Chapter 1

The military operations narrated in this volume cover neither the beginning of the greatest global conflict in history nor its end. They do, however, describe in detail two of the major amphibious campaigns in the Western Pacific, Peleliu and Iwo Jima, and the prolonged fighting that followed until all enemy resistance was quelled. In addition, the little-known exploits of Marine artillery and air in the Philippines and the accomplishments of Marine flying squadrons in the reduction of enemy positions in the Central and Western Pacific are covered.

In themselves, the day-by-day accounts of terrain seized, sorties flown, rounds fired, numbers of enemy killed, and casualties sustained tend to have a numbing effect. The mere recitation of the thousands of tons of artillery ammunition expended in the preliminary bombardment and small arms ammunition fired in weeks of close combat tend to overwhelm the imagination. Nor does the spectacle of 90,000 men battling for weeks at close quarters appear realistic unless it is remembered that such combat actually took place on Iwo Jima. Even though this volume tells of the exploits of Marines, both ground and air, in the Western Pacific, it should be recalled that their heroism was but a small part in the mosaic of global war, and that their sacrifice was directly linked with that of the remaining military services of the United States and its Allies.

World War 11 had its roots in the political, economic, and social conditions that arose or prevailed in the years following the end of the greatest conflagration the world had experienced up to that time. In a carefully prepared address to the Senate on 22 January 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had voiced the view that any lasting peace had to be a peace without victory, since "victory would mean peace forced upon a loser, a victor's peace imposed upon the vanquished. Only a peace between equals can last."1

Almost prophetically, the President continued that "peace must be followed by some concert of powers which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again."2

As part of the peace settlement following the end of World War I, the German island possessions in the Central Pacific, notably the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls, were mandated to the Japanese, who also gained control of former German concessions in China.


While Germany was being stripped of her outlying possessions and the groundwork for future trouble was being laid in Central Europe, where strips of territory inhabited by ethnic Germans were being incorporated into adj scent countries, Japan emerged as the strongest power in the western Pacific. While the Japanese, under the terms of the mandate given to them by the League of Nations, were permitted to govern and develop the islands placed under their charge, they were forbidden to construct fortifications on them, a point further underscored by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

Quite possibly, given a few decades of global peace, the major nations of the world might well have succeeded in restoring their shattered economies, rebuilding their political structures, and learning to live with their neighbors across the multitude of newly created borders. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. The severe bloodletting that the big powers had undergone in World War I bred distrust, dissatisfaction, and an increasing trend towards national and international violence among the victors and vanquished alike.

Even before the end of World War I, two major upheavals occurred in Russia, with inherent loss of life and destruction of property unheard of since the Mongol invasion. While the Red and White factions were locked in a struggle to the death, the peasants, workers, and remnants of the erstwhile aristocracy suffered drastic privations. In the end little changed, and one oppressive regime was succeeded by another. Lack of faith in their respective leaders and/or national destinies was to cause overwhelming changes in Italy and Germany where fascist dictatorships were established without recourse to civil war, once the people had lost faith in the parliamentary forms of government they had enjoyed since the end of the war.

In the United States, following the conclusion of the armistice, there was a considerable amount of confusion as to the shape in which the postwar world was to be rebuilt. President Wilson was an ardent advocate of a League of Nations in which every member, regardless of size, would have one vote. The five big powers, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States, were to sit on an executive council permanently, while non-permanent seats were to be allotted to four of the smaller nations. A permanent Court of International Justice was to arbitrate disputes between the member nations. Among the foremost functions of the League of Nations was the preservation of peace, as expressed in Article 10, which President Wilson regarded as the heart of its constitution. This article provided that:

The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. In case of any threat of danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.3

Enforcement of a global peace was predicated on the assumption that no aggressor could withstand the combined strength of outraged humanity, and that all member nations would take concerted


action without delay against any form of aggression. The United States had joined the Allies "in order to make the world safe for democracy," and President Wilson clearly perceived that the future of world peace could be safeguarded only if all the major powers combined their strength, manpower, and resources in stabilizing a shaky world. Many influential Americans felt now that the war had been won, in no small measure by virtue of their efforts, that the time had come to withdraw from the arena of international politics. In this they were guided by the parting words of the first President of the United States who had clearly stated:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connections as possible . . . It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances . . . Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.4

Continued upheavals in Europe, economic considerations, and disillusionment with prolonged bickering at the conference table soon led the United States to revert to its hallowed tradition of isolationism, thus deserting Wilson's leadership that, had it been carried out to its fullest extent, might have assured the world a period of peace and stability. Instead, the American nation rejected not only Wilson's vision of a just peace, but along with it his political party and the League of Nations. On the positive side, the Republican administration of President Warren G. Harding convened a disarmament conference in July 1921, initially limited to Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. The number of participants was subsequently expanded to include several of the smaller countries. Soviet Russia, socially still unacceptable and far removed from obtaining official United States recognition, was excluded.

On 12 November 1921, three years after the World War I armistice, the conference was held in Washington. Considering the differences that existed between the attending powers, substantial agreement was quickly reached by the three major nations, the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, as well as by France and Italy, with reference to the ratio to be employed as to the ships to be retained by each country's navy and the number to be scrapped. At the same time, the participants agreed to halt the construction of warships, but not aircraft carriers, in excess of 10,000 tons or equipped with guns larger than 8 inches in caliber for a period of 10 years. The participants agreed to the terms of the agreement largely because it resulted in a sizable cut in military spending at a time when the various treasuries were badly depleted by the drain of World War I. Japan received an additional incentive as her reward for agreeing to the ratio, which was to become a major factor in shaping the policies that the major powers were to adopt in dealing with various areas of the Pacific.

By way of a compromise, the United States agreed that she would not fortify any of the islands under her control in


the Pacific, except for Hawaii. The United States specifically agreed not to fortify the Philippines, Guam, Wake, or the Aleutian Islands; Great Britain likewise agreed not to fortify Hong Kong, Borneo, the Solomons, and the Gilberts. In turn, the Japanese agreed not to fortify Formosa or any of the former German possessions in the Pacific north of the equator, including specifically the Marianas less Guam, which was under American control, and the Carolines.

A Four-Power Pact, to which England, France, Japan, and the United States were signatories called for a mutual recognition of insular rights in the Pacific. This pact, which was to be in force for a 10-year period, called for the adjustment of any difficulties that might arise by way of the conference table. In order to eliminate a further source of irritation in the Far East, a Nine-Power Treaty, subscribed to by the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, France, and China attempted to regulate the often precarious and complicated relations of China with various outside powers. At least on the surface, the Washington Conference seemed to assure a period of international cooperation that, coupled with a reduction in armaments, could lead to a lengthy span of global peace.

Under the terms of the Naval Treaty of 1922, the United States destroyed 19 capital ships of pre-World War I vintage and 13 that were still under construction. Expressed in tonnage, the United States destroyed 842,380 tons; Great Britain 447,750 tons; and Japan 354,709 tons. On the part of American naval experts the scrapping of major ships as well as the agreement to leave the western Pacific area unfortified evoked sharp criticism, since "the strict observance of these treaties left the United States crippled."5 It was to become apparent soon enough that the Washington Conference had left a major loophole in that the quota system did not apply to submarines, cruisers, and destroyers. As a result, it was not long before those nations interested in evading the provisions of the disarmament treaty concentrated their efforts on the construction of these "permitted" vessels.

By 1927, the euphoria that had followed in the wake of the Washington Conference had largely given way to a spirit of sober contemplation. In an attempt to revive the hopeful spirit of 1922, and in order to put an end to the smaller vessel naval armaments race that had been developing, President Calvin Coolidge deemed it advisable to hold a second disarmament conference, which convened in late June 1927 at Geneva. Even though once again the United States offered her good offices in reviving the feeling of trust and conviviality that had marked the Washington Conference, the climate abroad had undergone a distinct change in the five years that had passed since the earlier conference. Both Italy and France refused to participate at all; the United States, Japan, and Great Britain failed


to reach any substantial agreement in limiting the construction of the smaller naval vessels and, in consequence, the Geneva Conference ended in failure. Nearly three more years were to pass before the London Naval Treaty of April 1930 once more brought some semblance of order into the, international naval armament situation, though once again France and Italy refused to comply with the terms of the agreement. A World Disarmament Conference, convened at Geneva in 1932 under the auspices of the League of Nations, failed to yield concrete results, even though the United States, this time under the leadership of President Herbert Hoover, attempted to have all offensive weapons outlawed, and, failing this, made an effort to at least obtain a sizable reduction in such weapons. Once again, the American proposals fell on deaf ears in a world increasingly beset by social, political, and economic problems. One history was to sum up the overall situation in these words:

America had entered the postwar period with hopeful visions of a new world order in which reason, logic, and disarmament would pave the way toward world peace. But the unsettled problems and bitterness of the Versailles Peace Conference provided anything but the proper milieu for the entertainment of such thoughts. The world was in ferment, but America slept, trusting in diplomacy and disarmament to protect her from a cruel and implacable fate6

It was the fate of the United States to emerge on the international scene as a dominant power at the very time that the problems of the major nations cried for a solution that even an older and more experienced country might have been able to mediate only with great difficulty. World War I had brought forth only bitter fruit for victors and vanquished alike and the balance of power that had existed prior to 1914 had largely vanished. It was succeeded by new forms of government and tenuous alliances more often engaged in as fleeting expedience rather than solutions of a more permanent nature. Seemingly abounding in material wealth, possessed by a sharp sense of business, and dwarfing the Old World powers with her sheer physical size and enormous resources, the appearance of the young giant on the world scene, and particularly in the sphere of diplomacy, was greeted by her elders with a mixture of amusement, admiration, envy, and scorn. Few could deny President Wilson's sincerity in putting forward his Fourteen Points aimed at restoring stability to a troubled postwar world. Even fewer could question the honesty of the attempts made by Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover in forestalling a general world armaments race that sooner or later was bound to result in a shooting war that once again might engulf one nation after another. Yet, in assessing its own political aspirations on the international scene, a nation embarked on pursuit of its national destiny, real or imagined, could not help but feel a sense of frustration and irritation at the continuous American efforts that could well be considered as direct or indirect interference in the affairs of others. No matter how well meant or inspired the American quest for world


peace, the very honesty and often lack of complexity within these proposals could hardly fail to act as an irritant to those nations that by virtue of age, culture, and social fabric considered themselves somewhat superior to the sometimes clumsy diplomacy of the New World.

On the international scene, fluctuations in American foreign policy occasioned by succeeding administrations that were in themselves reflections of internal developments within the country frequently were misinterpreted by foreign observers. Central and South America were generally regarded as the preserve of the United States, and several small-scale military incursions by U.S. forces into these areas whenever American interests were threatened underscored this point. In other parts of the world, the United States attempted to make available its good offices in mediating disputes, but isolationism within the country failed to furnish the outside world with an image of firmness and resolution, backed by military power.

The isolationism that gripped the United States in the early 1930s in itself was the outgrowth of several factors, all of which combined to imbue Americans with a spirit of withdrawal from the troubles of other nations. The prolonged economic depression with its side effects of widespread discontent further contributed to a public apathy towards external developments underscored by growing public disillusionment with the state of the world in general. As one history dealing with this particular subject matter was to comment:

To many Americans, World War I had been fought in vain; the world had not been made safe for democracy. There was a growing feeling that wars were engineered by munitions makers so that they might make money. . . . Another factor in the isolationist trend was the failure of the debtors to repay what they had borrowed during World War I. And what made it worse, Americans felt that this money was being used to build up national armaments which would lead to future wars.7

The rising number of dictatorships across the globe could also serve as a barometer warning of future trouble in international affairs. By the end of the 1920s a growing number of nations had entrusted their destinies to the hands of "strong men," notably the Soviet Union, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland. The trend toward authoritarian forms of government was still gaining ground and the concept of a single-party state that, at the cost of individual freedom, could operate more efficiently in a state of crisis than the parliamentary system, made great inroads. Thus, the six million unemployed in Germany resulting from the Great Depression, played an important part in the rise to power of the National Socialist Party. In Japan, the militarists were also moving into the saddle by degrees, though the Emperor continued to rule supreme. As the evil of totalitarianism spread, the differences between opposing systems became diffused:

Communism and fascism became more clearly movements international in character, each thriving in the fertile soil of popular frustration and social distress, and on fears aroused by the other. After 1933, when the National Socialists took absolute control of Germany, the accumulating crises merged into one supreme crisis: The direct challenge of unbridled


organized violence to all that men had tried to achieve in 1919 and had still hoped to achieve in 1925.8

Trouble in Europe and Asia was not to be long delayed. In Central Europe, within three years after Adolf Hitler's rise to power, there occurred the German remilitarization of the Rhineland, followed by the annexation of Austria in early 1938 and occupation of the Sudetenland in September of that year under a policy of appeasement by the Western European powers. Within six months of the Munich settlement, the Germans occupied the remainder of Bohemia. In September 1939, Hitler launched his fateful attack against Poland, thus ushering in a global conflict of then unheard of dimensions. On the other side of the globe, Japan had launched an attack on Manchuria in September 1931 and by May 1933 had withdrawn from the League of Nations. Italy, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, launched a war of aggression of its own against Ethiopia and in late 1935 thwarted League action condemning the attack. In 1936 Germany, Italy, and Japan aligned themselves, ostensibly against the threat of Communism, but each with her own separate interests. Both China and Spain represented additional trouble spots, each country engaged in civil war that was fuelled from outside sources. The League of Nations, lacking an effective police force to check the spiraling aggression of the totalitarian powers, proved unable to assert its authority; its role eventually was reduced to that of a debating society whose members, when chastized, walked out at will.

During the 1930s, some Americans were watching the increasing trend towards international violence with rising concern, though the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Considering the state of the United States' defenses, this concern was only too well justified. In 1933, the then Chief of Staff of the Army, General Douglas MacArthur, estimated "that the United States stood seventeenth in rank among the world's armies."9 In order to counter the general apathy towards military preparedness then engulfing the country, several veterans' organizations spoke up in behalf of increased allocations for the armed forces, but theirs was a voice crying in the wilderness in a country still beset by major economic troubles. As to the outlook for bolstering America's armed forces during this period, the situation was bleak:

A new administration would take office in 1933, faced not only with the grim specter of hunger stalking the streets, but also the sound of marching boots in Europe and Asia. The Roosevelt Administration was to fall heir to a depleted military establishment, acute economic distress, and intensified international difficulties."10

Within the budget-starved military establishment of the United States there existed a force that was lean in numbers but strong in history, tradition, and reputation: the United States Marine Corps. In 1933, the entire Corps consisted of 1,192 officers and 15,343 men. As war clouds gathered over Europe in


the summer of 1939, this number saw only a nominal increase, though a substantial enlargement was authorized by executive order of 8 September 1939. Specializing in the amphibious assault, the U.S. Marine Corps was to occupy a unique position in World War II. One of the official histories in this series, which discusses the role of Marines prior to and following America's entry into the war in detail, makes this observation:

While his country battled a coalition of enemies, and most of his countrymen in arms were fighting halfway across the globe from him, the Marine trained to meet only one enemy--Japan. As the war moved inexorably onward, the men who flocked to join the Corps in unprecedented numbers were literally and consciously signing up to fight the Japanese. This orientation toward a single enemy and towards one theater, the Pacific, colored every Marine's life in and out of battle and had an incalculable but undeniably beneficial effect on the combat efficiency of the Fleet Marine Force.11

The development of the Fleet Marine Force in conjunction with the evolution of amphibious doctrine will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapters as a prelude to the account of two of the major amphibious operations undertaken by the U.S. Marine Corps in the Western Pacific. To this end, an understanding of the principles of the amphibious assault and knowledge of the Marine command organization that evolved in the Pacific during World War II, should prove helpful.


Table of Contents ** Next Chapter (II-1)


1. President Woodrow Wilson's address to the U.S. Senate, 22Jan17, as cited in Oscar Theodore Barck, Jr., and Nelson Manfred Blake, Since 1900--A History of the United States (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965), pp. 210-211.

2. Ibid.

3. Article 10 of the Constitution, League of Nations, as cited in ibid., p. 251.

4. Victor Platsits, ed., Washington's Farewell Address (New York: New York Public Library, 1935), pp. 155-56.

5. Maj C. Joseph Bernardo and Dr. Eugene H. Bacon, American Military Policy--Its Development Since 1775 (Harrisburg: The Military Service Publishing Company, 1957), p. 391.

6. Ibid., p. 392,

7. Barck and Blake, op. cit., p. 551.

8. David Thomson, ed. The Era of Violence, 18981945--The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. xii (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960 ), p. 558, used with permission.

9. Bernardo and Bacon, op. cit., p. 401.

10. Ibid., p. 400.

11. Henry I. Shaw, Jr. and Major Douglas T. Kane, Isolation of Rabaul--History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, v. II (Washington: Hist Br, G-3 Div, HQMC, 1963), p. 4, hereafter Shaw and Kane, Isolation of Rabaul.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation