It should be noted that while each ship was mandated to equip and train a landing force, the navy never deployed them in continental Europe during hostilities in the Great War.
Organisation of The Landing Force
The Landing-Force And Small-Arm Instructions
United States Navy
This edition was the updated version of January 1905, with corrections of 8 May, 9 July, 19 December 1906.
Much of the content was taken from US Army publications:
Manual of Guard-Duty and Guard-Mounting. “Taken with certain omissions and necessary changes”.
Extended Order. Taken mainly from the Infantry Drill-Regulations, US Army, 1904 “with modifications required by naval organization”.
Firing-Regulations for Small-Arms, etc. Based upon the US Army Regulations.
Infantry Drill-Regulations (Close Order) Taken mainly from the Infantry Drill-Regulations, US Army, 1904, “with certain modifications rendered necessary by naval conditions”.
The Board for the Revision of Service-Drill Books has classified all drills under three separate heads– ship drills, boat-drills, shore drills–and these have been embodied in three books as follows:
Ship- and Gun Drills, US Navy, 1905
Boat-Book, US Navy, 1905
The Landing-Force and Small-Arm Instructions, US Navy, 1905
Compiled by Howard S. Serlick
Many of OLYMPIA’s sailors saw service as part of the ship’s Landing Force late in the war and after hostilities ceased.
After serving on convoy escort duty just after America’s entry in the Great War, OLYMPIA received the assignment of going to Murmansk, Russia, as part of an inter-allied “expeditionary force.” The purpose of this expedition was to safeguard Allied supplies in Murmansk and Archangel, bolster the local population against any attacks by the German Army, and later back “white” Russian forces in their fight against the Bolsheviks. The political and military situation in Russia quickly deteriorated in February 1917 following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. Bolshevists under Lenin and Trotsky initiated the “Red” Revolution in October, which threw the country into further chaos. These developments, along with the Bolshevists’ separate peace treaty with Germany (Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, March 1918) caused a lot of concern among Allied military commanders. German troops formerly fighting the Russians were now free to shift to the Western Front. Also, tons of supplies the Allies sent to the ports of Murmansk and Archangel to assist Russia may fall into either German or Bolshevist hands. Allied Command decided to send a combined land and naval force, led by the British, to Murmansk and asked U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to send troops and ships. Against the advice of his advisors, Wilson committed U.S. forces to the expedition. The U.S. naval contingent consisted of OLYMPIA and selected administrative personnel.
OLYMPIA arrived in Murmansk on 25 May 1918 and took up station in the city’s harbor. The first Navy infantry to go ashore landed on 8 June. 108 men (100 enlisted, 8 officers) comprising two infantry companies, one machine gun section, and associated cooks, signalmen, and a pharmacist’s mate moved into a log barracks formerly occupied by Royal Marines. OLYMPIA’s landing force was under the command of Lieutenant Henry Floyd. These sailors spent their early days drilling and setting up defensive positions in case of attack. Note that this force was entirely sailors; there were no U.S. Marines aboard OLYMPIA at that time.
OLYMPIA’s landing force did duties such as patrolling Murmansk and helping quell riots, guarding the docks and supplies, screening refugees for weapons, and unloading British supply ships. Sailors left aboard OLYMPIA carried on with the ship’s duties, kept the main and secondary batteries in constant readiness, and participated in up to three hours of rifle drill per day.
At the end of July 1918, fifty men from the 1st Infantry Company, under the command of Ensign Donald Hicks, left Murmansk for Archangel as part of a Russo-Allied Naval Brigade. The brigade marched as part of a British led expedition to push the Bolshevists away from the port and secure supplies and transportation lines. On 3 August, Hicks’s detachment made an attack at Vologda, Russia, where they captured 54 Bolshevik prisoners. During the next few months, OLYMPIA’s detachment took part in combat operations around Archangel and along the Dvina River. The furthest point these sailors fought was at the city of Onega, on the White Sea, which was around seventy miles to the southwest of Archangel.
Most of OLYMPIA’s landing force returned to the ship on 14 September. They had served fourteen weeks ashore. Eleven men from Ensign Hicks’s detachment remained ashore to help train other units in the Naval Brigade and to assist the American naval attaché and the commanding U.S. Admiral. These men remained in Russia when OLYMPIA left Murmansk on 13 November 1918. The last of Ensign Hicks’s detachment left Murmansk for England in December 1918 and January 1919.
OLYMPIA’s next assignment was to the Adriatic on a mission to help keep the peace in what was left of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. Arriving in Spalato, Austria (now Split, Croatia) on 22 February 1919, the ship contributed twelve men under Lieutenant Henry Floyd to the “Inter-Allied Patrol.” This patrol was charged with making a show of force in the city to prevent riots and any attempts at disrupting the peaceful governance of the area. This group stayed ashore while OLYMPIA cruised the Adriatic making stops at various ports on the Italian and Austrian coastlines. The only other occasion that OLYMPIA sent a landing party ashore was at Trau, Austria (near Spalato). A small force landed there on 26 September 1919 to prevent an uprising. The landing force only stayed ashore a couple of days before returning to the ship. OLYMPIA left Spalato to return to the United States at the end of October 1919. Although OLYMPIA returned to the Adriatic the following year, no infantry force went ashore.
Resources on OLYMPIA’s involvement in Russia and the Adriatic, as well as US Navy Infantry:
Benjamin Franklin Cooling, “USS Olympia, Herald of Empire” (Annapolis, MD: The Naval Institute Press, 2000)
Not only is this a good operational history of OLYMPIA, it gives a nice, concise account of her service in WWI.
Henry Putney Beers, “U.S. Naval Forces in Northern Russia (Archangel and Murmansk), 1918-1919” (Washington: Office of Records Administration, Navy Department, 1943)
Link to full text version: <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001688511>
Patrick H. Roth, “Sailors as Infantry in the U.S. Navy” (U.S. Navy Department Library, October 2005)
Link to full text version: <http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/naval_infantry.htm>
Uniforms for Navy Infantry:
There is no prescribed uniform for U.S. Navy Landing Forces. Nowhere in the 1917 Bluejacket’s Manual, the 1917 U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations, or the 1916 Landing Force and Small-Arm Instructions is it specified what uniform landing parties are to wear. The general regulation is that whatever the ranking officer present deemed to be the uniform of the day is what enlisted personnel wore. This is explicitly stated in both the Bluejacket’s Manual and the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations. Please see the 1917 Uniform Regulations, posted on the Living History Crew Facebook page. This being said, based on photographic evidence the two most common uniforms seen on men under arms in this period is either the “blue undress” or “white undress.” (Please see U.S. Navy Infantry photo album in the Living History Crew FaceBook page.)
“Blue undress” includes the blue undress jumper (no cuffs, no white piping or stars on the collar; includes watch stripe, specialty marks, and rating badges), blue trousers, white “Dixie Cup” cap, watch cap,or flat cap, black shoes. Leggings are worn for men under arms. This uniform does not include the neckerchief or knife lanyard for landing parties. It also can include the jersey (sweater), gloves (black), and pea coat.
“White undress” includes the white undress jumper, white trousers, white “Dixie Cup” cap or watch cap, black shoes. Leggings are worn for men under arms. This uniform does not include the neckerchief or knife lanyard for landing parties. It also can include the jersey (sweater), gloves, and pea coat.
Occasionally men under arms wore the “blue dress” uniform. This was only for ceremonial, parade, or special occasions. This included the blue dress overshirt, blue trousers, flat cap or white “Dixie Cup” cap, neckerchief, and black shoes. Leggings are worn when under arms. Knife lanyards, though prescribed only for certain enlisted men by 1917, were typically not worn with this uniform while under arms. If they were, knives were placed in trouser pockets with the lanyard pulled straight down to keep it out of the way.
I see no evidence of enlisted men wearing the white dress uniform while serving at part of the Landing Force. If anyone has evidence of this, please let me know. Note, too, that in one of the images of a landing party going ashore at Vera Cruz in 1914, all of the men are wearing dungarees. This is the only instance I could find of a landing party wearing dungarees.
Equipment for Navy Infantry:
The standard long arm for the U.S. Navy Landing Force, Marine Corps, and Army during this period was the “United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903,” otherwise known as the 1903 Springfield. All ships carried enough for their designated landing forces. Sailors were also issued the appropriate bayonet for this weapon.
OLYMPIA’s sailors in Murmansk used the 1903 Springfields along with Mosin-Nagant M1891 Infantry rifles captured from Bolsheviks in Murmansk or taken from stores in Murmansk and surrounding areas. Most of the Mosin-Nagant M1891’s that the sailors used were manufactured my Remington Arms Company under contract to the Czarist Russian government. Landing force members who served with the Russo-Allied Naval Brigade during the Archangel expedition were armed exclusively with Mosin-Nagant M1891 rifled.
Some of OLYMPIA’s sailors also carried the “Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911,” commonly known as the 1911 Colt. Petty Officers acting as “sergeants” in the infantry company along with members of artillery and machine gun detachments were authorized to carry them.
OLYMPIA carried a few “M1895 Colt-Browning” .30 caliber machine guns (also known as “Potato Diggers”) and trained detachments on their use and deployment. While in Murmansk, landing forces captured some Lewis Automatic Machine Guns and quickly used them to replace their M1895s.
By World War I the U.S. Navy used the M1910 field gear as their standard issue for Navy infantry. Please see the excerpt from the 1916 Landing Force manual for a full description of this equipment which includes a list of equipment as well as instructions and diagrams on how to pack the equipment and carry it. Sailors also, as part of the field gear, carried the bayonet appropriate to their weapon either attached to the cartridge belt or the haversack when wearing “full pack.”
Helmets are not included in the gear list for the 1916 Landing Force manual. OLYMPIA’s sailors did not have them when they entered Murmansk. The only OLYMPIA landing force men to receive them were those who participated in the Russo-Allied Naval Brigade. These were British “Brodie” type helmets distributed by the English Army forces in charge of the Archangel expedition. Helmets did not become standard landing force equipment until after World War I ended. Photographic evidence seems to confirm this assertion; the only U.S. sailors photographed during the war wearing helmets are those who served large-caliber railway guns in France. These detachments did not even wear U.S. Navy uniforms, but rather those of the U.S. Army with Navy insignia.
I also cannot find any information on OLYMPIA’s sailors receiving gas masks while in Russia. These, too, are another item that did not become standard issue for landing forces until after World War I.
Lucas R. Clawson, 3 September 2013