Tuesday, December 2, 2008

World War II
Pacific (Asia)
a. The United States was literally blasted into WWII by the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Throughout U. S. history there has never been a naval disaster to compare with the losses inflicted by the Japanese aerial attack on the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Before the war was declared on Japan, Marines were already on duty halfway around the world. China, the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands, Guam and Midway were just some of the places where U. S. Marines were already stationed.

b. It all began on a quiet calm Sunday morning, 0755, 7 December 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise aerial attack on our Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

c. From the time the first bomb fell at Ewa Field until the last bomb exploded, two hours later, America's losses would be as follows: the Japanese had destroyed five battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and about 400 planes. American casualties were 2,117 dead, 1,272 wounded and 960 missing.

d. The three aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet, the USS Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga were not in Pearl Harbor. The Enterprise steamed some 200 miles west of Hawaii, having ferried Marine Fighter Squadron 211's planes to Wake Island. Lexington was on her way to Midway Island to deliver Marine Scout Bomb Squadron 231's planes. Upon hearing the news about the attack it's Captain turned her around and headed back for Pearl Harbor. The Saratoga was in San Diego during this time.

e. The next day, 8 December 1941, the United States of America declared war on the island of Japan.

a. Guam
(1) The island of Guam was attacked within hours of the Pearl harbor attack. Guam was defended by a small group of naval personnel, civilians, and 153 Marines. The heaviest weapons on Guam were .30 caliber machine guns.
(2) For two days the Americans held the island against heavy Japanese bombardments, followed by an attack of approximately 6,000 Japanese. The battle rage on, but against a numerically overwhelming force. Guam would become the first American outpost to fall on 10 December 1941.
b. Wake
(1) The Japanese then attacked Wake Island and it's 447 Marines on 11 December. The first day of the Japanese air strike destroyed two thirds of the Marine aircraft and nearly all of the vital supplies. The Japanese returned to finish the operation three days later. Twelve Japanese ships, including a landing force, came prepared to take Wake Island.
(2) However, when the smoke cleared, two enemy ships were sunk, seven more were seriously damaged and six hundred Japanese were dead, all at the cost of four Marines and one one plane. Even more significant that the losses on the Japanese that day, was the fact that, for the first time a Japanese amphibious attack had been defeated. The Japanese sent daily aircraft strikes against the island until 23 December 1941, when they returned to Wake Island with more elements of their Navy and a landing force of over 1,500 men.

(3) That day, Wake Island fell to the Japanese. But the enemy paid dearly; 4 ships were sunk, 11 damaged, 21 planes destroyed, and almost 1,000 Japanese soldiers were killed.

c. The Philippines
(1) On 8 December, the U. S. Army and Filipinos were preparing to defend Bataan and Corregidor under the command of General DOuglas MacArthur's command. The 4th Marines were transferred from Shanghai to General MacArthur's' command. They were quickly given the mission of defending Corregidor.

(2) Meanwhile one of the largest and most powerful invasion forces that the Japanese had ever assembled were preparing to invade the Philippines. Under the Japanese force, Bataan fell on 9 April 1942. 75,000 Americans and Filipinos including 105 Marines went on the infamous Bataan death march.

(3) The entire Japanese invasion force then turned to Corregidor. After days of Japanese bombing raids and naval gunfire a Japanese amphibious assault was launched against the 4th Marines holding Corregidor. The Marines met the assault with determination and resistance. At one point the Japanese commander thought he had failed in the assault. The situation on Corregidor was getting worse.

(4) Finally, on 6 May 1942, Major General Wainwright, U. S. Army, surrendered all forces in the Philippines. Colonel S. O. Howard, Commanding Officer of the 4th Marines, ordered the National and Regimental Colors burned rather than see them captured.

d. Midway
(1) June 1942 marked the turning point of the war as the Japanese were handed a severe defeat in the battle of Midway. The main reason that allied forces were victorious was that prior to this battle allied intelligence had broken the secret Japanese communication codes. This aided allied command to anticipate movement and location of enemy ships.

(2) Marine Major Lofton R. Henderson led the first wave of striking aircraft from Midway. Only half of the planes made it back to Midway after scoring no hits. Major Henderson was shot down and killed in the engagement. At the same time that the Marines were attacking the Japanese navy, their own bombers were attacking Midway. The Japanese thinking that they destroyed the bulk of the American defenses were planning another air attack against the island, however, they would never get off the decks of their carriers. The American war planes dove out of the skies completely surprising the Japanese and began to decimate the Japanese fleet.

(3) In this epic sea engagement, the Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers, 2 large cruisers, and the bulk of their aircraft including their experienced pilots. This battle demonstrated that fighter bombers, and attack aircraft from carriers properly utilized, could defeat a superior surface force.

a. The term "island hopping campaign" describes the strategy used by Marines to make 63 amphibious landings during WWII. The Marines' mission tasked them to literally dig the enemy out of their fighting holes, caves, bunkers and pillboxes. Teamwork, discipline, pride, esprit de corps, and in many cases, sheer guts won these battles. Not once did we fail to take an objective.

(1) Guadalcanal
(a) On 7 August 1942, the first Marine offensive battle began. The First Marine Division made an amphibious landing at Guadalcanal, code named "Cactus". What followed was to be some of the longest and most bitter fighting in WWII for the Marines.

(b) For almost six months, we fought not only the Japanese ground forces but also attacks by air and sea. We were to fight through steaming jungles and over mountainous terrain. One of the first objectives was the airfield on the southern end of Guadalcanal.

(c) Two days after the initial assault, the airfield at Guadalcanal was captured and named Henderson Field after Major Lofton R. Henderson who was killed in the battle of Midway. After the first three days of American occupation of guadalcanal the U. S. Navy left the ill equipped Marines on the island, fearing the Japanese Navy would launch an attack on them. On 20 August units of the First Marine Aircraft Wing arrived on the island with 19 fighters and 12 dive bombers. The pilots would operate from Henderson Field and be known as the "Cactus Air Field." The First Marine Division now had direct air support. Under the cover of darkness, the Japanese would land thousands of reinforcements, who would fanatically come screaming out of the jungle at the Marines positions; these attacks would be known as Banzai attacks.

(d) By February of 1943, the Marines had full control of Guadalcanal and could not concentrate on the offensive in the Pacific. Lt.Col. Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines won his third Navy Cross. He was also the only officer in the battalion to have previous combat experience.

(e) Sgt. John Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. Sgt. Basilone on October 24th and 25th replaced a gun crew/emplacement during intense enemy fire and continually worked up and down the line to keep all of his guns firing. Later during the engagement, with his gun crews running out of much needed shells, Sgt. Basilone would cross the enemy line and retrieve the ammunition under continuous enemy fire. Sgt. Basilone's actions alone contributed to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese Regiment. Sgt. Basilone would later lose his life fighting with the Marines on the island of Iwo Jima. (MCCS .02.02d)

(2) Tarawa
(a) The island of Betio belonged to a group of islands called Tarawa from which the battle took its name. The islands consisted of low-lying coral formations surrounded by reefs nearly 1,000 yards in width. Japanese labor and ingenuity had converted the island into a fortress. It was strongly fortified and heavily garrisoned. Consider this: there were over 4,800 Japanese on Tarawa manning 32 large coastal artillery pieces, 106 machine guns, and 14 tanks.

(b) On 20 November, 1943 the 2nd Marine Division attacked Tarawa. The majority of the landing craft were stopped by the reefs surrounding the island. The assault troops waded to the shore, some 500 yard's distance, in the face of murderous machine gun and mortar fire. Despite this intense hail of fire, individual Marines stubbornly made their way ashore and gained a toehold on the beach. By nightfall,one regiment had established a perimeter on the beach, and its situation was, at best, doubtful.

(c) The next morning brought reinforcements from units unable to land the previous day and produced the thrust needed to drive the enemy from their positions. After three days of combat, Tarawa was in the hands of the 2nd Marine Division whose casualties totaled 1,100 dead and 2,300 wounded. The Japanese boasted that it would take a million men a hundred years to take Tarawa. It took the Marines just 76 hours. Only 17 Japanese surrendered; the rest fought to the death.

(d) The victory at Tarawa was costly but not without purpose. The United States Marine Corps learned two important lessons from the Battle for Tarawa. The first important lesson concerned the Higgins Boats that the Marine Corps developed back in the 1930's. The Higgins Boat, the original amphibious landing craft would get stuck on the low-lying coral reefs or Tarawa because of the unpredictable tides costing us many Marine lives.

(e) The 2nd Marine Division had brought along an experimental amphibious landing craft called the Amphibious Tractor (AMTRAC). Amtracs were tractor vehicles capable of riding over coral reefs and making it to shore. There were only 93 AMTRACs, and that was not enough to transport all the Marines to shore as quickly as they were needed. After the Battle for Tarawa the United States Marine Corps adopted the exclusive use of the Amphibious Tractor. The second important lesson was the fact that the Battle of Tarawa proved once and for all the soundness and validity of the Marine Corps' amphibious assault doctrine.

(3) Rabaul
(a) General Douglas MacArthur wanted to occupy Cape Gloucester on the western end of New Britain's Island, 350 jungle miles from Rabaul, to protect his flank as he moved up along New Guinea's coast. On 26 December 1943, the 1st Marine Division began their assault.

(b) On 2 January 1944, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were stopped by repeated enemy attacks. Maj.Gen. Rupertus sent Lt.Col. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, the 7th Marines executive officer, to get 3rd Battalion moving. As the Marines set out to find Aogir Ridge where intelligence knew the Japanese were entrenched, 3rd Battalion and two others ran straight into enemy fire and were stopped dead.

(c) The commander and executive officer of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were both wounded; this is when Lt. Col. Puller took charge. Aogiri Ridge was taken after much bloodshed and determination.

(d) The total casualties were 310 dead and 1,083 wounded. For his leadership and stern determination Lt. Col. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller won his fourth Navy Cross.

(4) Iwo Jima
(a) Next stop, Iwo Jima. It was necessary to secure Iwo Jima in order to provide a clear flight path for America's B-29 bombers flying from the Marianas to Japan. Iwo Jima would also be used as an emergency landing strip for B-29's returning from bombing runs over Japan. The Japanese had spent almost 20 years preparing the defense of this island. The barren, rugged terrain was defended by 23,000 Japanese. THere were some 1,500 caves and pillboxes. Many of these had reinforced walls as thick as ten feet.

(b) The island was bombed for months in preparation of a possible attack. The Navy pounded the island for 3 days and nights prior to the landing. One the morning of 19 February 1945, the men of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions landed on Iwo Jima with the 3rd Marine Division held in reserve. The 30,000 Marines attacked against light resistance and rapidly occupied an area less than one half a square mile. It was at this time that the Japanese defenders came out of their caves to fire their machine guns, mortars and artillery. It was impossible for them to miss the Marines who were massed on the beach. The Marines suffered 2,500 casualties on the first day!

Despite the death and suffering around them, they pressed forward to the base of Mt. Suribachi. A platoon of the 28th Marine was tasked with clearing the summit. One of the Marines preset had carried the Stars and Stripes with him during this bloody fight and decided there was o better place to raise it than the summit of Mt. Suribachi. The moment was photographed by Lou Lowery a photographer for Leatherneck. The Japanese were the first to see the raising of the flag. They quickly mounted a counter assault and a terrible battle ensued. It was also photographed by Lou Lowery. The Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, watched the flag raising and the subsequent fire fight and said to Lt. Gen Smith, "The raising of the flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years..."

(c) Marines on the island could barely see the flag and sailors on the ships couldn't see the flag without binoculars. It was decided later that a larger flag would be raised in its place. Joe Rosenthal from the Associated Press tailed the second squad up the hill in order to photograph this occasion and go down in history for photographing the most famous picture of all time. Three of the six Americans photographed would later join the almost 6,000 Americans who would die on Iwo Island. The total Marine casualties at Iwo Jima would be 26,000; more than one for each Japanese defender KIA. Fewer than 200 Japanese would become prisoners and the rest of the defenders fought to the death.

Because of all the acts of courage and bravery, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said, "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue." Eighty Marines would earn the Medal of Honor during WWII; twenty-two of them on the volcanic ash of Iwo Jima, the final testament to the heroism of the MArines who served there.

(5) Okinawa, the Last Offensive
(a) The final great land offensive of the Pacific area was the invasion of Okinawa by the combined force of the Marine Corps and three Army Division which made up the 10th Army. The Marine Corps was represented by the First and Sixth Marine Divisions landing on the western beaches of Okinawa, with the Second Marine Division held in reserve. Defending this mighty fortress were 117,000 Japanese.

(b) As the battle progressed, it became quite evident that the Japanese were prepared to fight until the last man. As the invasion was launched, nearly 1900 Kamikaze planes were sent against our fleet. The purpose of the Kamikaze was to crash their planes in the American ships disabling them at the cost on of plane and one barely trained pilot. Thirty-six American ships were sent to the bottom and an additional 368 more were damaged as a result of these attacks, However, on 21 June 1945, after three months of fighting, Japanese resistance ended. The successful conquest of the island of Okinawa enabled our ships, planes and submarines to tighten the blockade around Japan's home islands.

(c) The next step was to offer the Japanese the chance to surrender, unconditionally, without invasion or atomic destruction.

(d) On 26 July 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Republic of China issued the Potsdam Resolution. It promised that the Japanese people would not be enslaved, but insisted that Japan be disarmed, occupied, and it's war-making power be destroyed. Two days later, Prime Minister Suzuki announced that Japan would continue to fight.

(e) Events rushed ahead. On 6 August 1945, the B-29 "Enola Gay" rose from North Field, Tinian, and at 0815 exploded its single atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki, killing 70,000 instantly. On 9 August, a second atomic bomb swallowed Nagasaki in a mushroom shaped cloud, killing 40,000. The death and destruction were widespread and complete.

(f) On 10 August 1945, Japan asked for peace on the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, with the sole condition that the Emperor retain his throne. Three days of discussion followed; and the, President Truman announced that the Emperor could stay, subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. On 14 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito made the decision to surrender. At 0615 on August 15, 1945 Fleet Admiral Nimitz ordered all offensive operations against Japan stopped at once. The war was over.

(g) The dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan signaled the end of World War II. Now the task of disbanding the great American military machine was at hand.