World War Two: Marines; Midway

The final battle for Corregidor was, in reality, a mopping up operation. The Japanese had already swept on to grab the riches of Southeast Asia, from Java (March 9) to Rangoon, Burma (March 8). They could have left Corregidor’s holed-up defenders to starve. By the time Corregidor surrendered, the Japanese tide had crested. Two great sea battles stopped them. On May 4-8 American and Japanese air craft carriers fought the battle of the Coral Sea at the southern of the Japanese offensive. Lexington was lost and Yorktown damaged, but the Americans drove off the enemy force advancing against Port Moresby on the southeast coast of New Guinea, opposite northern Australia.

Far to the north, the Battle of Midway, June 3-5, finished the last Japanese offensive in the Pacific. The Japanese lost four big carriers; and with its air cover destroyed, the enemy amphibious force heading for Midway turned back. After that victory the U.S. Navy was ready to go on the attack.

By Pearl harbor Day, the marine Corps had grown to two divisions and 65,000 men. It had 13 aviation squadrons and 251 aircraft of all types. Just six days earlier, Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations, had opposed the formation of a third Marine division and the use of dive bombers by the Marines.

In the forefront of the Corps were its static Defense Battalions, each organized on the average with 952 Marines but tailored for the job assigned. The 5th Defense Battalion was on Iceland, where it had arrived with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (6th Marines reinforced) in July. The 3rd and 4th and part of the 1st Defense Battalions were in Hawaii. The rest of the 1st was divided over tiny Wake Johnston and Palmyra islands. The 7th Defense Battalion guarded Samoa for to the south and the 6th, Midway in the north. These islands west of Hawaii now formed Americas Pacific Frontline.

On January 223, 1942, the 2nd Marine Brigade (4,798 Marines) arrive to build Samoa into the main Marine base in the Pacific. With the coming of the 3rd Marine Brigade and MAG-13, 10,000 Marine ground troops were in the Samoa area by the end of May. It became a combat training center and staging base for future amphibious operations in the Solomon Islands.

On the night of December 7, 1941, two Japanese destroyers ( Ushio and Sazanami) had shelled Midways sir base to cover their carriers withdrawal from Hawaii. One round zipped into the Sand Island’s power plant’ air vent and exploded inside the concrete building. First Lieutenant George H Cannon, the St. Louis born commander of Battery H, 6th Defense Battalion, was severely wounded; but he refused to be evacuated until the other wounded had been cared for and Corporal Harlod R. Hazelwood had the switchboard operating again. Cannon died from loss of blood a few minutes after reaching the side station and was the first Marine in World war Two to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Hazelwood was awarded the Navy Cross. In the 23 minute attack, four men were killed and 19 wounded.

In the next three weeks, Midway was reinforced by VMSB-231, which made its historic flight directly from Oahu; by VMF-221, which flew off the deck of the carrier Saratoga after she had been pulled back from Wake, and by elements of the 4th Defense Battalion.

In May 1942, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet expected–because the U.S. had broken the Japanese code–a Japanese attempt to capture Midway and Destroy the American fleet. The atoll was sent most of the 3rd Defense Battalion, two rifle companies of the 2nd Raider Battalion, five light tanks and vital search radars. The newly organized MAG-22 received dive bombers and fighters, which were soon to prove obsolete for this war; and by month’s end, Midway was jammed with more than 100 Marine, Army and Navy planes.

At 0616 on Thursday, June 4, the Midway Marines began their part in the decisive Battle of Midway, which was to become chiefly as struggle between the aircraft of opposing carrier forces. The Japanese fleet sent 108 planes against Midway; and 25 Marine fighters pilots led by Major Floyd B. Parks and Captain John F. Cary tackled the incoming dive bombers. In the opening encounter, the faster, more maneuverable Zero shot down nine of the twelve Marine pilots. A second group of 13 Marine fighters led by Captain Kirk Armistead followed up the attack. Both groups made their kills, but all in all, 15 of the 15 Marine piolets, including Major Parks , were killed. At 0630 the enemy carrier planes struck the atoll through heavy antiaircraft fire and did wide spread damage in a violent half hour.

Marine dive bombers attacked the Japanese carriers far north of the island after an unsuccessful attempt by and navy planes from Midway. The first Marine striking unit, led by Major Lofton R. Henderson, scored no hits; and only half of its 16 planes got back to Midway. (Henderson was shot down, and the airfield on Guadalcanal was named in his honor two months later) Then, 15 B-17’s took a crack at the enemy fleet, and failed. A second wave of 11 Marine bombers, led by Major Benjamin W. Norris, also missed and lost three aircraft. ( Norris did not return form a mission to find the already burning Carrier Hiryu that evening) Half of Midways aircraft were now gone.

But two hours later, carrier planes attacked the four Japanese carriers just as their planes, returning from Midway, were being refueled and rearmed for a second strike. The planes from Enterprise and Yorktown, taking full advantage of this phenomenal brake, knocked out three of the enemy carriers loaded with aircraft. That evening, dive bombers from Enterprise mortally wounded the remaining Hiryu.

The next morning, 12 marine bombers from Midway, led by Captain Marshall A. Tyler, attacked two damaged enemy cruisers. Captain Richard F. Fleming of St. Paul Minnesota, his plane in flames, slammed into the after turret of the cruiser Mikuma. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

In the Battle of Midway, the United States lost the Yorktown and 98 carrier planes. Marine Corps casualties were 49 killed and 53 wounded. Expressing the survivors bitterness, Lieutenant Colonel Larkin at Ewa protested to President Roosevelt through his son Major James Roosevelt, USMCR, of the fatal inadequacy of the Marines antiquated aircraft.

The Japanese lost four carriers, some 322 planes and a great portion of their experienced naval pilots. The never recover. And the United States went on the offensive.

The preliminary steps had already been taken. On March 12, the U.S. Army had landed on Nouméa, New Caledonia, where nickel mines might attract the enemy. Two weeks later, 500 soldiers , the Marines’ 4th Defense Battalion and VMF-212 moved up to Efate in the New Hebrides ( at noon on April 18 16 B-25’s led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USA, bomber Tokyo). And on June 14, the 1st Marine Division reached Wellington , New Zealand.

At the end of May, Admiral Nimitz proposed sending the 1st Marine Raider Battalion to raid and destroy the seaplane base that the Japanese were building at Tulagi in the Solomons. But the tide turned faster than that. The Battle of Midway set the stage for a bigger operation. From now on, the rest of the Marine Corps story in this war would be attack.

SOURCE: U.S. Marine Corps Story: BY: J. Robert Moskin

World War Two: Marines; Bataan and Corregidor

World War Two: Marines; Carlson’s Raiders-Makin Atoll 17 August 1942


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