It was September of 1944. The First Provisional Marine Brigade had come to the "Canal to rest, refit and train" for whatever would come next. The battle of Guam behind them, the men of the 4th and 22nd Marine Regiments and supporting troops found themselves in a brand new outfit. They were to be the base of the soon to be evolved Sixth Marine Division. That is they were to be the kernel, the nut around which the rest of the division would be formed.
They didn't know where they would fight next or that their new division would be the last created by the Marines. All they could be sure of was that thousands of Marines from all over would be pouring onto the island to join them, and there would be hard fighting ahead. Another campaign, another island, some had been at it since August of 1942.
The Brigade kept much of its structure though much was added on. Platoons became companies, companies became battalions as new members came aboard. Brigadier General Lemuel Shepherd became a Major General. Some unit commanders were promoted, many new ones were added. It was time for some to be returned to the States.
MajGen Lemuel Shepherd
A division's regiments are its most easily identified units. Before the buildup began for World War II in 1939 and 1940 The Marine Corps' largest units were regiments, and there were precious few of them. The two from the Brigade, the 4th and 22nd, had histories, especially the 4th. This unit was first activated in1911 for a planned landing in Vera Cruz, Mexico. In those days when we had differences of opinion with Latin American nations they were often settled by Marines. The regiment was then disbanded only to be reactivated in 1914.
The Fourth Marines did not go to France for the Great War but ended up in China instead. They were well known as the "China Marines." They were there primarily to help protect the international settlement in Shanghai. They performed this duty until 1941 when relations with Japan deteriorated to the point of no return unless the Marines hurried out of China. They sailed to the Philippines a few weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack by Japanese naval units. The Philippine Islands were attacked shortly thereafter. Major fighting there ended in April 1942. The regiment was surrendered on Corregidor, an island in Manila Harbor.
Marines arrive in Shanghai 1937
The 4th was reconstituted in 1944 by redesignating the Marine Raider Regiment as the new 4th. It was explained that their usefulness as raiders had ended as the war matured. It was also rumored that some among the Marine brass were opposed to elite units within the elite U.S.M.C.
Marine Raiders on Tulagi Island
As a "hit and run gang" the Raiders didn't actually do much. What they actually proved was that they were among the Marines' toughest fighters. The 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Parachute Battalion were among the first American ground units in offensive action in World War II. This was at and near Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Later in that fall of 1942 the remnants of the battalion, along with their parachute pals, saved the "sum of things" on Guadalcanal in a bloody night at Bloody Ridge.
The 2nd Raider Battalion also made its name at Guadalcanal. They spent a month rustling around in the jungle behind enemy lines hassling the Japanese when they weren't killing them. The Raiders further made names for themselves when reinforced by the 3rd and 4th Battalions they helped drive the Japanese from the rest of the Solomons and Bouganville.
The 22nd Regiment was formed at Camp Elliott on the edges of San Diego June 1, 1942. By June 18, they were already headed for American Samoa to replace the 7th Regiment that was scheduled to reinforce the First Division on Guadalcanal. While the rest of the Corps was fighting the war, Marines of the 22nd must have thought they were forgotten for Samoa was where they waited for Japanese who never came. The regiment trained and then trained again for the next 18 months. However they were not forgotten.
As the Navy turned its ships from the South Pacific to the Central Pacific: first Tarawa by the Second Marine Division at the end of 1942, then the Marshall Islands by both soldiers and Marines. Fighting as an independent regiment, the 22nd found its war at Engebi on February 17, Eniwetok on the 21st, Parry on the 22nd and Kwajalein beginning March 7. Roi Namur was also taken, but the job wasn't finished until April 5. The unit won the Navy Unit Citation but didn't fight again until it helped fill out the First Provisional Brigade in action on Guam in 1944.
Marines land on Eniwetok
The 15th Marines had a history, too. The supporting artillery, scheduled for the Sixth Marine Division, started out as an infantry regiment in 1918. It was sent to the Dominican Republic in 1919 for one of our Banana Republic Wars that were a regular feature of those times. The regiment was deactivated August 1, 1922. It was reactivated October 23, 1944 on Guadalcanal as an artillery regiment formed mostly from pack howitzer battalions from the 4th, 22nd and 29th Marines.
The 29th Marine Regiment coalesced on Guadalcanal. It was the baby infantry regiment of the division. Its 2nd and 3rd Battalions were formed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Some of its members were fresh from boot camp. Some were battle tested Marines, returned to the States for one reason or another. Some had been at stateside since before the war.
The 1st Battalion of the 29th was formed from cadres of the Second Marine Division as it was preparing to land on Japanese held Saipan. This was earlier in 1944 when we were reaching for the Marianna Islands. The battalion acquitted itself with honor, but was badly beaten up in hard fighting. Some even made the Tinian invasion. Fortunately, there were replacements to fill its ranks.
Marines bound for Tinian Island
It took a lot more than the four regiments to fill in the ranks of the division. MPs, signal company, pioneers, motor transport, landing crafts, headquarters battalion and others. There were Third Amphibious Corps troops supporting Marines on Okinawa. These were specialized units outside of division control but there to serve their special needs. First, Second and Sixth Divisions were in the Third at that time. The other Marine divisions: Third, Fourth and Fifth were in the Fifth Amphibious Corps. Above the Corps was Fleet Marine Force. There were also Force troops. Among the most notable was Force Recon.
As noted earlier Marines came to Guadalcanal from all sorts of places, some from as far away as Europe. Others came from by passed or conquered Pacific Islands. Many had previous fighting experience in the Banana Republics, some were left over from the Great War in France in 1918. That last included some enlisted men, the commanding general and at least one regimental commander.
Almost all of them would soon be on Okinawa Shima fighting the last great battle of World War II. Many, somewhere above 1700, accounts vary, died there. We have lost others along the way. A few are still here as of this writing more than 70 years after the last shots were fired.
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