The numbered fleet commanders are Vice Admirals. Their staffs are normally split between the fleet flagship and a component ashore. The Second and Third Fleets are home-ported in the United States, with most of their forces training in coastal waters, while the Sixth and Seventh Fleets are home-ported at forward locations, with forces operating in areas of responsibility.
ADM Ernest King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, established numbered fleets in 1943 as a basis for task force designations and for specific geographic areas. Even-numbered fleets served in the Atlantic, odd-numbered fleets operated in the Pacific. King designated 5th Fleet to operate in the Central Pacific Ocean. When major offensive operations began in the Central Pacific in the summer of 1943, VADM Raymond A. Spruance became both Commander, Central Pacific Force, and Commander, 5th Fleet, retaining only the 5th Fleet title by August 1944. As naval activities in the Central Pacific increased and operations diminished in the South Pacific, the 3rd and 5th Fleets melded into a single organization, but the title varied, depending on whether VADM William Halsey, commander, 3rd Fleet, or VADM Spruance, Commander, 5th Fleet, exercised command. Leadership and the fleet number varied, because while one admiral commanded the fleet in a specific operation, the other admiral served ashore with his staff planning the next major offensive.
The numbered fleet commanders are required to function as Joint Task Force (JTF) commanders when a JTF has been established. When acting as JTF commanders, they report directly to USCINCPAC or USCINCLANT. The Navy is currently organized into five fleets:
- Second Fleet - in the Atlantic.
- Third Fleet - in the Eastern Pacific.
- Fifth Fleet - in the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean..
- Sixth Fleet - in the Mediterranean.
- Seventh Fleet - in the Western Pacific.
First Fleet is a term occasionally used as an informal reference to the US Coast Guard, although as far as one can detect the United States has never in fact officially used this designation with reference either to the Coast Guard or any element of the US Navy. The informal appelation honors the fact that between 1790 and 1798, there was no United States Navy and the cutters which were the predecessor of the US Coast Guard were the only warships protecting the coast, trade, and maritime interests of the new republic. The modern Coast Guard was established on 28 January 1915, under a new law which provided that the Coast Guard was an armed service at all times and made provisions for its transfer to the US Navy when needed.
Second Fleet is responsible in peacetime for training the Atlantic battle fleet in war-fighting skills, developing and evaluating new naval tactics and maintaining theater battle group readiness. Second Fleet operates primarily in the Atlantic Ocean from the North Pole to the South Pole and from the shores of the United States to the west coast of Europe. It also operates along both coasts of South America and part of the west coast of Central America. In all, it covers more than 38 million square miles. The US Second Fleet traces its origin to the reorganization of the Navy after World War II in December 1945 and the formation of the US Eighth Fleet. In February 1950, the command was redesignated to its current title, US Second Fleet, and is a part of US Atlantic Command. Based in Norfolk, VA, Second Fleet currently uses USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC 20) as the fleet flagship. The force consists of a balanced mix of capabilities including aircraft carriers, surface combatants, submarines, surveillance assets, amphibious forces, marine landing and mobile logistic units.
Third Fleet operates in the eastern Pacific, headquartered aboard USS CORONADO (AGF-11) operating from San Diego CA. Third Fleet was formed as a fighting force under Admiral "Bull" Halsey on 15 March 1943, and reconstituted in the Middle and Eastern Pacific on 01 February 1975. Third Fleet is responsible for the operational readiness of Carrier Task Forces and Amphibious Ready Groups with their embarked Marine Expeditionary Units for their expeditionary warfare mission; and providing the immediate response necessary to react to any emerging crisis from humanitarian and peace-keeping missions to major regional conflicts from the Pacific Ocean to the Arabian Gulf. Third Fleet's missions are to operate as a numbered Fleet Commander and as a Sea-Based Joint Task Force Commander, in order to prepare assigned Battle Groups for contingencies throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Fourth Fleet was established 15 March 1943 from Atlantic Force. The Fourth Fleet waged relentless war against raiders, blockade runners, and submarines in the South Atlantic. In April 1943 Fleet Air Wing 16 transferred from Norfolk to Natal, Brazil, to direct patrol plane antisubmarine operations under the Fourth Fleet in the South Atlantic.
Fifth Fleet maintains a visible and powerful force to counter and deter threats to the Arabian [Persian] Gulf area. The Commander, US Naval Forces Central Command is the naval component commander for US Central Command responsible for combat operations in the Middle East. Fifth Fleet was initially established 26 April 1944 from Central Pacific Force, and dis-establsihed after the war. Through the 1980s several frigate- and destroyer-type ships and minesweepers were assigned to the Middle East Force as well as support ships. After the 1990 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, the largest armada since World War II assembled in the Gulf in support of Operation Desert Shield, and ultimately Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Middle East Force found itself operating under operational control of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command where it remained following the war. During Desert Storm in 1991, the Commander, Seventh Fleet served as naval component commander for Central Command. Since the Gulf War, NAVCENT fulfilled the roles of both a naval component command and as the fleet command. Ships from the East and West Coasts comprised the fleet, but it operated without a traditionally understood structure or number. By July 1995, the course of events made a new numbered fleet necessary. After a 48-year hibernation, the US 5th Fleet was reactivated and it now cruises the Gulf. Commander, United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) exercises command and control over all naval operations throughout the AOR from a headquarters located in Manama, Bahrain. Since naval forces routinely make up over 70 percent of all US military presence in theater, NAVCENT’s location on the scene is an integral part of USCENTCOM's ability to successfully execute a theater strategy. From major exercises to day-to-day real world operations such as enforcement of UN sanctions, NAVCENT plays a major role in maintaining stability and deterring aggression in the region. The vast majority of NAVCENT’s operating forces are rotationally deployed to the region from either the Pacific Fleet or the Atlantic Fleet. These forces normally consist of an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group (CVBG), an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), surface combatants, submarines, maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, and logistics ships.
Sixth Fleet, headquarterd on the command ship USS LaSalle, consists of approximately 40 ships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 people. The Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean is the major operational component of Naval Forces Europe. The principal striking power of the Sixth Fleet resides in its aircraft carriers and the modern jet aircraft, its submarines, and its reinforced battalion of US Marines on board amphibious ships deployed in the Mediterranean. Commander, Sixth Fleet has both US national and NATO responsibilities. He reports to the Commander-In-Chief, US Naval Forces, Europe (CinCUSNavEur) in the US chain of command and to CinCSouth when the Sixth Fleet operates as part of NATO as StrikForSouth. The CinC Naval Forces Europe, based in London, is responsible for US naval operations in the European area, and also holds the NATO position of CinC Allied Forces Southern Europe, responsible to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The CINC Naval Forces Europe does not have administrative responsibilities for support of US naval forces in Europe, which are under the cognizance of CINC Atlantic Fleet.
Seventh Fleet, established 19 February 1943 from Southwest Pacific Force, is the largest of the forward-deployed U.S. fleets, with 50-60 ships, 350 aircraft and 60,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Operating in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf -- up to 11,000 miles from the west coast of the United States, Seventh Fleet, with the support of its Task Force Commanders, performs three jobs. First, C7F can be assigned as a Joint Task Force commander in the event of natural disaster or joint military operation. Second, C7F is the operational commander for all naval forces in the region. Finally, C7F is designated as the Combined Naval Component Commander for the defense of the Korean peninsula; in the event of hostilities, all friendly naval forces in the theater would fall under C7F control. Of the 50-60 ships typically assigned to Seventh Fleet, 18 operate from U.S. facilities in Japan and Guam. These forward-deployed units represent the heart of Seventh Fleet. The 18 permanently forward-deployed ships of the US 7th Fleet are the centerpieces of American forward presence in Asia. They are 17 steaming days closer to locations in Asia than their counterparts based in the continental United States. It would take three to five times the number of rotationally based ships in the United States to equal the same presence and crisis response capability as these 18 forward deployed ships. On any given day, about 50 percent of Seventh Fleet forces are deployed at sea throughout the area of responsibility.
Eighth Fleet, established 15 March 1943 from Northwest African Force, operated in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II with a main mission of amphibious warfare. At the outset of the War the forces that eventually evolved into US Eighth Fleet were designated Amphibious Forces, Atlantic Fleet, and later United States Forces North-West African Waters. Under the command of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, the Fleet supported landings in Sicily and at Salerno, the first sustained land assault and invasion of the European mainland in World War II. Eighth Fleet supported the August 1944 landing of Allied troops on the coast of southern France with heavy naval gunfire and aircraft attack. With the reorganization of the Navy after World War II in December 1945, Eighth Fleet was reactivated on 01 March 1946 under the command of Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. Under the overall command of Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Eighth Fleet was the heavy striking arm of the Atlantic Fleet. It consisted of the preponderance of Atlantic Fleet aircraft carrier assets, initially including the new fast carriers Midway and Franklin D. Roosevelt, their escorts and support ships. These latter did not include the fast battleship division made up of the Wisconsin and the Missouri, retained under direct command of Atlantic Fleet. In February 1950, the US Eighth Fleet was redesignated to US Second Fleet, a part of US Atlantic Command.
Tenth Fleet was a special anti submarine organization formed during the Second World War to counter convoy and shipping losses from German German U-boat wolf packs. During the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942 these amounted to more than half of all ships lost to the U-boats in the whole period of the war, most of which were sunk in the American defense zone. Tenth Fleet, with headquarters in Washington DC, was established under Commander in Chief United States Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King on 20 May 1943 to control United States antisubmarine operations in the Atlantic. Although the Tenth Fleet brought needed order to the American anti submarine effort, by this time Germany had lost the strategic initiative in the Battle of the Atlantic. Tenth Fleet was a unique organization within the United States Navy -- it never put to sea, it had no ships, and never had more than about 50 people in its organization. After the surrender of Germany in May 1945 Tenth Fleet was disbanded in June 1945.
Twelfth Fleet was established on 01 October 1943 from the US naval forces under Commander Naval Forces Europe, Admiral Stark. All US naval forces operating from the United Kingdom were at that time under Admiral Stark. As in the case of the US Army, tactical organization for the Normandy invasion was delayed until the fall of 1943 when the Twelfth Fleet under Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk was organized. On 09 September 1943 Admiral King ordered consolidation of all US naval forces in Europe under a new command, the Twelfth Fleet, to be headed by Admiral Stark. But, although this simplified the appearance of the command, the fact remained complicated. At the same time, Admiral King directed that a task force be formed to control operations and training for the cross-Channel assault. This became Task Force 122 under command of Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. Operational and administrative command thus remained divided. Two other important subordinate commands were formed under Twelfth Fleet: the Eleventh Amphibious Force under and Landing Craft and Bases, Europe, which was created in the summer of 1943 to receive and control the buildup of landing craft for the invasion.