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I am confused by the tactics used in the Pacific theater. Why were there two forces, one being infantry and the other being Marines?

Thank you.

With Respect,

Dennis Barnum

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Barnum,

The reason the Marines did not win World War II in the Pacific by themselves is (1.) there were not enough of them and (2.) their tactics were not always right for the objective. Although Marine battalions had fought on the Western Front during World War I as an attached component of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division, that was the exception that proves the rule. The Marines evolved from “sea soldiers” firing from the topgallants and providing boarding parties to shock troops trained to strike at objectives of limited size—a rapier to the Army’s broadsword. In World War II, that usually meant small islands such as the many the stormed throughout the Central Pacific. But New Guinea was a joint operation for the U.S. and Australian armies, not the Marines, and the Philippines was also primarily an Army affair. On Guadalcanal the Marines’ primary objective was to seize the airfield, not expecting it to be followed by a grueling six-month campaign, for the second half of which the Americal Division stepped in to take over from the exhausted 1st Marine Division.  Saipan, Peleliu and Okinawa were other examples of relatively large islands on which Marines and Army fought side by side, if not always harmoniously. The Northern Pacific was entirely handled by the U.S. and Canadian armies.

As of November 30, 1941, the Marine Corps had multiplied its numbers to 65,881, of which 29,532 were in the Fleet Marine Force—a massive expansion, but hardly enough to deal with the Japanese onslaught to come. What they accomplished speaks for itself, but less spoken of is the fact that, in spite of the higher priorities that Franklin Roosevelt placed on the European Theater, 37 percent of Army personnel were involved in or contributing to operations throughout the Pacific, in Burma and in China.


Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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