1st Marine Division: The Old Breed (Spearhead Series #8)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780711029583
  • Publisher: Ian Allan Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Series: Spearhead Series , #8
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1ST MARINE DIVISION

'The Old Breed'
By Ian Westwell

Ian Allan

Copyright © 2002 Compendium Publishing
All right reserved.

ISBN: 071102958X


Acknowledgement

Author and Publisher acknowledge the help of a number of people in the production of this book, including Teddy Nevill of TRH Pictures and Lolita Chizmar of Real War Photos who supplied the bulk of the photos, Mark Franklin of Flatt Artt (maps and drawings), Donald Sommerville (editor), Tony Stocks of Compendium Design (design). Thanks to Bob Aquilina of the Marine Historical Centre for the information in the commanding generals table on page 82.

Chapter One

ORIGINS & HISTORY

At the end of June 1939, two months before Hitler's invasion of Poland led to the outbreak of World War II, the US Marine Corps had a strength of just 19,432 men of whom a mere 4,840 were assigned to the Fleet Marine Force (FMF), an expeditionary organization of the US Navy earmarked for full-scale overseas amphibious assault operations. The origins of the concept dated back to the early interwar period, when the Marine Corps commandant was Major-General John Lejeune, a staunch advocate of the corps' use as an overseas expeditionary force and a former member of the 5th Marines. In 1923, he summed up his beliefs to students at the Naval War College: 'The maintenance, equipping, and training of its expeditionary force so it will be ininstant readiness to support the fleet in the event of war, I deem to be the most important Marine Corps duty in time of peace.' Lejeune and his immediate successors as commandant, Wendell Neville, Ben Fuller, and John Russell Jr., faced an uphill struggle to achieve their aims. Amphibious warfare doctrines were poorly understood and their value unappreciated in the upper echelons of the US military. Appropriate funds were either not forthcoming or too small for a meaningful expansion programme at a time of fiscal shortages.

CREATING THE 1ST MARINE DIVISION

Some progress was made towards the end of Fuller's term as commandant. In December 1933 the secretary of the navy approved his plan to redesignate the existing expeditionary forces on the East and West Coasts of the United States as the FMF. At this stage the FMF consisted of the 1st Marine Brigade at Quantico, Virginia, and the 2nd Marine Brigade at San Diego, California. The term brigade was a misnomer as each contained little more than an under-strength infantry regiment with small support units. Each brigade was also assisted by a Marine Aircraft Group and a third air unit, a scouting squadron designated VMS-3, was based on the Virgin Islands. These forces comprised the whole of the FMF, but would form the basis for future expansion once World War II had broken out. There were also moves to develop full-fledged operational techniques for amphibious warfare during this period. In January 1934 the Marine Corps published the Tentative Manual for Land Operations. This was later amended and expanded and was joined, in 1938, by the US Navy's Fleet Training Publication (FTP) 167, which unveiled the amphibious warfare procedures that would become standard in World War II.

President Franklin Roosevelt's decision to declare a national emergency on 8 September 1939, a week after Hitler's invasion of Poland, and the subsequent need to strength the defences of the United States led to a steady increase in the country's armed forces, including the FMF. By 1940 the FMF had reached a strength of 9,749 and was growing steadily. The expansion programme was boosted in November by the mobilization of the Organized Marine Corps Reserve, a pool of some 5,200 mostly trained and experienced officers and men. Those who were assigned to the 1st Marine Brigade would allow the process of expansion to divisional strength to begin.

Even as the brigade was undergoing expansion, there were potential calls on its services. Nazi Germany's lightning defeat of France in June 1940 and the creation of the Vichy French puppet state rang alarm bells in the Roosevelt administration, which feared that French territories in the New World might be used by Hitler's forces as bases from where the United States could be threatened, possibly by U-boat attacks on its merchant fleet. The chief concern was Martinique in the Antilles, the administrative centre of France's Caribbean empire. Plans were laid to occupy the island by force. The details of the occupation operation were finalized on 8 July, and the 1st Marine Brigade was ordered to prepare for embarkation at New York around a week later. The landings never took place as the status of Martinique was temporarily resolved. However, tensions rose once again in October and Roosevelt ordered a landing to be prepared. The core of the proposed occupation force were the 2,800 men of the 1st Marine Brigade. Yet again, the crisis died away and the brigade stood down to focus on its expansion.

In the late fall of 1940 Brigadier-General Holland Smith's 1st Marine Brigade moved from Quantico to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Its units, based on the 5th Marines, the artillery of the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, and attached support units, had outgrown Quantico and the larger Guantanamo base was chosen for the ongoing expansion of the brigade to divisional strength. To provide a leavening of experienced men in the proposed new units, the existing ones were simply split in two at the beginning of 1941. To avoid having all the best men siphoned off into one unit, leaving the worst in the other, Smith ordered each commander to draw up lists of equal length but without including the commander or his executive officer. Each commanding officer and executive did not know which of the lists he would take charge of until Holland had made his personal decision. Consequently, the 5th Marines was divided to form the core of the 7th Marines, while the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, was formed from the pre-existing 1st Battalion. A little while later, the process was repeated but this time with three lists for each unit and omitting the three most senior officers in each. Thus each unit provided a third of the men for a new unit. The 5th and 7th Marines, for example, each surrendered men that formed the basis of a new regiment, the 1st Marines, which was activated on 1 February 1941. On the 12th, the brigade was formerly redesignated as the 1st Marine Division on board the battleship Texas while its men were heading for the island of Culebra, part of Puerto Rica, to take part in manoeuvres.

LINEAGE AND HONOURS

The units that made up the bulk of the new division had seen service before in some form. The 1st Marine Regiment had had many guises, with several units having enjoyed the title, often at similar times. However, the unit commonly recognized as the regiment's antecedent was activated at Philadelphia on 27 November 1913 but initially bore the designation 2nd Advance Base Regiment, a title that it held until 1 July 1916, when it was redesignated the 1st Regiment of Marines. In its earlier years the unit was primarily involved in the Caribbean and Central America. In April 1914, it took part in the occupation of Vera Cruz following the Mexican government's arrest of US sailors. During 1915 and 1916, the regiment was in action in Haiti against local rebels threatening the country's economy and extensive US business interests. The 1st Marines scored a notable victory over the local Cacos insurgents with the capture of Fort Riviere on 17 November 1915. In April 1916, the regiment moved to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, where internal unrest was again undermining US business interests. Nevertheless, as with other US units after World War I, the 1st Marines had a chequered history for much of the interwar era. There were periods of service followed by deactivation and reactivation. On 10 July 1930 the regiment received its permanent designation of 1st Marines as part of a wholesale reordering of the Marine Corps but was disbanded on 1 November 1931, although a number of its troops joined the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, which was renamed the 1st Separate Training Battalion on 1 November 1932. An actual 1st Marines would not appear again until February 1941.

The 5th Marine Regiment, nicknamed as the 'Fighting Fifth', first saw service during the occupation of Vera Cruz in July 1914 but soon returned home to the Philadelphia Naval Yard and was then deactivated, with its men sent to other units. US entry into World War I led to a vast expansion programme and the regiment was reactivated shortly before the declaration of war on 6 April 1917. It sailed for Europe on the USS Henderson on the 27th and formed part of the 4th Marine Brigade, which was attached to the Second Army of General John Pershing's American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The regiment's first main engagement came during the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918. Tasked with helping to blunt a German drive on Paris by holding the line of the Marne River, the 2nd Division, commanded by Major-General Lejeune and containing the 5th Marines, arrived in late May to face major German forces and on 5 June a French colonel suggested retreating in the face of overwhelming odds. The commander of the 5th Marines, Colonel Wendell Neville, gave a curt reply to the suggestion: 'Retreat, hell. We just got here.' On the following day the 5th Marine Regiment attacked on the right towards the village of Torcy and was able to take Hill 142 by 12.00 hours, but the Germans hung on to many positions. The battle for the heavily defended and shell-blasted wood continued for the next few weeks. The marines were withdrawn from the action on the 15th but returned to complete its occupation on the evening of the 21st-22nd. The troops of the 13,500-strong brigade had suffered some 5,700 casualties during the battle, but had been christened 'Devil Dogs' by the Germans because of their fighting prowess.

The marines continued to play a central role in the AEF's campaigns on the Western Front. In July and August the regiment took part in the successful Allied Aisne-Marne counter-offensive, which eradicated a bulge in the line between Soissons and Reims. The regiment next participated in the St Mihiel offensive, the first large-scale US attack of the war, to the south-east of Verdun. In four days, 12-16 September, a large German salient was eliminated. The 2nd Division, part of the US I Corps, was stationed on the far right of the bulge and made excellent progress, bypassing the supposedly impregnable high ground of Mont Sec as the Germans continued an ongoing withdrawal. The regiment's final attacks of the war were during the Meuse-Argonne operation launched on the 26th. After days of bitter fighting to break through successive lines of German defences the advance bogged down and had to be reorganized. The 2nd Division was moved to support the French Fourth Army during its attacks on the formidable Mont Blanc position. The advance opened on the morning of 1 October and the 5th Marines stormed Mont Blanc's left flank, overran many German positions and completed the occupation of the supposedly impregnable area on 4 October. After a spell in reserve, the 2nd Division returned to the line on the 17th for the final stages of the offensive, a drive on Sedan. In the face of crumbling German resistance, the division stormed the Barricourt heights on 1 November, and the armistice followed 10 days later. The 5th Marines were stationed in Germany after the war, returning to the United States in 1919. A period of mixed fortunes followed, including deactivation, reactivation, home service and action in Nicaragua.

The 7th Marine Regiment originated on 14 August 1917, when it was activated at Philadelphia. It did not see service on the Western Front but was deployed to augment the garrison at Guantanamo Bay. After two years of overseas service, it was deactivated in 1919, but was again mobilized briefly in 1933. Serving on warships off Cuba during a period of internal unrest, it took no part in operations as these were contained by marine units already on the ground. The regiment once again returned to the United States and was demobilized until 1941. The 11th Marine Regiment was established as a light artillery unit at Quantico in January 1918, but served as an infantry unit in France during World War I. Between the wars it was decommissioned and reactivated on two occasions, seeing service in Nicaragua. It was reactivated in 1940 to be ready for action as an artillery regiment.

The expansion of the Marine Corps from 1939 was based on the need to fulfil three missions. First, at least two divisions and two air wings were needed for the FMF. Second, new units known as defence battalions were required to protect the larger overseas bases, such as Guantanamo and various islands in the Pacific. Third, detachments had to be raised to guard US bases and the warships of the growing navy. This vast expansion programme required tens of thousands of new recruits, volunteers who needed training. The existing facilities were far too small to cope with the demands placed on them and new bases had to be built as speedily as possible. On 15 February 1941 official authorization was granted to built a new marine base on the coast of North Carolina. The location, the New River area of Onslow County, was deemed ideal for amphibious warfare training but the 1st Division's official historian also remarked that '(It was) 111,170 acres of water, coastal swamp, and plain, theretofore inhabited largely by sand flies, ticks, chiggers, and snakes.' Extensive plans for what would be designated Camp Lejeune were drawn up but when the base was activated on 1 May as Marine Barracks, New River, it was little more than a vast tented camp.

Elements of the 1st Marine Division began arriving at New River shortly after its opening and over the following months took part in various training programmes, including a joint amphibious exercise with the US Army's 1st Infantry Division. The division was still not at full strength but shortages of instructors were overcome and the training programme expanded from the dangerously short period of 24 days in 1940 to a more realistic seven weeks. By the end of November 1941 the Marine Corps had a total strength of some 65,000 men in bases across the United States and overseas; 8,918 of these formed the still understrength 1st Marine Division.

Continues...


Excerpted from 1ST MARINE DIVISION by Ian Westwell Copyright © 2002 by Compendium Publishing
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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