United States Sixth Fleet

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Since the end of the Second World War, United States Sixth Fleet has been the major United States Navy formation in the Mediterranean Sea. It is subordinate to the United States European Command (EUCOM). It is also the major NATO maritime force, often operating with non-U.S. navies. The Sixth Fleet is composed of one or more aircraft carrier strike groups and shore-based maritime patrol aircraft (e.g., P-3 Orion). Its flagship is the USS Mount Whitney, homeported in Gaeta, Italy. At the present time, the Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet is also the Deputy Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Europe.

Chain of Command

VADM Bruce W. Clingan commands the 6th Fleet, Allied Joint Command Lisbon, and Striking and Support Forces NATO. He is also Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander of EUCOM.

Deputy Fleet Commander is RADM Charles J. "Joe" Leidig, Jr., who is also Director, Naval Forces Europe, Operations and Intelligence; Commander Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South; Commander, Submarine Group 8

Shore Bases

U.S. Naval Air Station, Naples

U.S. Naval Air Station, Sigonella

U.S. Naval Air Station, Souda Bay

History of the US Sixth Fleet

During the Second World War, most Allied naval operations not associated with amphibious warfare were conducted by the Royal Navy. The U.S. Sixth Fleet, however, became prominent in the Cold War, as well as conflicts in Arab nations and in Arab-Israeli wars. Its ships were involved in operations against Iraq, although the United States Fifth Fleet is the naval component of the United States Central Command and would direct their use in operations in the Central Command area. Essentially, the Sixth Fleet jurisdiction ends at the east coast of the Mediterranean.

Amphibious warfare has always been a priority in the narrow Mediterranean. In 1947, as part of support to Greece and Turkey under the Truman Doctrine, the Sixth Fleet had, in addition to its regular United States Marine Corps shipboard detachments, a reinforced Marine landing force. With exceptions for the Korean War, the Sixth Fleet has always had at least one battalion-sized Marine unit, now known as a Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Sixth Fleet naval units did not engage in combat with other warships, although they were sometimes at high alert. During the Cold War, the Soviets built a strong Mediterranean squadron, which never had a serious chance of defeating the Sixth Fleet, but could give it a hard fight. If tactical nuclear weapons were used, however, those assumptions could drastically change.

There were, however, significant landing and naval aviation operations. Things were quite tense during the 1956 Suez crisis, in which the U.S. did not support the operations of Britain, France and Israel. Beginning in 1957, the Fleet presence was intended to stabilize political situations in the Levant, culminating with Marines going ashore into Lebanon in 1958.

After the Libyan coup, there was a steady stream of confrontations, often called freedom of navigation exercises, in the Gulf of Sidra.