Pacific WarWorld War II was fought across more landand involved more men than any other war in the history of human civilization. Never before or since has there been a war of such vast importance andof such a large scale. The United States had an absolutely crucialrole in the outcome of this war.
The U. S. was faced with the colossalchallenge of waging two wars at the same time on two very different partsof the planet. The European front was, of course, the more obviousof the two considering the undeniable atrocities and evils that were beingcommitted by Adolf Hitler. Involvement on the European front wasinevitable and, generally more accessible for U.
S. forces. Less thanthirty years before, the United States had fought in Europe, so we werefamiliar with the terrain and appropriate strategy. However, thePacific Campaign of World War II presented a unique challenge for UnitedStates Armed Forces. Never before had we fought in the South Pacificor even on terrain that resembled that of the Pacific islands. Withthe Army heavily involved in Europe, in December of 1941 the United Stateswere forced into a war that it was not familiar with nor knew how to fight.
Luckily, however, for the U. S. , the Marine Corps were the perfect outfitfor the kind of fighting need in the Pacific Campaign. Because oftheir training in land to sea combat, the Marines were uniquely preparedfor the war that faced them, whereas, the Army could never have successfullywaged war in the Pacific. Without the Marine Corps fighting in thePacific, the whole war against Japan would not have succeeded.
From 1939-1941, at the dawn of Adolf Hitler’swar machine in Europe, the United States seemed above the rest of the world. Separated by the vast Atlantic Ocean, the U. S. enjoyed an incredible amountof security. We were almost entirely untouchable from the flamesof war rapidly growing in Europe, and the majority of American citizenswere happy to not be involved.
To them, the European conflict wastoo far away to have any direct or meaningful impact on their lives. Infact, public opinion did not think that it was even necessary to enterthe war at all. However, Roosevelt saw otherwise. He knew thata war in Europe could very well mean a war in the States.
Only thirtyyears before, in World War I, the same kind situation had evolved intothe “war to end all wars”, where the United States had played a key role. So, Roosevelt desperately wanted and needed to change the minds of nearlythe nearly the entire American public; this task presented an almost impossiblechallenge. With war beginning to be fought in Europe,England was in dire need of any aid they could receive. At the beginning,this aid came in the form of supplies furnished by the United States. Ammunition, food, clothing, and weapons of all kinds were being shippedover to Europe and creating incredible wealth for the American government.
Entering the war meant losing a very profitable trade with the desperateallies in Europe. Luckily for England and for Roosevelt, the UnitedStates were soon presented with an undeniable reason for entering the war. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombedPearl Harbor. This act of aggression towards America, provided fora perfect entrance into the war, and now the people of America were incitedenough to back a full-scale war against Hitler and Japan. However,one huge problem still existed, and that was the problem of a two frontwar. Many were frightened that the U.
S. had taken on a task thatwas a bit too much for the nation to handle. The Army was the perfectforce for fighting the war in Europe. They were trained for the landcombat they would face, and had knowledge of the land from World War I.
In addition, the Army was already on the move to Europe, so splitting theArmy into two different forces for Europe and the South Pacific was outof the question. The only option that the U. S. government had forwaging war against Japan was the Marine Corps. Marine units had beenstationed in the South Pacific in Australia and Samoa. They onlyneeded to be reinforced.
Especially convenient for the United Stateswas the fact that the Marine Corps was perfectly suited for the kind ofwarfare that would be faced against Japan. Marines are trained specificallyfor land to sea and sea to land operations. In addition, their closerelationship with the Navy insured that the two fighting forces could worktogether and be successful. Both General Douglas MacArthur and AdmiralChester Williams Nimitz orchestrated the unique strategy used in fightingthe Japanese, known as “Island Hopping”. Both the ground troops andthe Navy were perfectly choreographed to strike at strategic Japanese strongholdsaround the Pacific. The goal was to destroy all Japanese dominanceand to move ever closer to the Japanese mainland.
The beginning of the Pacific Campaignwas the Battle of Guadalcanal. At the beginning of the war with Japanhad an empire reaching frighteningly close the Australian coastline. The Japanese advance had to be brought to a halt if the American forceshoped to assert dominance in the Pacific. Coming off the recent “win”at the Battle of Midway, the American troops were filled with increasedvigor and enthusiasm about the war. The Battle of Guadalcanal orOperation Watchtower was hasty and ill prepared assault.
Most, ifnot all, intelligence that the Marines had on the island were from outdatedGerman maps from World War I. “Even its commanders would derisivelyrefer to it as ‘Operation Shoestring’ (Costello 321). In fact, theonly reason the Marines were able to land so easily was because of a weakinitial defense on the part of the Japanese army. Nevertheless, onAugust 6, 1942 at midnight, the Pacific assault campaign began.
Eleven transport ships accompanied bycruisers made their way towards Lunga Point at the north of the island. Because of a failure in Japanese intelligence, the enemy had no knowledgeof the creeping American Marines that were so close to their shore. At 6:13 in the morning, the first shots were fired on the island by a heavycruiser called Quincy (Costello). Not long after the shelling commenced,American aircraft carriers let loose bombers and fighters the further assaultthe Japanese held island. The enemy was caught completelyoff guard.
The actual landing of the island was performed with incredibleease. “More Marines were injured by sharp coral heads as they wadedup the dun-colored beach than by enemy bullets” (Costello 323). Soon, however, Japanese cruisers arrivedon the scene and caught the U. S. Navy completely off guard destroying U.
S. S. Chicago and the Australian H. M. A. S.
Canberra. Luckily, for the recentlylanded Marine Corps, Japanese Admiral Mikawa withdrew and did not attackthe island itself. However, the Marines ashore were now with reinforcementsor provisions. So, the Marines quickly finished the captured airstripunder constant bombings by the Japanese Air Force. Now, reinforcementswere brought in, and the Marines were strengthened. The followingengagements were primarily offensive on the part of the Marines.
They had to clear the entire island of Japanese soldiers. On August19, 1942, the Marines engaged the enemy in an awful, bloody battle. The Japanese had attempted to sneak up on the Marines under the cover ofnight, only to be heard and gunned down. However, the ferocious fightingstyle of the Japanese proved resilient to Marine machine guns. TheJapanese continued to move forward.
However, the effort was in vain. “One Japanese officer would observe that the scene was ‘like a housefly’sattacking a tortoise. The odds were all against it'” (Costello 329). At the Battle of Tenaru River, only thirty-five Americans were killed andthe U.
S. claimed its first real victory over the Japanese Imperial Army;Guadalcanal was a success. All Japanese southward expansion was thushalted for the rest of the war. The next primary target of the U. S. MarineCorps was the island of Tarawa.
This island was situated somewhatoutside of the center of main combat zone of the Pacific, however Tarawawas a key stronghold for the Japanese. It was located in the easternPacific, between Australia and Hawaii, right in the middle of the U. S. supply line. From their location, the Japanese were able to makeshort runs on American reinforcements en route to the battle weary Marinesdeeper within enemy territory. As the war sped along, taking theisland of Tarawa became key to the success of the “Island Hopping” Campaign.
The massive assault on the two islandsof Tarawa and Makin was known as Operation Galvanic. On November20th, at 3:30 AM, Marines of the first wave loaded into a new assault vehicle,the Amphtrac, which had previously only known combat in North Africa. Two destroyers began to bombard the tiny island of Tarawa with devastatingartillery. As one Captain Charles J. Moore recalls, “‘Fires wereburning everywhere. The coconut trees were blasted and burned andit seemed that no living soul could be on the island.
. . the troops approachedthe beach and it looked like the whole affair would be a walkover'” (Costello433). However, despite the initial success of the Naval support,the invasion was not a “‘walkover'”. In fact, the Marine invasionof Tarawa was a near disaster.
Due to outdated maps and bad intelligence,the Marine Corps did not have a clear idea of what the island was likeor what kind of forces they would be encountering. Tragedy struckwhen landing began. The Amphtracs made their way to the beaches ofTarawa only to be stopped nearly 1000 yards from the shore on the island’sprotective barrier reef. The Marines could not precede any furthertowards the island in their landing vehicles; they were forced to get outand make the 1000-yard trek in the water towards the Japanese defense.
The Japanese, of course, took full advantage of this military folly andopened with a barrage of heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Thewading Marines were left to literally dodge for their lives. Theywere too far from the island to even attempt to fire any kind of smallarms at the Japanese. Plus, given the fact that they were in waistto chest deep waters just inside the coral reef, they were having extremedifficulty just moving towards the shore.
The added threat of Japanesefire only worsened the Marines’ desperate situation. Eventually,the powerful Amphtracs were able to break through the protective barrier,but because of the intense firepower of the Japanese, they still couldnot deliver their soldiers all the way to the beaches. Many Amphtracswere stopped by artillery and their crews were forced to abandon them. “Baird’s Amphtrac, hit by a shell came to a halt. Its eleven survivorswere forced to scramble the last 30 yards to shore. Like hundredsof others, they made for the only shelter available from the murderousfire, a 4-foot log wall along the high-tide line” (Costello 434).
The entire lagoon was transformed into a mass killing field. By thefourth wave of the invasion, the Marines could not even attempt to reachthe shore because the water was littered with abandoned tanks, Amphtracs,and bodies. By midday casualties had reached an astonishing20 percent with only 1,500 Marines of the first wave having reached theshore. By the end of the day, nearly a third of all the troops whomade the attempt at landing on Tarawa were dead.
That does not includethe countless that were wounded. The next morning, more landing craft movedin to bring more troops. However, enemy snipers had moved out intothe lagoon in the cover of night. They were now waiting in burntout tanks and Amphtracs. This added firepower of the Japanese broughtcasualties to higher levels than the first day’s landing operation. At noon, however, five U.
S. destroyers began to deliver horrifying blowsto the Japanese batteries and pillboxes. Troops could now raid thebeaches with relative ease. The fight inland still remained a slowand stubborn one.
Marines armed with flamethrowers or sometimes justriding bulldozers tore into the Japanese pillboxes. After three gruelingdays, the Marines finally succeeded in taking Tarawa. Of the enemysurvivors were only 1 Japanese officer, 16 soldiers, and some 129 Koreanswho were used for labor. Many more committed suicide rather thanbe taken captive by American forces. What had bee planned as a simpleone day takeover, had turned into an 18,000 man, three day operation. The Marines had proved victorious but at no small expense; it was “‘thebitterest fighting in the history of the Marine Corps'” (Costello 438).
The reason the Marines were successfulin the face of such a dire situation on Tarawa was the fact that the Marinesnever quit. They fought on and on until the last Japanese soldierwas dead or captured. They displayed tenacity unmatched by any otherfighting force in the war, except maybe the Japanese themselves. Had Tarawa been in the hands of any other part of the U.
S. military force,it would never have been taken. With a string of victories under theirbelts, the U. S.
Marine Corps began a push towards the Japanese mainland. Key to posing a real threat the Japan’s center was the taking of the islandsof Saipan and Tinian. The U. S. Army Air Corps needed a landing fieldcloser to the Japan in order to launch bombing raids with their newly acquireB-29’s.
Saipan-Tinian was close enough to frighten the Japanese peopleand government and to make them see the potential seriousness of theirsituation. In order to take Saipan-Tinian, the Army Air Corps askedthe Marines to move in. Alongside the Marines, the U. S. Army wasto play a small role in the invasion. Throughout the whole “IslandHopping” Campaign thus far, the Army had played a small role in the severalbattles.
Their involvement was limited because they were simply notadequately trained for the constant land to sea combat that ensued. On Saipan-Tinian, the Army held a rather important role, however. In taking Tinian, the U. S.
forces wouldmove in three waves. In the center there was an Army division underthe command of Ralph Smith. He was flanked on both sides by Marinedivisions. The plan was to move forward, all three units at the sametime, and sweep the island clean of any Japanese threat. However,the advance did not happy quite as planned.
At the operation’s commencementboth of the Marine divisions moved forward successfully. But, Smith’sArmy units moved nearly an hour late. They moved forward a littleand were stopped in their tracks. Since the Marines continued toadvance steadily, the operation took to a horseshoe shape with the Armysagging in the middle. The Army simply would not budge.
HollandSmith of the Marines said to Admirals Turner and Spruance, “‘Ralph Smithhas shown that he lacks aggressive spirit, and his division is slowingdown our advance. He should be relieved'” (Manchester 314). Dismissed he was, and his Army division was reinforced with Marines fromthe Eighth. This gave the battle new life and the Marines began tooverrun the island, destroying all Japanese presence and taking over theairfields for the Army Air Corps. The Japanese commander, Saito,committed hara-kiri and left his troops without leadership.
Theyresorted to one last desperate banzai mission that was put down withoutmuch of a struggle. However, much of the island’s inhabitants wereJapanese. At the fall of their army, they gathered together on BanzaiCliff. Children threw grenades back and forth until they exploded,parents killed their own babies, and people jumped from the cliffs. Emperor Tojo had convinced them through anti-U. S.
propaganda that the Americanswere evil and that they should avoid all contact with the enemy troops. Despite the sad ending, the battles for Saipan-Tinian proved without adoubt that the Pacific War belonged to the Marines and the Army shouldstay at the European front. The next big battle for the Marines wasperhaps their most famous, Iwo Jima. The reasons for the battle forIwo Jima were once again because of the necessity of the Army Air Corps.
While Saipan-Tinian had provided the U. S. with key airfields close to Japan,the Air Corps wanted to be even closer to Japan in order to cut down oncasualties and expense. Iwo Jima was very attractively seated halfwaybetween Saipan-Tinian and the Japanese mainland. The Army Air Corpscould launch daily B-29 raids from new airstrips on Iwo. The battle itself was expected to be huge.
Admiral Kelly Turner and General Holland Smith both thought that it wouldbe the largest battle yet and would have an estimated 20,000 casualties. The brunt of the work was given to the 4th and 5th Divisions under MajorClifton B. Cates and Major Kelly E. Rockey.
The 3rd Division wasto wait in reserve. The primary goal of the battle was to captureMount Suribachi, the most heavily fortified part of the island. ByFebruary of 1945, nearly a quarter of a million U. S. troops were set forinvasion.
The Navy bombarded the island fiercely. General Smith had wanted ten days of shelling prior to landing in orderto break up all Japanese defenses; the operation was that huge. Whenthe first wave of Marines landed, Japanese troops seemed unfazed by theshelling and rained fire down upon the 9,000 Marines advancing on theirbeaches. The 28th Regiment made their way through 1,000 yards ofdefense and to the base of Mount Suribachi, the 27th was stuck by enemyfirepower, and the men of the 5th Division were struggling on the beacheson “15-foot sand ridges, which made it ‘like trying to fight in a bin ofloose wheat'” (Costello 544). By nighttime, thirty thousand Marines wereashore on Iwo Jima and 2,000 had been killed. The next day the Marinesbegan their push towards the two airstrips on the island.
U. S. troopswere only moving 400 yards a day on Mount Suribachi (Costello). ByFebruary 23, however, Marines were at the base of the volcanic peak. On the 24th, Marines planted an American flag on a crater of the volcano;it was the first sign of victory. Away from Mount Suribachi, Marineswere slowly wearing down the Japanese defenses by never resting.
They fought their enemy’s war by pushing relentlessly and with extremeforce. After a week or so, the Japanese line was no longer a line,but scattered groups of resistance. After nearly six weeks of fightingonly 216 Japanese were taken captive of the 20,000 originally on the island. Nearly 25,000 Marines were wounded and 6,000 were dead (Costello). The invasion was a success and the B-29’s began their bombings of the Japanesemainland thanks to the Marine Corps.
Okinawa was the last big battle of theMarine Corps in the Pacific War. This battle was to be the last drawfor Japan. Okinawa was frighteningly close to Japan and was veryheavily fortified. If captured, Japanese power and control wouldbe destroyed.
The Fifth Fleet of the Navy provided themain support of the 1,200 ships used in the invasion. The 3rd MarineCorps under Major General Roy S. Geiger would do the fighting. TheU. S.
expected that a force of 154,000 would be enough to defeat the Japanesedefense of 70,000. On March 26, 1945 the invasion began ona scale similar to that of D-Day’s in Europe. The 77th Infantry Divisionmoved ashore and secured a place to set up long-range guns and a headquartersfor the entire operation. On April 1, 1,300 American transports andships moved around the island. The Marines landed with surprisingease as the Japanese were luring them inland to move them away from theirNaval support. They continued moving inland with little opposition,however, after a week, U.
S. forces began to encounter heavy defense. The Japanese held the Marines and fought viciously while Kamikazes raineddown upon the Navy. However, a greater blow was about to occur. On April 13, the troops received word the Roosevelt was dead. TheJapanese took full advantage of this and launched an awful propaganda waron the Americans.
Pamphlets fell from Japanese planes reading, “‘Thedreadful loss that led your late leader to death will make orphans on thisisland. The Japanese Special Assault Corps will sink your vesselsto the last destroyer. You will witness it realized in the near future'”(Costello 560). The Japanese commander, Ushijima then launched amassive assault to back up his threat that resulted in nearly 5,000 Japanesecasualties and a stalemate. Kamikaze pilots continued to decimatethe U. S.
Navy and they were growing weary of waiting for victory. The U. S. situation grew even dimmer as time passed. The 27th Infantry had to be replaced bythe 1st Marine Division. All was in disarray.
But, then Marinesbegan to slowly crack through the Japanese defenses. Soon, the Japanesewere in desperation as the Marines began to win. The victory on Okinawaleft Japan devastated. Their armed forces were crippled and the country’smorale was vastly deflated. Although the battle of Okinawa was wona great cost to the Americans, the Marines were victorious because theywere able to fight to the end and put the Japanese opposition down. Through their persistence and tenacity, the U.
S. Marine Corps were ableto achieve victory against all odds and win the Pacific War where no oneelse could have. “General Eisenhower once said that he doubtedMarines were better fighters than his own army Rangers. In a sensehe was probably right; if you tell picked men they are crack troops, theyare likely to fight like an elite. They difference is that Ike’sRangers were small bands of commandos, while the Marine Corps, a corpsd’elite, fielded six divisions in the Pacific–three corps, a whole army”(Manchester 298).
The United States Marine Corps gave an entire fightingforce of the most “elite” troops to the Pacific Campaign. They foughtsome of the most ugly and most horrific battles in all of World War II. Their training in land to sea combat gave them an edge over the U. S.
Army’sland-only combat training. In sending the Marine Corps into the PacificCampaign, the United States proved it’s military dominance and resourcefulnessand shocked the enemy by showing that we could actually fight a two frontwar and win. Without the determination, strength, and aggressivenessof the Marine Corps in World War II, the Pacific “Island Hopping” Campaignvery well could have been lost to the Japanese. There was no otheroutfit in all the worlds’ armies more capable of fighting in the Pacificthan the Marines.