SPOTLIGHT ON MARINE HEROES #11
The last Marine division to be formed in the Second World War, the Sixth Marine Division embodied the combat lessons and the spirit of all Marines who served during the war. This proud outfit was the only Marine division never to serve within the continental United States and was the only division not reactivated for service following victory. The Striking Sixth served in one campaign during the war — the shockingly brutal capture of Okinawa, the single largest land battle of the Pacific war.
The Sixth Marine Division was activated at Camp Tassafaronga, Guadalcanal, on 7 September 1944. Formed around a nucleus of the combat-tested 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the division was commanded by MajGen Lemuel Shepherd. Within the division's ranks stood thousands of Marines from the deactivated 1st Raider Regiment.
First organized under the late war F-series Table of Organization, the division later incorporated numerous components of the G-series TO prior to embarking for Okinawa. The Sixth had three assigned infantry regiments. These were the 4th, 22nd and 29th Marines. As subordinate units of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the 4th and 22nd Marines had both fought in the liberation of Guam during the summer of 1944. 1st Battalion, 29th Marines had served with the 4th Marine Division during the capture of Saipan. Artillery support for the Striking Sixth was provided by the 15th Marine Regiment.
During the train-up period on Guadalcanal, a divisional insignia was designed. It reflected the heritage of the division's various elements. The word "Orient" referred to the Fourth Marines' pre-war service in China and future campaigns in that part of the Pacific. "Melanesia" referred to the South Pacific theater where the Raiders had played such a key role. Finally, "Micronesia" recalled the recent combat service of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and 1st Battalion, 29th Marines in the Marianas and in other areas of the central Pacific.
On Guadalcanal, the Marines of the Sixth trained hard in individual and collective tasks. Great stress was laid on attacking fortified positions with flamethrowers and demolition charges. All hands qualified with their weapons and went through the combat infiltration course. As in every outfit in the Marine Corps, long forced marches were a staple of the training on the 'canal. Tankers, artillerymen, engineers, and Marines in every unit in the division went through their own specialized training in preparation for combat.
During the campaign for Okinawa (Operation ICEBERG) the Sixth Marine Division was assigned to the III Amphibious Corps. L-Day took place on 1 April 1945 and the division had a total strength of 24,356 Marines and sailors for the landing. (2) Landing on the northern flank of the Tenth Army sector, Sixth Marine Division elements assaulted beaches Green 1, Green 2 and Red 1, 2, and 3. For the Marines of the Striking Sixth, this was the start of an 82 day record seldom achieved in the annals of American military history. The division accomplished the following during the campaign:
1. Captured part of Naha, once a city of 60,000 and the largest city occupied by Marines during the war.
For the valorous deeds of its men, the Sixth Marine Division earned a hard-won Presidential Unit Citation in the campaign. In the fighting, 27 Marines in the division earned Navy Crosses, 10 of them posthumous. Additionally, hundreds of Marines and Navy medical personnel earned other medals for bravery. But thousands of heroic deeds were never recorded in the heat of combat. The division endured 8,226 casualties, including 1,637 dead.(3) Six members of the division received the Nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for heroism on Okinawa. They were:
Cpl Richard E. Bush, USMC, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines
In the foreword to the Sixth Marine Division history MajGen Shepherd wrote, "The bloody, hard-fought battle for Okinawa may be recorded as the decisive campaign of the Pacific War." (4) When the campaign ended on 21 June 1945, every Marine expected that the next battle would be for Japan itself. The enemy defenders had resisted with tenacity seldom matched in warfare. And the elements had conspired with the Japanese. Torrential rains turned the battlefield into a sea of glutinous mud. Marines clawed their way forward under rain and a torrent of artillery and machine gun fire.
Recommending the division for the Presidential Unit Citation, LtGen Roy Geiger wrote, "The conduct of the Sixth Marine Division throughout this grueling campaign was at all times heroic and outstanding. It accepted its hazardous missions without question and performed them in spite of staggering losses among its personnel. The relentless and continuous advance demanded uncommon devotion to duty from its men, who were in action against the enemy for a period of three months." (5)
101 days after landing on Easter Sunday of 1945, the battered and weary remnants of Sixth boarded transports at Naha. They shoved off for their next home on the island of Guam. There the Marines began the daunting task of preparing for the next invasion. There was only one target left in that summer of 1945 — Japan itself. But then the unthinkable happened in August and the enemy surrendered. The division learned of the event at 1:00 in the morning, but it didn't take long for news to spread through the camps like wildfire. But the mission wasn't yet over and soon, divisional elements were alerted for their next assignment. Instead of invading the enemy homeland, the Sixth would help occupy it.
The Fourth Marines went ashore with other divisional elements on August 30th and assumed responsibility for the Yokosuka Naval Base. In September 1945 the rest of the division boarded transports at Guam and sailed for occupation duty in China. Tasked with securing Tsingtao and the surrounding areas, the Sixth was responsible for military government, repatriating Japanese nationals, and a laundry list of other tasks. On 1 April 1946, two years to the day after the assault on Okinawa began, the Sixth Marine Division was redesignated the Third Marine Brigade.
Click HERE to read the text of Sixth Marine Division's Presidential Unit Citation.
Click HERE to view color images of the Sixth Marine Division's unforgettable struggles in the campaign.
To learn more, follow this link to the THE FINAL CAMPAIGN: Marines in the Victory on Okinawa.
To learn more about the Sixth Marine Division, visit the Striking Sixth web site.
1. Strength figure extracted from US Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle by Gordon Rottman, pg 364, Greenwood Press, 2002
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