A DIFFERENT WAR: Marines in Europe and North Africa
by Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
Allocation of Forces
The urgency of military events in early 1941 made it
appear that, despite its Pacific orientation, the Marine Corps, as a
ready, all-volunteer force, would actually become part of the U.S.
deployment to the Atlantic to join Allied forces in the campaign against
The prewar period was a difficult time in
international relations, since the U.S. was coming under increasing
pressure from France and Great Britain to provide assistance. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt was increasingly disposed to do so, but lacked
both Congressional mandate and public support.
Colonel Walter I. Jordan, USMC
Walter Jordan became a Marine officer after
graduation from the Virginia Military Institute in 1924. He served a
tour in Nicaragua and another on sea duty before his assignment as the
first commander of the Marine Detachment, American Embassy, London, July
1941 to November 1942.
This was the first organized unit of American armed
forces to be sent to Britain during World War II. Colonel Jordan was in
charge of the advance echelon when the ship carrying it was torpedoed
and sunk on the way to England. While in England he was instrumental in
arranging for the U.S. Marines to undergo joint training with the Royal
In 1943, Colonel Jordan received the Silver Star
Medal for his leadership of a combat unit (2d Battalion, 2d Marines) in
the Tarawa assault. For his services on the 4th Marine Division staff at
Saipan and Tinian, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. As the commander
of the 24th Marines at Iwo Jima, he received a second award of that
He retired from the Marine Corps in 1946 and died on
16 October 1947.
The terms of the armistice after the fall of France
in June 1940 forced that country to accept alignment with the Axis. This
arrangement posed important questions on the future status of French
territory in the Western Hemisphere. Of particular significance was the
island of Martinique, which harbored major elements of the French fleet,
plus more than 100 American-built aircraft that were in transit to
Europe, and a storehouse of gold bullion.
American Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, John
Winant, gives instructions to orderly PlSgt John H. Allen, Jr. Marines
provided security for the Embassy following recommendations by its
security officer, Maj John C. McQueen. Photo courtesy of Col Roy J.
Batterton, USMC (Ret)
Other Atlantic islands of strategic interest to the
U.S. were those of the Portuguese Azores and Iceland. They appeared to
be both strategically valuable and vulnerable. Marine forces were
alerted in 1941 to the possibility of assignment to Martinique or the
Azores. Protecting Iceland became a top priority as British intelligence
reports revealed Germany's plans to attack Russia.
To help deal with these concerns and to facilitate
amphibious training, the Commandant of the Marine Corps established a
provisional corps in May, commanded by Major General Holland M. Smith.
It included the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 1st Infantry
Division. When the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, was commissioned at
Norfolk, General Smith was the first commander of its ground component,
Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet. Through the efforts of General Smith's
amphibious training staff, the 1st, 3d, 7th, and 9th U.S. Infantry
Divisions were given amphibious training in time for the North African
landings. When the call came in June 1941 for the first major deployment
of American combat forces in the Atlantic Theater, it was the 1st
Provisional Marine Brigade, comprised of the 6th Marines and the 5th
Defense Battalion, which was dispatched to Iceland.
The brigade landed there on 7 July and remained on
occupation duty for 10 months, until May 1942. The details of the
operation are covered in Outpost in the North Atlantic: Marines in
the Defense of Iceland, another pamphlet of this series. The threat
of German occupation of any of the Atlantic bases was greatly lessened
on 22 June, when Hitler ordered his forces to invade Soviet Russia.