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Letter to the Secretaries of War and Navy on Unification of the Armed Forces.

June 15, 1946

Gentlemen:

I have read with care your joint report of May 31, 1946. It was also helpful to me to have the full oral presentation of the points involved, which you and the members of your Departments made to me on June 4th.

I am pleased and gratified at the progress you have made. I feel that we have come a long way in narrowing the zone of disagreement which had previously existed between the services. The full understanding reached on eight vital aspects of unification is a significant accomplishment. These eight elements are Council of Common Defense, National Security Resources Board, Joint Chiefs of Staff, omission of single Military Chief of Staff, Central Intelligence Agency, Procurement and Supply, Research Agencies and Military Education and Training.

In addition to these eight points of agreement, I am advised also by representatives of both services that they are in accord in their attitude toward the provision in the Thomas Bill, S. 2044, which provides for four assistant secretaries in charge of Research, Intelligence, Procurement, and Training, respectively. They believe that such assistant secretaries are unnecessary. I agree with their position that the presence of these four assistant secretaries is undesirable because they would greatly complicate the internal administration of the services and that such a plan would deprive the secretaries of the respective services of functions which are properly theirs.

Your report of May 31st listed four items upon which you were unable to agree. An analysis of your comments contained in your report, and in the lengthy discussion which we had, discloses that the services are not nearly so far apart in their attitude toward these points as had been reported. It is my firm conviction that the determination of these questions in the manner which I present herein will result in a plan which incorporates the best features offered by the respective services.

With reference to the points upon which full agreement was not reached my position is as follows:

1. Single military department.

There should be one Department of National Defense. It would be under the control of a civilian who would be a member of the cabinet. Each of the services would be headed by a civilian with the title of "Secretary." These secretaries would be charged with the internal administration within their own services. They would not be members of the cabinet. Each service would retain its autonomy, subject of course to the authority and overall control by the Secretary of National Defense. It is recognized that the services have different functions and different organizations and for these reasons the integrity of each service should be retained. The civilian secretaries of the services would be members of the Council of Common Defense and in this capacity they would have the further opportunity to represent their respective services to the fullest extent.

2. Three coordinated services.

There should be three coordinate services-the Army, Navy and Air Force. The three services should be on a parity and should operate in a common purpose toward overall efficiency of the National Defense under the control and supervision of the Secretary of National Defense. The Secretaries of the three services should be known as Secretary for the Army, Secretary for the Navy, and Secretary for the Air Force.

3. Aviation.

The Air Force shall have the responsibility for the development, procurement, maintenance and operation of the military air resources of the United States with the following exceptions, in which responsibility must be vested in the Navy:

(1) Ship, carrier and water-based aircraft essential to Naval operations, and aircraft of the United States Marine Corps.

(2) Land-type aircraft necessary for essential internal administration and for air transport over routes of sole interest to Naval forces and where the requirements cannot be met by normal air transport facilities.

(3) Land-type aircraft necessary for the training of personnel for the afore-mentioned purposes.

Land-based planes for Naval reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and protection of shipping can and should be manned by Air Force personnel. If the three services are to work as a team there must be close cooperation, with interchange of personnel and special training for specific duties.

Within its proper sphere of operation, Naval Aviation must not be restricted but must be given every opportunity to develop its maximum usefulness.

4. United States Marine Corps.

There shall be maintained as a constituent part of the Naval service a balanced Fleet Marine Force including its supporting air component to perform the following functions:

(1) Service with the Fleet in the seizure or defense of Advanced Naval Bases or for the conduct of such limited land operations as are essential to the prosecution of a Naval campaign.

(2) To continue the development of those aspects of amphibious operations which pertain to the tactics, technique, and equipment employed by the landing forces.

(3) To provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the Navy.

(4) To provide security detachments for protection of Naval property at Naval stations and bases.

It is important that the basic elements of the plan of unification be stated clearly. The eight fundamental points agreed upon and the four points which are herewith decided, constitute a total of twelve basic principles that should form the framework of the program for integration.

There is no desire or intention to affect adversely the integrity of any of the services. They should perform their separate functions under the unifying direction, authority and control of the Secretary of National Defense. The internal administration of the three services should be preserved in order that the high morale and esprit de corps of each service can be retained.

It was gratifying to have both of you and General Eisenhower and Admiral Nimitz assure me that you would all give your wholehearted support to a plan of unification no matter what the decision would be on those points upon which you did not fully agree. I know that I can count upon all of you for full assistance in obtaining passage in the Congress of a Bill containing the twelve basic elements set forth above.

Very sincerely yours,

HARRY S. TRUMAN

[The Honorable Robert P. Patterson, The Secretary of War; The Honorable James Forrestal, The Secretary of the Navy]

Note: The Secretaries' joint report, in the form of a letter dated May 31 and released with the President's reply, is published in the Congressional Record (vol. 92, p. 7425). The report outlines the eight points of agreement between Secretaries Patterson and Forrestal substantially as they are stated in the President's letter to the Committee Chairmen (Item 137). A summary of the positions taken on the four remaining points follows:

1. Single Military Department

War Department view. The military establishment should be set up as a single entity, headed by a civilian of Cabinet rank with authority and responsibility for the several services. The administration and supervision of the services should, however, so far as possible be delegated to their respective heads, in order that each service should have as much freedom of development as possible, and in order that the traditions and prestige of each should not be impaired.

Navy Department view. There was a need for unification, but in a less drastic and extreme form. Serious disadvantages would result from combining the services into one department. Such a step would involve sacrifices of administrative autonomy and service morale. Certain advantages would result from placing a Presidential Deputy with clearly defined powers of decision over specified matters at the head of the Council of Common Defense. From this as a starting point, it would be possible to move forward toward such further measures of unification as became advisable, based on further experience.

2. Three Coordinate Branches

War Department view. The military establishment should contain three coordinate branches-naval, ground, and air--each of which should have a civilian head and a military commander. These officials should have access to the President, but not Cabinet rank, since that would be in derogation of the position of the civilian head of the military establishment.

Navy Department view. The national security required maintenance of the integrity of the Navy Department, headed by a civilian Secretary of Cabinet rank. Naval aviation, together with surface and subsurface components, had been integrated within the Navy, and similar integration by the Army of its air and ground forces would be in the best interest of national security. However, if the alternatives were three military departments or one, the Navy preferred three departments.

3. Aviation

War Department view. Responsibility for the development, procurement, maintenance, and operation of the military air resources of the United States should be a function of the Air Force, with exception of enumerated responsibilities which should be vested in the Navy.

Navy Department view. One reason for the Navy's strong conviction against a single department was the continued efforts of the Army air forces to restrict and limit naval aviation. To accomplish its fundamental purpose, the Navy needed a certain number of landplanes for naval reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, and protection of shipping. Landplanes, to be effective, must be manned by naval personnel trained in naval warfare. The Navy also required air transport essential to its needs.

4. United States Marine Corps

War Department view. There should be maintained as a constituent part of the naval service a balanced Fleet Marine Force including its supporting air component for (1) service with the fleet in the seizure of enemy positions not involving sustained land fighting, and (2) to continue the development of tactics, techniques, and equipment relating to those phases of amphibious warfare which pertain to waterborne aspects of landing operations.

Navy Department view. There should be maintained as a constituent part of the naval service a balanced Fleet Marine Force including its supporting air component for (1) service with the fleet in the seizure or defense of advance naval bases or for the conduct of such limited land operations as are essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign, and (2) to continue the development of those aspects of amphibious operations which pertain to the tactics, techniques, and equipment employed by land forces.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to the Secretaries of War and Navy on Unification of the Armed Forces. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232458

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