Archive for the 'Solomon Islands Campaign' Tag

This week we get down to brass tacks – the kickoff of what would become the Solomons Campaign. UltimaRatioRegis once again provides this week’s post with the opening stages of the invasion and occupation of Guadalcanal, on this, the 67th anniversary of this signatory battle. And while we’re about remembering, if you haven’t signed the Enterprise petition yet, please make haste to do so… – SJS

Assault Force: The First Marine Division

The formation of the First and Second Marine Divisions on 1 February, 1941 was the first time the USMC had ever fielded a division-sized combat element. Since being hatched out of the 1st Marine Brigade, the First Marine Division had undergone traumatic spasms of growth to fill out the ranks of the three infantry regiments, the artillery regiment, and the other specialized units that comprised the Division’s force list.

The 5th and 7th Marines had been divided and divided again to form the 1st Marines, the third of the Division’s infantry regiments, and 5th Marines had been pirated a second time to form the 1st Raider Battalion. Initially, however, the First MarDiv would be minus the 7th Marines, detached to guard Samoa before the Division sailed from San Diego for Wellington, NZ. In its place would be the newly-formed and largely untrained 2nd Marines, attached from the Second Marine Division.

Almost none of the Division’s junior Marines had been in the Corps prior to Pearl Harbor. These green and inexperienced men had among them a sprinkling of either “Old Breed” active duty Marines or Marine Reservists who had been activated the previous year. With few exceptions, older veterans of France in the previous war, Banana War Marines, or the handful that had had seen action against the Japanese earlier in 1942, the Division was almost devoid of combat experience. In the Officer ranks, many were experienced combat leaders, some already legends in the Corps. But none had ever handled a division-sized fight, operationally or logistically.


Gen Vandegrift as CMC 1943 (Left) Assistant Division Commander - BGen W H Rupertus (Right)

The Division Commander, MajGen A. A. Vandegrift, was a thirty year veteran with combat experience in Haiti, even serving as a member of the Haitian Constabulary before returning home in 1920. It would be his Division that would test the fledgling amphibious doctrine so painstakingly developed between the wars and practiced so extensively on Culebra the previous year.

Vandegrift fretted about the rather incomplete state of training in his Division as they arrived in Wellington in June 1942, but had been promised that no major combat would be required for six months. Little more than a week later, that same Division would be assigned as the ground combat component of WATCHTOWER, the seizure of Guadalcanal (known by the code name of CACTUS), Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. Whatever the state of training in First MarDiv, just over 950 Officers and 18,000 Marines embarked for war in late-July, 1942 (The Old Breed, McMillan, George, Infantry Journal Press, 1949 p. 23).

Before departure for the objective, the Division conducted a thoroughly dismal rehearsal at Kodo Island in late July. (This event is well-documented in August’s Naval History Magazine.) Despite the missteps, an important lesson learned was the requirement for organized boat waves to be led toward the beach by larger ships that could provide cover and some fire support. This would help reduce confusion and cut the time required to build up combat power ashore, the critical component to successful amphibious assault. (continued)

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Shifting from defense to offense. Joint and combined operations – and all the hard lessons learned. Finding out that training, tactics and procedures can trump an opponent’s better technology – and more hard lessons learned. Surviving on the razor’s edge and prevailing. Innovate, adapt – overcome. All of this and more are gathered together in the collection of battles and engagements called the Solomons Campaign – and coming this fall, we will give it the same treatment we did here with Midway. Plus some.

Watch these spaces for more details – and if you are interested in participating in this project, drop a note to: steeljawscribeATgmailDOTcom with your ideas and suggestions – full credit will be accorded.