In the dark days of World War II, Britain was all alone after the fall of France in June of 1940. After the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, UK’s new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, wanted to start conducting offensive operations against Germany. Prior to becoming prime minister, he was the First Lord of the Admiralty -- twice, Secretary of State for Air, Minster of Munitions, as well as being a soldier in the Boer War in South Africa and battalion commander on the Western Front in World War I. With this background, he had plenty of experience with the rivalry between the services.
Nevertheless, with the war going badly for Britain, he created a multi-service organization to focus on offensive operations with all three services participating to maximize UK’s war effort. It was called the Combined Operations Headquarters and their raids into occupied Europe were called “combined operations.”
When the United States entered the war, these multi-service activities that involved air, land or naval forces acting together were called “joint” instead of “combined” under the U.S. system. As the U.S. became the dominant partner, the British usage of “combined” faded relatively quickly. After World War II, the U.S. Department of Defense began using the term to denote multi-national operations, which might mean land forces of several countries, for example Combined Forces Land Component Command, or “Combined Joint,” multinational, multi-service activities and operations.
The World Wars undoubtedly exemplified how joint operations were not only helpful, but essential. And D-Day was no exception. One of the notable examples of joint operations was among the Army Engineers and Navy Construction Battalions, or Seabees.
The Seabees were among the first to go ashore as members of naval combat demolition units. Working with U.S. Army Engineers, their crucial task was to destroy the steel and concrete barriers that the Germans had built in the water and on the beaches to forestall any amphibious landings.
According to the Seabees newsletter online, the 111th Naval Construction Battalion was unloading tanks, armament, vehicles, personnel and ammunition that day in mine-infested waters and under “intense” enemy fire.
Capt. C.W. Coryell, CEC, USNR, is quoted there as saying, “All Rhino ferries were navigated to successful beach landings with skill and fearlessness … despite much damage to the units due to the shell fire and mines, the crews worked continuously at their stations through long hours, contributing immeasurably to the success of the invasion …”
However, both the Army and Navy construction groups ultimately worked together on building the Mulberry A Harbor that was needed to bring in supplies and personnel. Even after the artificial harbor was partially destroyed in a severe storm on June 12th, the Seabees and engineers worked together to land hundreds of thousands of tons of war material daily. In addition to these massive amounts of supplies, by July 4th they had helped land more than a million Allied fighting men.
These days, joint operations and joint training are just a way of life in much of the military. Combatant commands like U.S. European Command serve as a hub for organizing that “jointness” and ensuring that service-specific culture doesn’t interfere with understanding what needs to be done and working together to meet goals. Here at EUCOM, one walks into our J4, which is the logistics part of the command, and like all parts of the command, Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force personnel work side by side, whether it is providing relief to Poland, Serbia, Albania and Moldova or supporting a NATO combat mission.
The lesson that has been learned throughout world history is unquestionable. The additional perspective and personnel invariably makes us “stronger together.”