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

Battalion Summaries

Defense battalion war diaries, muster rolls, and the unit files held by the Marine Corps Historical Center provide the basis for the following brief accounts of the service of the various defense battalions. The actions of some units are well documented: for example, the 1st Defense Battalion on Wake Island in 1941; the 6th at Midway in 1942; and the 9th in the Central Solomons during 1943. Few of the battalions received group recognition commensurate with their contributions to victory, although the 1st, 6th, and 9th were awarded unit citations. Each defense battalion created its own distinctive record as it moved from one island to another, but gaps and discrepancies persist nevertheless.

1st Defense Battalion
(November 1939-May 1944)

The unit, formed at San Diego, California, deployed to the Pacific as one of the Rainbow Five, the five defense battalions stationed there in accordance with the Rainbow 5 war plan when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Under Lieutenant Colonel Bert A. Bone, elements of the battalion arrived in Hawaii in March 1941. The unit provided defense detachments for Johnston and Palmyra Islands in March and April of that year and for Wake Island in August. The Wake Island detachment of the 1st Defense Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for the defense of that outpost — which earned the battalion the nickname "Wake Island Defenders" — and other elements dealt with hit-and-run raids at Palmyra and Johnston Islands. In March 1942, the scattered detachments became garrison forces and a reconstituted battalion took shape in Hawaii. Command passed to Colonel Curtis W. LeGette in May 1942 and to Lieutenant Colonel John H. Griebel in September. Lieutenant Colonel Frank P Hager exercised command briefly; his successor, Colonel Lewis H. Hohn, took the unit to Kwajalein and Eniwetok, in the Marshall Islands, in February 1944. The following month found the battalion on Majuro, also in the Marshalls, where it became the 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 7 May 1944, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jean H. Buckner. As an antiaircraft unit, it served as part of the Guam garrison, remaining on the is land through 1947.

2d Defense Battalion
(March 1940-April 1944)

The battalion was formed at San Diego, California, under Lieutenant Colonel Bert A. Bone. By the time the unit deployed to Hawaii in December 1941, five officers had exercised command; Major Lewis A. Hohn took over from Colonel Bone in July 1940, followed in August of that year by Colonel Thomas E. Bourke, in November 1940 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Murray, and in February 1941 by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Knapp. Under Knapp, who received a promotion to colonel, the battalion deployed in January 1942 from Hawaii to Tutuila, Samoa. Lieutenant Colonel Norman E. True briefly took over, and Knapp succeeded him from October 1942 to May 1943, but True again commanded the battalion when it deployed in November 1943 to Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. True remained in command when the unit was redesignated the 2d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 16 April 1944. The organization subsequently served in Hawaii and Guam before landing on Okinawa in April 1945. It returned to the United States in 1946 and was deactivated.

Sperry 60-inch searchlight
The Sperry 60-inch searchlight was employed by the 3d Defense Battalion both to illuminate incoming enemy aircraft and to spot approaching surface vessels. National Archives Photo 127-N-62097

3d Defense Battalion
(October 1939-June 1944)

Activated at Parris Island, South Carolina, with Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Pepper in command, the battalion deployed in May 1940 to Hawaii where it became one of the Rainbow Five. Colonel Harry K. Pickett took command in August of that year, and in September approximately a third of the battalion, under Major Harold C. Roberts, went to Midway and assumed responsibility for the antiaircraft defense of the atoll. Lieutenant Colonel Pepper brought the rest of the unit to Midway in 1941, but the battalion returned to Hawaii in October and helped defend Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December. A detachment of 37mm guns and the 3-inch antiaircraft group joined the 6th Defense Battalion at Midway, opposed the Japanese air attack on 4 June 1942, and shared in a Navy Unit Commendation awarded the 6th Battalion for the defense of that atoll. In August 1942. the battalion, still led by Lieutenant Colonel Pepper, participated in the landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. During 1943, the unit experienced a change of commanders, with Harold C. Roberts, now a lieutenant colonel, taking over in March 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth W. Benner in May, and Lieutenant Colonel Samuel G. Taxis in August. After a stay in New Zealand, the battalion returned to Guadalcanal in September 1943 and in November of that year, while commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. Forney, landed at Bougainville, remaining in the northern Solomons until June 1944. Redesignated the 3d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 15 June 1944, the organization was disbanded at Guadalcanal on the last day of that year.

4th Defense Battalion
(February 1940-May 1944)

The organization took shape at Parris Island, South Carolina, under Major George F. Good, Jr.; Colonel Lloyd L. Leech took over in April; and Lieutenant Colonel Jesse L. Perkins in December 1940. Colonel William H. Rupertus commanded the unit when it deployed in February 1941 to defend the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under Colonel Harold S. Fasset, the battalion arrived in the Pacific in time to become one of the Rainbow Five. Its strength was divided between Pearl Harbor and Midway, and helped defend both bases against Japanese attacks on 7 December. The unit deployed in March 1942 to Efate and Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, It moved in July 1943 to New Zealand and then to Guadalcanal before landing in August 1943 at Vella Lavella in support of the I Marine Amphibious Corps. After becoming the 4th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 15 May 1944, the unit returned to Guadalcanal in June but ended the war on Okinawa. arriving there in April 1945.

5th Defense Battalion
(December 1940-April 1944)

Organized at Parris Island, South Carolina, under Colonel Lloyd L. Leech, the 5th Defense Battalion subsequently became the 14th Defense Battalion, thus earning the unofficial title of "Five: Fourteenth." Colonel Leech took the 5th Defense Battalion (minus the 5-inch artillery group) to Iceland with the Marine brigade sent there to relieve the British garrison. He brought the unit back to the United States in March 1942, and in July it sailed for the South Pacific, where one detachment set up its weapons at Noumea, New Caledonia, and another defended Tulagi in the Solomons after the 1st Marine Division landed there in August 1942. The bulk of the battalion went to the Ellice Islands; there Colonel George F. Good, Jr., assumed command in November, and was relieved in December by Lieutenant Colonel Willis E. Hicks. On 16 January 1943, the part of the unit located at Tulagi was redesignated the 14th Defense Battalion, while the remainder in the Ellice group became the Marine Defense Force, Funafuti. In March 1944, the Marine Defense Force, Funafuti, sailed for Hawaii, where, on 16 April, it became the 5th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, seeing action under the designation during the latter stages of the Okinawa campaign.

6th Defense Battalion
(March 1941-February 1946)

Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Murray formed the battalion at San Diego, California, but turned it over to Colonel Raphael Griffin, who took it to Hawaii in July 1941. It relieved the 3d Defense Battalion at Midway in September. In June 1942, the 6th, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harold D. Shannon, helped fight off a Japanese air attack and repair bomb damage, thus earning a Navy Unit Commendation. The battalion remained at Midway until redesignated Marine Barracks, Naval Base, Midway, on 1 February 1946. The wartime commanders who succeeded Shannon were Lieutenant Colonels Lewis A. Hohn, Rupert R. Deese, John H. Griebel, Charles T. Tingle, Frank P Hager, Jr., Robert L. McKee, Herbert R. Nusbaum, and Wilfred Weaver, and Major Robert E. Hommel.

M3 Stuart light tank
Marines of the 7th Defense Battalion, one of the "Rainbow Five," give their new M3 Stuart light tank a trial run at Tutuila, American Samoa, in the summer of 1942. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54082

7th Defense Battalion
(December 1940-April 1944)

Lieutenant Colonel Lester A. Dessez formed the unit at San Diego, California, as a composite battalion of infantry and artillery. In March 1941, he took the outfit to Tutuila, Samoa, as one of the Rainbow Five. The 7th later deployed to Upolu and established a detachment at Savaii. Colonel Curtis W. LeGette took command in December 1942, and in August of the following year, the battalion moved to Nanoumea in the Ellice Islands in preparation for supporting operations against the Gilbert Islands. Lieutenant Colonel Henry R. Paige took over in December 1943 and brought the unit to Hawaii where, on 16 April 1944, it became the 7th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. As an antiaircraft outfit, it deployed to Anguar, Palau Islands, in September 1944, where it served in the garrison force for the remainder of the war.

8th Defense Battalion
(April 1942-April 1944)

Lieutenant Colonel Augustus W. Cockrell raised this battalion from Marine units at Tutuila, Samoa. In May 1942, the battalion deployed to the Wallis Islands, where it was redesignated the Island Defense Force. Lieutenant Colonel Earl A. Sneeringer assumed command for two weeks in August 1943 before turning the unit over to Colonel Clyde H. Hartsel. Colonel Lloyd L. Leech became battalion commander in October 1943, a month before the unit deployed to Apamama in the Gilberts, On 16 April 1944, after moving to Hawaii, the organization became the 8th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion and, as such, took part in the Okinawa campaign, remaining on the island until November 1945 when the unit returned to the United States.

Browning M2 watercooled antiaircraft machine gun
This Browning M2 watercooled antiaircraft machine gun, operated by 9th Defense Battalion Marines, shot down the first attacking Japanese aircraft at Rendova. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56812

9th Defense Battalion
(February 1942-September 1944)

Formed at Parris Island, South Carolina, and known as the "Fighting Ninth," the battalion was first commanded by Major Wallace O. Thompson, who brought it to Cuba where it helped defend the Guantanamo naval base. Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Dubel and his successor, Colonel David R. Nimmer, commanded the battalion while it served in Cuba, and Nimmer remained in command when the unit landed in November 1942 to reinforce the defenses of Guadalcanal. In preparation for further action, the battalion emphasized mobility and artillery support of ground operations at the expense of its coastal defense mission. Lieutenant Colonel William Scheyer commanded the 9th during the fighting in the central Solomons. Here it set up antiaircraft guns and heavy artillery on Rendova to support the fighting on neighboring New Georgia before moving to New Georgia itself and deploying its light tanks and other weapons. The battalion's tanks also supported Army troops on Arundel Island. Lieutenant Colonel Archie E. O'Neil was in command when the unit landed at Guam on D-Day, 21 July 1944. The battalion was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for its service in action at Guadalcanal, Rendova, New Georgia, and Guam. Redesignated the 9th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in September 1944, the unit returned to the United States in 1946.

10th Defense Battalion
(June 1942-May 1944)

Formed under Colonel Robert Blake at San Diego, California, the unit arrived in the Solomon Islands in February 1943, and participated in the defense of Tulagi in that group and Banika in the Russell Islands. The battalion's light tanks saw action on New Georgia and nearby Arundel Island. Under Lieutenant Colonel Wallace O. Thompson, who assumed command in July 1943, the 10th landed at Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, in February 1944. The unit was redesignated the 10th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 7 May 1944.

11th Defense Battalion
(June 1942-May 1944)

This battalion was activated at Parris Island, South Carolina, under Colonel Charles N. Muldrow and deployed during December 1942 to Efate in the New Hebrides. Beginning in January 1943, it helped defend Tulagi in the Solomons and Banika in the Russells group. During the Central Solomons campaign, it fought on Rendova, New Georgia, and Arundel Islands. In August, the entire battalion came together on New Georgia and in March 1944 deployed the short distance to Arundel Island. Redesignated the 11th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 16 May 1944, the unit moved in July to Guadalcanal where it was deactivated by year's end.

12th Defense Battalion
(August 1942-June 1944)

Colonel William H. Harrison activated this unit at San Diego, California, and took it to Hawaii in January 1943. After a brief stay in Australia, the 12th landed in June 1943 at Woodlark Island off New Guinea. Next the 12th took part in the assault on Cape Gloucester, New Britain in December 1943. Lieutenant Colonel Merlyn D. Holmes assumed command in February 1944, and on 15 June the defense battalion was redesignated the 12th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. It moved to the Russell Islands in June and in September to Peleliu, where it remained through 1945.

13th Defense Battalion
(September 1942-April 1944)

Colonel Bernard Dubel formed the battalion at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it defended the naval base throughout the war. In February 1944, Colonel Richard M. Cutts, Jr., took command. The unit became the 13th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 15 April and was disbanded after the war.

14th Defense Battalion
(January 1943-September 1944)

Colonel Galen M. Sturgis organized this battalion from the elements of the 5th Defense Battalion on Tulagi, which inspired the nickname "Five: Fourteenth." Lieutenant Colonel Jesse L. Perkins took command in June 1943, and during his tour of duty, the battalion operated on Tulagi and sent a detachment to Emirau, St. Mathias Islands, to support a landing there in March 1944. Lieutenant Colonel William F. Parks took over from Perkins that same month and in April brought the unit to Guadalcanal to prepare for future operations. The organization landed at Guam in July and in September be came the 14th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, remaining on the island until after the war had ended.

15th Defense Battalion
(October 1943-May 1944)

Organized in Hawaii by Lieutenant Colonel Francis B. Loomis, Jr., from the 1st Airdrome Battalion at Pearl Harbor, the unit bore the nickname "First: Fifteenth." Beginning in January 1944, it served at Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls in the Marshalls, Lieutenant Colonel Peter J. Negri assumed command in May 1944, shortly before the unit, on the 7th of that month, became the 15th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion.

16th Defense Battalion
(November 1942-April 1944)

Lieutenant Colonel Richard P Ross, Jr., formed the unit on Johnston Island from elements of the 1st Defense Battalion that had been stationed there. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce T. Hemphill took over in July 1943 and turned the unit over to Lieutenant Colonel August F. Penzold, Jr., in March of the following year. Redesignated the 16th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 19 April 1944, the outfit went to Hawaii by the end of August. It subsequently deployed to Tinian, remaining there until moving to Okinawa in April 1945.

17th Defense Battalion
(March 1944-April 1944)

At Kauai in Hawaii, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas G. McFarland organized this unit from the 2d Airdrome Battalion, which had returned from duty in the Ellice Islands. The redesignation gave rise to the nickname "Two: Seventeen," and the motto "One of a Kind." On 19 April, the defense battalion became the 17th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. It moved to Saipan in July and to Tinian in August. At the latter island, it provided antiaircraft defense for both Tinian Town and North Field, from which B-29s took off with the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

18th Defense Battalion
(October 1943-April 1944)

Activated at New River, North Carolina, by Lieutenant Colonel Harold C. Roberts, who was replaced in January 1944 by Lieutenant Colonel William C. Van Ryzin, the unit became the 18th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion on 16 May of that year. By August, echelons of the battalion were located at Saipan and Tinian, but by September it had come together on the latter island, where it remained until the end of the war.

51st Defense Battalion
(August 1942-January 1946)

Organized at Montford Point Camp, New River, North Carolina, this was the first of two defense battalions commanded by white officers, but organized from among African American Marines who had trained at Montford Point. Colonel Samuel Woods, Jr., who commanded the Montford Point Camp, formed the battalion and became its first commanding officer. Lieutenant Colonel William B. Onley took over in March 1943 and Lieutenant Colonel Floyd A. Stephenson in April. The initial plan called for the 51st to be a composite unit with infantry and pack-howitzer elements, but in June 1943 it became a conventional defense battalion. Lieutenant Curtis W. LeGette assumed command in January 1944 and took the battalion to Nanoumea and Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, where it arrived by the end of February 1944. In September, the 51st deployed to Eniwetok in the Marshalls where, in December, Lieutenant Colonel Gould P. Groves became battalion commander, a post he would hold throughout the rest of the war. In June 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Groves dispatched a composite group to provide antiaircraft defense for Kwajalein Atoll. The battalion sailed from the Marshalls in November 1945 and disbanded at Montford Point in January 1946.

52d Defense Battalion
(December 1943-May 1946)

This unit, like the 51st, was organized at Montford Point Camp, New River, North Carolina, and manned by African Americans commanded by white officers. Planned as a composite unit, the 52d took shape as a conventional defense battalion. It absorbed the pack howitzer crews made surplus when the 51st lost its composite status and retrained them in the employment of other weapons. Colonel Augustus W. Cockrell organized the unit, which he turned over to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Earnshaw in July 1944. Under Earnshaw, the 52d the unit deployed to the Marshalls, arriving in October to man the antiaircraft defenses of Majuro Atoll and Roi-Namur in Kwajalein Atoll. Lieutenant Colonel David W. Silvey assumed command in January 1945, and between March and May the entire battalion deployed to Guam, remaining there for the rest of the war. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas C. Moore, Jr., replaced Silvey in May 1945, and in November, the 52d relieved the 51st at Kwajalein and Eniwetok Atolls before returning to Montford Point; where in May 1946 it became the 3d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (Composite).

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division