are mentioned, but these troops have little in common with British and American marines. In France their duties are to garrison military forts and colonies and take part in marine and other wars. In Germany they are used for coast defence. In Holland, Austria and Italy they have a military organization, but not as complements of sea-going ships.

The origin of the British marine force was an order in council 1664, directing “1200 Land souldgers to be forthwith rayzed to be in readiness to be distributed in His Majesty’s fleete prepared for sea service.” This body was named the “Admiral’s regiment.” At this period land warfare had developed a system and was waged by men organized, disciplined and trained. Sea warfare was left “to every man’s own conceit.” War-ships were built to be manned in a hurry, by “the press,” when needed. Men were thus obtained by force and grouped without organization or previous training in ships. When no longer required they were turned adrift. The administration of England’s fleet was “a prodigy of wastefulness, corruption and indolence; no estimate could be trusted, no contract was performed, no check was enforced.” Such officers as had been “bred to the sea seemed a strange and savage race.” They robbed the king and cheated the seamen. As regards land force, it was a violation of the law to keep at home in the king’s pay “any other body of armed men, save as a guard for the royal person.” On the other hand it was “illegal to land press men” in a foreign country, but soldiers “only required a little persuasion to land.” Thus by thrusting into naval chaos and confusion a nucleus of disciplined, trained and organized land troops, an expedient was found which offered a solution of the many political and administrative difficulties of the time. This “Admiral’s regiment.” was the germ which by a constant process of evolution during a period of over 235 years has produced not merely the marine forces, but the royal navy, organized, disciplined and trained as it is to-day. In 1668 the experiment of the Admiral’s regiment was extended. At a council held “to discourse about the fitness for entering men presently for manning the fleete,” King Charles II. “cried very civilly, ‘If ever you intend to man the fleet without being cheated by the captains and pursers, you may go to bed and resolve never to have it manned.’” This seems to throw some light on the council’s order a few days later “to draw out and furnish such numbers of His Majesty’s Foot Guards for His Majesty’s service at sea this summer, as H.R.H. the duke of York, lord high admiral of England, shall from time to time desire.” The men were to be paid and accounted for by their own officers. This maritime force subsequently disappeared, but two new regiments of “marines” were raised in 1694, the House of Commons directing they “were to be employed in the service of the navy only.” One regiment only was to be on shore at a time, and to be employed in the dockyards with extra pay. None of the officers were to be sea commanders, save two colonels. The intention was to make these regiments feeders for the navy, captains being ordered to report periodically “the names of such soldiers as shall in any measure be made seamen, and how far each of them is qualified toward being an able seaman.” In 1697 these regiments were disbanded, but early in the reign of Queen Anne a number of regiments of marines were raised, and independent companies of marines were also enlisted in the West Indies. At the peace of Utrecht (1713) the marines were disbanded, but reappeared in 1739 as part of the army; and in 1740 three regiments of marines were raised in America, the colonels being appointed by the crown, the captains by the provinces. In 1747 the marine regiments were transferred from the control of the secretary at war to that of the admiralty, and the next year once more wholly disappeared on the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748).

During the preceding period of fifty-four years the marine force appeared and disappeared with war. It was a military body, applied to naval purposes. Its main functions were three-fold—(1) for fighting in ships; (2) for seizing and holding land positions necessary or advantageous to the naval operations of war; (3) for maintaining discipline of the ships, and by “expertness in handling arms to incite our seamen to the imitation of them.” Incidentally the force came to be regarded as so good a feeder for the navy that Admiral Vernon (1739) urged “the necessity of converting most of our marching regiments into marines, and if, as they became seamen they were admitted to be discharged as such, that would make a good nursery for the breeding of them.”

The organization of the force was purely military. Regiments were embarked in fleets, and distributed in the ships. The officers were interchangeable with those of the guards and line. John Churchill (afterwards duke of Marlborough) and George Rooke (afterwards Admiral Sir George Rooke) were together at one time ensigns of marines. During this period the marines were never regarded as a reserve for the fleet. The navy in peace did without them. The necessities of maritime war demanded a mobile military force adapted to naval conditions and at naval disposal, and so in all naval operations during these eighty-four years the marines played a conspicuous part. The navy had been slowly groping towards a system. For example, sea officers had been granted a uniform, and a naval academy (1729) had been established for the education of young gentlemen for the sea service. But in its main features the navy remained in 1748 as it was in 1664. The sailor was kidnapped and forced into ships, to become an outcast when no longer wanted. The marine when not in a ship was comfortably housed and looked after by his officers in barracks on shore.

In 1755 the marine force once more reappeared under the Admiralty, and from that date its history has been continuous. 720 But the regimental system was abandoned, and an entirely new principle of organization was applied. Companies were raised, and these companies were grouped into great depots, called divisions, at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. At these divisions this force could be increased and reduced at pleasure, without disturbing the basis of organization, and from them could be supplied as many or as few sea-soldiers as fleets or ships needed, while preserving in the varying units so provided all the essentials of uniformity of system, drill, training, ties of comradeship and esprit de corps. This force then and for ninety-eight years afterwards was the only continuously trained, disciplined and organized fighting force placed by the country at the disposal of naval officers. On the establishment of this new marine force the purchase of commissions was abolished, but interchange with the army was for a time permitted. When embarked, marines were under the naval code of discipline; when on shore, under the marine Mutiny Act, identical with that of the army. When the seamen of the fleet mutinied at the Nore, at the close of the 18th century, and turned their officers out of the ships, the marines, undaunted, stood firm by theirs.

Mutiny lurked beneath the deck of many a ship before and long years after that event. The control of admirals and captains over their own men was precarious in the extreme. This was the natural result of the country’s neglect of its seamen. The discipline of the fleet in those days rested on the firm bayonets of the marines. What England owes to them may be gathered from Lord St Vincent’s recorded testimony: “There never was an appeal made to them for honour, courage or loyalty, that they did not more than realize my highest expectation. If ever real danger should come to England, the marines will be found the country’s sheet-anchor.” At his earnest solicitation the marines were made a royal corps in 1802. It is worthy of note that in those days of masts, yards, sails and pure seamanship, this greatest of naval statesmen, this matchless naval strategist, whose practical experience of maritime war was unrivalled, strenuously advocated as the true policy for England what in these days of steam and mastless ships would be scouted and ridiculed. It was to make service afloat as marines a part of the duty of every regiment of the line in rotation.

Down to 1804 the marines were an infantry force; the improvement in artillery towards the close of the century had necessitated the occasional putting into the fleet of detachments of Royal Artillery. This, as regards gunnery duties in the fleet, was repeating on a smaller scale the expedient adopted in the time of Charles II. So much friction arose between the naval and the artillery officers that a special corps of Royal Marine Artillery was raised in 1804, on the recommendation of Nelson. This special corps fulfilled the expectations of its founders. It was charged with the care, equipment and working of the larger ordnance afloat and field-guns ashore, and was employed also as a body of gunnery instructors to the fleet. In 1831, a certain number of naval officers being thought to be sufficiently trained in gunnery, this corps, of which Napier wrote, “Never in my life have I seen soldiers like the Royal Marine Artillery,” was, without warning, abolished. Then the marine force ceased to be composed of two corps, artillery and infantry, and it reverted to a single one of infantry. Very soon afterwards, however, the Admiralty began to build up what they had so suddenly and ruthlessly destroyed, by ordering the conversion of one company of each infantry marine division into artillery. The number of these artillery companies gradually increased, and were grouped in a separate depot. Just as the wars from Charles II. to George III. had demanded marines, so the Crimean War led to their increase. Thus in 1859 the artillery companies of marines were formed into a separate division, and in 1862 the old name of Royal Marine Artillery was restored.

The marines thus became once more and still remain two corps, the official designation of the whole being Royal Marine Forces. In 1855 the marine infantry corps became light infantry, and in 1869 the Woolwich division (added in 1805) was abolished; and more recently a marine depot, as a feeder of the other divisions, was established at Walmer. The headquarters of the R.M.A. are at Eastney, Southsea. The divisions R.M.L.I. are at Gosport, Chatham and Devonport. The uniform of the R.M.A. is blue with red facings, that of R.M.L.I. red with blue facings. The badge of both corps is the globe surrounded with the laurel wreath, with the motto “Per mare per terram.” The Royal Marine Forces share with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the East Kent Regiment (formerly the Buffs), and the Royal London Militia the privilege of marching through the city of London with colours flying, bands playing and bayonets fixed. This is due to a common original association with the London train bands.

War Services.—To describe these would be to review the wars waged by England by sea and by land for over 200 years. In every sea fight, great or small, marines have taken part, and on every continent they have served in big and little wars, sometimes as part of the army, sometimes with naval contingents, sometimes alone.

Throughout the Napoleonic war the marines took part in every sort of operation afloat and ashore. During the Crimean War, mortar-boat flotillas in the Baltic and Black Sea were commanded and manned by R.M.A., while comrades in the same corps served with the Royal Artillery in the trenches before Sebastopol—a marine infantry brigade occupying the heights of Balaclava. During the Indian Mutiny, marines (artillery and infantry) served with the Naval Brigade under Peel. In the China wars batteries and brigades of the marine force played a prominent part, and likewise were represented in all the Egyptian and Sudan campaigns, 1881 to 1898. In one action the R.M.A. gunners came to the relief of the Royal Horse Artillery when exhausted, and fought their guns; in another the R.M.A., out of the débris of the enemy’s Krupp guns captured, built up one complete gun and fought it with effect; in the final campaign gunboats were brought up in pieces, put together and fought by a detachment of the R.M.A.

In 1899 in the Boer War the marine artillery and infantry took part with the Naval Brigade, maintaining their historic reputation, and at the battle of Enslin their losses were exceptionally severe.

Characteristics of Marine System.—The recruit first goes to the depot at Walmer, and is trained as a soldier before joining his division to complete instruction as a marine. His division is his permanent military home, from which he goes on service and to which he returns at its conclusion. Restrictions on marriage, necessary under the army system, are not necessary in the marine forces. The permanent home of the wife and family is not broken up by the marine going abroad; the wife thus can continue any local goodwill in any business her industry may secure. This fixed home enables a marine to learn a trade in the workshops of his division which supply the clothing, &c., to the corps. Marines are enlisted for 12 years, and if of good character they can re-engage to complete 21 years, entitling to pension. The periods of service abroad for marines are shorter (generally 3 years), but more constantly recurrent than for the army. The administrative, as distinct from the instructional, staff necessary for a marine division is more simple and less expensive than that of a numerical army equivalent expressed in regiments. The system of pay and accounts is also less complex. The following table shows the relative proportions of marine forces to the whole navy at different periods up to the South African War of 1899:—

Year. Navy
proper.
Officers
and Men.
Marines.
Officers
and Men.
Grand
Total.
Maritime.
Peace or
War.
Percent.
Marines
to Total
Forces.
Nature of Ships.
1805 90,000 30,000 120,000 War 25 Sailing.
        (Trafalgar)    
1838 23,165  9,000 32,165 Peace 28 Sailing.
1858 40,219 14,919 55,138 27 Sailing with auxiliary steam.
1878 42,046 13,727 55,773 24 Steam with auxiliary sail.
1898 78,4411 17,099 95,540 17 Steam and mastless ships.

The above table indicates a gradual change in naval policy and practice as regards marines. It will be observed that, concurrently with the gradual disappearance of masts, sails and yards, the proportion of marines has steadily declined. Down to very recent times the marine spent more time ashore than afloat. Now the reverse is the case.

By the introduction of the Continuous Service Act 1853, the blue-jacket was placed on exactly the same footing as the marine in respect 721 of conditions of service and pension, and now the blue-jacket when not afloat is quartered in barracks. The main difference between the blue-jacket and marine is the dress and the pay. The blue-jacket is better paid than the marine. As regards opportunity of discipline, there is now no difference; and in short, all the reasons for the existence of a marine force have disappeared except as regards duties on shore incidental to naval operations of war, e.g. the holding of ports and the seizing of minor positions necessary to prosecution of maritime war. The facts that modern ships cannot now as formerly carry a supernumerary force sufficient for such purposes, and are more dependent on fixed bases of supply and repair than in old days, point to a different method of using and applying the marine force to the sole purpose for which they are now necessary as a distinct branch of the naval service. If employed at the headquarters of a naval station, their efficiency as marines could be preserved by occasional embarcation of the officers and men in rotation. The substitution of marine for army garrisons at coaling stations would also relieve the army of a class of duties incidental to naval warfare which the marine force formerly performed, and which prejudicially affects the organization and arrangement of the army as a mobile field force.

Marine Corps, United States.—This dates from the establishment of the American navy. It is a wholly separate military body, though under the control of the Navy Department. It was formed in 1775, and it has a history of brilliant services rendered by land and sea in all the wars of America since that date. The headquarters of the corps are at Washington, and the strength of the corps was fixed by Act of Congress (March 3, 1899) at 211 officers and 5920 non-commissioned officers and men. Its organization and system are based on the British model, and the dress corresponds to that of the United States army. The corps is commanded by a brigadier-general who bears to the secretary a relation similar to that of a chief of bureau. Although the organization closely follows the army system, regimental or even permanent battalion organizations are impracticable, owing to their numerous and widely-separated stations. Practically all shore stations have barracks where marines are enlisted and drilled. At these places they also do sentry, police and orderly duties. From such stations they are sent to ships for sea duty. Nearly all ships carry a body of marines known as the guard, varying in size from a few men commanded by a sergeant, on small ships, to eighty or more, with one or more commissioned officers, on large vessels. It is customary to cause all marines to serve at sea three of the four years of each enlistment. On board ship they perform sentry and orderly duty, and assist in police duties. They are also instructed in many exercises pertaining to the navy, as rowing, naval signalling, gun drill, &c. In action they act as riflemen, and on many ships serve a portion of the guns. When circumstances require a force to be landed from ships present to guard American interests in foreign countries, legations, &c., the marine guard is usually sent, though, if numerically insufficient, sailors are landed also. Marines also garrison places beyond the territorial limits of the United States which are under navy control. Candidates for first enlistment must be between the ages of 21 and 35 and unmarried, must be citizens of the United States, be able to read, write and speak English, and pass a physical examination. Second lieutenants are appointed from civil life after examination or from the graduates of the Naval Academy. Promotion is by seniority as in the navy.

Admiral Farragut’s opinion that “the marine guard is one of the great essentials of a man-of-war” is corroborated by that of Admiral Wilkes, who considered that “marines constituted the great difference between a man-of-war and a privateer.” In the famous battles between the “Bonhomme Richard” and “Serapis” in 1777, and in that between the “Chesapeake” and “Shannon,” the American marines displayed brilliant gallantry; and while on the one hand they at Derne in 1803 first planted the American flag on a fortress of the Old World, for which exploit “Tripoli” is inscribed on their colours, they on the other shared in the hard fighting of the Mexican War as well as all the important coast actions of the Civil War of 1861-65. A proposal to incorporate them with the army after the struggle met with universal condemnation from the authorities best qualified to judge of their value. A brigade of three battalions served in the Philippines in 1899. Their device is a globe resting on an anchor and surmounted by an eagle. “Ever faithful” is the title which Captain Luce, the historian of the force, appropriately applies to them.

(J. C. R. C.)

1 Including 22,289 of the engineer branch providing the locomotion of modern ships—just as seamen from 1805-1858 provided it for ships of the past.

Reference:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 17, Slice 6, by Various

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