ON SUNDAY, December 7, Ada and I were invited to lunch at the Army and Navy Country Club in Arlington, overlooking the beautiful Potomac. Our hosts were Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, USMC, and Mrs. Denig, and even for a service party it proved a disjointed affair for every one of the fifty-seven guests. Contrary to precedent, the last to arrive was the general's Aide, who mumbled flustered excuses about being detained at the office.
[Pearl Harbor · First Joint Training Command · Aleutians]
During each course several officers were called to the telephone. They returned looking dazed, made their excuses to their hostess and departed "on business" until our ranks slowly thinned to a nervous shadow of the original party. Finally General Denig excused himself with the promise to find out exactly what was taking his guests away so abruptly.
He returned, looking very grave, and called the few of us left to the radio outside the dining room. H.V. Kaltenborn was speaking: his low, authoritative voice unusually stirring. "The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor," Kaltenborn announced and went on to give the meager details available of the attack on the Pacific Fleet. Everybody was shocked into momentary silence. Then the storm broke.
One Navy officer vowed the message was a fake, probably remembering the Orson Welles Men from Mars broadcast that had terrified the nation. Others pooh-poohed the idea of such an attack on our great mid-Pacific naval base. What's more, they argued wildly, the Japs wouldn't dare! By this time most of the guests had gone, including Colonel Graves B. Erskine, my Chief of Staff, who returned to Quantico. Still refusing to accept the
fact of the attack, two die-hards lingered behind, anchored to the radio.
My reaction was the direct opposite. War had come and from the direction the Marines had predicted, although we had expected to be involved in the European conflict first. Yes, it was war, and the country was not prepared.
I am not a man given to panic, so Ada and I proceeded with our plans for that Sunday afternoon, which included a concert at Constitution Hall. As we drove past the Army and Navy Building, where the services lived in harmony before they dispersed to separate wartime quarters, we saw armed sentries with steel helmets and live ammunition in their cartridge belts. There they were to stand--until peace came.
For me the concert was a respite, an interval during which I was able to accustom myself to the idea of my country once more at war. There was nothing for me to do at Quantico that Sunday; emergency measures must wait until the next day. I don't recall what the orchestra played that afternoon and I only remember the audience coming to its feet with the first stirring note of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Back at the Marine base, I made preparations for a partial blackout and ordered dispersal of the few planes on the aviation field. As my command was training, not combat, I commenced to survey the wartime task of the Marine Corps from the viewpoint of both intensive and extensive training. I knew that the Corps would develop during the war out of all proportion to its peacetime strength. I knew that we would fight an amphibious war in the Pacific. There was no need to outline our needs. The Navy had only to dust off the files in Washington to find all our plans and requisitions, which had been waiting there for years.
By Act of Congress, the strength of the Marine Corps was still restricted to twenty percent of the Navy. However, the Selective Service Act of the previous year had increased the Navy's intake of men and we were free to increase our enlistments proportionately. At the time of Pearl Harbor the Corps' strength was 66,319, all volunteers, and after December 7
recruits poured in faster than we could handle them. Since all Marines are volunteers, we always have been able to maintain our high physical standards and during the war they were not lowered to any great extent.
While we trained recruits we had to keep in mind the priority claims of the First Division, which would be the first sent overseas. At the outbreak of war the First was in fairly good shape, though below strength. In order to build up our training staff, we were compelled to drain the First of both officers and non-commissioned officers. And, in addition to training troops for land duty, we were called upon to furnish Marines for the increasing number of naval ships requiring Marine detachments. It long had been a Corps custom to assign only the best trained officers and men to sea duty. We built up the First with new recruits and when the division sailed for New Zealand in the spring of 1942 it was a well-trained outfit.
We had shortages of everything but men. Training was ahead of production and we ran our equipment red hot. Our greatest shortage was ammunition for rifle and artillery practice. The country had allowed its reserve to sink so low that if the Japanese had continued from Pearl Harbor with an amphibious force and landed on the West Coast they would have found that we did not have enough ammunition to fight a day's battle. This is how close the country was to disaster in 1941.
We needed anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns, 50-caliber machine guns, 37-mm guns, more 75mm's, 105 and 155mm's, heavier tanks, bazookas, flame throwers, planes, all of which existed in design and required only to be manufactured. We had no special assault personnel ships or assault cargo ships to transport us or our equipment.
Amphibious wars are not fought with ships and guns alone. We needed better marching shoes for the jungles and hard coral rocks. Our garrison shoes were too light. We needed utility uniforms and camouflage suits. The First Division was issued white mosquito nets because they were the only nets available. We had to dye them green to make them less conspicuous jungle targets before the First left for the South Pacific. We needed medical
equipment, tents, cots, blankets, mess gear, cooking equipment, belts, belt buckles, sight covers for rifles and hundreds of other items ranging from buttons to trucks of all tonnages, bulldozers and tractors.
One bright spot in the supply picture was the landing boat. We had got rid of the crazy, unseaworthy boats the Bureau of Ships had tried for years to foist on us and had concentrated on the Higgins ramp boat, which we were receiving in increasingly satisfactory numbers.
The Marine boat fight with the Navy had been long and frustrating. On the one hand, we encountered the antiquated ideas and obstinacy of the Bureau of Ships. On the other, we suffered frustration through lack of funds. Pearl Harbor did not end the struggle. Except for availability of funds, it grew more intense in 1942 and showed how difficult it is to loosen well-anchored tradition and how dangerous to national defense such tradition can be.
For twenty years the Marines had experimented with all types of landing craft until our needs crystallized in the Higgins boat and we maneuvered, bullied and coerced the Navy Department into adopting it. We tested shallow draft boats, skiffs, Coast Guard boats, Cape Cod fishing boats and many other types. One day a number of boats seized from rum runners operating off the Florida Coast were turned over to us. They have been good liquor carriers but they were useless for assault troops. Both the Navy and the marines had established development boards working on plans for a practical assault boat.
We knew what we wanted. The basic boat we envisioned, which became the standard landing craft in all theaters and was used by all the Allies, had the following characteristics: length, 30 to 36 feet; draft, two feet; speed, 10 knots with a 120-mile fuel endurance; capacity, 18 to 38 men.
Certain other conditions were essential: seaworthiness and stability in the open sea; ability to land through the surf and retract; armor for the coxswain, the engineer and the gunner; lightness, so that the boat could be hoisted by ships' booms and davits.
The appearance of the Higgins Eureka boat at the 1940 Caribbean exercises was the first approach to these specifications. As I said before, the Eureka was designed in 1926 for the shallow waters of the Mississippi. It had an unusual type of bow and its builder called it a spoonbill. Andrew Higgins developed two models with a tunnel stern; one where the propeller was completely within the tunnel and the other with a half or semi-tunnel stern. His modification of his Mississippi boat performed well in its first military test.
Higgins, who offered the Eureka to the Navy in 1927, renewed his offer year after year but it received little consideration in Washington. The Marines, however, were greatly interested. Higgins visited Quantico in 1934 and discussed his boat with us. The Corps had no funds at its disposal to undertake the construction of such a boat but we did not lose interest, which Higgins appreciated. In 1937 he went to the Navy again and furnished them with drawings and complete specifications regarding the boat. After a long delay, he was informed that the Navy had only $5,200 available for an experimental boat and he agreed to build one for that sum. He also accepted the Navy stipulation that the boat should not exceed 30 feet in length.
Higgins built his boat, the first Eureka type for landing purposes. He told me it cost him $12,500 but he considered it money well spent. The Marine Equipment Board was impressed by the potentialities of the new boat. Only the length was against it; the Marines preferred a landing boat nearer 40 than 30 feet long but the Navy was adamant on this point.
Andrew Higgins, a fighting Irishman, won the opening phase of the boat battle single-=handed, with loud Marine applause. The Navy placed several experimental order with him for the 30-foot boat, which he filled more or less under protest. As he told me, he was in bad odor because he kept insisting that the boats should be longer.
During a memorable conference at the Navy Department he again brought up the question of length, which was running the Bureau of Ships ragged, and urged that the boats be built 39 or even 40 feet long. Why should the Navy stick to a 30-foot
boat? he demanded. The explanation given him, with chill naval logic, was this: boat davits already placed on a number of ships had been standardized to handle 30-foot boats.
"To hell with designing a boat to fit the davits!" Higgins roared. "Why don't you design davits to fit a proper sized boat?"
He was so exasperated that he returned to New Orleans and, at his own expense and without orders from the Navy, built a 36-foot boat and shipped it to the Norfolk Navy Yard with the demand that it be tested. When the Marines heard about this, they whooped. After passing Naval tests, the boat was sent to us at Quantico and we put it to further tests.
Through the unfathomable processes whereby the official mind finally emerges from darkness into light, the Navy eventually decided to standardize on the 36-foot Higgins boat. Higgins has always said that without Marine championship of his boat over the years, it never would have been tested.
The New Orleans scourge of the Washington bureaucrats displayed much the same scorn as I did for obstructive brass. When I was in command at New River in 1941 and 1942, during our critical equipment period, I was in constant touch by telephone with Higgins in New Orleans. He also visited me, bringing members of his staff to help us in our boat training. Higgins was never too busy to answer a phone call and give advice on a problem. If the matter was too involved to settle over the telephone he sent a representative to work it out with us at New River. Major victor H. Krulak, who was my boat officer, acted as liaison officer with Andrew Higgins and he was a very busy man.
The Eureka had all the qualifications we demanded except one. Once on the beach, it had no way of discharging men or cargo except over the side. The answer to this problem was the ramp gate. Brigadier General Emile P. Moses, who headed the Marine Equipment Board, worked out the idea with Higgins in New Orleans. From these conferences emerged the famous boat that--in my opinion--contributed more to our common victory than any other single piece of equipment used in the war.
I wrote to Andrew Higgins on February 5, 1942, after we had tested his boats:
We believe that your new ramp type boat comes very close to perfection. We look upon your equipment as a part of our Force: quite as essential as tanks and guns and ammunition. I want to say that I never lose an opportunity to tell people in high latitudes that we have the best damn boats in the world, but only half enough.
Andrew Higgins also came to the aid of the Marines in the battle of the tank lighter, where we had another ally in the War Investigating Committee established by Congress on March 1, 1941, and headed by Senator Harry S. Truman. The Higgins ramp boat, officially designated the LCVP(R) (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel, Ramp) was suitable for carrying small numbers of men or light vehicles. We needed craft to carry our tanks ashore and since technical developments were producing larger tanks these craft must be substantial vessels.
In the 1941 Caribbean exercises, the Bureau of Ships supplied us with three 450foot tank lighters of hits own design, capable of carrying one 16-ton tank or two 6-ton tanks. After the exercises I reported: "The Bureau type lighters are heavy, slow, difficult to control, difficult to retract from the beach and equipped with an unpredictable power plant." This was a mild stricture. They were unmanageable and unseaworthy in heavy surf. One capsized.
Notwithstanding criticism from the Marines and from the Navy afloat, the Bureau proceeded to award contracts for the construction of 96 lighters of this condemned design. By the end of the spring of 1941, clamor against the Bureau type of lighter was so loud that Admiral Stark approved our suggestion that Higgins be given a contract to design an experimental 45-foot tank lighter, with authorization to build more if the pilot model proved successful. We urgently needed lighters to keep pace with our training plans. Higgins had suited our book before and we believed he would again.
The Bureau of Ships put the job in Higgins' hands on May
27, 1941. He set to work with characteristic energy and had the lighter in the water in 61 hours. Produced in this incredibly short time, it was accepted as the stock model of all the tank lighters we used in the war, although there were subsequent refinements. The lighter was practically dedicated to the Marine Corps, since Higgins declined to take any action except through Marine channels.
He told me the full story of this wonderful job that set the Navy on its ear. The Bureau of Ships called him by telephone and asked him to design, develop and build a steel boat to carry combat tanks. Higgins promised to do the job if it were urgent but made one stipulation. He would deal only with the Marine Corps, not with the Navy. Brigadier General Moses and Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Linsert, Secretary of the Marine Equipment Board, flew to New Orleans to discuss Marine needs with the forthright boatbuilder.
At that time Higgins had on hand a partly completed shallow draft, twin screw, steel boat designed for use on the Amazon. The pilot house was finished and the Diesel engines ready to install. Overnight the hull was cut up and the Amazon river boat was converted into a vessel capable of carrying a heavy tank. It was fitted with a ramp gate. Though the new boat was improvised in haste, it was a great success in tests. The Truman Committee said that this boat, built in 61 hours, was superior to the Bureau of Ships lighter, which represented four years of design and development.
The Navy designated Higgins' newest boat LCM(3) (Landing Craft, Medium) and gave him an order for 49 more, ten to be delivered at Norfolk within fourteen days. Nine were in Norfolk in twelve days after Higgins received the verbal green light. I am sure everyone who knows anything about boat building will agree that this was a magnificent feat, showing a combination of imagination, resourcefulness and skill. In my opinion, these three terms sum up Andrew Higgins.
In the Navy, tradition never dies while there is a shot left in the locker. Although the Bureau type of lighter was damned by everybody from the Chief of Naval Operations downwards,
the atrophied occupants of the Bureau advertised for bids on a batch of boats of its own type, which was still in the design stage.
Higgins protested and got the order reduced to ten boats. This accomplished, he neatly outmaneuvered the Bureau diehards by building only the first of the lighters according to the Navy design and testing it before Navy observers, who saw the Bureau's pet craft was unsatisfactory even in calm water and probably would capsize in a rough sea. There was nothing new in this discovery. I had reported the suicidal character of this type of lighter months before but the Higgins demonstration put the defects on visual record. The Navy observers couldn't deny their own eyes. The upshot was the Higgins design won and he completed the order for nine 50-foot boats capable of carrying 30-ton tanks, necessary now that the powerful Shermans were coming into production.
These direct action methods of Higgins had a favorable effect on our equipment program. They wee as much our battles as his and they provided us with the craft we wanted and knew was the most practical. Higgins went even farther with his demonstrations on our behalf. President Roosevelt held a conference at the White House on April 4, 1942, and called for 600 tank lighters as the basis of the new supply program. The Bureau quickly grasped the opportunity to push forward its own unsuccessful design and, despite the wide and emphatic condemnation that design had received, proceeded to order 1,100 lighters to be built along these lines.
Higgins was not a man to accept defeat easily. He arranged a sort of Monitor and Merrimac competition at the Norfolk Navy Yard between one of his own 50-footers and one of the Bureau type. The Higgins entry proved vastly superior, as everybody who knew the two boats predicted. The order was changed to the Higgins type and thereafter a good many yards started building us boats to the Higgins design.
My criticism of the Bureau lighters brought me a visit from one of the attorneys to the Truman Committee, who asked for copies of my correspondence, which Secretary of the Navy Knox
authorized me to furnish. After reading some of my memoranda, the attorney told me I would be called before the Committee to testify. Much as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to place my views personally before the Committee, I had little to add to the criticisms which, over my signature, reposed in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
Furthermore, I knew something about the inner workings of the official mind held up to censure. If I stood before the Committee in Washington and publicly stated my critical viewpoint I would never get out to the Pacific, which was my devouring ambition.
I explained this to my visitor and asked him to convey the facts to Senator Truman who, as a politician long versed in Washington's ways, would understand my reluctance. He obviously did understand because I was not called and the Committee drew on my memoranda in compiling its report, which strongly criticized the Navy, especially in regard to the lighters.
One observation the Committee made was: "It is clear that the Bureau of Ships, for reasons known only to itself, stubbornly persisted for over five years in clinging to an unseaworthy tank lighter design of its own" and, the Report added, "the Bureau's action has caused not only a waste of time but has caused the needless expenditure of over $7,000,000 for a total of 225 Bureau lighters which do not meet the needs of the Armed Forces."
I mention these facts because the Marines were the principal sufferers from the Bureau's crass obstinacy and were rescued chiefly by Andrew Higgins. I regard Higgins as a great patriot and his contributions to our common victory were extremely high. He was absolutely fearless in his dealings with government officials, from the President downwards, and his great sense of patriotism would send him charging into the White House, or into any department of the government where he could obtain results. He had a real affection for the Marine Corps.
Andrew Higgins was willing to go to bat with anybody and when we got lost in the morass of crippling detail and Washington procrastination, he came to our assistance. His heart and soul were pledged to building the vessels we so desperately
needed for amphibious warfare and it was coincidental--but extremely prophetic--that I found myself writing to him on december 6, 1941, "Often I propound this question: Where the hell would the Amphibious Force be without your boats?" History has answered that question.
Although I maintained close contact with Higgins by long distance telephone, straightening out our technical difficulties as they arose, and helping him with his troubles with the Navy Department, I was able to induce him to visit New River to solve one particular problem. Higgins had established his own school for Navy coxswains, where he trained them to handle his boats at his own expense. We were having trouble with our own coxswains, who seemed unable to get the best out of our landing boats.
So Higgins, with his staff, came to New River to demonstrate the correct handling of his boats in the surf and on the beach. Within a few days of his arrival, our boat handling greatly improved and our amphibious training gained new momentum, a reflection of the spirit of the man from New Orleans. I had quarters in one of the summer houses on the beach and here I established Higgins and his staff. I found him a delightful guest; witty, an excellent raconteur and a good judge of whiskey.
He was anxious that his boats should meet all our requirements and listened appreciatively to suggested changes. I remember that one suggestion was in connection with armor plating. We felt that the coxswain was too exposed. Higgins went to work and devised a shield that proved very effective. Other suggestions were incorporated without hesitation if they proved practical. Such was the Marine relationship with Andrew Higgins, first at New River and later in the Pacific.
He wrote me later:
. . . my contact with the Marine Corps is the bright spot in my recollections of those intense and hectic days, and out of this haze stands the bright memory of the time I spent with you and your staff at New River. I believe that the things we foresaw and did there had a profound effect on the winning of the war.
Our amphibian tractor program was encouraging. As far back as 1924, we had experimented with an amphibious tank called the Christie but had lost faith in it. In trials held that year the Christie was put over the side of a ship and it worked fairly well in the water. Unfortunately, the captain of the ship lost his nerve at the sight of this strange monster wallowing in the waves and put out a boom and slung it back on the deck. After that abortive experiment interest dwindled, though we never lost hope of one day having a waterborne tank as a troop transport and combat vehicle.
Substance was given to this hope in 1938, when the attention of the Marine Corps Commandant was drawn to a magazine picture of an amphibian tractor designed by Donald Roebling, Jr. Like our landing boat, his tractor was a product of the shallow waters and creeks of the South. Roebling, an engineer who had retired to Florida for his health, had built his tractor for rescue work in the Everglades. He called it the Alligator and his model, which he manufactured that year, included all the essential features of the military vehicle widely used since.
We did not get our Alligator immediately. Members of the Marine Corps Equipment Board were ordered to Florida and reported favorably on the invention but the Chief of Naval Operations declined to allot finds, already earmarked for critically needed landing craft and tank lighters, for the purchase of the tractor.
It was the old, old story of delay but we persevered in our recommendations and finally, in April, 1940, we received authorization for three trial Alligators. The vehicles were constructed of aluminum and proved their usefulness in test and during Marine maneuvers. Seven months later--on November 5, 1940--the Navy ordered 200 steel tractors for the Marine Corps and the first model, officially designated LVT(1) (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) came off the production line in August, 1941. This was the open-deck type, first used at Guadalcanal and later, in November, 1942, in North Africa.
A second model, LVT(2), incorporated changes in design and came off the production line in 1943. This model was used
at Bougainville, in the South Pacific, at Tarawa and the Marshalls. Armored and turreted models followed,and further changes based on combat experience resulted in additional versions, including two turreted models and a whole family of tanks--personnel and equipment-carrying, engineering, rocket-launching and field artillery.
When the war started we had a number of tractors for training purposes and others were assured as fast as the manufacturers completed the Navy order for 200. With these vehicles we were able to create an amphibian tractor battalion and when the First Division left for the South Pacific it was the first in history so equipped.
The top priority given this division for combat purposes compelled us to concentrate on its training, in addition to handling the large numbers of new recruits entering the Corps. The prime urgency was to put the First Division in the field as soon as possible. The Japanese were spreading all over the Pacific and they enjoyed the advantage of at least five years' amphibious combat experience,gained since their major strike in China in 1937. The New River installation proved a godsend in meeting this training challenge. With other training centers in that part of the country, its facilities were adequate to handle our intake in the East. Unfortunately, the West Coast was not so well equipped. We had a recruit depot in San DIego, California, and to this we added Camp Elliott, a large area nearby, and Camp Pendleton, an old Spanish hacienda with extensive grounds running along the coast near Oceanside, 40 miles north of San Diego.
Inevitably, New River's facilities were restricted by wartime limitations. We were denied the use of our beaches and could use only the shore areas. Almost as soon as war was declared Nazi submarines began to operate off the Atlantic Coast and constituted a grave menace to our amphibious training ships off the open beaches. I wrote to Rear Admiral Ferdinand L. Reichmuth, Commander, Amphibious Force, recommending that we secure an area in Chesapeake Bay for training. New River was an open roadstead and there was nothing to prevent enemy
submarines coming in and sinking our training ships. Submarines could not enter sheltered Chesapeake Bay. Admiral Reichmuth agreed with me and we obtained training grounds on Solomon Island and a naval gunfire bombardment range on Bloodsworth Island. Troops embarked from Norfolk in transports for this new area and, by an ironic geographic coincidence, the Marines trained on Solomon Island, in Chesapeake Bay, for their first assault in World War II, on the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.
Deep in training for the Pacific war, we could not escape the impact of international events. After the 50 over-age destroyers were exchanged for the use of British bases in September, 1940, we manned strategic points in the Caribbean and in June,e 1941, sent an expeditionary force to Iceland. The Iceland force was drawn from the Second Marine Division, which was officially activated on the West Coast at the same time as the First. It consisted of a strongly reinforced regiment (the 6th) and passed through the Panama Canal to my area before going north.
The force reported to me for transportation and embarkation, and went north as part of my command until it reached Iceland, where it came under command of the Army. Due to this curious command setup, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, whose troops were being employed by the Army,reported to the Secretary of War. This is the first and only incident I can recall in World War II when the Marine Commandant had two bosses; he reported to the Secretary of the Navy on all other matters, but to the Secretary of War on Iceland.
This attachment of Marines to the Army differed from the ordinary type, which we describe as an operational attachment. Under a seldom-used provision of law, the President may declare portions of the Marine Corps to be part of the Army, under Army regulations and under the Secretary of War.
At the urging of General George C. Marshall and the Secretary of War, this was done in the case of the Iceland force of Marines, which was then the only body of U.S. troops in readiness for instant overseas expeditionary duty. The provisional
Marine brigade selected for this mission was fully organized and underway for Iceland within a week of receipt of orders. Although this type of attachment of Marines to the Army begat an infinity of extra paper work, plus separation of our men from their normal Naval source of supply ( a most important consideration on an island supported and maintained by and for the Atlantic Fleet), Marshall insisted that we be placed under Army command. This was another example of the Army's insistence that Marines be kept away from independent responsibility and, although General Holcomb, our Commandant, protested the decision with great vigor, both on the grounds of principle and of horse, sense, he was overruled by Army influences in the high counsels.
Training duties also went hand in hand with the primary mission of the First Joint Training Force, which was to prepare an expeditionary force for amphibious operations in the Atlantic, if circumstances warranted. After the outbreak of war we made an intensive study of the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal; and the Cape Verde Islands, another Portuguese group 500 miles from the western tip of Africa.
In the hands of the Germans, these islands, standing well out in the Atlantic, would have made ideal submarine bases for attacks on Allied shipping,a s well as possible air bases for raids on the United States by long distance bombers. The Azores are 2,400 miles from the Statue of Liberty.
We knew that the Nazis were considering seizing these islands and we were prepared to prevent such action. Plans, based upon the use of a Marine assault force, were drawn up and proved that it would be a simple operation. However, the Germans failed to act and the troops intended for that operation were sent to the South Pacific.
At this time I was pressing the big brass in Washington to give me a combat command. Under Major General Archer Vandegrift, Marines had already come to grips with the Japanese at Guadalcanal, and I was eager to get to the Pacific to be with my men. Then an inexplicable incident occurred. I was 60 in
1942, and an order came out that all officers of 60 or over must take a new physical examination. I did so, as a matter of routine. Afterwards a member of the Medical Examining Board, convening at the Navy Hospital in Washington, told me confidentially that the Board had found I was suffering from a sever case of diabetes.
Flabbergasted, I rushed from Quantico to Washington to see what all this monkey business was about. As I was walking along a corridor in the Navy Department I met Secretary Knox, who gave me an unusually warm handshake and invited me to lunch.
He confirmed the report I had heard but added that a group including Admiral King, COMINCH, Admiral Randall Jacobs, Rear Admiral Ross R. McIntire, the President's medical adviser and Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, and himself had recommended that I should not be retired from the Marine Corps because he had seen me during training exercises in the Caribbean and I had seemed very fit.
To say I was astounded is to put it mildly. I never have had the slightest symptom of diabetes. After lunch I hurried to Admiral McIntire's office and told him--with considerable heat--exactly what I thought of the medical examination. On my insistence, he promised to give me another physical. I fear I left my temper inside the office, but I slammed the door when I left, even though he had promised me another examination.
Subsequently, I took three or four blood-sugar tests in Quantico. Certainly my blood pressure should have been high after my stormy experience in Washington but all the reports came back negative and normal. That made me even more certain that somewhere along the line somebody was trying to "get me." The only explanation--and a very feeble one, too--I could wring out of the Board was that the laboratory technician had made a mistake in the analysis.
Andrew Higgins, who had been my tutelary deity in many crises, filled in the gap later. He wrote me:
I well recall the incident and after you walked out I heard you had been sent back to Quantico. I got pretty much riled about it.
As you know, fools jump in where angels fear to tread, so I went to see President Roosevelt about something, or it may have been on a pretext. I cannot recall which but I asked him point blank what was happening to General Howlin' Mad Smith.
He started to get huffish with me and, though he was the President, I talked to him pretty bluntly as to what I thought about some four-flushy Admirals and general I had met, and what I thought about the Marines by comparison. Before I left him, he had thawed out. I don't know whether it had any effect and it may have antagonized him, but I have often wondered what peculiar conspiracies were going on at that time.
After that incident, I was not troubled with physical examinations until I reached the Pacific Coast, where I underwent another routine checkup, with similar negative and normal results. But that Board report set me wondering, too, about a conspiracy that could deprive a man of an opportunity to fight for his country by killing him with a medical certificate.
In September, 1942, my opposite number of the West Coast, Major General Vogel, commander of the Second Joint Training Force, was sent to the South Pacific as Commanding General of the First Amphibious Corps, which comprised at that time only the First Marine Division and a few attached units. I left Quantico to succeed him. Although I was still assigned to training, this was one step nearer the Pacific theater of operations.
With headquarters at Camp Elliott, my training force consisted of troops at Elliott, Pendleton, and an artillery unit at Niland, a town on the edge of the desert near El Centro. Manpower in this area came from the East Coast and from the recruit depot at the Marine Base in San Diego. We organized the men into divisions as they arrived.
Working to fit these Marine divisions for combat duty, I also was entrusted with another training job. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided upon the Aleutians campaign and Lieutenant General John L. De Witt, of the Western Defense Command, turned over the Seventh Army Division to me for amphibious training. It was commanded by Major General Albert E. Brown. Our objective was Attu, which the Japanese had
occupied at the same time they took Kiska and Agattu. The Commander of the Amphibious Force, Pacific, was Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell, who had been in command of the U.S. Naval District at cavite when the Japanese struck in the Philippines and was evacuated to Australia with General MacArthur.
It was fine working with a Navy officer like Rockwell. He understood amphibious operations and therefore appreciated the problems of both the naval commander and the sore commander. There was nothing Jovian in his attitude towards the Marines and it was easy to make recommendations to him for the most efficient training of the Seventh Division. In accordance with the authorization given by General De Witt, the division was streamlined for its amphibious mission.
I have always considered the landing of the Seventh in the dense fog of Attu, on May 11, 1943, an amphibious landing without parallel in our military history. Transport was not available to carry the entire equipment of a full division and even if it had been it was useless on the terrain of this bleak Aleutian island, where the sponge-like tundra bogged down all heavy equipment.
After the Seventh Division left South California, I followed them to Cold Harbor, Alaska, aboard the USS Pennsylvania. From Cold Harbor I flew to Amchitka with Colonel W.O. "Bill" Aereckson, USA, and then ploughed through the fog shrouding Attu, trying to catch a glimpse of the fighting. This was my first experience in battle with any troops I had trained and I was keen to see how they made out. But in spite of Bill's low flying, I saw very little through the cold, gray blanket. Attu was secured by May 31, after the Japanese made a banzai attack, cutting through our lines and penetrating to some hospital tents, where the crazed men murdered many of our patients before they could be wiped out.
If my Aleutians trip had produced nothing but the memory of that banzai attack, it was worth while. That mad charge through the fog made a profound impression and alerted me to the ever present danger of just such a final desperate attack
during my operations in the Central Pacific. Before I left the Aleutians, I decided to amplify our training to include countermeasures against such an eventuality.
The only other result of the trip, painful to me, was that I developed pneumonia in the cold fog of the Aleutians and entered hospital in Adak. Fortunately, it was a mild case and I soon recovered and returned to Camp Elliott, in Southern California's more equable climate.
The month after I got back I was invited by Admiral Nimitz to visit Pearl Harbor and make a tour of the South Pacific with him. Nimitz was in San Diego at the time. I needled him into the trip because I wanted to visit the Pacific battlefront and see how my Marines were doing. We flew from San Francisco to Honolulu in his private Coronado and from there down to Suva, Fiji; Noumea, French New Caledonia, where the assault on New Georgia in the Solomons was being planned; Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides; and Guadalcanal.
Here I visited the first Marine battlefield in the Pacific war. Guadalcanal had special significance for me. The Marines who fought and died there were my Marines, the men of the First Division I had trained in the Caribbean and in the United States. It was a stirring experience because here, on remote Guadalcanal, our Marine amphibious doctrine was proven sound. Major General Vandegrift had achieved the impossible with a magnificent body of men, inadequately equipped but filled with willingness to fight and to die fighting. Fate had robbed me of the opportunity to command my old division in its first battle in World War II but I was proud to have commanded the men in training.
On the flight back to Pearl Harbor I became increasingly depressed because I was not on active field duty. I should have been fighting with my men in the South Pacific instead of going back to training camp. I had understood in Noumea that Admiral Nimitz and Admiral William F. Halsey,. Commander, South Pacific, intended making a change in the Marine command in that theater as our offensive operations expanded. I had hoped that, if such a change were made, this command
would come to me. But it did not and I wondered sadly if I ever would get to the active theater of operations.
Seated by the window in the Coronado, watching the immensely thick and fantastically molded banks of clouds that form the perpetual Pacific ceiling, I was lost in this depressing speculation when Nimitz called me to the other end of the cabin, where he had been reading a magazine.
"Holland," he said gravely, "I am going to bring you out to the Pacific this fall. You will command all Marines in the Central Pacific area. I think you will find your new job very interesting."
This was all the information that the Admiral gave me at the time but it was enough. It was the turning point for me: my road would lead out across the Pacific.
I threw myself heartily into the new training job that awaited me at Camp Elliott. After Attu was secured, the Joint Chiefs decided upon the capture of Kiska, and Amphibious Training Force 9, under Major General Charles H. "Pete" Corlett, was set up for the operation. The command was stationed at Fort Ord, California, and the Army troops were turned over to me for amphibious training.
After preliminary work in California, the Ninth was ordered to the Aleutians, with headquarters at Adak. Here it was joined by a Canadian brigade. I went to Adak with part of my staff to direct the training of both the Canadian and American troops under Arctic conditions. They were uniformed and equipped for the cold and a powerful naval force was assembled to support them against the anticipated strong resistance of the Japanese.
Commander of the operation was Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid and Army commander was Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was killed nearly two years later at Okinawa. Pete Corlett had command of the combat troops and Rear Admiral Rockwell of the naval forces. I went along as an observer, since I had directed training.
The landing was made in full force on August 15, with barren results. The Japanese had evacuated Kiska, a fact I long had suspected. Air photographs taken on the rare clear days
when photography was possible had convinced me of their withdrawal. I made arrangements with an Army flyer to remove the radio from his P-38 so that I could fly piggy-back with him from Amchitka to Kiska, where I could make low reconnaissance of the island and ascertain the situation for myself. He removed his radio all right but wrecked my plans by backing out at the last minute. It's damn hard to thumb a ride if you're a General.
I then tried to make a reconnaissance through official channels but the high command ruled this out on the ground that if a member of the reconnaissance party was captured the enemy would torture him into giving full information of the impending attack.
On board the Pennsylvania and at GHQ at Adak I was the object of ridicule because of my persistent belief that the Japanese had left Kiska. In my opinion, the key to the situation was the mysterious disappearance of 65 low wooden buildings, apparently used by the Japanese as barracks. Early air photographs showed them standing, in later pictures they had disappeared. Obviously the enemy had torn down the buildings and used the wood to build boats and rafts to take them out to waiting transports. This explanation caused the loudest laughter of all among the skeptical strategists of the mess.
American troops landed at Kiska after heavy naval and air preparation. They were on the island 4 hours and made no contact with the enemy. Then the Canadians landed and moved rapidly across the island, confirming that the Japanese had vanished. This was apparent when the first boat ran up the beach and not a shot was fired in opposition.
The Japanese probably had been gone three weeks and it was a crushing anti-climax to our massively mounted operation to discover we had been outwitted by a wily enemy exploiting the fog and our failure to make a proper reconnaissance. In the Aleutians we had all the means at our disposal to determine definitely whether the Japanese had evacuated Kiska but we failed to use them. This negligence on the part of the high command was inexcusable.
I went ashore with General De Witt, who was there also
in the role of observer, since all American troops involved were drawn from his Western Defense Command, and on the beach we found two roughly built boats and a pile of loose planks stripped from a building. The planks in the two boats had warped,making the craft unseaworthy.I had assigned members of my staff to the Army and the Canadians and they confirmed the thoroughness of the evacuation. The Japanese left nothing salvageable behind except some blankets and winter uniforms. A number of one-man submarines had been wrecked beyond repair.
There was only one incident at Kiska. Two Army battalions collied in the fog and opened fire. A number of men were killed and wounded before identification was established. Each group mistook the other for Japanese.
From the Aleutians, where the williwaws howl across the tundra and our men wore Arctic boots and parkas as protection against the bitter weather, my return to sunny Southern California was a pleasant transition, heightened by the knowledge that soon I would be heading for the Pacific to assume my new command.
Orders arrived shortly and after two years of waiting I was bound for the fighting war. I assembled my staff, which comprised Colonel Erskine, Chief of Staff; Major C.W. Shisler, G-1; Lieutenant Colonel St. Julian R. Marshall, G-2; Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, G-3; Colonel Raymond E. Knapp, G-4; Colonel A.E. Creasey, Quartermaster; Captain J.B. O'Neill, USN, Corps Surgeon; Colonel J.H.N. Hudnall, Communications Officer; Lieutenant Colonel Peter P. Schreider, Air Officer; Lieutenant Colonel A.v. Wilson, USA, Corps of Engineers; Lieutenant Colonel Thomas R. Yancey, AUS; Major Charles S. Tracey, Transport Quartermaster; Major C.A. Woodrum, Jr., USMCR, my aide; Major J.L. Stewart, Assistant G-3; Major W.R. Lytz, USMCR, Assistant Engineer; Captain H.H. Steiner, USMCR, Assistant G-2; First Lieutenant L.S. Dyer, Assistant Communications Officer; First Lieutenant G.L. Rea, Assistant Quartermaster; Second Lieutenant R.A. Hamlin, USMCR, secretary fo the Chief of Staff; and my faithful and irreplaceable orderly, Platoon Sergeant William L. Bradley.
Captain Mac Asbill, Jr., my aide, followed me later to Pearl Harbor.
For the second time in our 34 years of married life, I said goodbye to my wife and left to fight in a world war. When I sailed for France in 1917, our son Victor was a baby. When I left for the Pacific he was a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and I was twice a grandfather. Ada and I were extremely proud of Marion and Holland McTreire Smith II.
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