The Marines in World War II

The Marines in World War II

by Michael E. Haskew


View All Available Formats & Editions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250101167
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/06/2016
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

MICHAEL E. HASKEW is the editor of WWII History Magazine and the former editor of World War II Magazine. He is the author of a number of books, including The Snper at War and Order of Battle. Haskew is also the editor of The World War II Desk Reference for the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He lives in Hixson, Tennessee.

Read an Excerpt

The Marines in World War II

By Michael E. Haskew

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Amber Books Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10117-4



In the opening phases of the war, U.S. Marines played a major part in defending Pearl Harbor and at the Battle of Midway, setting the scene for the amphibious operations that were to follow.

Standing at attention on the stern of the battleship USS Arizona, moored at Quay F-7 on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, a U.S. Marine honor guard prepared to raise the flag of the United States. The time was just before 8.00 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Two hours earlier, from a position 230 miles (370km) north of the island of Oahu, six aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku, turned into the wind to launch a powerful aerial striking force of 353 planes in two waves. The target of the First Air Fleet was the anchorage of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Other installations of the U.S. Navy and the Army, including Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, the naval air stations at Kaneohe and on Ford Island in the heart of Pearl Harbor, and Ewa Marine Corps Air Station (also known as Ewa Mooring Mast Field) to the west were to be attacked as well. Other Japanese forces were to strike the Philippines, Wake Island, Midway Atoll, Guam, and Malaya.

Years of diplomatic dialogue, charges, countercharges, provocations, and embargoes had come to an end. Imperial Japan had girded for war, and preemptive strikes against the U.S. military in Asia and the Pacific were expected to herald the defeat of the United States, shocking the Americans so profoundly that they would sue for peace and allow Japan to fulfill its territorial ambitions across the region without restraint. Successful attacks against Pearl Harbor and other installations would render the United States military impotent.

The architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other military targets on Oahu was 57-year-old Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Yamamoto reasoned that the risky operation offered the best opportunity for a rapid Japanese victory in a war with the United States that most of Japan's civilian and military leadership had deemed inevitable.

Battleship Row

Moored along Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row at the eastern end of Ford Island that fateful Sunday morning were the battleships Maryland inboard of the Oklahoma, Tennessee inboard of West Virginia, Arizona inboard of the repair ship Vestal 200ft (61m) from the stern of Tennessee, and Nevada astern of Arizona. Just to the west lay the battleship California. The Pennsylvania was in Drydock 1 along with the destroyers Cassin and Downes. On the western side of Ford Island were moored the old target battleship Utah, the light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, and the seaplane tender Tangier. Altogether, 96 warships of the U.S. Navy were present in Pearl Harbor.

The primary Japanese targets, the aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet, were at sea. Lexington was headed to Midway Atoll to deliver a squadron of Marine bombers. Delayed by a storm, Enterprise was returning to Pearl Harbor after delivering supplies to Wake Island. The third carrier, Saratoga, was steaming into the harbor at San Diego, California, as the Pearl Harbor attack got underway.

True to one of their original reasons for existence, Marines continued to serve aboard many ships of the U.S. Navy during the years between the world wars. On the morning of December 7, Marines were aboard 15 ships in the harbor, including eight battleships, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and a support vessel. They provided shipboard security and often manned anti-aircraft guns.

The Marines of the honor guard on the stern of the Arizona heard the crump of the first Japanese bombs falling around the seaplane hangar on Ford Island. They glimpsed aircraft on strafing, bombing, and torpedo runs, hurriedly completed the raising of the flag, and then ran to battle stations. On Ford Island, the three Marine privates set to render honors to the flag completed the task, but not to the recorded tune of "Colors". Instead, "General Quarters" blared over the loudspeakers as Old Glory was raised.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters under Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Itaya actually opened the Japanese attack, strafing Kaneohe Naval Air Station at 7.48 a.m. Marines assigned to Kaneohe were the only Americans there who had ready access to weapons, and they began firing back at the low-flying planes immediately. Seven minutes later, Ford Island and Hickam Field were under attack by Aichi D3A Val dive-bombers. At 7.57 a.m., the first Nakajima B5N1 Kate torpedo planes loosed their weapons. Level bombers attacked the harbor at 8.05 a.m.

Kates under Lieutenant Jinchi Goto, flying as low as 50ft (15m), lined up on theOklahoma and slammed three torpedoes into her port side. Almost immediately, the battleship began to list to 45 degrees. Two more torpedoes found their mark and the great vessel rolled over and capsized. The West Virginia was struck by a total of seven torpedoes and also began to list; however, alert counterflooding allowed the ship to settle to the bottom of the harbor on an even keel. On the other side of Ford Island, the Utah took two torpedoes and capsized. A third torpedo hit the Raleigh below the bridge, flooding its forward engine room.

A catastrophic explosion ripped apart the 32,500 ton (29,483 tonne) Arizona. Several Japanese bombers had attacked the battleship, scoring two hits. The first bomb damaged air intakes and caused a shaft of smoke to rise from the stack. The second bomb struck the ship slightly aft of Turret No.2, passing through the main and second decks, crew quarters below, and exploding on the third deck directly above the powder magazines for the 14in (35.5cm) main batteries. In a flash more than 1100 men were killed or mortally wounded aboard the Arizona, 72 of them Marines.

Aboard the broken and sinking battleship, Major Alan Shapley, slated to leave the Arizona shortly for reassignment to the 2nd Marine Division in San Diego, encountered Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, the ranking officer aboard at the time. Fuqua told Shapley that he had given the order to abandon ship. Shapley and Corporal Earl C. Nightingale were near the mooring quay when a secondary explosion blew them into the water. Shocked by the concussion, Nightingale began swimming toward a pipeline some 450ft (140m) away. However, his strength began to wane.

Shapley swam to Nightingale, grabbed his shirt, and took him in tow. Then Shapley, too, became exhausted. Nightingale told the officer to let go and save himself. Shapley refused, and the two struggled on together. Miraculously, they reached safety. Later, Nightingale praised Shapley: "I would have drowned but for the major."

As the Oklahoma began to heel over to port, hundreds of sailors and Marines were trapped inside the hull. Second Lieutenant Harry H. Gaver, Jr. went to his knees while trying to close a watertight hatch on the port side of the battleship near the barbette of Turret No.1. His friend Ensign Paul H. Backus hurried past on his way from his quarters to his battle station on the signal bridge. Backus remembered the young Marine's heroic but futile effort to help with damage control and never saw Gaver alive again.

Casualties at Oshu

Chaos reigned across the island of Oahu, and everywhere Marines assisted in rescue efforts, fired at the attackers, and did what they could for the wounded. At Hickam Field, 35 men were killed while they were eating breakfast when a Japanese bomb smashed the mess hall. More than 20 others were killed as they readied bombers for training flights. At Wheeler Field, where most of the island of Oahu's fighter strength was stationed, 25 Val dive-bombers, followed by strafing Zeros, destroyed most of the 140 aircraft parked in neat rows.

The 36 Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplanes at Kaneohe were shredded by a dozen Zeros in an attack that lasted only eight minutes. Only three planes at Kaneohe escaped damage. Bellows Field was strafed by a single Zero about 8.30 a.m., following a warning from one enlisted man that Kaneohe had been "blown to hell!"

Ewa Marine Corps Air Station included a 5000ft (1524m) airstrip and a mooring mast for airships near the operations and intelligence buildings. Elsewhere, tents and wooden structures housing the motor pool, supply depot, and shops were scattered across the installation. Captain Leonard Ashwell, the officer of the day on that Sunday morning, was exiting the officers' mess at 7.53 a.m. He checked his watch and looked skyward as a flight of 18 Kates roared toward Pearl Harbor. At the same time, Ashwell realized that Ewa was under attack. He ducked back into the officer's mess and yelled: "Air Raid! Air Raid! Pass the word!"

Most of the 48 planes at the Marine base were Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, comprising three squadrons of the 21st Marine Aircraft Group. As at other airfields, the planes were lined up neatly in rows to protect against sabotage. They made easy targets, and 29 were riddled by a flight of 21 Zeros from the carriers Akagi and Kaga that strafed for more than 20 minutes.

Flames came dangerously close to the hospital and adjacent buildings where medical supplies were stored. Firemen leaped into the open to protect the structures. Another Marine jumped into a fire truck and headed across the runway toward several burning aircraft. The Japanese fighters shot out the rear tires, and the fireman took cover behind stacked crates.

Lieutenant Colonel Claude A. "Sheriff" Larkin, the base commander, was driving to Ewa from Honolulu in his 1930 Plymouth when the attack began. A single Zero peeled off and began peppering .303in (7.7mm) machine gun bullets at Larkin's car. The Marine officer hit the brake, left the engine running, and dove for cover into a ditch. He was wounded by shrapnel, but escaped with his life. As the raider winged away, Larking ran back to his car and continued toward Ewa, just in time to be strafed again — this time he was wounded in the hand and leg. Ignoring the searing pain, he issued orders as best he could in defense of the base.

Minutes after the first Japanese fighters roared away from Ewa, at least a dozen more rolled in. These were from the carriers Soryu and Hiryu, spitting lead at targets of opportunity, including the Marines' personal automobiles parked near the center of the base. During the short respite between fighter attacks, the Marines grabbed what weapons and ammunition they could. They fired steadily at these latest attackers, and a bullet punctured the forward fuel tank of Petty Officer 1st Class Kazuo Muranaka's Zero. With that, the marauding fighters withdrew.

Preparing for the Second Wave

By the time the Japanese aircraft of the first wave headed back toward their carriers, most of the military installations on Oahu were a shambles. The attackers had lost only three fighters, a single dive-bomber, and five torpedo planes.

The 170 Japanese planes of the second wave were 45 minutes behind the first and reached Pearl Harbor just before 9.00 a.m. Eighty Vals, led by Lieutenant Commander Takeshige Egusa, attacked Pearl Harbor.

Finding the holocaust of Battleship Row shrouded in smoke, the second wave concentrated on the Nevada, the only battleship to get underway during the attack. She had sortied at 8.50 a.m., and as many as 15 bombs exploded near the ship, five scoring hits. The Nevada was also down by the bow from the torpedo hit suffered during the first wave, and the Japanese hoped to sink her and block the entrance to the harbor. Eventually, the battleship was beached at Hospital Point with 50 dead and 109 wounded.

One bomb blast nearly stripped Corporal Joe R. Driskell's entire uniform from his body, wounding him seriously in both legs. Driskell had been manning an anti-aircraft gun at the time. He refused medical treatment, looked for another gun to service, fought fires, and helped evacuate other wounded men. When water lines that cooled machine guns on the Nevada's foremast were ruptured and the barrels began to overheat, the crews under the command of Gunnery Sergeant Charles E. Douglas disregarded an order to evacuate and continued firing. Both Driskell and Douglas received the Navy Cross for their heroism.

The Kates and Zeros of the second wave attacked the air installations on Oahu again. At Hickam Field, Hangars 13 and 15 were heavily damaged by 550lb (250kg) bombs, and repair shops, armament buildings, and the steam plant were damaged. Kaneohe was hit by Kates that destroyed a hangar and four seaplanes. Fighters strafed the field twice more, and Japanese pilot Fusata Iida attempted to crash into the base armory when he realized his plane was hit and that he would not be able to return to his carrier. Instead, riddled with machine-gun fire, his Zero crashed into a hillside.

At 8.35 a.m., Vals from the carrier Shokaku appeared above Ewa and were met with a sustained volume of fire from rifles, machine guns, and even pistols. The Vals dropped bombs and maneuvered with wings over to allow their rear gunners to fire at ground targets. Technical Sergeant William Turnage had supervised the effort to get Ewa's machine guns into action. When the task was complete, he manned one of the weapons and stitched the underside of a Val, which began trailing smoke as its engine sputtered. Master Technical Sergeant Emil Peters and Private William Turner took up a firing position in a damaged Dauntless dive-bomber and were believed to have shot down two Vals before strafing wounded them both. Turner later died.

Across Oahu, the Japanese second wave had encountered substantial antiaircraft fire from defenders on full alert and had to contend with a few American fighter planes that managed to get aloft. The raiders lost six Zeros and 14 Vals. A total of just 29 Japanese planes were shot down during the raid.

Corporal Joe R. Driskell was wounded in both legs by a bomb blast, but carried on fighting fires and evacuating wounded men from the burning USS Nevada.

The last of the Japanese aircraft turned toward their carriers around 10.00 a.m. The damage was widespread and horrific. The Arizona and Oklahoma were sunk, total losses. California and West Virginia were sunk but later repaired. Nevada, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee ha d suffered significant damage. The Utah was sunk and never salvaged. The destroyers Cassin and Downes were damaged beyond repair, while the Shaw was eventually returned to service. The cruisers Raleigh, Honolulu, and Helena were damaged but repaired. A total of 165 U.S. aircraft were lost.

A total of 2403 Americans had died and nearly 1200 were wounded. A total of 109 Marines were killed and 69 wounded aboard the naval vessels at Ewa and at other installations scattered across the ravaged island. The United States was at war with Japan, and the Marines were in the thick of it.

War Comes to Wake

Just over 2300 miles (3700km) west of Oahu and across the International Date Line, Major James P. S. Devereaux, a veteran of 18 years in the Marine Corps and commander of the Wake Detachment of the 1st Defense Battalion, received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor just after 7.00 a.m. on December 8, 1941. At the same time, Navy Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, in overall command at Wake since November 28, ordered the Marine detachment to battle stations.

American commanders had known for some time that in the event of war with Japan, Wake Island (actually a coral atoll composed of three islets, Wake proper, Wilkes, and Peale) would be a prime target for Japanese offensive action. In January 1941, a military base was constructed at Wake, and by late summer about 450 Marines of the 1st Defense Battalion, along with 71 Navy personnel and more than 1100 civilian workers for contractor Morrison-Knudsen, were at Wake, while 45 Chamorros (the local indigenous people) were employed at the Pan American Airways station, a stop for the Pacific flights of the famed Pan Am Clipper aircraft that routinely transited the Pacific.

On December 4, a dozen F4F Wildcat fighter planes of Marine Squadron VMF-211 arrived at Wake under the command of Major Paul A. Putnam. The fighters were a welcome addition to the scant defenses. Along with their small arms, the defenders could muster only half a dozen 5in (12.7cm) guns, a dozen 3in (7.6cm) guns primarily used as anti-aircraft weapons, and 18 .50-calibre machine guns. The heavier guns were placed at the most advantageous positions around Wake, particularly in those areas that were considered most likely approaches for a Japanese amphibious landing.

Cunningham and Devereux knew that it was only a matter of time before the Japanese struck, and they did not have long to wait. Just after 7.00 a.m. on December 8, a force of 34 Japanese Mitsubishi G3M2 Nell bombers rose into the sky from their base on the island of Roi in the Marshalls. Just before noon, they arrived above Wake and began discharging their cargoes of destruction from 1500ft (460m).


Excerpted from The Marines in World War II by Michael E. Haskew. Copyright © 2016 Amber Books Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Chapter 1: Fiery Awakening,
Chapter 2: Guts and Glory on Guadalcanal,
Chapter 3: Bougainville and the Northern Solomons,
Chapter 4: Taking Tarawa,
Chapter 5: Marianas Momentum: Saipan, Guam, and Tinian,
Chapter 6: Peleliu: Painful Paradox,
Chapter 7: Uncommon Valor at Iwo Jima,
Chapter 8: Okinawa: Typhoon of Steel,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews