Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Base Defense in a Possible War with Japan
An Organization for Base Defense
Organization and Equipment for the Defense Battalion
The Approach of War
The Saga of Wake Island
A Defensive Buildup
Two African-American Defense Battalions
The South Pacific
South Pacific Tales
Into the Central and Northern Solomons
Fighting Boredom
The Central Pacific Drive
Signs of the Times
Reorienting the Defense Battalion
Tributes to the Defense Battalions
Pacific Victory
Gone But Not Forgotten
Battalion Summaries
Special Subjects
Shoulder Insignia
Antiaircraft Artillery
Antiaircraft Machine Guns
Coast and Field Artillery
Fire Control
Armor and Support

CONDITION RED: Marine Defense Battalions in World War II
by Major Charles D. Melson

Pacific Victory

MacArthur's advance from the Southwest Pacific by way of the Philippines and Nimitz's Central Pacific campaign aimed ultimately at the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. To prepare for the climactic battles, the 2d, 5th, 8th, and 16th Antiaircraft Artillery (formerly Defense) Battalions formed the 1st Provisional Antiaircraft Artillery Group. The group did not see action at Iwo Jima in February 1945, but at Okinawa, the final objective before the projected attack on Japan, it came under the operational control of the Tenth Army's 53d Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade.

Tracers fired by the 5th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion — formerly the 5th Defense Battalion — light up the night skies over Okinawa during a Japanese air attack. A Marine fighter squadron's Corsairs are silhouetted against the spectacle. Department of Defense photo (USMC) 08087 by TSgt C.V. Corkran

The Marine and Army divisions of the Tenth Army landed across the Okinawa beaches on 1 April 1945. On the 13th, the first echelon of the newly redesignated 8th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion arrived at recently captured Nago, near the neck of Okinawa's Motobu Peninsula, to conduct ""normal AA [antiaircraft] defense operations." James H. Powers recalled that the battalion got credit for a Mitsubishi G4M bomber (nicknamed "Betty" by the Allies) and also helped secure a defensive perimeter against Japanese stragglers ""making trouble in our vicinity." The 5th battalion set up in the Yontan Kadena area by 6 May, where it received credit for making one kill and assisting in another. These antiaircraft battalions demonstrated that they had learned, in the six years since the first of the defense battalions was formed in 1939, to make good use of weapons, communications gear, and radar.

Technical Sergeant John Worth told of a Marine officer looking for firing positions and living quarters for his battery in one of the antiaircraft artillery battalions. The officer located a cave, free of booby traps, that would provide adequate shelter, but he had to keep some other unit from taking it. To enforce his claim, he put up a sign: "Booby Traps. Keep Away." After he left to report his discovery and deploy the unit, a demolitions man saw the sign and, blew up the cave, sealing it shut.

Japanese air attacks attained un precedented savagery in the waters off Okinawa, as the Special Attack Corps pressed home the suicidal kamikaze attacks first employed in the Philippines. Hoping to save Japan — much as a storm, the original Kamikaze or divine wind, had scattered a Mongol invasion fleet in the sixteenth century — the suicide pilots deliberately dived into American ships, hoping to trade one life for hundreds. Other vehicles for suicide attack included piloted bombs, manned torpedoes, and explosives laden motorboats. These desperate measures could not prevail, however, and the United States seized an essential base for the planned invasion of Japan.

13th Defense Battalion
The 13th Defense Battalion passes in review at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1943. Marine historian and veteran defense battalion Marine Col Robert D. Heinl, Jr., described the men of these battalions, who often endured months of waiting punctuated by days of savage action, as a "hard worked and frustrated species" The 13th was shortly to deploy to the Pacific. Marine Corps Historical Collection

In the Marianas, Marines on Tinian witnessed the takeoff on 6 August of the B-29 Enola Gay, which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, another B-29, also from Tinian's North Field, dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The shock of the atomic weapons, the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, the cumulative effects of attrition throughout the vast Pacific, months of conventional bombing of the Home Islands, and an ever-tightening submarine blockade forced Japan to surrender. Members of the 8th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on Okinawa recall tracking the last air attack of the war, a raid that turned back short of the target when the Japanese government agreed to surrender. The formal cessation of hostilities, effective 15 August 1945, also put an end to the systematic mopping-up in northern Okinawa. The dour prediction of the early days in the South Pacific, "Golden Gate in '48," gave way to a new slogan, "Home Alive in '45." The actual homecoming would be delayed, however, for those Marines scheduled for occupation duty in Japan or North China.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division