Marines in World War II Commemorative Series - Condition Red: Marine Defense Battalions in World War II - Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, African-American Defense Battalions, Peleliu, Marianas
Japan, its military leaders confident they could stagger the United States and gain time to seize the oil and other natural resources necessary to dominate the western Pacific, attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, sinking or badly damaging 18 ships, destroying some 200 aircraft, and killing more than 2,300 American servicemen. More
Japan, its military leaders confident they could stagger the United States and gain time to seize the oil and other natural resources necessary to dominate the western Pacific, attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, sinking or badly damaging 18 ships, destroying some 200 aircraft, and killing more than 2,300 American servicemen. Though caught by surprise, Marines of the 1st, 3d, and 4th Defense Battalions standing guard in Hawaii fought back as best they could. Few heavy weapons were yet in place, and ammunition remained stored on shipboard, along with many of the guns. Nevertheless, these units had eight antiaircraft machine guns in action within six minutes after the first bombs exploded at 0755. By 0820, 13 machine guns were manned and ready, and they cut loose when a second wave of Japanese aircraft began its attack a few minutes later. Unfortunately, shells for the 3-inch antiaircraft guns did not reach the hurriedly deployed firing batteries until after the second and final wave of attacking aircraft had completed its deadly work. The Marines responded to the surprise raid with small arms and an eventual total of 25 machine guns, claiming the destruction of three aircraft during the morning's fighting.
As the Japanese aircraft carriers withdrew after the raid on Pearl Harbor, a pair of enemy destroyers began shelling Midway Island shortly before midnight on 7 December to neutralize the aircraft based there. A salvo directed against Midway's Sand Island struck the power plant, which served as the command post of the 6th Defense Battalion, grievously wounding First Lieutenant George H. Cannon. He remained at his post until the other Marines wounded by the same shell could be cared for and his communications specialist, Corporal Harold Hazelwood, had put the battalion switchboard back into action. Cannon, who died of his wounds, earned the first Medal of Honor awarded a Marine officer during World War II. Hazelwood received a Navy Cross.
For decades before Japan gambled its future on a war with the United States, the Marine Corps developed the doctrine, equipment, and organization needed for just such a conflict. Although the Army provided troops for the defense of the Philippines, the westernmost American possession in the Pacific, the Marine Corps faced two formidable challenges: placing garrisons on any of the smaller possessions that the Navy might use as bases at the onset of war; and seizing and defending the additional naval bases that would enable the United States to project its power to the very shores of Japan's Home Islands. A succession of Orange war plans — Orange stood for Japan in a series of color-coded planning documents — provided the strategy for the amphibious offensive required to defeat Japan and the defensive measures to protect the bases upon which the American campaign would depend.