Citizen Sailors: A History of the U.S. Navy Reserve

April 11, 2019 | By Daniel N. Garas, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the destroyer USS Ward (DD 139) was conducting a patrol off the entrance to Pearl Harbor when at 3:57 a.m., she was informed of a periscope sighting by the coastal minesweeper USS Condor (AMc 14). The submarine was Japanese and Ward sprang into action as her No. 1 gun crew fired a shot that passed over the submarine's conning tower. The crew of Ward's No. 3 starboard side gun fired next, and landed a direct hit that caused the submarine to heel over and sink.
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Photo By: NHHC
VIRIN: 210624-N-ZW259-2379

Also around this time, during the fall of 1926, the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) was established at six universities: Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Washington and University of California Berkeley. The program eventually spread to schools around the country. In return for several years of service to "Uncle Sam," qualified candidates earned advanced training, received generous pay, and had a unique opportunity to serve in an exciting field of naval warfare. In return, the Navy would get access to a large, qualified pool of candidates for their officer corps.

The pool of well-educated and trained officers, provided by the Reserves, proved instrumental in World War II. One other important areas of growth during the interwar period was in naval aviation. Forward-thinking minds saw the need for more aviators, and the Naval Academy could not keep pace with providing newly commissioned officers for an expanding Fleet that now included an air arm.

To meet the demand, programs like the Aviation Cadet Program was enacted by Congress in April 1935. The program allowed qualified candidates who had, or were working towards a college degree the opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve, receive flight training, and go on to serve three years of active duty in the Fleet. The program successfully produced a large number of pilots in short order, for a relatively low cost. Applicants who successfully completed the program would receive their commission and become naval aviators in the Reserves. Those who did not, simply went on to fulfill their regular enlistment contracts.

By the beginning of 1941, war with Japan seemed imminent, and by Spring all Fleet Reservists had been recalled to active duty. When USS Ward saw action on Dec. 7, the Reserves were already ready to fight. Throughout World War II, there were actually more Navy Reservists than active duty Sailors serving in the U.S. Navy. Records show that by the time the war finished, over three million Naval Reserve Sailors were serving on active duty, comprising 84 percent of the Navy. Among them were 86,000 women.

New Challenges in a New Era

After witnessing the success of the Navy Reserve in World War II, and with an understanding of the growing threat from the Soviet Union, the Navy vigorously sought to retain trained and qualified Reservists. By 1948, over one million Sailors were enrolled in the Reserves. To support the influx of Reserve personnel, the Navy constructed 300 modern Naval Reserve Training Centers. In the decades since the end of World War II, Reservists have continued to play an important role in augmenting the active duty whenever called upon:
  • At the outbreak of the Korean War on June 26, 1950, over 100,000 Navy Reserve Sailors returned to active duty for service in the Fleet. At the end of fighting in 1953, there were 140,000 Reservists serving on active duty.
  • Throughout the various flashpoints of the Cold War, the Navy Reserve maintained its readiness and supported the Fleet when necessary.
  • Forty training ships and three Naval Reserve squadrons were activated in response to the Berlin Crisis of 1961.
  • In Vietnam, two Reserve Seabee battalions and three Reserve squadrons were mobilized.
  • In 1990, the invasion of Kuwait resulted in the mobilization of 20,000 Reservists.
  • Reservists contributed in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Balkans.
  • More than 70,000 Reservists have mobilized to serve in support of the Global War on Terror, and in 2005 the U.S. Naval Reserve was re-designated as the U.S. Navy Reserve (USNR).
Over the years, the USNR has undergone so many changes, both in title and organization. As old challenges are met, new ones arise, and one thing remains: the devotion, ingenuity and flexibility Reservists bring to the fight dramatically increases the effectiveness of our Navy. Ready then. Ready now. Ready always. [embed]https://youtu.be/KeQhp2iYUTQ