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The 1st Marine Division is a marine infantry division of the United States Marine Corps headquartered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendletonmarker, Californiamarker. It is a subordinate unit of the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

It is the oldest, and largest active duty division in the United States Marine Corps, representing a combat-ready force of more than 19,000 men and women. It is one of 3 active duty divisions in the Marine Corps today and is a multi-role, expeditionary ground combat force. Nicknamed "The Old Breed", it provides the ground combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) and is headquartered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendletonmarker, Californiamarker.


The division is employed as the ground combat element (GCE) of the I Marine Expeditionary Force or may provide task-organized forces for assault operations and such operations as may be directed. The 1st Marine Division must be able to provide the ground amphibious forcible entry capability to the naval expeditionary force (NEF) and to conduct subsequent land operations in any operational environment.


Structure of the 1st Marine Division
The 1st Marine Division is currently organized around four regiments; the 1st Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Regiment and 7th Marine Regiment make up the division's infantry component while the 11th Marine Regiment provides artillery support.

A number of smaller specialized units do not fall under a specific regiment, but report directly to the division commander. Among these units are the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, the 1st Tank Battalion, the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, and the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.


The division's regiments were in existence as early as March 8, 1911, when the1st Marine Regiment was formed at Guantanamo Bay, Cubamarker. The 5th Marines were created in Vera Cruzmarker, Mexicomarker on July 13, 1914 and participated in 15 major engagements during World War I, including Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierrymarker, and St. Mihiel. On August 7, 1917, 7th Marines were activated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker and spent the duration of World War I in Cuba and were disbanded after the war. The 11th Marines was formed in January 1918 at Quantico, Va.marker, as a light artillery regiment. The regiment went to Francemarker as an infantry unit, providing a machine gun company and a guard company. Decommissioned and reactivated twice between the world wars, the regiment was re-formed in 1940 as a full-fledged artillery unit.

World War II

Marines of 1st Marine Division fighting on Okinawa.
The 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the USS Texasmarker on February 1, 1941. The division's units were scattered over the Pacific with the support elements and the 1st Marine Regiment transported en route to New Zealand on three ships, the USATs Ericsson, Barnett and Elliott from Naval Reserve Air Base Oaklandmarker to New Zealandmarker,Lane (2004), p. 44 and later were landed on the island of Guadalcanalmarker, part of the Solomon Islandsmarker, on August 7, 1942. Initially only the 7th Marine Regiment was in garrison on British Samoa, with the 5th Marine Regiment having just encamped at Wellington, New Zealand after disembarking from USAT Wakefield, and the 1st Marine Regiment not scheduled to arrive in New Zealand until 11 July.Lane (2004), p. 51 The 1st Raider Battalion was on New Caledoniamarker, and the 3rd Defense Battalion was in Pearl Harbormarker. All of the division's units, with the 11th Marines (artillery) and 75mm howitzer armed 10th Marines battalion would rendezvous at Fijimarker. Due to the change in orders, and shortage of attack and combat cargo vessels all of the division's 2.5 ton trucks, its M1918 155-mm howitzersRottman (2002), p. 27 and the sound and flash-ranging equipment needed for counter-battery fire had to be left in Wellington. Also, because the Wellington dock workers were on strike at the time, the Marines had to do all the load reconfiguration from administrative to combat configuration.Lane (2004), p. 57 After 11 days of unparalleled dockside logistic mayhem, the division, with 16,000 Marines, departed Wellington in eighty-nine ships embarked for the Solomon Islands with 60-day combat load, no tents, spare clothing or bed rolls, no office equipment, unit muster rolls or pay clerks. Other things not yet available to this first wave of Marine deployments were insect repellent and mosquito netting.Lane (2004), p. 60 Attached to the division was the 1st Parachute Battalion which along with the rest of the division conducted landing rehearsals from the 28th to the 30th of July on Koro Island which General Vandergrift described as a "disaster".Lane (2004), p. 63 On 31 July the entire Marine task force came under command of Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher's Task Force 61. The division as a whole would fight in the Battle of Guadalcanalmarker until relieved at 1400 on December 9, 1942 by Alexander Patch's Americal Division.Frank (1990), p. 522Cronin (1951), p. 47 This operation won the Division its first of three World War II Presidential Unit Citations (PUC). The battle would cost the division 650 killed in action, 1,278 wounded in action with a further 8,580 contracting malaria and 31 missing in action. Others were awarded for the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa.

Following the Battle of Guadalcanal, the division's Marines were sent to Melbournemarker, Australia to rest and refit. It was during this time that the division took the traditional Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda" as its battle hymn. To this day, 1st Division Marines still ship out to this song being played.

The division would next see action during Operation Cartwheel which was the codename for the campaigns in Eastern New Guinea and New Britain. They came ashore at the Battle of Cape Gloucester on December 26, 1943 and fought on New Britainmarker until February 1944 at such places as Suicide Creek and Ajar Ridge. During the course of the battle the division had 310 killed and 1,083 wounded. Following the battle they were sent to Pavuvu in the Russell Islandsmarker for rest and refitting.

The next battle for the 1st Marine Division would be the bloodiest yet at the Battle of Peleliu. They landed on September 15, 1944 as part of the III Amphibious Corps assault on the island. The division's commanding general, Major General William H. Rupertus had predicted the fighting would be, "...tough but short. It'll be over in three or four days - a fight like Tarawamarker. Rough but fast. Then we can go back to a rest area." Making a mockery of the prediction, the first week of the battle alone cost the division 3,946 casualties, during which time they secured the key airfield sites. The division fought on Peleliu for one month before being relieved. Some of the heaviest fighting of the entire war took place in places such as Bloody Nose Ridge and the central ridges of the island that made up the Umurbrogol Pocket. The month of fighting against the 14th Division on Peleliu cost the 1st Marine Division 1,252 dead and 5,274 wounded.

The final campaign the division would take part in during World War II would be the Battle of Okinawa. The strategic importance of Okinawamarker was that it provided a fleet anchorage, troop staging areas, and airfields in close proximity to Japan. The division landed on April 1, 1945 as part of the III Amphibious Corps. Its initial mission was, fighting alongside the 6th Marine Division, to clear the northern half of the island - that they were able to do expeditiously. The Army's XXIV Corps met much stiffer resistance in the south, and in late April the Marine division was moved south where it relieved the Army's 27th Infantry Division. The division was in heavy fighting on Okinawa until 21 June 1945, when the island was declared secure. The 1st Marine Division slugged it out with the Japanese 32nd Army at such places as Sugarloaf Hill and Shuri Castlemarker. Fighting on Okinawa cost the division 1,155 killed in action.

Following the surrender of Japan, the division was sent to Northern China as the lead combat element of the III Amphibious Corps with the primary mission of repatriating the hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians still resident in that part of China. They landed at Takumarker on September 30, 1945 and would be based in Hopeh Province in the cities of Tientsinmarker and Peiping with the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party raging around them. Most Marines in the division would be charged with guarding supply trains, bridges and depots to keep food and coal moving into the cities. During this time they increasingly fought with soldiers from the People's Liberation Army who saw the railways and other infrastructure as attractive targets to attack, raid and harass.Sledge (2002), p.xx-xxi. By the summer of 1946 the division was suffering the effects of demobilization and its combat efficiency had dropped below wartime standards; however, its commitments in China remained. As it became increasingly apparent that a complete collapse of truce negotiations among the Chinese factions was apparent, plans were laid for the withdrawal of all Marine units from Hopeh. The last elements of the division finally left China on September 1, 1947.

Korean War

Following the end of World War II and the postwar draw down of forces, by 1950 the division only possessed the strength of a reinforced regimental combat team.Chapin (2000), p. 5 The division would be assembled on the battle field and would participate in the amphibious assault at Inchonmarker under the orders of General MacArthur.Simmons (2003), p.200. "The Old Breed" was the unit chosen to lead the Inchon landing on September 15, 1950. At Inchon, the division faced one of its most daunting challenges, deploying so hurriedly it still lacked its third infantry regiment and ordered to execute an amphibious assault in a city the size of Omaha, Nebraskamarker under the worst tidal conditions they had ever faced. After the landing they moved north and after heavy fighting in Seoulmarker they liberated the city.

After the liberation of Seoul, the division was put back on ships and taken to the eastern side of the Korean peninsula and put ashore at Wonsanmarker. As part of X Corps commanded by Army Major General Edward Almond the division was ordered to push north towards the Yalu River as fast as possible.Halberstam (2008), p.432-33. The then commanding officer of the division, Major General O.P. Smith, did not agree with his superiors and had become convinced that they were stretched thin and that the Chinese Forces had entered the war. He purposely slowed his advance and consolidated along the way at every opportunity.Fehrenbach (1963), p.233. The 1st Marine Division was attacked by seven Chinese divisions on November 27, 1950. They fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoirmarker against seven Communist Chinese divisions suffering over 900 killed and missing, over 3,500 wounded and more than 6,500 non-battle casualties mostly from frostbite during the battle. The greater part of the Chinese 9th Army was rendered ineffective as they suffered an estimated 37,500 casualties trying to stop the Marines' march out of the "Frozen Chosin".Russ (1999), p. 433-34

Beginning in early 1951 the division participated in several United Nations (UN) offensives in east-central Korea. This was followed by defending against the Chinese spring offensive composed of over 500,000 troops. By June 1951 the 1st Marine Division had pushed northward and secured the terrain around the Punchbowl and then settled into a defensive line 11 miles long.

In mid-March 1952 the 8th Army, to whom the Marines were attached, instituted Operation Mixmaster. The operation was a massive redeployment of UN forces designed to put more South Korean Army units on the Main Line of Resistance (MLR).Ballenger (2000), p.5. The 1st Marine Division was reassigned to the far western end of the United Nations line defending a 35 mile line that encompassed the Pyongyang to Seoul corridor. For much of the next year, in what would be termed the "Outpost War", action along this line consisted of small, localized actions because much of the fighting revolved around the holding and retaking of various combat outposts along key pieces of terrain. This changed in March 1953 when the Chinese launched a massive offensive across the U.N. line. The heavy fighting continued until the negotiated truce took effect on July 27, 1953. During the Korean War the division suffered combat casualties of 4,004 dead and 25,864 wounded.

Vietnam War

In 1965, the 7th Marine Regiment participated in Operations Starlite and Piranha, the first major engagements for American ground troops in South Vietnam. March 1966 saw 1st Marine Division Headquarters established at Chu Lai. By June, the entire Division was in South Vietnam, its zone of operation—the southern two provinces of I CorpsQuang Tin and Quang Ngaimarker. Between March and October 1966 to May 1967, the division conducted 44 named operations. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the division was involved in fierce fighting with both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army elements. It was successful in beating back enemy assaults in its operation areas. The division received its 7th Presidential Unit Citation for service from 29 March 1966 to 15 September 1967 . and an 8th one for the period 16 September 1967 to 31 October 1968.

After six hard years of combat, the 1st Marine Division returned home to Camp Pendletonmarker in 1971. In 1975, the division supported the evacuation of Saigon by providing food and temporary shelter at Camp Pendleton for Vietnamese refugees as they arrived in the United States.

Desert Shield/Storm

In 1990, the 1st Marine Division formed the nucleus of the massive force sent to Southwest Asia in response to Iraqmarker's invasion of Kuwaitmarker. During Operation Desert Shield, the division supported I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in the defense of Saudi Arabiamarker from the Iraqi threat. In 1991, the division went on the offensive with the rest of Coalition Forces in Operation Desert Storm. In 100 hours of ground offensive combat, the 1st Marine Division helped to liberate Kuwait, defeating the Iraqi Army in the process.


Letter by Gen Mattis distributed throughout division before the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Immediately following the Persian Gulf conflict, the Division sent units to assist in relief efforts following a typhoon in Bangladeshmarker (Operation Sea Angel) and the eruption of volcano Mount Pinatubomarker in the Philippinesmarker (Operation Fiery Vigil). In December 1992, Operation Restore Hope, bringing relief to famine-stricken Somaliamarker, kicked off with the early morning amphibious landing of Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was supported by 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. More than 15,000 metric tons of food was successfully distributed from 398 different food sites in the city during the operation. The final phase of the operation involved the transition from a U.S. peacemaking force to a United Nations peacekeeping force. U.S. Marine involvement in Operation Restore Hope officially ended on April 27, 1993, when the humanitarian relief sector of Mogadishu was handed over to Pakistani forces.

Iraq War

The 1st Marine Division, then under the command of Major General James Mattis, was one of the two major U.S. land forces that participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The division was the land component of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Prior to the war in December 2002, MajGen Mattis was quoted as saying, "The President, the National Command Authority and the American people need speed. The sooner we get it over with the better. Our overriding principle will be speed, speed, speed." Initially, the division fought through the Rumaila oil fields, feinted an attack towards Basrah then moved north on Highway 1 to An Nasariyahmarker - a moderate-sized, Shi'ite dominated city with important strategic significance as a major road junction and its proximity to nearby Talil Airfield. They then fought their way to Baghdadmarker and pushed further to secure Tikritmarker by forming Task Force Tripoli after the fall of Baghdad. The division would cover 808 kilometers in 17 days of sustained combat, the deepest penetrating ground operation in Marine Corps history. After the invasion the division settled in to conduct security and stabilization operations in Baghdad, Tikrit, and then in south-central Iraq from May to October 2003. For actions during the war as part of I MEF the division was awarded its 9th Presidential Unit Citation.

The division deployed back to Iraq in February 2004 and took control of the Al Anbarmarker province in western Iraq. They were the lead unit in Operation Vigilant Resolvemarker and Operation Phantom Fury in 2004. During February and March 2005, the division was relieved by the 2nd Marine Division concluding the largest relief in place in the history of the Marine Corps. As of early 2006, the division is once again in Iraq as the ground combat element for I MEF in the Al Anbar province.

Unit awards

A unit citation or commendation is an award bestowed upon an organization for the action cited. Members of the unit who participated in said actions are allowed to wear on their uniforms the awarded unit citation. The 1st Marine Division has been presented with the following awards:

Streamer Award Year(s) Additional Info
Presidential Unit Citation Streamer with one Silver and three Bronze Stars 1942, 1944, 1945, 1950, 1950, 1951, 1966-1967, 1967-1968, 2003 Guadalcanal, Peleliu-Ngesebus, Okinawa, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq
Joint Meritorious Unit Award Streamer 1992-1993 Somalia
Navy Unit Commendation Streamer with one Bronze Star 1952-1953, 1990–1991 Korea, Southwest Asia
Mexican Service Streamer April-November 1914 Vera Cruz
Dominican Campaign Streamer June - December 1916
Haitian Campaign Streamer with one Bronze Star August 1915 - August 1934
Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer

World War I Victory Streamer with one Bronze Star

American Defense Service Streamer with one Bronze Star 1941 World War II
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Streamer with one Silver and one Bronze Star
Guadalcanal, Eastern New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu, Okinawa
World War II Victory Streamer 1941–1945 Pacific War
Navy Occupation Service Streamer with "ASIA"

China Service Streamer with one Bronze Star September 1946 - June 1947 North China
National Defense Service Streamer with three Bronze Stars 1950–1954, 1961–1974, 1990–1995, 2001–present Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, War on Terrorism
Korean Service Streamer with two Silver Stars
Inchon-Seoul, Chosin Reservoir, East-Central Front, Western Front
Armed Forces Expeditionary Streamer 1992 - 1993 Somalia
Vietnam Service Streamer with two Silver and three Bronze Stars July 1965 - April 1971, April - December 1975 Chu Lai, Da Nang, Dong Ha, Qui Nhon, Hue, Phu Bai, Quang Tri, Operation New Arrival
Southwest Asia Service Streamer with two Bronze Stars September 1990 - February 1991 Desert Shield, Desert Storm
Iraq Campaign Streamer
March 2004 - March 2005, March 2006 - February 2007
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Streamer
March - May 2003
Global War on Terrorism Service Streamer 2001–present
Korea Presidential Unit Citation Streamer

Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Streamer

Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Civil Actions Streamer

See also


  1. . Accessed 2009-06-09. Archived 2009-06-10.
  2. It would be replaced by the 2nd Marine Regiment from San Diego sailing with the USS Wasp
  3. Leckie Helmet for my Pillow, p. 147-208
  4. Turner (1997), p. 25-6
  5. Sloane (2005), p. 65
  6. Hastings (2007), p. 116
  7. Sledge (1990), p. 151
  8. Sledge (1990), p. 96, 127-158
  9. Sledge (1990), p. 155
  10. Simmons US Marines History, p. 225
  11. Simmons US Marines History, p. 229
  12. Warren American Spartans, p. 426
  13. Warren American Spartans, p. 425
  14. Reynolds Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond, p. 170.


  • Lane, Kerry, Guadalcanal Marine, University Press of Mississippi, 2004
  • Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2005). ‘’Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond - The U.S. Marine Corps in the Second Iraq War.’’Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-717-4
  • Rottman, Gordon L., US Marine Corps Pacific Theater of Operations 1941-43, Osprey Publishing, 2004


  • .

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