3-143 Memorandum for Admiral King, March 23, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 23, 1942

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Admiral King

March 23, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Unity of Command on the Pacific Coast.1

There is attached hereto a draft of a proposed message to put unity of command into effect on the West Coast. It is, I believe, in line with our conversation on this subject.




Unity of command over Army and Navy forces on the Pacific coast is established as follows:

The Commanding General, Western Defense Command, will exercise unity of command over all Army forces assigned for defense of the Pacific Coastal Frontier and over naval forces of the Western and Northwestern Sea Frontiers except when these naval forces operate in immediate support of the Pacific Fleet. Whenever forces of the sea frontiers are required to support the fleet the CINC PAC will issue orders direct to the sea frontier commander concerned and will at the same time so inform the Commanding General, Western Defense Command.

The Commanders of the Western and Northwestern Sea Frontiers will exercise unity of command over Army forces as follows:

Over harbor defense units, within the limits of their respective sea frontiers, assigned for operation of fixed seacoast defense, including minefields, but excluding antiaircraft artillery; and over Army Air Forces allocated by the Commanding General, Western Defense Command to the respective sea frontier commanders for over water operations. Routine allocations of Army Air units will be on a minimum basis consistent with the requirements and will be for weekly or other stated periods. All Air Forces assigned to the Western Defense Commands will be available in emergencies for assignment to Sea Frontier Commanders at the discretion of the Western Defense Commander. Their training missions will be staggered on a time basis of availability for emergency action.2

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Executive File 8, Book 4, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. As part of its reorganization of all coastal defense forces under fleet command, the navy proposed a system of unified command for the continental frontiers. In February 1942 King proposed that navy “sea frontiers” command all army units designated for overwater operations. Because the army had primary responsibility for continental defense, Marshall replied that “full unity of command in all continental coastal frontiers and in Alaska be vested in the army over all naval forces which do not normally accompany the fleet.” In informal discussions King and Marshall tentatively agreed to place navy sea frontier commanders under army command except during fleet operations along the coast. Army harbor defenses and units designated for sea operations then came under navy command. However, a formal joint arrangement had not been reached by March 23. (Marshall Memorandum for Admiral King, February 11, 1942, NA/RG 407 [AG, 381 (12-17-41)]; Conn, Engelman, and Fairchild, Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, p. 43.)

2. Pending detailed arrangements on unity of command for coastal defenses, Marshall agreed on March 25 to a temporary measure that placed “all army air units allocated by defense commanders for operations over the sea for the protection of shipping and for antisubmarine and other operations against enemy seaborne activities” under naval sea frontier commanders. (Marshall and King Joint Dispatch to defense command and sea frontier commanders, March 25, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 8, Book 4].)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 146-147.

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