USMC AO History

History of United States Marine Corps Aviation Ordnance


We should consider the man, who handed the first grenade to the first pilot who subsequently dropped it in anger, as our first Aviation Ordnanceman, however this act and the date it occurred is lost in history. In an effort to establish a date as the birthday for Aviation Ordnance it is necessary to back up and look for a moment at the history of Marine Aviation.

The idea of Marine Aviation dates, perhaps, from the year 1903, when a young Alfred Austin Cunningham first watched a manned balloon fly and talked its owner into giving him a ride. A year later Cunningham entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1909 and chose to become a second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He was continually obsessed with flying and after stirring a congressional tempest, was ordered to the Navy's Aviation camp at Annapolis for flight training on 22 May 1912. There he became the Marine Corps first aviator and Naval aviator number 5. From that date until WW I, Marine aviation was small. Starting with only five officers and thirty enlisted men on the day the United States declared war, the Marines increased their air arm until the close of the war they had 282 officers and 2180 enlisted men.

It was during WW I that Marine Aviation first saw combat. In 1918 the Marine First Aviation Force, with one squadron deployed to the northern coast of France to bomb the German Submarine bases in Belgium. They deployed without aircraft which were to be furnished later. These planes were so long in coming that the restless Marines proposed to the British and the French that Marines fly with them and use their planes. The offer was accepted and the Marines flew with their allies for the rest of the war.

In the two decades that followed WW I Marine Aviation went into Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. It was during this era that Aviation Ordnance was finally identified as a separate skill. The document that did this was a Table of Organization (T/O). To understand just how a Table of Organization could establish a skill, it is necessary to trace backwards from the present system of Military Occupational Specialties.

Marine AO's are currently known as Aviation Ordnance with occupational field 65. This has only been true since 1949. From 1942 to 1949 all Marines were identified by their Specification Service Numbers (SSN's). Enlisted ordnancemen were (SSN 991's). Prior to 1942 and through the years Marine Aviation was emerging, the Marine Corps identified their enlisted men through their promotion certificates which were then called Branch Warrants.

Upon graduating from boot camp and until a man was promoted to Corporal he was a Marine with no identifiable skill. On promotion to Corporal there would appear on the Warrant the words "Corporal" (Aviation). The term "aviation" designated his branch. There was no further break down. The number of branches in the Marine Corps varied from time to time but generally included such specialties as Aviation, Communications, Engineers, Motor Transport, Ordnance (ground), Artillery and the Infantry (line).

To further identify the skill of a Marine it was necessary to look at the T/O and see what slot the man was filling. The First Aviation T/O's were issued about 1918 and showed only six kinds of personnel, Motor Shop, Erection Shop, Quartermaster, Transportation, Mess and Police. It wasn't until Table of Organization No. 37 was issued on 25 April 1922 that ordnance appeared on a T/O, and when it did, the term used was Gunnery personnel. This T/O authorized one Warrant Officer, one Sergeant, one Corporal and one PFC for a Division Aviation. They were assigned six airplanes.

The name Gunnery personnel stayed until Table of Organization No. 43-W was published on 11 September 1925 when the name was changed to Armament personnel. At this time the personnel allowance for a squadron was increased to 3 Marine Gunners, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, and 3 PFC's. This remained in effect until 6 February 1935 when Table of Organization No. 23 changed the name to Ordnance. This authorized an Ordnance strength of one First Lieutenant, One Marine Gunner, one Master Technical Sergeant, one Sergeant, one Corporal and 3 PFC's/Privates. Since that day the title has stayed the same, only the method of identifying us has changed.

Taken from an article written by G. H. CONNER, Capt USMC

The First Combat Ordnancemen

The first Ordnancemen to meet a combat environment were Marine Corps Ordnancemen.

On 25 February 1927, VO-1M landed in Nicaraqua to assist the government against the insurrection of Sandini. The squadron consisted of eight officers and 81 enlisted with six DH aircraft. On 23 May VO-4M arrived and joined VO-IM. The first combat flights began 15 July with strafing and dive bombing. In December, the DH were replaced with the more modern 02U aircraft (During the operations there were Navy Ordnancemen present but numbers are not available. It is known that one was an instructor in AO "A" school at Norfolk in 1940.)

The first Ordnancemen captured by the enemy was Sgt. F.E. Dowell, after the aircraft in which he was backseat gunner crashed. He is believed to have been tortured and hanged by the Sandinistas.

Also in 1927 other Ordnancemen were with Marine aircraft in China but did not load a bomb or fire a gun in anger.

Our next combat Ordnancemen were also Marines, who were in action December 6, 1941 at Wake Island with VMF 2ll with twelve F4F3 aircraft. The arrival was so rushed on December 4 that the crew consisted of two master sergeants, specialty unknown and 45 Ordnancemen with one AMMI probably from the tender WRIGHT. Ordnancemen performed all maintenance as they were very versatile people as we prove from time to time.

Total ordnance expended until all aircraft were lost, consisted of 20 one hundred pound bombs and 2O,OOO rounds of .50 caliber. The bombs were loaded with suspension lugs hand made on the spot due to problems in configuration. (sound familiar)?

Source: History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, by Robert Sherrod 1952+