Formation and Deployment (1942-1943)
3rd Battalion 3rd Marines was activated on June 1, 1942 at New River, North Carolina as the 5th Training Battalion, Division Special Troops, 1st Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. On June 16, they were redesignated as the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, Fleet Marine Force. In August to September 1942, 3rd Battalion deployed with the rest of the 3rd Marine Regiment to Tutuila, American Samoa and was reassigned to the 2nd Marine Brigade. In 1943, they were reassigned to the Fleet Marine Force. In May 1943, they redeployed to Auckland, New Zealand and in June, were reassigned to the 3rd Marine Division. From July to August 1943, they redeployed to Guadalcanal to begin training in preparation for the invasion of Bougainville in November.
On November 1, 1943, the 3rd Battalion landed at Cape Torokina with the rest of 3rd Marines, just east of the Koromokina River. While resistance was extremely light, the rough surf and dense jungle (which in many places extended all the way to the water) resulted in numerous landing craft being lost or damaged beyond repair. For the next two weeks, the battalion helped construct a series of trails that linked the beachhead with the advancing units, and made supply much easier. On November 16 the battalion reached the Numa Numa Trail and began probing for Japanese units. On November 18 after a sharp firefight near a Japanese roadblock the battalion recovered a Japanese map with valuable intelligence on Japanese defenses. From November 19-21 the battalion continued probing for the Japanese, now identified as the 23rd Infantry Regiment, and engaging in sporadic firefights.
In the lead-up to the Battle of Piva Forks, 3rd Battalion was able to seize critical high terrain that would give the Marines the advantage in the upcoming fight. The actual battle, from November 22-26, saw some of the most vicious close combat experienced in the Pacific War as of that date. 3rd Battalion additionally suffered many casualties from unusually accurate Japanese mortar and artillery fire. Two days later, after 27 days of continuous action, 3rd Battalion was moved to a relatively quiet sector on the 3rd Division's flank where it remained for the remainder of the operation.
In December, the 3rd Marine Division was relieved by the Army's Americal Division and 3rd Battalion left Bougainville for Guadalcanal on Christmas Day, 1943 with the rest of the division. They left behind 36 of their comrades, including Corporal John Logan Jr. and Captain Robert Turnbull (Lima Company), who were both awarded Navy Crosses during the Battle of Piva Forks. 165 other Marines from 3rd Battalion became casualties during the campaign. After Bougainville, 3rd Battalion conducted numerous training exercises on Guadalcanal from January to May 1944 in preparation for the invasion of Kavieng in April (which was cancelled) and the Marianas in June. While 3rd Marines was designated as the floating reserve for the initial invasion of Saipan, they were ultimately not landed and returned to Eniwetok for a three week stay prior to the invasion ofGuam. During the interlude, the Marines of 3rd Battalion were primarily confined to their transport ship, the USS Warren.
On July 21, 1944, around 0830, 3rd Battalion hit the Asan beaches on Guam. Landing on the extreme left of the entire 3rd Marine Division, their mission was to take Chonito Cliff and Adelup Point, which marked the left flank of the division. Within minutes the Japanese defenders opened up with mortars and machine guns, hitting many 3rd Battalion Marines coming ashore. By 0912 battalion commander LtCol Ralph Houser reported many casualties caused by both mortars and sniper fire.
Both Kilo and India Companies rushed the Chonito Cliffs but the Japanese defenders (Elements of the 2d Battalion, 18th Regiment and 320th Independent Infantry Battalion) resisted strongly, in some cases rolling grenades down the hillside. Supported by flamethrowers, half-tracks, and armor from the 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Battalion fought a bloody, three-hour battle up the side of Chonito Cliff. Houser then ordered Lima Company to flank the cliffs to the north by dashing down an exposed beach road. Having secured Chonito Cliff, the battalion then moved on to Adelup Point. The US Navy sent a destroyer to blast the Japanese caves at point-blank range and 3rd Battalion flamethrowers burned out Japanese soldiers who still remained. After securing Adelup Point, 3rd Battalion finished the day providing flank security for the rest of the 3rd Marines during the Battle for Bundschu Ridge and became the only unit in the regiment to accomplish its objectives by the end of W-Day.
The first night of July 21-22, the Marines of 3rd Battalion came under a concerted counterattack by the survivors of the Japanese 320th Independent Infantry Battalion, as well as the 319th, committed by Japanese commander General Kiyoshi Shigematsu to retake the Chonito Cliffs. The Japanese managed to infiltrate past many 3rd Battalion units through ravines and dry river beds and briefly threatened to overrun the battalion command post. The fighting was so heavy that parts of the Division Reserve were committed and the destroyer USS McKee was unable to provide close fire support, as the Japanese and Marines were so closely intermingled.
However the Marines held firm and managed to repulse the attack by 0830. During the counterattack, a mortarman with Kilo Company, Private First Class Luther Skaggs, Jr., was critically wounded in the leg by a Japanese grenade. After applying a tourniquet Skaggs continued to fight for another eight hours before moving unassisted to the rear where most of his leg was amputated. For this he became the first Marine from 3rd Battalion to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Over the next two days the 3rd Battalion fought a savage battle with the Japanese defenders for the Chonito Cliffs and Fonte Plateau area, as the battalion struggled to capture the Mt. Tenjo Road.
On the 23rd, 3rd Battalion seized the last ridge leading to the Fonte Plateau, provoking a heavy Japanese counterattack. Houser himself was seriously wounded in this engagement and the Executive Officer, Major Royal Bastian, took command. Then 3rd Battalion, now reinforced with tanks, took part in the assault on the Fonte Plateau on July 25, seizing the key position after just an hour of fighting. The night of July 25-26 saw the climax of the fighting on Guam when the Japanese launched an all-out counterattack against the Americans. In the 3rd Battalion's sector, Japanese sailors of the 54th Keibitai launched a series of failed attacks against the now-well defended Marine positions. Backed up with artillery, the Marines easily repulsed the Japanese.
Marines from 3rd Battalion securing the town of Agana on Guam on July 31, 1944. On the morning of July 31, 3rd Battalion proceeded east on the Mt. Tenjo road towards the island capital of Agana, which it liberated the same day after token resistance. By 1045, 15 minutes after its platoons entered the city, 3rd Battalion had reached the central plaza and stopped at the northern outskirts by noon. Resuming the offensive at 1545, 3rd Battalion pushed forward 1,500 yards to seize key road junctions that led to the towns of Finegayan and Barrigada. For the remaining ten days of the campaign, the battalion marched northeast up the coast, encountering occasional Japanese resistance, until the island was declared secure on August 10. The Japanese were not totally defeated though. On August 7 as 3rd Battalion led the regimental advance towards Road Junction 460 Japanese artillery shells began landing among the advancing Marines. After discovering the source of fire, a 75mm artillery piece, the Japanese fled. The final action by 3rd Battalion during the campaign was on August 9 when a nearby battalion came under heavy Japanese tank and infantry attack. Blazing a trail through the jungle 3rd Battalion rushed towards the action but the Japanese tanks vanished before the battalion could arrive. Casualties for the 3rd Battalion were twice that of Bougainville, with 300 wounded and 97 killed.
Iwo Jima and Japan (1945)
Following the invasion of Guam, 3rd Battalion spent two months conducting mopping up operations on the island until November, when it received orders to prepare for operations against Iwo Jima. From November until February 1945, they took part in a training regimen so serious that a fellow battalion later reported at least 20% of its members were incapacitated due to foot and heat injuries. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, 3rd Battalion, as part of 3rd Marines, was kept offshore as the Expeditionary Troops reserve. After sitting off Iwo Jima in their transport ships for a month the 3rd Marines were ordered to return to Guam on March 5, 1945.
Back on Guam, 3rd Battalion began training for a landing on Miyako Jima, an island just south of Okinawa. Those orders were eventually cancelled, but the battalion still saw minor combat in 1945, participating in two operations on Guam designed to capture Japanese soldiers still holding out in the hills. These sweeps took place in April and December 1945. 3rd Battalion also began preparing for Operation Olympic, where as part of V Amphibious Corps, it would have landed at Kushikino, Kagoshima on Kyosho. After the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945, and Japan's surrender, 3rd Battalion was detached from the 3rd Marine Division in November 1945 and deactivated the following month on December 12, 1945.
Shortly before it was deactivated the Battalion suffered the dubious honor of having the last American killed in World War II, when PFC W.C. Patrick Bates of Company K was shot by a Japanese sniper on December 14 during a mopping up operation on Guam (three months after the formal end of hostilities).
3rd Battalion 3rd Marines was reactivated at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in August 1951 as part of the 3rd Marine Brigade. In February 1952, it took part in Lex-Baker-1, which was the first full-scale Marine-Navy exercise held on the West Coast since 1949. In May, India Company participated in the ground portion of the Operation Buster-Jangle atomic bomb tests in Nevada. In August, part of the battalion took part in an amphibious landing on Lake Washington as part of Seattle's "Seafair." Then in December, 3rd Battalion took part in one of the first exercises at Twentynine Palms, California. The entire 3rd Marine Division, including 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, was transported more than 280 miles (451 km) by truck between MCB Camp Pendleton and Twenty-nine Palms. During the exercise, Third Battalion made a night airlift using over 60 helicopters.
In January 1953, the unit deployed to the Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Oahu for six months of training, after which 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines returned to Pendleton. In August 1953, 3rd Battalion deployed to Japan for training operations at Kin Beach, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. In October 1956, 3rd Battalion was stationed in Japan when the Suez Crisis broke out. Though initially deployed to the Indian Ocean for possible action in Egypt and the surrounding region, the crisis was ultimately resolved. During this cruise, 3rd Battalion -- designated Battalion Landing Team 3/3 -- visited Brunei Bay, Bombay,Karachi, and Singapore, before returning to Japan. In December 1956, the entire 3rd Marine Regiment was deployed off of Indonesia because of civil strife in that country. In 1958, 3rd Battalion was alerted for possible deployment to Lebanon, but its transports were turned back in the Indian Ocean to Okinawa. Four years later, in 1962, the battalion deployed on the USS Bayfield to the Chinese coast to guard the Taiwanese islands of Quemoy Matsu.