The 5th Marine Division was activated at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on 21 January 1944. The early months of that year saw the activation of the division's infantry regiments. At the same time, many support units were created to keep "The Spearhead" supplied, armed, and fighting. Like every new outfit in World War II, the Fifth was confronted with problems and crises as it prepared for its rendevous with destiny in combat.
Preparing for War
The 5th Marine Division was never really a "green" outfit, even from the very start. Among its ranks were thousands of combat veterans, many of them former members of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, the Raider Training Battalion, the Parachute Training School, West Coast, and the Parachute Replacement Company. These Marines, most of whom had already served in combat, gave The Spearhead a fighting edge in training and battle. In addition, all over the United States, posts and stations of the Corps were scoured for Marines who had not yet served in combat.
Under one of the Corps' finest commanders, MajGen Keller E. Rockey (left), the division spent its early months training at Camp Pendleton. Thousands of Marines and mountains of equipment poured in the bring The Spearhead to its authorized strength. At the same time, its Marines trained, hiked, ran field problems, and learned to use every weapon at their disposal.
Elements of the division began departing for overseas service in in July 1944 as the reserve for the the Guam campaign. Not needed, they arrived at Camp Tarawa, near Hilo, Hawaii. The rest of the division arrived between August-November 1944.
At Camp Tarawa, the Fifth honed its combat skills and waited for the call to duty. It came in late 1944 when the division received its combat orders to assault Iwo Jima. Now the Marines began a period of intensified training on terrain that was a close match to the ground on Iwo. From all over the world, ships and equipment were marshalled for the invasion. In December 1944, transports began arriving at Hilo. Loading began on 16 December, and the last units of The Spearhead pulled out of Camp Tarawa on 4 January 1945.
On 19 February 1945, the Fifth assaulted the island of Iwo Jima with other elements of the Vth Marine Amphibious Corps. Exposed to the full fury of the enemy's defenses, Marines clawed their way forward a yard at a time. Across Motoyama Airfield #1, up Mount Suribachi, and then into the badlands of the Motoyama Plateau, the Fifth fought and died. But, it never stopped.
Foot by foot, day by day, Marines pushed forward until the last Japanese pocket was crushed on 25 March 1945. On 27 March 1945, the last Marines of the division sailed from Iwo Jima. The had earned their nickname–"The Spearhead." As their transports pulled away from the bloody island, few of them looked back.
Returning to Camp Tarawa, the Fifth started an extensive liberty program called, "Operation SHAKE-DOWN." Marines could take in Hollywood USO shows, and movies. They went to Hilo on liberty, and sometimes even Honolulu. Thousands of new replacements reported aboard to fill the division's depleted ranks. Combat reports were completed, new equipment of every type arrived, and the old cycle of combat training began again. Detailed planning and maneuvers started for the largest objective ever–the Invasion of Japan.
Then, in early August 1945 scuttlebutt flew across Camp Tarawa like wildfire–the Army Air Force had dropped a giant new bomb that could destroy an entire city. The Fifth sweated out the rumors, which were confirmed a few days later. On 14 August 1945, the Japanese government surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II.
Marines hoped they would soon return home, but this was almost immediately squelched when the Fifth learned it was to participate in the Occupation of Japan. In only twelve days, the division completed all preparations for combat embarkation. On 27 August, the Fifth loaded on transports and sailed for Japan.
Arriving on 22 September 1945, the Fifth executed a combat assault near the Japanese naval base at Sasebo. The landings went off without a hitch and the City of Sasebo was soon in Marine hands. Soon, the Fifth spread out across the island of Kyushu and beyond.
As part of the occupation force, the division enforced surrender terms. Tens of thousands of Japanese military personnel had to be demobilized and their weapons destroyed. In the zone of occupation, the Marines became the government for one of the most densely populated areas in Asia. The became the police, the grocery store and provided services of every kind to the population of their former enemies.
Beginning on 23 November 1945, the Fifth began mounting out once more, this time for the long-awaited trip home. Their transports docked in San Diego during the week before Christmas. The Marines reported aboard Camp Pendleton for discharge or transfer. In January 1945, more than 11,000 Spearhead Marines were processed for discharge. Just over 600 were transferred to other outfits.
While Marines streamed out of Camp Pendleton, the units they had served with were deactivated. Regiments, battalions and companies closed out their unit diaries and sent their records to division headquarters. Finally, on 5 February 1946, in a simple ceremony on the mainside parade deck, the 5th Marine Division was deactivated. The division colors were cased for the last time and The Spearhead marched into history.
26th MarinesThe 26th Marines was one of the infantry regiments of the 5th Marine Division. It mounted out from Hilo, Hawaii from 1-4 January 1945. Sailing on ships of Transport Division 46, the regiment arrived off Iwo Jima's shores early in the morning of 19 February 1945. The 26th was assigned as the Corps reserve for the initial phase of the assault on Iwo Jima. During the afternoon and evening of D-Day, it landed across the 5th Ma
rDiv's beaches. Beginning on D+1, the 26th Marines began offensive combat operations.
The Special Action Report dated 20 April 1945 described the campaign as a "slow m
oving assault on permanent fortifications, affording little maneuver opportunities. Casualties were high; individuals and units spent long periods in front line contact and reserves could rarely be withheld by lower echelons. During the initial phase the entire zone of advance was relatively flat and under enemy observation, and the major source of casualties was skillfully placed mortar and artillery fire. On gaining the high ground, these fires had decreased considerably, and the problem thereafter was one of such close contact with the enemy system of caves and pillboxes in rugged terrain that effective fire support could only be provided by tanks."
On 19 February 1945 the 26th Marines was carrying 3,256 Marines on its muster roll. This was an overage of 75 Marines above the authorized strength. Most of these were excess officers assigned in anticipation of casualties. The regiment was able to sustain its strength fairly well through the first week in March as replacements were fed in to replace some of the losses.
When the 5th MarDiv ran out of replacements on 10 March, the line regiments were on their own to keep their line strengths at some kind of effective level. In any event, the number of replacements was never enough to make for up losses the 26th Marines was taking in the grinding combat of Iwo Jima. And the small number of Marines who returned to duty were not a factor in the wearing away of the regiment as it fought through the final phase of the operation.
On D+34 when the 26th Marines accomplished its final mission, there were 1,468 Marines left standing in its ranks. This was 45% of the regiment's strength when it landed on D-Day.
Military planners considered an outfit "combat ineffective" after it had absorbed 30% or higher casaulties. They forgot to mention this to the Marines of the 26th, or to the other seven Marine infantry regiments on Iwo Jima. Every one of them had casualty levels similar to those illustrated below. Somehow, they found a way to go on day after day, to the next objective, the next hill, the next pillbox. On and on they went, until the end.
27th MarinesThe 27th Marine Regiment was born out of World War II on January 10, 1944. It was formed at Camp Pendleton, California as
part of the 5th Marine Division. In August of that year, the Regiment relocated to Camp Tarawa in the territory of Hawaii.
In January 1945, the 27th Marines received its first combat assignment; the invasion of Iwo Jima. The seizure of Iwo Jima was considered vital to the American war effort as it was approximately 750 miles from the Japanese Islands. American authorities felt that the island would provide the United States with an excellent base from which fighter planes could protect and escort B-29's on their raids.
The invasion of Iwo Jima began on 19 February, 1945. The 27th Marines stormed ashore at 0900 in its designated area of Beaches Red 1 and Red 2. The Regiment was initially assigned the mission of helping to cut off and isolate Mount Suribachi from the rest of the island. As the Marines pushed inland, resistance by the Japanese became more and more determined. Once Mount Suribachi was isolated, the Regiment was ordered to move north to join with the other units in continuing the attack on the main enemy defenses. Rugged terrain, heavy enemy fire, and well placed land mines all combined at times to hold the attacking Marines to a standstill. They repeatedly met the Japanese in hard, close combat.
On 16 March, Iwo Jima was declared secure, although some resistance continued for about two months. The severity of the fighting left 566 killed and 1703 wounded in the 27th Marines alone. Four Marines from the Regiment earned the Medal of Honor (the nation's highest award for valor).
In April 1945, the 27th Marines again found itself back at Camp Tarawa where it started to reform and prepare for the invasion of Japan.
The capitulation of the Japanese cancelled the plans for the invasion and on 16 September, the Regiment sailed to Japan for occupation duty. Returning to the United States on 20 December, the 27th Marines was deactivated at Camp Pendleton on 10 January 1946.
28th MarinesThe 28th Marine Regiment was activated on February 8, 1944 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Many of the first members of the regiment had previously been members of the recently disbanded Raiders and Paramarines. The regiment was initially staged at Tent Camp 1 in the Las Pulgas Valley on Camp Pendleton. Upon completion of their training in late September-early October they boarded troop ships in San Diego, California and sailed to Hilo, Hawaii where they would eventually call Camp Tarawa home. They remained their for the next four months training for their first mission.
The regiment was originally scheduled to assault Yap in the Caroline Islands in the fall of 1944 but a change in strategy at higher levels would allow for a few more months of training and planning for the next mission. On October 19, 1944, Colonel Liversedge received tentative plans for the invasion of Iwo Jima and would set in place two more months of intensive training preparing his men for the amphibious assault upon the volcanic island. The plan created by the efforts of the V Amphibious Corps in November and December 1944 called for the 28th Marines to land at Green Beach which was on the far left of the landing zone, just at the base of Mount Suribachi. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were to drive across the 750 yard neck of the island and cut off the mountain from the rest of the island. The 3rd Battalion was placed in reserve for the initial assault.
The 28th Marines embarked upon amphibious transports in late December and after a few days liberty in Pearl Harbor they set sail heading west on January 7, 1945. They stopped at Eniwetok on February 5, conducted a practice landing on Tinian on February 13 and arrived off the coast of Iwo Jima on February 16.
The first portions of the 28th Marines landed on Iwo Jima at Green Beach just after 9:00 AM on 19 February 1945. 1/28 and 2/28 were first ashore and within 90 minutes of hitting the beach small units from these battalions had reached the west coast of the island. 3/28 was fully ashore by 1300 that afternoon having taking heavy casualties in the water and while crossing the beach.By late in the afternoon the regiment had isolated Mount Suribachi and began to commence its attacks south against the defenders of the island redoubt. The 28th Marines were the only of the four regiments that landed 0n D-Day to achieve their objectives.
From 19–23 February, the regiment fought to secure Mount Suribachi. Progress was initially slow and measured in yards as they had to fight their way through hundreds of layered and mutually supporting Japanese pillboxes, blockhouses, spiderholes and strongpoints. By the morning of 23 February, Suribachi had been encircled. Col Liversledge called for a reconnaissance patrol to scale the mountain a find a path to the top if possible. Chosen for the mission was the 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines. These men reached the summit at approximately 1020 and proceeded to raise a small American flag. It was the raising of this flag that led the then Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, to comment that,"...the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.". Fearing that the flag would be taken by higher-ups, Lt Col Chandler Johnson from 2/28 ordered a second patrol to the top of the mountain to replace the flag with a larger one that could later be given to any senior ranking personnel that wanted it as he intended for the first flag to remain with the battalion. It was the raising of this second flag that was caught on film by Joe Rosenthal and would become the iconic photo of the battle.
After tha Battle of Iwo Jima the regiment sailed back to Hawaii and Camp Tarawa where they began to refit for the planned invasion of Japan. They were tasked with being part of Operation Olympic, the planned invasion of Kyushu. Upon the Japanese surrender they sailed for mainland Japan where they landed at the port of Sasebo on September 22, 1945 becoming part of the American occupation force.Three months later they set sail again this time for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. The regiment was deactivated on January 23, 1946 as part of the post-war drawdown of forces.
13th MarinesThe 13th Marine Regiment was activated on 3 July 1918 as an infantry regiment. The Regiment was under the command of Colonel Smedley Buttler. On 1 September 1919, the regiment was deactivated.
On 11 December 1943, the regiment was reactivated and redesignated an artillery regiment. The 13th Marines played an important role in securing Iwo Jima. 6 February 1946, the regiment was again deactivated.
Story of the Patch
"To Officers and Men of the Fifth Division!You are now members of a division that is destined to play an important role in winning the war.
To wear the 5th Marine Division insignia on the sleeve of your uniform is an honor.
This insignia means:
That you will conduct yourselves with dignity at all times.
That you are well disciplined… that you know only discipline will win a war.
That, if you disgrace yourself you are disgracing YOUR division."
The patch was created by Lt. Fergus Young who won the Division-wide contest on designing the unit's insignia. Lt. Young's design was chosen among almost 600 entries.