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The U.S. Marines At Pearl Harbor

The earliest visit of U.S. Marines to Hawaii took place in the early nineteenth-century. On 31 May 1814, during the War of 1812, Capt John Marshall Gamble, USMC, in command of the USS Sir Andrew Hammond, a commissioned ex-British prize, reached Wyatteetee Bay on the Island of Waohoo (Waikiki). In 1843, Marines were serving on the USS Constellation when she fired her historic salute to the Hawaiian flag and to Kamehameha III, king of the Hawaiian Islands.

Two years later, Lt Joseph W. Curtis, commanding the Marine Guard of the Constellation, made a reconnaissance of Oahu and recommended that Pearl Harbor was the logical place for the defense of the island against foreign aggression and for a naval base. Lt Curtis reported: “…and may I call your attention to the vast importance of the harbor of Pearl Harbor. The perfect security of the harbor, the excellence of its water, the perfect ease with which it can be made one of the finest places in the islands, all combine to make it a great consideration.”

The young Marine lieutenant’s astute observation was not lost upon future American military planners, as nearly one hundred years later, in the spring of 1940, Pearl Harbor became the home for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. The “vast importance of Pearl Harbor” was not lost either upon the minds of foreign military analysts. By December 1940, key Japanese military planners already envisaged a surprise air raid upon the American Pacific base in the event of war with the United States. One year later their plans became reality.

On Sunday, 7 December 1941, there were approximately 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor and its vicinity. Ashore, in addition to Marine Aircraft Group 21 (MAG-21) at Ewa and the Marine Barracks, there were a variety of Marine units: 2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Service Battalion, 1st Defense Battalion (rear echelon), 3d Defense Battalion, 4th Defense Battalion, and a token element from the 6th Defense Battalion.

The Marine Corps Air Station at Ewa, Oahu, was the first target of the striking Japanese bomber and fighter planes, approximately two minutes before the portion of the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor was attacked. The air raid began approximately at 7:55am and continued until shortly before 10:00am. Three separate attacks were made in all, with MAG-21 losing nearly all of its 47 Grumman F4F Wildcats and dive bombers in the first attack.

It was noted in the official Marine Corps report of the air raid on Ewa that: “So precise and well executed were the individual (Japanese) attacks that it appeared as though each plane previously has selected its particular target; and aimed at the wings of the aircraft on the ground with the purpose of riddling them, and setting fire to the gas tanks, in order to render them useless for pursuit and interception.”

The commanding officer of MAG-21, LtCol Claude A. Larkin, although wounded almost immediately upon arriving at the field that morning, continued to direct the efforts of his Marines to meet the Japanese attack. Marine personnel fought back with machine guns stripped from the ruins of smoldering planes, and in many instances with small arms. Miraculously, only four Marines perished in the air raid at Ewa.

The official report added that, “practically to the last man, every Marine at the base met the attack with whatever weapon there was at hand, or that he could commandeer, or even improvise with the limited means of his command. They displayed great courage and determination against insurmountable odds.”

Similarly, the commanding officer of the Marine Barracks at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard noted in his report of 7 December that immediately upon the first raid by hostile planes, “the (1st and 3d) defense battalions immediately went into action with antiaircraft machine guns with telling effect.” In addition to manning battle stations, security posts and fire engines, Marines at the Barracks assisted in collecting and transporting casualties from the waterfront to the Naval Hospital. One set of barracks, the Noncommissioned Officers’ Club and the Post Exchange were also vacated and prepared for the caring of casualties. The mess halls were opened and served food on a 24-hour basis to civilian and military personnel at the Barracks.

Over 800 officers and enlisted Marines were serving aboard ships at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack. There were Marine ships’ detachments aboard the USS Arizona, California, Helena, Honolulu, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. During the first minute of the attack, a Japanese torpedo slammed into the port bow of the USS Arizona. The senior Marine officer, Maj Alan Shapley, was thrown from the foremast at least a hundred feet into the water but managed to swim clear to Ford Island. Rescuing two shipmates on his way to safety, Maj Shapley later received a Silver Star for his actions.

The Marine Corps Air Station at Ewa, Oahu, was the first target of the striking Japanese bomber and fighter planes, approximately two minutes before the portion of the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor was attacked. The air raid began approximately at 7:55am and continued until shortly before 10:00am. Three separate attacks were made in all, with MAG-21 losing nearly all of its 47 Grumman F4F Wildcats and dive bombers in the first attack.

It was noted in the official Marine Corps report of the air raid on Ewa that: “So precise and well executed were the individual (Japanese) attacks that it appeared as though each plane previously has selected its particular target; and aimed at the wings of the aircraft on the ground with the purpose of riddling them, and setting fire to the gas tanks, in order to render them useless for pursuit and interception.”

The commanding officer of MAG-21, LtCol Claude A. Larkin, although wounded almost immediately upon arriving at the field that morning, continued to direct the efforts of his Marines to meet the Japanese attack. Marine personnel fought back with machine guns stripped from the ruins of smoldering planes, and in many instances with small arms. Miraculously, only four Marines perished in the air raid at Ewa.

The official report added that, “practically to the last man, every Marine at the base met the attack with whatever weapon there was at hand, or that he could commandeer, or even improvise with the limited means of his command. They displayed great courage and determination against insurmountable odds.”

Similarly, the commanding officer of the Marine Barracks at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard noted in his report of 7 December that immediately upon the first raid by hostile planes, “the (1st and 3d) defense battalions immediately went into action with antiaircraft machine guns with telling effect.” In addition to manning battle stations, security posts and fire engines, Marines at the Barracks assisted in collecting and transporting casualties from the waterfront to the Naval Hospital. One set of barracks, the Noncommissioned Officers’ Club and the Post Exchange were also vacated and prepared for the caring of casualties. The mess halls were opened and served food on a 24-hour basis to civilian and military personnel at the Barracks.

Over 800 officers and enlisted Marines were serving aboard ships at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack. There were Marine ships’ detachments aboard the USS Arizona, California, Helena, Honolulu, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. During the first minute of the attack, a Japanese torpedo slammed into the port bow of the USS Arizona. The senior Marine officer, Maj Alan Shapley, was thrown from the foremast at least a hundred feet into the water but managed to swim clear to Ford Island. Rescuing two shipmates on his way to safety, Maj Shapley later received a Silver Star for his actions.

Though stunned by the fury of the enemy assault, the Marines who were not caught below ship manned their posts and returned antiaircraft fire. Individual acts of heroism were numerous that December morning; four Marines serving aboard ships in “battleship row” received Navy Crosses for heroic actions in rescuing fellow Marines and Navy personnel.

Typical of the heroism displayed by many Marines were the actions of Sgt Thomas E. Hailey. Stationed on the USS Oklahoma, when that battleship capsized, he swam to an adjacent battleship to assist in the rescue of the latter’s crew. Then, on his own initiative, he manned an antiaircraft gun, despite enemy bombing and strafing and the fact that he had no previous experience on this type of weapon. Later, clad only in his underwear and armed with a rifle, he volunteered and went up in an airplane on a five-hour search mission.

Similarly, aboard the USS Nevada, Cpl Joseph R. Driskell, although wounded and with most of his clothes burned off, manned another gun when his own was wrecked. Subsequently he assisted other injured men and joined in fire-fighting squads which brought flames under control.

By the time the Japanese air raid was over at 9:45am, the destruction to the United States’ Fleet was vast. The attack claimed the lives of 2,409 American servicemen and civilians and wounded another 1,178. Eighteen ships in Pearl Harbor were destroyed or heavily damaged and 347 American aircraft were put out of action. Fortunately, the attack on Pearl Harbor missed three naval aircraft carriers, which were at sea at the time. The air raid also missed the base repair facilities, the submarine base and the fuel storage tanks. The survival of these facilities made possible the eventual repair of 13 of the damaged American battleships at Pearl Harbor.

Marine Corps losses at Pearl Harbor included 112 Marines killed and missing in action and at least 64 wounded. The heaviest Marine losses came from the ship’s detachment aboard the Arizona, only 3 officers and 12 enlisted men survived from a Marine detachment of 82. In words that could easily apply to the actions of all U.S. servicemen stationed at Pearl Harbor of 7 December 1941, the executive officer of the West Virginia noted that: “Throughout the action, there never was the slightest sign of faltering or of cowardice. The actions of the officers and men were wholly commendable; their spirit was marvelous; there was no sign of panic, no shirking nor flinching, and words fail in attempting to describe the truly magnificent display of courage, discipline, and devotion to duty of all.”

Though inflicting a serious, but temporary, blow upon American military power in the Pacific, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor also united Americans behind their President and Congress, when on 8 December, war was formally declared on Japan. A “sleeping giant” had been awakened, and would not rest again until the final defeat of Japan and her Axis partners four years later.

Marines At The Battle of Bougainville

The Solomon Islands campaign began with the taking of Guadalcanal in December 1942. In February 1943 the Russell Islands fell, and the New Georgia group followed in August 1943. At the end of 1943, the campaign reached its goal when American troops gained a solid foothold on the island of Bougainville. The Russells, New Georgia and Bougainville were objectives because of their value as air bases.

Objective: Isolate Rabaul

The objective of the Solomon Islands campaign was to cut off Japan’s major forward air and naval base at Rabaul, on the island of New Britain. Rabaul was the hub of Japanese air power in the south Pacific – a stopping point for planes coming from New Guinea in the southwest and Truk, the home of the Japanese Combined Fleet, in the south central Pacific. Bougainville was key to neutralizing Rabaul.

Preliminary Attacks

The first attack on Bougainville occurred on 15 August 1943. Eight Corsairs from Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (later known as the Black Sheep) flew up from the Russell Islands to strafe the Kahili airfield during American amphibious landings on the island of Vella Lavella. The lightning strike, a surprise so complete the Japanese did not have time to shoot back, damaged aircraft and refueling equipment on the ground and forestalled a night attack on the American amphibious force.

The Solomon Islands Air Defenses (AirSols), including units from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force, made many air strikes in October on Bougainville and nearby islands. Although some strikes were designed to keep the enemy guessing as to the Marines’ intended landing point, most were planned to reduce air opposition to the Bougainville landings when they finally occurred.

Diversions

Two diversionary amphibious landings were made the night of 27-28 October: the 2d Marine Parachute Battalion landed on Choiseul; and New Zealand’s 8th Brigade, together with Navy Seabees (U.S. Naval Construction Battalions), made an unopposed landing on the Treasury Islands on 27 October. Both operations served their primary purpose of drawing Japanese troops away from Bougainville, but the positions gained in the Treasuries, including valuable Blanche Harbor, were held and strengthened to provide staging for the landings on Bougainville. The Marines left Choiseul by landing craft after a week of harassing Japanese troops and damaging barge and supply bases.

D-Day: 1 November 1943

Admiral William F. Halsey, USN, Commander South Pacific, ordered Task Force 39 (which included four cruisers and the eight destroyers of Capt Arleigh Burke’s Destroyer Squadron 23), under RADM A.S. Merrill, to bombard airfields on Buka and Bonis northwest of Bougainville. He intended the bombardments to keep the enemy off-balance and prevent air harassment of the landing force. The task force then steamed more than 200 miles to strike at the Shortland Islands, while RADM F.C. Sherman’s Task Force 38 took over the bombardment of Buka, eliminating the threat from those airfields.

The actual landing by the 3d Marine Division at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville took place at dawn on 1 November. The bay, located at some distance from the heavily defended airfields at either end of the island, had what appeared to be the most suitable beaches for a landing. The plan was to establish a beachhead, then bring in supplies and equipment to build a landing strip for fighters.

Invasion forces consisted of 14,321 troops (including the 1st Marine Dog Platoon with their 24 Dobermans and German Shepherds) in 12 transports, preceded by a minesweeper group. Destroyer Squadron 45, four minelayers and two salvage tugs provided further support.

The landing met with several obstacles. The Japanese defenses of the beaches were stronger than anticipated. The 40,000 troops on the island had been reported to be stationed mainly around the airfields, and aerial reconnaissance photos did not reveal the extensive system of bunkers in the jungles above the beaches. The Marines who landed west of the mouth of the Koromokina River encountered steep slopes and shoals on which more than 80 of their amphibious craft foundered. Those landing east of the Koromokina were caught in crossfire from machine guns on the offshore islet of Puruata and on Cape Torokina east of the beach. A small contingent of Marines knocked out the gun emplacement on the cape after it had destroyed or damaged 14 landing craft and the 3d Marine Raiders captured Puruata. The landing force drove away the rest of the Japanese defenders, while the war dog platoon, moving ahead of the main body, sniffed out snipers along the trails of the bog-ridden jungle.

In spite of the resistance, and two Japanese air assaults launched from Rabaul bases during the day (which were driven off by AirSols fighters), the Marines succeeded. By nightfall, all 14,000 troops, together with 6,200 tons of fuel, rations, and ammunition, were landed along a 200-yard perimeter.

Battle of Empress Augusta Bay

The evening of the landing, Army reconnaissance aircraft reported that a large Japanese surface force was heading for Bougainville. Task Force 39 intercepted it about 2:30 the following morning 45 miles west of Empress Augusta Bay. The American ships, executing maneuvers at breakneck speeds in the darkness to avoid Japanese long-range torpedoes, sank two enemy ships after three hours of heavy fire. With two other ships damaged in collisions while trying to avoid American torpedoes, the scattered Japanese chose to retreat. The American force had only two ships hit, both of which sustained moderate damage.

The Japanese Response

The initial Japanese reaction to the Bougainville landing was to send a force of 19 ships to strengthen Rabaul. However, a 5 November 1943 air attack from Task Force 38 heavily damaged seven cruisers and two destroyers, prompting the withdrawal of the cruisers and eliminating worries about surface attacks on the Bougainville amphibious forces.

Even so, the night of 6-7 November, four Japanese destroyers eluded the Americans and landed 475 troops west of the Marine beachhead. The Japanese hoped to catch the Marines between them and the other troops on the island, but the enemy forces never coordinated their actions. The Marines routed out the counter-landing detachment after two days of artillery barrages. Fewer than 100 Japanese escaped into the jungle; the rest were killed. The Marines sustained under 50 casualties.

Another punishing attack from Task Force 38 on Rabaul 11 November cost the Japanese 68 fighters and three ships. Nevertheless, Japanese carrier air groups from Rabaul made repeated attacks on the American landing force and the U.S. Navy ships, which continued to ferry in reinforcements, supplies and munitions. The strikes did little damage to the American forces, but the Japanese lost so many planes, 121 out of 173, that the remaining carrier based squadrons were withdrawn 13 November.

By that time, the Americans had landed nearly 34,000 troops and over 23,000 tons of cargo on Bougainville; widened the beachhead 7,000 yards; and moved 5,000 yards inland through dense, difficult mangrove swamps.

Even though two airfields were under construction and the Marines were expanding their perimeter in search of a site to build a bomber strip, the Japanese army commander on Bougainville still believed that the landing was a feint. He continued to think that the primary targets were Buka to the north and the Buin section of the island to the southeast. Thus, no Japanese forces were withdrawn from either end of the island to root out the American invasion, and the American had the opportunity to solidify their positions.

Holidays in the Solomons

On Thanksgiving Day, 25 November 1943, Commodore Burke’s Destroyer Squadron 23 fought the Battle of Cape St. George, sinking three Japanese vessels out of five sent with troops to reinforce Buka. The American ships suffered no hits at all. The same day, the Marines pushing inland along the Piva River virtually destroyed the Japanese’s 23rd Imperial Infantry in the Battle of Piva Forks. This was the last major Japanese ground resistance on Bougainville.

On Christmas Day, the Army’s Americal Division arrived on Bougainville to relieve the 3d Marine Division. Marine MajGen Ralph J. Mitchell, Commander of AirSols, moved his headquarters to Bougainville to direct the final air campaign against Rabaul, only 220 miles away. Within a month, the base at Rabaul was of no further use to the Japanese.

American troops continued to occupy Bougainville and contain dwindling Japanese troops, until relieved by Australian II Corps troops in late 1944. The Australians attempted to clear the entire island of Japanese, incurring heavy casualties. The end of the Pacific war brought an end to action on Bougainville.

Campaign Results

The Bougainville campaign remains one of the most resounding successes of the war in the Pacific in terms of the smooth coordination between the Navy and Marine Corps. The capture of Bougainville successfully isolated Rabaul and caused the Japanese to expend more of their air units than they could afford to lose.

Also, the Bougainville airstrips constructed at Torokina and Piva by Seabees and engineers made fighter-escorted bomber attacks against Rabaul possible, as well as attacks on other Japanese bases on New Ireland and New Britain. In December 1943, AirSols began a massive attack on Rabaul. The ensuing two months of constant air strikes, only made possible by the possession of Bougainville, caused the Japanese to withdraw.

The capture of Bougainville resulted in 423 Marines dead and 1,418 wounded.

Lost Evidence Iwo Jima World War II (5/5)

Everyone has seen images of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.
Not as many know the details of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Part 5 of 5

Today In Marine Corps History: 23 February 1945

Four days after the initial landings on Iwo Jima, 1stLt Harold G. Schrier led 40 men from Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, up Mt. Suribachi to secure the crest and raise the small American flag that battalion commander LtCol Chandler Johnson had given Schrier.
Within an hour, the patrol reached the rim of the crater. After a short fire-fight with Japanese defenders emerging from several caves, the small American flag was attached to an iron pipe and raised over the island.

Today In Marine Corps History: 23 February 19

Four days after the initial landings on Iwo Jima, 1stLt Harold G. Schrier led 40 men from Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, up Mt. Suribachi to secure the crest and raise the small American flag that battalion commander LtCol Chandler Johnson had given Schrier.
Within an hour, the patrol reached the rim of the crater.
After a short fire-fight with Japanese defenders emerging from several caves, the small American flag was attached to an iron pipe and raised over the island.

Lost Evidence Iwo Jima World War II (4/5)

Everyone has seen images of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.
Not as many know the details of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Part 4 of 5

Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue

There are plenty of slogans, such as “first to fight” and the “best of the best,” that describe Marines. But Marines weren’t just handed these slogans. They earned them with their blood, sweat and tears, at home and overseas.

Feb. 22. is the day set aside to remember the 68th anniversary of the Iwo Jima Flag Raising. That is why the few who have earned the right to be called Marine today are reminded to pay homage to those have fought and made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle of World War II in the Pacific in which the United States armed forces fought for and captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese Empire. For the U.S., Iwo Jima was strategically important as an air base for supporting of long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. By taking the island, the U.S. forces could launch sea and air blockades, conduct air bombardment and destroy the enemy’s air and sea capabilities.

The assault elements of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, which was the largest force ever committed to a single battle in the Marine Corps’ history, landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. Then 35 days later, the island was declared secure. To make matters better for the U.S., seven months later World War II ended.
The surrender of Japan was a glorious day for the U.S., but for the Marines, this victory was a bittersweet. The ones who were alive were surely glad to be. Yet, they knew better than anyone the cost of winning. More than 24,000 Marines and 649 sailors were killed during the war.

“The Corps didn’t prepare you to die,” said 87-year-old Frank Matthews, a docent at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, who was an 18-year-old private first class when he landed on Iwo Jima with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. “Most of the Marines that I knew were around 19-years old and had a chance to really live life. But the Marine Corps did train us well for battle and we knew that as we approached the sands.”
That year in cemeteries all over the world, American flags flew above the graves of Marines who would never take part in the victory celebrations. In homes all over America, families, sweethearts, friends and co-workers faced a tragic reality. For them, there would be no homecomings or parades from World War II with their Marines.

At the dedication of the 3rd Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima in 1945, division commander Maj. Gen. Graves Erskine spoke words that, in a sense, represent all the Marines and attached Navy personnel who fell in the war.

“Victory was never in doubt, its cost was,” Erskine said. “What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate this cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die knocking out the last Japanese gun and gunner.”

Lance Cpl. Antwaun Jefferson
DVIDS

Lost Evidence Iwo Jima World War II (2/5)

Everyone has seen images of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.
Not as many know the details of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Part 2 of 5

Iwo Jima Veteran Frank Mathews

“The Corps didn’t prepare you to die,” said 87-year-old Frank Matthews, a docent we met at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, who was an 18-year-old private first class when he landed on Iwo Jima with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.

“Most of the Marines that I knew were around 19-years old and had a chance to really live life.
But the Marine Corps did train us well for battle and we knew that as we approached the sands.”

Lost Evidence Iwo Jima World War II (1/5)

Everyone has seen images of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.
Not as many know the details of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Part 1 of 5

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