THE MARINE CORPS IN WORLD WAR II
The U. S. Marines Corps was America's amphibious spearhead of World War II. Its mission was to assault and capture enemy-held islands in the Pacific campaigns. At its peak strength in 1945, the Corps had over 485,000 Marines serving on active duty.
The 6 Marine divisions that served in the war fought, bled and died in some of the toughest battles in the long, brutal history of warfare. They won victories across the Pacific against a fanatical enemy, but at a terrible price; nearly 20,000 Marines died in World War II, and more than 67,000 were wounded.
The Marines Corps pioneered the tactics and techniques of one of the most challeging forms of warfare; amphibious assault. During the war, the Navy-Marine Corps team projected force across vast ocean expanses during the island hopping campaigns. But no matter how large the fleet, victory was only assured by the Marines on the ground.
One of the Corps' greatest amphibious warriors was General Holland M. Smith. He was known almost universally throughout the Fleet Marine Force as "Howlin' Mad," because of his short temper. General Smith (seen below at Iwo Jima in 1945) served in the Corps from 1906-1946.
In the 1930's, Marine officers at MCB, Quantico developed the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations. This keystone document detailed procedures for naval gunfire support, combat loading, beachhead organization, and many other critical aspects of amphibious operations. Standardized in 1938 as Fleet Training Publication 167, Landing Operations Doctrine, it became the basis for all the amphibious operations conducted in World War II.
The doctrinal foundation of FTP 167 was validated by a series of fleet landing exercises held in the years leading up to the war. Marines and Sailors worked out the details of projecting force from the sea against defended beaches. They experimented with vehicles such as tanks, amphibian tractors, and various landing boats. The worked out gunfire tables for close support ships, and developed techniques for close air support, and many other subjects.
Perhaps the most important organizational event prior to the war was the establishment of the Fleet Marine Force. This occurred on 7 December 1933 in Navy Department General Order 241, which ordered the Corps to create and maintain a land expeditionary force as part of the fleet. During the 1930's the FMF was a skeleton force, but its framework would be proven in the crucible of Pacific combat.
The FMF was the ground component of the Pacific Fleet in World War II. Marine divisions were designed and built for amphibious assault; the tactic of projecting a powerful combat force against a heavily fortified and defended beachhead under cover of naval gunfire and close air support. Marine divisions were capable of rapidly building striking power against incredible resistance, and then overcoming it to capture their objectives.
World War II in the Pacific has often been described as a "sergeant's war." Small unit leaders carried an immense amount of responsibility for the overall battle. On most Pacific islands, there was little space for wide, sweeping maneuvers, or operational-level tactics. Typically, infantry Marines would team-up with tanks, engineers, and other attachments to hammer against the enemy's lines.
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