In World War I, regular naval officers were supplemented by those given direct commissions and graduates of the midshipmen schools of “90-day wonder” fame. Both sources left much to be desired. Neither properly indoctrinated candidates about naval customs, traditions, and standards, nor provided a sound professional foundation. Screening of direct commission candidates left much to be desired. The midshipmen schools had similar screening problems and the grave defect of being far too expensive in the austere 1920s.
A study revealed that the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps concept could be modified to meet the Navy’s requirement. In a modern-day irony, a pilot program was undertaken at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1924, to test the scheme for the Navy. The initial program was successful and so resulted in the establishment of the full-scale Captain Nimitz describes in his article.
In 1928 Captain Nimitz predicted that NROTC students, such as those who served under his command at the University of California, would prove a sound investment. During the 1930s, the NROTC was greatly expanded as it showed its potential; by the end of the decade, it had become firmly established as the peacetime source of most of the Navy’s non-aeronautical reserve officers. Called to the colors with the Naval Reserve, NROTC officers served with distinction throughout World War II and more than justified Captain Nimitz’s high hopes.
Major General, USMC (Ret.)
U. S. Naval Institute CEO
The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps
By Captain C. W. Nimitz, U. S. Navy
Vo. 54 June 1928 No. 304
On 4 March 1925, with the approval of House Resolution 2688, the President put another strong prop under national defense by authorizing the establishment of a Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the total personnel of which was to exceed 1,200.
In the Act, the term “naval” included both the Navy and the Marine Corps. It was planned to allot four-fifths of the total numbers to the Navy and one-fifth to the Marines, but as yet the Marine Corps has not decided to establish separate units, so that for now, all training is to produce efficient naval reserve officers.
Members of the Naval ROTC are known officially as Naval Reserve Students and the various undergraduate classes are termed Naval Reserve Freshman, Naval Reserve Sophomores, and so forth.
In the words of the Navy Department:
“The primary object of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is to provide systematic instruction and training at civil educational institutions, which will qualify selected students of such institutions for appointment as officers in the Naval Reserve. The Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps will be expected to supply sufficient junior officers to the Naval Reserve and thus assist in meeting the demands for increased commissioned personnel in wartime.
“The secondary object of the Naval ROTC is to further acquaint the college authorities and the student bodies with the Navy and what it means to the nation. The present influence on American public opinion of colleges and universities and the future influence of present day students make this secondary object of considerable importance to the Navy,”
Funds in the amount of $40,000 were available on 1 July 1926. With this modest sum, naval units were inaugurated at the University of California, University of Washington, Harvard, Yale, Georgia School of Technology, and the Northwestern University. The administration of these units is conducted by the training division of the Bureau of Navigation. The total allowed personnel is equitably distributed between the six institutions and is to be further divided into four undergraduate classes.
Two naval officers and several enlisted men were detailed to each institution to meet the fall opening of 1926. Sixty freshmen from the class of 1930 at each school began their naval experiences simultaneously with their college careers. Units will not reach their authorized strength until 1929 and will not produce officers until 1930.
At each institution a four-year course in naval science and tactics, including both theoretical and practical work, has been added to the list of courses offered. The basic course is the first two years; the advanced course the second two years. A cruise of 15 days is offered each summer with the emphasis on practical work in seamanship, signals, engineering, and the like. One such cruise is compulsory during the advanced course. All other cruises are voluntary since it is recognized that many students must work their own way through college.
The object of the course in naval science is to supplement the other course taken so that graduates will posses a good education; sufficient nautical knowledge to fit them as junior naval reserve officers; a disciplined mind and body; and self-reliant leadership qualities.
The basic course requires three hours per week and the advanced five. The subjects taught in the basic course are navigation, ordnance, and seamanship, with engineering being added to form the advanced course. Naval officers of considerable service are assigned as instructors.
Students are selected from those who apply with regard to their physical condition, latent qualities of leadership, the probability of their attending the university continuously for four years, and other courses taken at the university.
Membership in the naval unit costs almost nothing as uniforms and books are government-furnished. The uniforms are similar to those worn by midshipmen at the Naval Academy. Advanced course students are paid a subsistence allowance of about $210. In addition, students are paid 70 cents a day while on cruises and are allowed transportation to and from ports of embarkation and debarkation.
Students who successfully complete the course upon their application will, with the recommendation of the professor of naval science, be given a commission in the Volunteer Naval Reserve. From this status they may become associated with Fleet Reserve and by attending drills they will receive two months’ active duty pay yearly.
From the student’s point of view, the program is advantageous because it enables him to meet the military training requirements required at Land Grant institutions, he receives a well-fitting uniform for wear to social functions as well as drills, and he may make interesting summer cruises. Also he receives, as has been mentioned, over 200 dollars for commuted rations and a commission in the Reserve. The latter should provide a source of satisfaction in that he can serve immediately in times of emergency and meanwhile will receive drill pay if with the Fleet Reserve.
From the government’s standpoint, it cost approximately $700 per graduate and, while the cost may be approximated, the value to the government of each graduate is more intangible. In addition to this value as a naval reserve officer is his increased value as a citizen. We can expect him to be a firm supporter of law and order and of any movement to keep the armed forces in a “reasonably defensive posture.” Moreover, the Navy may be sure that, in his mingling with his business associates, he will preach the gospel of a Navy second to none.
Has the government made a wise investment in the establishment of the Naval ROTC? We think that in the passage of time this question will be answered in the affirmative.